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Hero, Don't Kill The Demon King! Chapter 1: Lives Not Yet Thrown Away

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Marina stood in near-shock as Thesphine bowed to her. She... She wasn't ready for that. Ready for trust... H-How could... "..." She tried to form words but, nothing wanted to come out. Then, the Demon King went back to their discussion. Two weeks... well, that took time for her to get around to people she needed to discuss with properly.

"U-Understood, your highness," She nodded to Thesephine, then gave a sorrowful look at Ariana. She wasn't ready for that yet, at least... she wasn't sure if she was.




They had finally arrived. A night raid was a good idea, their two vampires would benefit from that boost in strength, and maybe they'd have element of surprise? Belt clipped, shield tightened, she hopped out of her wagon. She pat the disc on her arm, it was time to finally see what this was capable of.

Thesephine's speech was fine and all, but... she planned to fight the pursuing churchgoers on their way? On her own? Marina approached her and Nessraya, the latter expressing concerns of the Demon King's plan. Of course, a very valid thing to be worried about. Marina gave the succubus' should a soft rub, as she begun to speak, "If I may intrude, mm... I think Her Highness will be alright. If it helps assuage your fears, Nessraya," Marina unclipped the necklace from her neck. Her precious gift, but... "Your highness, I'd like to loan this to you," She handed the necklace over to her, "It is supposed to protect you from holy weapons."


Taiyute freed herself from the confines of the wagon. Taking some stretches, she armed herself to the teeth for this final confrontation. It was time to free Vaia from it's attempted insurgency. She noticed something odd. It appeared little Taliyah, whom was said insurgent leader's daughter, was also bringing herself to the field.

Taking a moment before the battle began, she 'trapped' the little lizardgirl in a calming breeze as she approached, giving a pat on the head.

"Dear, are you a certain, that you are wanting to do this? I'm certain no one will place blame... if you backed away, now."

Edited by Silver Gallade

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Lucille took a deep breath as Thesephine finished her speech. It was a far cry from the night before, and almost a dead ringer for some speeches she'd heard while under Coteon employ. But there was a feeling of true purpose in her words that the Coteon commanders lacked. Thesephine's voice carried necessity, and Coteon's carried obligation. Everyone here, as far as she knew, was here because they wanted to be, needed to be. They all had something they wanted to protect. 

She opened her bag, along with her wind tome and vulnerary, she'd also picked up a water tome from the convoy. She'd never really used water magic before, but it appeared to trap enemies in place occasionally. It seemed perfect for someone with magic as middling as hers, and it would help the others. Other than that, it was her, Villkiss, and a whole heck of a lot to prove. 

Though, Thesephine mentioned that she, alone currently, was going to hang back to cover the rear from those tailing them. She was almost certainly referring to Naomi's forces. She had no idea what the Demon King was capable of, but facing all of that alone... "I, uh... I know this is really out of line, your majesty. But... if you're talking about the Coteon forces, they're... strong. And their commander is even stronger. This... isn't my place, but going by yourself... That's not a good idea." Likely the worst way she could have chosen to stick out, but she was going to have to at some point. 

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The plans were laid for the assault on the fort. The main group was to charge in; some of the Vaians were to guard their flanks, and the Demon King would repel the attackers from the rear. The Demon King's initiative in choosing to remain at the group's rear, alone, gave him a strong impression of just how confident she was holding them back. Still, he couldn't quell the slight doubt that the enemy might attempt to break through disregarding her; no matter her strength, surely someone fighting alone couldn't stop their maneuvering... it was too late to change the plan, though. They needed everyone they could spare attacking the fort, after all.

He quietly fiddled with the ring on his finger. Once we're through this battle, they'll be able to fight unhindered... The speech roused him somewhat, though it did little to dull his awareness that the coming battle was going to be difficult. The Vaians were strong, and they'd seen new additions since they first arrived at Tepel. They would suffice; they had to.

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"I appreciate the concern, Nessraya... But you're needed here more than I am. There are plenty of lizardfolk working for him, I am sure. Ithraxl himself is a fire drake; it's in his heritage. My magic might be strong, but it won't work on him as well as yours will. Stay and prove, without a doubt, that you deserve to be where you are. When your thunder sends him packing, he won't have much room to complain about you leading my armies, will he?" Thesephine smirked. There was a selfish side to her reasoning... She didn't want Ithraxl to have the satisfaction of fighting the King herself, his coup was weak and didn't need her. She didn't voice those thoughts, though, no one would've been pleased to hear them. She hid them behind the best logic she could apply.

"Mmnrrr... F-Fine. Thank you, Marina." Protection against holy would likely save her several wounds, so she took the necklace with a grumble and fastened it where Stholia once sat. "As for your suggestion of allies... Nisha, yes? I do not work well in a group. Having to protect people... Gets in the way of how I fight. Not very becoming of a leader, but in this situation, it'll work best. Leave a small group with the wagons, anyway; our goods and travel need to be secured." Even the human they'd pick up was worried, Thesephine merely scoffing. "What good is a King that can't back up their words? I'll be fine, and they'll be dead." With that, she flapped her wings, taking off towards the supposed reinforcements. They would rue the day they thought to take advantage of this battle...


Taliyah hefted her axe over her shoulder, sighing. This was it... Dad's in there. Taiyute approached her asking if she was alright, but she didn't nod nor shake her head. "It's something that I have to do, Tai. Even if I don't want to... Even if I don't fight him, I have to face him, and I at least have to speak with him. That's what I have to do... That's the least I can do right now. Maybe he'll listen... Maybe. I just... I need to try, right? No one else can do that. Sure... You can all fight him... But only I can try to talk to him." Resolute. She'd made peace with this much. If he attacked her, or she was pushed to fight him... She'd struggle with that then.

