[r.] I know you wil...
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[r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come [18+]

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Though she would rather inhale ground pepper and take a spray to the eyes, Sylvie followed Ari’s request and searched for Nico the next day. Knowing his propensity to sleep late, she purposely sought his guest chambers early in the morning. After all, if she knocked and he didn’t answer, no one could blame her for the attempt, especially if she came around multiple times without any luck. It was deplorable behavior on her part, the sign of a craven, but in truth, the prospect of speaking to her only full-blood brother terrified her. While Nico himself hardly cut a frightening figure, it was the approach, the apology, the awkward aftermath and the attempt at civility that froze her veins solid. Perhaps it was because she knew she had done wrong by him, and continued her path of avoidance out of self-preservation. Their estranged relationship had become so commonplace, she shuddered to imagine anything different. Keeping him at arm’s length was preferable to the alternative; making space in her cluttered heart for one more. She thought he understood this, too. He’d agreed to their tentative arrangement, no less heartbroken over losing her company when he spent the majority of his time painting in his room. I’m happy to ignore you, consequence-free, he’d said after she announced his proposal, and resumed painting the view from his windowsill.  

What had changed his mind? Why reach out now, when he couldn’t care less before?

She had an idea. Teselin Kristeva had happened. Now that she had vanished, Nico lived in her after-echo, lonelier and more isolated than before. If what Sylvie suspected was true, he yearned for connection, for someone who might understand. Wasn’t that why he spent a good chunk of his time babysitting Hadwin Kavanagh, the one man who felt the summoner’s loss more acutely than anyone else?

I said I would not make space for him, and what has this mental exercise afforded me? Sighing at her change of heart, she sought his quarters and knocked on his door, three firm taps on the solid wood. Predictably, he didn’t answer.

“Are you looking for the young Master who stayed in this room?” A palace attendant rounded the corner, smiling sweetly at Sylvie. “Sorry to say, but he took off early this morning. Said he was ‘going home.’ Didn’t give more explanation than that.”

“Oh, I see.” For some reason, Sylvie felt a twinge of disappointment when moments earlier, she was hoping for this outcome. “Thank you for the information. I shall take my leave now. His Majesty expects me in his study.” She shuffled away, rubbing her arms as if combatting a sudden chill. Well, she had tried. There would be other opportunities. Not like Nico had given her one, leaving with the haste of pursuers hot on his trail.

So why did she feel like she had failed him? Failed her uncle?

It was enough to fail her father for daring to fancy the king of Eyraille. I shall make this work, papa, she promised him, though she bit the inside of her cheek, doubt setting in. Somehow.

When she arrived at Caris’ study, the first thing she noticed was how he barely spared her a glance, seemingly occupied with whatever so held his attention at his desk. She stood before him, announcing her arrival, but still, he showed no sign of shifting his undivided attention to her. At first, she thought him inordinately interested in his paperwork. Coming from a family of artists, she more than understood the meditative effect certain activities engendered, and she granted Caris the same concession. But when he droned at her to recite her plan for the day, and she obliged, receiving little more than disinterested nods from him, she worried that she took flirtatious teasing too far last night, and had offended him. At her conclusion, he still said nothing, prompting her to cut their one-sided conversation short. 

“I can see that you are busy,” she withdrew from her position before his desk, realizing she’d perhaps hovered too close in her presumption that he would welcome her company in whatever capacity she preferred—if his comments from last night were any indication. “Assuming you’ve no criticisms, I shall take my leave and begin my day posthaste.”

She dipped a shallow curtsy and turned around to leave, but Caris suddenly shook out of his unresponsive fugue, sprung from his chair, and rounded on her, blocking her exit. At his instruction, she stopped, wondering what sort of game he’d chosen to play as a counter to hers.

She didn’t have to think about it for long. The brush of his lips found her own, an exploratory bump, like he was on a scouting mission to uncertain territory. The gesture, though a quick peck, was enough to freeze her to the spot. It was not that she hadn’t been kissed before. She remembered the night of the masquerade when the red devil, silvered by moonlight, sucked out her life-breath like an incubus who understood his way around a maiden’s fluttering heart. While it was one of the most erotic experiences of her young life, and one she would cherish, no matter her suitor’s unstable head-space or where the result led—a shattered celebration, her head cracked open like a geode, everything rewound like spools of loose thread but with the damage still raw and unforgotten—she found no love in the kiss. Excitement, yes, like she was breaking all established rules for the life of a ne'er-do-well, but theirs was an exchange that tended no budding flowers to bloom. The soil churned, the rains fell, but no warmth or sunlight could penetrate the obfuscating haze of clouds.

Caris’s kiss, in comparison, held promise. It was an invitation, a precursor, should she accept. And should she still seek adventure, there lingered in his lips not only an element of danger, but the warmth she craved. Sunlight radiated from his skin, a curiosity to behold so high in the cold-blasted, mountainous wastes of Eyraille. He was born of fire, furnace-hot, tempered by pressure and iron. She simultaneously wanted more and yet felt relief when their lips parted, allowing her a moment to breathe and think about her next steps. 

I cannot do this. And yet, I’ve foolishly laid the first chip.

Furiously, her mind turned up blank. She could not forage for a modicum of reason to deny the king of Eyraille and his bold proposal, despite the faint screams that carried their warnings. I said I would make this work, she assured her inner wardens. I can be loyal and also rebel.

So as not to keep Caris waiting (though she was tempted to let him withstand a few agonizing moments more), she wrapped her arms around his middle, urged him to close their distance, and returned his kiss, a longer, deeper reprise than what he’d given. Following his model, she did not speak, disinterested in souring the moment with words. This time, she was determined in fending off any outside interruptions, including herself, and the braying of unnecessary speech.




Hadwin made to take another sip of the golden beverage only to find he had drained it dry, leaving only the dregs. He sighed and deposited it on the side table. No use negotiating a refill until he supplied enough information to sate Safir’s curiosity. “I hate to say it, but sometimes I wonder. It’d be easier if she were dead.” As he let the words leave him, he shriveled, as if he deflated all the air from his body. “I wouldn’t have to search the sky for her all the damn time, haunted by a prayer. The promise of hope, it chains you to the spot, makes it hard to buck up and move on. Then again,” he glanced at a shadowy corner where the lantern light didn’t reach, spying a suspicious glint of jagged glass, like teeth, “I’m a poor judge of letting the dead stay dead. I’ve got a head full of ghosts, and I’m too far gone to determine if they’re real or hallucination. Chances are high that if she died, she’d join the menagerie for good. I’m really running out of space. Better off she wisps around in the wind. Maybe one day I’ll catch her. Or follow.”

“Hell,” he slammed both feet on the floor, the sudden violent action an attempt to shake him out of his mood, “you’re not here to listen to my boohooing. I’m tired of it myself. I mean, I’m tired of everything, but I’m not allowed to die, so here we are. To answer your question, not only is Nia unaware, but so is Ari. I’d say Tivia let it happen, because she all but admitted it, but like hell could anyone stop Tes. Once she’s got her sights on something, she’s a magical force to be reckoned with. Didn’t stop Isidor from being pissed as shit at Tivia’s proposal to wait it out and let Teselin piece herself back together from the ether, and he stormed outta Galeyn. Can’t tell you where the fuck he is now, or what he’s doing, but whatever he’s doing, Tivia doesn’t like it. The relationship between them, if you wanna call it that, is complicated. Like otherworldly bullshit levels of complicated. Only someone as bonkers as me can make heads or tails of it. But you wanna know if Isidor poses a danger to you or your kingdom.”

He folded his hands over his knees. “For one, he’s not Ilandrian. ‘Least, not to my knowledge. Don’t know where he’s from originally, to be frank. For all his hermit qualities, the man knew how to secure lasting friendships. Ultimately, his bosom buddy was Alster Rigas, but he and Ari got on well, too, and though they had their ups and downs at first, Isidor warmed up to Nia eventually. She wanted his companionship in the worst way, and he was having none of it, but they found a common goal in curing Ari of his curse, and came to a tentative truce. The majority of folks you ask think very highly of Isidor. He hates my guts,” he snorted, “or did, but for good reason. Like I said, he begged off after his former lover denied him the ability to help his sis, so I assume he’s off somewhere to defy her order and do just that. I can’t see him sticking it to anyone else in the process. The man’s insular as fuck and keeps to himself on a good day. But, well, I burned down a forest in my grief, so it’s possible he’s lost his marbles too.”

He examined his fingernails, idly buffing the dirt beneath them. “If you’re worried at all about Tivia’s integrity, she’s already proven that she’ll fuck over her beau if he compromises her mission, and she seems invested as hell in saving Eyraille, and Ilandria as a means to an end. You heard her; she chose me over him, and that’s fucking wild. No wonder she’s cracking like a frozen pond in spring. She’s a tough read, but for whatever reason, she wants this fate badly enough to compromise her own happiness.”

And how about your happiness, Hadwin? You won’t find it here. You won’t find it anywhere on this mortal plane. You should have fallen into that pond. Let the Night Garden have you.

Hadwin looked up from his nails to the dark corner, the jagged teeth gnashing from the delight of nabbing his attention. What used to resemble Philomena had over time transformed into an unholy amalgamation of the people who had died under his watch. Philomena, Cwenha, Rowen spoke in unison, their three-bodied form rising out of the shadows like wisps of smoke waiting to slither into his ears and possess his waning, dying will to survive. Gritting his teeth, he turned from the incriminating spot on the wall and back to his company and presently, his only salvation from the bane of his destructive thoughts.

“Damn. I really thought I could handle this. Just spout things matter-of-fact like this story doesn’t impact me in the slightest. But…fuck. Would it be too much to ask to top me off? Or let me have at the whole bottle?” He swiped the empty glass from the table with clawed fingers, pressured like he wanted to break it—or his hand. Whatever happened first. “Just…something to burn the day away. Hell, come join me. We’ll toast to loss or some other depressing shit and bask in each other’s miserable company. Not saying you’re miserable. I’m providing it in spades. It’s just that…well, everyone’s right when they say I shouldn’t be left alone.”

He met Safir’s eyes, almost pleading for him to yield and provide…anything, as long as it proved an adequate distraction from the terror of existence. Of merely breathing without living in each breath, waiting in anticipation for the world to drop beneath his feet and condemn him to oblivion.  

“Believe it or not, I used to be fun.” He swished his empty glass around, laughing. “Wonder what that was like.”




The latent Canaveris-by-marriage in her was tempted to bow to decorum and partake in the light refreshments offered, but Tivia demurred, to spare the both of them the drudgery of false politesse. She always despised the customs of nobility, and only participated as a means to garner respect, and be taken seriously. Fortunately, Jennikah Eliasron regarded her as such.

“Has King Ullir left behind clear documentation stating that his son is to succeed him, and which has been vetted and witnessed by the council?” Tivia said. “If not, then I’m afraid the wishes of the late king hold no binding law. We have it on good authority that Lady Jahnst looks to usurp the throne through a civil coup to discredit Prince Safir and claim he is unfit to rule. This is why I betrothed myself to him. So that I might attend these council meetings, infiltrate Jahnst’s inner circle, and dismantle her sphere of influence before she has a chance to secure her bid over his Highness.”

To retain one element of noble grace, she took a seat opposite Jennikah, eliminating her urge to pace around the room like a caged animal. “Once Prince Safir is safely installed on the throne, there’s no longer a need for me to resume our charade. If we can win your and your father’s support, then I will sever my engagement, and he will be a free man once again. I must preface this by saying I am only able to control my actions insofar as what I can do, but I cannot promise you Prince Safir’s hand in marriage. It is he who holds the decision to court or not to court. All I promise is my withdrawal; do you understand?”

“If we are in accord,” she reached for the tea kettle, poured them each a cup, and handed one to her. In the absence of a more bracing drink, she made do with what they had. So long as the symbolism carried, it didn’t matter what they imbibed. “Let us drink, and seal the deal.”

Speaking of drinks…

Tivia returned to Safir’s study later that evening to find the Ilandrian Prince and his unfortunate charge still there, with the former looking as he did earlier, albeit a notch less confused, and the latter…soundly drunk.

“Oh heyyyy,” Hadwin slurred, holding up an empty glass, stained with the dregs of several generations of refills. “Come to rejoin the party you fucking missed? There’s nothing left for you here; I drank it all!” He lounged on the chair like a squirming cat, rubbing his shoulders and back on every surface. His wide grin lit up the room, looking almost…normal. Normal for him, anyhow. Leave it to the troubled faoladh to reach baseline sanity after getting shitfaced. “Saf here’s a great host. An absolute delight. Fuckin’ love ya, mate.” He raised his hand to his brow in salute. “So long as the drinks keep flowing!” 

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He didn’t know what he was doing; and perhaps his biggest fear, at least in this moment, was the possibility that it would be obvious.

Could Sylvie tell, he wondered? That he was nervous? That he had tossed and turned all night, mulling over the potential boons or consequences of making this decidedly bold (not to mention, controversial and unprofessional) move? Or that, more than anything, he feared this might have the opposite effect of pushing her away…? The Eyraillian King’s heart hammered in his chest, even after their lips parted and he released her, taking a single step backward toward his desk so as to give her a moment and space to process and consider the answer to her question. It had been hours late, but at the very least, he had come through and made himself clear… and, now, it was up to her to provide her answer. 

Whatever it was, he only hoped it would be authentic, and not borne of the pressure of feeling obligated to a King in any way. Caris already had enough people in his employ who would do whatever he wanted, simply for his position and authority. That was not what he wanted of Sylvie, in such a capacity. Frankly, there weren’t enough people in his life who questioned him. Fire often called to fire… and he liked her fire.

The seconds following his unsolicited kiss served as the most agonizing pause he’d ever experienced. The young king was almost afraid to look at Ari’s niece, for fear of the rejection he might witness in her brown eyes; a loss that would result in more than just a bruised ego, of that he was sure. He risked losing not just a romantic interest, or a friend, but someone who was, for many reasons, an asset to this kingdom. Able to aid it in ways of which he alone simply was not capable. Sometimes, it took the perspective and the touch of an outsider to detect fissures in the balance of a kingdom that native citizens (and even its own King) remained blind to. 

It only stood to reason, then, that the consequences of pushing Sylvie Canaveris away may well be felt all throughout Eyraille, particularly with the refugees, who had taken quite a liking to her.

That silence extended for far too long to be comfortable, and nothing good ever followed a pause that lasted for more than just a handful of seconds. It was enough for the young King of Eyraille to prepare for the inevitable blow he was bound to receive. Too nervous to even meet her eyes, Caris drew an unsteady breath, about to declare that she could spare him a diatribe--he knew he’d grossly overstepped, and understood the implications of such an abuse of power. But before he could find the right words, Sylvie stepped forward, closing the distance between them. Her arms encircled his middle just seconds before her lips found his, in her own, unspoken response.

He had made the first move… well, as of today, at least. And yet, the young king found himself momentarily frozen, taken off guard by her decided lack of rejection, which with it accompanied the implication that she wanted this as much as he did. Sylvie’s lips were soft and warm, and unlike his kiss, hers was not fleeting, and felt objectively more experienced. She was a beautiful young woman; what had he been expecting? Of course others had seized the opportunity to get close to her, and to feel the warmth of her embrace.

It made him wonder what it was she had seen in him to allow him a similar opportunity--but he didn’t spend long wondering. Lest he come to a conclusion that might otherwise shatter the illusion that she actually liked him, and break his heart…

Caris rested his hands lightly on her shoulders, his heart in his throat as he struggled with the dilemma of how long he should kiss her, and at what point he was supposed to pull away. It was so easy to give the wrong impression, it seemed, and for someone who was not well-practiced in accommodating people (let alone impressing them), he was so painfully out of his element and left so unsure of his every move. Mercifully, Sylvie was the first to finally disengage, although neither of them removed their hands from the other’s body, even after the kiss had subsided.

“I’m afraid… I still don’t have a concise answer to your question.” The Eyraillian King confessed, when at last he mustered the courage to meet her eyes. What was she to him? Or, perhaps the real question was… realistically, what could she be…?







…sometimes I wonder. It’d be easier if she were dead. Safir sat with those words a moment before nodding. “My father had been dying for years.” He said quietly, looking past Hadwin to the balcony, and off into the night. “First his body, and then his mind. I was devastated to lose him--he was all the family I had left. But now, in the aftermath of his passing… I am ashamed to say that my sadness isn’t without a shade of relief. All that time spent, foolishly hoping his health might take a turn, when the rational part of me knew all too well that such miracles don’t exist…”

Not for him, at least. For Ari and Nia, it had been another story entirely, and he was happy to witness and be a bystander as their own tale unfolded. She deserved nothing less than a happy ending; but the House of Vallaincourt, on the other hand… perhaps he and his kin did not deserve a second chance. Not for the dire wrongdoings in which they had been complicit, all in the skewed name of what they had believed to be ‘justice’...

“But if it is as you say, for this girl--Teselin--then it does not seem irrational to me that you continue to look for her and await her return.” The Prince of Blades turned his attention back to the faoladh and continued. “Did Tivia insinuate she would, in fact, return? There is no question that to wait and hope is exhausting and excruciating; but she is not dead. Is that correct? I don’t know her, and I can’t say I know you as well as Tivia or Nia. But this girl who you see and hear on the wind… it is clear enough that she means something precious to you. And, if she is your reason to continue to hope--then, in my own unsolicited opinion, I would continue to hope. After all…” Safir sighed and ran a hand through his blonde hair, having left it free of the brain since Nia and Ari had departed. “What are we without hope? To not look to a better future, for ourselves or others, robs us of our purpose. So while none of this is rightly any of my business--it is my hope for you, that you can find it in you to endure. Long enough to see someone dear to you finally return.”

He hadn’t expected to wax sentimental, and his sense of loss differed significantly from Hadwin’s, but even more unexpected was how the shapeshifter’s story touched him. Perhaps because he had this innocuous ‘Teselin’ to thank for the opportunity to see Nia again, at all. And for that, maybe it was his business, however indirectly. “If neither Ari nor Nia knows of your companion’s involvement in the fact that Nia is alive and well as we speak… then the secret is safe with me. It isn’t my place to share it, in any case. But… this ‘Isidor’.” The Ilandrian Prince leaned forward in his seat. Whomever this other, elusive Master Alchemist was, there was no question that he was connected not only to Teselin and Tivia, but if there was any credence to Hadwin’s words, he had touched Nia and Ari’s lives, respectively, as well. Call it nosey (and a part of him was simply curious), but the more pieces of the puzzle that encompassed this group of D’Marians and Galeynians, the better he was able to see the bigger picture: what had happened, what was happening, and what might potentially come of all of it.

“You say he and Nia did not start off on amicable terms, and he is not--to your knowledge--Ilandrian? While the majority of Master Alchemy planted its roots in Ilandria centuries ago, this kingdom alone does not serve as the single, solitary home of those who practiced or continue to practice it. Nia can certainly provide more insight, but my understanding is that her family did not exactly get on well with other Master Alchemists outside of Ilandria. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, they did not get on well with her mother.” Safir twisted his mouth to the side. He’d hardly exchanged more than a handful of words with Felyse Ardane, and solely out of propriety, but the thought of her had always left a relatively sour taste in his mouth. He’d hated the way she had treated Nia, compared to her older sister, who was easily their ‘golden child’. It was never a wonder why the Ardanes seldom chose to do business or collaborate with anyone who did not recognize their bloodline as reigning ‘supreme’, in the competitive and rather cut-throat world of Master Alchemy.

“When Nia had mentioned soliciting the help of another Master Alchemist to save Ari’s life, it didn’t occur to me that they might not be Ilandrian. But it’s beginning to make more sense, now. You don’t think…” A worried crease formed between the Prince of Blade’s eyebrows. “This ‘Isidor’, if he potentially resents Nia all over again for being the unwitting reason his sister is lost to the wind… he wouldn’t potentially seek vengeance or retribution, would he?”

