[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!” 

Joined: 6 years ago
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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: 838

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.”

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