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A Dream Reunion

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Marina laid into bed after a long day again. She sighed, rolling on her side and thinking. Her thoughts suddenly... returned to the woman she met in her dreams. The other oni princess, Yukari Kisaragi.

She wasn't entirely certain why all of now times she decided this was what she was thinking about. Hmm, she was really pretty, and she was nice... and she k- Marina started to blush as she thought about all of that. Maybe a conversation with Asami would be necessary, as much as she'd hate it but...

She ignored that, as she closed her eyes, drifting to sleep and testing her fate with the dreams today. 

You're two for two Marina, seems your dream will be good tonight!

Marina would find herself before a temple, an eastern temple as well. It was surrounded by woods from all sides and the only way out was a stone staircase leading down behind Marina though it was rather steep. But Marina probably wouldn't leave with such an inviting temple before her, would she?

Well she didn't have much time to ponder on it, as a horned short statured figure turned a corner and lead herself down a hallway silently. By the looks of her clothes she looked like a priest, but it was difficult to catch the face after she turned the corner.

Marina woke(?) suddenly in surprise of the place she was in. She got herself up as she took a look around the area. It was pretty, very nice... But not something she had seen before--

Speaking of, a yelp escaped from her sudden new clothing. It looked like... a shrine maiden outfit? It was nice but... she was laying on the floor in it?!

She turned as she felt another presence, something that caused Marina to quickly relax. A masked, shorter girl but... she was walking away.

"Y-Yukari? Is that you?" Without a reply, Marina started to carefully follow.

Marina would enter the hallway to find that the oni she had sought was nowhere to be found. Did she disappear into a room along the way? Well there was a tap on Marina's shoulder, so her answer was...

"Hiiiii~"

Right behind her was the adorable small oni in a shrine priestess outfit, similar to Marina's. "You're here. Took you long enough..." She grinned wide. "And look! We match too! How thoughtful of you~" Before Marina knew it the princess took her hand and lead her down the hall. "Well now that you're here I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me, and it's a good thing we got some walking to do. Sooooo...I'm all ears!"

A yelp escaped from the hero again when she was ambushed by the oni princess. But she quickly followed with a smile, she was excited to see Yukari again,

"Y-Yukari, hel-- l-a-aahh!" She was being dragged along again, just like before. Honestly, she kinda missed Yukari's positive energy, even if it was hard to keep pace with her walking,

"U-Uh sure I mean... I did have a few questions, sure, uhh... How are you here, I thought your magic mirror broke?"

"Well funny thing." She answered as they passed through a hall. "The mirror did break, it was supposed to be a one use magical artifact after all." She then stopped and turned to Marina with a grin. "But lest you forget my dear Marina...I am a master magician!" She waved her hand across the air to create sparkles that fell over the girl. They didn't hurt, if anything they just tickled her a little.

"I really wanted to see you again as it has been a while, so I spent my days trying my best to repair the mirror for one last use. I dare say I may have made history in making the mirror of dreams reconnect to you. They should write a book about me..." One more giggle, she was quite proud of her work. "Still, it was worth it to make this reunion a reality, wouldn't you say?"

Marina nodded along as she listened to Yukari's escapades as suddenly sparkles fell on her, giggling as the ticklish feeling hit her. 

It was that comment though, that Yukari wanted to see Marina that made her heart jump. She hadn't noticed her face reddening a tad as she tried to focus, but some feeling in her stomach started bothering her... Nothing she's really felt before.

"I-I uhh yea-ah. I... I... think it was a great idea. I m-mis--" She cut herself off, "I wanted to see you again, t-too."

"Right? I'm just full of great ideas!" She smiled wide at Marina with a toothy grin. "...that being said." The bright expression slowly turned into a serious one. "As much as I enjoy our time together, I'm afraid I didn't just bring you here only for pleasure. I feel there are some things you need to know going forward."

She turned and lead Marina down the hallway. "I've only heard very troubling rumors about Ouka, it's probably not going to get any better either. That's why I want you to learn a few things about Izuna's history. Are you game?"

Marina's excitement was apparent after the big grin came from Yukari. She laughed a little bit, before her face serious'd up after Yukari's. She nodded. 

"I... I understand." Marina nodded. Learning more about Izuna. Well, she had really only learned what she has from Ren and the festival Yukari showed her before. 

"I gotcha," She replied to the question. "I actually... have my own questions but, I can wait."

Yukari lead the hero along the hallway as they passed by a koi pond near an open garden. She took a glance to Marina as they wandered along. "This shrine may be a dream, but it's heavily based off of one of the most well versed shines in Izuna: Yamato Temple. The history behind these walls is staggeringly large, one could spend years here."

She smiled. "And while I'd love to spend time with you I'm afraid we'll have to cut to the crash course. But tell me...how much did Ayane and Ren tell you about Ouka exactly? About our homeland and our connection to all of this?"

"Yamato..." Marina repeated the word to herself... Thinking about what it means in her world, but shaking it off.

"I uh... have most of my information from a kitsune. I don't really know anything except that Ayane is after vengeance." She sighed, then remembering the instance with the fortune teller.

"And I guess... I'm assuming something regarding a nine-tailed fox?"

"...oh!" Well that surprised the princess. She didn't expect to hear that she learned her information from a kitsune of all people. Someone like that isn't even supposed to exist in fact. It got Yukari deep in thought as she suddenly stopped in place. "A kitsune you say...that is interesting..." She mumbled under her breath.