Aside from fearing for the safety of his home, and his crown, just having Nia back in Ilandria was enough to elevate Safir’s blood pressure--and not because he did not want her here. Rather, he feared for the danger into which she had willingly inserted herself, just by returning to the place responsible for the massacre of her family. But to learn that, on top of the warrant for her arrest which remained active to this day, that there might yet be another source of peril in her life frayed his nerves just a little bit more…

From the sounds of it, even if Isidor couldn’t be considered a friend, Tivia seemed to be keeping tabs on him, wherever he might be. And, not unlike Hadwin, the shapeshifter made it sound as though he was too preoccupied in trying to find a way to bring back his ‘lost’ sister to bother with vengeance. 

All that aside, it was pointless to speculate about an individual that he did not know, who was not present, and whose intentions were unknown to most. So long as Tivia’s ill-fated affairs did not complicate matters for his kingdom or for Eyraille, any more than her very presence did, he’d leave the issue of this Isidor for her to deal with of her own volition. At the moment, Safir had a more pressing concern, in the form of a faoladh who couldn’t seem to drink enough to drown out his worries. It was still up in the air as to whether he liked this man, in all his turbulent complexity… but he wasn’t heartless. And was frankly too conditioned to Ilandrian propriety to turn a blind eye to someone who was in pain.

“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that no amount of alcohol will heal the sort of wounds you are nursing. It certainly hasn’t done much for me but complicate matters that were already complicated to begin with.” He hadn’t forgotten about his run-in with Ari in the kitchens that night, before King Ullir’s funeral, and how it had nearly soured his relationship with the man for good. Since then, Safir had, in fact, thought twice before reaching for a bottle of wine or a glass of spirits. “However… I have no alternatives to offer.” The Ilandrian Prince sighed and reached for the crystal decanter on the shelf, then proceeded to fill Hadwin’s glass once again.

“Oh, I have no intention to leave you alone, in your current condition or any other.” He snorted. “Unfortunately, Tivia has stormed off to cool her heels elsewhere, and Nia and Ari are absent until later this evening to attend his niece’s birthday. Which means, until any of the latter returns to assume responsibility for your actions… you’re unfortunately stuck with me, for the time being. And, I regret to say… I am not, and never have been particularly fun.”

It wasn’t without a mirthful grin that he shrugged his shoulders and returned the crystal decanter to the shelf above. “Not for lack of trying, but I’m sure Nia would corroborate as much.” Safir said. He reached for something wedged between two impossibly thick books detailing Ilandrian history: a small, rectangular box. Taking a seat again, he smiled and slid open the lid to reveal a deck of playing cards, the edges of which were decorated with silver.

“Since we’ll both be stuck here for the time being: do you happen to be any good at cards?”








As it turned out--he was. Perhaps a little too good, although Safir began to wonder if it had less to do with skill, and more to do with the fact the Ilandrian Prince simply played too honestly, while Hadwin… did not. With game after game of cards, some known mutually between the two of them, and others specifically llandrian, and others which Safir wasn’t convinced the faoladh hadn’t simply made up on the spot in his increasingly drunken stupor, he quickly lost track of time as the evening slipped between his fingers. At the very least, at some point it began to feel less like babysitting, and more like consoling someone in need, in the only way he could think of, short of physical contact (and it was no secret to any of them that the Prince of Blades was far too insecure with himself to consider that.)

Eventually, Tivia returned when the sun had fully set, to find Hadwin in far better spirits than before. Or maybe it was simply that he was far more inebriated… Either way, he didn’t seem to harbour any hard feelings for their visceral ‘disagreement’ earlier that day. So long as the star seer wasn’t intent on starting anything, the night might well pass far more peacefully than that afternoon.

“Well?” Safir stood from his seat, simultaneously eager to hear what she had to say, while fearing her news, all the same. One thing was for sure: she hadn’t gone into hiding all afternoon, and by the look on her face, she seemed to have accomplished something. Whether that something would sit well with him or not remained to be seen.

Then again… was it not foolish to think that any plan from the mind of Tivia Rigas would sit well with him? No sooner did he stand that the Prince of Blades took the liberty to sit down again--and try not to look too defeated. “So… what did you promise Jennikah Elisaron?” He asked slowly, already feeling a headache coming on--and he’d hardly imbibed at all, compared to his unlikely companion. “In exchange for her support, I mean? You know I wasn’t actually advocating taking the route of playing with peoples’ hearts, Lady Rigas…”

Jennikah was… annoying, at best. She had been at him for years, without any sign of letting up. But it didn’t make her bad, and the thought of misleading her sickened him on more than one level. He didn’t want to be known for emotionally manipulating innocent people to get what he wanted. “I am not sure that I can pretend to be any more than a friend to her… And I do not know that that will be enough to secure from her the extent of help that I need. But, if you were as candid as you say, and she continues to ride out the delusions of her misguided hope that I might change my mind about her, with no promise that it will ever happen…”

Safir sighed. In that case, her heartbreak would really be her own problem. But it wouldn’t make him feel any less responsible.

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Topic starter  

Sylvie had been kissed only once in her young life. Because it happened so recently, and by someone with long years of experience under his thumb, she shamefully tried to replicate the experience. Scoop up his bottom lip, she instructed. Give a little tease of tongue. It is a first kiss, so do not fall to excess. Subtlety is key. She focused so hard on the strictures of proper kiss etiquette, granting the affectation of expertise, that she failed to allow her partner the lead, had forgotten to gauge what he enjoyed, and worried her confidence would signal the wrong message about her. Slut. Opportunist. Over-eager. If she wasn’t careful, her machinations would label her as an undesirable, an improper woman unfit for a king.

Suddenly self-conscious, she withdrew. She would have artfully slid away if not for Caris’s hands angled on her shoulders. When she spied a glance at his face, he didn’t seem disgusted, or put off by her less-than-demure performance. In fact, he appeared mildly impressed, if not a little out of breath.

“You were plenty concise,” she whispered, touching her kiss-swollen lips as proof. “Not to say you were lacking,” she hurried, afraid he would misinterpret her words to mean his approach was unsatisfactory. In lieu of stumbling over herself to ensure she meant nothing untoward, she politely escaped their embrace to tease at the chain of her new watermelon tourmaline necklace.

“You never asked how old I turned yesterday.” Her roaming fingers traveled to a stray curl over her eyes. She twirled it around and around, her eyes never leaving his face, his lips. “Thirty-nine. Tell me, how do you feel about older women?" Her mouth formed a coy smile. "Am I taking advantage of your innocence and youth, or will you be able to handle me as I am?”

What are you doing? She heard the sound of her father’s voice so sharply, she half-startled and looked to her ring in case he had spoken, had seen everything. When it was clear the voice had sprung up from her imagination, she relaxed her shoulders, her relief palpable. She would worry later about the mess she’d unearthed. And wasn’t it just like a burgeoning ne'er-do-well to break hearts and resolve her self-made issues in a sudden stroke of brilliance and insight?

You will see, papa. Everything will turn out fine. Laz is with you. She will protect you if all goes sour.

Surely, her father couldn’t rely solely on her efforts to save his life. Surely, he’d summoned a bevy of contingency plans. He was too intelligent to target her as his one and only savior.

Surely…she could afford this dalliance. For, it was a dalliance, a distraction, and nothing more.




Though Hadwin had tilted his head to the ceiling and closed his eyes, still and unresponsive, he leaned an ear to Safir and listened about his recent loss. “Yeah, that’s rough,” he commiserated with a nod, but beyond commiseration, talk of the late king opened a latent wound in the faoladh. When he finally died, people would be breathing out a collective sigh of relief, the ongoing thorn in their side removed, at last. They’d be free of his dripping, caustic poison, free of the madness, of the sacrifices made for his ungrateful arse. He didn’t bring anyone hope. Only imprisonment, and strife. 

“I had a little sister. Bit older than Tes.” He opened one eye a sliver. “I saw her as my charge, y’know. Raised her up, kept her out of trouble…or so I thought. I don’t want to get into the gory details about how she left this world or how much I fucked her up during the rearing process, but when she was alive, we were separated from each other for eight years. Of course I missed her shaggy little head to pieces, but I was comforted in knowing where she was, and that she was alive. I don’t know where Tes is. I only have Tivia’s word to go by—and my gut feeling, which has been a damn failure lately—that she’s alive. The blurred lines of everything makes the whole waiting and hoping process harder to read. She doesn’t fit into any category. I’ve spent so much of my time dealing with ghosts, but she’s a living ghost, and…fuck,” he raised a hand and pressed it against his forehead as if checking for fever, “I can’t keep it straight in here. It’s all turned to sludge. If I tilt my head just so my brain’ll come pouring out of my ears. But sure,” he breathed out a noisy sigh, figuring he’d throw Safir a bone for putting up with his endless moaning, “I’ve got hope she’ll return. Maybe not in my lifetime, but Tivia seems to believe otherwise, as long as we don’t mess with her non-plan of no interference. Not like I could do shit for Tes either way. I’m just a scoundrel, not an accomplished mage or genius alchemist. To be honest, I never had a purpose, other than to see how far I could take myself to the edge…and over it. But, well, I’ve made it this far, miraculously,” he turned away from the shard-toothed shadow in the corner and gave Safir a smirk, “so might as well keep going until the end, yeah?” 

The more Safir picked his brain about Isidor Kristeva’s threat level potential, the more Hadwin’s patience dimmed on the subject. “Look, I don’t give a fig what Isidor’s up to unless it negatively impacts Tes’s return,” he said with an annoyed huff. “Sure, it’s possible he harbors resentment for Nia. I’ve some resentments, too, but they’re surface level. It ain’t Nia’s fault, and besides, if it wasn’t her, then Tes would’ve found some other schlub to risk her corporeal body for. The way things were going…it would’ve been me.” The latent fire in his eyes died on his lips as its fuel source steadily deflated and mingled with the air above his head. “If I had to wager an educated guess, though? He won’t waste his time on revenge if it interrupts his plans for Tes. ‘Sides, I trust Tivia will give him a what-for if he crosses some uncrossable line. You might not like her methods, but she’s gotten Nia out of hot water twice. She acted as Tes’s accomplice, y’see. Made sure no one—-me,” he emphasized with a sigh, “would interfere with Tes’s big sacrifice. She could have stopped her. Not by force, but with foreknowledge. Slapped her with the truth, the consequences. Talked about, I don’t know, how she’d come apart and float around like dandelion spores for however the fuck long it took to gather up her broken pieces. But she didn’t. I’m resentful about that, but what’s done is done.”

Much as he tried to act unaffected by past events, the shadow in the corner was not fooled. She writhed with laughter, her erratic pitch clawing over his head like pinions prepared to pierce his precious sanity to ribbons. While he expected Safir would yield to his sincere request for the bottle, borne of a slight fear of the alternative, what he offered in addition to a refill prompted Hadwin to sit up with rapt attention. He regarded the deck of cards, a hungry longing in his eyes which kept the pinioned spirit hovering, but at bay.   

“Do I know how to play–you ask the gambler?” He laughed, tickled pink by the request. “Be prepared for utter annihilation. Name your game; I’ll destroy you.”

Though a dirty cheater by trade, Hadwin was a quick study, at least to game theory, and when presented with a new game, easily learned the rules just to bend and manipulate them for his benefit. He memorized patterns, tabulated the numbers, and literally kept a few aces up his sleeve. Old habits died hard for the duplicitous faoladh, and the honorable-to-a-fault Safir made it so simple to deceive and predict, like a child who had yet to spring their first lie. 

“Usually I play when there’s stakes on the table,” Hadwin said, effortlessly bridging the cards into a  riffle shuffle. “More fun when you’ve got something to lose. I’ll let it slide for now since I know the name of the game. I ain’t lacking in gratitude to pick up what you’re doing for me. So we’ll put in a rain-check for that all-stakes game. I’ll even play the honest Ilandrian way. You have my word,” he winked. “For whatever that’s worth.”

As he dealt the cards for their next game, a Collcreaghian classic so chaotic and convoluted, one would wonder if a drunkard had concocted it, a card slipped out of the deck, face up. The six of spades. Crisp, infallible shapes so inky black as to spill over from their fathomless pools and drown him into their abyss. He faltered, letting the escaped card sit on the table, unclaimed. Setting down the deck, he took a guttural swig from his glass, having lost count of the amount he imbibed. “It was bound to show up at some point,” he muttered, to his drink, to himself.

Despite the minor disturbance, Hadwin quickly recovered insofar as he washed down the spikes of minor distress until a pleasant numbness settled over his body. Until he fully ignored the shadowed pinions still dangling over his head like a blade-tipped pendulum, aimed to slice.

“You might be a chum with a serious case of pouty-face,” Hadwin mused, after he swept in with yet another questionable victory and cleared the cards off the table, “and you’re strung on a little too tight—can’t disagree with Nia there—but you got a natural nobility about you. You remind me of Ari. He had every reason to spurn me with every fiber of his being, but he gave me a leg up when I was feeling low, like what you’re doing here. I mean, it’s cuz Tivia ran out and you’re stuck with me,” he snorted a laugh, “but you’re taking it in stride. Like I said, I’m not ungrateful. Whatever you need from me, it’s yours. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. As a matter of fact,,” he raised his gaze, gold eyes luminous in the firelight, “this stress Tivia’s putting you under must be doing a number on your shoulders and back. Ask anyone I know; these hands can knead out kinks and knots better than a baker. Say the word,” he cracked his knuckles for emphasis, “and I’ll pound you until your joints are buttered up all proper like. And no, it ain’t a come on, relax,” he raised a brow as if challenging Safir to stiffen or stutter about impropriety. “I give massages to whoever the hell wants one. Allow me to demonstrate.” But before he could rise out of his chair, the door rattled open and Tivia entered the study, dressed in different clothing than what she donned during afternoon tea and with it, a higher-spirited attitude. She was still the glum and miserable Tivia Rigas as before, but a glum and miserable Tivia Rigas saddled with good news.

“Good; you fixed him,” Tivia said, eyeing the depleted decanter beside a deck of playing cards, and then the intoxicated faoladh, lording over his debauched dominion. She joined them at the table, but opted to stand. “He’s a raging alcoholic again.”

“Takes one to know one,” Hadwin said, singsong, and slumped back into his chair.

She ignored him, and tilted her chin, looking every bit as self-important as she pretended to feel. “While I was out, I took the liberty of visiting Lady Jennikah Eliasron. Now that she’s been informed of our purely transactional betrothal, she has agreed to speak with your father on your behalf.”

“Before you get too worked up,” she added, ruffling her fur-lined travel cloak she hadn’t yet the opportunity to shed, “I promised her only what I could deliver. To break off our engagement once you are safely installed on the throne. I sternly informed her that you are no prize all trussed up in ribbons to leave at her door. Your heart is your own.”

At that, Hadwin barked out a laugh. “Think that’s gonna stop her from trying to drape him in chains and drag him to her bedchamber?”

“Oh certainly not. I’m not delusional.” Tivia scoffed, crossing her arms. “Given the opportunity, she’ll hump your leg, I’m sure.” She pointedly looked at Hadwin, who nodded in approval at her phrasing. “We have to be careful she won’t find a spare moment to get you alone.”

“Looks like you need a guard dog or something. Pity you can’t find one of those anywhere.” Hadwin idly picked at his teeth. “Did you know she’s afraid of dogs? Just like her dear old papa? Not sure she’d wanna get close to you if there’s a chance she’ll be on the receiving end of some gnashing jaws.”

“Never underestimate the lengths a desperate maiden will go to secure the apple of her eye.” She pursed her lips as if reliving a sour memory of her youth. “I don’t want you to lead her on,” she turned to Safir. “On that point, we can agree. Remain as you’ve always been with her, albeit with a touch more friendliness. If she tries to get handsy, you can borrow the dog.” She gave Hadwin a shooing gesture. “Just say you’re doing me a favor by taking him on regular walks. Whatever arrangement between me and Jennikah remains with me and Jennikah. Anything that falls on my head is my burden alone to bear. Let them burn me at the stake for heresy to the crown. Not like I haven’t burned before.” The marred side of her face seemed to ripple and undulate under the firelight.

“So you’ve secured the conditional aid of one councilman and his wayward daughter.” Hadwin lifted his empty glass and fished for the last drop stubbornly clinging to the bottom. “How’s that gonna turn things around in your favor?”

“With one on the board, there’s more to follow. Come on, Hadwin. You like games,” she pointed to the messy stack of cards, “and abysmal odds. What we lack in numbers, we make up for in cunning. It’s not as though we’re without allies, either. Eyraille supports the rightful king, as does the people to an extent. Winning over just one council member means their influence is not unanimous or ubiquitous. They are not one immovable mass, but made of individuals that can either be swayed, or picked off. And with one on our side, there are more to follow.”

“Looks like you’re gonna need that massage sooner than later.” Hadwin rose to his feet and made for Safir,  as if to follow through on his earlier promise. With a wicked grin, he moved aside, merely grazing his shoulder with his hand en route to the closed door behind them. “Be right back; gotta take a piss.” 

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842

When Sylvie broke away, severing their momentary, intimate connection, it wasn’t without a twinge of disappointment on Caris’ part. Having her near, feeling the warmth of her lips on his, was as exhilarating as it was nerve-wracking. His heart raced just to see her touch her fingertips to her full lips, looking as though she were just as astonished to have reciprocated this gesture as she was to have initiated in the first place. At least she didn’t appear to regret it…

“If I was lacking… then I’d hope you would tell me.” The young king replied. As the utter look of bewilderment melted from his own youthful features, it was replaced with a playful grin. “After all, it’s not like you filter your opinions when it comes to anything else.”And if ever he hoped she would be an open book, and simply tell him what was lacking and so as to allow him to amend.

And… maybe he’d already screwed up. When she suddenly brought up the fact he hadn’t asked how old she’d turned on her birthday, Caris’ smile faded, and he looked genuinely, unironically, remorseful. “I… it didn’t occur to me as something that would be appropriate to ask.” He stammered. Wasn’t that some unwritten rule of courting etiquette? To not ask a woman about her age?

That wasn’t half as shocking as when she willingly offered her age. If anything, Caris might have assumed she was slightly younger than him; not by much, but perhaps a year or two. Although he was vaguely aware of the extended longevity of certain families, such as the Rigaes, it had momentarily slipped his mind as applying to the Canaverises. His eyes momentarily widened upon learning that Sylvie was, in fact, technically [i]older[/i] than his own older sister…

The initial shock wore off quickly enough--hopefully before it caused Sylvie to have reservations about kissing him. “I’m not going to pretend to understand the scale of Canaveris years versus those of us normal mortals without magic.” He snorted and folded his arms. “But if you’re asking whether learning you’re technically twice my age influences how or what I think about you either way--it doesn’t. Even if you’re middle aged.” He couldn’t help but grin at the quick, harmless jab. What ‘middle aged’ was to a Canaveris was beyond him, and obviously, it did not apply to someone Sylvie’s age. 

In the wake of the kiss--or, well, kisses--however, Caris suddenly found himself peculiarly… tongue-tied. At a loss for words, and feeling impossibly awkward, not knowing what to do next, or how to even finish this conversation. Now that the secret was out, and that the two of them were finally up-front about their feelings… where did it leave them? Beyond a compromised professional relationship, that is. Feelings aside… where did they stand?

Perhaps there was no easy answer. And it was for them to find out.

At last, the young king cleared his throat and took a measured step back. There was no way to make this less awkward, or to convince her that he had any idea as to how to proceed. It was probably best to stop while he was ahead. “I’ll… I should leave you to your duties.” He said with a nod. “And, should you feel the need to check in at the end of the day… then I will ensure the tail end of my evening is left open.”

It was less an offer, though--and more a confession of hope.







The faoladh was still far from Prince Safir’s favourite person. He was impulsive, unpredictable, disruptive, and for all that, had the potential to be dangerous. He broke convention in so many ways, disrespected commonplace etiquette, and in full honesty, he still hadn’t fully found it in himself to forgive Hadwin for not revealing himself sooner as a sentient bipedal being. But the more the shapeshifter opened up to him, the more the puzzle pieces all came together to form a bigger picture of who he was--or, more specifically, [i]why[/i] he was the way he was. And it was more difficult to despise someone when you understood them better.

