[r.] Doubt that the...
 
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[r.] Doubt that the stars are fire

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astrophysicist
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"Come on, sweet lady," the roc rider crooned, body pressed flush against the giant fowl's warm back feathers so as not to create resistance against the wind. "I know we're almost there, but if you're holding back, now is not the time..." By the subtle dip of the sun on the western horizon, however, Vega knew speed was a moot point: twelve, noon, had since come and gone, and she was already too late. Yet another broken promise for which her brother would be loathe to forgive her. 

Eyraille's citadel was just overhead, the broad expanse of its green court yard looking about a size that would accommodate the doll houses with which she used to play as a little girl. Digging her fingers into the roc's feathers, she braced herself as the beast bellowed her piercing warning in preparation for a quick landing. Hasty as it was, with the ground coming under the bird's feet so quickly that, if not for her vice grip, the rider would have been jarred off the roc’s back, the way the knights were when their horses became irritable. There was no sense in reprimanding the feathered beast, as she knew without looking into her tired eyes that this was simply her means of informing her rider that she did not take kindly to being rushed through the air for hours, with no amount of speed seeming to suffice.

The trip had long since pulled Vega's rust-coloured locks from its bun at the back of her head, leaving her looking as though she'd been caught in a wind storm. Not the best way to present herself, but presence alone trumped mere appearance, at this point. The high and mighty members of the council would simply have to suck in their guts and bear the eyesore that was her windswept look. "I know, I get it. This is my fault." The rider murmured to the bird as she dismounted and dropped the lance she'd been clutching, stretching circulation back into her thighs and calves, cramped with knots from hours of clinging for dear life upon her soaring roc. "You're a good sport, Aeriel. Rest, now; you know I'll make it up to you."

Loosening the vast fowl's harness, but without a spare moment to fully remove it, Vega sped through the courtyard's flower beds and benches, all the way to the citadel's back entrance, so fast that the young sentry standing guard was hardly awarded a chance to recognize her. "Sir Vega...?" He queried, lowering the spear he'd nearly raised to block her path. "What--"

"Can you please see to it that Aeriel is fed and provided with water?" Was the only response he received from the retreating young woman. "Oh, and that she's groomed--but mind her wings, she will snap if they're tugged too hard. Thank you!"

Vega hadn't been the one flapping her wings for countless hours, and yet she felt exhausted before she'd even begun to run, hard-pressed to find her voice and respond to the various other queries that she barely heard as she tore down the corridors, glad for the traction on the soles of her thick leather boots as they scuffed the floors, the stair cases, as well as the carpets which were not supposed to be tread by outdoor footwear. By the time she reached the council hall, she'd made a mental note to later apologize to anyone with whom she'd nearly collided, as well as the cleaning staff for her footprints on the carpets. Though the faces she encountered through the gilded doors were written with far more scorn than those of the serving staff would be.

"I'm sorry," she apologized immediately, hair falling around her face as she offered a shallow bow to her brother and his council. "I misjudged the time it would take to return from reconnaissance... Might I ask what transpired in my absence?"

There was a pause, as there always was when Vega inquired after information concerning dilemmas of the court. If her brother hadn't made her privy to such information, she was certain the rest of the council would be quick to close the very doors of the citadel in her face, never to allow her to re-enter. "We are about to finalize the details on preparations for war, my Lady," the scribe at the other end of the long table explained, his quill presumably scribbling the minutes of the meeting that she had missed. "You may read the minutes yourself as soon as I--"

"Whoa--whoa, hold up. War?" Vega's pale eyes sought those of her brother's, Caris, with shock and confusion. "Forty-eight hours... Not even quite forty-eight hours, I'm gone, and suddenly Eyraille is preparing for war? What, exactly, has transpired?"

"It is not what has transpired, Sir Vega, but rather, what could." The head of the royal guard asserted, eyeing Vega's windswept appearance (and, likely, the fact that she hadn't taken a moment to remove her leather armor) with disdain. "We can no longer go about ignoring the fact that neighbouring empires continue to exhibit hostility towards us, and those that do not have gone eerily quiet. We cannot just sit and wait for disaster to occur. Preparations need to be made, and we must begin by closing the gates to travelers."

Yet what else is new? Vega wanted to demand, but decided to veer towards diplomacy instead. Not that any amount of calm rationale would reach the ears of the most unreasonable people in Eyraille, who currently sat around the table. "Right. So I assume that these preparations for war will require funding from the kingdom itself. A raise in taxes are in order, I assume. To pay for equipment and reinforcements."

"Naturally," the man replied. "Though I am positive Eyraille will be more than happy to provide, knowing the effort its very monarch is putting forth to protect it." At that, he cast his eyes on Caris, who looked a mix of angry and uncomfortable under such scrutiny.

That was where Vega drew the line. It was one thing to spew ludicrous, unfounded ideas and pass them around the table like fact. It was another to try and feed those ideas to her younger brother who, although at the end of the day had the last say, was inexorably pressured by the domineering presence of everyone at that table. And she would not have him manipulated.
Caris might have been king of Eyraille; but she was still his big sister. She'd been his protector since the first time she held him as an infant, and that wouldn't change, for as long as they were both alive.

"With all due respect, good sirs, Eyraille continues to squirm under the new rule, as it has not functioned under a permanent authority for almost two decades. It is difficult enough to argue the taxes we already have in place," Vega struggled to keep her voice steady, firm. "And with almost two decades since my father's death, and no war has yet befallen this kingdom--not even between the time of the old king and Caris, when Eyraille did not have a ruler--this does not strike me as being particularly a prominent issue. Not at this point in time."

"Well. That is not up to you." Another council member argued. Vega only recognized him by his lined face, but couldn't for the life of her remember his name. Though neither to her was that important.

Nonetheless, he had a point. "You are correct. That decision falls on my brother..." Turning to face Caris, she added, "...whom I beseech to suspend this issue for the time being. At least until a greater threat provokes it."

Gasps and angry utterances consumed silence in the wake of Vega's perceived audacity, until Caris' voice surpassed it all. "My sister has a point. I wish to further meditate on the issue before I come to a decision."

"But my liege, we discussed—"

"I said, I would like time to consider this." Young though he was, Caris' face always aged by decades when he had to assert his authority. And it broke Vega's heart such that she would never tell him. "Therefore, I conclude this meeting. And I would like to speak with my sister in private."

Not another word was uttered, the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor serving as silence's only companion, until the last council member left, and the door shut heavily behind him.
With only the two of them left in the vast expanse of the council hall, Vega took a seat next to her brother. "I am so sorry I wasn't here from the beginning," she sighed, shoulders sagging under the weight of her guilt. "I'm a great judge of distance, but a poor judge of time, it seems..."

"You said you'd help me. You said you wouldn't leave it to me alone, that you wanted to be part of this." It was as if Caris hadn't heard her apology. Small red splotches bloomed along his neck, almost like a rash, the way his body had always responded to a spike in anger and adrenaline. "Then, for the love of Heaven, Hell and all creation, Vega—be here! Be part of it, and help me, or don't help me at all and then away with you, in that case!"

"Caris, listen--"

"No, you listen. How often do you forget that I have to have the final say, because you preferred to have an indirect voice? You think I don't know you take to the skies with your damned roc so often because you want to escape? You think I don't know that, if you had even the slightest reassurance that our own council wouldn't take advantage of my power, you'd take to the air and never return?"

The roc rider had enough poise not to flinch as if she'd been struck, but she wanted to. Caris only ever opened this wound, the everlasting elephant in the room, when he truly felt hurt, and wanted her to know she'd hurt him. It wasn't Vega's fault that their father had been a borderline tyrant, and his father, and his father before him. It wasn't her fault that nary a race that was not human had survived being conquered or driven out of Eyraille all together, in the past century, thereby alienating any and all relations with neighbouring kingdoms not governed by humankind. It was not her fault that his tyranny had earned him an early death when she was only ten, and Caris, three, or that it was never discovered just who had poisoned his wine on that fateful night. It was not her fault that Eyraille had been governed under martial law until she had come of age to take the throne.

It had been her fault, however, to return it to martial law, the day before the crowning ceremony when she had decided to abdicate, reserving the throne for her little brother until the day he was old enough to assume his position as Eyraille's new ruler. A destiny never meant for him, and a fate he’d likely desired even less than her.

That said, it wasn't as though Vega Sorde had remained idle in all that time. There was so much damage done onto Eyraille by her father’s and forefathers’ injustices and greed that she and her brother struggled to prioritize issues to tackle and problems to solve as the kingdom carried on as it always had, still lacking a ruler. And by the time Caris had ascended the throne—despite all of the preparation he had had that she had not, leading up to the day—neither of them could have realistically prepared for the hostility that endured towards their bloodline, likewise from the humans of Eyraille to the races of neighbouring kingdoms that had been driven out a century before.

It wasn't her fault that the Sorde bloodline was one of the most hated on the entire continent. Her culpability lay in the fact that it was a burden that had never been meant for her little brother’s shoulders. A fact that he would never let her forget.

Wordlessly, the would-be queen of Eyraille covered her younger brother's white knuckles with a warm hand, rough though it was from her leather, fingerless gloves. "It's true. If I saw an out, I'd try to find a way to escape," she admitted. "But not without you."

The sincerity of her words disarmed the overwhelmed young man, and the red gradually drained from his face, only to be replaced by a worried pallor. "So... what do we do? Commander Ulrick was talking about subtle aggressions from Ilandria that have been escalating... What if they are planning to lay siege against us? They know I'm overwhelmed--everyone kingdom on the continent knows how weak Eyraille's ruler is. I’ve made it more vulnerable, now, than it ever was under martial law."

"No. You are not weak, and neither is Eyraille; don’t swallow that sort of poppycock from those buffoon,” Vega cautioned, her tone careful to veer away from accusation. No one was more critical of the king than the king himself. “It has been almost two decades since father died, Caris... yet in all that time, no one touched Eyraille--even at the most opportune of moments, when it had no real ruler." 

The elder sibling tried to reassure him, but knew it was futile. The pressure was too much, at the best of times, only to be exacerbated by warmongers like Ulrick, who saw violence in everything. “Just because it hasn’t happened as of yet doesn’t mean it won’t, though,” he argued. “What if we do need to prepare? And the Eyraille finds itself conquered before I can lift a finger? I’ll have a worse fate than father’s poisoned wine.”
Vega shook her head. "Like I would ever let that happen to you. I am sorry I wasn't here to mediate what transpired, Caris, but war is not something think we need to worry about, as things stand. After two days’ reconnaissance throughout the continent, I can tell you with confidence that the worst we seem to be facing is nationwide apathy. Let's progress as we have been, building a rapport with Eyraille, and extending branches to the races that our father drove away."

"Are you sure? This is what we should be focusing on, when in two years we've hardly budged in terms of our standpoint?"

"I wouldn't say so if there was any shadow of a doubt."

Caris was still hard-pressed to be placated, however, in the aftermath of a council meeting that had sought to manipulate his intentions. "It still bothers me that in so long, no one has laid siege to Eyraille, for everything it’s done to its own people, and then some... I need some time to think about this. Alone, please."

Vega rose from her seat, but not without squeezing the young king's shoulder. "You know I am here for you, right?"

"Then actually be here for me, next time. That would be a start."

Feeling she well deserved that blow, Vega left without another word, allowing the door to shut silently behind her. Loathe though she was to admit it, the seed of doubt had officially been planted and had begun to bloom in her mind, as well: what if another empire was planning to attack Eyraille, in the early years of its transition to new leadership, and with all of the changes it sought to make, in the wake of their late father's mess of errors? Caris would never trust her again, and their kingdom would fall into a whole other despair, well beyond the injustice of driving out the other races and outlawing magic.

To prepare for war would not endear Eyraille and the races of bordering kingdoms to the house of Sorde; failing to do so would, on the other hand, would leave them as vulnerable as they currently stood. All they could do was hope for the seventeen years of cold silence between Eyraille and the other kingdoms, in lieu of hot warfare, for which they were wholly unprepared.

Over an hour later, Caris still sat in the council hall, when he was approached a man of the guard. “Your Majesty,” the sentry bowed, lance firmly in hand. “Our men at the gates need to know if they are to remain open for people to freely come and go. Commander Ulrick informed us that there was a possibility that they would be sealed, for security reasons.”

That bastard, Caris thought so bitterly he could taste his thoughts on his tongue. When he had asked to suspend the issue until he further contemplated it, he’d assumed the head of the guard didn’t have the patience of a squirrel. “The gates are to remain open for travel and exodus, for the time being,” he informed the armoured man. “And you can let Commander Ulrick know that when I suspend an issue, that is not a metaphor for requesting a bloody hour extra of contemplation. You are dismissed.”

Heaven and Hell, Vega, the young king thought, casting tired blue eyes to the liquid gold of the setting sun through the windows. I’ll the you if you aren’t right.

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Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2015 10:34 pm
by Astrophysicist
the elven kingdom of myrddin
second era

———+———

It was said that an elf’s blood ran silver through his veins—a malleable suit of internal armor that raged like a wintry sea twixt skin and bone.

But that was only a fable, as too many elven warriors learned too late. As their lithe, slender bodies lay exsanguinating on the battlefield, the dewy emerald grass beneath their fallen forms turned alternating shades of deep crimson and mahogany.

Elvenkind was known for keeping to itself, for settling conflict without violence; paired with the impressive longevity of their lifespans, they maintained their own societal peace independent from the happenings of any neighboring nation. With the rarity of outright war and the great lengths of time between fatal clashes, it was all too easy for younger generations to forget and ignore the scarlet secret pumped by their own steady hearts—and to build up their false confidences all over again.

Their societal autonomy was due in part to the fact that they claimed no lands as their own. The elven kingdom of Myrddin existed as a group without specific borders, instead ruling quietly amongst themselves within the geographic boundaries of other governments and cultures. Politically, they were a force of their own. Human civilization largely ignored them, and vice versa—they interacted only when it was necessary, and even that was limited primarily to mercantile exchanges. Myrddin kept clear of human affairs, refused to take sides even when prompted or pressured, and remained icily silent on any outside political business. They were the mute but ever-present power with deep roots in all soils—a vast intramural sovereignty that flourished and prospered in all its reticent existence.

The invisible nation of Myrddin had not known bloodshed since the reign of Queen Marath some eighteen hundred years prior. After the premature death of her father, King Ellisor the Gentle, Marath had taken her rightful place on the throne as the late monarch’s eldest child. Far too young and far too caught up in the false romance of epic battles and acts of heroism, she trained as a warrior and was quickly swept away by the promise of personal glory and the belief in her own superiority. Under the influence of her partner, the eventual king-by-marriage Shihos, they began a campaign fueled by false pretences against Western-dwelling cities who had welcomed humans struggling with famine through their city gates.

It was the bloodiest crusade in Myrddian history. The Western cities, sub-governed by the Jhaartael and Ylyndar clans, had little time to react to the Queen Marath’s surprise attack. A solid week of close combat left more than half of the royal army’s warriors dead; caught off-guard by an unwarranted betrayal from their own kind, the decimated West lost nearly two thirds of its population, including bystanders and the humans they harbored. It was only the demise of the royal couple themselves, fighting side by side against their own subjects, that brought the needless war to a screeching halt.

Legend spoke tales of ancient trees swathed in blood, and that as the bodies decomposed amongst their roots, so too did the mighty conifers crumble. Some said the evergreens reacted in mourning, dissolving to dust to forever mark the atrocities of the battles; others said it was the mutinous flesh of the queen’s forces that poisoned the greenery; more still claimed that the soil itself turned a shade of red so deep that it appeared black as death—earning the site its current name, Harath siel Mithlor, or the Blackened Meadows—and still bled red during the rainy season in the springtime.

Having died young and quite mad, Queen Marath and King Shihos left no heir of their own behind. Though the warrior queen was rumored to have been pregnant at the time of her death, the strict Myrddian laws regarding inheritance dictated that the throne be passed to Marath’s younger sister, Layne. The inexperienced young elf took quickly to her new role, and she eventually became everything Marath was not and would never have been—a dignified matriarch with the intelligence and poise to mend their fractured kingdom, rebuilding a unified society after centuries of earning back their trust.

Queen Layne eventually married Ivsaar jiel Ylyndar, a Western survivor of her elder sister’s foolish war, and gave birth to two daughters in the latter end of her position on the throne. The eldest, Rathain, carried on her mother’s role of healing the tarnished land, finishing the duty of restoring peace and respect in her father’s home region.

Elves, however, were creatures of memory; given their immunity to the aging process once they reached physical maturity, it was difficult to forget the crimes of the past. They could be forgiven, or at least acknowledged, but the sting of the blow would live on as long as survivors remained. What had once been a nation of rules and tradition was now a population of wary trust, with permanent suspicion embedded in the psyches of the community’s oldest members—particularly those who carried the blood of the sectional ruling clans.

Because Myrddin was a hidden kingdom that spanned a vast geographical distance, its people were divided generally into regions corresponding to the cardinal directions. Each region was sub-ruled by delegates from two High Families whose ancestry could be traced back to the First Age, thousands of years before humankind, long before the first elven king of the current era. In the South ruled the Sielat and the Marlevaur; in the East was the Audouin and the Aeremin; in the hurting West was the Jhaartael and the Ylyndar; and lastly was the Filven and the Kyrenic in the North.

The family with the oldest traceable lineage was the Kyrenic clan, hailing from the formidable mountains and breathtaking valleys of the chilly, snow-capped North. From this notable line hailed the first elven king of the Second Age, King Celondel and his soft-spoken wife, Anudith. When Celondel’s son ascended the throne in his father’s footsteps, he established the Kyrenic name as synonymous with royalty, setting up the bloodline that would rule Myrddin indefinitely.

Its companion clan, whose roots were not traceable quite so deeply in the murky earth of elven history, generally served as close advisors to the ruling family when true Kyrenic blood ties would not suffice. And though there was a general rivalry between the two stately Northern families, their disagreements were typically mild and short-lived in nature; with all eyes on their respective sects, it was in everyone’s best interest that such competition remain innocent—simple, friendly competitiveness for the betterment, rather than the detriment, of the people.

Talaess thiel Kyrenic was the eldest daughter of King Cyran and Queen Ilyana, the sixth reigning monarchs in the longstanding line since the First King. She was ambitious, loyal, and politically-minded, taking after her father in all his dignified, fair-hearted intelligence. Her path to the throne was bright and clear; supporters from all regions, even those in the West (who still clung to caution since the massacre of Queen Marath), adored the young elf and smiled toward a future that was bright and prosperous beneath her rule.

She got her chance to wear the braided silver crown sooner than any of her subjects had anticipated.

Word of unrest in the human kingdom reached elven ears swiftly. Though far from an all-knowing nation, the ruling clans were typically well-informed on matters involving those with whom they shared land and resources. Rulers of men came and went quickly in the great span of things. An elven king or queen did not typically surrender their position by death; rather, they kept their place as long as they were deemed worthy by both themselves and their subjects, or when they felt they had progressed society as far as was capable in their reign. Coronation ceremonies were almost always led by the resigning parent proudly placing the delicate crown upon their eldest child’s head.

An elven monarch could see as many as a dozen human rulers come and go in their span of royal service. One bad seed had never been enough to spoil the entire harvest—or so it had been until a single diseased fruit from one such batch slowly began to poison the subsequent generations.

The first attack came without warning. It was not just elvenkind who were targeted, they later learned; human mages, druids, any living creature thought or known to possess traces of magic were slaughtered mercilessly in the unforgiving black of night at the request of an unspeakably cruel human king. Myrddin the borderless kingdom was an easy victim to overpower after living for millennia in peaceful symbiosis with men; because there had never been reason to distrust Eyraille or its inhabitants, Myrddin and its isolated cities were forcefully blindsided due to their lowered guard. Nothing had ever given them reason to raise it—until King Sorde ascended the throne, first in his line.

Awakened in the night by a chorus of screams and the percussion of breaking crystal, then-King Cyran ordered his unsuspecting armies to the defense—but it was too late. The knights and soldiers of Eyraille had already infiltrated the city and the palace, slitting the throats of anyone who crossed their black paths. By the time the elven warriors drove out the enemies, the stone streets were painted scarlet. As were the bedchambers of the royal couple, where Queen Ilyana met her unjust end.

Cyran, grief-stricken and enraged, fought back. Elves were notoriously rational beings who rarely allowed emotion to get the better of their decision-making, but the spurned monarch refused to listen to reason. Decades passed while he fortified Myrddin’s larger cities and prepared his military, all while his three children looked on in equal parts horror and support as the life they had known crumbled around them. With magic utterly vanquished from Eyraille’s lands, the majority of the elven population retreated west towards the sea, well out of reach of Sorde’s tyranny. Only the true believers remained, loyal to the end to Cyran’s wiles.

It was a single battle that killed both the aging King Sorde I and King Cyran himself. An aching Myrddin saw Talaess Kyrenic take over her rightful ruling position as queen, but the entire realm held their breaths as the next, equally-brutal human king of Eyraille was crowned. Talaess’ promising future had been decimated and left in shambles. And the bloody feud was not about to end.

She ordered a retreat. No elf was to remain within the borders of Eyraille. And quietly, overnight, they disappeared—reconvening with their brethren along the rocky shores of the West. But that did not stop her from continuing her father’s vengeful mission against the men who had stolen her parents, devastated her kingdom, and murdered her people in cold blood. She became known as the Sleepless Queen, appearing to rest only when she met her premature demise—a demise that came after personally slaying the second Sorde king.

———+———

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theoduin elaith thiel kyrenic

———+———

Heaving a heavy sigh, Theoduin thiel Kyrenic closed the thick leather-bound volume in front of him and rubbed his tired eyes with tightly balled fists. Appropriately, the lamp upon the desk flickered its exhaustion as it struggled to burn the very last drops of the fuel-oil its wick had absorbed. It had been blazing strong since sundown—as had the green-eyed elf—and the birds were already beginning to serenade the impending dawn.

The eastern horizon blushed pink in the presence of lingering stars. Above the thick canopy of treetops, curled wisps of clouds loaned the forest an ethereal halo.

He was a true elf of the North; he was accustomed to long, dark mornings and nights that never quite lost their frigid bite. It was too dangerous to return there since the Sorde regime reclaimed the terrain as their own (leaving it largely uninhabited due to the harsh conditions and rugged mountainous landscape), but he dwelled as close as he could geographically get—illegally within the borders of Eyraille, but not so far from its western boundary that he could not flee and reach sanctuary quickly.

Abandoned elvish settlements littered the land. They were largely obscured from view, as in typical elvish fashion they were far away from any recognizable roads or markers. Left alone to the elements, they remained tucked amongst hills and valleys like steadfast, ghostly monuments. Theoduin had found solitary refuge in a large empty house carved into a craggy cliffside, with large windows facing a wall of ancient pine and oak that kept the dwelling almost completely concealed. It was much more space than he required; he occupied only a handful of rooms and a vast shelved library, with emergency stores in the lower levels that reached like roots below ground.

At first glance, he might have passed for a human. His hair fell in atypical, voluminous ringlets, and he kept it trimmed strictly above his shoulders. Though there were no specific laws that prohibited the cropping of one’s hair, the far-standing elvish tradition of wearing it long had returned to favor following the great emigration—a cultural reaction to the blow against their kind, taking pride in the characteristics that had been branded so stereotypically elvish. But Theoduin kept his unusual locks well above his shoulders. It was a move that was less aesthetic or convenient than it was protective, diverting his appearance from the truth of who he was while doubly concealing his ears that sloped to gentle points.

The dark facial hair that clung to his chin and jaw was another unusual set of traits for an elf, one that spoke of his ancient Northern ancestry louder than any written pedigree or reputation of surname. Male elves of the other regions rarely sported such downy facial adornment. Still, he boasted the light green eyes and long fanned lashes common of his kind, softening the overall impression of his visage by gracefully juxtaposing the short unruly hair and the blanket of stubble at his chiseled jaw.

Unfortunately, no amount of disguise was enough to fool himself. The reflection that greeted him in the dusty looking glass would always remind him of his family, and that no amount of external camouflage could conceal the Kyrenic blood beyond the veil of pale skin.

He was the first eligible elf in his kind’s written history to renounce the throne. As the second son of Cyran, and as Talaess’ eldest younger sibling, Theoduin was meant to bear the title of ‘king’ after his sister’s death. His abdication came as a complete shock to the already-stinging nation. But it was a position he never wanted, a position to which he knew he could not do proper justice—not in the same way his father had, or his sister, or any of his many qualified ancestors. Theoduin had a mind for books and for history and for magic; he had never been one for politics or conflict. His affinity for (and knowledge of) the past only enforced that certainty. It might have been in his blood on a technicality, but it was reality that held the truth in its merciless hand.

It was simultaneously the most selfish and the most selfless act he had ever committed. On one hand, stepping down meant forcing his dear younger sister Faraine to fill the shoes he left deliberately empty. On the other, he was sparing Myrddin what would have been centuries of cultural stagnation. He hadn’t the extroverted fire his sisters seemed to have inherited from his father; he took after his mother, whose flame blazed white hot but was tucked carefully away, veiled in silent, withdrawn intensity rather than outward projection.

He covered a yawn with the back of his hand and indulged in a long swallow of herbal tea, a feeble attempt to scald away thoughts of his only surviving family. With the hearth sporting only faintly glowing embers, Theoduin sank into a plush armchair and closed his eyes in the faint residual warmth of the gray ash.

With any luck, sleep would descend quickly, and he could temporarily forget the fact that with this dawn came the anniversary of his departure from elven society.

———+———
      • “Faraine. Faraine, please, you have to understand…”
      • “No,” the young elf spat, her emerald eyes flashing dangerously as she rounded her glare to her older brother. In that moment, with her long, dark hair and quiet fury blazing in her stare, she was the spitting image of their late mother Ilyana. “You cannot do this, Theoduin. You cannot.” She faltered, her throat tightening. “You…you would not…”
      • Her desperation stabbed him like an arrow through his heart, ripping the muscle anew with each frantic pulse. “I have to,” he responded, his voice hardly a whisper.
      • “You have to?” Beneath the forged gold jewelry that adorned her tapered ears, her skin flushed with rosy anger. “No, Theo. What you have to do—what you must do—is your duty. What tradition and law dictates you must do. You cannot pass this off to me. The elders, the governing clans, they’re all looking to you. I will be present at the coronation ceremony at dawn, but I will not hold your hand and guide you through what has become your birthright.”
      • “And what kind of a king do you believe I would be?” Theoduin retorted sharply. “Do not conceal the truth from me, Isilith.”
      • Faraine emitted a small gasp. He had used her mirathiel—her “name of insight,” the private, sacred name a mother bestowed upon her child at birth. Called the “joy name” in the South and the “soul name” in the East and West, they were never revealed lightly; as the original term suggested, such names were believed to hold immense power due to the insight they were believed to provide into a person’s true character. They were not often used aloud, and when they were, it was almost exclusively among immediate family as a term of endearment. Exchanging soul names with non-relatives was a sign of extreme love or trust, and was considered a pivotal moment in any close romantic (and occasionally platonic, depending on the bond) relationship. However, it was not unheard of for a husband and wife never to learn one another’s soul names.
      • “Elaith,” the female elf replied stiffly, her tongue gliding cautiously over the syllables of Theoduin’s soul name. Caught momentarily off guard, it took her a moment to collect herself and recall her frustration. Nevertheless, she had no desire to insult him—which she would surely do if she were to answer his question truthfully.
      • Her hesitation was her downfall; the extended pause told him just what he needed to know. Theoduin’s stern expression did not waver, nor did his steady tone when he spoke. “I see,” he said, nodding curtly.
      • “Nobody could outdo Talaess,” said Faraine pleadingly. “But you are fit in your own way. You should know better than anyone that our kings and queens have always ruled in their own style. You have trained as a warrior, Theo. You possess more knowledge and intelligence than the entirety of the council combined. You could out-strategize even the most ruthless and experienced of our warlords. Just because you have not been revered from birth like Tal—”
      • “I have no desire for reverence, Faraine!” Theoduin pursed his lips and gazed out the window toward the horizon over the sea. “I do not wish for any of this.”
      • “So you wish it instead upon me?”
      • “Faraine…”
    • She bristled. “I will not accept this. Gather your thoughts, and prepare yourself.” Turning toward the door in a swirl of fine green silk, the slender Faraine unknowingly glanced back at her brother for the last time. “I will see you at the ceremony tomorrow.”