"Well, you've caught me off guard. I thought Ayane would be very tight lipped about our heritage, but now you're telling me a fox taught you all you know? Fascinating...I would very much like to meet her." Yukari turn turned back to Marina with another smile. "It looks like you've got an advantage on the upcoming test, Marina. Good, this might be easier than I thought."

Yukari continued her path toward two doors. She stopped once again and turned to Marina. "In that case I'll let you choose what you want to know first. The history of the Kusanagi and Kisaragi's war against the Oni, or the Nine-Tailed Fox. Which will it be?"

"T-Test, huh?" It was probably a joke, but Marina was gonna be ready to take mental notes. She had to think about what to hear first. 

"Uh... tell me about the Nine-Tailed Fox, I think that'd help me... understand the war better. I think."

"Your wish is my command." She (playfully) spoke out as she turned to the door on the left and opened it wide. The oni princess lead into a room with a very sizable golden mural of a nine-tailed fox. Each tail seemed to have specific carvings in them as they spread throughout the art piece, and the body itself centered perfectly with a full moon behind her.

Whoever made this must have spent a considerably amount of time on it, and it looked perfectly preserved on top of that. Though that last part probably didn't matter too much as this was a dream. "The temple back home has this exact mural there, as a reminder of the goddess we feared in the past. She was known as the Nine-Tailed Fox, a being of immense power. Each tail is said to be a smaller aspect of herself, a sum of a whole if you will."

She turned to Marina with a raised finger, magical energy seemed to flow to said pointer finger. "Her true name is one that should never be repeated. To do so would give her recognition, and recognition gives her strength. That is why we call her Nine-Tails. That being the case I'm afraid I can't tell you her true name."

Marina gazed in the room, as she took note of the beautiful mural in the room. As she approached, she took note of all the tails, thinking... She didn't really have any idea as to what any of them mean, but it seemed like Marina was already piecing together.

"Each tail... is a smaller aspect..." Marina started pacing, until focusing back to Yukari, a warning of the being's name. How words have power, and it's true name makes it strong. "That's... unfortunately ominous," She simply answered. "But, it's alright, Nine-Tails will work, I've already got ideas flowing."

The Nine Tails of one whole. When Circe brought it up before... it couldn't have been a coincidence.

"I guess... it checks out kind of, from what I understand. In my world, several cultures have their own versions of Nine-Tailed foxes. Actually, I think I guessed a lot of this on my own once... things started coming together."

"Hmm...you'll have to tell me about it sometime." She watched the cutie with great interest. "But yes. Nine-Tails is a being that was well respected and feared. Even children know of her, parents would often tell their children her story to get them to go to sleep sooner." She turned back to the mural.

"In fact my mothe..." She paused for a moment as she cleared her voice in hesitation. A memory came to mind that made Yukari a little sad. Thankfully her head was turned away from Marina, so she couldn't see her expression. "...as the princess of Kisaragi, I was made aware of the truth behind her name since birth. Ayane and Ren are in the same boat. That is because our families have sacred treasures that can help subdue the power of Nine-Tails."

Marina stepped forward as Yukari talked. "I...'m not from a place with legends like that. At least, not really, anymore..." She shook her head as she thought about the amount of gods and goddesses that 'existed' in various cultures, and how real they actually were in her world, compared to this... She was moderately aware of Ilrios and Hess but... now this Nine-Tails too...

Yukari then talked about the destiny of her as well as Ayane and Ren, treasures to help stop Nine-Tails if it ever went rampant. "I see..." She didn't really have a solid response to this.

"Sorry, I'mm... it's a lot to take in is all." And she sat down, taking a few deep breaths. Suddenly this whole thing about Ouka had gotten way deeper...

"?" She broke out of her phase when she noticed Marina had taken a step back to process the situation. "Aaah...I'm sorry." The oni walked up to Marina and kneeled to her. "I realized that there's a lot to take in, believe me it wasn't an easy decision to tell you all of this considering all the other responsibilities you have on your plate. To be honest I had hoped to rejoin Ayane and Ren so we could swiftly take care of the problem before it escalates."

Out came another sigh. "But I've come to a realization that we are far past that point, perhaps we never had an opportunity to stop it from coming this far in the first place. That's why I had to tell you all this. The worst part is we're only half way done." Yukari lifted her hand to Marina's head and rubbed it by her hair to ease her a little. "But don't worry, Marina. I'll be at your side ready to repay you, I promise. So just bear with me for a little longer. Please."

Marina nodded as Yukari spoke. "It's alright I... would rather I know now." She smiled, looking up to the princess, "I'm gonna process it a little slowly... but I'll be fine."

Admittedly, the head ruffling felt different when Yukari did it. She got herself off the ground. Stretching herself, she took a big inhale and exhale. 

"I'd say it's better we work together... Stronger together than apart as they say." Finally, a sigh, "I think... I'm ready for the second half."

"Good to hear." She smiled. "That drive is exactly why I like you, hero." With one last giggle she lead along back to the hallway. "Then onto the second half we go." She reached the door and opened it. If Marina would follow she would find another mural, but this one was quite different.

Half of It showed a male oni with nine-tails and an evil aura. There was a darkened sky with lightning behind him and an army of monsters below. The other half was a brighter sky and a shining sun behind a samurai with a unique looking blade and a priestess behind him with a mirror in hand. It looked like an all out war. "Nanbu has always had a bloody history with the oni, but for the most part the country stayed advantageous. The oni never had a strong leader...until he appeared." She pointed to the evil auraed oni. "He is called Kazuya Hibiki. He unified the oni and nearly brought ruin to the land."