“It sounds to me as though your pain is more than justified. I speak as one who was never blessed with a sibling, much though I wished I’d had someone to relate to, but… well, who’s to say it would have made a difference?” He flashed a sardonic smile and tucked his hair behind one ear. “Might have just meant I’d have had yet another person to hide from. But I can tell you this. If Nia knew that saving Ari would ultimately lead to such a sacrifice on Teselin’s part… I am certain she would not have gone through with it. Not even for Ari; it isn’t her way to knowingly sacrifice the well-being of another in favour of helping someone else. Or, if she had been aware that she might never open her eyes again, all for saving the one she loves… then she would have demanded that none interfere.”

Safir’s position was, of course, a biased one: he had never met Teselin, yet had fond memories of his relationship with the last of the Ardane Master Alchemists. And if he had been in a position where he’d have to choose… well, suffice it to say, it probably would have made an enemy of Hadwin Kavanagh. He would be lying to claim he wasn’t relieved that Nia had opened her eyes… but that didn’t mean he couldn’t sympathize with the faoladh. “This Teselin sounds like someone you only meet once in a lifetime.” He commented thoughtfully. “Hope is one of the most difficult things to keep alive. But you’ll continue to do it, won’t you? For her.”

It was interesting to hear that Tivia was juggling multiple burdens, it seemed: not just involving Ilandria or Eyraille, but also another Master Alchemist at large, who may or may not prove problematic. “Mark my words, I will forever question Tivia Rigas’s methods.” The Prince of Blades sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Even if they prove effective.” Then again, there surely was a method to all of her madness--including the use of madness, itself. 

Too honest to effectively stand up to a gambler, Safir had no expectations of winning cards against Hadwin--which was precisely why he did not bet anything. But even abysmal loss was preferable to the heavy topics they’d been dwelling on, and between the games and the alcohol, the shapeshifter seemed to find a modicum of relief from the thoughts that haunted him. He was more than happy to lose a few (or a lot) of rounds of various games, if it meant keeping the man stable, until Tivia returned.

“Really. Funny enough, I’ve heard this before.” The Ilandrian Prince snorted at being compared to Lord Canaveris for the second time in the past week. “If only I had his knack for fashion and styling--might be impossible to tell us apart, hm?”

He grinned at his own poor attempt at a joke, but the smile was soon interrupted by a sigh as he set yet another losing hand down upon the table. “Be honest, now--how much have you cheated tonight, anyway? And, thank you, but my shoulders and back are just fine.” Whether or not the lie was predictable and obvious, Safir was determined to adhere to it. A massage wouldn’t make a lick of difference to relax his muscles if anyone were to walk in and catch him receiving one, however ‘innocent’ Hadwin claimed his intentions were. He’d be a mess of knots and tension all over again.

Best that he refused after all, for moments later, the prodigal star seer returned--thankfully, in far better spirits than before. Of course, that did not necessarily mean good news. Not when it came to Tivia.

“Wait--you actually spoke with Jennikah?” Safir’s green eyes widened, although he didn’t know why he was so surprised. Of course she would go ahead and manipulate Jennikah Eliasron in their favour… and at the great expense of his comfort. “Tivia, it will do nothing for my reputation to lead her to believe there is any chance of a romance between her and I! I cannot drag such a falsehood out for any length of time effectively. And as irritating as she has been, and can be, she is not stupid. She would see through it… and then, who knows if she might retaliate?!”

Just as his anxiety began to build to something as close to hysteria as the Prince of Blades was capable of experiencing, the star seer reassured him that deceiving Jennikah Elisaron with the hope of courting her was, in fact, not what she had in mind. It didn’t make him feel much better, but he did relax his shoulders a little, and took a seat again. “Let us hope that this pays off as we hope it will.” He sighed, although by his tone and body language, it did not seem as though Safir was convinced. 

“I’m beginning to wonder if personally confronting Jahnst wouldn’t be less of a headache.” He mused as he got to his feet again. “Toting a fake engagement has been complicated enough. And I doubt that whatever ‘friendship’ I offer Jennikah will suffice for what she really wants… But your wolf friend seems to have confidence in your schemes, Lady Rigas. So I’ll save the full extent of my displeasure for the day when they stop being successful.”

Safir gestured vaguely to the already open bottle of wine sitting near the deck of cards on the table across from Hadwin, as he crossed the room, suddenly looking as exhausted as he felt. “Help yourself. Just mind you keep your raging alcoholic behaviour contained to this room, if you must.” If it was reasonable to suspect he’d be forced to entertain Jenniakh Elisaron’s feelings to any extent in the near future, however, innocent, then he would need a night of uninterrupted sleep. That, and perhaps another bottle of wine, all to himself.







Since Ari and Nia returned to Ilandria late on the night of Sylvie’s birthday, the two of them retired to their suite almost immediately, keeping in good with Somath’s directives to keep Nia as healthy as possible. This was fine by Nia, as the excitement of Sylvie’s little party, along with the travel method (care of Alster) had left her quite tired. Come morning, she even slept in, in lieu of making an early trip to the market, which had originally been her plan. It was times like this, when her energy suddenly plummeted to an all-time low, when she silently acknowledged that perhaps Safir’s royal physician might not have been exaggerating the fragility of her condition. And, maybe… she would do well not to resist quite so much.

By the time Ari had been up and dressed for an hour, she was still wrapped in sheets and a quilt, comfortably hugging a pillow to her chest, with her long, brunette locks fanned out around her. “You can’t expect me to be up at the crack of dawn, after partying so hard, can you?” Nia joked, although it was no joke that she’d already made up her mind to forego greeting the morning in favour of having more energy for the afternoon. “I’ll be up in time for lunch… and I’ll eat twice as much of it to make up for skipping breakfast. I’m sure Saf will be happy to keep you company in the meantime. You guys can… I dunno. Go be infuriatingly pretty together?”

The Ardane woman stretched and shifted her position even so slightly, effectively taking up the majority of the bed with her body alone as she rolled over to face Ari. “Better go police his style before he walks out to address the public wearing only varying shades of grey. Trust me: without your input, that man does not know how to dress himself.”

Funny enough, just moments after Ari left Nia to prolong her rest a little bit longer, there came a knock at the door. A guardsman, who was a full head taller than Ari, stood in the doorway, wearing a serious expression. “Lord Canaveris. His Highness, Prince Safir, requests your presence immediately. Please ready yourself and meet him at the stables as soon as possible. A carriage awaits you; His Highness insists that the matter was most urgent.”

No one in their right mind would dally when summoned by royalty--especially not when the word ‘urgent’ was used. Of course the Canaveris Lord would jump into action, and hurry to the carriage as fast as he possibly could. Sure enough, Safir was there waiting for him--wearing shades of grey and a simple pair of green emerald earrings. Nia hadn’t been so far off the mark in terms of her predictions, it seemed.

In stark contrast to the urgency playing upon Ari’s face, however, Safir looked decidedly… calm. Serene, and in a sense, even pleased with himself. A secret smile played upon his lips as the earth mage and artist took a seat across from him. The driver promptly closed the door, and a handful of seconds later, the carriage began to move.

“I might have played up the urgency just a little bit…” The Prince of Blades confessed with a chuckle. “Although I do maintain, this matter is of the utmost importance. And your presence is required on this errand.” 

Leaning back against the cushioned interior, Prince Safir folded his arms and crossed one leg over his knee. “You’ll see.”

After a quick fifteen-minute trip, during which Safir revealed little of their destination or any specifics regarding this ‘errand’ despite Ari’s barrage of questions, the carriage finally came to a stop. The driver first opened the door for the Ilandrian Prince, and then for the Canaveris Lord a moment later. Ari would find himself standing outside a familiar shopfront that he had visited alongside his noble Ilandrian friend not too long ago. “After you,” Safir offered, gesturing to the door of the jeweler’s shop front. “Worry not; they’re expecting us.”

It wasn’t a lie. As Ari stepped inside, the wizened jeweler, and a young woman with vaguely similar features who could very well have been his granddaughter, were already waiting at the worn, wooden counter. A small bundle covered with white linen had been set upon the surface, and both the jeweler and his granddaughter smiled knowingly.

“Your Highness. Lord Canaveris.” The elderly man bowed his head respectfully. “I have some good news that I believe will be of interest.”

Instead of going on to explain, he pulled the linen cloth away from the mound on the table to expose a raw geode the size of a small plum. It glimmered with hues of pale violet and sunshine gold: the unmistakable qualities of ametrine. Traces of the grey stone from which it had been extracted still clung to the hunk of unrefined gemstone in some areas, proving its authenticity as a specimen of the earth, and not a man-made creation, as was the case of the ametrine brooch Safir sported more often than not.

“I hope this is enough…?” The jeweler said, sounding a little uncertain. From the sizes of the stones Ari already wore on his fingers and which dangled from his ears, depending on how the Canaveris Lord chose to cut and style the stone, it was probably enough for a single, overly-extravagant ring, or two moderately-sized rings. “If it isn’t, I am confident we have found an appropriate site of excavation near the mountains between Nairit and Ilandria. With a little more time, we may be able to extract more.”

Safir couldn’t hide his smile. “Not only is it ametrine,” he said to Ari, knowingly raising an eyebrow, “But Ilandrian ametrine.” Not only, then, would the stone itself resonate meaningfully to the Master Alchemist, but its origins--a place for which she harboured so much love--would make it all the more special.

“Indeed, it is.” The jeweler affirmed, mirroring Safir’s smile. “Lord Canaveris, as an earth mage, I understand you are a man with a healthy appreciation for gemstone adornments, and  who is well-versed in all varieties of cuts and styles of jewelry. Is there something in particular you had in mind? I’d be happy to show you some of the styles that are currently popular here in Ilandria. Otherwise, if you had a D’Marian style in mind, I have the utmost confidence that I can replicate it from a sketch.”

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 703
Topic starter  

“Middle-aged, hm?” Sylvie pursed her lips and took mock offense. “Then it sounds as though I am too mature for you to handle. Perhaps in a few decades, you will better able to appreciate me, though I fear you will have moved on by then.” She planted her hands on her hips. She could play this teasing game. It was one she knew well, living amid a half dozen rampaging wolves she called brothers.

“Caris Sorde; you are anything but lacking,” she said, punctuating her statement with her eyes on his eyes, which she kept trained on him for a long moment, daring him to break their contact and dart away. When at last the awkwardness seemed too much for him to bear (and her, as well, but she was too proud to admit it), she broke their stare and turned for the door. “Until we meet again. Tonight?” She cast one last glance over her shoulder, her lips curled in a devious smirk. “It remains to be seen. I do, after all, have much work to do.” Leaving him on those last, nebulous words, she exited his study, very much hoping he would squirm all day in want and in fear of her return.




“No matter the case, Safir, you would be dealing with Jennikah sooner or later.” Taking a seat at last, Tivia helped herself to the wine. Out of sight of a clean goblet, she used Hadwin’s empty vessel, which he’d relinquished by leaving the room to relieve his bladder. The bottle glugged as she poured the dark substance into the requisitioned vessel, then took a few sips. “Once you’re on the throne and I sever our engagement, she will be on you yet again. She is the relentless sort who thinks she’s entitled to your hand. Short of learning the truth about your proclivities, you’d sooner shake a rampaging herd of cattle than you would her. She does need a new prospect to fixate on,” she tapped her fingers on the metallic surface of the goblet, “but I’m the wrong party to consult for matchmaking. Besides, part of your allure comes from your position of power. For her, only the best would suffice. A king, or the closest equivalent. Sorry to say,” she drained the rest of the goblet and leaned forward in her seat, “you’ll have to tough it out for now. Fortunately, courtly etiquette dictates she cannot be found alone with you. I’ll make sure she doesn’t overstep.”

When Hadwin returned, brow wrinkling at his purloined cup, Tivia abandoned the drink and swept to her feet. “Elated as I am to see that you two have bonded,” she droned sardonically, “we’ll take our leave and allow you some rest.” She cocked her head at Hadwin. “Are you sober enough to walk in a straight line as a wolf or do I need to take you outside and dump a bucket of cold water on you?”

Hadwin cricked his head from side to side. “You know me. I sober up dead quick. Ready to go when you are. Unless,” he raised a brow, “you want me to get wet.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Tivia quipped, so accustomed to the faoladh’s jibes they no longer affected her.

Before heading to the back room again to change, Hadwin turned to Safir. “Well, it’s been…heh, what do you know,” a wide smirk spread across his face, “like the last few hours haven’t felt like one mass hallucination. Guess I’ve got you to thank.” He brought one hand to his forehead and doffed an imaginary cap. “Until next time, card sharp. You’ll win a game yet. I’ve got faith in you, so long as you’ve got faith I won’t crash and burn. Helps that you don’t know me well enough to have that latent fear embedded in your brain.”

When he exited the room to transform, Tivia’s usual stony face seemed to loosen and lift at the corners, amused by the exchange. “I think you’ve won him over,” she whispered, so the wolf man, with his impeccable ears, wouldn’t overhear—though even with the aid of her hearing apparatus, she found it difficult to discern the appropriate volume. “It’s obvious he’s desperate to connect with someone. For some reason, he tends to be drawn to those who are pure of heart and wholesome. On that note, you may think I’m trying to steer you from your principles, but I’d rather you remain an incorruptible beacon of truth for as long as its light can sustain you. I invite you to be as honest as you dare around Jennikah. I won’t stand in the way of your convictions. That is why I’m here.” She clasped her hands, squeezing her palms to conceal any sign of their tremble. “As a scapegoat for others to focus their animosity and hostility. And to do what your morality will not allow.”

As Hadwin strolled in on four lanky, fur-coated legs, Tivia reattached his collar and leash, and nodded a curt farewell to Safir before taking her leave, wolf in tow.




Despite her smooth recovery and mixed success with Councilman Eliasron’s daughter, Tivia fell into a horrible slumber late that evening. In dreams she lay on a plush mattress arrayed with lace and silken sheets. She lounged, alone, and shifted to one side to discover she was not alone. Isidor, sprawled on the bed but not asleep, propped his head on one elbow and smiled lazily at her, head tousled, like they’d just had a row under the covers. She stared at him with disbelief, not trusting what she saw; their opulent Canaveris bedchambers, which once belonged to Ari when he was alive, bedecked with framed portraits and sculpted busts of his posthumous works; a simultaneous museum and crypt painstakingly maintained at behest of his adoptive brother, who never quite moved on from his passing.    

She sat upright on the bed. “This must be a dream. I can’t be here.”

Isidor humored her. “How are you so sure this is a dream and not the one you woke from?”

“Because…” she paused, and saw something glint from the corner of her eye. She glanced at her hand, and viewed the sun in miniature. A glimmering yellow topaz, plucked from the sky and captured in gold filigree. The ring she thought lost forever, in a long-forgotten, decimated world. She closed her opposite hand over it, sniffing its light. “I destroyed everything. I can’t be here. I’m not allowed to. I don’t,” she clamped on her tongue, but the unfinished words seared in her mind like a cattle brand. …Deserve this. I don’t deserve this.

“That’s right. You don’t.” She looked up from her lap. Isidor’s face was half gone, replaced by licks of flame and melting skin. His rapidly diminishing face was his, but the voice belonged to her father. “Let them crucify you. It is the least you can do for subjecting others to your existence. Here you could have prevented so much grief, for yourself and everyone, if you only stayed locked and isolated from the world. What did you do instead?” When Tivia didn’t answer, the voice roared, the fire overtaking the remains of Isidor’s figure and climbing to the ceiling, spreading across the rafters. “Tell me, what did you do?!”

“I…ran away.” Even as the flames caught on the wooden posters of the bed, she sat ramrod still, welcoming the familiar, overbearing pulse, like the very conflagration that emblazoned across the D’Marian camp and refused to take her life. She relived the moment too many times to tally. The fire, she could handle. “To the Night Garden. I wished to be elsewhere. Begged to be anywhere but home. And I went. I excused myself from this world. I thought that would be better, father! Why waste my life rotting in a tower when I could just leave and go where I wanted?”

She drove her fingernails into her arms. The fire she could handle. But not this. Once was enough. “It…it didn’t work. If I’m fated to destroy every life that crosses my path, why am I even here? What purpose do I serve? Why are star seers born if they’re always consigned to a life of silence and isolation? How does that make sense? How?!” Her voice rang hollow in the now empty room. The fire dispersed in a wink, leaving behind a charred ruin. And her. Only her. Always her. Talking to herself and to a chorus of stars who spoke at her, but never listened. 

She woke from the dream, her sheets drenched through with sweat. In an attempt to fling them off, they tangled in her feet and sent her rolling to the hardwood floor. The impact didn’t hurt, but the sudden shock of waking followed by the grate and scrape of consciousness was enough. She had had enough.

Righting herself from the floor, she pushed against the wall and brought her knees to her chest, breaths lodging in her throat and refusing to enter her nose or mouth. She clawed hands through her hair as she tried to breathe, but a welter of tears cascaded down her cheeks, a dam she had kept so watertight bursting at the mere sight of its doom.

Time fell apart. Seasons ebbed and flowed, generations erased by an errant wave. She, the only constant, crumbled on the shoreline, as primordial as the earth, older than bones, and unrecognizable to everyone. No one knew her. No one cared. No one no one no one no one no one no one No. One. No one…

Amid the crawl of eternity, something brushed against her shoulder. Her one eye opened, swelled with tears. Through blurred vision she saw the wolf lay beside her, his head resting on her lap. A pair of perceptive gold eyes looked at her and into her. For a moment, all was calm. The raging tempest in her mind didn’t cease, but she fell under its eye, a quiet, lowering mourning. Unable to determine if he absorbed her fears or if the mere presence of another had soothed her, she didn’t care. The method wasn’t important. Someone had noticed her, and wasn’t that all she wanted? For one soul, just one soul, to think of her, and care? “Are you truly the only one…fucked up enough to keep me company?” Forgetting her glass pride, so liable to shatter if anyone sat too close and breathed on her, she curled her arms around the wolf’s pelt and sank into his fur, allowing herself this concession, just one emotional slip-up, until her tears ran dry and she landed somewhere on the edge of the abyss.




Since returning to the palace of Ilandria from Eyraille (via Alster’s unsettling magic transport), Ari could no longer withhold the one observation that had stared at him all evening.

“About Sylvie…” He broached the subject once they settled in their rooms for the night. To ease Nia’s travel-heavy day, he brought her a cup of hot herbal tea to settle her stomach in preparation for sleep. “Have you noticed how King Caris doted on her tonight?” Sitting on his side of the bed, he unhooked his earrings and placed them on the dresser. “It might be the result of my racing imagination, but I daresay he fancies her. If so, it is in my business to know. While it is too soon to discuss marriage prospects, I wouldn’t want anything improper to occur, especially where his unsavory reputation falls into question. Perhaps I am worrying too much, as would a father,” he sighed, loosening the cravat around his neck, “but we are not in Eyraille to supervise. I can only hope Lord and Lady Rigas are keeping abreast of the situation in our stead.”

Seeing how worn Nia looked, half-awake and slumped on the bed, Ari decided to table the conversation for another day. After dressing in his night clothes, he snuffed out the bedside lantern and retired for the evening.

It turned out, Nia required more rest than a mere night’s sleep, as he discovered the following morning. “Ah, please do not fret about your readiness for the day, Nia, or lack thereof,” he assured, tidying his collar in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror across from the bed. “You needn’t shower me with explanations. I am ultimately to blame for dragging you to an evening soiree in your current state. Should Somath lambaste you for defying his orders, I give you full permission to rake me over the coals for my indiscretion.”

He turned from the mirror and strode across the room to their bed. He peppered a kiss on Nia’s forehead, unaffected by her slovenly morning appearance. In contrast to his crisp, well-tailored state, he found her sleepy aesthetic endearing. “I will be certain to keep Prince Safir in line should he violate the basic tenets of decency concerning his wardrobe. I have pre-chosen and approved ten outfits from his collection alone, and have reached out to his tailor for an appointment. If he has regressed to shades of gray despite my involved efforts, then it is a deliberate choice on his end and there is little else I can do short of dressing him myself. Which,”

he punctuated the air with his finger, “I realize how that sounds, but no, I have no desire to strip him naked aside from in a purely aesthetic context, let me be clear.”