——+——

He had departed that same chilly night. Taking nothing but a small satchel of supplies, a larger bag for books and parchment, and the clothing on his back, he slipped from the palace grounds unnoticed and disappeared into the wilderness on horseback. It had been a century and a half since his self-imposed exile, a century and a half since he left Faraine alone with no other choice but to accept the crown.

It was an anniversary he did not care to remember, yet one he could never forget.

When he awoke from his meditative slumber, the sun had risen above the pointed tree-tops and flooded the vast study with light far too cheerful for his current mood. With a sigh, he extinguished what remained of the coals and returned to his desk, where what little pigment remained in his inkwell had dried to a fine sepia powder. The house he had chosen to inhabit had once belonged to a high elf family of Northwest descent, hence the location just within the border of Eyraille. Theoduin had searched for it specifically for its library, which still contained the majority of its historical volumes—perfect for the historical research he intended to complete for the eventual benefit of his sister and his kingdom to mend the rift between species.

Though a hundred and fifty years was no marathon stretch of time for an elf, to Theoduin the duration had seemed even more abbreviated. He had had no contact with others of his kind since he had made his sudden and blasphemous departure. Even his interaction with humans had been minimal, restricted only to the occasional visit to a remote trading post for supplies where one wrong move could expose him for what he was. The loneliness of it all had been unbearable at first, but he'd swiftly learned to bury himself in his studies to stave off the heartache; with few distractions, his productivity skyrocketed.

So accustomed was he to being alone that he hardly paid heed to the sound beyond his isolated home. He dipped his quill into a fresh pot of ink and once more set to the page. Beneath the fine nib flourished Elvish script in elegant, twisting forms across crisp parchment. Surely the animalistic cry of distress would resolve on its own…it was, after all, the circle taken by all life.

And yet the sound, however short the burst of audition, resounded in his memory with a twinge of distant familiarity. His steady concentration was ruined. Frowning, he rose to his feet, draped a heavy cloak over his shoulders, and proceeded toward the door. With a quiver of arrows over one arm and his sleek bow slung across his back, he made his way toward the unknown...and not with a sliver of annoyance knitted between his brows.

———+———

Image
queen faraine isilith thiel kyrenic

———+———

        • Theoduin Elaith — THAY-oh-dwin / e-LAY-ith

        • thiel Kyrenic — theel / KEER-ran-nick

        • Faraine Isilith — fah-RAIN / ISS-ill-ith

        • Myrddin — MUR-den

        • Talaess — TAL-iss (like talisman)

      • mirathiel — ma-WRATH-thee-el

Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Wed Feb 11, 2015 2:08 pm
by Requiem
For all of the blood in which Eyraille and its ruling house of Sorde was soaked, and despite its resultant lack of allies for centuries of tyranny, it bore one beautiful feature which it perhaps did not deserve. That feature was, in fact, what lent it an alternate name. Deemed the Blood Kingdom or the Empire of War by surrounding nations, given Eyraille's history, denizens within (particularly those of the house of Sorde) laid claim to the majestic creatures that hailed from the snow-capped highland mountains in the north. It was the existence of the rocs--giant, eagle-like fowl large enough to carry the weight of at least two men--that lent it the more endearing title of the Kingdom of Flight. Or, as the more pompous Sorde bloodline liked to claim, the Land of the Skyknights.

Only centuries of persevering and patience had, at last, tamed the great beats whose strength in talons alone could tear a man in two. Many a king, in fact, when not taken by the wars the Sordes incited, had fallen in this attempt. But as man's relationship with horses had strengthened over the centuries until they had reached such a bond that the beasts were happy to serve them, so, too, did the humans of Eyraille finally earn the trust of the giant mountain birds. While plenty wild could still be found in the chilly, white-capped mountains, a massive culture of the birds had finally been tamed enough to serve the tyrannical royal bloodline. It led to the birth of the Skyknights--those warriors sworn to the crown, who fought not by terrain on horseback, but instead had mastered the tactics involved in aerial warfare, leading assaults that were far more difficult to avoid.

In spite of her bloodline's tyranny, Vega had looked on at the Skyknights with envy from the time she was a small child. The elegance of their armor and form, the way they wielded lances and bows like extensions of themselves, and the very show and idea of freedom that accompanied travel and attack by sky. It had, for obvious reasons, never been within her prospects: after all, she had been in line to assume her father's throne, after being married to the man of his choice (after all, the kingdom was a patriarchy, and even his own daughter was not fit for his crown). So look on and dream was all she could do, until the day she'd found her soulmate and animal familiar, so childishly (yet appropriately) named Aeriel.

She'd found the newborn roc at the age of eight, only a year after her infant brother had been born. So caught up in the joy of having a son was her father that his attention was no longer fixed so astutely on his eldest child, such that it allowed her the freedom to explore, spend time away from the home that strangled her liberties and suffocated her breath. The hatchling had obviously fallen from the top of a cliff, where the roc typically build their nests, and while it was lucky to have not sustained injury, it could not yet fly, and exposed as it was to the wild and elements, the youngling would have died. Naturally, Vega took it upon herself to shelter and care for it for several weeks, which then turned to months, and finally, before she knew it, years had passed when she realized she was spending the majority of her time with the creature, which in no time had grown large and heavy, and had learned to hunt on its own.

Flight was another issue, and an anomaly that would forever remain. The roc, who had once been the runt of the litter, so to speak, simply took to the air one day, when Vega had sneaked away from the citadel to where she had been harbouring the bird at the cliffs near the white mountains. One day, Aeriel simply wasn't there. The young princess' heart nearly broke, thinking her truest friend had outgrown her, until something vast cast a shadow on the ground, and as she looked up, her roc--not her pet, or her mount, but her companion--landed gracefully at her feet, pleased with its newfound skill.

And from there, as events unfolded--from the death of her father to her early decision not to take his place on the blood-soaked throne--their bond grew. They grew, matured, acquired bravery and new skills, enough that she took it upon herself to train to earn her place among the people who no longer had reason to reject her. It took over a year to master riding upon Aeriel's back, and several more to maneuver a lance or a spear. Not that Vega ever intended to ride into battle, or to incite further wars, but with all of the enemies that Eyraille had gained, human and otherwise, it was not illogical to prepare for the probability that they would one day be on the receiving end of warfare. The Skyknights were not murderers, not anymore: they were defenders, under Vega's guidance and lead, and with any hope, they would never rain blood from the skies again.

That was, of course, very wishful thinking on her part.

"My La-- Sir Vega." A sentry guarding the nests built for the knights' rocs raised his eyebrows at the sight of the newest (but by no means, least skilled) Skyknight, as she made her way for Aeriel, who was among the mass of sleeping fowl. "What brings you out here after dusk? Is there an emergency?"

"No emergency, Jetral. I couldn't sleep; I figured I might do a little reconnaissance instead of waste energy." A clicking, glottal sound with her throat and tongue perked the wings of one of the birds--her Aeriel--as she approached. "I won't be long."

"What do you plan to find in the dead of night, if you don't mind my asking?"

But Vega was already approaching her companion, equipping her with her saddle and reins, glad that the roc appeared eager for this nighttime excursion. "I'm not sure. But when I find it, I'll let you know." Winking at the aged man, she walked Aeriel out into the open, before pulling herself atop the majestic animal's back. "I'll not be gone longer than daybreak, at the latest; no one will even notice I'm gone." Tucking a loose tress of red hair behind her ear, the Skyknight hollared for her roc to take to the air. Moments later, the two were out of sight of Eyraille's citadel.

She had to get out, and it wouldn't have been the first time she'd ridden to forget. A guilty part of her psyche knew that Caris was right: if it were as simple as taking to the skies to outrun her problems, then she was sorely tempted. But the citadel would always remain, as would Eyraille's bloody history, as would her little brother's resentment for the responsibility she'd set upon his small shoulders. This was not an escape, but a reprieve, one that she knew Aeriel felt at her core, as well.

Tonight's reprieve was cut short when, hours later, her gentle roc let out a shrieking peal, one such that Vega had never heard. "Woah--woah, my girl, what's..." Another peal of pain, and this time, Vega could see why. Two arrows were embedded in her precious creature's feathers, one in her left wing and another in her breast. The Skyknight's blood ran cold with dread that the realization that they were, for the first time they'd taken flight, under attack.

"Aeriel...! Keep flying, we can--!" But the roc, unable to bear and manipulate the wind's resistance with a wounded wing. In seconds they were plummeting towards the ground, the rider clinging to her wounded mound as they sailed past trees, catching branches on the way, which ultimately buffered their rather unceremonious landing. Vega was thrown from the roc as soon as Aeriel made contact, tumbling until the trunk of a tree stilled her.

Pain shot through the Skyknight's head and torso when she tried to moan, dragging a moan from her winded lungs. "Aeriel... hold on, hold up... I'm coming..." Pulling herself into a standing position was miserable and agonizing, pain shooting through her core with every step she took. She feared that if she touched a hand to her ribcage, she would find it fractured. "It's only arrows... you'll be okay. Hold on..." Biting her lower lip, she took a hold of the slender, silver body of the arrows embedded in her companion's wing, and pulled. Aeriel let out another shriek; the arrow didn't budge.

"Gods... what in all hells is this?" There was a glimmer to the weapons, something unearthly and inhuman: something like a enchantment. No wonder they would not come free of her poor friend's flesh...

Vega had no choice: with an injured roc, among whatever injuries she, herself had sustained in the fall, she was in need of help. Which was not promising, given that her mere presence had been perceived as threatening... "Hello?" She called into the woodland, wincing at the intake of air it required to holler. "Please, we come in peace and require aid... is anyone there?" While her hand felt the hilt of the shortsword at her hip, she knew better than to think she'd be able to wield it, in her condition; an unfortunate truth, given the dire chance that she may not be welcomed with kindness, let alone awarded with help. Not if she attracted the attention of her very assailants.


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 12, 2015 7:45 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin Kyrenic moved through the woodland like a shadow, his deep gray cloak billowing in his wake. Despite the urgency of his swift pace, his footfalls were silent as he tread across the dense carpet of pine needles and moss that blanketed the narrow spaces between great trees. The nearly-full moon, half shrouded in wispy silver clouds, loaned an ethereal, patterned glow through the crisscrossing branches. This was the forest he had come to know and appreciate—outwardly still, yet teeming with life in the varying depths of its darkness.

The sound of a voice reached his keen tapered ears on a slight stirring of midnight breeze. He halted in his tracks. From the raw, animalistic shriek that had pierced the night, he had not anticipated the presence of a human—the closest villages were miles away, and they had no reason to be in this part of the wilderness so near the tail end of the harsh winter. His hands found his bow, and he notched a cautionary arrow in preparation for what he might find on the other end of this spontaneous quest. Theoduin did not innately possess an instinct to kill, but the past handful of centuries had hardened and embittered his naturally gentle countenance. He was no longer a stranger to the world’s violence, and he knew blood ran red as an angry sunrise; letting loose an expertly-aimed, fatal arrow was well within his capability.

The pungent, syrupy aroma of wounded conifers greeted his sensitive nose well before he witnessed the irregular broken pathway of severed branches in the treetops. As the female human’s voice called out into the plush darkness, he spotted them in the clearing ahead—an open expanse created by what he could only assume was a rapid downward plummet from the sky overhead. Snapped branches littered the forest floor around them.

Stopping at the perimeter and crouching in the underbrush, his green eyes blazed with sudden fury. The low, almost feline growl that emanated from the mighty roc’s throat was a rumble that he recognized immediately—a sound of great pain. Theoduin had not seen one since his sister Talaess had ordered the elves to leave Eyraille, but having grown up in the North where the large birds natively lived, he was no stranger to their power and legacy. It was no wonder he’d known to investigate its initial cry of distress; the kinship he felt with its kind had drawn him readily. The common original homeland of both species connected them to one another and to the earth on a deep spiritual level. It pained the elven scholar to see one in such agony.

Before he could stop himself, he was staring down the shaft of a drawn arrow at the back of the human woman. One twitch of his fingers and she would be dead at the roc’s talons. It was she who had taken down such a majestic beast; it was she, hailing from the cursed, blood-soaked lands of Eyraille, that was responsible for the attempted murder of a being of natural magic. Eliminate her, and perhaps he could save the roc…if he acted quickly.

Writhing in pain, the roc turned, and its new angle revealed a saddle upon its back. Theoduin’s brows knitted together as the revelation came. He lowered his bow a fraction. This was no wild creature, this was a steed of a Skyknight—and the woman was her rider.

With an arrow arrow still poised but lowered to point at the ground, the elf rose to his feet and emerged from the shadows. He could not allow the knight’s presence to dissuade him from coming to the aid of the roc, at the very least; as kindred spirits, it was his duty to assist. He would have to deal with the human on different terms.

“Remove your hand from your sword,” he announced in the Eyraillian tongue, his voice silken but stern, “and I will see what can be done for the beast.”

Startled, the roc screeched again, attempting futilely to stretch its wings. Theoduin, nearly forgetting the woman altogether, slung his bow across his shoulders and returned his arrow to the collection in his quiver. He moved quickly to stand directly before the frightened, wounded creature. Pursing his lips and looking directly into the intelligent roc’s eyes, he outstretched a hand—and after a lengthy pause, the bird responded by placing her large, dangerous beak against the warm surface of his palm. The elf’s eyelids fluttered closed.

Where there had previously been little breeze at all, a sudden stream of wind gusted from the north, sending whispers through the long-needled pines. Cautiously, Theoduin opened his eyes and withdrew his touch, the wind disappearing as swiftly as it had stirred. Unperturbed, his gaze shifted to the shimmering shafts of protruding arrows from the tender flesh of the creature’s wing and breast.

The elf’s breath caught in his throat. The faint glow and shifting colors surrounding each wooden stem was undeniably the product of an enchantment. There was no point in wasting time analyzing the nuances of the magic used to embed them there; they had to be removed immediately, or risk permanent damage to the delicate, stringy flesh beneath the roc’s thick skin and feathers.

“I can remove the arrows, but not here.” Theoduin looked to the rider, meeting her gaze for the first time. It occurred to him then that she might be wounded as well, and his eyes traveled to her feet and back again in scrutiny. "What of you? Can you subdue her as we walk?”


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:30 pm
by Requiem
Calling into the night yielded little aid for the Skyknight and her mount, it seemed, and for fear that they might encounter the very assailants that had stolen the flight from Aeriel's wings, Vega's voice died into the darkness that surrounded, hushing to a personal whisper. "No... no, this can't happen..." Her first thought, of course, was that of wonderment: who shoot a roc, such rare beasts that only yielded up to five offspring in their entire centurion lifetimes, out of the sky? Even poachers were no sot foolish as to hunt and kill the birds, and, for that matter, did not tend to have either the aim nor the weaponry for arrows to find its mark at such an altitude...

But taking down a roc was one thing. The beasts had, as far as she could understand, no enemies and few predators. Taking down the mount of Skyknight, on the other hand--someone who was part of the imperial guard of a land with no friends and myriad enemies... That made far more sense, and put her on immediate alert.
The sound of her heartbeat in her ears must have been so great that she didn't see the approaching figure, until she turned to behold the figure of a man, a bow and quiver of arrows slung across his back. The sight of the weapon raised internal alarm, and if not for his words, she'd have born the pain of drawing her shortsword, despite the bruising or fractures that ached deep in her bones.

As events unfolded the way that they did, however, it soon became obvious that he did not mean either of them hard, despite how suspicious it seemed that he wielded the same weapons that had taken her and her mount from the sky. Without hesitation, she dropped her hand from her sword and held them out in front of her. "Peace, friend," she breathed, her heart racing as he approached her wounded companion. "I take it, despite your weapons, that it was not you who stole the flight from mt roc's wings...?"

The answer was clear enough when the stranger knelt to examine the arrows himself. He did not mean them harm; somehow, of all the people her voice had reached, Vega had managed to summon real help, after all. In response to his question, she nodded. "I can try... she's never been injured like this." Moving to stand in front of the injured fowl, Vega placed a hand on either side of its great beak. "You need to stand... Now, Aeriel." But the beast was stubborn in her pain, and for several moments, wouldn't budge. "We're far from home, dear lady, we can't just sit here... Come on, now. Slowly. You can do it."

With enough gentle yet firm coaxing, and pitiful clicks from the back of the roc's throat, Aeriel stood, injured wing held outward while she tucked the uninjured one off to the side. "Lead on, I think she'll cooperate," she urged the stranger, keeping one hand buried calmly in Aeriel's feathers, while she kept the other arm across her chest to mitigate the pain that resonated through her ribs with each footfall. The Skyknight couldn't blame the massive bird for her stubbornness; while her steel chest plate mitigated wind resistance and might mean the difference between life and death in combat, such a fall had been hard on both of their bodies. She only hoped that the arrows were the extent of the damage that had been suffered, between the two of them.

Casting her gaze to the sky, the overcast conditions of nightfall had largely choked out the guiding light of the stars, rendering celestial navigation impossible. "Can you tell me where we are?" After walking in silence for long enough, she felt the question was not only harmless, but necessary. "Or at least if we are far from a village? Depending on whether or not my companion will be able to take to the skies again, anytime soon, I'd rather not have her stay in the wilderness. The rocs are adapted for the mountains, not the terrain... and certainly not a forest, where their very movement is stifled by trees and brush."


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:31 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin was no stranger to enchantment. Elves as a species possessed an innate connection to the earth and its elements, a bond that manifested in their propensity for forces of magic. Not every elf was born with exceptional ability; while most were well-attuned to magic’s presence and could feel the existence of those energies, only a small percentage were actually capable of manipulating that power. It was believed that the magic itself chose the vessels in which it flourished; there seemed no rhyme or reason for its appearance or disappearance in a clan or a bloodline. Those blessed with permission to wield its benefits were well-respected, as it took years of intense study and training to realize their true potential.

With his interest in academics exhibiting at a young age, Theoduin had been one of the few elves in his childhood that actively partook in such lessons. His eagerness to learn and to practice had evolved his moderate skill to something truly extraordinary. As he continued to grow and mature, so too did his power, until he emerged into adulthood fully qualified to bestow his knowledge upon other, younger generations with similar promise. Like most elf mages, his skills centered around one earthly element in particular, one that, like a soul name, provided great spiritual insight regarding who he was at his core. But unlike his miráthiel, it was not something that could be kept under wraps. Controlled, certainly, but not tucked away.

It was yet another reason why the elf scholar felt compelled to help the wounded roc, and why its shriek into the night had rattled him to his very bones and spurred him to immediate action—both were creatures of the air. 

He stood aside as the female knight approached her mount, watching carefully as she cradled its great head between her hands. This was no wild roc as he was accustomed to in the mountains of the North; this was a bird whose behavior this woman clearly knew, and whose temperament had been sculpted by years of interspecies interaction. Simultaneously fascinated and disapproving, Theoduin kept his face expressionless as at last the feathered steed lifted herself from the ground and took a tentative step.

“Come,” he said, his voice hardly stronger than a murmur. He pulled up his hood against the midnight chill. The more quickly they reached his dwelling, the sooner he could remove the arrows from the creature’s flesh—if he could remove the arrows from the creature’s flesh. Theoduin was a skilled mage, and it was likely that the weapons had been enchanted with an air-related spell to be able to strike such a beast at long range…but he was too well-educated to believe he had no shortcomings in skill. Still, he was their best bet. 

The unpredictable nature of springtime weather this far to the northwest meant that the thickening clouds beyond the forest canopy was no surprise to the elf, who knew the terrain well enough not to require the stars for navigation. Judging by the scent of moisture in the air, it would begin to rain before the sun awoke for the new day. With myriad predators roaming the woods, miserable moist weather on its way, and injuries to both rider and mount, the wounded duo would have been hard pressed to make it longer than a few days on their own.

“We are just inside the northwest border of Eyraille,” he replied evenly, turning back to glance at the young human woman. “There are no villages for leagues in any direction, and those nearest are small and lacking in the resources you would require.” The elf paused, leading them to the right down a small, overgrown path through the trees. The terrain grew steadily rockier as they approached the cliffside into which his dwelling was nestled, and at last they broke the tree line to reveal the glowing candlelight through the leaded crystal windows. 

“This is my home,” he announced, pulling down the lit oil lamp he’d left for himself upon his earlier departure. “I can promise that no harm will come to you on my account. You may leave whenever you wish; there needn’t be any preamble.” Gesturing to their left, he approached a broad set of double wooden doors whose large, greased iron hinges allowed a silent opening. The dark cavernous interior appeared to lead to nowhere, having been built directly into the rock. “The stables,” he explained, shining the lamp forward to reveal several wide, unoccupied half-stalls. He reached up to hang the lamp from a nail near the center of the chamber, flooding the room with a flickering orange glow. “Aeriel can stay here, out of the damp and away from the wolves. If you would like to get her settled, I will return in a moment with some supplies.”


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 12, 2015 11:26 pm
by Requiem
Just inside the northwest border of Eyraille... Were she not so afraid to breathe deep, for fear of fractured ribs against vulnerable lungs, the Skyknight would have sighed with relief. So they were not quite so far as she had thought, given the angle at which they had fallen, their course set off kilter by the sudden attack. It did beg the question that, if no villages or habitations were anywhere near, what was she to divine in terms of the identity of their assailants? Poachers did tend to frequent woodland areas, that much was true, but again, no poacher she had ever met had the aim, practice and weaponry required to take down the glory of a roc.

Not to mention, no one anywhere near the broken kingdom of Eyraille would have access to enchanted arrows, nor the means to enchant them...

The welcome orange light glistening off window panes brought both pangs and solace to the Skyknight. Indirectly, this was her own fault. Nothing but her sleepless mind had required this nighttime excursion; had she simply rolled over in her bed and counted numbers in her head, allowing her poor mount the rest that she needed, this never would have had to occur. Her younger brother would be at no shortage of admonishments when at last she returned home, likely far later than she had originally anticipated. After all, she'd promised the nighttime guard that she would return before the citadel had realized she was gone.
With any luck--and luck alone, it would be--Caris would not act brashly at her absence, or jump to any ludicrous conclusions...

"Thank you... she is accustomed to the cold, but certainly not the damp," Vega nodded her appreciation as the kind stranger led them into the stables, where she urged her wounded companion to sit and rest, despite the slightly less than adequate shape and size of the structure. "I know, I know... it isn't like home," she crooned in response to Aeriel's guttural indications of discomfort. "But it's good enough, and it's better than being out in the damp, yes? We should be grateful that our plea fell upon helpful ears. There's no reason not to count our blessings..."

Reluctant to feel anything but miserable, the roc lowered her head and tucked her beak beneath her wing. "If we are on the borders of Eyraille, then would I be correct to assume that you, sir, do not swear fealty to any particular empire?" Vega's inquiry was innocent enough, without a hint of judgement or any indication that the question was loaded. As the stranger gathered the supplies he felt he'd need, the Skyknight began to tug and pull at the pieces of brush and twigs that had gotten caught in her armour in the fall, tiny pieces of woodland that stuck out uncomfortably around her neck and towards the bottom of her ribcage. When, at the extraction of a long twig sporting a handful of leaves, her fingertips came away wet with blood, the scent caught the roc's attention, prompting more urgent, guttural noises.

"That's enough. You know I'm fine," she hushed the bird; if a few scratches was the extent of her own injuries (although it really remained to be seen...), then she considered herself very lucky. "You say that no towns or villages are within reasonable distance," Vega raised her voice again, so as to reach the stranger's ears. "Might, then, you have any idea who would have seen fit to steal my mount from the sky with arrows such as... well, such that they cannot be removed by normal means." The mystery surrounding the attack did not sit well with her, to say the least. The Skyknight only hoped that her prospects to return home shortly would not be hindered by yet another phantom attack.


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Fri Feb 13, 2015 5:52 pm
by Astrophysicist
The elf regarded the young woman silently at her question regarding his loyalties, his green gaze lingering perhaps longer than what was socially polite. It did not seem a loaded question; she did not strike him as one pressing for information for her own gain, or assessing any sort of political stance. And yet he was wary to answer. She was clad in Eyraillian knight’s armor, after all, and there was no telling what a sworn servant of the Sorde bloodline might do should she discover what he was.

Unable to avoid the question, he lifted his chin infinitesimally and spoke the truth. “You are correct,” he informed her stiffly. “I swear fealty to no one but my own self. I dwell here in isolation.” Hidden in the austere reply was a subtle warning—one that indicated he had every intention of keeping to his lonely lifestyle. Nothing she could do or say could sway him otherwise, and he would fight to his end to keep it that way. Besides, hailing loyalty to Eyraille as an elf would only lead to execution, if not by the frightened humans then by his own furious kind.

Leaving it at that, he disappeared up a twisting stairwell to the upper floors of the home. When he returned, he carried a second lamp, two large wool blankets, and a large book bound in mahogany leather. The metallic tinge of blood in the air caught his attention, and he looked toward the Skyknight with concern much as the bird had moments before. He tossed a blanket her way. “We will attend to your wounds after your roc’s,” he informed the woman, pointedly ignoring her question regarding the culprits of the attack. He could only hope the spell of the arrows might provide evidence to their origin. As it stood, he was just as baffled as she.

The elf knelt near the great bird, placing one reassuring hand against her flank as he brought the light closer to the arrow shafts protruding from the feathers. In the flickering lamplight, the iridescent shine of their enchantment shifted between pearly shades of pink and green. He cradled the book in his lap and thumbed quickly through the pages. The golden brown of the parchment betrayed the volume’s great age, and line upon line of elegant Elvish scrawl decorated the text block of each spread. The scholar, skimming the text, wrapped one hand around the shaft of an arrow, his eyes darting across the page for some insight into how to call it away from its victim.

Barely audible, he cursed under his breath. The text provided little help. He would need to decipher its workings on his own, it seemed, and the answers were carefully guarded. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and envisioned the magical tapestry binding the enchantment in place—but it was a hopelessly tangled mess, its chaos not the result of lack of expertise but rather purposely designed to invite confusion, to make it impossible for an outsider to diffuse the spell. The silvery threads could simply not be traced in their journey through the twists and knots.

But whatever mage had cast such a spell had not anticipated Theoduin’s timely intervention. Though he could not “see” it, he could taste the wind that had been bound by the enchantment, feel its thrashing desire to escape its fibrous magical prison. His eyelids fluttered open. All he had to do was summon the air from the tapestry, and its entire structure would collapse, useless, as though it had never been draped about the arrows in the first place. The foolish mage who had enchanted the them had not possessed an understanding of the nature of wind. They had captured it wild to propel the weapons great distances in the sky, banking on its desire to escape—and yet that desperation was precisely what would unravel its magical entrapment.

Acting quickly, he drew forth the imprisoned breeze from one, then the next, and at last the third. A haze of glittering silver and blue coated the pale skin of his slender hand, dissolving the arrows’ previous sheen.

“Steady her,” he ordered suddenly. With the Skyknight in place, he gave each weapon a firm, fast tug, dislodging them first from the wing and then from the breast. He tossed them unceremoniously to the stable floor, and the roc gave a long, deafening screech that had the elf's chest aching in sympathy. Theoduin, utilizing the other blanket, pressed the fabric to the bird’s feathers to staunch any blood that might flow from the puncture wounds.

“I need to examine the arrows more closely, in my library,” he said at last, satisfied that the bleeding was under control. “I believed myself to be the only soul for miles. This attack is troubling. Perhaps the weapons themselves can provide a clue, now that they are freed from Aeriel's body.”


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:17 am
by Requiem
"I'm not badly hurt," Vega hurriedly replied, self-consciously wiping the red tint staining the tips of her fingers onto the knees of her pants. "Please, just... do what you can for her." The deep-seated fear that resonated at the core of the Skyknight's being was the possibility that whatever was enchanting those arrows might instill permanent damage to the roc and her ability to fly. Not only would that compromise her standing as a Skyknight (it could take another decade, or longer, to build the sort of rapport she and Aeriel had with yet another mount), but the rocs were not known for surviving long after they lost their ability to fly. So taken were they to the skies and the mountains that it was almost as though losing the ability of their wings was synonymous with losing the will to live.

Watching the stranger with curiosity and keen hope, one glimpse at the letters scrawled across the tome he held offered a sudden surge of insight. While she couldn't be certain, the elegant lettering resembled that of Elvish script, from the few meager glances she had observed in history books--only after her father had passed away, and she'd taken schooling into her own hands. Blue eyes averting her attention from the aged pages (the tome must have been well over a century old, given the wear of the pages and weathering of the leather cover), she risked stealing a glance at her benefactor, wondering whether the slope of his ears (hidden though they were by unruly curls and waves of brunette locks), and whether or not they might be pointed.