Marina followed, thankfully avoiding looking at the oni princess with a light blush. Once again, it was a different feeling when Yukari said she liked her...

Focus, Marina, good lord... 

She examined the murals in awe. Despite the context behind them they were once again, beautiful paintings. Of course, that conflict being an nearly-endless war with the oni... 

"Kazuya Hibiki..." she repeated the name. "I see, I see..." and she nodded as she pondered...

"If you look closely you'll notice Kazuya has the nine-tails of the goddess behind him, that is because he found a way to absorb her power into his own body. He wasn't that much stronger than a normal oni before that point in fact. But the goddess' power greatly amplified his own, to the point where he united the entire clan effortlessly and waged war on humanity."

She turned to the right side. "But the Kusanagi and Kisaragi clans wouldn't allow him to continue doing what he wanted, they forged weapons with the power of the goddess to combat him. The Sword of Sacred Flames: Kusanagi Blade. The Mirror of Divine Reflections: Mirror of Kisaragi. Through the power of both weapons Kazuya was defeated and sealed within the mirror, along with Nine-Tails own power."

"I see..." She took note of the nine tails, it would make sense that it was divine intervention that helped Kazuya make his claim and start a war... She's seen things about stuff like that before, and even to a degree, her appearance could be treated as such too...

She nodded as she listened, the two families making godlike weapons to beat him.

"That makes sense, yeah... But thinking about that.," it wasn't with her, but for once Myrithali went through her head, "Would my holy sword, made to destroy monsters, also be effective?"

"Most likely not." Yukari spoke. "Ever heard of the term like attracts like? The Kusanagi Blade was made from Nine-Tails power, so it could easily match the might Kazuya had. Not that other strong weapons probably couldn't do damage, but as far as I know the blade is the only way to defeat the power of Nine-Tails." She paused to took a breath.

"But despite Kazuya's defeat his right hand woman remained, and yes it is Ouka. She survived throughout the generations to get revenge on the clans, and release Kazuya as well." She walked along the mural. "Her plan went off without a hitch. Both of the families were destroyed, she has the mirror, and now she's in Vaia causing trouble. I'm not sure what she's doing here though, maybe she can't unseal the mirror entirely on her own..."

"Right, right... That makes sense," she nodded, and pondered. Even when being an ultra-powerful monster slayer it still had its things it wouldn't work with... aside from herself, but that's a thought for later. 

"Hmm..." she thought about Ouka's survival until recent events. And the like of how it brought her and by proxy all these Nanbu royalty to Xensat. A thought passed through her.

"Correct me if my assumption is wrong but, did you arrive here before or after them?" She asked, looking more seriously at the oni princess. "In my head at least, it'd make sense she'd need someone powerful if she needs help unsealing the mirror. Why not the master magician princess of the Kisaragi?"

"Ah, well..." Yukari opened her mouth to respond, but closed it. "...I was too smart for her." She smiled. "I managed to evade her pursuit. She went after me like an evil dragon went after a princess, she even placed a curse on me like those fairy tales you may have read~" She shook her hands all spooky like. "Ooooooh~"

She giggled. "Hm...I am joking, but it's not incorrect. I just want to...look past the pain she caused me." She hid her emotions behind a smile. "But even with my powers I don't think it's enough to unseal the mirror. Maybe there's a powerful magical source in Xensat she's trying to tap into."

Marina lightly laughed at the little showing Yukari made with her hands. However her smiled faded when hearing her looking past her pain. She rubbed Yukari's shoulder in response, but continued listening. 

She thought about it, but really Marina only knew other people who were immensely strong, but nothing like a full-on source. Unless loading up on strong individuals would be enough. She sighed,

"Hopefully if I find something, we find it before Ouka does. I'm... not much help on this front, all I know is..." she paused, as those thoughts of the campaign went through her head. She was able to shrug it off,

"S-Sorry, but yeah... hopefully, whenever we find you we can figure something out."

"I know you will, Marina." She smiled at the shoulder rub. "You have Ayane and Ren too, and I won't be too far behind. I promise. When I reunite with all of you we can start making plans to beat Ouka at her own game." After a moment, she looked back at the mural.

"Well, that's more or less everything you need to know. Ouka has the mirror now and the Kusanagi Blade has gone missing. I believe Ayane should have been told where it was, every emperor knows the location of the blade. Perhaps you should ask her the next time you have a moment."

Marina smiled back, she was sure if they teamed up, defeating Ouka would be almost child's play. She was grateful Yukari had so much faith in her. It was different...

If that was it, Marina got a paranoid itch in the back of her head. She didn't want to go... not yet...

Maybe... Maybe...

"Yeah, I-I'll do that... But uhm... Yukari, I want to ask you something, but... how much longer do you think we have? I'd like to ask in a... b-better spot... if that's alright. If not I-I can do it now..."

"Hm?" Yukari watched Marina, curious about what she meant by that. "How much time do we have? Well, the mirror was shattered so...perhaps a few more minutes before it stops?" She tilted her head. "Give or take. Why do you ask?"

"A few more minutes... okay..." She took a deep breath. "When we first met, I-I had this feeling..." her face began to turn red. "I... I don't know how t-to des-scribe it's... mm..." Focus focus, please... "I-I... h-howww do I put it. Y-Yukari, w-will..."

Marina looked her dead in the eye, and paid her back from the festival. Even if only a few seconds, their lips locked. Something to drive that confidence in herself. She took a few steps back. 