Their awkward turn in the conversation—that he initiated—was thankfully interrupted by a brusque knock on the door. A palace guard appeared on the threshold, relaying an urgent message that Prince Safir required his attention at once. 

“Yes, I shall leave straight away. Thank you.”

Attired in a tweed overcoat and weather-appropriate gloves, Ari met Safir at the stables as instructed. When the Ilandrian prince came to greet him, the first thing he noticed was his muted, grayscale wardrobe, exactly as Nia predicted. It took concerted control not to sour his mouth and furrow his eyebrows in distaste.

“Your Highness,” he gave a curt bow. “May I ask the reason for your summons?” By the mischievous light in his green eyes, Safir's purpose for their impromptu outing was anything but urgent.

They settled in the carriage, and even within the confines of privacy, Safir still refused to disclose the details of their excursion. Although Ari had his suspicions, he decided to play the game and remained purposely obtuse. “Ah, I know where we are headed,” he said with a faux conspiratorial smile. “We are paying a long-awaited visit to your tailor, and you require my input. I applaud you for taking the initiative. I rather thought I would have to make the arrangements on my own. That explains your outfit for today. You want the tailor to create a replica of a favored ensemble, but in colors more flattering for your complexion.”

A short ride later, the carriage pulled up in front of the jeweler’s shop. Feigning surprise, Ari followed Safir out of the carriage and to the front door, where the jeweler and his assistant, who likely shared blood relations, were expecting their arrival. While Ari had affected ignorance to please Safir, not everything was a performance. Genuine amazement fluttered his chest as the jeweler unveiled his specimen on the table, a naturally occurring chunk of ametrine. It clung to its stone perch like a perennial bloom stretching for the sun, violet petals and golden light melding in fluid convergence. Even in its raw form, Ari detected few flaws nor any smokey residue trapped beneath the crystalline formation. It sparkled with clarity, its colors vibrant. “May I?” He pulled off a glove and laid his hand on its surface, nodding his approval as his fingers tingled with salubrious and energetic vibration. “You have found a fine specimen indeed,” he concluded, withdrawing his hand. “And with such expediency, too! I am in awe of your attention to detail. Your mining efficiency would rival that of a seasoned earth mage. You will be amply compensated for your service, you have my word.” He shared Safir’s smile after his comment about the ametrine's Ilandrian origins. “Rest assured, there is enough here to merit two rings of moderate size. A rose cut would grant the ametrine the illusion of a larger circumference due to its flat base and domed top, and would allow the best compromise between the two color temperatures and their contrasting temperaments. The specimen is so exceptional, I would hate to tamper with its natural beauty. Fewer facets overall work best. A subtle shine and luster will bring out its ethereal glow under the spell of candlelight and sunshine.”

As he waxed poetic about his vision coming to life, he withdrew a small leather-bound journal and flipped through the first few pages, landing on an illustration of the rings he’d drafted and designed a few days before. He passed the book to the jeweler and his young assistant, who Ari gleaned must be his granddaughter. The illustration, perfectly rendered in three dimensions, showed the rings in question, an oval-shaped beacon surrounded on all four sides by gold-sculpted petals beset with small diamonds. “It is a marriage—excuse my pun—of Ilandrian and D’Marian sensibilities. The gem, with its practical cut, will give an honest representation of its original state—apropos for an Ilandrian-born— and the surrounding adornments are quintessentially D’Marian. I understand my commission is an involved and arduous process, and I am more than willing to create a ring mold measured to my exact style and specifications to unburden you with the guesswork. I’ve a healthy knowledge of jewelry making and have made a few pieces of my own, but I am no professional in the field, and I will defer to your expert opinion, of course.” He bowed his head to the jeweler and granddaughter, a quick and subtle gesture that radiated respect and gratitude. “From one artisan to another, I will listen to what you believe is best.” 

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842

Ari was not the only one with lingering thoughts of the surprising chemistry between the young King of Eyraille and Ari’s niece. Nia had noticed, and had watched Caris out of the corner of her eye on and off that evening, trying to piece together exactly what had transpired in the time that she and the Canaveris Lord had been away. There was something particularly telling about the way the young king had seemed intent to keep his distance from the very individual for whom he’d organized a party… all the while, stealing glances at her while he thought neither she nor anyone else was looking.

There was no doubt about it: Caris Sorde was smitten. How deeply remained to be seen, as did the extent to which Sylvie might have reciprocated those feelings. But something was there… and it stood to reason that Ari, who was her father figure, for all intents and purposes, would be a little concerned.

“Mmhmm; definitely something going on, there.” Nia had agreed sleepily, barely remembering to remove her jewelry and make-up, and only stripping down to the shift under her gown before crawling into bed. “Quite a notable difference, considering His Majesty had been about ready to send Sylvie back to Galeyn, the moment he laid eyes on her… there could very well be something there. And, unfortunately, my love, if that is the case, you know your niece will pursue whatever she sees fit, regardless of what anyone else says or wants. Any push back from either one of us will only push her to pursue her desires that much more.”

Crawling under the covers, she cracked one eye open as Ari crawled into bed next to her. “...want me to talk to her? Can’t guarantee she’ll listen, but… damn. What I wouldn’t have given to have someone sit down with me and help me navigate feelings and romance when I was far too young for it.”

King Caris’ less than savoury reputation aside… what Sylvie chose to do or not do with him mattered less than taking the necessary precautions against potential scandal. And, knowing Sylvie, who always seemed to secretly have her nose in romance novels, if she and the King of Eyraille did share romantic feelings for one another, as budding young adults, the possibility of them keeping their affections entirely ‘innocent’ was very slim.

Although far from forgotten, Ari and Nia set the issue aside for the night, in favour of getting some rest. Come morning, when the Ardane woman was yet too weary to rise and greet the day, their previous conversation from the night before resurfaced in her mind. She smiled as he pressed a kiss to her forehead, and before he took his leave and left, she reached out and caught his hand. “Did you want me to get in touch with Alster and Elespeth? To be our eyes and ears and keep an eye on His Majesty and your niece in our absence?”

Poor Alster; when he’d made it clear he was through with getting too politically involved with anyone, for any reason; and here they were, about to ask him to weigh in on the potential romantic interest of Eyraille’s young king…







Safir would win no awards for having the best sense of humour, but it also wasn’t as though others’ successful jokes were lost on him. Glancing down at his attire (which wasn’t lacking by his standards… then again, Ari had already made it clear that his standards were too low to warrant consideration), he frowned and furrowed his brow. “What do the D’Marians have against muted tones? Or Canaverises, for that matter? I thought you were an earth mage, Lord Canaveris. Can you not harbour an appreciation for the neutral tones of the earth, from which we all thrive?”

The prince’s defense of his attire was, of course, incredibly weak, and in no way did he think he had a chance of selling his excuse to the Canaveris Lord. Although he really should have known better than to dress so plainly in the presence of someone with far greater fashion sense than he rightly possessed. In any case, he knew Ari would forget about his utter lack of style today as soon as he set eyes on the real reason Safir had brought him out this morning.

Sure enough, the earth mage’s reaction was precisely what he had hoped. Ari’s eyes lit up the moment the jeweler removed the cloth to reveal the exquisite chunk of the sought-after semi-precious gemstone. Not only was the geode natural and Ilandrian, but the quality was superb. Very few blemishes marred the surface of the citrine-amethyst union, and the few it did bear as a result of its natural formation could easily be buffed away with the right tools. The jeweler himself seemed pleased to meet the Canaveis Lord’s expectation, and took his compliments with great pride. “Ah, well it certainly makes my job easier that you know exactly what you want.” The older man chuckled, and accepted the illustrations with careful hands. Moving a tiny pair of spectacles from atop his head to the bridge of his nose, he made careful note of all the details, and nodded along to Ari’s explanations for the particular composition.

“Navette shaped rose cut will suit this stone beautifully.” He agreed with a nod, impressed by the amount of thought the Canaveris Lord had put into the ring’s design. “By all means, I am more than happy to take on this project in full--in fact, I am honoured to have a part in it at all, Lord Canaveris. I cannot say it is all too often that I’ve caught wind of a D’Marian-Ilandrian union in matrimony. There must be quite the story of how the two of you met.”

“Yes--did you meet here, in Ilandria?” The young woman, who appeared to be the jeweler’s granddaughter, leaned on the counter. Her eyes were bright with curiosity, ever enamored of love stories, it seemed. “Or did your love travel to Stella D’Mare?”

Even though the question hadn’t been for him, Safir couldn’t help but shift uncomfortably. It was dangerous to go into any great detail about Nia, beyond the fact she was Ilandrian. Of course, Ari was far more eloquent when it came to selectively omitting information; and he wouldn’t say anything that would compromise the Ardane woman’s safety, in a place where there still existed an active warrant for her arrest. Not to mention, the man just seemed to have a way with words unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“My dear, let us focus on the task at hand.” Fortunately, the jeweler stepped in to redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand. He turned to Ari and set the sketches down upon the counter. “By all means, Lord Canaveris, we would certainly not deny you any opportunity to have a hand in this process. Should you desire to take up the task of creating the mold for your rings, we will happily work with whatever you decide to provide us. And, rest assured, we will not take any liberties without consulting you first.”

With the details settled, and Ari’s approval of the stone, the earth mage and the Prince of Blades bid the jeweler farewell, promising to return as soon as the mold was finished. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps this was comparably small, compared to the more pressing tasks facing them… But it was no less a reprieve that Safir desperately felt he needed. A goal far more easily tenable than securing his father’s crown, and an errand comparably more mundane than addressing the crowds with speeches, attending council meetings, parading around with Tivia Rigas under the deceptive guise that they were romantically involved, or selfishly stoking the flames of Jennikah Elisaron’s futile hope that he might one day consider her as a suitable romantic interest. 

Times like this, the Ilandrian Prince couldn’t help but begin to question his right to the throne, given the fact that he was beginning to feel that had he never been born into Ilandria’s royal family, he’d have little to no interest in governing its people. Not that Ari and Nia’s lives could be considered ‘simple’ or ‘mundane’ by any stretch of the truth, but he couldn’t help but envy the Canaveris Lord in the mere fact he was awarded the opportunity to indulge and pursue such personal, domestic desires. Perhaps, then, it was not merely out of the selfless desire to help a friend that he had gone to such lengths to assist Ari in his pursuit of naturally-formed ametrine, but also as a means to experience something that he suspected he might not ever have: love, pure and, most notably… uncomplicated and unveiled.

“Apologies for the deception,” the blonde prince remarked as they left the jeweler’s shopfront to return to the carriage, knowing full well that Ari hadn’t been fooled for even a moment, “but I still maintain that the matter was urgent. So… have you decided to go the route of an Ilandrian engagement with matching rings?” The conversation with the jeweler had hinted at as much, and there was more than enough of the sought-after stone to craft multiple pieces. “And, on the topic of engagement--when do you anticipate proposing? Do let me know if there’s anything I can do to facilitate an ideal moment. If there is such a thing, that is.”

“Your Highness--what timing!”

The truth of the existence of a ‘perfect moment’ might have been largely up for deliberation and debate, but there most certainly existed a wide array of less-than-ideal, or moments that occurred as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An example of such moments could be found in the here and now, as Jennikah Elisaron’s unmistakable shrill reached his ears, and the daughter of Ilandria’s own Minister of Trade and Finances took the liberty of once again invading his space.

Safir remembered to school his countenance into a semblance of something cool (and, hopefully, not entirely uninviting) as he turned to acknowledge Jennikah’s presence. “Miss Elisaron. Good morning.” He nodded politely, forcing a smile, before turning to address Ari. “Lord Canaveris, this is Lady Jennikah Elisaron, daughter of Ilandria’s invaluable Minister of Trade and Finances, Delemir Elisaron. Lady Jennikah, allow me to introduce Lord Aristide Canaveris, head of Stella D’Mare and respected leader of its people. And, currently, my fashion consultant, for the duration of his time here in Ilandria.” The Prince’s mouth curled into a half-grin. “To think, all this time, everyone has been too polite to point out that my wardrobe leans on the side of dreary and boring.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lord Canaveris.” To Jennikah’s credit, she did not ignore Ari’s presence, the way she had with King Caris and Tivia Rigas. At the very least, she seemed to be a little more self-aware, and not oblivious to the fact she was interrupting a conversation. “Your Highness, I do apologize if this is a bad time. I had the… pleasure of having tea with your fiancee, just the other night.” She paused, as if hoping he was already well aware that Tivia had paid her a visit--as well as the reasons behind that visit. “If you do have a moment to spare, I’d love to introduce you to some of my father’s associates. They’re very interested in your take on Ilandria’s future financial prospects, since officially allying with the kingdom of Eyraille.”

You’re asking for far more than a moment, Safir thought glumly, even if that was the sole purpose for her requesting his time when he was otherwise clearly occupied. But to turn her down might result in a lost opportunity to try and get the upper hand on Liesefa Jahnst’s intentions to turn the council against him--and he couldn’t have everything they were putting into motion, and all the deceit he was toting, be in vain. “A moment, I can surely spare, Lady Jennikah.” He ultimately conceded. “Although for a more in-depth conversation, a more official meeting with my undivided attention would behoove your father’s associates. Forgive me, Lord Canaveris.” Safir said to Ari, with a gaze that was both gloomy and apologetic. “I’ll be but a moment--and only a moment.”

With palpable reluctance, the Prince of Blades followed the Ilandrian socialite further into the crowd at the market, past stalls, vendors, and their wares of textiles, spices, and metalware.

Standing among a handful of other potential customers, should Ari care to look, was a familiar figure--and not one he would have expected to see. A tall man clad in a thick, grey, completely unremarkable winter cloak perused a selection of ores, both common and rare. Neck-length hair, so black it almost appeared to absorb light itself, was hastily bound at the back of his neck, while his skin, strikingly pale in contrast, rivaled the frost heralding the coming of winter. Given the chilly morning, the black gloves covering his hands fortunately did not make him stand out or cast him in a suspicious light…

But without a doubt, Isidor Kristeva was, for whatever reason, present at this very moment in one of the most dangerous kingdoms in which a Master Alchemist could find himself.







For the large majority of the day, Caris couldn’t help but feel marginally preoccupied. It was impossible to fully offer his undivided attention to court matters after his meeting with Sylvie earlier that morning. His mind was a whirlwind of questions and more questions, fear and excitement, foreboding and anticipation. This was uncharted territory, and the decisions following his bold move that morning were not ones into which he had any insight regarding the next best course of action. 

Unlike Sylvie, the young King of Eyraille was not a hopeless romantic (and in fact, would argue against referring to himself as romantic at all.) He did not waste time with his nose in the pages of books with titillating words, and up until now, had rather taken pride in the fact that he did not concern himself in frivolous matters of infatuation…

Until now, where it occurred to him that perhaps it had never been a matter of lacking interest in romance. Rather, it had been a matter of simply not encountering anyone who would ignite those latent romantic desires. But now that it had happened, there was no denying it, and no hiding from it.

It was times like this that Caris was faced with the very real fact that he was already far beyond his years, and far ahead of himself. Even when his father had been alive, it wasn’t as if he’d ever had any means of parental guidance, beyond those of his sister (who had been barely more than a child, herself, when Valdrik Sorde had met his end), or the nurses who had been responsible for his upbringing--up until the point he’d been forced to wear his father’s crown.

He didn’t know the first thing about navigating this territory. And, if he’d been wiser, he wouldn’t have allowed these feelings to progress to the extent that they had. Would it have been different, he wondered, had he grown up with a lick of guidance into this niche of life…?

Maybe it didn’t matter. It was too late now, anyhow, since he and Sylvie had been abundantly clear with one another. And even if he wanted to backpedal (which he didn’t), that would only cause more damage than it would solve problems.

And, speaking of Ari’s niece…

On his word, Caris had kept his evening open--and all for the sake of secretly, embarrassingly, hoping that he would see Sylvie again. She hadn’t promised anything, of course, and he wasn’t oblivious to the fact that the mere thought of her held him hostage in his study as the sun set. What was her reason for toying with him, though? To make him want her more? To prove a point, that held power over him? Or was it possible that this was all just a game to her, for the bragging rights of stringing along the most powerful person in all of Eyraille?

He didn’t know the answer--but he did know it was easier to be angry than embarrassed and disappointed. And long after the sun had set, and after he’d taken supper in the privacy of his study (though, admittedly, hadn’t touched much of the food), the Eyraillian King finally decided he’d had enough and pushed himself from his seat. “Ridiculous…” He muttered to himself,tossing his doublet aside on his seat and adjusting the collar of the white linen shirt beneath. Why had he sat there, waiting and stewing, uncomfortably warm, for some young woman all too aware of her beauty, who had never even promised to make an appearance?

Caris ran a hand through his hair, and in an irate sigh, blew out the candles and doused the torches illuminating the room. He wouldn’t be toyed with in such a way; he wouldn’t let Sylvie Canaveris wave such power over his head like a victory flag. She’d had her chance, and she hadn’t shown up; he wouldn’t be offering any second chances. This flight of fancy ended now.

When he reached the door and pulled it open, however, instead of being met with a dimly-lit corridor, he found himself face-to face with the girl he’d resolved to give up on, just seconds before. Her hand was raised, as if he’d interrupted her intention to knock (although he did have to fight the urge not to stumble back, remembering how quickly her elbow had collided with his face, not long ago.)

“...I didn’t think you’d come.” He proceeded to explain, for his startled countenance, and the darkened room behind him, illuminated now only by the moonlight that seeped in from between the curtains. “I was about to give up.”

Joined: 6 years ago
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Topic starter  

With promises to return promptly with a molding of the two rings, Ari bade farewell to the jeweler and his granddaughter, his steps lighter, more buoyant, as he left the shop with Safir. “If we define ‘urgent’ by a matter where timing is of the essence, then I agree with you, after a fashion,” Ari said, too pleased with the outcome of Safir’s ‘surprise’ outing to debate semantics.“I am agog over the whole matter. How they managed to locate ametrine so quickly without the aid of magic is beyond my understanding. Needless to say, I am far from disappointed. At this rate, my lofty plans are coming to fruition sooner and more smoothly than I anticipated. I do have you to thank, largely.” He nodded his appreciation with a curt bow. 

“I have taken to the idea of matching rings, yes, as per your tradition, but in keeping with mine, the engagement rings will serve as the wedding rings, as well. I daresay it is for the best; I doubt I will find a better ring for Nia to wear, especially as the stone will serve as her additional moniker when she joins our family. All Canaverises have an additional name shared with a particular crystal.” He raised his right hand, showing Safir the silver band on his ring finger with a marquise-shaped lapis lazuli beset in its center, its size significantly larger than the gems on his other fingers. “As you can see, my name is Lapis Lazuli. After the marriage, Nia will be christened as ‘Ametrine.” It is for this reason an additional set of rings is entirely unnecessary. Rather mold-breaking of me to wear her future namesake on my finger, however. I do hope it won’t be a portent of ill fortune.” His brow knit with his newfound worry, but didn’t linger for long as Safir posed his next question. “Ah,” his features softened. “I had hoped to inquire about the date of the proposal. Now that we’ve acquired the ametrine, it is very possible the rings might be ready in time for–”

A young lady Ari vaguely recognized from King Ullir’s funeral waltzed into their conversation, peppering half-hearted apologies for the intrusion. When Safir introduced her as Lady Jennikah Eliasron, Ari almost cast him a knowing side-glance, but thought against it, and kept his mien professional. “The pleasure is all mine, Lady Jennikah,” he bowed curtly. “I, fortunately, cannot take credit for the outfit his Grace has chosen to don for today. Despite what he believes, it is not the color I take umbrage with, as I am quite the advocate of neutral and earthy tones,” he motioned to the brown tweed overcoat he himself wore, settling a debate from earlier, “but in how the colors complement one another and the person. Surely you might weigh in on the matter, as you seem to have been educated on the finer points of fashion,” he indicated her gown, its autumnal shade of burgundy and the flattering form it cut on her curves, the fabric hugging her in all the correct places. “Though I realize your arrival hearkens a matter of greater import. I shall be here when you return, His Grace must remember we’ve an appointment with the tailor at first bell that we cannot reschedule,” he lied, throwing a subtle wink at Safir. “I implore that you do not keep him for long, Lady Jennikah, lest we never brighten and uplift his wardrobe.”