Her train of thought was led down other avenues, however, as the stranger leaned towards the great beast, and looked to her for cooperation. Without a word, Vega placed a hand on either side of the the great bird's neck, bracing herself to hold the beast steady as the stranger prepared to remove the arrows. Unsurprisingly, the roc did not respond kindly, shrieking in pain as it very nearly knocked its rider off her feet. "Ssshh! Easy! Aeriel, relax, he won't hurt you." After putting up a fight for a few seconds more, Aeriel settled, flicking her head in annoyance, but not longer thrashing at the potential expense of the woman trying to hold her still.

"The arrows were enchanted..." It wasn't a question, as there was certainly no question regarding the nature as to why the arrows had taken so long to extract from Aeriel's flesh and muscle tissue. "I can only guess it took magic to remove them... but I suppose that is your business and not my own. What concerns me is that Eyraille has not seen magic for... Well, many generations, to say the least. That we were attacked with enchanted weapons along the very borders of my own kingdom worries me." But if this magic user (who claimed not to be their assailant, at least, though she was inclined to believe him) could not speak to the attack, then there was little point in pressing the matter.

Gently massaging the thick feathers along the roc's neck, Vega sighed, knowing that the odds they'd make it back to Eyraille anytime soon, let alone before daybreak, were slim. They'd flown for an hour from the citadel: on foot, with a wounded roc, it could easily take over a day. "I don't know if she'll be able to fly again tonight... at least not soon enough to bring us back home before daybreak." She admitted sheepishly, turning a regretful expression towards the helpful stranger. "Would it trouble you too much if we could stay the remainder of the night in your stables? With some rest and time for the pain to ebb, she is likely to be more cooperative... I'd be more than willing to compensate you for your help." But what use would a solitary man who lived apart from civilization and empire have for whatever money she could offer? Helpful though he was, she had a feeling he would much rather see her and her mouth leave, and return to his solitude.


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:05 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin narrowed his eyes, unconvinced by the woman’s claim regarding the injuries she’d sustained in her plummet to the earth. The roc’s blood was not the only blood he smelled in the air; he had detected the sharp, metallic tinge of the human’s wound as soon as he had returned with the book. And minimal though the woman claimed they would be, it did not seem wise to risk the consequences of neglecting a Skyknight of Eyraille in her time of need.

But as much as the elf scholar wanted the only reason for providing care to be the avoidance of political ramifications with Eyraille, the truth was that he was not so heartless. As willing as he’d been to draw back his bow and fire an arrow through her back, knowing that she was a friend rather than a foe to the fallen feathered beast meant he was more inclined—compelled, even—to assist her as well. Because whether or not he wanted to believe it, beyond his emotionless exterior was a soul who still cared deeply in spite of the injustices it had suffered at the hands of men.

He seemed not to hear her offer of compensation, and if he did, he chose pointedly to ignore it. “We must tend to you now,” he announced matter-of-factly, cradling the leather-bound tome in the crook of his arm beneath his cloak. “You are welcome to stay the night inside, although I would not deny the roc the company of her rider should the rider prefer that arrangement.” The elf narrowed his eyes, meeting the woman’s gaze. “But I insist you follow me for the time being.”

The sternness of his tone indicated that there was no use arguing. Thankfully, the woman was more willing to cooperate than her mount. He led her up the winding stone staircase, the lamp casting irregular shifting shadows over the smooth walls that had been chiseled from the cliffside nearly a thousand years prior. A more consistent golden light spilled from the door he’d left partially ajar at the top landing, and he pushed through, holding it while his unlikely guest passed over the threshold and into the salon.

The room was immaculate. For a creature living in self-imposed exile with next to no possibility of visitors, Theoduin kept his solitary residence in prime, tidy condition. Apart from the burning fire, the lamp light, and the stacks of books in the library that rested on his desk, the entire dwelling looked precisely as it had when he’d reclaimed it as his own—minimal, clean, and barely lived in. The salon’s dark, glossy stone floor was covered with a large woven rug upon which rested a finely upholstered settee and two oversized armchairs. The fireplace hearth was bare, as the elf had earlier departed from his library in the neighboring room.

“There is a washroom this way, in the guest bedchambers,” he informed her, pushing open an arched wooden door to reveal a spacious suite. “I will draw you a bath so as to clean your open wounds, and you may have your privacy in here. But first we must examine you for graver injuries. Come.” He stepped into the library with his gaze cast down, suddenly conscious that this was the first time any outsider had glimpsed the manner in which he lived. The ceiling height in this room was at least twice that of the salon, with crammed bookshelves lining every wall on its entire vertical length. A warm fire blazed opposite, filling the room with a welcome reprieve of warmth against the chill of the early spring forest. He unfastened his cloak and slung it over the back of his desk chair, the book finding a place atop others on the surface of his workspace.

“If you could remove your armor…?” he stated, his voice rising suddenly as though to make it a more polite question rather than an order. When she complied, he held out his hand tentatively, fingertips brushing against her shoulder and pausing at her clavicle. All living beings possessed some force of energy within them, whether or not they themselves could detect or control it; it was what made it possible to heal flesh and bone with magic. Of all those who specialized in one of the four elements, earth mages were by far the most adept at coaxing wounds to mend, but true healing mages were rare and considered a classification of their own.

As a master of the air, Theoduin was apprehensive about what damage might lie invisible beneath the human rider’s skin. Thankfully, sensing that internal force of energy was a skill within the scholar’s reach—a skill not unlike the one that allowed him to connect spiritually with the roc herself—and it would at least provide insight to what was wrong below the surface. Whether he could resolve those injuries remained to be seen. It was a tall order to ask the trust of a complete stranger.

“You have a fractured rib,” the elf announced suddenly, meeting the woman’s gaze. He paused, searching her eyes for any sign of disapproval, wariness, or anger before he continued. She had witnessed his power in the stables, after all; surely the topic would be no surprise as he went on. “I am not a healer,” he confessed, lifting his chin in subconscious pride as he brazenly breached the dangerous topic before the Eyraillian human. “My expertise lies with a vastly different type of magic. But, with your permission, I can do my best to ease your discomfort. I know enough to cause no further harm; the worst that may befall you is my failure to alter the injury at all.”


Re: [rsv] In the Land of the Skyknights [18+]

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:56 am
by Requiem
There was an authority in the stranger's voice that took the Skyknight off guard, stealing any argument from her mouth before it so much as fell upon her lips. She had no desire to leave Aeriel alone, and by the way the roc thrust its beak forward towards her chest, eyes closed in a way that seemed to demand consolation for her injured body (and even more injured pride), Aeriel did not appear to wish to remain alone, either. But there would be no use for a roc who could fly (assuming Aeriel was resilient enough to brave an hour flight back home after a little rest) to have a rider who turned out to be too injured to carry. And imagine the controversy and panic that would spike if the beast were to return without its rider...

"Sit tight. You'll be safe... I won't be long," she crooned to the massive bird, ruffling her neck feathers before following the magical stranger inside his home. To say the man appeared to live a humble life was an understatement, and yet there was something undeniably comforting about the small fireplace and the fur rug. It was a welcome change from the undeserving luxury of the castle atop the citadel in Eyraille's capital, reminding her of the simpler days she'd spent as a child, away from her father and closer to the woodland and its creatures. Aeriel--an abandoned hatchling she'd found when she was only eight years old, and who, given her state, should not by any odds have grown to be as strong as she was now--had been among those creatures.

So distracted was she by the humble and comfortable abode, she nearly didn't hear him when he asked her to remove her armour. "Oh... right." Removing the shoulder guards and chestplate was no easy or comfortable task. Her body ached terribly from the fall, and as soon as he confirmed that she had a fractured rib, she was at least able to take solace in the fact that it simply wasn't a matter of low pain tolerance in not being able to brave a fall. "A fractured rib, I can endure. A broke my collar bone once, as a child... nothing comes close to discomfort of that nature." Offering a small smile of appreciation, she looked towards the guest quarters. "Take no offense, please, but I think I'll simply clean any open wounds and return to my roc... I worried to have her out of my sight. And I am sure the feeling is mutual, for her."

From behind closed doors, Vega forwent a bath and simply opted to run water and a cloth over the scraped on her elbows and along her torso, mindful of the bruising that had already started to form. if this was the extent of her injuries, she counted herself lucky, especially since it was nothing that would require her to report any incident of injury to her brother. It was bad enough that Caris would overreact to find that she had left in the middle of the night; she was loathe to think of what rash decisions he might make to find she'd returned wounded, as well.

With her scrapes and cuts clean, the Skyknight dressed again and left the stranger's guest suite (only pondering for a moment just how many guests he expected to get, out in the middle of the forest and beyond and empire's legislation), flashing another thankful smile in his direction. "Thank you for your help. So sorry to have bothered you in the middle of the night..." With a final nod, she carefully descended the winding staircase, and returned to her beloved animal companion in the chill of the stables.

Aeriel was not long to fall asleep, comforted in the presence of the woman who was all at once her saviour, master and friend, but Vega, in spite of her exhaustion, was not so lucky. While the pain dulled to a shadow of an ache throughout her body, that within the right side of her torso intensified from a dull throb to what felt akin to tiny explosions in her ribcage, every time she breathed too deeply or shifted her position against the soft feathers of the giant eagle. If she couldn't sit upright without agony, she was quick to realize, there was no way she would be able to lean forward and cut through the wind resistance on the roc's back when they returned to Eyraille. She was just as much at fault for pride by turning down the mage's offer to help as Aeriel had been in her obstinacy since they'd fallen into that clearing.

Her body in more pain than her pride, the Skyknight stood and made her way back to the mage's home, but made it no further than the door when the wooden panel swung open in front of her, the stranger wide awake and alert behind it. "Oh..." Pushing aside his uncanny knack for her presence at his door, she turned her eyes downward and self-consciously scratched the inside of her elbow. "Adrenaline, it's a funny thing... How it's supposed to help you survive trauma, yet is just as quick to make you forget you're hurt." But she was wasting his time with tangents, and frankly, there had been no room for pride from the moment she and her roc had crashed. "If it isn't too much trouble, or too great an inconvenience... I'd like to take you up on your offer from earlier. As it stands, I won't be able to fly home with my roc, if I can't lean forward to counter wind resistance."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 8:27 pm
by Astrophysicist
When the female Skyknight returned to the stables to keep the company of her injured roc, Theoduin felt a strange surge of relief. With so many unknowns governing their interactions, the elf felt as though it were impossible to gain his footing. He was fortunate, he realized, that it was this particular human woman who had fallen on his proverbial doorstep; any other devotee of Eyraille might not have been so accepting of his unconventional methods, even if his magic had saved their beloved creature. There was something about this human that seemed fundamentally different—and it was both alarming and refreshing at once.

He retired to his bedchambers soon after, extinguishing the extraneous lamps and coaxing a small fire upon his private hearth. The warm comfort of his downy bed was a welcome reprieve from the stress of the evening, yet try as he might, slumber eluded his desperate search. Nevertheless, the tranquil night was soothing; he quieted his thoughts with shallow meditation, embracing rather than loathing his wakefulness.

The distant, muffled sound of stirring in the stables reached his sensitive ears some hours later. The elf swung his legs to the side of the bed and padded in stocking-adorned feet to the salon door, which he swung open as soon as the wounded Skyknight reached the top landing. “Come in,” he told her quietly, raking his fingers through his unruly curls. “Lie down on the bed in the guest room. I will join you in a moment.”

Theoduin returned with a copper mug of steaming tea, an herbal brew steeped from crushed peppermint leaves, powdered pine root, and a pinch of spice. “Drink this,” he advised, placing the cup delicately in her hands. “It will help you to relax, and to find rest afterwards.” He lowered himself to the edge of the mattress, pursing his lips tightly as she settled into a comfortable position—or at least as close to one as she could manage, given her state of pain. He could sense her increased tension in response to the worsening ache, and he narrowed his eyes in sympathy.

After a pause, he took her cool hand and cradled it snugly between his own. “This will not hurt you, but it may feel strange,” the elf confessed, closing his eyes in preparation for the healing spell. “Try your best not to move or speak.” Wasting no time in getting started, he sought the thread of energy within her and tugged upon it, feeling for the interruption in its stream that indicated the injury. Much like it had upon the removal of the enchanted arrows, the image of a woven tapestry appeared before his mind’s eye, glowing smooth and regular—with the exception of one particular patch.

As a commander of the air, he thought it best to utilize what he knew to power his goals. Air and wind were prone more to tearing and upsetting things than they were to mending them, but that didn’t mean he couldn't harness the potential of its power to enhance his skill and precision. He drew from the cool air around them, channeling its current into the woman’s palm, down her arms, and into her rib cage, where a blaze of silvery light indicated the source of bodily distress. All that was left to do now was coax the bone back to unity.

But that was much more easily proposed than accomplished. It did not seem to matter from which direction he approached or which method he tried; the snag in the tapestry simply did not wish to obey his command. His brows knitted together in determination. There had to be some way he could affect it… And suddenly, there it was. It was no complete fix, but it would be enough to lessen her discomfort and jump-start her body’s natural healing process.

When he opened his eyes and drew back his hand, he caught a fleeting glimpse of a blue-white glow as it dissipated from the woman’s palm. “I’m afraid I was not able to do much,” the elf admitted, looking tired but genuinely concerned. “Enough, perhaps, to soften the edge of your pain. How are you feeling?”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 10:29 pm
by Requiem
Pride and scrutiny aside, Vega had been entirely prepared to trust the stranger this time, with the pain giving her no real alternative. "Thank you," she murmured as he bid her to come inside, back to the comfort of his humble abode. The quiet of the night and gentle glow of the few lamps he'd lighted again brought an odd sense of relief to the Skyknight; having expected a threatening encounter, only to come upon someone with kindness and help to spare, it almost felt all good to be true. In fact, earlier, she had truly believed it too good to be true. But with her healing roc resting in the stables, the arrows pried from her flesh and feathers, perhaps this was an exception for skepticism. She had to believe it was.

Moving to the guest bedroom, she sat and waited patiently for the stranger to return, gratefully taking the mug of steaming tea. "You're too kind," came her murmured thanks, as she took a sip of the hot liquid, relishing how it warmed her from the inside out. When the mug was about half empty, she complied with his request and gingerly laid upon the mattress, glancing sidelong at her unlikely benefactor as he took her hand. "Never in my life have I had to entrust my health to a stranger," she mentioned, the quirk of a smile at the corner of her mouth indicating she meant no harm by it. "My pride and wariness earlier today made me foolish... whatever you can do, I thank you in advance."

Taking his advice, Vega spoke no more, and closed her eyes, trying to remain as still as possible. There was a strange sensation down her spine, like a tingling, as if someone were tampering with her nerves. It wasn't pleasant, but also not entirely uncomfortable, at least not so much that it made her flinch. The tingling then intensified in the palm of her clasped hand, traveling down her arm until it found the source of pain. At that point, the Skynight's breath caught in her throat, such that she held it without even realizing it. Her mind returning to the pain, it reminded her of someone touching a wound without quite knowing what to do with it, and she clearly struggled to endure the exacerbated sore spot, all the while managing to remain relatively still.

As soon as she let out her breath in a deep exhale, however, it felt as though the tension that had gathered in the fracture began to dissipate, like it was on a drain. With gathering relief, Vega's muscles relaxed, and by the time he let go of her hand, that sharp, throbbing ache had settled to the back of her mind, no worse than an annoying headache.
"You did enough," she reassured him, her words gliding on the long sigh she pressed from her lungs. It no longer caused her agony to take a deep breath which, as far as she was concerned, was a vast improvement. "I'm better than I was... I'm so sorry to have woken you and troubled you for this, but I can hardly express my thanks."

The soothing warmth of the tea had settled in her stomach and began to spread through her veins, and with its soothing effect, she was reminded of the heaviness of her eyelids and limbs, having not slept in what felt like an entire day. "I should be all right... to fly tomorrow," she murmured, stifling a yawn, before casting one last, inquisitive glance at the kind stranger at her bedside. Before she knew what she was doing, she brought up a hand to gently push unruly, dark curls away from one of his ears. Just as she'd suspected, they came to a subtle point, at the very tips. "I thought so..." She murmured sleepily, more to herself than to the unlikely healer, before she let her hand drop, and her eyes close. 

The image of his profile, pointed ears and all in the warm candlelight, was the last thing she saw before she fought slumber no longer.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:22 pm
by Astrophysicist
The flickering lamp light reflected in the elf’s green eyes gave a semblance of emotion as he regarded the female Skyknight. Perhaps he had indeed done enough, as she claimed; he supposed any improvement at all should have been considered a victory for someone without a trace of natural healing talent in his bones. Still, it bothered him that despite an entire library of magical history his disposal, none of his precious books would have done any good; no amount of reading or preparedness could have changed the outcome. Altering what his magic was naturally predisposed to do was fundamentally impossible, and that’s what frustrated him.

It was also the first time he had ever attempted to heal a being as complex and mysterious as a wounded human. As a young elf, he had often tried to mend the ailments of injured wildlife, but his efforts had rarely made a difference in the state of his patients’ conditions. He supposed he should have been grateful for the fact that his trying did not actually harm the receiver of his care; that, perhaps, should have been enough. But even at a young age, Theoduin had loathed his ineptitude in that particular area, hated the part of himself that prevented him not just from baseline success, but from excelling too. He was not proud to admit that the childish trait still prevailed some centuries later.

“Rest now,” he advised her quietly, narrowing his eyes. “I will wake you when the sun rises so that you might be on your way.” But before he could rise to his feet, her hand was stretching toward him—and he paused, tensing, as her fingertips brushed the soft brown waves of hair that strategically concealed his ears from her view. Suddenly, he could feel the chilly night air upon them as she brushed the locks aside, exposing the gentle point that could easily have branded him for an execution among different company of her kind. His breath halted instantly in his lungs.

But then she was drifting off, a side effect of the herbal tea and the magic that had inhabited her system. He hardly dared to breathe again before he was out of the room, taking the lamp with him. Pulse thundering in his ears, he knew there was little chance of falling asleep now; she knew. And while she claimed to have thought it, there was a major difference between certainty and suspect—a difference that could translate to life or death with an Eyraillian. With a heavy sigh, he retired to the library and took a seat on the settee near the unlit fireplace.

The dawn came some hours later, heralded by chattering forest birds and warm golden light peering through the thick curtains. Before he could wake her, the elf scholar heard the Skyknight stir, and he looked up expectantly when she appeared in the open doorway. He had moved to his desk, where all three of the arrows he’d removed from the roc’s feathers lay in a neat line. One of them he had severed in two to inspect the inner material, and several open books with illustrations of weaponry and trees lay open on the periphery in Elvish script. His expression, so often unreadable, was a subtle hybrid of anxiety and bitterness.

Without so much as a good morning, Theoduin leapt straight to the heart of his concern. “They are constructed from the flexible fledgling branches of a rowan sapling,” he told her, picking up one of the severed pieces and rolling it between his fingers. “But I found a mark, here.” It was small, almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Indeed, it was possible that the details would be lost to a human’s eyesight; it was obscure enough to make out for an elf. Nevertheless, it was there, a tiny crest composed of Elvish script that bore not only the initials of who he assumed was the enchanter, but also the mark of Myrddian high court.

He extended the section to the woman, then reached up to run both sets of fingers through his thick hair, not bothering to press it downward and away from his ears. “I have been out of contact with my kind for some time,” he confessed then, his voice barely a whisper. His green eyes sought hers. “But I believe this is a mark I recognize. How do you feel?”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Feb 18, 2015 11:55 am
by Requiem
The herb-and-magic induced slumber was perhaps the strangest under which the Skyknight of Eyraille had ever fallen in all of her life. At some points, her mind's eye filled with such visions of a strange room in a strange place that she thought she was dreaming when in fact she was not, and other times she was certain that the fields, halls, and skies that suddenly manifest were real enough to touch. Come morning, she wasn't even certain as to how long she'd been awake, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling, patterned as it was knots of ancient wood grain. First, she registered it as unfamiliar, along with the bed in which she lay, inciting a surge of panic to ignite in her core and speed up her heart. That was, however, until the events of the previous night gradually came back to her, and context returned to her strange situation.

She was not without pain, sitting up slowly and throwing her legs over the side of the bed. The fracture that had rendered her temporarily useless was not nearly as cutting as it had been when she'd sheepishly taken the kind stranger up on his offer to help, but one glance at her lifted shirt and the purple, blue and yellow bruises that painted nearly half of her torso was enough to make her wince. There was no strategy when it came to buffering a fall from the sky; she could only count herself as lucky that she was still alive (along with her beloved roc), and that the worst she had suffered was fracturing her ribs. With some careful bodily maneuvering, there was a chance that she might not come across as suffering any injury, when she returned to her brother.

Questions--about the magic this man used to heal her, how he had stripped the enchantment from the arrows, not to mention the origins of the weapon used against her and her mount--were already forming in her foggy head as she stood in the doorway, addressed by the kind stranger before she had time to so much as utter a 'good morning', or a 'thank you' for what he'd done. Truly, it astounded her that he appeared to be studying the arrows, gleaning what little information he could from their form and craftsmanship. It must have been to sate his own curiosity, the Skyknight reasoned; after all, he'd already helped her beyond what she could have hoped for, and there was little in it for him in terms of reward.

Taking the proffered arrow piece, Vega ran her eyes over its sleek frame and unique point. It was far unlike anything to be found in Eyraille, but she hadn't the trained eye of the stranger to discern anything about it aside from its foreign nature. Studying the crest that he pointed out, the elegant sloping of the design rang as vaguely familiar to the Sorde descendant, but only through memory of something she'd read about many years ago... Confirmation of her suspicions came when her saviour named its origins. "The Elvish court," she breathed, pale eyes hardly able to comprehend that she beheld a piece of history that most of Eyraille would never know, having never seen or spoken to Elvish kind in a very long time. "But... what am I to make of this? Could it have been an accident? Perhaps in that they mistook myself and my roc for someone... I don't know, or for something else?"

While her given situation had been less than ideal from the very start (by the parameters of her word, she should have returned to Eyraille hours ago), a new urgency stirred apprehension deep in the young woman's gut, superseding all other aches and pains. About to ask his opinion on the matter, it suddenly hit her that neither of them knew quite how to address one another. So mixed up had she become in the ails of the previous night that she'd forgotten the courtesy of offering as little as a name. "Forgive me for my rudeness... I never introduced myself. My name is Vega." Fiddling with the arrow in her fingers, she was quick to set it down, as soon as she noticed her own nervous habit. "Do not feel obligated to reciprocate, but allow me some means of addressing you. At leas enough to thank you for what you've done."

Glancing out one of the rounded, crystalline windowpanes, she caught sight of one of Aeriel's massive wings as she shifted in the stables to groom herself. Grooming was always a good sign; perhaps she'd have the strength to make the flight back to their kingdom that day, after all. "And I'm all right. Physically sore, if I turn my body too fast or too far to the side. But what worries me now isn't my wounds." Biting down on her lower lip, she pushed aside the tresses of red hair that had escaped their weave, from the fall and then a fitful sleep. "If there is anything you can tell me, anything at all, about your people or their intentions behind this aggression... It is my duty to protect my kingdom. I cannot let an incident such as this remain unaddressed if it is, in fact, a threat on Eyraille."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2015 5:30 pm
by Astrophysicist
It had been centuries since Theoduin had laid eyes on the minuscule mark that had been emblazoned into the fine wood of the arrows’ shafts. Not only was it a symbol that denoted the Elvish high court and Myrddin as a kingdom, but its slanted script and abstracted form had also served for thousands of years as the Kyrenic clan’s family crest. The sight of it alone after so long s separation was enough to generate a startling pain of remembrance in his chest, as though one of the enchanted arrows had embedded itself through the muscle of his heart. He took the broken segment from the woman when she offered it, and he placed it back upon his desk as though its smooth finish burned his fingertips.

“Vega,” the elf repeated, his brow furrowing somewhat at the introduction. Although she had made no additional comments regarding his identity, the fact remained that she was a human, an Eyraillian, and a Skyknight on top of it all—and despite having trusted her within the walls of his isolated cliff-side home, he could not bring himself to extend the faithful courtesy any further. The truth in her hands could be as deadly a weapon as the arrows themselves or the sword at her hip. To forget that would be to throw himself willingly toward unnecessary risk, and after all he had survived and fought for with the sake of his family in mind, he refused to give in to a foolish interspecies partnership.

Nevertheless, keeping the peace meant cooperation, and all things considered he should have been thankful for her response (or lack of one) to his pointed ears. “Theoduin,” he responded at last, the name flourishing from his lips with the soft, breathy enunciation characteristic of the Northern Elvish dialect. “I am glad to hear that you have improved enough to travel. I would have done more if my skills had allowed it.” He glanced warily to his bookshelves, then sought her gaze once more.

“It has been a great many years since I have spoken with another of my kind. My interactions with any life apart from that which dwells in the forest have been few and far between.” The scholar cleared his throat and shifted positions in his chair. “I can only venture guesses as to why such an attack was carried out, or why you and your roc were the targets struck. But there is nothing to gain from my uninformed speculation on the matter,” he continued, ending the sentence with a sigh. “Still, as you have a duty to Eyraille, so too do I have a duty to Myrddin—at least as far as offering it my protection, whatever form that might take for a solitarian such as myself.”

Theoduin’s tone grew distant. “That said, Vega,” he went on, addressing her by name, “I know nothing of the motivations behind this attack other than the limited information the arrows have told me. Should you choose to investigate, go forth with caution, for reasons that are obvious. But for all the atrocities committed by your people against my own—horrors neither one of us can deny—I would not place blame upon the shoulders of the high court for defending the lands Eyraille forced them to occupy in the first place.

“But neither of us wants a war,” he finished. “The only way for you to find the answers to your questions is to seek the source itself.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2015 11:31 pm
by Requiem
"Help such as yours is more than anyone in my position could have hoped for," she smiled, bowing her head respectfully. "Coming to a fall in the middle of a forest, miles from where anyone tends to make their homes, I would have counted my blessings to see a friendly face, let alone someone willing to be of aid to me and my roc. If only I thought I could be of any use to you, I'd insist on repaying the debt... Although something tells me that one such as yourself would have little to do with monetary compensation." She hoped the comment did not come across as a slight or a judgement, on her part, and only in hindsight--considering herself as an Eyrallian, and him, an elf--did she feel as though she might have been better off leaving out his need (or lackthereof) of monetary compensation at all.

It was fragile ground upon which she tread.The only thing the two had going for them was that they both, seemingly, had no zeal for ill relations, despite what was written in their histories, and all the blood that stained them. "Certainly, I am not suggesting you incite any negative emotions among your kind on my behalf, regardless of this incident," she insisted, her voice hitching a quarter of an octave for fear she was coming across as not only disrespectful, but as heavy-handed as her father. The one person she never wanted to be. "Make no mistake, I do not desire animosity. Eyraille does not desire animosity, not any longer, but quite the opposite... It is a kingdom on the mend. Which is why I would like to address this incident, in light of clearing the waters of any assumptions or prejudices."

The Skyknight was quick enough to realize she had cornered herself into an area that required explanation, especially considering that this was likely the first that Theoduin (or any of this kind, for that matter) might have heard of her kingdom's slow and gradual reform. Taking a deep breath (a tad too deep; she flinched and wrapped an arm gently around her healing ribcage. "Listen, I realize you are a man of an in your own right, apart from your people... And that this may not mean much to you, considering those facts, but the truth is, my kingdom has been in a slow and agonizing state of reform for a very long time. My b--our new king is very young, and sorely inexperienced, but he is nothing like his father. We don't want war. What we want is to gain back the trust, however long it may take, of the people Eyraille has alienated over the centuries."

It was a difficult sentiment to articulate without coming across as positively desperate, but in all truth, Eyraille was, as it stood, more desperate now than it had never been. With nary an ally to stand for or speak in their defense, and having completely ceased all practice and presence of magic centuries before, the kingdom of the Skyknights had long since handicapped itself. Now, with only herself and Caris to put it back together, piece by painstaking piece, it was easy to become lost in the potential futility of the endeavour.
Fortunately, Vega was determined to remain an optimist. And if she couldn't see the silver lining in this setback, then there was no way her brother would.