"When I finally meet you, will you go out with me? To dinner, o-or anything you'd l-like...?" And now her face was a giant tomato.

Oh god, please say yes... Oh, I'm so embarrassed now, ohgodohgodohgod!!!

Yukari waited for Marina's question, quite patiently. But she never expected what came next...a kiss. Returned from the festival. "!" She didn't stop Marina, in fact she accepted it and returned the kiss a little. But Marina pulled back before it could go any further. "..." She couldn't hide the blush on her face, it was quite large in fact.

But after a moment she cleared her voice and smiled...but it wasn't a natural smile. It was one of mischief. "Ooh...oh my sweet little hero~ Did I make that much of an impression on you?" She showed a sharp toothy grin. "Look at you, trying to seduce an oni. A creature of chaos...you did just get a history lesson on how terrible they can be, remember?"

"I-I..." Oh no I didn't plan this far ahead she's asking more questions. Focus focus focuuuuus!! "I... I don't care if you're an oni. That shouldn't matter, whether you're an oni, human, monster, half-breed... You..."

She had to take a moment, the very quick, panicky breathing made how she was feeling apparent, "I... had a t-think, but I-I've... never felt like how you make me feel before. I felt... more happy, more confident, like... me being here wasn't a mistake..." She got a light smile, the red finally toning down on her face.

Yukari took a moment to listen to Marina deeply, she could tell she was trying, very hard in fact. Yukari had been trying to come to terms with what she really is: An Oni. Like she said she was a creature of chaos, despite being raised as a human. She always had a mischievous side to her, and after her 18th birthday came she realized why that was. She was destined for this life.

The life of Ouka's daughter.

That being said, she couldn't help but feel for Marina. She hadn't connected with someone for so long, and here someone was trying to help her reconnect. "...." She stepped up and rose her hand to Marina's head. She pat her once more with a giggle. "You really are cute, Marina." She lowered her hand. "Do you really mean that? It doesn't matter if I'm human or an oni?"

Marina was admittedly intimidated by the silence as Yukari thought. The red in her face built back up, but finally, the oni girl approached her, and placed a hand on her cheek.

Do you really mean that?

"I-I do," she answered. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, "I'll say it a hundred more times if I need to." And she gave a bigger, more confident smile to the oni.

Yukari couldn't help but giggle at Marina. She was very confident indeed, perfect qualities for a hero. Perhaps she may even...even accept Yukari's bloodline. She felt bad she teased her so much during the festival, but the truth was Yukari did like Marina. So with that in mind...

"...very well." She spoke with her hands on her hips. "I will allow you a golden opportunity to sweep me off my feet during our first real date. If you impress me you may even be upgraded from Dream Partner to the next level." Another toothy grin. "What do you say, Marina?"

Marina's face went from a mixed timid, confident one to one that became joy. Even then, the blushing went even deeper and Marina couldn't contain her feelings.

"Yes! Yes that's perfect!" She exclaimed as she practically jumped to hug the oni princess. Suddenly making sounds that could be described as laugh-crying.

"I-I promise I won't llll-let you down! I'm gonna s-sweep you off your feet and knock your socks off!"

"Whoa!" She took the hug, it was quite easy to hug the petite oni too, especially considering she was caught off guard. She could tell Marina was happy, in fact this was the happiest she had ever seen her. It was kind of a shock. Yukari couldn't help but giggle herself, Marina was quite warm and soft and her laughter was almost contagious. Even if this was a dream whatever happened in it still felt real enough, that was the power of the mirror she fixed.

But after a momentary embrace Yukari slipped out of Marina's arms and jumped back. "That's enough for now, hero. Save some moxie for the actual date, there isn't a lot of time here." She grinned. "I could have had you run three laps around the temple to prove your worth, but we only have about a minute left and the temple is absurdly large."

As the oni back away Marina worked to recompose herself. She gave a smile, and the red finally dissipated from her face, back to her usual, normal tone. 

"O-Of course, sorry I was... very excited." She timidly responded. And with only a minute left, she only had one thing left, "W-Wait, do you know where you are yet? So we at least have an idea on where to look for you?

"Oh well..." As she asked that question the scene started going white. There wasn't much time for foreplay sadly. "Ooooh, I wanted to show you the onsen too...oh well~" She grinned while she teased the hero. "I think I'll see you soon. But I believe I'm a route heading toward Hwei-" But suddenly the oni's voice was silenced as soon as she started getting taken by the white void, as Marina slowly left the dream. The last thing she could see was a sharp nailed hand waving toward Marina, before that vanished too.

O-Onsen? Marina's blush returned, but there wasn't time to be embarrassed... the void surrounded them, as Yukari said... Hwei? Hwein? She'd be in Hwein!

As the visual of Yukari disappeared, and her hand waved, Marina was quick to try and take it, even if she wasn't fast enough to catch it.

Hopefully, she'd still hear, "I'll find you again Yukari, I promise!"

And before Marina knew, she was back in her makeshift bed in her tent. Wiping some hair out of her face, she felt the sweat that developed at some point in the night. She clasped her hands together and laid back down.

"Yukari Kisaragi..." she muttered to herself, as she went back to sleep, a full smile on her face. 

 

Edited by Silver Gallade

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It was a quiet night at camp; there hadn't been any enemy patrols for some time, and things felt as safe as they could marching on the enemy. This being the case, he was making the most of the rarely-found opportunity to clear his head, taking a short walk through the forest. Compounded with the ongoing battles, his spell preparation and notetaking for the report he'd eventually have to give back in Hwein, he'd had few idle moments to hear himself think. 