As the Ilandrian socialite and her reluctant quarry disappeared around the corner, Ari glanced at his left hand, imagining how the ametrine would appear on his finger, on Nia’s finger. The anticipation of the proposal and his recipient’s glowing face distracted him from taking in his surroundings–namely, the very familiar face of someone who lingered nearby. Someone whom he would have ached to see once more.




Tivia spent the entire night cradled in a corner with a wolf. Eventually, they fell asleep against each other, two lost souls who craved touch more than either would admit, going so far as to overlook past grievances, if to bask in warmth and company a little longer.

She perked open her one eye, crusted around the lid from dry tears, and tried to move out from under the furry bulk of her canine companion. The sudden squirming from under him caused Hadwin to open his eyes halfway and lumber off her lap, still half-asleep. Now free, Tivia stretched out her arms and neck, which had been reduced to a mass of knots, and picked off the excess fur clinging to her night shift. 

“I hope you understand that last night is between you and me,” she nudged the russet mound of fur at her side. “I don’t even care if anyone knows we’ve been fucking, but this,” she gestured between them, “is somehow worse. Not that I don’t appreciate what you did,” she trailed off and sighed, running hands through her unbound hair. “I do. You know better than anyone else how terrified I am of…coming undone. And it’s too soon for that. Too soon for anyone to learn how fucking unprepared I am for everything. The only advantages I have are competency, confidence, and foreknowledge. If I slip up and lose control again, like I did in front of Safir, they’ll toss me into the sea. A star seer who can’t predict shit, who digs graves deeper for those she’s sworn to keep alive... What a charlatan I am.” She pushed against the wall and slowly rose to her feet, gripping the edge of the bedpost for support when her legs responded with pins and needles and little sense of proprioception. Once stable, she reached for her bedside drawer for tinder and her pipe, and balked to discover she had run out of weed. “I hope you haven’t been blasting away whenever I’m gone.” She stared accusingly at the wolf, who glanced up innocently and swished his tail from side to side. “No matter. I have to go into market anyway. I’ll even buy you a pipe while I’m there so you’ll stop getting your slobbery dog drool on mine.”

Considering she’d slept until almost midday, she skipped meals in favor of freshening up, scrubbing the residual animal dander off her skin, and removing the crust and bleary redness from her eyes. She fussed in front of the mirror, painted over her imperfections, including the rippling patches of forever scorched flesh, and dressed as a court lady would, trussed in lace and silk. As Safir’s future consort, even a simple stroll to a busy thoroughfare required an impeccable appearance.  If she emerged in the public sphere looking a hair out of place, her detractors would sneer and call her slovenly, unkempt. Inappropriate. They’d think the same no matter what she did, of course, but it was better to make them work for their insults, not hand them a loaded crossbow pointed at her chest.

Bundling up for the cold, she waved Hadwin farewell and headed for the market. While she didn’t admit it out loud, she didn’t have to purchase anything at the market. Rather, she felt compelled to be there, an impulse as unignorable as starbursts flashing in her eyes or, worse, the high-keening of galaxies assaulting her poor, ravaged ears. Something had shifted in the night sky. A visitor from Mollengard whom she had been watching from afar, but who she hadn’t expected to venture south so soon.

Before she lost her nerve, she took long, purposeful strides to his location, indifferent to the people she’d accidentally shoved en route to her destination. He was there, he was there. She knew it. Her chest flared and her mouth dried like cotton. Her limbs lost equilibrium. But still, she ventured to him, the black-clad monolith in the market and she, a hapless moth attracted not to fire, but shadows. She was upon him now. Next to him. His black gaze was fixated on the display of ores, seeing nothing of his surroundings but that which he could pick up and manipulate and wield. Amid his grandiose schemes, she had been made irrelevant. She knew it. And yet, there she stood, a willing stooge with open wounds, waiting for the fatal stroke of his dagger.

“You’re far from your fortress, Isidor.” She clasped her hands, hiding the diamond on her left hand that marked her as a taken woman. On the infinitesimal chance he did care. She waited if he would turn and acknowledge her. In case he didn’t, or simply ignored everyone’s inane buzzing like blood flies to a cow, she laid a gentle hand on his arm, and projected her thoughts into his head. “You must be a favored prisoner, if Mollengard allows you to come and go as you please. Why are you in Ilandria of all places? It cannot be you are simply shopping for ore?”

“Let’s talk somewhere private. Ari and the Ilandrian prince are nearby. Ari will spot you for sure, and you know he’ll tell Nia you’re here.” 





Thora’s shock of red hair caught the sunlight, a striking contrast to the Eyrallian pre-winter gloom settling in the barren fields outside the capital city–and impossible for Sylvie to ignore, despite the depths of her involuntary daydreaming.

Sylvie bobbed her head towards her guest, smile contrite. “I do apologize, Thora. Were you asking me a question?”

“Well, yes.” She looked over her shoulder, where the mouth of the cavern was inexpertly concealed by uneven layers of dirt. “Due to the season, we have precious few plants that will germinate and grow in this weather. I know you want to camouflage all entrances leading to the tunnels, but we’ll have to wait until spring to see any of these sod patches take root.”

“I wouldn’t yet worry about concealment until the project is completed.” Sylvie bundled a fur mantle around the woolen work clothes she wore whenever engaged with the dirt-encrusted worksite. “There is still much tunneling to be done inside, and the loose detritus must go somewhere. I appreciate your eagerness, Thora, but it’s best we wait until clean-up before we adequately blanket our humble mound from prying eyes.”

“And prying eyes there will be.” Thora bounced from foot to foot, uneasy. “If we’re so sure of invasion, then Mollengard’s got spies planted all over Eyraille, I know it. Our operations here aren’t exactly quiet. I’m happy to cover what can be covered, even if it isn’t permanent. Whatever helps.” Despite the worry lines on her youthful face, she cracked an appreciative smile. “We don’t want you to do all the work, now.”

“Nonsense.” She tightened the scarf around her head, which kept stray locks of hair from falling into her face. “I enjoy what I do. Besides, his Majesty equipped me with an entire team of quarrymen to facilitate the work. You needn’t fret, Thora. We are quite mindful of the noise and the mess.” She mirrored the girl’s smile, hoping she wouldn’t notice how it didn’t reflect in her eyes. 

“I will send a Mollengardian contact in your direction,” her father notified her a few days before her birthday. “Please send me the coordinates. He will oversee your tunnel’s progress in secret. There will be no need for open communication; no need to panic.” He must have sensed the spikes in her rapid breathing. “You will not be implicated for your contributions to Mollengard, I promise you, briolette. Resume your project as normal, and your safety is ensured.”

Your safety is ensured.

The words tangled in her mind like insidious barbs. She understood the hidden subtext. Her father’s subtle warning. If you stray from the plan, then I cannot promise your safety. With or without her cooperation, he spun the wheels of his scheme into motion, guaranteeing her compliance lest she be faced with the alternative. Mollengard’s wrath. Imprisonment. Death. Casimiro noticed her hesitation and all but forced her to obey. With no conceivable way out, her choices were abysmal either way; reveal to Caris her deception, implicating herself and damning her father, or say nothing and carry on as usual, allowing the invasion of Eyraille and the planned death of the king.

She chose the latter, and hated herself for it. Hated how she accepted Caris’ kindness, flirted shamelessly whenever he was near, welcomed his advances, stumbled into a tryst she could not morally commit to, and played him for sport, because desperation led her to seeking his distracting–and irresistible–embrace. She dug her nails deep into her dirt-caked palms. The thought of Caris as a distraction made her sick. Distractions meant riveting novels one shirked sleep to finish, or a days-long scramble to tailor an unnecessary dress made from experimental scrap materials, and not waltzing around the emotional fragility of a young man who fancied her–and a king, no less!

She needed to stop. Leave him be. Spare his feelings while they were fresh and embedded only skin-deep. Yes, he would sting with rejection and lash his vengeance out on her, never trusting her close companionship and possibly ejecting her from Eyraille out of pure spite. But at least his chances for survival would increase without her involvement. If she left Eyraille for good and returned home, perhaps he would survive.

Determined to skip her appointment with the king, Sylvie headed straight for her chambers, sponge-bathed the accumulated dirt from her skin, supped alone, and donned a simple shift in preparation to retire for the night. This is what I must do, she told herself as she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, too paralyzed to relax with a book or even to venture down the hall to her gorgeous workshop. I will not be his downfall.

It is too late. The ne’er-do-well in her interrupted with a frustrated hiss. You said you would see this through till the end, and here you are ready to flee at the first sign of danger. Is this not what you want? Who you want?

Yes, she admitted with defeat.

Then go to him! Damn the consequences. You will settle your debts later. Tomorrow does not exist. Seize upon the present moment. Take what is yours! This power is yours to control. Cease focusing on what is out of your hands and pursue your desires. Rebel, with all your heart.

Stupidly, she listened to the nagging voice in her head, convincing herself she heeded the call only to end its ceaseless yammering. She knew, however, that it spoke not reason, but truth. Reason dictated she take not a step further, but the truth reasoned the outcome of the safe, but ultimately lackluster decision. If she didn’t meet him that evening, she would forever fixate on the ‘what-if.’ ‘What if I did not deny my pleasure? What if I arrived at his study, as planned? What if we…?’

Throwing on her best bodice-hugging gown, Sylvie hurried out the door and to Caris’ study before her window of opportunity closed for good. She ceased all thoughts of morality and focused on the most important piece of the puzzle. Simply, she wanted Caris Sorde. And she would have him.

She reached his door just as the latch clicked and swung open to darkness beyond and the figure that emerged from it. Caris must have tired of waiting for her arrival, and said as much when he noticed her standing in the hallway, arm raised in mid-knock. “My apologies, your Majesty.” She stepped aside, in case the length of time she’d made him wait had dampened his mood and he hadn’t changed his mind about leaving. “I fussed over what to wear,” she lied, but it was far better that he viewed her as arrogant and vain than a traitor amid a moral crisis. “My uncle always instilled in us the importance of fine dress, regardless of the occasion. The alternative, of course, was to arrive mud-soaked in rags, but I did not think you would appreciate my soiling your exquisite carpet.” She peered inside at the darkened room. “Shall we begin our meeting?” She said, loud enough for any gossip-obsessed attendants to overhear. “I have much to report regarding today’s events. Alternatively, if the hour is too late, I will happily carve out some time for you tomorrow. I am, after all, your most obedient servant.” A twitch of a grin nicked one side of her face, knowing full well how wrong it was to refer to herself as his servant, even in diplomatic terms. If he preferred to propagate such a dynamic, as a game or otherwise, she would turn and walk away, relieved to find any excuse not to pursue him–while at the same time wishing their story would not end after one night. Let us see where this goes…

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 842

Rich as Mollengard was with regard when it came to substances and materials pertinent to alchemy (and Master Alchemy, at that), like all places unique to a certain subset of the land, it had its limitations. Which, unfortunately for Isidor, necessitated some extent of travel--and had brought him to the kingdom of Ilandria late last night. Come morning, he had no choice but to venture into a well-populated market for the first time in what must have been many, many years…

Even in the early light of the nascent winter, Ilandria’s morning market was a sight to behold. Despite the chill in the air, the city centre teemed with activity, bustling with eager vendors and even more eager shoppers alike. This morning, the temperature seemed to border on freezing, carrying a crispness in the air that hinted at the frost that lay upon the ground. This prompted the insurgence of thick cloaks--woolen for the practical, and crushed velvet lined with suede for the more fashion-conscious, in shades that ranged from Ilandria’s token silver-and-gunmetal, to rich, deeper jewel-tones, in hues of blues, greens, deep reds, and exquisite violet.

At one end of the market, food stalls beckoned hungry patrons with their tantalizing, exclusively-Ilandrian aromas. A baker's oven sent wisps of steam into the air as loaves of bread emerged, their crusts golden and fragrant with local herbs. Butchers displayed cuts of meat of all varieties, freshly slaughtered, prepped, and ready for purchase. Additionally, the scent of pork and venison, roasted and ready to eat, wafted through the air, mingling with the aroma of spices, herbs, and the ever-tantalizing baked goods.

Further along, popular textile merchants laid out bolts of fabric in a rainbow of colors, their vibrant hues standing out against the otherwise muted tones of winter. Silks and satins gleamed in the weak morning sunlight, while wool and linen promised warmth against the cold. Interested customers ran their fingers over the smooth textures, envisioning the garments they could create (or, otherwise, wishing they could afford any of it.)

Nearby, jewelers and gemstone merchants displayed their wares in intricately carved wooden cases. Common, precious, and semi-precious stones captured the shy, early sunlight, making the jewels all the more appealing to passer-bys with an inclination of all that glittered. Rubies glinted like drops of fresh blood, sapphires shimmered with a deep, velvety midnight indigo, and emeralds winked from their settings, their green depths reminiscent of the green of spring, which seemed so far off. The merchants behind the counter spoke softly, extolling the virtues of each stone to potential buyers.

Not that any of the stone wares could quite compare to those of the royal court’s jeweler, but there was no denying that Ilandria was at no shortage of talent or appreciation for the subjectively beautiful things in life.

Adjacent to the gemstone stalls, blacksmiths hammered away at anvils, the rhythmic clang echoing over the din of the market. Sparks flew as shaped copper, iron and steel into tools and implements, while their apprentices slaved over the tasks of carefully pouring and shaping pewter. The resulting smell and wafting of hot metal contrasted the chill in the air, which drew in passer-bys for the warmth alone, in hopes of warming hands bereft of proper gloves.

Dawn hadn’t broken more than an hour ago, but the spacious venue was already packed to the brim with people, their voices mingling in a cacophony of haggling and laughter. Nobles and merchants appeared to ignore the presence of peasants and traders, each adhering to their own respective cases; finery and rags creating a tapestry of social classes. Middle and high-class patrons moved through the crowd with ease, their purses heavy with coin and their eyes keen for bargains. Meanwhile, the handful of those less-privileged who braved the market tended to keep to the fringes, their pockets light, their expressions wary, consciously boycotting the common-tongue with traditional Ilandrian in their hushed conversations.

And as the morning wore on, the market had only grown even busier: vendors shouting their wares and patrons jostling for the best deals, the sounds of gossip and chatter, children darting between stalls, their eyes wide with playful mischief….

For one such as Isidor Kristeva, solitary in nature and far more comfortable when conversation wasn’t necessary… this was something of a small, personal hell.

Sadly, it was inevitable. The quality of Ilandria’s soil directly impacted the quality of its ores, and since it did not make a habit of trading with Mollengard, there was no other way to obtain what he needed than to go there, himself. Not ten minutes into the throng of people and the wide array of vendors, a headache had began to blossom behind his eyes and in his temples. Once, he’d thought that Nia Ardane’s overly personable qualities had been her own, unique brand of annoying, but had come to learn that Ilandrians in and of themselves were far too friendly. The vendors and patrons alike made too much conversation, and he couldn’t walk more than ten paces without earning an unsolicited ‘good morning!’, while being expected to reciprocate.

And despite having arrived at the crack of dawn, due to the ever-increasing traffic, it was hours still before he was able to find a stall with the rare earthen ores he sought. Even then, it wasn’t a matter of exchanging goods for coin: the vendor had to strike up conversation with the one person who clearly did not want it, and had thought he wore that message on his face. 

“Not from around here, huh?” The vendor--a middle-aged man with greying hair--leaned in and tilted his head curiously. “Not even gonna try to haggle? For all ye know, I could be taking ye for a fool with my price.”

“If it speeds up this transaction, then I am willing to be a fool.” Isidor dropped a handful of coins on the counter, and reached to collect his wares, when a voice to his left uttered his name. A familiar voice--one he hadn’t anticipated ever hearing again. Certainly not one he’d expected to hear here, in Ilandria, of all places…

At first, it appeared like he planned to ignore the interruption, not so much as glancing in Tivia’s direction as he collected the freshly-mined ore in a leather bag. “I trust that covers your cost.” He said to the vendor, before turning away from both the stall and the star seer. Regardless of whether she assumed he’d heard or was ignoring her, the Master Alchemist knew her well enough that she would follow. And even if he had no intention of speaking to her, she knew him well enough to anticipate that he’d make his way out of this market and away from the suffocating throng of people as fast as possible.

Leaving the last of the crowd and the stalls behind, Isidor felt like he could breathe for the first time as he came upon a wooded area on the outskirts of the market square. In the absence of all the chatter, he could finally hear himself think… but a moment of peace was far off, as if yet.

“If you truly believed me a prisoner, you and I both know I would still be in Mollengard.” At last, Isidor turned to acknowledge the Rigas woman, and address her comment from ten minutes ago. She looked… older, both in terms of world-weary, but also in physical age. Something he had only vaguely noticed back in Galeyn, but to which he hadn’t given much thought. Her attire, on the other hand, did not resemble anything to be found in Ilandria, or among D’Marians, for that matter. On the contrary, she more resembled Ilandrian nobility than D’Marian…

“And I believe it goes without saying that I do not owe you an explanation--about anything.” The Master Alchemist added a moment later, his visage devoid of affect; he didn’t appear happy to see her, but neither did he appear outwardly displeased. His dark eyes, accented with sleepless half-circles beneath, did not look at her like someone who had once been important, but as someone he did not know--not anymore. 

Whether it was genuine or intentional, the message was clear: she was as neutral and unremarkable to him as the pebbles beneath his feet. Arguably worse than feeling incensed at her presence, Isidor did not appear to feel anything at all. “My reasons for being here are my own. I imagine the same goes for you.” Isidor shrugged nonchalantly. “Beyond that, surely, your stars will tell you all you need to know.”




There was no denying the thinly-veiled satisfaction Caris felt as Sylvie showed up that evening. Of course he had been ruminating on it all day long, and yes, he’d have gone to bed frustrated and embarrassed had she stood him up. But there was also no denying that a part of him had almost--almost--hoped she wouldn’t show at all.

Disappointing as it might have been to have all of these foreign and pent-up feelings fade into obscurity, along with whatever could have potentially developed between the Eyraillian King and the young noblewoman from Stella D’Mare, it would have spared Caris from venturing into completely unknown territory. He could have picked up from where he’d left off, no distractions, no intrusive thoughts, and maintained his focus on his kingdom, his people, and his alliance with Prince Safir Vallaincourt. He’d long since convinced himself that he had no time for romance or any such interpersonal relationships, especially not with the looming threat of Mollengard. One day, he figured he would have no choice but to marry, though that was a bridge he figured he’d cross when it happened upon it. And, even then, he wouldn’t have expected romance, desire, or personal feelings to have any part in it.

The presence of a woman in his life, in his mind, was a far-away consideration best saved for another day… until that day happened to be now. Which, inevitably, caused the young king to realize just how painfully unprepared he was for any of it.

“Considerate of you to… think of the carpet.” Caris said at last, after obvious hesitation, that was born of the surprise of her showing up at all. “Since you have clearly taken the time to prepare for a proper audience, Lady Canaveris… I’m willing to overlook your infraction of proper court etiquette. Though you should consider yourself lucky to catch me at the last minute.”

The young king stepped aside to allow Sylvie entry into his study, which was a study in moonlight and shadows since he’d extinguished the candles and scones, prepared to close up for the evening. Something he hastily attempted to remedy after following her inside, and closing the door behind him. Fortunately for him, embers still smoldered in the fireplace, and it was only a matter of grabbing a long matchstick and setting the tip ablaze to carry the light back to candle wicks. A necessary action, so as to avoid tripping over furniture or any loose objects upon the floor, but it was no less one that he ultimately regretted. In the warm, diffused firelight of a mere handful of candles, Sylvie looked radiant. The shadows complemented the soft shape of her face, and the deep, golden light drew attention to the alluring warmth of her skin.

It would have been a hell of a lot easier to talk to her in the dark… that is, if talking was really the point of this all too late rendez-vous.

Caris’ heart, already racing with a mixture of nerves and anticipation, showed no signs of slowing its pace anytime soon. Of course she wasn’t here to ‘talk’; last they’d seen one another, he’d kissed her… and she had kissed him back. Moreover, he had made the first move and set the precedent. Had it really not occurred to him that she would actually reciprocate… not to mention, have any desire to take this further?