"Theoduin..." She very nearly winced at her attempt to pronounce the foreign yet beautiful syllables on her strictly Eyraillian tongue. "You said yourself that this cannot go unheeded. And after all you've done for me already, please believe me when I say I am ashamed to ask for one more favour." Searching his stoic visage, Vega's pale eyes met his, revealing the very desperation she'd fought so hard to veil from her voice. "Eyraille needs to contact Myrddin. I need to know how this can be possible without it being misinterpreted as an aggression... can you tell me how to do this? Or, better, could you inform them we request parlay? I'm sorry, I realize this is more than I should ask of you, given all you've already done... But I feel I need not articulate the urgency, here. You seem already to understand."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 6:56 pm
by Astrophysicist
As sore as the issue was, the injured Skyknight was right. Indeed, the only way to get to the bottom of the strange attack was to confront the elven high court directly—a royal group with whom gaining an audience could mean waiting years or decades, an inconvenient span of time even for a member of his kind. For all this human woman’s good intentions (or, at the very least, her apparent lack of ill will), her chances of speaking to the ruling elves of Myrddin were nigh at best if she did not wish to wait until her own middle age to do so. Whether or not his unexpected guest knew this, he could not say; her gall even in making such a request was spurned either by ignorance or bravado, and it was impossible to determine which.

Regardless, his people were not likely to reveal the sensitive motives behind an action to a perfect stranger. If Theoduin’s sister as queen was anything like the Faraine he’d known growing up, then she would be protective and stubborn—ferociously so. She was as likely to grant answers to Vega’s inquiries as she was to forgive the sins of the Sorde bloodline with an embrace and a smile. As much as the Eyraillian people and its government had grown to detest his species over the centuries, the elves’ reciprocal hatred of humankind burned bright and strong as a ravaging wildfire. The fact that they had remained silent and inactive as a kingdom for so long did not bode well for continued peace, not in light of the enchanted arrows bearing the brand of their intent.

In the young woman’s pale eyes shone desperation, however, as well as a dark uncertainty that mirrored the expression in his own. He searched their depths in silence for some moments. But despite the delay in his response, and despite how his thoughts twisted and turned in a tumultuous storm, his chest had already tightened in response to what he knew at his core must be done. The Skyknight had crash landed at his doorstep by chance, but now it was time to seize the reins from fate and resume their own control.

“The only hope of reaching Myrddin is to find and cross a bridge between the two kingdoms. And given the state of our sovereignties, it is very possible that I am the sole such link.” The gravity of his tone indicated that this position was not one of honor, and that he boasted no amount of pride in the inescapable role he must play. “If you can be given audience with your king, then I advise you to gain his permission to bargain on his behalf,” the scholar went on. “The presence of a Sorde, particularly the monarch himself, would never be allowed in our court. Nor would I lead him there.” Theoduin pursed his lips in a small display of lingering bitterness. The name of the tyrannical Eyraillian line had departed his tongue like a curse.

“I will serve as ambassador if I must. And it seems I must,” the elf continued, his emerald gaze narrowing as it sought hers. “I wish to avoid nationwide conflict as adamantly as you seem to. But be prepared to negotiate. Arm yourself not with steel, but with information.” His shoulders rose and fell with a heavy sigh. “How long will it take you to prepare?”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:14 pm
by Requiem
Vega should have suspected that treading upon Elven territory would not be so simple as crossing physical borders into another empire, such as the seldom traversed forest which separated Eyraille and suspicious Ilandria. Her predecessors had effectively driven them away, into hiding, where apparently they'd remained... Up until they saw fit to shoot a symbol of the kingdom that had wronged them straight out of the sky. 
And that she and her roc had so happened to fall on what was practically the doorstep of the only one who could access Myrddin... Whether it was fate or just fair luck, the Skyknight was not about to turn down his help when it was desperately needed. She'd learned her lesson about pride the night before, when she should have accepted his assistance before her fractured rib had put her through such agony.

"Three days," she replied at last, not once looking away from the elf's timeless eyes. They mirrored uncertainty and a certain reluctance, neither for which she could truly blame him. "Three days is all I need. And while I regret that Myrddin's monarch would not welcome mine for the sake of peaceful negotiation, it is not my place to question the reasons why a... Sorde would not be welcome. Especially while those reasons are already abundantly clear."
This, of course, left her in a predicament: neither she nor Caris could in good will send a messenger from Eyraille into uncharted and clearly hostile territory. No, despite what Theoduin said, it had to be one of them.

No. Not one of them. It had to be her. She could already envision how her younger brother would crumble, overwhelmed at the news. But if he knew, he would never let her go, at least not alone. The Skyknight did not make a habit of dishonestly, especially not with Eyraille's king--Caris, still too young for his own responsibility, and her only remaining family. But if it meant his safety and peace of mind, then what other choice would she have? Deserter--that was what they called her, behind her back when they thought she did not hear. A deserter queen, reluctant to take responsibility for her bloodline and all that they had done.
Vega was not a deserter, though. And for this, she would take full responsibility into her own hands.

Without another word, the Skyknight retraced her steps from the night before, finding the staircase and the door that led into the morning's blinding light, ignoring whatever advice Theoduin gave her (not far behind) to move with care, if she must move at all. This was an issue more serious than broken ribs, and if she did not act soon, the aftermath could be more damaging.
"I will meet you back here, in this very spot, in three days time," she told Theoduin, following Aeriel's shriek of delight as her rider approached. By the roc's display of energy, Vega guessed she was ready to fly. "I... I appreciate your help. And I am sorry to make you a part of this, but when it comes to nationwide conflict, nobody is spared. Not even those who claim no sovereignty."

Struggling to replaced her armor, mindful of the ache in her chest that reminded her she was not as well off as she felt, Vega mounted the roc when a preliminary examination of Aeriel's wounds found them to be minor. At least, enough that the beast's wings could kick up a gust of wind capable of knocking the elf over. "I'll inform my king of what you have told me... I'm sure he will see fit to send an appropriate diplomat, especially given that he is yet so young. Don't be surprised if we cross paths again." With a crooked smile, Vega shouted the order to ascend, and only a minute later, Theoduin was left with only the echo of wings beating against wind resistance, and a small handful of arm-sized feathers left in the Skyknight's wake.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2015 7:07 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin nodded his farewell as the human woman climbed atop her anxious roc. The great bird spread her wings in preparation to take to the sky, and for a moment, when the elf locked eyes with the beast, he could feel a spiritual rise of wind in his blood. Aeriel, despite the gravity of her injuries the previous night, seemed all too eager to join the clouds once more—and although both rider and steed were sure to remain sore for some days, this display of enthusiasm on the roc’s part was a very good sign that she was on the mend.

The beating of Aeriel’s wings upon take off generated a downdraft strong enough to knock a grown man off his feet. Theoduin, connected by the magic in his blood to the very force that propelled his guests upward, braced himself against its invisible flow, diverting the gust just enough to insure that he remained firmly rooted to the earth. Within a matter of moments, the Skyknight was nothing more than a retreating speck against the bright cerulean sky, and soon she was out of range of even the elf’s keen eyesight.

He could feel his exhaustion creep forth in her sudden absence. With a sigh, the elf bent down to collect several of the roc’s gigantic shed feathers. Their oily fibers shone silvery white in the morning sun, and he turned them over in his grasp to study the wavy parallel patterns in the subtle threads of the plumage. He placed them in a tall glass vase atop the desk in his library when he returned inside, allowing the glistening stalks to tower symbolically upright above the severed arrow shafts bearing his sister’s—and his family’s—royal crest.

He sighed heavily. With one shriek in the middle of the night, a new destiny had crash-landed at his feet, and the pressures of what was now to come felt like a stifling weight against the wall of his chest. Theoduin spent the next three days preparing as best he could—gathering what information his books could loan him regarding any historical precedent, crafting several more sets of arrows from young saplings in the surrounding forest, and rehearsing what he might say when the court gates opened to reveal the dumbfounded faces of his elven brethren. But three sunsets, three noons, three nightfalls came and went too quickly to plan for all possibilities.

When the mighty flap of roc’s wings alerted him to the arrival of the Skyknight, he realized he would have to live with the feeling of unpreparedness. It was a feeling to which he was sorely unaccustomed, having lived the most recent centuries in a state that allowed for leisurely processing dependent on no one and nothing but himself and his own mind. International peace waited for no one, conversely, and the moment of reunion with his people that he had been dreading—and indeed the moment he thought might never actually occur—was approaching all too quickly.

He stepped outside just as Vega and Aeriel touched down upon the plush spring lawn, his face registering no surprise to see the redheaded Skyknight’s familiar face. “Vega,” he addressed, meeting the woman’s gaze evenly. He held out his hand to the great bird, who pressed her beak against his outstretched palm in greeting. “The two of you are recovering well, it seems. What news from your king? I take from your presence now that you were granted ambassadorship.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2015 9:45 pm
by Requiem
"You went where?" The last of the Sorde bloodline stood face to face in the council chamber, the door locked to prevent any uninvited company. As soon as she had landed outside the citadel with Aeriel, that afternoon, gingerly favouring her right side, the Skyknight had foregone conversation with any of the guards or other counsel members, as to where she had been. Her words and experience were for her brother's ears, alone; not those of warmongering Commander Ulrick or the wizened faces of council members who had decided they'd mistrusted her the very day she'd abdicated her right to the throne. Not information as delicate as this. "And why are you clutching your side? Vega, what in all hells happened? Tell me!"

"Sit, Caris. It isn't so dire as what you might think." A lie, at the very best; or perhaps just an uninformed truth. "But you need to listen, and this must remain between us, lest Ulrick decide to take matters into his own hands and prepare for war without your consent. You must keep your eye on him... he isn't to be trusted." Vega proceeded to explain, then, that Aeriel had been shot out of the sky during a late night reconnaissance mission. What she refrained from disclosing was the nature of the people she suspected had loosed the arrows--along with the nature of the person who had helped her. Instead, she framed the entire incident as an opportunity to parlay with potential allies; and, as such, asked her younger brother permission to pursue the endeavour.

A line formed between Caris' pale eyebrows. "But shouldn't it be me? To address this issue as Eyraille's monarch? You made your choice, Vega, and I'm doing my best to support your decision, but don't think for a moment that you can be a queen when you so choose to be. Whenever it conveniences you. If you didn't have faith in me to make the right choices--"

"It is not about faith in you, Caris, nor a matter of my pride." Vega reached across the table and clasped her brother's hand, meeting his suspicious eyes. "You need to be here to anchor Eyraille in safety. What if this ruse is a trap? I cannot, as both your sister and part of Eyraille's army, allow you to take such a chance. Please, try to understand, all that I am doing is only to facilitate you in your position."

Caris was no easier to win over through argument than she was; stubbornness was a Sorde trait that would take generations to dilute in their pure bloodline. But as high strung and suspicious as the young king might be, he was not unreasonable. After a few days of clandestine preparations, with the reason for her leave kept between only the two of them, Vega--with clean armor that had been tended to smooth out its dents--checked Aeriel's wounds thoroughly before determining the beast could safely fly. This time, however, they would take a longer route, circling the very area where they had been shot down just days before. If it had happened once, and the elves perceived her as encroaching on their territory, then there was no reason to believe it wouldn't happen again.

The Skyknight left early in the morning three sunrises from the day she'd left Theoduin's abode, and arrived early that afternoon, not far from where the elf lived. While her own sense of direction was not nearly so keen, a roc never forgot their own instinctual sense of aeriel navigation. Aeriel's wings kicked up dirt and leaves just outside the elf's stables, although the noise to alert him to their presence appeared not to be necessary. Theoduin came out to greet the roc first, which resonated rather warmly with the Skyknight. "Aeriel hasn't shown a sign of discomfort since we arrived back in Eyraille," Vega explained. "As for me... it only hurts if I turn my body too quickly or somehow manage to fall asleep on my stomach."

Carefully dismounting, she smiled and nodded respectfully. "Eyraille's reigning monarch has given me leave to speak on his behalf. He is aware we that time are stifling and relations are tense... We would like to clear the fog between your people and mine as soon as possible." If it was possible...


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Feb 28, 2015 11:03 pm
by Astrophysicist
While the elf scholar couldn’t say he was glad to see the Skyknight returning to his isolated home, neither could he claim to be disappointed. He would have been surprised to find that someone else had been sent in her place, for more reasons than simply because she’d promised their paths would cross again after three days’ time. For a human, and an Eyrallian no less, Vega the Skyknight seemed to possess a wisdom that transcended her relative youth and the violent culture in which she had been raised.

She had opened herself up to him in an unusual, highly spiritual way when she had requested his magical aid against her fractured ribcage. Theoduin, unskilled though he was at the finer points of healing magic, had examined the complex tapestry of her life force. While he had not, of course, had access to her thoughts or feelings or any aspect of her mind, the unavoidable truth of healing magic was that in order to mend one first had to invade—and the elf had detected nothing in the nature of her being to rouse any innate suspicion. Besides, she was good to her roc, and respect like that (on either side) was not easily feigned; it was clear the feathered beast possessed genuine affection for the woman, and vice versa.

“I’m glad to hear the two of you are faring well,” the elf said, his sincerity manifesting in a rare glimmer of emotion that illuminated his verdant gaze. “Would you like to come inside for some tea? I would like to familiarize you with the aspects of Myrddin high society that you will encounter when we approach the court. As a human especially, your tread must be light. Preparation is vital for the success of this endeavor. Come.”

He led her inside and to the vast library, where the bright noonday light streamed in a blaze of white gold through broad crystalline windows. Having heated a kettle of water in preparation for her arrival, he poured two glasses of strong black tea and handed one to his returned guest. “What we are about to do is unprecedented, according to the resources in this library,” he informed her matter-of-factly, lowering himself gracefully into one of the deep upholstered chairs nearest the hearth. “My people keep to themselves. It’s in our nature. Our interactions with Eyraillians, even before the Sordes’ reign, was limited. A human has entered the grounds of the high court only a handful of times in our recorded history, and never after the…massacres.”

Lifting the ceramic mug to his lips, he blew across the steaming surface of liquid before indulging in a sip. “You needn’t know our entire history. Such study would take years that we do not have and resources that no longer exist—in part because of their destruction at the orders of your past kings, and also because we had to leave so much behind during our emigration.” His gaze swept over the high shelves that surrounded them, and he raised his empty hand in a gesture to the volumes in their current company. “While you need not trouble yourself with those details, you do need to know something of our clans, our bloodlines.

“But before I begin…” He paused, studying Vega over the rim of his glass. His expression was thoughtful rather than accusatory, despite the enmity he felt for her kind as a whole upon reflection of their tragic histories. “What do you know of us? Tell me all," he instructed lightly. “It will help me to know where to begin.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:17 am
by Requiem
"Of course." Vega, from what little she knew of Theoduin as a person, had anticipated that he wouldn't send her blind across the hidden borders to the empire that he had abandoned. Particularly in light of the tensions between the two kingdoms--past and present, it would seem. "Just give me a moment. Might I keep Aeriel in your stables for the time being? I am loathe to keep her in plain sight... for obvious reasons." Someone had been watching them from the ground to the overcast skies three days ago, seeing their silhouette against the somber clouds even in the dark of night. Someone not particularly far from Theoduin's habitation, and if they'd been spotted then, there was no reason to believe they might not be spotted again.

Guiding the roc into the stables, she stroked the giant bird's smooth beak, murmuring reassurances that she'd be back for her later. "I anticipate that it might be best to leave her behind, at any rate," she mentioned, looking to the elf for confirmation, which she found in his ever wary features. "We got lucky, last time. No lasting or dire damage to either of us--thanks to your valuable help, of course. But I do not want to count us as seeing such luck twice in a single week. Not if Aeriel's presence might come across as a tactic to intimidate..." Without her beloved roc, Vega only felt like half of the defender that she actually was. But that was a feeling she was willing to endure for the sake of potentially amicable relations between Myrddin and Eyraille.

Or, at the very least, the potential to avoid all-out war, when Eyraille was still to fragile to fight back.

Following Theoduin inside, she gratefully accepted a mug of tea, somewhat chilled from the cool of her armor against her body for hours as she soared through the sky on her mount. Only now, without the rind rushing past her face, did she begin to warm up. Sparring and battle was one thing; too much adrenaline rushed through a Skyknight's veins for them to realize the numbness of their face and extremities when they had a target, whose overthrow was often either a matter of life or death. Simple travel was much different, and didn't necessarily require armor. Given the nature of this visit, however, Vega had seen it as necessary, and wasn't about to compromise and leave her breastplate behind with her roc. Not with ribs that were still slowly, but surely, healing.

"You must understand, what we were taught as children--of other races, and of magic, at that--was all very biased. Perhaps even fabricated." Vega began with a humble sigh. "Mind you, we've made an effort to find out the facts for ourselves, since the death of the last Sorde monarch. Which is no easy task, mind when nearly all of our history books are written from a prejudiced Eyraillian perspective. Those that aren't are few and far between, and up until the death of the last King Sorde, were also illegal." By we, she could have meant the collective of Eyraille, as a whole. Little did Theoduin know was that she was referring to herself and to her brother--a very dangerous slip that might have prevented her from setting foot in Myrddin.

Sipping thoughtfully at her tea, she parsed through the crowded information in her overworked mind. It felt like 'searching for a tear in the ocean', as one of her nursemaids always used to say. "What I know of your kind... Well, you've already demonstrated that you are adept in magic, a craft that has eluded Eyraille for centuries." That fact was already a given, however. For fear of coming across as naive, she went on. "Your kind is timeless, or at least, your mortality far more drawn out than that of humans. Rumour has it that you are expert archers... which, I suppose, isn't much of a rumour, at this point. As far as your politics go, however... I admit, I am at a loss. Which is why I desperately need your help, not in simply gaining me an audience with your monarch, but in filling me in on the state of your affairs."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 3:07 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin offered not so much as a nod as Vega spoke, watching her unblinkingly as she recounted her limited knowledge of his people. As she professed, the facts that left her lips were minimal—and although not altogether false, some components were understandably misinformed. By this he was not surprised. Surely it was a two-way avenue; he was not so naïve as to believe his own kind held all the answers regarding Eyraille’s inner workings, but neither had Myrddin strived to eliminate the other kingdom from existence.

“Allow me to start by addressing what you’ve mentioned.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees while his hands cradled the warm mug of tea. The change in position was enough to place him in the path of a streak of sunlight spilling through the window, highlighting the right side of his face—and the delicately pointed ear that protruded just beyond the dark waves of his hair. “Nearly all elves, being what we are, possess a connection to the natural magic that exists all around us. Many are born with varying degrees of skill to call and manipulate that power, and most commonly it manifests around a certain natural or spiritual element. In my case…” He held up a hand, and a steady breeze of cool air descended from the chimney, sending the small flames flickering in a dramatic dance. 

“But even a predisposition for such a thing requires years of study and practice,” he continued. “It is perhaps not so easy as the legends claim. But you are correct—we have the time, as we are not subject to the same mortal aging process as your kind. We reach our maturity somewhere between fifty and one hundred years of age, and as long as our will to survive is present, our lifespans can stretch indefinitely if we are not wounded or killed in battle or conflict.” The elf pursed his lips. “Which leads me to archery. Most of our warriors choose to train in the handling of the bow, that much is also true. Fewer choose the sword these days, although many accomplished swordsmasters live among our ranks. But we do not prioritize our weaponry over the trust amongst our own kind, especially now.”

The elf took another long drink of tea, then rose to refill his glass. After offering another serving to his guest, he returned to his seat and continued. “Prior to our emigration from Eyraille’s borders, Myrddin existed as a kingdom without lands of our own. We kept to ourselves on land that was peacefully shared. We have since claimed our own territories to the West, bordering the sea. But before this consolidation, my people claimed origins from quadrants in the North, South, East, and West, each with smaller governing clans whose ancestors could be traced to the First Era. The ruling family, however, came from the mountains of the North, and to this day our queen is a member of that long bloodline. She is Queen Faraine thiel Kyrenic, of the Kyrenic clan.”

It had been a long time since he had spoken his sister’s name aloud. Surprisingly, it felt natural rather than awkward—although it inspired a bitter pang of something akin to regret deep in his core. “The high court consists of advisors and representatives from other clans, although the highest-ranking members are also of the North, the Filvens. It is important to know about this distinction, and also to realize that although Queen Faraine is reigning matriarch, she is not the only one to whom we must appeal for answers.” Except, of course, in Theoduin’s case—but Vega did not yet need to know that particular piece of information. The revelation would come soon enough.

“I imagine this is not far removed from your own governing system, although the terms of any one members’ service is quite complex,” he went on. “Is it not typical for the human monarch to consult with a council, of sorts, as well? Perhaps I can draw some parallels between them to guide your understanding.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 9:25 pm
by Requiem
While Theoduin had the time and the age to have become intimately familiar with Elvish politics, Vega wished she could say the same about her relationship with Eyraille. She could speak at length regarding the days of her father's reign, and his father before that, but in terms of the way her home was currently governed... Well, it was haphazard, at best. She could only speak from experience. "Like I've said, Eyraille's new king is very young." Her voice mirrored her own deep-seated regret, borne of the guilt of which she would never be rid. "He is therefore heavily influenced by Eyraille's imperial council... both for better and for worse. There are some who doubt his abilities as a ruler and seek to manipulate him for their own purposes. Fortunately, there are those who keep an eye on such individuals and inspire him to think critically about certain proposals brought to the table."

Every time she spoke of Caris, Vega couldn't help but feel as though she were patronizing him, putting him down, belittling his significance. It was enough for her to amend, "But King Caris Sorde is not like his father. His desire is to rebuild Eyraille from the ground up, repair relations with the races that his forefathers have driven out, and pave the way for hope that one day, magic will return to his home... to my home. Up until little over a decade ago, it was outlawed, and those caught practicing it were subject to punishments as severe as death." Many which, as a very young girl, she had been forced to watch. And executions were something that you never forgot, even if you'd never made acquaintance with the person at the end of the noose.

"It is a shame that your monarch... or, the monarch of your people, for that matter, would not meet with my King directly. I feel acting as a messenger between kingdoms is not the best path to peace... Although I do understand her hesitancy." And, on the other hand, she was glad to have her brother out of the path of potential danger. After all, there was no reason to believe that she wouldn't encounter her own difficulties, facing the very people who'd shot her out of the sky and--had it not been for Theoduin's help--would have left her for dead.

And, speaking of her own safety... That was a stone she'd rather not have left unturned for the sake of investing in luck and good fortune. "I feel that you know what to expect from this than I do," she went on, taking another small sip of tea, but largely left the beverage untouched. She remembered how quickly it had made her fall asleep the last time she'd drank any such Elvish concoction, and considering how foggy her mind had been, couldn't quite recall if its effects had been intentional. If she was going to speak before the Elvin queen on behalf of her brother and all of Eyraille, then she needed all of her faculties. "And while I am prepared to leave my lance behind and go into this in good faith that I will not be harmed, I'd like to keep my shortsword on my person... If these are really the people who shot my Aeriel out of the sky, then I feel as though I am entitled to defend myself, if need be."

It was not her intent to antagonize him nor come across as demanding, but Vega would only leave with him with nothing short of wearing both her armor and her sword. After all, it was not as though, with or without her lesser weapon, she would stand much of a chance against armed archers (should there be any), and her swordsmanship paled in comparison to skills as a Skyknight. "Is there anything else that we should address?" She asked at last, feeling as though there wasn't enough time in the world to prepare her for what she was about to set out to do. "If not, I'd like to request we leave at your earliest convenience. I did not specify to my... king that I would be soon to return, but the sooner we clear the waters, the less the remainder of the Eyraillian guard will worry for me."


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astrophysicist
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It was not just that Theoduin had the age to learn the nuances of Elvish politics, although that much was true; it was that he had the patience, discipline, and interest to study not only Myrddin’s contemporary issues, but to research the events of his kingdom’s long and varied past. He had little doubt that he was the best read and most informed member of his kind on the subject, but it was not a badge he could easily wear with pride. Since the terror of the Sorde reign in Eyraille and the subsequent mistreatment of his people, the cultural quest for knowledge screeched to a halt in favor of survival. Those who felt more at home in libraries than battlefields found the carpet pulled from beneath their feet by a shifting society.
 
While he knew it was logical and appropriate to prioritize weaponry over wisdom during times of trial, it had nevertheless altered Theoduin’s path from scholar to soldier, from student to sovereign. His propensity for education had once been praised, but it had never manifested as politically advantageous after his parents’ deaths, before Vega’s surprise arrival and their impromptu peace-seeking mission. Perhaps, then, his time spent in isolated investigation had not been wasted as so many (his sister included) had deemed—and strategically, perhaps its relevance could be useful upon his return. If nothing else, it was helpful now in preparing the Skyknight for their audience with Faraine; he could make her see the grace in his talents, rather than the superfluousness. 

But that was a selfish way of thinking, and the time had come for his isolation to end. “The last time an elf interacted with a Sorde, it ended in bloodshed. The queen would not wish to repeat history. I also believe she herself might wish to initiate the conflict if she were to meet with your king directly.” Theoduin pursed his lips. “You will be allowed your armor, of course. As long as you keep your shortsword in plain sight and your hands far from its hilt, you will be permitted to carry it. The court allows weapons based on a strict honors system, so as long as you do not defy it, you will encounter no opposition. Or, I should say, no legal opposition. Do not expect a warm reception.”

He swallowed, shifting his gaze to the glowing embers in the fireplace. Neither of them were likely to receive a joyful welcome—an elf who had renounced his family and kingdom was one thing; being accompanied by a human was yet another.

“In spirit of full disclosure, I will remind you that it has been a great many decades since I have set foot on Myrddin soil, let alone upon the stone of the high court.” The elf leaned back, searching for Vega’s gaze. “They have no warning of our arrival. Sending word would only have roused further suspicion, and after the attack, I deemed it unwise to preface our visit. It will only be a matter of a short duration of time that you will be identified as an outsider, in part because of the language barrier…” He narrowed his eyes slightly with unintentional condescension, not quite masking his disapproval in time. “I would advise you also to wear a cloak to cover your armor. Cloaks are also worn within royal walls as a sign of both respect and equality. If you do not have one with you now, you may borrow one of mine.

“We shall depart here on horseback. It will be swiftest,” he continued, rising to his feet. “I have not kept horses here in some time as evidenced by the empty stables, but while you were away I made a trip to the nearest Eyraillian village to the south and bartered for two of the animals. They are saddled and prepared outside.” He retrieved a deep navy blue cloak from the hook near the door and fastened it at his neck, then slung his ornately carved bow across his shoulders. “Let us make haste to get the most from this daylight.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Tue Mar 03, 2015 11:16 pm
by Requiem
It came as a relief that Theoduin did not oppose the Skyknight's request to keep her armor and shortsword on her person--particularly when the elf confirmed that his queen might be inclined to instigate aggressions. All the more reason to continue to dissociate herself from her name and blood right, not to mention she felt all the more at peace with her decision to have Caris stay behind. It was violent potential such as this that made her realize her abdication had not simply been about shirking responsibility or refusing to sit in the same seat as her tyrannical father. First and foremost, Vega Sorde had realized a long time ago that the best way to serve her kingdom was to serve as part of its army--and, vicariously, armed with a land and airborne, there was no better way for her to protect her little brother.

"I am ashamed to admit I did not bring a cloak," she confessed to her host, the ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "One of the first things they teach you when it comes to mounting a roc and taking to the air is that anything loose--clothing, hair or otherwise--will not only become a nuisance on the wind, but it could mean an early and unnecessary death. Glide too low on the wind, enough to brush the treetops, and that one protruding branch that catches your clothes could be enough to snag you directly off the roc. If you don't manage to hang yourself with a cloak, then you can only hope that someone finds you before you fall to your death or perish of dehydration." The latter which, of course, was never a danger for Vega; her bond with Aeriel was such that the beast would alert the other Skyknights immediately. But loose clothing was a concern nonetheless.

Watching as he donned his cloak, the Skyknight gratefully accepted one that he offered that was similar in hue, yet appeared more worn. It fell loosely over her shoulders and hung lower at her legs than she found particularly convenient, but for the sake of customs and the evasion of animosity, it was a small inconvenience to bear. "Thank you," she nodded, ascertaining that the scabbard of her shortsword fell in front of the cloak; in plain sight, as he'd suggested. Without further conversation, then, she followed Theoduin outside to his stables, where her impatient roc awaited her, along with the pair of startled horses that she'd noted on her arrival.

"Relax and behave; I'll be back shortly," she assured her roc, stroking the flying beast's massive beak. "Don't be offended, you know I'd take you with me if I didn't think it would be risky." Despite her mount's unhappy guttural noises, she moved to one of the horses that Theoduin had secured. Horses were awkward mounts when you became used to taking to the air, but she wasn't unfamiliar with riding horseback. "I appreciate all your help, particularly in going out of your way to secure these two animals," Vega thanked her elven comrade (if he considered himself as such). "I'd still like to compensate you--for your help now, and from before. If there is anything that you wish or require, I'd be happy to try and oblige you."