Hmm... it's getting warm. Might be time to go without the cloak for a while...

The faint sound of what might have been a blade against wood interrupted his thoughts. Following the noise, quietly, he tracked it to its source; there, in a small clearing, a figure stood alone, sword and shield in hand, training intently. Now was as good an opportunity as any. "...Good evening, 'Hero'. Is your training finding you well?"

 

Marina intensely swung her blade, as she tried to make herself used to the shield on her arm. Her movements had a grace to them, even if choppy, most likely from her lack of practice with the shield. 

Her strikes were on a poor tree in the clearing. While she needed this training, it helped as a destressor.

Through her strikes and yells, she heard the approaching individual, but paid it no mind until they were in range. 

It was Seilan, the captain from Hwein. Marina's final strike on the tree ended with a pause, mere centimeters from the tree. As she took a deep breath. She sheathed her blade and turned to the captain, the butterfly on the shield almost glittering thanks to the moonlight.

"Good evening, Seilan. Training is going... alright," she answered with a soft chuckle, "Fighting with a shield is not easy. How is your night going?"

 

"It's going well enough, I think, thank you. I, ah... well, I don't really know what using a shield's like, but I can't imagine it's easy to change how you fight so drastically." ...Hmm. She really does seem... normal, for lack of a better word. His eyes caught a glimmer off the shield; he couldn't exactly say he knew much about shields, but he'd spent enough time in his family's workshop to tell it was well crafted.

He slipped a hand idly into a cloak pocket, hand unconsciously coming to rest on a silver handle. "...Actually, there were some things I wanted to ask you. Do you mind if I interrupt your training for a little while?" 

 

"It's alright, it's just heavy. Just pushing myself to get stronger, y'know." She smiled lightly, but quickly morphed into a neutral frown,

"Ask things?" What things? That was actually very obvious to Marina, but she shook her head. "Yeah sure, just one second." She replied as she went over to a bench she grabbed from the camping supplies. No one took it, so she grabbed it for her makeshift training area, to keep her jacket off the ground. She set the shield down on the bench and unclipped her belt.

Turning around, she gave Seilan her undivided attention. "Ask away."

 

Seeing her set her equipment down, he drew his hand back out of his pocket, into plain view. It kept catching him off guard how consistently she defied his expectations; despite that, though, he still couldn't just blindly accept that was how she was.

"Right... Well, I want you to tell me why you're... well, why you're not still fighting for Coteon. When I left Hwein, everyone, even the Church's soldiers, thought you were still on their side. What changed? Something has to have changed."

 

Marina had to think about it a moment. It was... a lot. Even with what she was told by Thesephine, the support she's gotten from almost everyone...

"Okay... If it's alright, give me, just a moment to gather my thoughts. I..."  Don't want to talk about it... A sigh, "It's a lot. Even now."

She turned around for a few moments, clearly audible inhales and exhales as Marina tried to get herself calm enough to not break down like she has before, with almost every other person she's told. It'd be better to... not freak out in front of who was still basically a stranger.

"In my world, ninety percent of the time monsters are treated as the bad guys in anything, in a world where we don't have 'real monsters'," her making the quotations with her fingers as she says 'real monsters', "Almost from the day I arrived here, I was trained to fight, and was given the impression that monsters were uncontrollable freaks..." She started pacing as she talked.

"Four months later, I'm left with a group of knights to go into Vaia to fight the Demon King. Despite everything, I wanted to seek a better compromise than for us to just kill them all. And of course, the Church soldiers didn't see eye-to-eye with me. The fact I even walked into and fought that first town..." Oh god, not now... The memories started slowly pooling back... "I still think about it. I tried to stop the knights, but... their paths were set, and their commander just... ignored me, or pushed me to the side, telling me to either get a grip, or just 'look pretty' to raise morale..." Her fingers began fiddling with each other... There was some amount of time where she was clearly taking deep breaths again,

"I was too scared to fight back, to do anything... And I think too much about it, at all times. If not for Nessraya, I might not even be standing here, given a chance to think about it." She finally paused in the spot she was in.

"I hate that I let this all happen. But I can't stop going, there's too much I need to fix. No matter how much people love or hate me, the best I can do is keep pushing, and making myself better. It's why," she pointed at the shield, "I removed the Coteon Eagle from that shield. I want to actually make change for the better. I don't want to be the Hero of Coteon... And want to change it to something different, even if it's just The Hero."

She fully turned to Seilan, giving a sniffle and wiping a loose tear from her face, "S-Sorry, you... probably didn't want all of that."

 

"That's..." The overwhelming emotion in her response... gave him pause. It had already been obvious that she was not the Church's valiant warrior from her presence here, what she said during meetings, simply how meek she had been - but the pieces hadn't come together until now, it hadn't made sense, plain and simple. If what she said was true, then like Ariana, she too had been manipulated by the Church for its own misdeeds. "...No, there's no issue. I wanted to hear your answer, not one spoken for you by another."

The girl that his home's occupants had spoken of like an idol was yet another unwitting victim; and so here she stood, fighting to undo her crimes. It seemed almost obvious, in retrospect. And if she was anything like Ariana - and of course she was - she, too, thought her past actions unforgivable. "They made you part of an act you now know was wrong... surely you can't lay the entirety of that blame upon yourself."

He sighed, at once relieved to finally have an answer, and a little guilty for not having seen the signals earlier. "...I'm certain your efforts will bear fruit. You're certainly no longer the Hero of Coteon, if the Church's attacks are anything to learn from."