“Believe it or not, I was fully prepared to have an audience with you.” The King of Eyraille insisted, stoking the embers of the dying coals and throwing another log upon the fire. Despite the flush across his nose and cheeks, and the accompanying warmth emanating from his skin, the room had grown cooler in the absence of a roaring fire. As a non-Eyraillian, and someone who had grown up in a warmer climate, he wasn’t sure how tolerant Sylvie was of winter chill. “Since you made me wait, in favour of sparing my carpet… then I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me for scrambling.”

Setting the fire poker aside, the moment Caris found himself at a lack of any other necessary task to perform, the young king seemed to freeze where he stood. He didn’t properly take a seat behind his desk, as he would for a ‘proper’ meeting that entailed updates and problem-solving, because behind a desk was not where he wanted to be. Not with the Sylvie so close--practically within arm’s reach. Even if he was too anxious to close that distance, just yet.

“Do you… find it too cold?” Scrambling to say something, he blurted the first thing to come to mind. The Canaveris girl’s arms were bare, and even within the palace’s shelter, Eyraillian winter nights were unforgiving. He spared a glance of his shoulder, at his doublet that had been unceremoniously abandoned on the back of his chair; he didn’t exactly keep blankets on hand, in his study of all places. 

“You know, if you plan to stay the winter in this kingdom, you’d do well to become accustomed to sleeves.” Caris commented (somewhat jokingly) and crossed the room to retrieve the deep-navy doublet. “If you don’t find the chill in the evening too bitter just yet, I can promise you are in for a rude awakening in a few weeks’ time.”

Truth be told, Sylvie didn’t seem cold. But that didn’t stop him from draping the doublet over her shoulders… which was nothing less of an excuse to touch her, evident in how his hands lingered for just a beat too long for the gesture to be purely platonic. “I was ready to call it a night hours ago, you know.” He commented, and mustered every ounce of courage and resolve at his fingertips to meet her eyes. Eyraille’s controversial King could feel his own heartbeat in his palms, at this point. “But I trust that your… ‘input’ will have been worth the wait.”

Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 703
Topic starter  

Similar to Isidor, Tivia found Ilandria’s overt friendliness too offputting and saccharine. She abhorred when strangers greeted her, not because she despised mindless conversation (although that was a huge factor), but because her ravaged hearing could never quite pinpoint what they said to her. Even with the aid of the hearing apparatus, Tivia struggled to navigate the auditory sensory world, relying on context to fill in the blanks and hoped that when she had no choice but to respond, she answered correctly, and hadn’t grossly misinterpreted the message. Most of the time, she ignored the crowd, assuming no one, especially in a bustling marketplace, had anything of note to say.

Including Isidor Kristeva.

She regretted engaging him the moment of approach, taking in his sheen of disinterest and gross detachment of his environment–and by environment, she meant her. Isidor’s reaction, or lack thereof, didn’t surprise or stymie her. She and Vitali had spoken at length about Isidor’s unavoidable transformation to a lifeless, disaffected being, but discussing it did not compare to witnessing it. And the result about decimated what little remained of her heart.

As divine punishment for destroying a universe by existing where she shouldn’t, the stars deemed it just punishment to inform her of Isidor’s antics at length. His whereabouts and present activities sieved into her subconscious, in dreams, or in stray thoughts. The stars assumed she wanted a constant stream of information about his life, never faltering in their inundation however much she yelled, pleaded at them to stop.

For all the stars showered down their ceaseless torrent, they never deigned to show Isidor’s prospects and intentions for the future. A large black spot formed on his star, eclipsing the light. What she saw was bleak, barren, liable to implode and collapse in on itself. Isidor Kristeva was a dying, obsidian star–and she had contributed to its downfall.

At least he humored her desire to talk. A handful of minutes later, as they assembled near a patch of trees on a sparsely populated boulevard, he gave her an answer–as frigid as the winter frost that clung to the evergreen boughs above their heads. If he wished to act like an impenetrable shield of ice, she would retaliate with steel. Her expression hardened.

Everyone in Mollengard is a prisoner,” she opted to volley those words in his head, a layer of privacy against eavesdroppers, but also as a reminder that she could pierce his mind, regardless of his mechanisms to keep people away. No sanctum of his was safe from her prying. “They’ve sent guards to watch your every move. Your freedom is an illusion. You believe Mollengard would be so careless with their security to unilaterally trust a foreigner simply because you are a Master Alchemist? No. They have you in chains. I can see the shackles hanging from your wrists even if you care not to.”

Her gaze fell on his mangled hand, the one she held to secure their telepathic connection. “You are in Ilandrian territory, an area I have been tasked to protect from Mollengardian incursion. An affiliate of Mollengard has crossed the border and you brought danger with you, whether you realize it or not. I would say it is in your best interest to explain why you’re here–if you truly value the work you’re doing. Lucky I caught you first. As you say, the stars know, and so I know. No need to torture the truth out of you. If you are done here, go. Leave Ilandria. Return to your pit of misery before I sabotage your plans out of spite. I’m in a foul mood today and my patience is thin. Don’t underestimate my ability to fuck you over because believe me, I’m the last person you want to piss off. Oh, and take this with you as a keepsake.” Before he could pull away from her grip, a sudden flash of etherea left her fingertips, encircling his crooked hand in a prismatic sheen, a pocket dimension, separate from the material plane. When the magic dissolved, his hand reverted to the state it was in prior to Vitali’s attack, no longer bent at an awkward angle. It was idiotic to think so, but a naive part of her hoped that restoring his hand to a time before he lost his mind to obsession and grief would impart vestiges of the man he had been. The man she’d loved. He would shake out of his madness, realizing his mistake before delving into depths impossible for her to follow.

She dropped his hand and thus, their telepathic connection. She observed his face for a tic, a twitch in his expression, but it hadn’t shifted from its imperious slate. How he had regarded her as nothing but dirt under his fingernails; not worth the effort to clean. Rage bubbled in her gut. “I can’t understand the point in letting your hand get to this state. And why aren’t you wearing your glasses? How does crippling yourself contribute to your objectives? Oh wait, it’s because you’re such a changed man now,” she almost spat. “In all of a handful of weeks, you’ve suddenly become the expert of not giving a shit about anything but your all-consuming obsession. Forgive me the grave insult of interrupting your process of slowly rotting away to nothing and dying before you accomplish the only thing that matters to you. I’ll say it again. If you’re done here,” she waved a hand towards the outskirts of the city, “the border is that way. Don’t let me catch you here again. Or in Eyraille, for that matter.”

She swerved on her heels and stalked away, not bothering to look over her shoulder to ensure he obeyed her warnings. For, they were warnings. Despite their history together, Tivia would allow him only one concession before she honored her agreement to sabotage his calculated infiltration into Mollengard, no matter how her direct involvement upset the omniscient, precognitive dominion of the stars. Even if it ruined everything a second time. If his meddling with the conquering nation cost her a victory for Eyraille and Ilandria, she would make him her enemy. After all, why did she care? He was not the same Isidor she married and cherished for the finite years they spent together. The Isidor Kristeva of this world meant as little to her as she did to him.

Then why did you heal his hand? And why, now, are you crying?

Her flight from the evergreen grove vaulted her back to the bustle of the cheerful market, her frenzied footsteps slamming on the cobbles. She heard nothing but drumbeats from within threatening to shatter her bones. She saw nothing through the blur of her tears but for a dark bruise coating her vision. What sumptuous scents arose from fresh baked breads and sizzling fried dough corrupted as they hit her nostrils. She smelled burning flesh. Her flesh. Melting off her face. No, his face, from the dream. Burning hair and boiling blood, carrion left to cook in the sun. The putrescence was so visceral, she clamped a hand over her mouth to stop from breathing, but the exertion of running forced out gasping sputters against her will. Forced to a stop, she clawed at her abdomen, the whalebone of her corset restricting, squeezing her to pulp. She wanted to rip it all off! Doubling over, she sputtered and coughed. The coughs racked and shuddered from her throat, dry hacks so powerful, she choked and gagged on her own saliva. 

“Lady Tivia?”

She heard nothing, deafened in full by the endless assault of her contracting, rebelling body. Firm hands gripped her shoulders, their touch an anchor as she reeled back to reality. The market, the cobbles, smells of bread, not burning flesh. Still coughing, she blinked through her tears to find Ari and Safir surrounding her, both men looking deeply concerned. They bookended her, one hand on each shoulder, as if to shield her embarrassing display from onlookers in the crowd, for surely, people were staring. She felt them on the outer fringes of her awareness like star clusters mobbing her with their white-hot, screeching light, too above matters of the flesh to care if their touch incinerated her.

“Lady Tivia.” Ari handed her a handkerchief and steadied her while Safir called for someone to bring them water. In moments, he pressed a waterskin into her hands and bade her drink. She nodded and took a few shuddering sips between coughs. Eventually, the fit abated, leaving her winded, dazed, and light-headed.

“Come. We shall take you to see the physician,” Ari said, loud enough for the crowd to hear. “I did not mean to pass on my ailment, but fortunately it is brief and will clear by tomorrow, I am sure.”

Under the watchful gaze of many, Ari and Safir guided her to a carriage, helping her inside first before climbing in and swinging the doors closed. Removed from the scrutiny of dozens, Tivia slumped on the cushions and closed her one eye.

“I am assuming you will want an explanation,” she said, her voice raw from coughing. The carriage lurched forward, the churning of wheels vibrating under her feet. “First, I thank you for your quick-acting discretion. I will be fine. I…saw a ghost, is all.” During the short carriage ride back to the palace, she said nothing more.



Aside from routine talks from her grandmother and the one kiss (now two kisses) she received, Sylvie’s only point of reference for how to proceed came from the novels she regularly devoured. Funnily enough, she’d inherited the collection from her grandmother, who had no choice but to gift Sylvie the novels after she accidentally came across them in her study and rifled through the pages, scandalized, confused, but in awe. “
These tomes are mere frippery,” she warned. “Unrealistic nonsense, though I will admit they provide a modicum of education amidst the mindless rubbish. And yes, entertainment.” She huffed, trying to distance herself from the fact that the novels belonged to her, first. “I trust you will not take the ‘advice,’ if one could call it that, as sacrosanct. If you have questions about the content, come to me, child, do you understand? You are transitioning to a critical time in your young life. The novels are here to ensure the transition need not be wholly uncomfortable, or terrifying. There is pleasure to be had for you, as well. We shall speak of pleasure another time, but you will soon understand. The last thing I want for you is to become an uninformed court lady unaware of bedchamber dynamics until she is married.”

Despite her grandmother’s valiant attempt to separate the boundaries between fiction and reality, Sylvie used the novels as a tentative guideline on how to behave in the company of someone she fancied. Some heroines liked to play games. Witty banter and teasing comments already came naturally, but several characters orchestrated more elaborate schemes to win a man’s affections, such as swooning, running away so the man would give chase, or purposely arriving late to an event, giving the man time to stew in his sweat and pine for the heroine’s eventual, and always grand, entrance.

Frankly, she found such ploys ridiculous, even if she unwittingly administered the latter scheme…and possibly others. As she entered Caris’ study, watching with veiled amusement as he darted for a matchstick to rekindle the fire and sconces, moved aside floor obstructions, and tidied up the path she walked to prevent an untimely stumble over a snare in the carpet, or an offending fleck of ash.

“Your Majesty, I assure you, I am not made of glass.” If only he knew how blatant a lie she told. While not necessarily a one-to-one comparison, under the right conditions, she shattered like glass. Since that fateful night of the masquerade, she had been careful, only suffering a few minor injuries that Alster Rigas immediately resolved in private. But he would not always be at her beck and call, as his residence in Eyraille was only temporary. Keeping her condition in mind, she appreciated Caris’ small but sensible act.

The lambent glow of the reignited fire provided enough light (and alluring ambiance) to navigate the room without issue. Taking a seat on a two-seater settee, she invited Caris to share the space beside her. “Yes. Let us resume official business. I have an insatiable desire to spill my business all over your study.” She smiled wickedly. “I hewed through rock-hard stone today and left quite the mess, but no worries; I shall clean it up next time. Alas, that is the nature of mining. Today, for instance, I encountered an open pit, which begs the question; should use the glory-hole method of extraction? I could show you what that looks like, if you are interested in a demonstration.”

She paused in her blatant innuendos when Caris fetched his doublet and draped it over the dress she expressly wore for him. Not only did it shield her arms but her breasts, squeezed into a bustier and threatening to spill over her dress, were amply concealed. Was he a stickler for modesty? She searched his face, glowing red in the firelight. Or was it his cheeks that produced the flame? “My gallant hero,” she cooed, pulling the outerwear closer around her body. “Now I am protected from misaligned furniture and bare arms. You spoil me.” She tapped the empty space beside her a second time. “Won’t you join me? I realized that I am indeed cold, and only proximity to another warm body will suffice, I am afraid. I theorize that you radiate twice the heat of an average person. Sorde blood, I hear, runs hot. Come closer, and I will judge for myself.” She met his blue eyes–or tried to, anyhow, but his gaze kept darting away like a skittish animal. “Unless my tardiness has offended you. Allow me the opportunity to repay my infraction with interest.” If he would not go to her, she would come to him. Rising from her seat, she took a stride forward, until they stood at a dangerously intimate distance. Her hand appeared from the folds of the doublet and reached for him, alighting on his cheek, knuckles grazing it with soft, stroking motions. “A smudge of ash,” she said, pulling her hand away to show the tiniest spot of soot on her finger. “You have some over here, as well.” Cupping his chin, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. 

Joined: 6 years ago
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For the most part, Isidor said nothing, instead allowing the star seer to volley her words at him at will. If they stirred any emotion whatsoever, then he did a good job of keeping it all under a stoic face and stiff posture. To say Isidor Kirsteva had changed was an understatement: before her stood what seemed to be a different person altogether. Once so vulnerable to other peoples’ words and opinions, he now seemed completely beyond caring. And once so nervous in the presence of other people, desperate to make a good impression but lacking the confidence to do so, there was no mistaking that he cared little for what Tivia thought of him now, or the fact that he was now affiliated with Mollengard.

While the consensus among those who knew him seemed to be that Teselin’s disappearance had been the final straw that had broken the reclusive Master Alchemist, since he’d walked away without a word, it was still only speculation. Indeed, his sister’s de-materialization had upset him without a doubt, and if his current efforts were borne of the desire and determination to bring her back, but there was also no denying that this was the same person who had led one Master Zenech to an untimely end years ago. 

Maybe he was driven by grief, and his current actions were merely a result of a last-ditch effort to make things right with his only sister; or maybe this was a side of Isidor Kristeva that had simply always been there. Whether anyone wanted to acknowledge it or not.

When at last he spoke again, his voice continued to lack affect, unfazed by Tivia’s words of caution--and her threats. “Much though I am loathe to be the bearer of bad news,” he began, without so much as a micro-expression flickering across his pale face. “All freedom is mere illusion, star seer. You, of all people--a slave to your stars--should know this.”

The Master Alchemist shifted his weight onto his other leg, both for comfort and perhaps as an indication that he would ‘plant’ himself here in Ilandria for as long as he saw fit. An indication that he would not be intimidated. “I owe you no explanation. But it is as I’ve already said: I am here of my own accord. And if I didn’t have to be, then I wouldn’t.” Isidor folded his arms across his chest, resting his crooked hand--the one to which she so annoyingly clung-- atop his forearm. While it had clearly healed at a wrong angle, it didn’t seem to be causing him any pain. It was either suppressed by effective serums and tonics to keep discomfort at bay, or he really was as numb to physical pain as he was mental and emotional turmoil. At this point, both possibilities seemed equally likely.

At the very least, he did not pull away and break their connection, extending the courtesy of hearing her out. “Rich as Mollengard is in ores and minerals, it does not provide everything I need. Master Alchemists once thrived in Ilandria for a reason: like it or not, it is of no shortage of useful resources. I wouldn’t be stepping into dangerous territory if it was not my only option--and I have yet to acquire all I need before I make my departure.” He jostled the small, leather bag containing previously purchased ore from his good hand. “My business is my own, as yours belongs to you. Rest assured, I have no interest in interfering with your grand plan. And, if Mollengard is present here, in this kingdom… then it seems to me like they are fully capable of infiltrating, with or without the motivation to spy on me.”

It wasn’t until Tivia dared to violate the unspoken boundaries of this surprise exchange, and took the liberty of healing his crooked hand, that she managed to spark an inkling of annoyance in his otherwise expressionless demeanour. Isidor tore his wrist away and took a step back, his dark eyes narrowed with disdain. “Contrary to your misguided beliefs, I am under no obligation to justify anything to you.” His disinterested timbre took on a lower, darker tone. “You harbour some considerably wide-sweeping judgements for someone who disappeared for weeks at a time, and returned a ‘new person’, yourself. Such wild accusations for someone who is also the author of their own misery. Have you already forgotten, Tivia?”

Whether in an attempt to hurt her back, or to turn the tables and justify his stance, Isidor pointed out the obvious--or perhaps not-so-obvious to the accusatory star seer. “It was you who chose to walk away.” He said, in a tone that was so matter-of-fact, it was difficult to discern whether or not he felt anything from it, himself. It did, however, open up a lot of questions. A lot of ‘what ifs’, all stemming from how things might have unfolded if she had chosen to remain with Isidor, and to see where their relationship took them. 

But she hadn’t. Tivia Rigas had walked away, dated a gardener, and then run away completely without any warning when she suspected there might exist anything--physical or otherwise--between Isidor and Nia Ardane. And, when she’d finally returned, speaking little of where she had been, what she had seen, or why the years had suddenly caught up to her… she wasn’t the Tivia Rigas that he remembered. Neither was he the Isidor she had once known; not fully. But that had only been the start of his own dramatic transformation.

“Teselin is gone, in body. I am facing the consequences of my inaction and working to rectify it, since you not only won’t, but you’ve done a wonderful job convincing everyone else not to take action, either.” He went on. His pale face and sleepless eyes resumed its bored and feeling countenance. “You would do well to face the consequences of your own decisions and reconcile them, instead of projecting your insecurities onto others by convincing yourself they deserve more blame than you. Stay out of my business, star seer--and leave me alone, like you chose to do some time ago.”

The Master Alchemist turned away and took his leave at the same time that Tivia stormed off. Whether he would meet her demands and depart for Mollengard remained to be seen, but if their conversation meant anything… then it seemed highly unlikely.

If Isidor had ever been inclined to come to Tivia’s rescue before… that was no longer the case. As the star seer suffered a panicked, public fit in broad daylight, she would have plenty of astonished onlookers, but nary a helping hand. Not until Ari and Prince Safir stepped in, that is.

“Tivia--my dear,” Safir spoke up, remembering to add a term of endearment at the last moment as he took one of Tivia’s arms. “Come, the carriage is nearby. Somath can surely be of assistance.”

As the Prince of Blades stood, and in turn helped the star seer to her feet, his emerald eyes gleamed with accusation as they fell upon the crowd. A vast throng of people who kept their distance, all the while too interested in the potential drama that was unfolding before them to have the decency to look away… 

“It speaks a lot to one’s character, when you see fit to only stand back and watch a woman in need struggle without offering to lend a hand.” He raised his voice, speaking directly to the crowd. Much though his ‘relationship’ with the Rigas noblewoman was a farce, it was clear to anyone who knew Safir that this reaction was far from any premeditated deception. The Ilandrian Prince wasn’t convincing enough as an actor to pull that off, after all. “I am disappointed and expected better of my people. Hospitality and good citizenship is more than a friendly smile in passing. In the future--the near future--I do hope you will see fit to put the ideologies you claim to nurture into practice.”

Whether or not Ari would consider this a wise move on the part of public relations, the Prince’s sentiments were clear and pure, and his reaction was not for Tivia alone. Had she been anyone else, known or unknown to him, Safir would have felt the same, and in situations such as this, he could not rightly hold his tongue. “Allow me this time to lead by example. But next time, I very much hope that I can depend on the goodwill of the people of Ilandria to do the right thing.” He concluded, before helping the star seer into the carriage with Ari’s help.