Even if he wishes for anything beyond his own solitude, however, Vega had doubts that Theoduin would lay to rest his humble demeanor in light of her offer. As they set off, deeper into the forest, she noted that they didn't appear to be following any trodden path. Myrddin was either very well hidden, or he hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said it had been long since he'd visited his own disowned home. "How far do we have to travel?" She asked first, but it quickly occurred to her that that was not the question that weighed on her mind the most. With a surge of boldness (and to break the uneasy silence that seemed to settle between small talk), she turned to face the elf's profile. "What is it that made you leave...?"


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 4:27 pm
by Astrophysicist
They departed his cliffside oasis in the woods without delay, taking off into the surrounding forest by mid-morning light. An air of urgency fueled the quiet murmur of hoof beats on layered blankets of pine needles and soft soil, and for a long while neither spoke a word. For someone who had spent the most recent portion of his life in complete isolation, such silence had become natural, even welcome. Birds perched high in the canopy serenaded their journey instead, and the whisper of the light breeze through evergreen boughs and budding deciduous branches provided another layer of an unobtrusive soundtrack.

Though Vega’s off-hand remark regarding cloaks and Skyknights had garnered no immediate response from the elf prior to their departure, she had nevertheless unwittingly piqued the appetite of his insatiable curiosity. It didn’t seem to matter that they marched forth toward uncertainty; his thoughts skirted around the maybes and perhapses by focusing instead on a topic he had never previously considered. Of course it would be unwise to wear a cloak in the skies; one would have to consider air flow, a topic he didknow something about, in combination with practicality of movement for attacks from above. Had the two come together under other circumstances, he might have asked her to talk more on the subject. For now, though, he was content to ride on in quietude.

The Skyknight seemed to have other plans, but he found he could not blame her for speaking up. For someone whose travel was primarily of the airborne variety, and whose ground experience likely consisted of Eyraille’s well-established system of roads and trails, it was no surprise that she should wonder about their route and destination. “If we keep our current pace, I estimate we should arrive tomorrow evening, provided we stop for rest tonight,” he replied, his voice confident despite the fact that it had been a very long time since he’d set foot upon his kingdom’s soil. “There are no marked roads that lead to Myrddin, if that eases your mind. My people possess an innate ability to navigate the forest, and it is for our protection against outsiders that we no longer maintain visible paths.”

By outsiders, of course, it was obvious to whom Theoduin referred, but he kept his language in check for the sake of keeping peace with present company. Vega seemed quite self-aware for an Eyraillian, however, so his precautions were likely unnecessary—but it would not do to have the very ambassadors who meant to advocate for peace feuding before their arrival, defeating their own purpose. 

The scholar made no reaction to her next, bolder question, and continued to ride wordlessly as though he had not heard her query at all. Internally, he debated on how to respond; he did not believe that revealing the absolute truth was yet appropriate, and avoiding the inquiry altogether was similarly foolish if he were to be actively working to build trust with his human companion. With a sigh, he opened his mouth to speak at last.

“Our emigration westward prompted a lot of changes in our society,” Theoduin began. His intent was to be vague but honest, and to fill in relevant details at a later time if the topic came up, which it surely would. “Whether or not we actively fought your nation, we were inarguably at war. My interests, as you might have gathered, lied with books over battlefields, and I believed—still believe—knowledge can be more powerful than blades when yielded properly. I was no longer afforded the luxury of these pursuits. Combine that with…familial tragedies…” He faltered, thinking of his parents and his older sister, then cleared his throat. “I made the decision to leave.”

After a moment, he continued with a question of his own. “What prompted you to don the armor of a Skyknight, if I may ask?” he said. “Do you truly believe in this new king of yours?”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 5:46 pm
by Requiem
Tomorrow evening? Perhaps Vega thought it a smaller world than it actually was. When Theoduin had expressed that he'd left his home, she'd assumed that despite his self-imposed exodus, he hadn't gone far. The very real distance he'd put between himself and Myrddin intrigued her enough to ask the question as to what had truly motivated him, although in truth, she hadn't expected much of an answer from her Elvin guide than the very vague indication of differing in values and intentions that he put forth.

"I didn't realize we were so far from your home," the Skyknight mentioned casually, grateful in hindsight for the fact that Aeriel had eaten that very morning, and that Eyraille's resilient rocs could go up to a week without eating, and not be affected adversely. Especially if she wouldn't be flying for the next handful of days. "It does make me wonder what the wielders of those arrows were doing so close to your current place of residence, however... Is it common for the Elves to travel beyond Myrddin? Or is it possible that whoever shot Aeriel and myself down from the sky a few nights ago might have their own agenda?" She wasn't sure what unsettled her more: the idea that members of such a powerful race had gone rogue, or that the Elvin monarchy itself was set against her and Eyraille.

It came as no surprise, however, when Theoduin turned her own question on her, and once again Vega found herself justifying--not only for her own sake, but to another person--the reason for participating on the front lines as part of Eyraille's strongest military branch. Fortunately, it was a question that she faced often, enough that she'd spent the past several years refining her rehearsed response. "Eyraille has been a vulnerable and broken kingdom since the fall of its last king. This vulnerability has left it open, I believe, as the target for opposing forces. I do not have your magic or years of knowledge, unfortunately, but I have a lance, and an impeccable sense of balance. I was fortunate enough to come across Aeriel at a young age, and by the time I was old enough to be part of the Skyknights, I'd already mastered much of what what many still struggled to achieve. Becoming a Skyknight simply seemed like the best way that I was able to defend my kingdom."

As for belief in her king--her brother... That was a different question, entirely. And depending on who asked, different answers were required. But none of them diminished Caris' potential to be a good king. "I do believe in my king. I believe that he has far to go, but he also has what generations of Eyraille's kings had lost: and that is a vision beyond war and conquering. His intentions and heart are in his kingdom's room for improvement, and he opposes any and all of the heavy handed assumptions of his father and forefathers. He might be young, but he is what Eyraille needs." More than her--at least, that was the extent of her belief.

"What of your queen, then?" Since they were on the topic, and the trot of their horses was not enough to quell the uncomfortable silence between them. It did not feel right to know so little about the person who was going to guide her to negotiations with a potentially hostile monarchy. "Perhaps it is my own ignorance of your race... But it strikes me as odd that, given what you've implied, the monarch of such an enlightened race would favour swords over knowledge." Unless, of course, this assumed 'misunderstanding' was an exception to the rule, with Eyraille as the target. It chilled Vega to think that the tyranny of Eyraille's former kings could drive these people towards violence.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:09 pm
by Astrophysicist
Upon his self-imposed exile, Theoduin had ventured as far from Myrddin as he dared. Having researched old clan homes that included proximity to vital resources (including an existing library with most of its books left behind), he had settled on the abandoned dwelling built in to the cliff. It had once belonged to the wealthy Ghaels, a familial branch distantly related to the Filvens in the North. Their lands were strategically located—unusually isolated, barely within the borders of Eyraille (close enough to Myrddin for retreat if necessary), and just northerly enough to feel like his original home.

“My cliff-side house once belonged to another family, when we coexisted peacefully with your people,” he explained. “The actual border is difficult to track, but I believe the house to be just barely within Eyraillian borders. It’s possible that while you were flying that night, you drifted over the border.” He furrowed his brow, looking straight ahead. “Even the smallest crossover—a feather, a hair—would have triggered the launch of the enchanted arrows. I do not believe they were shot by any pair of hands. I believe, from the spells that bound them, that they were placed unmanned.”

It was both a reassuring and alarming thought. On one hand, it meant that the chances of them running into a group of armed elven warriors—sanctioned or rogue—were quite slim. On the other, it was disturbing to imagine these magically-enhanced traps existing in other places. It was highly unlikely that they would run into any others on ground-level; knowing his people, they would have targeted their defenses for their enemy’s most powerful military force. Besides, Faraine never would risk endangering her own kind, who were frequent travelers through the dense forests. Of that much Theoduin could be confident.

“The shift from books to bows was less a conscious decision from our monarch than it was a shift of cultural mindset.” He held back a sigh, focusing instead on shorter inhales of the crisp spring air. “We are a logical, rather than an emotional, race. Focusing our attention on survival was the only action we could take at that time. We lost the majority of our population, after all, and fighting back was not a realistic option. At that time.” Now, he looked toward his companion, searching for her gaze. “We have time on our side, but we also possess a differing perception of its passage. For those of us who lived through the reigns of the last few Sorde kings, the memory is still fresh and bleeding. Your people might believe the current young monarch will change Eyraille, but the rest of us hold our breaths and wait for the tyranny to resume. It is quite possible that we have bided our time enough, growing our numbers, strategizing. Queen Faraine may simply be planning for what we feel is inevitable.

“Myrddin’s push to militarization,” he continued, “was unusual, you are right. We do not prize conflict, nor have we traditionally found honor in battlefield prowess. It was a direct response to Eyraille that began centuries before Queen Faraine took the throne. It is possible that she has since pushed to resolve the change and restore a balance akin to what we had long ago, but I would not know. I have been away for too long.”

The elf pursed his lips. “I genuinely hope your king possesses the level of integrity and good will that you believe him to have,” he said. “I am sure you can understand my skepticism. But if this is indeed an opportunity to extinguish a wildfire before it consumes the entire forest, then I will do my best to honor your faith in your ruler.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Fri Mar 06, 2015 3:21 pm
by Requiem
It hadn't been the first time she'd heard it all, and it would not be the last ; 'it' being the generations' worth of Eyraille's reign of terror over other empires and their people. Having it reiterated by her Elvin guide did not make the sting of guilt burn in her core any less. It was a burn that would perhaps never be soothed, a weight that would never lift, associated as she was with the cursed bloodline. Could she blame the Elves for feeling driven to violence? And would it even be possible to gain their trust back? Caris' heart was in the right place, but he was still young, and easily overwhelmed. Until, with age, he mastered the sort of charisma that every good leader knew, his good intentions would not be enough. 
It was why he still needed Vega, and why she would remain involved for as long as it took.

"Caris only shortcoming is that he is young, and was... forced into such an astute position of authority when he'd hardly come of age." Vega bit her lip, feeling as though she was approaching tedious territory in coming across as defensive of her younger brother. But Caris, like any living being, had his faults, and it wasn't something she could simply fail to acknowledge. After a pause to think, she added, "It isn't just about my king, though. No monarch is successful without ample support, and our imperial council remains very much involved in his endeavours. Our progress is slow, admittedly, but you must understand that restoring peace is not simply my king's goal. It is embedded in the widespread hope of Eyraille's people. And I believe it can happen."

With all of the important dialogue out of the way, it became increasingly clear to Vega that Theoduin was not one for conversation, trite or important as it may be. Perhaps it came with the territory with being alone for as long as he had, and the Skyknight couldn't help but wonder if the elf ever felt the heavy blanket of loneliness on his sturdy shoulders. Perhaps his favour of logic at the expense of neglecting emotion (according to how he described his race) was enough to buffer the subtle blows inflicted by empty silences, and the warmth of his studious interests was an adequate substitute to the warmth of companionship; human, elf, or otherwise. Ultimately, she did not know whether to pity or admire him--but it was none of her business.

Taking this into account, silence stretched between the two for the majority of their trek, until the sun began to set and the air grew cooler, chilling the Skyknight's metallic breastplate. Out of necessity, Vega turned to her quiet companion. "We should find a place to rest for the evening, before it is too dark to see," she suggested, the orange rays of the setting sun glinting off of her polished armor. "And we should find water for the horses to drink, if we expect them to continue carrying us, on the morrow. Do you happen to know if we are anywhere near fruit-bearing trees?" Her keen instinct for animal care, spurred by her relationship with Aeriel, was infallible. No matter how small a task an animal performed, it was her mandate that they be treated well, with respect and with care. She'd never sleep with the weight of guilt, knowing that the poor steeds hadn't been fed or provided with water, otherwise.

They traveled onward until they reached a clearing up ahead, with the sound of rushing and trickling water reaching Theoduin's keen ears before Vega's. Daylight was quickly diminishing as they dismounted from their steeds, and the Skyknight couldn't have been happier. Traveling horseback required very different positioning and balance than her experience with taking to the air on a roc, and her lower back ached with cramps. "I'm going to take this horse to the water... are you hungry?" Vega turned to Theoduin. "I... admittedly, I don't know if your diet varies from that of humans. But I packed bread, cheese, dried meat and some fruits, if you're interested."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 6:11 pm
by Astrophysicist
It was not clear whether Theoduin was immune to the discomfort in their long silence or if he simply did not care. He navigated in gradual increments, with such subtle shifts in direction that it left the bizarre impression of traveling a straight path despite significant deviation. In truth, they had turned slightly toward the southwest, angling downward to avoid a narrow ridge of pseudo-mountains in their grueling, time-sensitive trek toward Myrddin’s new lands. The terrain beneath their horses’ hooves had slowly transitioned from the soft soil of protected forest to ground that was rockier and less densely covered. It was a marker of their journey’s progress toward the westward sea, and the elf was relieved that they’d managed to cover such substantial distance.

The shadows cast from the thinning forest canopy had grown long with the sunset. His companion broke their mutual quietude by pointing out that their light would soon be lost, advising that it was best to find a suitable place to settle down for the night. “Very well,” he replied flatly, having not taken into consideration that the Skyknight’s human eyesight would be restricted far sooner than his own. Despite breaking earlier for the evening than he would have liked, their mounts would indeed benefit from food, water, and rest—and, reluctant as he was to admit it, so would they.

Fortunately, water sources were not scarce in this particular geographic region. Babbling streams and rivers, with their spring origins located in the northern mountains, traversed the landscape in a quest to empty eventually into the sea. The scholar detected the sound of water ahead and steered them toward it at Vega’s request, and together they stumbled upon a small clearing along the banks of a narrow brook. He dismounted in one lithe leap from the saddle, running his hand soothingly up and down his horse’s neck. The animal nickered in response to the tactile acknowledgment. He murmured an Elvish thanks to the mare under his breath, then looked up to his human companion.

“I should eat something, yes,” he responded, reaching up to comb his fingers through his wind-tousled curls. On his feet now, the weight of his exhaustion—physical and emotional—was more keenly felt. “I, too, packed similar supplies. We should have plenty for the both of us. I also have supplies for the horses.” The elf caught Vega’s gaze and held it, quirking a brow. “Did you believe me so heartless as to forget our dear steeds?” He reached into his mount’s saddle bag, retrieving a hefty burlap parcel of oats. “Fruit trees are scarce in the northern forests, but we may be getting far enough westward to make locating one less impossible.”

He untied two more of his saddle bags and placed them on the ground. The grass beneath their feet was patchy at best, which meant it would be easy to clear an area for a small fire. “If you take both horses to water, I can begin setting up camp,” he suggested, keen ears listening for a moment before deeming their surroundings clear enough to take the bow from his shoulders. He propped it against one of the saddle bags and began to unpack the other, glancing up only to see Vega disappear into the thin veil of underbrush that lined either side of the stream. 

But even Theoduin, who had trained himself to be capable of tremendous feats of uninterrupted focus, was not immune to the distraction of troubling thoughts and inevitable what-ifs. Even between the white noise of the water striking stony obstacles along its path, the nearby whinnying of the horses, and his present task of gathering kindling for their fire in the surrounding woods, his keen elf ears should have been capable of detecting sounds of nearby threats—but, preoccupied with his own uneasiness at the thought of returning to Myrddin, he was too slow to recognize the signs of rapidly approaching predators headed their way.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sun Mar 08, 2015 11:28 am
by Requiem
"Heartless? No, no, of course not! I didn't mean to imply..." Vega stammered as she reflected on her words. What had she meant, then? That because the elves favoured logic, they were void of compassion for other living things? That certainly was not the case, or else he would neither have helped her nor Aeriel in their time of need. Perhaps it had simply occurred to her that, since he hadn't appeared to have owned horses prior to this trip, he might not have known how to care for them... A stupid assumption, she quickly realized, considering he was practically ageless. There was no reason to think he hadn't owned them in the past, and given how tenderly he'd interacted with Aeriel, the two of them seemed to have a keen adoration for animals in common.

"I apologize," the Skyknight said at last, bowing her head respectfully. "I did not mean to imply you were negligent. The well being of animals that serve us... I suppose it is something that is always on my mind. I hope you can forgive me ignorance."
Moving towards his horse, he took both steeds gently by the reins. "I'll see that they get a good drink, then I'll come back help get them fed. I shouldn't be long; if the water seems to run clear enough, I'll top up my skins so that we might rehydrate as well."

Flashing a remorseful smile (he must have truly through her an ignorant and self-entitled Eyraillian), Vega headed for the sound of rushing and trickling water, the air growing cooler as she neared a gently moving and undulating stream. The water was not nearly rapid enough to pose a danger to her or the horses, so without hesitation, she led the steeds to the bank, where they gratefully partook in a long, satisfying drink. After filling her water skins, the Skyknight figured she'd seize the opportunity to clean up a bit herself, and removed her armor and the tunic beneath to run water over her arms and face without risking causing the steel of her breastplate to rust. No sooner had she wet her skin that the steeds suddenly looked to be on alert, both turned towards the path they had taken, making uneasy noises.

"There, now," she soothed, approaching the startled beasts. "What is it? Everything's..." 
And that's when she saw them. It was a small pack, a shewolf, by the looks of it, and two young ones who had just come of age. Immediately, the mother retreated, but the two young adults leered and crept towards Vega and the steeds, who whinnied and reared in fear. Loathe though she was to bring harm to any animal, danger meant taking action. She had a task to complete, on her brother's behalf, one that meant more than the lives of wild animals.

"Forgive me..." She sighed, drawing her short sword. The wolves, however, understood the offensive intent. One leapt for the horses, and the other towards her, and it was only because luck and timing was on her side that she managed to draw the blade against the throat of one wolf, while the tip of the blade gravely wounded the other. Swordsmanship was not her forte, but she was not all together unfamiliar, and could certainly hold her own. "I'm sorry," she whispered to the wounded canine, laying on its side. "Go in peace." One expert jab of her blade ended the animal's life--but it was not over yet. And with a jolt of fear, she realized that the mother was headed directly for their camp.

"Theoduin!" Vega called, rushing back the way she had come, and just in time. The elf barely had time to turn before the shewolf was nearly on top of him, her path only diverted by the Skyknight, who threw her body against the beast to knock it out of the way. Not the most intelligent move, on her part. The animal snarled and launched at her, it's claws raking across her chest, and she very narrowly avoided its jaws clamping down on her shoulder. Falling on her back, Vega kicked the animal away with her feet, only to have it leap at her seconds later--only to fall upon the point of her blade. 
The shewolf seemed to die instantly, vital organs ruptured, and the Skyknight shoved it off of the sword and clambered to her feet. 

Her thin, white tunic was thoroughly saturated with blood, some her own and that of the wolves, but other than the gashes the shewolf had torn across her collarbones, she looked relatively unharmed. "Are... you all right?" She panted, looking Theoduin up and down, before her own state occurred to her. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she cleared her throat, wiping her sword clean upon the grass. "I... should go clean up," she murmured, quickly turning away to hurry back in the direction of the horses, hoping desperately that they hadn't taken off in their fright.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Fri Apr 10, 2015 6:21 pm
by Astrophysicist
It all fell together in the split second before it happened. The uneasy horses, Vega’s shout of warning, the veritable thunder of predatory paws on bone dry soil—he was captured completely off guard as the ravenous wolves made their charge, having shrouded himself in thoughts far in both concept and distance from the spin of the present. It rocketed Theoduin to the defense, and he barely had time to turn toward the impending claws before they would have been upon him—should have been upon him, if it weren’t for the sudden glint of armor and a blur of rust-colored hair that knocked away the hungry adversary mid-leap.

Leaving his arrows in the clearing had been a foolish mistake. The armful of kindling he’d gathered plummeted with a crash to the ground, and he froze in a strange pose when his arms instinctively reached for weaponry that was no longer upon his person. The remainder of the events played out as though the world were submerged in water, slow and thick—Vega falling to her back against the sandy soil, the beast’s fierce lunge, and its final dying whimper as its own weight forced the human’s blade through its heart. Its body collapsed unceremoniously to the earth. The red-haired Eyraillian, stark white tunic stained in vivid red, rose with flushed cheeks to address him.

For a moment, he could find no words to speak. A warm trickle of what he could only assume was blood ran from a long but shallow cut along the line of his jaw, where the she-wolf’s great paw had just barely grazed his skin before the human came to his rescue. He reached up after what felt like an eternity, running his fingertip down the length of the laceration—the wound stretched from his earlobe nearly to his chin—and released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d held in his lungs.

“Wait,” he said, his voice soft, reaching out to drape a hand on her shoulder as she turned to walk away. “Thank you,” the elf murmured to her back, the gratitude heavy in his voice. But there was something else, too, and it dawned on him suddenly, without explanation. “You are injured!” he exclaimed. “Are you injured?” He the answer before she replied, although he was not entirely certain how, and his brow creased with concern. “The horses are not far. They retreated just over there—I hear them. They are nervous, but safe.”

Kindling temporarily forgotten at his feet, Theoduin walked with her across the clearing (picking up his bow and quiver along the way), and joined her at the pebbly shore of the creek. He dropped slowly to his knees. The rush of cool water over his hands was only temporary reprieve for the ache of ebbing adrenaline, and he brought a cupped amount up to douse his face with the clear liquid. Small clouds of crimson swirled from the splashes that fell from his palms. He ran his wet fingers through his hair, pushing it up and away from his face. “You are quick on your feet for a Skyknight,” he commented. And for a human, he thought silently. “Were it not for your skills…well. I believe we both know the rest.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Apr 11, 2015 9:32 am
by Requiem
"I... maybe? I'm not sure." Vega's could barely hear her own uncertainty past the blood pumping in her ears, as if her heart had leaped into her throat and stayed there. The blood on her tunic stood out like red, resilient poppies growing through the winter's final layer of snow, but as to how much belonged to her versus the wild canines she had just felled remained to be seen. Too much adrenaline pumped through her veins to distinguish between the tears in her tunic that sported wounds and the sturdy threads that had merely become torn in the crossfire, sparing the skin beneath them. "But you look lucky to still have your jaw intact... come on. The horses are this way, anyway."

Flashing a nervous smile, she accompanied her unlikely companion back to the riverbank, where the horses seemed to have settled down, one of which was taking slow drinks from the calm water. Kneeling, the Skyknight rinsed the blood from her hands and picked it out from beneath her fingernails before she gingerly felt around the torn and bloodied tunic for injuries. Sure enough, beneath the shredded white cotton at her side were four nearly symmetrical claw marks that bled freely, but not dangerously. That they were all the young woman had to account for, after taking on three wolves by herself, was nothing short of a miracle. Had they all been mature and at their prime, she wasn't sure she'd have been so lucky.

"Just because I prefer to have my head in the clouds doesn't mean I'm not capable of keeping my feet firmly on the ground," she quipped at the elf's comment, the corner of her lips turning up in a grin. 'I might be a Skyknight, but the sky is only half of it. We train and get our bearings on the ground before we set to take to the skies with a roc. Aeriel and I... well, for a lot of reasons, I guess we're kind of unconventional, the way we acclimatized to one another and became such an effective team so quickly. But to be very honest with you, I'll be the first to admit that not only is the sword not my preferred weapon, but had two of those wolves not been adolescents, I don't think either of us would be standing right now."

Making her way over to the horses, Vega sifted through the haversacks hanging from one of the saddles for any emergency supplies that Theoduin might have thought to pack. Fortunately, his extended life had not left his short of wisdom or, in this case, common sense. There was easily enough gauze and wrappings for more than one person, so she wasn't shy on taking a little more than her share of the former, just to ascertain the bloodflow would be staunched. Temporarily returning to Theoduin, she held out a bit of the gauze to him, mentioning with a look of mild concern, "Here; hold it to your face long enough for the blood. I don't think it requires sutures... Then again, I imagine whatever magic you have at your disposal would be superior, anyway."

Returning to the horses, the Skyknight positioned herself just out of sight as she hiked up the torn remains of her tunic, and proceeded to wrap staunch and wrap the gashes at her side. "After what you're doing for me and my kingdom, this is the least means by which I can repay you," she commented off-handedly. "I mean, keeping you alive is kind of crucial if I wish to speak for your kin... I suppose what I am trying to say is, there's no need for gratitude. I still owe you far more than I feel I will ever be able to repay."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 1:28 pm
by Astrophysicist
“Hmmm.”

That his only reaction to the Skyknight’s rather dire assessment of what could have been was a low hum in his throat was both reassuring—the worst had not come to pass, after all, and his dismissal indicated there was no use concerning oneself with might-have-beens—and concerning—was his flippancy a marker of his own fear, or was it a symptom of a death wish? For someone like Theoduin, who was as difficult to read outwardly as any elf, there was perhaps not much of a difference. He had survived multiple lifetimes of bloodshed against his family and his kind, and he had lived the last era of his existence in near complete exile. It wasn’t so much of a stretch to imagine the value he might or might not place upon his own life.

But for all the uncertainty regarding the breath in his own lungs, it was clear beyond any shadow of doubt that he cared for the survival of his companion. Despite his brusque attitude and his deep-rooted hatred of humankind, he had nevertheless taken the woman into his protection, even going so far as to use magic beyond his means in her presence. He had recognized, somehow, that she was different from the rest of her species, and it had nothing to do with her verbal reassurances or even her considerate demeanor. Perhaps it had been her bond with Aeriel, which resonated on multiple levels for the air-keen elf; perhaps, too, he had simply been wrong about the evolution of Eyraillian attitudes in his isolation. Whatever it was, though he could not put a finger on the exact reasons, he could no more deny it than he could contest the sting of the cut on his cheek.

He appreciatively took the gauze when she extended the rolled fabric, his stoic gaze not once leaving hers until she turned back toward the stream. “It is only wise for merchants and monarchs to make lists of petty debts,” he remarked, translating an Elvish idiom he’d heard since birth. “As we are neither, let’s not dwell on such things.” The curly-haired elf reached up to the scratch at his jaw, dabbing at the blood with the loosely woven fabric of the bandage. “What we have done for one another we have also done for the good of all.”

For a wound as superficial as his, there was no use draining his magical energy on repairing his own flesh. Even if his magical talents had been medicinal in nature, it was hardly worth the effort given the natural rate of healing for a healthy elf. The speed could sometimes be problematic; if the surface closed faster than the wound’s interior could heal, the chances of infection (though typically non-life threatening) rose significantly. It also meant a great deal more physical discomfort, not unlike the sensation of growing pains, as tissues mended and regenerated at breakneck pace.

Theoduin took a long drink of water from his canteen, sighing lightly. “Do you need help with the bandaging?” he asked softly, sparing a glance in the direction of her voice. “It might be wise to clean the gashes first, while we have access to fresh flowing water.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 5:51 pm
by Requiem
It is only wise for merchants and monarchs to make lists of petty debts. As we are neither, let’s not dwell on such things.
If only that were the truth, Vega thought as she contemplated the elf's sage words. By blood, she was Eyraille's true monarch--or should have been. But just because she had lifted that burden from her shoulders before it had even touched, just to rest it upon her brother's... Anyone well acquainted with the siblings knew that the kingdom was now ruled by their partnership. As it stood, Caris was yet too young to trust himself, and thus, made no decision before seeking his sister's advice. She hoped one day for it to change, but at that given point in time, those petty debts were just as much her concern as they were his.

What we have done for one another we have also done for the good of all. She wanted so badly to believe it.

"Such a motto is one by which Eyraille so desperately needs to live and conduct itself," she mentioned off-handedly, a wistful tone to her voice. "It is for wisdom such as this that makes me hope for a mended alliance between the citizens of my kingdom and your kin... Too long has it been ruled by hate and greed. I fear it is as though its citizens have become so focused on mere survival that they have forgotten what it truly means to live..." There was no denying that she and her brother were among that demographic--Caris in particular, with his anxiety and insecurity. Both which could be correlated to her own decision to abdicate in the first place, leaving her not heavy with the weight of a kingdom, but rather, with guilt.

So preoccupied was she with patching up and getting on with their venture that Theoduin's words took her off guard, forcing her to re-assess her actions. "I... perhaps," she amended a moment later, looking at the bloodied gauze in her hand. "I'll admit, I'm a predominantly task-focused individual, and I... I suppose it, at times, causes me to fail to consider some of the more basic precautions of simple survival. Pray, keep that between you and I, however: " Flashing a nervous smile, the Skyknight shrugged her shoulders and gathered the remainder of the clean gauze, before moving to the elf's side at the river bank. "Though allow me to apologize in advance..."