 

Marina's eyes shut, a large sigh, one with a relieving feeling. Honestly, she was ready for the man to question her. How quick she was to tell him everything she was feeling... But he didn't. It seemed, he gave some comfort. 

"..." She thought about what to say. It was hard thinking of a response, that wasn't something she's already said to someone else, but... "I appreciate the sentiment, about not having to shoulder all the blame." She gave a light smile, "Lavinia, or Nessraya would've and had told me the same thing."

Walking back over to the bench, she picked up her shield again, "Even if the smallest of actions, I'm doing what I can to show my attempts to change," and she handed it to Seilan, "In my world, the butterfly is a sign of evolution, or of change. It's a fitting creature for something I'm trying to do, I think."

 

"A symbol of change... It certainly represents your cause well." He looked over the shield in his hands. Yet... A butterfly's life, though marked with change, is brief, momentary... Does she intend to throw her life away, as Ariana does? If not, then all is well, but... No, there are plenty who wish that harm not come to her. Even the Demon King... Her bow earlier had sent a message as clear as day. There weren't many who meant to keep Ariana's recklessness in check, but it seemed many in Vaia were rather protective of the one before him.

He extended an arm to pass the shield back to her. She was certainly idealistic, but... given how important she had become, they were more than idle wishes. "Thank you for answering my question... it has not been easy for you, that much is apparent. Let us continue to fight together, then, H... no, Marina."

 

Marina's nerves continued to calm in the man's presence, to the point where she no longer really felt on edge. Such a shift from the day they met still felt... odd, but she liked that feeling. As people grew to understand her, it felt good that her positive attitude stopped being a front to hide her pain, but being genuine optimism.

She took the shield back and had admittedly been taken aback. To not have the title used to address her, added a layer of relief to her.

Setting the shield back on her off-hand, her left hand extended out in a handshake, "Unfortunately, things won't get easier, but at least I can shirk some of the weight off, since I have such a reliable group helping me. Truly, thank you, Seilan, for hearing me out... You're a kind gentleman,"

 

He shuffled a little, awkwardly. It was a lot, to be thanked in such a manner after he'd started the conversation with admittedly less-than-benevolent intent. After a moment, he extended his own hand, returning the handshake. "...You don't have to think so highly of it. As I said before, I asked out of my own curiosity, after all."

He shook her hand firmly, then withdrew. "I have to admit, that was weighing quite heavily on my mind... well, nothing to worry about now. I wish you luck with your training; I won't interrupt you any longer. Besides, I think the General or Lavinia may have some qualms with a new face having a conversation with you in the woods at night... and a human, at that." He let out a short laugh; he was joking, but as he said it he realized he wasn't sure whether or not it was entirely untrue.

 

"Well, I'm glad I could lift that weight from you. It honestly helped me lift some too." She lightly laughed. It was good to easily go from bitterly neutral to decently friendly. "I don't hold any of it against you, don't worry. I honestly expected you to be more skeptical," She gave a small, joking smirk.

Then he offered to leave her back to her training, seemingly somewhat fearing the wrath of Nessraya or Lavinia. It was funny. She replied with another small chuckle. "I'm sure you'll be fine. If anything, I think Lavinia was more excited than I was about a human for me to acquaint with when we met you," She made a light snort, "Not that it doesn't make me feel better now."

 

He was left alone with his thoughts as he began to return to camp, starting to hear the sounds of her training resume in the distance. So... she really had nothing to do with what's happening at home. Just a figurehead, a victim of circumstance... Coteon's soldiers in Hwein probably still haven't gotten the news. The things they do in her name... she knows, of course. There's nothing she can do to stop that occupation till we march there.

As he walked back to his tent, his shoulders felt lighter; but the hilt in his cloak felt heavier than usual.

Checking In

Spoiler

A few hours had passed since Coteon's flying knights had suddenly appeared. It seemed that squad had been the extent of the attackers for; either Coteon had given up on the attack, or they simply didn't have anyone more to spare to tarry their advance. It was tedious traveling they were doing, now; there was far from enough room in that merchant's cart for everyone to ride, leaving many - including himself - walking along the roadside. It was a shame, then, that there wasn't really anyone around to pass the time with at the moment, discuss magic or some such... well, perhaps not. He caught sight of Lucille, walking alone, some distance from the others. Fair enough; it was understandable enough that not many had warmed to her yet, given the circumstances of her joining the group. 

He approached her, doing his best to seem casual. Last time he'd approached her the circumstances had been less friendly, but they were allies now; Ariana had made that clear, and he had to be mindful of that. "Hello, Lucille. Ah, you probably haven't caught my name... I'm Seilan. I wanted to see how you were adjusting to things here...  it can be a fair amount to get used to, and I thought it might be easier for you to speak to... well, not a monster, I suppose."

 

Lucille walked a distance behind the group, she kept her head down trying make herself smaller than she already was. Once again she was an outsider, someone to not be trusted lightly. Admittedly, Lucille was used to it by now; Coteon kept her on a very tight leash and her superior officers only trusted that she would finish her tasks correctly. She was always watched with the scrutiny of a lion selecting its next meal. But this time, she was maybe even more of an outsider, marching alongside Vaian forces, as a human from Coteon. She imagined it wouldn't take long for the others to make their displeasure known...