As soon as the doors were safely shut, and the Prince’s personal carriage lurched into movement, Safir exhaled a long sigh and leaned back against the cushioned seats. What he’d hoped to be a simple outing with an easily attainable goal had all too quickly turned into entertaining associates of Jennikah Elisaron’s father, followed by damage control when Tivia, for whatever reason, had found herself in over her head.

“I’m not sure a ‘ghost’ is much of an explanation,” Safir puffed out his cheeks in another sigh, closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I did not expect to see you at the market of all places, this morning. When we left, it appeared as though you had yet to wake up. What was so pressing that you had to hurry to the market? Furthermore… are you alright?”

Much though this unexpected turn of events had taken him off guard, there was no denying the real concern mirrored in his emerald eyes. The colour had drained from Tivia’s face, leaving her from tan to blanched white. And the way she slumped forward in her seat, as if her shoulders were heavy from bearing some unseen burden, he was more apt to believe she had not only seen a ghost, but had fought one… “A quick consultation with Somath might not be a bad idea, after all.” He suggested. “Particularly if you feel you are apt to, ah… encounter a ‘ghost’ anytime soon. I can’t see Ilandria responding all too kindly if my ‘fiancee’ remains verily unwell, and I am doing nothing about it.”







If only Caris had had a grandmother--or, preferably, a grandfather, or… hells, even a decent father figure, or an older brother. Any older male role model to look up to, who might have provided some insight into the world of courting women. Unfortunately, with Vega as his only guide for the majority of his life (and only whenever she chose to be around), this moment was not unlike many others throughout the young king’s years: he was navigating it all very alone, and few to no preconceived notions of how to proceed.

On one hand, such conditions could potentially be a blessing: no expectations meant there existed little basis for disappointment. At least, that might have been the case, had the Eyraillian King and the D’Marian debutante hailed from similar backgrounds. But even if Sylvie yet lacked relevant experience in this tenuous domain of feelings and urges, it was already abundantly clear to Caris that she had more of an idea as to how they should progress--or, at least, how she wanted them to progress.

In which case, it should only be a matter of following cues, right…? So long as those cues weren’t misinterpreted, of course…

“I assure you… I know exactly nothing about mining, Lady Rigas.” Caris admitted(as if it wasn’t already clear), and hesitated a short moment before taking a seat. Wait… was there a more loaded meaning behind those words? His heart was already hammering in his chest, much though he tried to ignore it and hide his nerves behind what he hoped was a confident smile. But along with his racing heart, the thoughts in his mind hurdled forward at a mile a minute. Was he already fumbling the situation too much? Had he made a mistake in fetching his doublet to cover her shoulders? Was she under the impression, hence, that he expected more modesty of her?

Well… it was far easier to focus and parse coherent thoughts (let alone coherent words) when her bosom wasn’t vying to be the center of attention. But was that actually what he preferred? 

If he was being honest with himself, then--no. Not in the slightest…

“If all it takes is providing a little warmth to be called a hero… then I wonder why there aren’t more of them.” Caris teased, and was somewhat relieved at Sylvie’s attempt to be light-hearted about what was undeniably an incredibly unprofessional situation. As if his reputation hadn’t already suffered enough: should word get out that his proximity to someone he’d hired to assist his Court had crossed such boundaries, there would be no coming back from that degree of public scrutiny.

So… in knowing that, why, then, did he continue this charade? Perhaps there was something to  be said for the impulsive nature of the Sorde bloodline, and the tendency to be drawn to living dangerously.

He still didn’t know what he was doing--but there was no mistaking that Caris at least knew what he wanted. And it wasn’t a doublet around her shoulders… “Be careful what you wish for; not all can take the heat.” With a cheeky half-grin, the young king drew her to him, hooking one arm around her back. Compared to the warmth of his palm, she did feel notably colder… “Those of us accustomed to colder climates run hot-blooded for survival. If you’re not careful, you could get burned…” Those words were a challenge as much as they were a warning. His blood ran molten beneath his skin, and his sapphire eyes blazed like two blue flames. “Are you sure it’s worth the risk?”

Sylvie answered by placing a hand on his cheek, and then closing the distance between them with a kiss. One full of passion and want, but unlike that morning, it was neither hurried nor desperate. This time, their lips moved slowly against one another, savouring the rare moment of privacy that they’d managed to pull off at the last minute. Caris was wrong; Sylvie didn’t feel cold at all, not even as his doublet slipped from her shoulders and was subsequently forgotten on the floor. Her body, her skin, was incredibly warm… almost uncomfortably so, against his already feverish skin, but that wasn’t enough for him to want to put an end to it. 

For the past twenty-four hours, the young King of Eyraille had been plagued with an infuriating case of overthinking. And it was only now, in a moment he was hardly prepared for, that he stopped thinking altogether, and instead gave in to what he wanted--and what he hoped Sylvie wanted as well. With a gentle tug, he pulled the Canaveris girl into his lap as he leaned against one of the arms of the settee. One hand strayed from her back to her waist, itching to move forward and upward… but would that be too fast? Too soon?

Do not take it too far, a quiet, almost imperceptible voice of reason echoed in the back of his mind, barely audible against the thrumming of his heart in his ears. A scandal is one thing; permanent consequences as a reminder of that scandal are another.

One Sorde sibling had already allegedly conceived out of wedlock, afterall. Caris refused to endure the same public scorn that his sister had brought upon herself…

Joined: 6 years ago
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Topic starter  

As Tivia sat mute in the carriage, her head lolling from the jerking motions of wheels on uneven cobbles, she relived the desperate last words she lobbed at Isidor before she’d stalked off to the market.


“You want to know why I left you?” her jaw clamped into a seethe. “You deceived me. I couldn’t sit and watch you tattoo those burns on yourself. To have you carry my reminder on your back and know that it was still there. That it lived on someone who did not deserve it. At the time, it sickened me. Actually sickened me. But my young self was an idiot. Is that what you want to hear? Since then I have gone on regretting every decision I’ve made. Every damn one. You think I walked away guilt-free, with my head held high? It’s not like I was spared the brunt of the blame. Oh did everyone relish telling me what a mistake I made in letting you go, but like you, they didn’t care to understand why I did it, or how I felt. The answer is terrified. I was terrified, and young, and hurting, and I didn’t know what to do, so I fled. What do I know, though?” She scoffed. “That day is a blur to me. It happened so long ago.” She threw her hands up, the exaggerated gesture almost manic. Hysterical. 

“Go ahead, keep your damn secrets, but since you have it in your head that I’m deliberately sabotaging you in an act of petty revenge, I’ll tell you where my selfish, heartless, no-good self has been. I warn you, though. Once you know, you’ll wish you didn’t.” If he aimed to bait her into spilling out the truth, he succeeded. Now that she opened the door, she found it impossible to slam it shut. He wanted the upper hand? Fine. But she would break herself upon jutting rocks and leave a bleeding mess for him to clean. “The day I ran away, I fell into another world, unable to leave for twenty-five years. Twenty-five,” she emphasized, giving him a moment to process when in actuality, the moment was for her to gather the remains of her wits. “When I was there, I found a version of you that was supposed to die. From Teselin’s hand. Aggrieved by Hadwin’s death, her wayward magic found her target in you. I saved your life at the cost of hers, and that significant change altered events so much, the world unraveled and eventually met its end. I stayed with that version of you, and married you, and,” her voice trembled against her brittle steel shield, “loved you, until I had…to watch you die,” she forced out the rest, even when her choppy breaths threatened to choke her into silence. “To make a long and convoluted story short, I made it home because of your—his—sacrifice. I not only would have died there, but would have ceased to exist. As did everyone, in that world. Because of me.” Her hands curled into weak, shivering fists, weeping their loss in place of her, who would not give Isidor the satisfaction of shedding tears. “Because I saved you.”

“Know this, you miserable lout.” Rage ignited in her one eye, a last-ditch effort to survive her body’s visceral pre-shutdown through sheer fury, but she refused to meet his icy stare. Direct contact wouldn’t provide him a blanket’s worth of warmth, let alone thaw his heart, and she’d seen enough of him to despise the lifeless shell he adopted. The man before her was not Isidor Kristeva, but a carapace that some bestial insect left behind. “I care about your sorry ass. I care about Teselin. I owe her a fighting chance in this world when I denied her in the last one. So no, my method for helping Teselin is not through negligence, and if you think that low of me, if you believe I haven’t been paying for the consequences of my actions, then fuck you. Fuck you all the way to your black, hateful soul. I’m done wasting my energy worrying about you. So go ahead,” she goaded, almost smiling, “rebreak your hand. Go off and be Mollengard’s pet since you’re so convinced that all forms of slavery hold equal weight. Stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours. But I know that won’t be possible because the second you ruin Teselin’s fate, I’ll make sure you take the fall in her place. Call it settling a karmic debt courtesy of your other self. Enjoy the tatters of your life, Isidor. You too are the harbinger of your own destruction.”


She flinched from the still recent memory, annoyed at how easily she assaulted Isidor with blunt-tipped spears aimed to hurt him, when all she did was impale herself with the traumas she had yet to reconcile. What she said, what she confessed, couldn’t happen at a worse time. Everything about their reunion was wrong, ill-omened, dominated by the red star of strife transiting overhead. And still she had engaged, despite the prognosis of doom.

Would it have mattered? All conversations between them would always carry aspects of the strife star, their lives forever cursed by its furious sputters of sadistic malice. She often wondered if it lorded over her relationships, ensuring an endless pattern of desiring unattainable men. Haraldur, Vitali, Isidor, Hadwin…

…and Safir.

She always admired the Prince of Ilandria for his golden sheaves of hair and shapely green eyes, but thought little of him as a person—until a few minutes ago. Now that she had time to recover her senses, she recalled people staring as she clutched her stomach and dry heaved in the market square. She didn’t hear them, but her tear-blurred eye caught them pointing in her direction, and a few heads turned to each other, as if to whisper at the sight of Prince Safir’s betrothed falling to pieces. Helpless to the gathering crowd, she was fully prepared to collapse and let them eat her flesh and pick her bones like a pack of raving wolves. Let them come. At least her death would have an audience, burning in the square like the witch they believed her to be.

But she wasn’t burning to death, and she wasn’t alone. Ari held her upright, saving her propriety, while Safir rounded on the crowd and fought for her dignity, not just as his false fiancée, but as a human being worthy of basic decency. In that pivotal moment, Safir Vallaincourt appeared before her like the morning star, fierce upholder of the life-giving sun’s edict of coexistence, which preached for harmony above division. He wrapped an arm around her, gave her water to drink, waited for her fit to pass, and led her to the carriage, cradling her like a precious thing. Someone of significance, who mattered. Who belonged, unconditionally.

She could have loved Safir then and viewed their betrothal as true and invaluable. Alas, she would never have his heart. Deception and lies were the only bindings to which they laid claim. Nothing ever was unconditional. And love would never belong to her. 

“Thank you. Both of you.” As the carriage rolled to a stop before the palace entrance, she found enough of her voice to express her gratitude. Although she addressed the two of them, her eye stayed on Safir. “I did not mean to place our carefully laid plans in such jeopardy. I—“ she dabbed at her eye with Ari’s handkerchief as tears welled up and fell down her cheek in one long streak. “I am not sick. I don’t need to see Somath. He can’t help me unless it’s to prescribe me the most powerful sedatives known to man, or brew me a tonic that can obliterate the last few hours from my memory. Only then might I be convinced to see him.” 

“He might see to your request,” Ari said, a little too agreeably. If promising her mind-numbing medicines would persuade her to see the physician, she questioned his honesty.

“Perhaps. Speaking of, I’m sure you’ll want to see to your charge, Ari. Don’t let me keep you from the future Lady Ametrine Canaveris.” Ari raised both eyebrows high in surprise, but Tivia just shrugged. “Have you forgotten what I am? Anyway, no need to worry. Contrary to Nia’s beliefs, I don’t fervently wish for her downfall. Your secret is safe. We shall convene later about…today’s events. I also have concerns about the security of the Ilandrian border or lack thereof. It’s been…lax. But first, may I have a word with Safir in private?”

Respecting Tivia’s need for an audience with the Prince, Ari nodded and stepped out of the carriage. No sooner had the Canaveris lord retreated than Tivia hopped to the side of the carriage where Safir sat and rested her weary head on her shoulder.

“Please don’t be alarmed,” she said, noticing the sudden tension in his shoulders. “Can we stay here a moment longer? I…could use a friend. Just a friend. I’m…not ok. I’m…I’m really not ok.” Closing her one eye, she quietly wept, having fallen so low that, like the whore she was, she solicited the attention of any man who would keep her company. “I won’t forget what you did,” she said, a few silent minutes later. “Today, you’ve proven to me that you deserve to be king of Ilandria. I will make sure this happens. I promise you.”




Sylvie wondered if her innuendos were too subtle for Caris to appreciate. Swiftly, she tried another tack. “One need not require an in-depth knowledge of mining to understand its crucial function within society. In fact, did you know there is a particular mineral that is valued for just one specific function? The stone is of a smooth finish, of a brown and cream-colored mottle. When the stone is extracted from the bottoms of lakes and riverbeds, it is deliberately shaped into an egg. Only, it is not supposed to represent an egg, but something specific and special to men. I shall give you a hint.” She hid one side of her face with a hand and whispered, as if she were relaying her scandalous tidbit of information at a dinner party. “The stones are used in fertility rituals. I happen to have one with me. Quite tall in size. Endowed with a wide girth, as well. Impressive specimen and equally…fascinating..” Fascinating. Still too subtle. “Bracing, too.”

She watched him for signs of understanding. The doublet hung precariously off her shoulders, threatening to slide off and expose the bare skin not protected by her flimsy gown. “A stone is missing one key component, and that is warmth. Much as I am an earth mage at my core and appreciate the spine of creation, I have always preferred its heartbeat. Hue and heat and primordial flame. As you have so clearly stated, some cannot handle its temperature. Poor handling results in poor performance. No wonder so few are lauded as heroes when they cannot properly wield a torch, let alone the fire within…and without.”

Sylvie giggled as Caris pulled her closer, as if to prove his touted “hot-bloodedness” through proximity. At least he realized that she alone could not make every move. Nerves might have kept him at bay, but shame—and desire—edged him close, despite the social contract of professionalism above carnal pleasure, which they fed to the flames. “Oh I beg to differ, your Majesty. I would argue that my blood is hotter. Anyone from a subtropical or tropical region can claim the same. Is it any wonder we are constantly seeking a heat source? Hotter blood means only hotter climes shall keep us sated. So to answer your question; yes, I can take the heat, but can the blood of a king who reigns over freezing elevations and eternal mountain snow possibly keep me warm?”

Their lips connected, savoring each other. Fire crackled and popped in the background, the hearth sending out sparks of vermillion and gold. At the same time, she felt something spark between them. Skin to skin, their friction created a bonfire, towering to treetop heights, unbothered by the wintry cold. She shed the borrowed doublet, her arms and bosom exposed anew. Despite her lack of a reaction, she had felt quite chilly since donning the paper-thin gown, craving the warmth provided by her companion like a moth who had never known fire until it emerged from its cocoon. Eagerly, she joined him on the settee, never separating their lips for fear of losing her remaining heat source now that she discarded his doublet. To sit on his lap, she had no choice but to sit as a lady would upon a horse, legs folded and off to one side. Straddling him would require hiking up her layered skirts, thus killing the momentum, or disposing of the gown altogether, which she was not yet committed to doing. Her novels never addressed this particular conundrum. Thinking quickly, she decided to disguise her inexperience as a coy refusal of his offering. Wrapping her hands around his neck, she paused their marathon of kisses to whisper in his ear.

“A little eager, are you not?” she teased, running her fingers through his fine blond locks. “I am well protected, in case you are wondering. One of the most ancient forms of magecraft was to learn how to take such…precautions,” she tittered in his ear. “Tonight, however, is not the night we explore this path.” She chose not to say, for fear of killing the mood, but the act of copulation worried her. The first time meant that she would bleed, and if she bled, would she crystallize? She doubted it, as her monthly bleed never yielded signs of discomfort from petrification, nor had she noticed frozen ruby droplets pebbling to the floor. Crystallization happened externally, and often from flesh wounds more grievous than a paper cut or a simple scrape. To trigger crystallization, blood needed to ooze out like an overflowing well. While she didn’t think physical intimacy would puncture a gaping hole in her insides, she had heard stories, rare ones, of women bleeding uncontrollably after their first lay with a man. Better not push her luck–yet.

“As a consolation,” she cupped his hand and guided it toward her, “you may go here.” With a wink, she placed his hand over one of her breasts, inviting him to explore beneath the flimsy layer of cloth that kept them bound. “By the way, your Majesty, I do believe you are burning up,” she remarked on his red-hot cheeks and neck, looking like he lost a battle to a virulent rash, or the sun on a lethal summer’s day. “Do you require a break? A glass of cold water, perhaps? You look about to combust. It seems like you cannot handle your own heat, hmm?”

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Was it obvious the young king didn’t know what he was doing? That Sylvie Canaveris was not only his first truly romantic interest, but his first kiss? The first woman who he’d allowed into his more intimate personal space? The first woman upon his lap, with her barely-covered chest pressed against his own?

Now that they were dangerously close, Caris realized, in hindsight, that stoking the fire and adding logs to the hearth were probably very unnecessary. He, for one, felt incredibly hot--bordering on uncomfortable, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make him stop. From the softness of her exposed skin, her dark curls that tickled his neck, and the way her lips moved against his, he hadn’t felt this intoxicated since the night before King Ullir’s funeral, when he had helped himself to the spirits in Prince Safir Vallaincourt’s private chambers. This was a fever dream, and even in the moment, he felt it was impossible that this was happening at all…

And, it was frightening. Beyond the fact that he barely knew what to do, he also seemed to be struggling to pin down exactly what it was that Sylvie expected, or wanted from this--from him. That she had come to him in that flimsy, paper-thin gown, and hurled double-entendres his way as soon as they were alone most certainly sent a nuanced message (if you could even call it nuanced). Yet when captured her lips in a hungry kiss, and his hands found her waist, pulling her close, yet another message (and this one clear as day) reached him when sat side-saddle upon his lap. Something that she at least tried to pull off as being intentional… although Caris wasn’t entirely sure he bought it.

Be that as it may, though, neither was he about to push boundaries, clear or perceived. And for all he couldn’t deny the small seed of disappointment that blossomed in the pit of his gut, a broader sense of relief outweighed it. No one could possibly get the Eyraillian King to admit it in so many words, but if he had learned anything in the past handful of moments of occupying his lips with Sylvie’s, it was that he was in no way ready (or prepared) to lie with a woman. Not tonight, at least, and if she had expressed a desire to go further… truth be told, he wasn’t sure what he would have said or done, to simultaneously refuse and save face.

Fortunately, that was no longer a conundrum he had to worry about, as neither of them had any intention of proceeding so far--’protections’ aside, although Caris could hardly guess what methods an earth mage typically employed to thwart unintentional conception. “So you arrive at a meeting, wearing a gown with the consistency of cobwebs, go on about egg-shaped stones used in ‘fertility rituals’... and I am too eager?” He couldn’t help but shoot back, with more playful accusation than the presence of any actual malice. It was difficult to be righteous when he was already breathless, his chest heaving and his skin flushed from his forehead all the way down to his chest. Regardless of whether Sylvie was equally as eager (or even moreso) than he was, it was clear that he was still by far the most outwardly moved by the intimate encounter.

It didn’t help when she extended the invitation for his hands to explore the swell of her bosom. There was no hiding the way his breath caught in his throat, feeling the give of the plush flesh beneath his fingers, unimpeded by the paper-thin gown covering them. And here he’d thought the mere sight of them--the hint of them--drove him beyond the ability to capably reason, being up close and personal with the earth mage’s more alluring physical traits almost felt incapacitating. But he couldn’t give her the benefit of knowing just how capable she was at bringing him apart at the seams… well, anymore than what was already obvious.