She was referring to, of course, the tatters of her once off-white tunic, which was now bloodied in shades of crimson and brown, and torn hopelessly beyond repair on one side, from her mid-back downward. It was difficult to tell, from the mess of fabric and torn skin, just how deep the wound near her ribcage went, and how freely the blood continued to flow. "It isn't as bad as it might appear, I assure you," she offered, perhaps in hopes that by saying it, the clause would ring true with reality, "but I don't imagine I am going to make the best impression before your ruling Monarch, looking like this... Perhaps you might vouch for me, should it become necessary to explain myself?"


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:00 pm
by Astrophysicist
Unbeknownst to the soft-spoken elf, his inner qualms in regards to the old elven saying aligned with eerie similarity to the Skyknight’s. He was not proud of his abdication. It was not something he would have chosen to share even if the subject had not been a veritable taboo. Of course, he did not realize that the same was true of his unlikely companion; had the knowledge been shared, he might have reveled in the relief of knowing he was not alone in bearing a burden not of lands and royalty and leadership, but instead of shame, of guilt, of a very particular breed of self-loathing unparalleled by any other experience.

At the same time, just the thought of the title before his name sent a shiver of disgust down his spine that he barely suppressed. King Theoduin thiel Kyrenic of North Myrddinwas a mouthful of syllables he simply could not swallow. Whoever that title described was simply not who he was, and no amount of rationalization could convince him otherwise even still. It had been the right move for both himself and for the borderless kingdom, and his sister had done a more brilliant job than he ever could have hoped to. Nevertheless, his decision had been a selfish one, and that act of betrayal was a bitter pill to stomach. Facing Faraine again…no amount of time apart could prepare him for the confrontation.

As such, there was no need to dwell on it. Instead, he focused on the metallic twinge of blood on the breeze, allowing the sound of the rushing river to drown out what remained of those fatalist thoughts. “You have been understandably distracted,” he said quietly in response to her self-deprecating confession. He pulled a spare tunic from the sack at their feet, folding it into a layered rectangle before soaking it in the cold running water. “Besides, you have me to look out for you,” he added before he could censor himself, pursing his lips as though he’d said nothing out of the ordinary. The expression in his light green gaze was compassionate as his attention wandered over the gashes in her side.

Without speaking, he stepped closer to the red-haired human woman, feet splashing in the shallows. He planted his hands gently on either of her shoulders, guiding her a few steps forward until she, too, stood ankle-deep in the current. Next, he addressed the tattered, stained tunic blocking his view of her injuries. He inserted his fingers into two of the long rips, pulling the thin fabric apart with ease. He eased it from her arms and tossed the ruined garment to the bank.

He bent down to one knee in the water, examining the three long lacerations. “This will likely sting. I apologize for the pain,” he murmured, pressing the wet makeshift cloth to her flesh. With a featherlight touch, he slowly mopped away the blood, rinsing the tunic-rag periodically to avoid aggravating the skin. When it was clean, he paused, surveying the tissue damage once more.

“I will vouch for you, should such a thing be necessary.” He rose to his feet with a soft splash, refolding the stained towel and draping it over his forearm. “The cuts are serious, but not dire. I should think bandaging will suffice.” The setting sun, mostly obscured by the trees lining the riverbank, sent a beam of farewell through the canopy that caught the rich vermillion of the Skyknight’s hair. “How is the pain?” he asked, watching as the light played off her locks. “I packed more of the herbal tea. I could prepare you a cup over the fire.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 5:00 pm
by Requiem
Colour tinted Vega's cheeks a faint pink at the devastatingly simple assertion that passed Theoduin's lips. Besides, you have me to look out for you. The words should not have stunned her as much as they did, but the rare quality of the statement touched a part of her that she'd spent years and years ignoring. Sir Vega Sorde, Skynight of Eyraille, was there to look out for the kingdom. Lady Vega Sorde, noble blood and direct descendant of the former ruler, was there to look out for her name, in hopes of washing the House of Sorde clean of all the blood with which it was stained. Vega Sorde--just another human woman, like anyone else--was there to look out for her overwhelmed younger brother.

But who was there to look out for her? Who, short of her late mother, had ever been? The answer was suddenly standing before her, washing her wounds clean with a gentle but thorough touch. Not scolding her for the indecency of being anywhere short of three layers of clothes, but concerned for her health and well being, believing in her cause to the point where he endeavoured to help, even in the face of this near tragic setback. 
Something heavy swelled in her chest, forcing her to draw a single, deep and trembling breath. It felt very much akin to the inflammation of a long-broken heart that had failed to harden in adversity the way all Sorde hearts should. 

Was this, in fact, the feeling of realizing what it meant not to be alone...?

"You don't have to apologize for anything," Vega assured him, bearing the sting of water against her torn flesh. "I should be the one apologizing. I... this is, I mean... You shouldn't have to..." What was she even trying to say? That she apologized for the dire inconvenience of getting hurt and putting them off track, wasting precious time and breaking social convention by partially dressing down in front of someone, because her tunic was now in shreds?
This was the result of being assigned the role of a pillar. She couldn't get hurt in front of Caris; she couldn't show pain or uncertainty, for her brother's serious anxiety. And now that she was so obviously vulnerable, she couldn't help but feel ashamed.

"I'm fine. The pain is tolerable," she assured her elfin companion, only realizing after she'd spoken that it wasn't entirely true. "I mean... if you have any herbal tea that might prove to make it slightly more tolerable... I wouldn't be opposed to a cup or two."
Stepping carefully out of the water, Vega wandered over to one of the horses, gritting her teeth against the sting of the raw skin near her ribs. While she was perfectly capable of a tough exterior, the Skyknight's resolve was as human as the blood in her veins, and therefore, not entirely inviolable. First a fractured rib, and now torn flesh... Was it possible to be in her new comrade's company without the need for medical aid?

"Could you... briefly lend me a hand?" Gauze in hand, she pressed it gingerly to the gashes and handed Theoduin the bandages when he extended his hand. "After this is dressed and with some of your tea in my system, we can try and seek a safer place to camp, maybe, before the sun fully sets... There is no sign of other wolves, from what I can tell, but after this incident, I'm not sure we should take our chances."


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 9:56 pm
by Astrophysicist
Though elves were typically of soft temperament and introspection, they were not, contrary to the beliefs of outsiders, solitary creatures by nature. They were independent, that much was true; but ultimately, they were as much seekers of companionship as the next species, particularly as they aged. Family and community were considered necessities to the health and well-being of any individual, placed only just beneath things like water and shelter. It was Myrddin’s lack of borders that sparked the division of the regions at the end of the First Age—assigning names and titles was just another way of reinforcing their sodality despite geography and distance.

Theoduin had always considered himself an exception to that rule. While he appreciated his kingdom and loved his family dearly, he had grown up an outsider in more ways than one—the most isolating of which being the fact that he was a member of the Kyrenic clan, in line for Myrddin’s central throne. He was afforded luxuries to which not all were privy, but so too had he been thoroughly protected—sheltered from the threat of Eyraille’s violence, forbidden from straying far, and always under the watchful eyes of one guardian or another. His scholarly pursuits, in combination with his youthful arrogance, had spurned an attitude within the heir as toxic as the conflict with the Sordes.

He had never expected that mindset to follow him centuries down the road, long after he knew better, until he found himself settling into his self-imposed exile. For the first time, the curly-haired elf experienced the bitter, inescapable sting of true loneliness. It was difficult to identify, mixed with guilt though it had always been; it was only now, in the unexpected companionship of a red-haired Eyraillian Skyknight, that he realized what he had been missing.

He extended a hand at Vega’s request, his fingertips brushing against her palm as he took the bandage from her grasp. When the gauze was in place, he wrapped the long strip of clean cloth against her side, reaching around her torso to tie it off and secure it against her skin. “I’m not certain it’s a good idea to move on,” he told her, meeting her eyes. “The sun has descended, and you are wounded. And I have not forgotten about the injuries you suffered some nights ago. I was…” The elf hesitated. “I was distracted, before. I should have detected the wolves’ approach. And I should not have abandoned my bow. I believe we are as safe here as we will be anywhere, with the benefit of flowing water and abundant kindling for our fire.”

His lips almost turned upward—not quite a smile, but a pleasant expression nevertheless, barely detectable as a change in the dim light of dusk. “I will light the fire and prepare you some tea. The best medicine for you now is rest before we set off again at morning’s first light.” 

The dry wood he’d gathered at the time of the attack remained where he’d dropped it, and it was only a matter of minutes before he had retrieved the small pile and ignited the flames in the clearing. With his bow slung over his shoulders, he retrieved supplies from his pack and heated a single-serving cup of water in which to steep the young woman’s tea. For good measure, he followed it up with a serving of his own.

“You possess a rare and valuable courage, I have seen,” Theoduin commented quietly, taking a sip from his own warm mug as the fire crackled and grew. “It’s admirable. You must have quite a status amongst your people.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 1:14 pm
by Requiem
"You're... you're not seriously blaming yourself for the wolves, are you?" Vega studied the elf's thoughtful face as he delicately secured the gauze at her side with the bandages she provided. "That hardly could have been avoided... The horses needed water and a break. And I was the one who took note of the body of water in the first place... If anyone here is to blame, it is my own poor judgement, for stepping on to wolf territory. Please don't feel you have to apologize for what you could not control."
Arguably, it could have happened anywhere, at any clearing; this was just dumb luck, and it bothered Vega that Theoduin would even consider for a second that he should be at fault.

He did have a point, however; well, a couple of point, pertaining to her suggestion to move on. This was her second grave injury in so many days, the former which had yet to fully heal. She still felt the ache in her ribs from that tiny fracture, and now had to contend with the light-headedness of mild exsanguination and the burn and sting of torn flesh. Truth be told, the idea of climbing back upon a horse so soon wasn't exactly appealing. That, and the sun was setting faster than she had anticipated... What were the chances that they would find another suitable place to camp, and still have time in the remainder of the daylight to set up for the night?

Vega might have been guilty of a modicum of that Sorde-inherited pride, but she was sensible enough not to cavil at Theoduin's suggestions. As usual, his advice was sound. "I... you know, you're right," she sighed, shoulders drooping on an exhale. "There's no point in moving on; it is just as likely that wolves will prowl elsewhere, as they do here. And holding myself upright on a horse is not exactly a thought that I fancy, all things considered... Thank you for you help, by the way."

With her wound neatly bandaged, the Skyknight returned to her horse and retrieved the only other article of clothing that she had packed; a warm, green tunic, embroidered with gold. The Eyraillian clothing that she had hoped to save, clean and fresh, for meeting the elfin monarch... It fell limp on her shoulders without the white undershirt to give it bulk, and Vega feared it made her appear dreadfully thin, but aesthetics were no longer at the forefront of her priorities. And it wasn't as though she could continue onward wearing the tattered rag that had been her riding tunic.

As soon as the fire was alive and roaring, the flames climbing skyward, she was happy to settle in front of it as Theoduin prepared the tea. Cool had accompanied the coming of evening, and it wasn't long before she had to retrieve one of the blankets she'd packed to shield them from chill while they slept. The hot water and herbs that the elf prepared was welcome, if for no other reason than its warmth. The Skyknight held it in her hands and reveled in the steam a moment, before taking a tentative sip. About to ask whether the nature of this concoction would send her to sleep as quickly as the last time she'd consumed a hot beverage prepared by him, her thoughts were interrupted by his unforeseen compliment.

"I... oh, I am not so sure that I would call it courage," she told him, colour warming her cheeks. "I am a sworn Knight of Eyraille and simply do what I must on behalf of my monarch. As for my status... well, status is nothing if you haven't earned respect. I daresay it will be a very long time before the denizens of Eyraille deign to respect the Imperial Guard..." Or the monarch that they served, for that matter.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2015 8:52 pm
by Astrophysicist
Theoduin was too well-versed in the world to consider himself to blame for the attack of the wolves. Be it fate or simply chance, the elf understood the happenings of the universe to be largely out of anyone’s control. Nevertheless, he was not beyond placing fault on his own shoulders for naivety and negligence; he should have known better than to allow pesky thoughts to distract him, and worse, he should have known better than to let his bow leave his shoulders. His warrior’s training all those ages ago, however rarely used now, should not have so easily escaped his memory.

But what was done was done. Vega was right. It was nothing more than another burden for his desperate thoughts to cling to, another weight to pull his shoulders down closer to defeat. Victory would be Theoduin’s, however; if ever there existed a resolve stubborn enough to overcome the threat of physical and political obstacles, it was certainly his. Besides, there was something about his human companion that took the edge off his anxieties.

The darkening sky of dusk did not hinder his keen eyesight as much as it might have for the Skyknight, but the risk to her health, even if he were to lead the way, was not worth the potential small gain of a new campsite. As he lowered himself to the side of the lively fire, cradling his own cup of tea in his slender hands, he gave silent thanks to their decision not to move on. The swift pace of their journey had tired him more than he’d realized, unaccustomed as he was to long excursions. It was a relief to feel the soothing heat of the flames, to feel the hot liquid tea spread its warmth from his belly as he drank.

“You say you do what you must, but that in itself requires courage. Courage that seems to be severely lacking in these lands.” The elf removed his cloak and spread it over his folded legs like a blanket, leaning forward to rest an elbow on his knee. “If I have observed anything in all my years, it’s that words come far easier than actions. And you have already proven yourself without having to speak a syllable.”

He raked a hand through his curly hair and searched for her gaze over the tops of the dancing flames. “Of course, I am speaking of you, not the denizens of Eyraille,” he continued, the name of her kingdom leaving his tongue not without the faint flavor of bitterness. The subject was still not an easy one to breach. “You have earned my respect, for what it is worth. As a human, especially as a human with your diplomatic allegiances, it may be more difficult to prove your honorable intentions to my people. But this leads me to believe it is, at least, possible, even if they have not yet seen what I have seen. You must use your courage in the days ahead. Hold onto it. Do not let it waver.” He paused to take a sip, grateful for the concoction's relaxing effects. "How is your pain?"


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Sat Jul 04, 2015 7:54 pm
by Requiem
"I... appreciate and value your respect, Theoduin." Vega offered a grateful nod, accompanied by a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. "Even if I haven't done much to yet deserve it. He was sincere; that much was apparent, unexpected, and a relief. But the Eyraillain Skyknight couldn't help but wonder if his opinion would change, should he have been privy to the circumstances that had led up to her current position, if his opinion might have been drastically different.

After all, there was no respect reserved for a deserter queen.

He was right about one thing, though: courage and determination had become the skeleton of what remained of her kingdom's pride. Caris, sadly, had yet to embody it. And if she hoped for progression, in terms of Eyraille's citizens and the relations that they would form after over a century of alienation, then someone had to. Even if it turned out to be a Skyknight in which nobody believed. "But do not be so quick to make me an exception of my blood. I, just as much as anyone, bear the burden of my kingdom's history," she added, after a moment. "And perhaps it is not so much respect, that I deserve, but recognition that I at least hope to see change."

Vega's mind hadn't wandered to the dull ache in her ribs and the burn of her torn flesh since she had taken the warm mug of tea into her hands. The herbs themselves did not have much of a define taste, and left her throat feeling slightly coated, but the warmth had spread all through her limbs, soothing and numbing simultaneously. Truth be told, she couldn't remember the last time she had felt more relaxed all on her own, upon a plush mattress and pillows, with downy quilts. Where luxury soothed the body, Theoduin's herbal concoctions soothed the mind, which otherwise went neglected.

"I'm not in much pain--many thanks to you and your tea, of course," she assured the elf, before nodding in his direction. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear there was some magic mixed into this hot water. Eyraille must certainly be overlooking the value of herbs... That, or like many other aspects of our existence, we aren't putting them to our best use." Any herbal remedy she had ever ingested while growing up had tasted like bile and done little to help. Oh, the possibilities of that which her people could learn from the elves...

If, of course, she did manage to achieve an audience with their monarch.

"In your brutal honesty, as an expert on your kin... Is there any way a human such as myself--an an Eyraillian, for that matter--might come across as credible to your people?" Vega didn't sound confident as she posed the question, watching Theoduin's face over her mug of tea. "I assume you must not think it impossible, or else you would not have bothered to accompany me, but... I'm afraid my conviction and however it might speak for my honourable intentions is all that I have to offer in my plea for peace. If it is not enough, and I return empty handed..." She trailed off, simply because the thought was so aversive. Caris would never again trust her judgement; and Eyraille might never regain such valuable allies in the elves.


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Jun 22, 2016 7:36 am
by Astrophysicist
Despite himself, Theoduin felt a humorless chuckle shake his shoulders. There was nothing comedic in the young woman’s words, but all the same he found himself relating to her position in a way that felt strangely…natural. “History has gotten us here,” he said through a small, wry smile. “You and me, brought together under impossible circumstances. We are two species on either side of an age-old feud begun by ancestors we shall never know, and yet each of us carries respective burdens of their ancient convictions.”

It was true. The Skyknight was not the only one shouldering the burden of her people’s history; the elf, too, would be forever haunted by the actions and attitudes of his ancestors. It was no abstract notion, but it was an issue with which Theoduin was intimately familiar. His blood in particular was a potent concoction of past legacies—the result of a direct royal lineage that led straight to the curly-haired elf. And what had he done to repay his ancestors’ countless triumphs and invaluable sacrifices? He had taken it upon himself to betray the thousands of years and myriad events that were supposed to have led to his own head carrying the crown. 

And yet he couldn’t help but wonder how something could be “destined” when it had been so simple to hand his fate to another.

Faraine’s expression of shock and hurt still burned bright in his memory. His betrayal would forever haunt him in the form of his sister’s furious eyes. They flashed before him now—a glaring echo across time and distance—and he felt a wave of guilt wash anew over his soul. The fact that he would soon see her in the flesh did little to tame his frayed nerves.

He took a lengthy swallow of tea, keeping his eyes lowered until his companion spoke above the crackle of the flames. “Your mere willingness to appear at the Myrddin court as an Eyraillian is a testament to your credibility. Whether you are appropriately compensated for that display of bravery another matter entirely—but they will respect you for your effort, if nothing else. We are not a welcoming people. Not anymore.” The elf sipped at his mug again, grateful for the sense of warm relaxation it brought with each mouthful. The image of Faraine’s disdain began to fade, but it was only a temporary reprieve—the sun set only to rise again, after all. “You should prepare yourself to return empty-handed, however. I cannot advise you to raise your hopes. We shall do what we can, but we are but two outsiders in a court of Elven royalty.” 

Theoduin sighed, lifting his dark gaze to Vega. “Regardless,” he continued somberly, “you have an ally in me. I do want you to know that.”


Re: [rsv] Doubt that the stars are fire [18+]

Posted: Wed Jun 22, 2016 7:43 am
by Requiem
"Nay, it is not history that has brought us here, together," the Skyknight corrected. The corners of her rose-tinted lips twitched into a grin. "Your arrow did. All the same... I choose to interpret this near impossible happenstance to be a harbinger of good fortune to come." Days ago, Vega would not have dared to crack a smile over her broken ribs and Aeriel's wounded wing. But a different light now illuminated her position in this phenomenon, as well as Theoduin's, and if it was hope that had brought her this far... then hope was all she really had to see her through.

Which, in and of itself, could prove detrimental. How many kingdoms and kings had fallen, riding on nothing but hope that their rein would thrive? That they could make a change, for better or worse?

Her finale--and Eyraille's--remained to be seen. "The burdens and sins of our fathers..." The Eyraillian royal mused at the elf's mention of ancestors: like some distant force of the past that still propelled the future and its outcomes, even if the forces itself were forgotten.

If only she could forget. If only Eyraille, and the rest of the world could forget. Ancestors... if only. If only... "The sins of our fathers become our burdens; for some, more literally than figuratively." Vega stared into the flames as if they would give her an answer, a solution, knowing full well that their were none. "Some would consider it foolish to seek forgiveness and alliance from another reign who we have so terribly slighted, when we can nary garner forgiveness from our own people. But the only alternative is anarchy: to let our kingdom fall to pieces after hundreds of years of progression, and I... I would sooner die than allow for that. Because I think that there is still a chance, however slim, that light and liveliness can be revived, and that bridges can be mended... or rebuilt."

Tipping the clay cup to her lips, the Skyknight downed the remainder of Theoduin's concoction, and relished in the blissful numbness that spread through her limbs, her wound no more than a near forgotten ache at the back of her mind. "I am in your debt for your unyielding willingness to help, Theoduin," she sighed, and pulled a woolen blanket around her shoulders. It thankfully had not been lost in the horses' panic. "Whatever the outcome of this farfetched endeavor... I hope that we can remain as allies. The two of us, at the very least."

Vega fell asleep to the dying embers of their pitiful fire, and awoke before they had extinguished completely, before the sun broke over the horizon. Her ribs and body ached from the injuries she'd sustained, but not enough that she could not manage to tread quietly as she went about washing her face at the bank of the river. When she returned, hair and clothes slightly damp with morning dew, her elvish companion was up and awake, kindling a brand new fire. "Good morning," she bade him with a nod, gingerly taking a seat before the growing flames and betraying her anxious urge to up and get on with the remainder of her journey. "How are your wounds? If you can hold yourself upright upon a horse, then I suggest we continue on our way as soon as possible..." After all, time was of the essence when her own kingdom was unaware as to her whereabouts.

Not to mention, her brother... But his forgiveness had long been forfeit to her decisions, anyway. 

A quick glance at her elvin companion, his posture fluid and upright, suggested his injuries were either trivial in comparison to her own, or he was far more skilled at biting back the pain that accompanied every movement. It was a chore to so much as keep her spine straight upon her patient steed... Perhaps she simply lacked the grace of an elf, that which came to Theoduin so naturally.


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The morning dawned with a melody of birdsong from the treetops. Sleep had eluded him much of the night; the image of his sister’s face, delicate features twisted with the sting of his betrayal, haunted him whenever he dared close his eyes. He rolled to his side and stared unblinking into the fading embers of the fire, as though the dwindling flames could somehow burn away Faraine’s image from his mind. In just a day’s ride, he would face her fury in person…for the first time in a century and a half of exile.

 

But his abdication had surely upset more than just the Kyrenic clan. And although he he’d never doubted Faraine’s capability to rule in his stead, surely not every high-ranking clan in Myrddin shared his initial faith. This role was not one either of the younger Kyrenic children had been primed for; it was always Talaess who was meant to rule, meant to fight, meant to mend. Bowing out—no, stealing away—from his familial birthright was an unprecedented departure from centuries of tradition. There was no way to know how the high court had reacted to his betrayal…and there was no way to predict how they might react to his abrupt return.

 

He drifted to restless sleep shortly before sunrise, only to wake a handful of hours later to the sound of Vega making her way to the stream. The elf sat upright with a grimace against muscles stiff from a day of riding, a near-fatal wolf attack, and poor sleep. He rose to his feet and threw a small pile of kindling on the fire. Its warmth soothed his aches.

 

“Good morning,” he returned as Vega made her way back to their camp and took a seat opposite the budding flames. “I am fit to travel. Nothing a warm tea can’t soothe away.” He furrowed his brow, passing the young woman a mug of steaming brew. “This one won’t bring sleep. It contains a mild stimulant…cinnabark and black tea.” He took a long drink of the spiced beverage, then reluctantly extinguished the fire. “I’ve already packed our saddlebags. I agree that we should be on our way.”

 

Theoduin placed an appreciative hand on his horse’s neck before lifting himself into the saddle, managing not to spill the remainder of his tea. He watched as Vega followed suit, lips pursed in concern. “If we are as swift as we were yesterday, I imagine we’ll arrive just before dusk,” he said, spurring his steed gently into motion. “However,” he continued matter-of-factly, looking to Vega with a lightly furrowed brow, “in light of yesterday’s attack…I would rather arrive in the morning than push too hard today. How are your injuries?”


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In the short time that she had come to know Theodiun, Vega was rapidly developing a taste for the elf's herbal brews, and in fact looked forward to them, whatever their unique intent might be. His draught that brought blissful relief from pain would not do when she needed to be awake and alert; but the sounds of something that would stimulate her heart and mind somehow sounded equally appealing. The Skyknight accepted the mug with a smile and took a long sip, reveling in the bitter warmth of the tea down her throat. Not enough to take her mind off of he ache of her still-fractured rib, or the throbbing sting of her flesh wound, but the wilderness was no place for recovery. Like it or not, they were--namely, she was--on a time frame. Eyraille's young king, and her brother, to boot, would not continue to tolerate her prolonged absences for much longer.

 

"Doesn't taste so different from what I have with breakfast at home." She commented, the corner of her mouth curling into an appreciative smile. "I fear I am beginning to grow accustomed to your beverages, Theoduin. When this situation finally sees resolution, I may find myself missing this." Considering taking a seat, just to rest a moment before their departure, the Eyraillian princess came to regret the decision right away, when the act of kneeling aggravated her still-healing rib cage. Righting herself as fluidly as her body allowed to mask that wince, she took another long drink of the hot beverage, concentrating instead on how it mildly burned her tongue and throat. A discomfort far more tolerable to take her mind off of what was intolerable.

 

Nodding at the sight of the dutifully packed saddlebags, she adjusted the saddle on her steed and reached into one of the pouches, where she presented the hard-working animal with a well-deserved apple. It snorted and accepted the offering greedily, yet gingerly from her fingers. "Good on you for the foresight. Unless you have any unfinished business here, it seems we are set to leave." Arrival by dusk... that sounded feasible. And, frankly, preferable. But what the Skyknight seemed to overlook time and again was her elfin companion's keen attention to detail--every detail, it seemed, with no stone unturned. Facing away from Theoduin, she busied herself with re-securing the ties on her steed's saddlebags and pressed her lips into a thin line. She couldn't lie about her condition; he would call her on her bluff before she could finish voicing it. "I've felt better," she confessed, pressing a sight from her lungs at the expense of her protesting rib cage. "But we've already come this far. I won't recover overnight, and I cannot afford to stall for my injuries... I fear my king will not respond in kind to any further prolonged absences."

 

Pausing a moment to built resolve, Vega hoisted herself onto her steed, with no small protest from her aching body. She took yet another moment to ascertain she was composed and focused enough to proceed; no doubt, she had Theoduin's morning beverage to thank for that small boost in stamina. "If it is possible... I would hope to arrive by dusk. Let us see how far we can get by assuming a quick pace. I'm sure I won't have to tell you if it proves too difficult for me to endure."

 

Waiting for Theoduin to settle upon his own mount, she allowed the elf to lead the way and gently nudged her ride with her heels to follow. The journey was just as she expected: uncomfortable and, at times, relatively painful. Perhaps it was her Sorde pride, or the dire need to see an end to this expedition, but the princess kept her lips closed and her discomfort to herself. Her elfin companion had himself said he was not a healer; and nothing short of time would bring her the relief she desired. They stopped only once, towards the later end of midday, to allow the horses to drink and themselves to have a brief meal of dried fruits and dehydrated meat, but sure enough, Vega insisted they keep their intermission brief, and the two were upon their horses within an hour once again. But as the day dragged into the early hours of evening, the impenetrable stone of the Skyknight's resolve began to fissure, until at last, she heard herself asking, "Theoduin. How much further do you anticipate?" Her voice was soft rather than demanding, but the growing pallor of Vega's face betrayed the intent behind her inquiry: she was beginning to doubt she could hold out without rest. And yet, they were so close... The bandages around her torso had grown heavy, sodden with blood and in need of being changed. Though far from death, she feared that before long, her grasp on consciousness would slip. "Dusk is approaching... do you believe our arrival is near? Or should we reconsider and pause for the night?"


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The unlikely duo made good time as they trekked westward. The earth beneath their mounts’ hooves had become softer, sandier; the trees, too, had changed. Where Theoduin’s mountainside woods were perpetually shadowed, with dense, towering conifers blocking the cool northern sunlight, the forest that cloaked Myrddin boasted a bright canopy of deciduous green. The interlocked boughs above splashed dappled sunlight on their verdant path, and the breeze was warm—or at least warmer than the elf had felt in a long time. It was almost enough to make him forget what awaited him at the end of this journey…or at least enough to distract him for a few blissful moments. 

As the terrain grew ever rockier and the sun began its descent, Theoduin moved ahead of Vega, guiding them steadily downward into an ancient valley. It was only when his companion spoke that he thought to pause, and he did, turning around so abruptly he nearly collided with her. His brows knit together with concern. Even in the alien glow of dusk, the Skyknight’s complexion was pale as the rising moon.