“Funny.” Was his response to her comment, suggesting that this proximity was too much of an assault on his senses (although she wouldn’t be wrong…) “You assume an awful lot from non-verbal cues. But if actions resonate with you more than words…”

Caris decided to take Sylvie up on the invitation for all it was worth. More than a small hint of mischief glinted in his eyes as he captured her lips once again with his own, and his hands slid to the apex of her shoulders. He couldn’t think about it too much: if he did, he feared he’d overthink and end up having second thoughts, so he forcibly silenced the louder thoughts in his mind before slipping the Canaveris girl’s flimsy gown down and away from her shoulders and over her arms. It fell to her waist and settled around her torso, leaving her rich, warm-toned skin exposed from the waist up--and intoxicatingly close to his body. Her unique scent--a curious mixture of rich earth, and floral perfume--assaulted his senses just as much as the sight and the feeling of her body. Did she even have any idea as to how she bespelled him, and entirely without the use of magic?

Well, perhaps she was already well aware, seated upon his lap and pulled so close to his body. Regardless of how far either of them intended to take this tryst (for this evening, at least), there was no concealing or otherwise explaining away the telltale ‘stiffness’ that strained against the study material of his trousers. Something for which there was no remedy under these circumstances… and no hiding, beyond putting distance between the two of them, and Caris wasn’t keen on that, at the moment. Not when his mouth was so preoccupied with hers, while his hands delighted in the cushioned texture of the soft mounds of her breasts.

They had crossed a line, the both of them. And there would be implications on both parts, both good and bad. Yet as terrifying and exhilarating as it was… now that it was all out in the open (between the two of them, at least), Caris couldn’t help but feel a certain weight left from his chest. Treading new territory such as this, whilst feeling uncomfortably unprepared, was terrifying; but nowhere near as uncomfortable as tip-toeing around the fact that the King of Eyraille had not regarded Sylvie Canaveris in a ‘professional’ light for quite some time, now.



Safir could not bring himself to immediately believe that the star seer wasn’t sick. While her unique afflictions were not something he could personally put a finger on (and for lack of ever meeting another star seer, he wasn’t confident that Sommath could, either), the Rigas woman was very clearly unwell. So much so that the Prince of Blades’ primary concern was not that he had potentially failed to save face among the throng of onlookers who hadn’t seen fit to lend a hand, but in that he feared for the rapid change in her condition. Especially considering that when he had seen her last, she had not been in the stablest frame of mind. Sure, she had come down from the heightened emotions that Hadwin had roused within her, but there had yet been something dark lingering in her good eye that hadn’t surpassed the prince’s attention.

Now, his only regret was not asking after her well-being sooner…

“If I may speak freely, I would feel far more reassured if you would at least consult with Somath, Lady Rigas.” Safir said at last, his brow still creased with concern, complementing the frown on his full lips. “He is the established royal physician for a reason, you know. You might be surprised at the extent of his capabilities. Even if he has never treated a star seer such as yourself, before.”

As the carriage finally pulled to a halt before the palace, Safir made to move and help Tivia out, but before he could do so, she requested a word alone with him, to his surprise. While a little bit taken aback, he did not begrudge her request, and simply nodded as Ari took his leave to provide her the space she wanted. Although whatever it was she had to say to the Prince of Blades that she felt couldn’t be said in front of Ari, whom she had arguably known for longer… well, that in and of itself perplexed him the most. “Tivia.” Safir waited until the carriage door had shut before he spoke up again; calmly, but not without a concerned edge to his words. “If there is something I should know…”

The Prince of Ilandria trailed off, finding himself taken off guard once again when the star seer moved from where she had been seated across from him, to take the place where Ari had previously been sitting. And, without a word of warning or explanation, she then proceeded to lean her cheek against his shoulder like it was a pillow. It wouldn’t have been the first time a platonic lady-friend had done this; in their youth, during those rare moments when Nia’s contagious optimism would slip, she had occasionally sought his company, expecting nothing more than silence and a shoulder to lean on, for she’d had no one else at the time. If he hadn’t begrudged the Master Alchemist the deep need for someone to simply be there with her, however miserable the mere act of existing became, then he saw no reason to erect such an unnecessary barrier in her time of need.

“Tivia.” Safir spoke her name softly: not out of affection, or pity, but rather, recognition. And perhaps a bit of appreciation for the vulnerability she chose to bear to him. The Ilandrian Prince even went so far as to wrap an arm around her shoulders, knowing that no one who happened to glance inside would bat an eyelash at the gesture. After all, for all they knew, she was, for all intents and purposes, his betrothed. “I respect your privacy--not only because I have no choice, and cannot see into the lives of others as you are able to do, but because you have respected my most dangerous secrets in turn. It is not a gesture that I take lightly, and it would be hypocritical of me not to return the courtesy. However…”

The blonde prince paused and sighed deeply. Her sudden fit in the middle of the market square, the tears in her eyes, and her wilted demeanor all pointed to some wound that ran incredibly deep. One that she’d been successfully compartmentalizing and hiding, at least as long as she had been present in Ilandria. But she was not invulnerable; someone, or something, had clearly made its way past her carefully cultivated defenses and rendered her helpless. From what he understood of Tivia Rigas, she was no delicate maiden, and certainly not one to fall to just anyone or anything.

Which, ultimately, had Safir wondering what or who it was within his kingdom that had rendered one of his most powerful allies just a few cracks away from being entirely broken…

Not only could he not lose the Rigas woman as an ally, though, but he refused to lose her as a friend. “You were--are--a person in need, Tivia. And, as far as anyone in Eyraille is considered, you are my fiancee. Surely, the Prince and hopefully future King of Ilandria cannot be one who refuses to act when someone important to him happens to be in need?” A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “But I hope you understand, that much, at least, was not an act. You are an important ally and friend. And I am simply relieved that myself and Lord Canaveris were able to be there for you, when no one else was. I do, however, have some questions. Not simply as the Prince of Blades, mind you, but as your friend.”

Front the pocket of his grey, not-so-Ari-approved doublet, Safir drew a clean handkerchief and offered it to Tivia for her tears. Another genuine gesture that had nothing to do with their facade. “Forget about my being King, for a moment. I understand this clearly isn’t a topic you are happy to discuss… but considering I found you all but completely incapacitated amidst the market stalls, I wonder--and hope--that you might see fit to confide in the person you are choosing to lean on.”

For all the magnitude of his request, he was not demanding of the star seer. There was still room for her to refuse, and he neither could nor would force her to speak on topics that made her uncomfortable. He only hoped that she would see reason in agreeing to put him in the know, if for no other reason than the possibility he could be of help, in the event she was struck with such an ‘episode’ again…





With Ari otherwise occupied that morning, Nia, meanwhile, happily seized the opportunity to sleep in well past what was an acceptable hour. Against her better judgment (and Somath’s orders, honestly), she decided to forego breakfast in favour of several more hours of sleep than she would usually get, and instead opted to make up for skipping a meal when lunch came around. Sure enough, it was about that time that she decided to finally rise and face the day, and left her shared room with Ari to find lunch ready and waiting for her upon a table across from the fireplace in the adjacent sitting room. 

For her characteristically healthy appetite, the Ardane woman needn’t be told twice to eat. And since proper nourishment was at the crux of Somath’s professional orders, she was more than happy to comply, in that respect. However, the royal physician seemed less concerned about the quantity of her food intake, compared to the quality of it and the specific nutrients that characterized whatever deficiencies she suffered. As a result, the spread, while impressive, still left something to be desired. Plentiful with fruits and vegetables, for sure, but it certainly lacked the decadent helpings of sweet cakes, cheeses, and meats of Ari’s preferential palate. She hadn’t realized just how spoiled she was until she was now under orders to veer on the side of health over flavour, for the time being.

When the Canaveris lord finally returned from his abrupt morning outing, he found Nia slowly picking away at the lunch spread, a subtle frown replacing the typical wide smile with which those who knew her well associated her bubbly character. That frown was not long for this world, however, now that she was once again in preferred company. “Well that was quite a while.” Came her casual comment, as a touch of a grin tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Everything all right with His Highness? That must have been quite the awful wardrobe faux-pas to take that long. I hope you set him straight!”

She didn’t wait for Ari to cross to the table before she was on her feet, wrapping her arms around his neck before he even had a chance to remove his outerwear. “And I believe I owe you an apology. I fear I’ve taken you and everything you do for granted, all this time. Only now that Somath is micro-managing every single thing I put into my body that I realize you D’Marians eat damn well, in comparison! …everything okay?”

Ever perceptive, not only of Ari’s facial tells, but in the way his heart rate and body chemistry gave her insight through mere touch, the Master Alchemist had the sense that not all had gone well during the earth mage’s abrupt outing. Of course, she also had no way of knowing that Tivia Rigas--who trouble seemed to follow--had hitched a ride back with them…“How is Safir? Was there an actual emergency?

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At first afraid that Safir would push her off his shoulder and turn away in disgust, Tivia squeezed her eye shut and waited for the rejection. His assistance at the market did not mean he was obligated to continue his support. Kindness given during an intense period of trauma was not the same as kindness given for every scenario. She did not come to him to exploit his benevolence or expect it at every threshold, but because he demonstrated his concern for her safety and wellness. By his small gesture, he proved worthy of trust. Even if he decided to skirt away from their forced proximity and boot her out of the carriage, she would begrudge him little. Without him, without Ari, Tivia would still be hunched on the ground, a spectacle for gawking pedestrians as she suffocated on the past.

Instead of a brusque shove or cold inaction, Safir accepted her touch and responded with an arm around her shoulder. She took a jagged breath, and struggled to avoid dissolving into a fit of fresh tears. With a wordless nod of thanks, she accepted his clean handkerchief and dabbed at the moist spots on her cheek. “If you viewed me as nothing more than a tool, you would have no qualms staging a performance of Ari’s caliber.” She managed a smirk. “All of this is to say; I believe your claim. I believe you think me a friend, much as I don’t deserve grace from you—or from anyone.” 

Beneath the corset she cinched too tight, her ribs ached, battered on both sides by the whalebone material and the hours-long hammer of her overactive heart. All she wanted was to flee to a cemetery and immure herself in the walls of a mausoleum, but her desire for temporary repose ran counter to her hatred for confinement and her need to play an active role in her destiny. To respect the star seers before her, who fell to the hands of an authority who deemed it necessary to strip their autonomy, she refused to end up chained, under someone else’s control. Which meant she would suffer the outbursts, the near-to-bursting heart, the isolation, because they were characteristics she had created. They belonged to her.

Safir, at least, deserved some measure of an explanation as to why she behaved like she should be confined. 

“I’m a terrible ally,” she continued. “I scheme and manipulate, but I don’t enjoy what I do. The stars give me such fragmented pieces, nowadays. I’m operating on very little, and what little I do have is too sensitive to reveal. I’m able to distinguish between outcomes less likely to upset the balance of the universe, and those that are liable to fall apart with an ill-timed whisper. With the latter type, all I can do is nudge that information forward and hope I didn’t disturb the flow of events or time itself.  As a result, I must resolve to be an enemy of everyone, because if I explain what I’m doing, even if it seems incongruous at best and heinous at worst, I lose the thread. I lose the outcome—and something worse might slot in to take its place.”

“I say this not to make excuses for my bad behavior,” she lifted her head from his shoulder, anticipating the end of his clemency towards her. “Simply, to explain. There are some things I can tell you, and others I must take to the grave, or until its promise is fulfilled. Whichever happens first. My ability doesn’t inspire a lot of trust, but I hope you trust that my intentions are in your favor. I am here to strengthen your kingdom. I am here to prevent a war because the stars offered me the slimmest chance to succeed, and that means having to make extremely questionable choices. Today at the market…went against my better judgment. I knew I would suffer needlessly, and went anyway. I won’t do it again. What happened…won’t be of any consequence to you.”

She raked back the loose hanks of blonde hair that unraveled from her braided coronet. Blonde. When she wanted to keep it black as twilight. Another method of control, denied. 

“I will not encroach on your valuable time any further.” She scooted from his proximity lest she overstay her welcome, or he discovered a new reason to despise her. “I understand if you would want to rescind your statement of friendship. You value honesty, and I could never give you full transparency. I won’t even share with you why I’m such a mess today. Maybe I will—but it can’t be now. Ask me in a few days and I will be more forthright.” Much as she yearned to tell someone of her woes, she didn’t think it wise. Isidor belonged to Mollengard, and speaking of him in an ill light to the future king of Illandria could result in unforeseen circumstances if either party acted. The stars hadn’t alerted her of the possibility, but neither did they warn her about Isidor’s arrival until several hours ago. Safir wouldn’t respond calmly to an intruder from Mollengard in his lands, especially when said intruder laid waste to his fiancé’s heart.

“To allay your worries, I’ll go see your royal physician for a palliative, and I’ll make myself scarce for the rest of the day. Perhaps for tomorrow, as well. I'll wait for my episode to blow over and settle before I make another public appearance. I’ve wanted to return to Eyraille for a quick visit, anyhow. Let me know if you would like for me to relay a message. Until then.” With an uncoordinated bob of her head, Tivia shuffled out of the carriage door, her steps as unsteady as a drunkard before they passed out on a table. She slid one foot in front of the other and took measured breaths. In for one-two-three-four. Out for the same. If Safir had emerged behind her to assist, she didn’t pay him heed. She bothered him enough today. Soiled his reputation. Buried her own.

A mausoleum under the hill never sounded more beautiful.




Simultaneously relieved at Tivia’s dismissal and concerned, Ari respected her desire for privacy with Safir and dipped out of the carriage. Unsure of the structure for the rest of the day, he headed back to the suite he shared with Nia. No sooner did he open the door than his soon-to-be-betrothed (if all went well during the proposal), abandoned her spread of depressingly simple foods and caught him in a grateful hug.

"Surely I was not away for long,” he said, with slight incredulity. He returned her embrace in kind and landed her a quick kiss before holding her at arm’s distance to assess her expression. “To what do I owe the wonderful reception? Not that I am opposed to your ardent enthusiasm; simply, I am curious.” When she pointed out the state of the bland food and lamented the bounty of Canaveris fare, Ari’s smile bordered on a laugh. “Ah, I see. Not to take our food for granted now that you have sampled its lack? Not much I am able to do in the interim, I am afraid. If it is Somath’s command, I am keen to listen to his expertise on the matter. That said,” he covered one side of his hand and mock whispered, “I might smuggle you some mild spices from the market to season your uninspired meals—so long as you sprinkle and not pour. I would hate to take responsibility for triggering a flavor-induced coma.”

He danced out of her grip and shimmied off his outerwear, joining her at the table to explore, close-up, the truly unappetizing selection of foods at her disposal. Mushy peas, slops of carrots, broth as thin as dishwater–his stomach turned. “I do not envy you, Nia,” he said with a pitying shake of his head. Theatrics aside, she seemed to catch the troubled knot between his brow and asked about Prince Safir’s “urgent” request for Ari’s assistance. “Oh yes, it was about how you imagined. His Grace is rather hopeless when it comes to fashion.” He prepared his lie ahead of time, armed and at the ready, even as his commentary spoke the truth. “We scoured the market in search of reasonable bolts of fabric to send to the tailor. With any luck, I will arrange an audience with him at some point today or tomorrow.”

Unbeknownst to him, he idly stirred Nia’s half-eaten bowl of lukewarm soup, spoon clattering against the pewter rim. By her silence, she did not seem satisfied with his lackluster reply. Considering his tendency to chew the scenery, he couldn’t blame her for believing his reticence betokened a serious problem. “On our return to the carriage, we happened upon Tivia in the market square.” He released the spoon and sat back in his seat. “She…was in a state. Hands and knees, on the ground, dry heaving and gasping for breath. The townsfolk were not kind. They watched, agape, gawking, as we came to assist. Safir set upon the gathering crowd and berated them for their indecency, whereas I explained she had taken ill. Sadly, I am afraid our attempts to mitigate and allay her unfortunate episode have not been successful. She is with Safir as we speak. Not well, but her composure has returned. She will not explain what has happened. I assume some celestial event has disturbed her. At any rate, Safir is encouraging her to visit Somath. Too early to say if she will heed his advice.” He tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear, the opalescent stone earring, one of the same pair Nia had gifted him, connecting with his lapis ring. Together, the two gems clanked sweetly. “Despite her…combative nature, I am worried for her well-being. It must be rather isolating–and maddening–to be under the thrall of an infinitude of stars.”




“Oh yes,” Sylvie purred in Caris’ ear, half-teasing. “You are far too eager. Surely I have done nothing to suggest anything more than foreplay. I was but having an innocent conversation with you, about subjects I find to be rather fascinating. It is my fault you stretched their meaning entirely out of proportion.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, like a princess carried by a valiant warrior, and let him come to her, to swoop in and land another kiss. He did not disappoint as he transferred his heat mouth-to-mouth. In some cultures, the spirit was believed to reside in the breath; the warmer the breath, the greater the sign of vitality. By comparison, Caris ran hot, almost feverish. While her flimsy gown did nothing to insulate her, all complaints of the cold were a distant memory beside an inferno made human flesh. Even when he yanked down the sleeves of her simple-to-remove gown, exposing her pert nipples to the air, she nary felt a difference in temperature.

What a difference in her would-be suitor from a scarce few minutes ago. Before, he seemed to shrink from the proposition, unsure of himself, despite certainty of his desire. Now, it was as though the fire within had possessed him, directing his lips and his hands and his…manhood. She felt it under her skirts, a bulge which throbbed its need for release. Perhaps she would answer its desperate pleas for satisfaction, but not past her gates and through the main entrance. Nowhere near her guarded estate. Not yet–though she might settle for the garden path. Or a side entrance.

She was about to open her mouth with a pithy remark about the “stone egg” on which she sat, and if she could spur it to “hatch,” when he closed her mouth again with his and pawed on her breasts with his callused hands. She gasped amid kisses and arched her back, nails digging into the fine, embroidered material of the settee. All efforts to dampen the impact of a mere touch failed as she writhed from his touch, the sensitive areas he worked tender and…ticklish. Forced to separate from their kiss, she clamped on her tongue, refusing to give him the pleasure of her laugh of ecstasy. Too soon. Making the first move was one thing, but to show her enjoyment with a girllish laugh? It would ruin the moment and Caris would view her as little more than a child, dull-witted as to find pleasure from a ticklish spot on her breats. An easy pursuit, and a boring one. He would toss her aside by the end of the evening.

The sudden knock at the door, therefore, brought simultaneous relief and shock. Flinging herself from Caris’s lap, she fiddled with the sleeves of her dress and fastened them back into place, her breasts struggling to fit in the mold where Caris had freed them. As she fixed the patches of mussed up hair, she shot a fierce whisper at her equally complicit companion. “Were you expecting any visitors, tonight?”

A muffled, but familiar voice came from the other side of the door. “Your Majesty, it’s Alster Rigas. A moment, please?”

“Does he know?” She mouthed another whisper to Caris. Figuring it better to answer than ignore the call, and idiotic to hide in the presence of a powerful mage, they agreed to pretend they were in the middle of a meeting. Sylvie relocated to a chair opposite Caris’s desk, while Caris, perched on his ornate chair, gave the verbal go-ahead for Alster to enter.

The Rigas lord slipped through the doors with a quiet reverence for the late hour and clunked them shut with the same level of grace. He gave a customary bow to Caris and a smile to Sylvie before he delved straight to the point. “Your Majesty, my apologies for the late hour–and for interrupting your meeting.” He uttered the last word with care, as if to convince himself of the flagrant lie. Even the least astute couldn’t ignore their flushed faces, kiss-swollen lips, and still-heaving breaths. “But I daresay you’d rather hear the message from me than from its source. Tivia has returned for a visit. She heard you were in your study and I intercepted her before she could fly through these doors herself. She won’t be kept at bay for long. Sylvie,” he gestured to the door, “are you able to return to your rooms? Tivia…she’s not in the best mood at the moment. It would be better not to engage her.”

“Of course, Alster,” she swished her skirts in a semblance of a curtsy, not daring to jostle too much lest her bosom burst free from their insufficient containment. “Your Majesty,” she curtsied again, keeping her eyes averted so as not to lose her barely recovered composure. “We shall resume our meeting at a later date. Tomorrow, perhaps, pending availability?”

Bading farewell, she hurried out the doors, heart hammering in her throat from Caris’s study back to her bedchambers.

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