 “We are getting close,” he told her softly, struck suddenly by the desire to reach out and place a reassuring hand on her arm. Instead, he tightened his grip on the reins and nodded to the southwest. “The valley slopes downward here for another mile. Then we follow the river.” He paused, scanning the treeline thoughtfully. “Three hours. Two, if we’re swift.” Gaze shifting to Vega, he narrowed his eyes. “Do you think you can make it?”

Though skeptical of her confidence (given her less-than-spry appearance), the elf took cue from the Skyknight’s permission to proceed and resumed his lead to the river. The river was no demure stream; the further they traveled along its rocky banks, the steeper the cliffs at its flank became. Trees clung haphazardly to the stone. The irregular geologic formations jutted into its current, turning the flow into churning, virulent rapids.

The going was far from easy, especially as the sun sank. Theoduin’s backward glances to his companion became increasingly sporadic, though not for lack of concern for the young woman; mist kicked up by the turbulent water further obscured visibility. Elves were known to possess keen senses, but not even Theoduin’s sharp eyes could peer through ever-shifting clouds of dense fog along a craggy shore. It wasn’t long before the way forward demanded all of his concentration…even as he called upon the wind to aid in dispersing the damp curtain.

At last, he steered them away from the riverbank. He couldn’t say how he knew they were getting close, but in his bones he was certain their destination lay just ahead… an in. The trees had become dense again, their broad trunks cloaked in thick emerald moss—uniformed, steadfast soldiers simultaneously guarding and comprising the fortress beyond their border. Now that they were on solid ground, he brought them to a stop. “You do not look well,” the elf commented, his voice just above a whisper. The hum of the rushing river, now muffled slightly by leaves and pine needles, nearly drowned out his words. When he met the Skyknight’s gaze, she swayed slightly, her posture and pallor betraying her resolve. 

“We will ride in together,” he said hurriedly, untying a saddlebag and slinging it over his shoulder. He dismounted, boots landing on soft, moist earth, and climbed lithely behind Vega before she could protest. “Lean back if you feel weak,” he instructed, reaching on either side of her arms to take the leather reins. “We’re near.”

If it weren’t for his instincts, it may have been impossible to find the gates of Myrddin through the dense darkness and thick fog. But steering one steed was far easier as they plunged into the blackness of the woods, and they cut through the trees like a shadow in the damp night.

After a stretch of time that felt like hours rather than minutes, Theoduin brought them to an abrupt stop. The borders of the settlement were camouflaged, difficult to detect on even the clearest day. In the middle of the night, anyone less familiar—or unexpected—would have ridden past its edge, oblivious to its proximity. But Theoduin could feel the subtle change in the air, the way the soft breeze seemed to freeze in place around them…how it vibrated helplessly against a powerful magic that held it paralyzed. [i]A staunching spell,[/i] he knew, recognizing the sensation as one meant to quell outside magical forces by diminishing the effects of the elements. Myrddin’s first line of defense.

He urged their horse several paces forward until the animal hesitated. Myrddin’s second magical precaution against intruders, be they accidental or malicious, was a spell that gently urged travelers to shift their direction, instilling within them a sense of uncertainty. Theoduin recognized the pull. Forcing his voice past the lump that had lodged in his throat, he spoke aloud a phrase in Elvish that would grant them access…and crossed the invisible line. 

“Just a few moments more,” he whispered to Vega, steering them forward.

The approaching soldiers didn’t have a chance to announce themselves before Theoduin had an arrow drawn and pointed into the darkness. “Show yourselves!” he ordered in Common Eyraillian, twisting in the saddle.

“Lower your bow,” a woman’s voice called, also in Eyraillian. She emerged from the mist with a notched arrow of her own, pulled taut and ready to strike.

“I will not,” Theoduin responded gruffly. 

“How did you enter?” came another voice, male, this time behind them. From the sound of another set of footsteps, he was not alone.

Theoduin kept his gaze trained on the woman, whose silver laurels—a marker of advanced rank—glinted even in the darkness. “We’ve traveled a great distance,” he said through gritted teeth. “My companion is injured. We would greatly appreciate an escort to—”

 “How did you gain entry?” the woman interrupted, reiterating her comrade’s question.

Theoduin’s eyes narrowed. “ ‘Amaith naa thelan thiel myadinaith,’ ” he spoke, repeating the passphrase. The Elvish words bit harshly through the stagnant air.

For a fleeting moment, the woman soldier’s expression betrayed her surprise—but it was replaced quickly with anger. “Where did you learn these words?” she demanded. “Where!?” When Theoduin did not reply, she stepped aggressively forward, her arrow pointed directly at his heart. She believed him human. “You are surrounded by armed guards trained to kill. Lower your bow. You will be coming with us for questioning.”

Stubbornly, Theoduin held his weapon at the ready for a beat longer, gaze boring into the officer’s accusing eyes. If it weren’t for Vega’s deteriorating condition, he might never have surrendered to her demands—but as it stood, they had little time left to lose. Even if he were to reveal his identity now, it was doubtful this guard squadron would believe him…and even less a chance they would recognize him. An escort into the city, even under arrest, was an escort nonetheless.

He lowered his arrow wordlessly. Five additional guards closed in, three with bows and two with blades. “Relinquish your weapon,” one of them demanded. Theoduin tossed his ornately-carved bow to the forest floor.

“I’ll remind you that my companion requires a healer’s attention,” Theoduin said. 

The woman ignored him. “Attempt to flee and you will die,” the officer declared, taking up the rear while others led them on. “Attempt an attack and you will die.”

Theoduin did not react. Instead, he leaned forward to whisper into Vega’s ear. “How are you holding up?” he whispered, knowing very well that their keen-eared chaperones would overhear no matter how quietly he spoke. But it didn’t seem to matter; as soon as the words left his throat, they arrived.

He’d forgotten what it was like to enter Myrddin’s capital from the outside. It happened almost instantaneously—the forest gave way to sprawling streets of cobblestone that curved upward into the cliffside, bathed in the dancing gold of oil lamps posted at the doors of merchant buildings. Few residents roamed the streets at this late hour, and Theoduin was glad not to have an audience; there would certainly be enough talk in the days to come.

He didn’t know where they were being led. The guard captain’s offices, he had assumed initially. But as they climbed higher and higher into the carved upper terraces, he realized with a start that the palace was the destination—which meant questioning if they were lucky, and confinement cells if they were not.

“Dismount, and keep your hands in view,” the officer commanded, once again notching an arrow.

Theoduin complied, landing tiredly on his feet with his palms raised. “She’s injured,” he explained again. “I must help her down—”

“[i]We[/i] will assist her.” With a simple nod from their superior, two younger soldiers approached Vega, tugging her from the nervous horse.

A new voice cut in, this time in Elvish. “What is the meaning of this, Lieutenant Anden?”

“Commandant,” the woman officer addressed hurriedly, her bow unwavering despite the sudden vulnerability in her voice. She quickly regained her composure. “We’ve captured two Eyraillian spies at our border who had breached the barrier. This man”—she furrowed her brow, using a crude Elvish term for human—“recited the la’driel to gain entry.”

Theoduin, whose gaze had been fixed on Vega, turned his attention to the Guard Commandant. His pulse skyrocketed. Commandant Ghale Jhaartael. A high-ranking soldier with a formidable reputation, and it did not appear that the years had changed his demeanor.

The stern military leader looked him up and down, stony-faced. Theoduin held his breath. In the dim light, with his thick curls flattened by moisture and his jaw coated in untamed facial hair, it was little wonder the man did not recognize the exiled member of the Kyrenic clan. Instead, the commandant transitioned to heavily-accented Eyraillian. “How did you know the words?” he barked. “Who are you?”

This was it. The moment he had dreaded longer than he could remember. Theoduin drew himself up to his full height, chin forward and shoulders back. He drew a breath…and spoke.

“I am Prince Theoduin thiel Kyrenic of the North, second son of the late King Cyran and Queen Ilyana, elder brother to Queen Faraine thiel Kyrenic.” He reached up, slicking his wet hair back to reveal his sloped ears. “Commandant Jhaartael, my companion is a respected ambassador and requires a healer. See to her immediately. And you,” he continued, turning to the stunned lieutenant, “I would appreciate it if you lowered your weapon.”


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Having never gone to war, or fought in a capacity that was more than training or sparring, sustaining and working through injuries such as what she had endured over the past week was not something that Vega was habituated to dealing with. At first, it was a nuisance; her fractured ribs preventing a good night's sleep. Then the wolf attack left her sore and raw, making each and every wrong movement a painful and aggravating endeavor. At some point, between leaving their encampment and setting out on the road, the minor annoyance of the cutting, burning pain at her side escalated to a point that was beyond tolerable. Every bump along the way felt like a tiny blade, embedding itself into her torn flesh, over and over and over. It was around that time that she asked after the remainder of the distance they had to cover; Theoduin gave her an answer, but she hadn't the clarity of mind to take in what he said, and it fell deaf on her ears, which rang heavy with the sound of her rapid pulse.

Their horses trod alongside the river for quite some time, and Vega found blissful distraction in the virulent churning of the river, the white-capped waves crashing up against rocky banks that contained it. It took her mind off of the throbbing burn in her side. Pride and obstinacy alone kept her upright on her horse, when all she wanted to do was lie down and let sleep take her. At some point during their journey, that painful, hyper-awareness of her rapidly deteriorating condition diminished to ambivalent acceptance. It was no positive sign that the ache of her wounds now sat at the back of her mind, or that she began to struggle to ground herself in the reality that surrounded them.

Theoduin must have taken notice, just as they reached the end of the river. He made a comment as to her appearance, and before she could protest, he dismounted his horse and climbed onto her own steed, a steadying wall behind her. Without a word, she relinquished the reins, ever grateful that he took care not to touch her wounded side. All the same, she determined to remain upright; for the moment she succumbed to the weakness of bloodloss, she feared she would not be able to right herself, again. “I’ll hold out,” she murmured in response to his concerns. “I’ve come this far…”

Some amount of time had passed; how much, the Skyknight couldn’t tell. It could have been hours or minutes, and her state of awareness couldn’t discern the difference. But at some point, they came to a stop... and then, Theoduin drew his bow. There were voices. "Theoduin," she murmured in concern, lifting her head, which had begun to droop at some point along their journey. "What is going on?"

Ambushed--had they been ambushed? Arrows were drawn, and voices closed in, demanding that Theoduin relinquish his bow. He exchanged words with the would-be assailants; to her chagrin, she tossed his bow to the side. They were at the mercy of people who seemed to be happier to sooner see them dead. But, nonetheless, they were moving again, and the forest disappeared behind them. In half a heartbeat and a fraction of a blink, they found themselves in a town. The forest earth had given way to cobblestones, by the sound of the horses audible trod, and darkness was vanquished by the warm glow of lamps. For the briefest of moments, an odd sense of calm fell over the Eyraillian princess. This place was... inviting. Not one that connoted the possibility of terrible things happening, and were she to truly let her guard down, she might have thought that they were safe... except, even in her compromised condition, Vega Sorde was not that naive.

Eyes and arrows trained on them, the pair was slow and cautious as they dismounted their horse. When their captors (for lack of a better term) refused to let Theoduin lend her a hand, the Skyknight tensed and fell unsteadily onto her feet as a pair of strangers saw to getting her down. For a moment, the world swayed, and she brought a hand to her side: it came away bearing a worrisome stain of crimson. The bandages she'd applied earlier that morning had only held for so long, and it appeared that she'd been steadily losing blood throughout their trip. A good half of her tunic, down past the waistband of her trousers, was dark and damp with it. "We don't mean harm," she tried to reassure the soldiers who promptly confiscated her short sword, but neither of them appeared to listen. It was only at the sight of their pointed ears that it finally clicked: where they were, who these people were.

A soft, barely perceptible smile formed on her lips. Somehow, they had made it to Myrddin.

More people approached. A man who wore authority on his sleeve and on his uniform, who demanded answers from Theoduin. Vega furrowed her eyebrows, struck with confusion as to their ignorance. Could they not see that he was one of their own? That he spoke their language, had complied with their requests? Why did they think him an enemy? Her head spinning, Vega pressed a hand to her temple, paying no heed to the dire glances the guards on either side of her shot in her direction at her sudden movement. How long would this take? How long, to convince them--

And then, Theoduin spoke words that rendered the entire area silent as death--words that almost made her heart stop. "You're..." The revelation, one that she wouldn't have anticipated in a lifetime, sent her pulse into a rapid rhythm; one that her body, as it was, could not sustain. Her knees gave out, and the Skyknight barely managed to break her fall and land in a crouch. She didn't pay any heed to the arrows that were trained on her. One hand clutching her side, the other barely supporting her weight, her glassy, azure eyes swam with a nauseating mixture of confusion, surprise, and even a little bit of betrayal as she met Theoduin's gaze. Curly tendrils of red hair, escaped from the tight weave pinned to the back of her neck, stuck to her forehead with perspiration. "Who... did you just say you are...?"


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Silence.

Apart from Vega’s labored breathing and his own pulse thundering in his ears, the aftermath of Theoduin’s authoritative confession was met with stunned, irreverent silence.

Not even the ambitious female lieutenant could figure out how to react. She was young, likely from an eastern clan, and would only have known of the abdicated prince in story and rumor. She met Theoduin’s gaze. For a moment, she did not move, not knowing whether or not to believe the strangers she’d caught past their border in the middle of the night—but one glance at her commandant, whose battle-hardened face had blanched with recognition, and she knew her captive spoke the truth.

She dropped her bow to her side as though it were suddenly aflame, the arrow clattering unceremoniously to the cobblestones. Theoduin, freed from the guard’s threat, spun toward Vega and wrapped an arm gently around her shoulders. “Let’s get you inside,” he whispered, pulling her upright. “Hang on just a bit longer…”

“Your highness—” the commandant began.

 “I will escort our ambassador to her guest chambers,” Theoduin interrupted. He was acutely aware of his tone…and as much as he hated himself for adopting the assertive delivery of a royal raised, he knew it was expected if he were going to play this part. “I trust they have not been relocated in my absence?” He looked at each guard in turn, all of whom had cast their eyes uncertainly downward. “You, and you. You will accompany us. And you,” he continued, gesturing to yet another young soldier, “please send for your most talented healer immediately. I would also appreciate someone tending to the ambassador’s horse. We also left another behind near the river…see that a scout brings her safely to our stables.”

 “As you wish, your highness,” the commandant stammered. “Shall we also send word to your sister, Her Majesty?”

“I will call upon Faraine in the morning.” Theoduin narrowed his eyes. “Now, if you will excuse us, the ambassador needs attention.” 

The two young elfin men scrambled after them, one on either side, and led them through a series of unremarkable corridors lit sparingly by lanterns suspended from low ceilings. From what he remembered of the palace, these were the service halls—a labyrinthine network of passageways that connected the main palace to outlying buildings and barracks. This particular tunnel led from the guards’ main post, and would ultimately bring them to a vast, cavernous atrium that would in turn lead them to the guest wing. 

Their escorts remained silent, even as one of them opened a large arched wooden door. The other slipped inside, igniting a series of lanterns inside the chambers with a flick of his fingers—a fire mage. Theoduin did not wait for their all-clear before pushing through, helping Vega directly to the bed.

“Thank you. Please allow no one through but the healer,” he told the guards, who shuffled outside quickly to stand post at the end of the broad hall.

As soon as the door latched closed behind them, Theoduin turned to Vega. His shoulders sagged forward, and in the dim, shifting glow of the lamps, his fatigue was plain on his face. “Forgive me, Vega,” he breathed, not without desperation. “I could not tell you…It’s…it is complicated, and I will explain wh…”

A hollow knock announced the healer’s arrival, cutting off his earnest words. Theoduin cast a pained glance to Vega before answering the door. An older elfin woman dressed in crimson robes greeted him with the expected royal niceties, but her true attention was clearly reserved for Vega. She approached, eyes kind but concerned.

“My name is Mharta,” she said gently in heavily-accented Eyraillian. She outstretched her slender hands, taking one of Vega’s between her palms. “Have I permission to heal?”


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Though he did not provide an answer, or any form of response to her question (one that was asked in earnest, for she was too weak and delirious to trust her ears), it probably wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Fully hinging on survival mode, with her injured body saving energy where it could, Vega hardly felt confident to do more than merely take in her surroundings, and the faces around her. Retaining information, especially important information, at this point in time, was not a priority. She didn’t protest Theoduin’s offer to help, his arm around her shoulders, drawing her shaky legs back into a standing position. “I’m all right,” she said, without knowing whether or not it was actually a lie. The pain was a dull, aching nuisance, shoved to the back of her mind. “Just… tired.”

It was too dark to discern exactly where they were, but the Skyknight’s languid gaze took in the sight of corridors, as her feet moved numbly in front of her, one foot before the other. Mechanical, functional, enough to get her to where she needed to be, much thanks to Theoduin’s help. The amber light of occasional torches, lanterns, and wall sconces painted curious, animated shadows along the stone, though otherwise the corridors seems unremarkable. Probably intentional, she thought, vaguely recalling how well-concealed this place was. A place that did not want to be found, and if found, did not want to leave lasting impressions that might aid in its rediscovery.

Not that she’d have been able to find her way through or around these tunnels had she even been conscious and cognizant enough to pay attention to where she was going. They had taken so many turns, rights and lefts in no particular order, that she’d never had remembered her way out and back again. At last, they came upon a large wooden door. The outside bore intricate, delicate carvings, opening to what appeared to be a moderately-sized bedchamber. It was at once beautiful and plain: the bedframe, tables, and wardrobe had all been carved of solid oak, yet like the door, intricate designs were carved and burnt into all of it. Some of the curls and intricacies had even been pressed with gold leaf, taking it just a step up from ordinary.

She didn’t have long to marvel at the decor, before her perspective was changed as Theoduin helped her into bed. Her exhausted body went limp against the sheets, and she kept a hand pressed against her side, the irrational part of her mind fearing it would be rude to stain the down-filled quilts with her blood. “So… it’s true. I did not mishear.” She mused aloud, seeing the truth plain in the apology written all over his face, let alone in his words. “You are… nobility? And of the monarchy, at that…” Part of her wanted to laugh at the coincidence. How was it, that two people, meeting under the guise of being ordinary, both harbored a well-kept secret of their noble heritage?

“...you don’t need to ask for forgiveness.” She told him, placing her free hand on his arm. “It isn’t necessary. I…” The Eyraillian woman paused, searching for the right words in her clouded mind. “I… haven’t been entirely forthcoming with you, either. I…”

Her thoughts and words were cut short, when the door opened, and a woman clad in red from head to toe entered. She had a kind face, and the sort of presence that could put someone at ease. It was evident to Vega that she was the healer Theoduin had requested, before she introduced herself. “Of course; you have my permission…” She replied, wondering just how many people in desperate need of healing refused the attention of a healer. So different from the physicians she’d grown up with; in Eyraille, if you were this crucially injured, your right to deny aid was practically forfeit. How intriguing, that two kingdoms, practically neighbors to one another, harbored such a different in customs and niceties, with such a contrast in willingness to accommodate…

Well… except for their intial ‘welcome’. That was certainly something that Myrddin could work to improve.


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Theoduin stood, too uneasy to sit, with his arms crossed tightly across his chest. The walls felt too close, the ceiling too low; the shadows of the ornate carvings and the glint of gold filigree were at once painfully familiar and completely strange. There were people—so many people, so very close—breathing, sleeping, milling about…and more still within the walls of the palace, who were likely being shaken from slumber with news of the runaway would-be monarch’s abrupt return.

Or perhaps he was flattering himself. Perhaps no one was truly as shocked as he suspected, and his anxieties were merely the product of his prolonged isolation.

 But deep down, he knew that wasn’t true. His departure would have made history books, if books had not fallen so far from favor in this volatile era—and if Faraine’s temper as queen was anything like the one she’d possessed as a young princess, his name and reputation would not have been spared her fury in his absence.

It wasn’t until the healer addressed him that he snapped back to attention. “Is it your intention to put out the lights, your highness?” she murmured, her eyes momentarily fluttering open.

He realized suddenly that the air in the room had begun to whirl, tugging at the heavy velvet tapestries as it whipped about the bedchamber. The lamps, though sheathed behind crystal-clear glass, flickered with its force. The miniature gale halted immediately, and he bowed his head in apology. Losing control was no way to maintain his authority—or, for that matter, his sanity.

Instead, he focused on Mharta, who sat still as stone at Vega’s side. Decades had passed since he had last seen a healer at work. All of his reading, all of his research, and all of his own misguided attempts to master the delicate art could not compare to a soul with the natural gift. While his ineptitude for the craft had infuriated him once, he observed now with newfound acceptance…and profound respect. He couldn’t see Vega’s wounds repair themselves, he couldn’t verify her lessening pain—but the woman wore her concentration intensely on her otherwise soft features, proof enough that she was hard at work mending the torn tapestry of Vega’s physical being.

After what felt like hours, the healer stirred, reaching up to place a palm across Vega’s forehead. “How do you feel, dear?” she inquired, searching the Skyknight’s face for any signs of pain. “You may feel some discomfort, but not pain. The feeling is normal. It will fade as your body begins to produce blood again.” She rose, long scarlet robes pooling at her feet, and turned to Theoduin. She looked markedly tired, which was to be expected. “Your highness, it is your turn.”

“That will not be necessary,” he returned, shaking his head.

“The ache in your muscles, the strain in your shoulder,” she continued matter-of-factly. “The cut on your cheek.”

Without thinking, he reached up to his jaw, where his fingertips met a warm, sticky trickle of blood. “Oh,” he breathed, suddenly sensing the sting of the cut. “It must have reopened.”

“Sit, your highness.”

Had Theoduin been more invested in his royal status, he might have taken offense at her tone. But Mharta seemed to sense his distress, and knew it was best to give him direct orders rather than trust him to make sensible decisions in this state of mind. She nodded approvingly when he obeyed.

He flinched when her touch found his injured shoulder, although it was less to do with pain and more to do with being unaccustomed to physical contact. Soon thereafter, the strange chill of Mharta’s magical reach sent a shiver down his spine. He could feel the skin on his cheek come together beneath his beard, and the burning ache in his shoulder quickly faded.

“I can do nothing for this, I’m afraid,” Mharta whispered in Elvish, her voice so soft even Theoduin could barely hear. She brought a tender hand to his chest, balling it into a sturdy fist against his tunic. His pulse quickened nervously beneath her touch. “I remember you when you were a child, Theoduin thiel Kyrenic, running these halls with your sisters. Welcome home, voli na filinn.

Voli na filinn. He met the healer’s gaze with a start. Our Scholar Prince. She bowed her head, then spun to leave without another word. 

For a moment, Theoduin couldn’t move. What was he to think of the healer’s words? She’d spoken them with such reverence…reverence he had certainly not earned.

The sound of Vega stirring interrupted his train of thought, and he was glad to abandon his confusion for now. He returned to the Skyknight’s side, relieved to see the color returning to her face. “Queen Faraine is my sister, my younger sister,” he said with no preamble, the confession tumbling from his lips before he could stop himself. “I…I ran away when the throne fell to me. She took my place. I didn’t give her a choice…I ran away. I have not seen her, I have not been back here, since the night before her coronation…my coronation.” He clenched his fists. “I apologize for keeping this from you. It is not a past I am proud of…but it is one I believe will aid our cause.”


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Requiem
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To say that being treated by an Elvin healer was strange was a gross understatement. Given the extent of her injuries--fractures ribs, torn flesh and extensive loss of blood--it should not have been so easy to treat, let alone to expect favorable result so quickly. Yet all Mharta had to do was take her hand, and close her eyes in concentration… and Vega could feel something.

The passage of time was lost on the Eyraillian princess, but it had less to do with the healer’s methods, and more to do with the fact Vega wasn’t playing with her full cognitive capacity. It must have been hours that they’d traveled by horse to Myrddin, but her memory only played back snippets and flashes of the journey, at times when she was the most awake and aware. Even now, as she lay with her eyes half open, curiously taking in the face of the healer, the decor of the bedroom, and the uneasy pacing of Theoduin just a few steps away, she had mellowed into a state of pure existence, one where time didn’t matter. It could have been minutes or hours that Mharta stood over her, eyes closed in trancelike concentration, and she wouldn’t have known the difference.

At the very least, it wasn’t painful. She felt nothing, at first, but gradually a tingling sort of vibration began to replace the cutting ache at her side and in her ribs. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, per se, but also far from unpleasant. Just prominent enough to keep her from completely falling asleep where she lay, which, given the extent of her exsanguination, was probably for the better. When at last Mharta dropped her hand, and placed a warm palm across her forehead, the Skyknight actually found she felt more alert and awake than she had all day. Her side still tingled, and her limbs felt heavy, but the sensation was such a curious mix between one that resembled inebriation and energetic vigor that it brought a small smile to her lips.

“I feel… fine. Thank you,” she said to the healer. Feeling well enough to sit up, she hoisted herself into a position with her back against the head board of the bed, and pulled up the side of her tunic. Beneath the blood-sodden bandages, her flesh had remarkably healed, leaving only faint, pink scars where the wolf’s teeth had torn her flesh. It looked like a wound that had healed a number of weeks ago, not just moments ago. It left her speechless, and she was about to expand on her thanks to the healer, but the woman had already focused her attentions on Theoduin. After exchanging some words with him, following by a nostalgic gaze that bordered on sad, Mharta left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Vega lent an ear to her Elvin companion as he returned to her bedside, and offered a smile, despite the heaviness in the air that accompanied their conversation. And when he began to discuss his sister… she suddenly understood that heaviness. “You abdicated…” It was neither a judgement, nor a surprise. In her light-headed giddiness, she very nearly came to confiding just how literally she could relate. “And your sister… I would assume, she holds a grudge for it. I don’t fault you for not telling me… I can imagine the burden you must have been holding.” In fact, I know that burden… too well.

Without thinking, she covered the top of his hand with her own, the one not stained with her own, dried crimson blood. “I have always been a strong believer that we create our own destiny… regardless of what our birth and lineage dictates. Whatever your reason, it was your decision, and that in and of itself holds merit. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”


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You abdicated.

 It was strange—and indeed, almost amusing—how the breaking of an ancient tradition, the defiance of blood rights, unforgivable familial betrayal, and decades of isolation could all boil down to two simple words, spoken with soft matter-of-factness from the lips of a Skyknight.

He nodded slowly, studying the backs of his clasped hands. When his companion’s hand moved to rest atop them, he didn’t pull away. “I appreciate your kind words,” he managed to murmur. “I am afraid you are perhaps the only one in many miles to think that way. To vouch for the merit in making one’s own choice. Particularly this one.” He looked up at last and met her gaze. “I would not have brought you here in my company if I believed my status may put you in any danger, political or otherwise. I assure you, Queen Faraine’s wrath shall be reserved solely for her elder brother. She will be sympathetic to our—your—cause as soon as the shock ebbs.”

With a soft sigh, he rotated his hand so that his palm faced upward, and laced his fingers through Vega’s. “We have only known one another a short while, and I know I have…withheld…certain information.” A cringe twisted his features. “But I wish you to know that you have my trust, and I hope to earn yours in return.”

Pulling his grip away, he ran both fingers through his hair and rose to his feet, not waiting for the Skyknight’s response. He slipped into the adjacent washroom and began the process of filling the large stone wash basin by triggering a torrent of hot water with a few whispered words. Water mages had crafted an easy spell for those with other magical talents, or even none at all; summoning the liquid from deep within the ground was simply a matter of repeating the words with the proper cadence. It was a far cry from his lonely home in the north, which required pumping the well by hand.

When at last the tub was full, Theoduin returned to the bedroom. “I’ve drawn you a bath, should you wish to wash away the grime of the road, and the blood,” he announced, extending a hand should she need assistance rising from the mattress. “I will send someone in with a change of clothes. And I will be just next door should you need me,” he finished. “Thank you, Vega…for your…support.”


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Vega fixed her gaze on their conjoined hands as Theoduin expressed his gratitude. His was larger, darker in skin tone, while hers was small and caked with blood. And yet… and, they were so alike. What were the chances that she would ever cross paths with someone who had dodged their destiny, the way she did? Another deserter of the throne, piling the responsibility onto a younger sibling, who possibly resented them for it? Perhaps it was merely due to the extensive amount of blood that she’d lost, but the Skyknight’s head still spun with the news. And she wasn’t sure her reaction would’ve been any different, under other circumstances.

“Oh… I never thought for a moment that you’d be leading me into danger,” she assured him, flashing a tired, albeit genuine smile. “I was just… surprised. Whether or not you wish to take it as a compliment, you do a very convincing job of hiding your royal lineage…” Perhaps even a better job than I do, the thought surfaced, and she pushed it back with her stubborn will. Theoduin had run away into the woods to hide from his royal blood; and she, instead, had chosen to hide from it in plain sight.

Yet, it wasn’t until he commented on trust that Vega felt her gut twist with inevitable guilt. I hope to earn yours in return. But… hadn’t he? Hadn’t she made it clear that he had her trust, when she’d allowed him to lead her for days into unknown territory? Or when she saw fit to save his life, and lean on him for the last leg of their journey? That voice at the back of her mind begged to differ: And yet, you don’t trust him with the truth. A truth which, one way or another, he will find out…

Speechless, the Skyknight watched as he stepped away, into an adjacent bathing chamber, only to return moments later to say he’d run her a bath. And to thank her for her support--which only twisted that knife of guilt all the deeper into her stomach. “Thank you.” Came her meager reply, as they were the only words she could bring herself to say. So trite and underwhelming. But he was gone, closing the door silently behind him before she could think of something he far more deserved to hear. Gratitude, after all, was only as genuine as the person offering it.

And, as it stood, she was little more than an imposter.

Deciding not to turn up the opportunity to scrub herself clean, Vega gingerly got to her feet, taking small steps towards the bath that awaited her. While her wounds had closed and her ribs were finally healed, only time would restore the blood and energy that she had lost over the day. Washing the dried blood clean from her body and hair did do a fine job of invigorating her, to an extent, but it also offered pause for her to pay heed to that dagger of guilt that wouldn’t pry free from her gut. When she had an audience with the Queen, there was only so much that Theoduin could do to speak on her behalf… and if it came out that she was not precisely who she said she was (even if she hadn’t claimed to be anyone at all), then that would do her no favors in garnering trust from the Elven Queen and her nation. They already eyed Eyraille with suspicion (and rightfully so), and to find out by other means or through other sources that she had been the intended to Eyraille’s throne might very well stir up more unnecessary hostilities…

You’ve already messed up, that critical voice at the back of her mind reminded her. And it will only get worse, the longer you wait.

At that point, she decided that there was no way she would find sleep, that evening, if she did not speak with Theoduin again. Once she was sufficiently clean, and the water was stained a light rust-color from old blood, she found a clean silken nightgown waiting for her on the bed. Promptly, she pulled it over her head, wishing that she had something a little more ‘suitable’ to wear to address a fellow comrade with the weighty information that she had in mind. Still, it was preferable to her discarded, bloodstained attire, and would have to do.

Quietly stepping out into the hallway, she took note of the only other bedroom door next to her own, considering her room was sequestered into a corner. So she knocked on that door, holding her breath that she would, in fact, find Theoduin behind it. Sure enough, her elvin companion was the one who opened the door. If only this could’ve brought her more reassurance than she currently felt… “Theoduin. I… need to talk to you.” She looked left and right, ascertaining that no one was nearby to eavesdrop. “In private.”

When he let her into his room, and shut the door quietly after her, she faced away from the wall, wringing her hands nervously. “I do trust you, Theoduin. And I should have… been more open with you, before. I was afraid of what you might think… That you might perceive me differently…” She was dodging the issue, skirting around what needed to be said. Out with it, already; you are doing yourself no favors.

“My name… my name, in full, is Vega Andromeda Sorde.” Vega turned away from the wall, to face him, and it felt like the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, apart from forcing the throne upon her brother. “My brother, almost ten years my junior, is Caris Sorde--currently Eyraille’s reigning king.” Heart pounding in her chest, so hard that she felt it in her face, she paused to let him digest the information. “The reason I support your decision, and see no wrong in the path you’ve chosen, is because I… I decided the exact same thing. We are the same, Theoduin.” The deserter Queen sighed, her shoulders sinking, but relaxing, with the load of her secret now off her shoulders. “Exactly the same.”


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Theoduin slipped swiftly into the shadowed corridor, and Vega’s whispered gratitude was lost to the breath of the closing door in his wake. The golden glow of the guards’ torches, fueled by the young fire mage, sent shifting shadows sprawling toward him, almost as though they could detect his presence. He paused, peering toward the sentries posted at the start of the wing, and held his breath expectantly. He was in no mood to interact with guards who were trained not only to fight, but to grovel; all he wanted to do was sink into a bath, and subsequently, a bed.

When neither guard acknowledged his presence, he breathed a mental sigh of relief and crept soundlessly to the adjacent room. Years spent tracking game in the northern forests had granted him steady, soundless footfalls—which was a skill far more difficult to master on dry pine needles and snow than the palace’s smooth marble beneath his boots now.

The elaborately-carved door swung open silently when he pushed against its bumpy surface, revealing a room nearly identical to Vega’s. The oil lamps were already lit and the bed had been turned down—palace staff had already anticipated his needs—and it took all his remaining willpower to resist collapsing into the cozy embrace of wool and eiderdown right then and there. Instead, he trudged to the wash room and drew a steaming bath. After piling layers of clothing caked in dirt and blood in a pile near the basin, Theoduin sank into the scalding water until his head was completely submerged.

He remained underwater until his lungs burned, and he resurfaced dramatically with a loud gasp of cool air. He then began the meticulous process of scrubbing himself clean, ridding himself of sweat and mud and the blood of wounds no longer present on his skin. After the water cooled and turned cloudy, the abdicated prince dried off and dressed quickly in the sleep attire that awaited him on the foot of the bed.

But a timid knock on the door shot an arrow of dread through his gut. With his heart suddenly in his throat, he quickly shrugged on a robe and opened the door.

The relief was obvious on his tired face when Vega greeted him, but the urgency in her tone told him this wasn’t simply a social call. “Come inside,” he murmured, ushering her in. He gritted his teeth, suddenly nervous. “What is it?”

But nothing could have prepared him for what she was about to say—what he couldn’t quite believe he was hearing. His expression, usually guarded and unreadable, blanched as she spoke. Vega Andromeda Sorde. It was too much to process, too much to reconcile. But her words, spoken in such earnest, resonated with him with a truthful intensity he could not deny. She was a Sorde. A member of the very dynasty that had slaughtered his people for centuries…and yet perhaps the only living soul in the world who could truly empathize with his abdication.

Silent in the aftermath of her confession, it was several long moments before he could bring himself to look at her…but when at last he met her gaze, he offered her one curt nod and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“The same,” he whispered at last against her hair, which gleamed vermillion in the lamplight. “When I told you that you had my trust, I meant it. Unless you plan to prove it misplaced, I don’t see why this must color our experiences or change our goals. Perhaps this was destined...two deserters united seems unlikely to be happenstance alone.” He pulled away slightly, looking down into her eyes. “Thank you. For telling me."


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Requiem
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There was no telling how Theoduin would react to the news, and that was what weighed on the Eyraillian princess’s heart, more than the potential reaction of his sister, whose views and opinions would weight more heavily on the outcome of this venture. It was through carefully cultivated interactions, and the genuine give and take of pertinent information on both of their parts that they had come this far as comrades… and as friends. And Vega was going into this, well aware that what she was about to say might potentially unravel it all.

 

Because this was more than just a secret. To fib about her rank in her kingdom’s Skyknight militia might have been one thing; to boast about her place as something bigger than what she really was, that might have been forgivable, albeit an ill-advised route to take in an attempt to encourage camaraderie. No, she had deliberately downplayed her culpability and involvement in her family’s dark and blood-soaked history which had directly affected Theoduin and his people. As if she could absolve herself of that burden by refusing to acknowledge her lineage. He might never have helped me, she had reasoned, all this time. What would have become of me and of Aeriel if he had refused to help a Sorde?

 

It wasn’t her decision to make; it was not her place to manipulate his motivations. And for that, was she really any better than the father she so despised?

 

The silence that followed her confession was heavier than the burden of the secret she had been carrying. Vega’s heart pounded in her chest, so heavy she could hear it in her ears, and blood had crept into her face, which was no longer pale with injury, but flushed with guilt. She wanted to look away, but the unreadable look in his eyes paralyzed her. And before she could deflate in an apology, bow her head and leave him to digest this information alone, she found herself encased in Theoduin’s arms, his damp curls brushing against her neck. The same. They really were the same. Such that the circumstances of their abdication, or of their lineage, however terrible, could not change that.

 

The Skyknight commander felt her throat grow thick and tight with emotion that she hadn’t expected to descend upon her, like a blanket. Her intent had been to keep in together, to be honest and genuine to her Elvin companion, in the most direct way possible. It might have been easier to shoulder his anger or rejection; this was not something she had expected. “I hesitated to tell you too soon,” she admitted, reaching around his torso to return the embrace. “I didn’t know if you were an enemy… but I have no excuse for keeping this secret, after learning I could trust you. I should have told you sooner. I wasn’t hiding it from you, so much as I was denying it to myself… just as I have been, for as long as I can remember. Abdication cannot put enough distance between me and my lineage. And even so, it serves not as a valid excuse.”

 

Letting her arms drop, Vega gradually released him from the embrace, her azure eyes shining with sentiment, but not heavily enough for tears to fall. Only because she refused. “I am not sure how your sister will take to this information, but like you, she deserves to know. My only hope is that she is able to see past my bloody family lineage to the change that is being incited. I am not my father or his predecessors; nor is my brother, who shoulders the burden of Eyraille’s throne in my place.” The guilt was palpable in her voice at her mention of Caris. Not even her steadfast resolve could hide that. “It is not the same Eyraille that threatened your people; we are not the same people responsible for that, though we recognize our culpability by association. I realize that this… this is difficult to reconcile, given our history. Such that I thought that even you, with your open nature, might not give me a chance…”

 

She was rambling, she realized, all too late. Still making excuses for her lineage, for her behaviour, for her secrets, when in truth there were no valid excuses. Vega’s cheeks burned hotter, and she drew her damp, untamed copper tresses over her shoulders to cool them. “What I am trying to say… is that I am sorry. And that I hope I might earn your forgiveness, and offer proof to my claims. No more secrets; you have my word. I value your friendship too much.”


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Still reeling from his companion’s unexpected revelation, Theoduin was hesitant to pull away from their embrace. Vega’s warmth, with the gentle pressure of her arms encircling his waist in return, was the only thing that felt real; to let go was to acknowledge the strangeness, to risk being swept away in a riptide of conflicting emotion that he was ill-equipped to handle in his exhaustion.

After more decades than he cared to count, he suddenly found himself surrounded by all the things from which he had desperately run—not just the physical environment, with the palace’s polished marble and stone and the understated elegance of luxe Elven décor, but the truth of his lineage and the reality of the title he had abandoned. There was nowhere to hide. Not anymore. And though he’d known very well what awaited him in Myrddin when they’d set off on their journey, the anticipation had done nothing to quell the hybrid of ache and dread that burned hot in his chest even now.

His abdication had only prolonged the inevitable. The curse of a royal bloodline was impossible to outrun, and it seemed that the politics he’d been so desperate to escape had caught up to him at last. Vega and her injured roc had literally fallen from the sky to crash-land in his life, leaving little room to negotiate with the fates—something he had attempted to do once before with little apparent success. The Skyknight’s confession was certainly a sign that it was time to give up the chase for good…yet even now, with his arms wrapped around Eyraille’s deserter queen in the guest chambers of the Myrddian palace, he couldn’t quite believe that his exile had reached its end.

Would that he could flee…and take Vega with him.

“My sister will respect your diplomacy, even if she does not show it,” Theoduin said at last, heaving a heavy sigh. He lowered himself to the foot of the bed and raked his fingers through his damp hair, pushing it straight back from his forehead and revealing the gentle point to his ears. “Your safety is not in question. Mine may be, however, once we leave the public eye of the High Court.” He cracked a tired smile that did not quite touch his eyes, and it dissipated as swiftly as it had appeared.

“Your lineage will likely work in your favor, in the end. That Eyraille would send a member of their royal family as an ambassador speaks volumes to the seriousness of your kingdom’s sentiment.” He looked up, searching for her azure gaze. “It is time to recognize that our realms have progressed, and that the years have at last looked upon all of us with favor. It will not be an immediate shift…I do not need to tell you that the damage is too great for that, and the history too long. But, Vega Sorde,” he addressed, eyes fierce in the flickering light, “you require no one’s forgiveness, least of all mine. Please know that.”


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Despite the kind and reassuring nature of Theoduin’s words, Vega had her doubts as to what to expect regarding her audience with Myrddin’s reluctant queen. The Elvin kingdom had not been anticipating a visit from any Eyraillian ambassador, let alone a Sorde; direct blood of the very royal lineage that had waged war on the magically adept race of Myrddin. At the very best, she expected, the Elvin queen may hear her out; and, at the worst, have her arrested as an intruder and a threat the peace of her kingdom. Much though Theoduin seemed intent to act as a barrier, a shield between her and his sister’s judgement, she expected that his influence might not be as strong as he had hoped.

 

Rubbing the back of her neck, which, like her face, had grown warm with the nervous energy emanating from her body, the deserter Queen of Eyraille watched as Theoduin took a seat, helplessly staring down at his knees… and she hated herself for the position that she had put him in. “I fear the outcome of my audience with Myrddin’s reigning Queen might not be as hopeful as you predict,” she sighed. “But whatever might come, Theoduin… know that I will not allow you to take a fall for this. You’ve already seen to my safety, here, during a time in which I was not able to uphold myself. And I intend to return the favor.”

 

Kneeling at his bedside, feeling the cool texture of hardwood on her knees, the Skyknight commander rested her hand upon her Elvin companion’s knee; a gesture of supplication. Of gratitude for everything he had already done for her, for everything that he still intended to do, despite who she was. Despite what her secrets. Despite her bloodline, and the bloody history between Myrddin and Eyraille. She might not have reigned as Eyraille’s Queen at that moment, for her own choice; but then and there, all of Eyraille might have been kneeling with her, before the very essence of Myrddin, out of remorse and apology for what it had done. For Theoduin, who, in so many ways, was himself a casualty of the war her father, his father’s father, and his father before that. It would never be enough; but it was all she had.

 

“Theoduin thiel Kyrenic, while I recognize you desire no apology from the likes of me… I need you to accept it, all the same. And to accept that I intend to take full responsibility for whatever consequences my presence, here, might incite. Whatever it takes, I will not allow your safety to be compromised. Not here… not in your own home.” She met his eyes, azure fixed on bright cerulean, and felt her heart thud against her newly healed rib cage with the conviction of her words. In spite of herself, her lips curled into an amused smile. “You don’t know, first hand, just how stubborn Sorde blood can be. I do not make empty promises; and I do not come to arms for that which is not worth fighting for. Eyraille and Myrddin’s relationship can heal; it will heal. And it will start with this--the two of us.”

 

Rising from her kneeling position, the Eyraillian princess self-consciously smoothed the front of her nightgown, which had become wrinkled from being folded under her knees. None of this suggested the right timing for the words she had for him; highly inappropriate, by anyone’s standards, royal or otherwise. The two of them, meeting in secret in the middle of the night, donned only in nightwear and the film of their mutual weariness from the day’s events… But when would she have found another chance? A safer place to divulge her secret, to have him in a position where he was forced to hear her apology without walking away? In the short time that they had known one another, they had already endured a great deal; and now, this newfound familiarity that accompanied their similar circumstances tugged at her heart in too profound a way to care about formalities. He was a kindred spirit, one who not only understood her pain, but who shared it.

 

In any case, it would not have been the first time that Eyraille’s deserter Queen, and first female Skyknight commander, had broken convention.

 

“I’ve consumed too much of your time and energy, today,” she remarked, shame resonating in the soft timbre of her voice. Vega folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head. “Get the rest that you deserve, my friend. Sleep knowing that you will not face tomorrow alone. I will not allow it.”


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Though the burden of the scholar prince’s return to Myrddin weighed heavily on his shoulders, it was the raw exhaustion that he felt most keenly now. After a day of navigating incredibly difficult terrain, followed by an aggressive greeting of notched arrows and drawn swords, Theoduin had been thrust back into a world he had tried furiously to leave behind…and assuming an identity he had sworn never to acknowledge again.

He hated himself for how easy it had been to resume the role—how naturally his voice became commanding, how smoothly the orders had flowed from his lips, how quickly he had thrown his shoulders back…all with the false confidence of a prince who would not tolerate being questioned. All those years of reinventing himself were unraveled in the time it took to speak his name. And what would become of him now? What awaited him beyond Faraine’s fury? A prison cell, a trial? And what had the healer Mharta’s reverent whispered words meant?

The last thing he wanted to think about at that moment was politics. It was painful enough knowing that the fate of their two feuding kingdoms was largely dependent on their unlikely union…and worse still that their parallel stories bore such significance in their mutual histories. The not-so-distant dawn would bring answers to the potent uncertainties that had fueled their journey and his anxieties alike, but he also wasn’t sure he wanted to know them. It was rare for a scholar to desire being kept in the dark, but that was precisely where Theoduin longed to be. The spotlight was never supposed to be his.

“If you require forgiveness, then I shall grant it to you,” he murmured hoarsely, looking up to meet the Skyknight’s solemn gaze. The expression he found there shone bright in her cerulean eyes despite the dimming lamplight, and it startled him—it was a look of understanding far deeper than simple consolation, one that knew precisely the same unique combination of pain, conflict, and guilt that had plagued him for decades. He had lived so long in isolation, banishing his emotional anguish with rigorous study…and all along, another soul had wandered the earth tortured with an identical burden.

Still, their cultural differences could not be overlooked. He admired Vega’s consciousness of that fact, and her presence of mind to realize that his people—and indeed, his—acceptance of Eyraille’s peace offering was not as simple as the sun rising on a new day. That said, the last thing she needed to do was apologize for a legacy in which she played no active part…but he also appreciated her candor, that despite the unlikeliness that they had found one another, her expectations contained no delusion of unabashed success.

“Would you stay?” He heard himself speak the words before he could convince himself not to. “I would…I would feel better in your company.” A sigh lifted and dropped his shoulders, and he looked away, unsure how to continue. “I have lived alone for a very long while, pretending that this life of mine dwelled solely in my past. I thought death would find me before I returned to this soil. And I…” Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, was painted plainly across his chiseled features. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. “Your presence brings relief. So would you stay?”


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The relief that spread through Vega’s body, like a sigh, was palpable. And all because Theoduin’s words of forgiveness filled that very need that she craved, something that no one else in all of Eyraille--not even her own brother--had deigned to offer her. Something that she had long believed she did not deserve, for a multitude of reasons. For what her family had done, for generations; for what she had done, to her kingdom, to her brother. She had been born culpable, and culpability followed her wherever she went. Yet this was the first time she had gained forgiveness for even the smallest fraction of the pain she inadvertently dealt. And it meant more to her than she could even begin to articulate.

 

“Thank you, Theoduin.” The Skyknight breathed, her shoulders relaxing ever so slightly. As if those simple words had relieved her ever so slightly of a burden that she had been carrying for as long as she could remember. “I recognize that those words, coming from someone directly affected by the cruelty of my family’s legacy, do not come lightly. Yet, you would offer them if you did not mean them… thank you.”

 

He was exhausted; had been, before her intrusion into his bedchambers, where he had sought to retire. The weariness in his eyes spurred Vega to take a step back, to give him the space he deserved… and yet, before she could gracefully take her leave, he made an unexpected request: Would you stay? Needless to say, the Eyraillian princess was taken aback, such that the only words she could think to articulate were a plea for clarification: “You wish me to stay… here? For tonight?”

 

The Elvin prince went on to elaborate, perhaps himself self-conscious of how the proposal might be received. But it was all too clear, by the world-weariness swimming in his blue eyes. Eyes that had already lived several more lifeftimes than her own; eyes that had been born into a life he had rejected, and had sought another kind of life, hoping never to look back. And yet, here he was: back in the very place that he had abandoned. They were alike, in so many ways, but this was the one way in which their circumstances differed. Vega, with a strong commitment to overseeing the well-being of her brother, who had assumed the terrible burden that she had rejected, had made the decision to hide from her fate in plain sight. Theoduin, conversely, had run far, far from his home, in hopes that it would never find him, that his past would never catch up. And here he was, back where he had started, and without any idea of what to do.

 

All because of her. Because he had chosen to help her. She was indebted to him, in more ways than she cared to admit… and she would not abandon him, now. After all, he had not abandoned her.

 

Pressing her lips together, Vega offered a slight nod of understanding. “I am happy to stay.” She told him, and gestured to his bedside. “Go lie down. You are beyond the brink of exhaustion. Do not stay awake for my sake.”

 

Waiting for him to oblige, the Skyknight commander rounded the plush and ornate bed, extinguishing the flames of candles lit on either bedside table. When the room had succumbed to darkness, save for silver moonlight that spilled through the windowpanes in jagged rectangles, she climbed onto the beside opposite him. The extensive size of the mattress offered enough room between the two of them for personal space, while simultaneously offering the proximity that he needed. “When I was young, and felt alone--which I often did--I would count the stars.” Vega offered, her voice quiet and solemn in the tranquil darkness of the room. “They reminded me of just how vast this world is, beyond Eyraille. And that I was not the only one bearing witness to them. I used to imagine that among the millions in the sky, one--even just one--might also be captivating the gaze of someone who felt the way I did. That surely I was not the only one faced with what I felt like was a personal hell.” The faintest of smiles touched her lips. “Sometimes, I would pick a star, and pray to it. Pray that someone else, beyond Eyraille’s borders, might understand… and now, here you are. The very star that I could only hope was listening.”

 

In the darkness, she managed to find his hand, resting her fingertips atop his knuckles. “Look to the sky when all seems hopeless. Or when you don’t know where to go, or what to do. Someone will be listening. I’ll be that star, this time, if you think that you can find strength and hope in my listening.”


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For how his mind raced, his body was too tired to do much more than collapse against the overstuffed mattress and give in to slumber. He drifted through the pastel haze of dream after dream, trapped in the ever-shifting interstice betwixt memory and nightmare. Just when he caught a glimpse of one, he was transported to another, skimming a mirror-surface that blocked his view of what lay beneath with a stark reflection of his own insecurities.

But what he also saw were stars, sparkling orbs that flickered in time with the pulse of his heart. They sprawled across the gentle ripples as though someone had spilled them across the surface. From the glittering chaos emerged patterns of gold and silver—constellations that burned larger, brighter than the rest—obscuring his own image in favor of a swirling galaxy of luminous stars. But one in particular caught his eye across the waves…a fiery burst comprised of soft, irregular points, its searing glow tinged with copper on the edges.

Nevertheless, his rest was restorative. Sleep had a way of quelling anxiety by way of healing the body, breathing life back into limbs that had once ached with weariness, and mending the frayed edges of a mind battered by exhaustion. For a man whose social interactions had been limited only to a scant handful each year (and always under a careful pretense), the previous evening’s events had been the equivalent of leaping into an icy pond—the grip of the frigid water had sapped the warmth from his bones and left him afraid and quaking, torn between letting the darkness take him or breaking the surface with a fighting gasp. But with Vega’s confession had come a profound relief that refueled his desire to put one foot in front of the other, to raise his bow against the proverbial and inevitable onslaught of societal battle.

As color returned to a cloudless sky and the dawn finally broke, so too did the same troubles that plagued the pair the night before—but this time, when Theoduin’s eyelids fluttered open to greet the new day, his head was clear, his thoughts steady. The last dream-images of starlight faded slowly as he blinked them away, with the last reddish orb disappearing only when he shifted his refreshed gaze to the young woman slumbering at his side. She faced away from him, her rust-colored tresses sprawled across her pillow, and her steady breathing indicated she was still asleep.

Theoduin slipped from beneath the blankets, reveling silently in the cool morning air that caressed his face. The hours of sleep he’d managed, though few, were enough to have restored him to his stoic, reasonable self, with a far more realistic grasp of what was to come later that day. By now Faraine would have heard of his presence, he knew; there were few secrets amongst palace staff, and even if they had obeyed his request to keep the information from the Elven queen, the “necessary preparations” for a royal arrival would be difficult to keep under wraps for long. The wheels were in motion. All that was left to do was keep the carriage on the path.

He dressed quickly before Vega stirred, adorning a plush gray tunic and thick emerald robes that would simultaneously protect from the mountain chill and satisfy the requirements for proper High Court dress. The scholar prince certainly looked the part—which, strangely enough, made him feel more secure about the act to come.

When he returned to the room, he found his companion awake, sitting upright amongst the pillows. “Vega,” he addressed kindly. “The hour is still early, but I can’t say when we’ll be summoned for the Courts.” He met her gaze; his light blue eyes far brighter than they’d been the night before. Something about the halo of red hair around her face reminded him of the blazing star from his dream, and he smiled softly, shyly. “Did you manage some rest?” he asked, and then, after a pause, added, “Thank you. For staying. For everything. I cannot imagine another soul I would rather have at my side, whatever today might bring.”


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Unlike Theoduin’s star-filled dreams, Vega’s slumber, which came to her shortly after she was reassured by the slow rise and fall of her slumbering companion’s chest, was dreamless. But it was a reprieve from the repressed turmoil that always seemed to make itself present during her hours spent unconscious. The scenes that she pushed to the back of her mind, those which haunted her the most, reminding her of why rest would never truly replenish the exhaustion buried deep within her soul. Somehow, in Myrddin--perhaps the least logical place for an Eyraillian such a herself to find comfort--she found herself blessed with sleep so dark and deep that not even her own thoughts could penetrate the protective veil.

 

While it was perhaps one of the most restful of slumbers that she had experienced in quite some time, the extensive bloodloss that the Skyknight commander had suffered the day before did, in fact, demand a longer sleep than usual. By the time the Eyraillian princess opened her eyes, the sun had long since crested the horizon, and where moonlight had flooded the bedchamber the night before, golden rays of morning spilled in through the window, assaulting her pale azure eyes with the extent of their light. Well past dawn, already, and a glance to the side revealed that Theoduin had already risen.

 

The events of the night before returned to her as soon as her Elvin companion crossed her mind, and immediately, she felt herself overcome with concern. Theoduin had been far beyond himself, last night, overwhelmed with the events that had led him back to Myrddin. So much so that he had asked for her to stay, a reassuring presence within arm’s reach while he slept. She recalled softly talking him to sleep, how she hadn’t finished her story before he was gone to the world, breathing deep and even as he had succumbed to the rest that he desperately needed. But how was he faring, on this day? Had slumber restored the poised and confidence that returning to Myrddin had stolen away?

 

The Skyknight commander threw the sheets off of her, and was about to look for him, when her Elvin companion entered the room, dressed in the warm, earthy tones of grey and green. She offered a smile, one that perhaps betrayed how proud she was that he found it in himself to bounce back from the self-doubt that had nearly consumed him. “Good; here I feared I might have slept the day away.” The only remnants of her previous injuries was slight stiffness in her spine when she climbed out of bed, but no residual pain or weakness remained. Sleep had done both of them well, it seemed. “I don’t even remember falling asleep, to be honest. That in and of itself tells me that it was a restful one.”

 

Half-expecting the events of the night before to go relatively unacknowledged, it brought a hint of colour to Vega’s cheeks when Theoduin offered his thanks for what she had done the night before. She awarded it with another shy smile. “Not once have you abandoned me in a time of need, Theoduin. Not when my roc was shot from the sky; not when I requested your aid to find Myrddin. Not when I succumbed to my injuries, yesterday. Staying by your side as a means of support was--is--the least that I can do to repay you. Think nothing of it.”

 

But he was right; they could be summoned to court at any given minute, and while he looked fit to face the Queen, she was far from ready. “It is nothing less of an honour to stand by your side, today. But I will not insult you by association, for not being prepared to meet with your Queen. Excuse me for just a moment.”

 

Brushing his arm with her fingers, a reassuring gesture, Vega left his bedchamber to enter her own, which had clearly seen abandonment the night before. Regardless, clothes had been set out at the foot of her unused bed, not so unlike what Theoduin donned, though without the rich, regal colours. Instead, a simple grey tunic with copper trimmings awaited her; comfortable, formal enough to attend a High Court, but by no means connoting rank of any sort. Probably for the better, she thought as she changed from her nightgown to the new clothes, wondering if it had been intentional on their part to dress an Eyraillian differently, deciding them undeserving of the lush colours of the Elvish. Well… they would not be wrong.

 

She wove her hair into a simple braid, which she pinned into a simple yet elegant knot at the back of her skull, before returning to her Elvin companion, who waited for her loyally in the next room over. “I hope you don’t mind my presence at your side for a little longer.” Vega smiled sheepishly. “But I suspect that the likes of me is not particularly welcome here… if it suits you, I’d rather not wander alone just yet. Not before I have witnessed how I am received, before your Queen.”


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