Lucille jumped slightly when she heard her name, and whipped her head towards the voice, "Oh... uh, I didn't hear you walk over." When did he walk over, was I spacing out that much? It was the same man who had the sparking blade, and one of the three who had been present at her interrogation turned induction into the group. "I... hadn't caught your name before now, Seilan. I'm... not the best with remembering names sometimes." Lucille couldn't help but be a little on guard, instinctively pulling her gloved arm behind her. "I... it's not really anything different from being with Coteon... I'll... be fine..."

 

He'd managed to startle her anyways... unavoidable, it seemed. Not that he'd expected her to not be skittish already; if she wasn't, that would've been concerning, even. Best to let her start to get comfortable at her own pace. "Ah... is that so. Well, I should hope it's not as it was in Coteon, if they were forcing you to fight. The people here may not all rally under the same cause, but I don't believe anyone here is doing it against their own will." 

He cocked his head slightly, taking notice of her defensive reaction, debating whether or not to comment on it. No, perhaps not... badgering her will do no good, she's already scared enough as it is. Something she might be comfortable with would be best... "For what it's worth, I'm sorry to hear about your family... You must care for them a great deal, if the Church is using them against you in such a manner."

 

"I... didn't mean to insinuate that people here were fighting against their will. In fact, I'd be really surprised if they were." They were fighting for their survival after all. Between this inner turmoil, and Coteon's numerous infractions, it should have made it all too easy for the Vaians to come together. "It's... more like I'm used to being on the outside like this, not exactly trusted. Not that... I warrant trust from anyone here, yet."

Lucille felt like she should have expected that the conversation would eventually turn towards her family. They were her stated reason for nearly killing several of the Vaian troops. "They're... all I have left. They're the only reason I'm..." Lucille quickly trailed off, he didn't need to know that just yet. None of them did. "The Church... according to my mother has always been this way. They're willing to do anything and everything to get what they want, to further their ends." Her voice rising, "People are nothing but pawns when it comes to the will of Ilrios." A quick spark of electrical energy ran up Lucille's uncovered arm as she spoke. "Oh, uh... That, uh... happens sometimes." 

 

"It's true that most here don't trust you, and won't for some time. Leave it to a mercenary to more readily accept another person watching their back, I suppose." Not that he didn't share the rest of the group's distaste for the Church, of course; but it was more of a measured feeling than the rage some held.

He'd blinked, nearly missing the spark of electricity, but her reaction had presumably the opposite effect as intended, drawing his attention back to it. "D-Does it? That's... well, it doesn't seem to have affected you for the worse, so..." It was certainly strange, though... and it hadn't escaped him that it came alongside her emotions flaring up. What could cause that...? Is that just ambient magical energy, or is she unable to control her own strength? Is that happening under that glove, as well? 

"...it's no issue, I'm sure. Still, if it's affecting you somehow, let someone know. People here are more than pieces on a board."

 

She put both of her hands up, "Oh no, it's really nothing to worry about. That's... something that's always happened to me. Sometimes I just... use magic without really thinking about it." Lucille's face flushed as she realized that her explanation wasn't really making it sound like nothing to worry about. "It's never anything that can hurt anyone, m-my magic isn't strong enough for that..." Lucille, have you suddenly forgot how to talk to someone? 

Lucille paused to gather her words and took a deep breath, "...It's not something to be concerned about, really. A number of people have tried to figure out why that happens, and... they all just chalk it up to a rare gift, or something. But... thanks for the concern, really." Lucille relaxed her guard slightly. Seilan was matter of fact, but she could tell that he was genuine. 

 

The explanation had started out a bit haphazardly, leaving him a little worried, but her clarifications were enough for him to relent... for now, at least. If there was something she was choosing not to let on, she wouldn't be sharing it today. "I... understand, I think. Well, if anyone were to know if something was wrong, it'd be you. I'm sure you'll say something if need be."

He hesitated for a moment, searching for a way to change the subject a little. Lucille was fairly calm, but things had taken a bit of an awkward turn; certainly a far cry from lifting her spirits some, as he'd hoped. I don't mind getting to know more about her, but... that probably wasn't a good topic to discuss. It hangs over her enough as it does, she hardly needs me asking about things as well. Something else, something else...

Perhaps... 'Villkiss', she'd called it? "Oh, and... I'm glad your mount's alright. This might sound odd, but... what's it like? Flying, I mean... I've always been a little curious."

 

Seilan changed the subject once more. By now Lucille understood that he was picking up on her unease... not that she was doing a good job of masking it in the first place. "I got lucky there, Villkiss could have been seriously hurt." The Hero had made an instant judgment call, but shooting at Villkiss and not her left a bad impression. She shook the thought from her head before it could upset her more. 

"Flying's... It's kind of like discovering a whole new world. It's really scary at first, but then you get to see, and feel so much that you might not ever get to experience otherwise." A smile crept across her face, "It's... wonderful. I'm lucky that my dad taught me how. My only regret is that I have to use it like this. It's like magic in that respect to me, both wonderful things used in unfortunate ways." This was certainly a lot easier to explain. So much so that she hadn't even realized that she'd mentioned her father. 

Lucille looked over at Seilan, "Speaking of curious... That sword of yours from before. That was magic, wasn't it? I've never seen anything like it, but I could tell." 

 

Ah, she was smiling now. It might've been the first time he'd seen her do so; the events of earlier seemed to be little more than a rushed blur. "A new world... One of those things you'd need to experience firsthand to really understand, then. And I know what you mean about the way they're used, especially magic. It could be so much more, do so much good, were it not used to fight."

He shuffled a little, awkwardly, realizing that he was about to talk about his sword directly after saying... well, what he had. "...Well, that hasn't stopped me trying new things in battle, too, though." He pulled the hilt from his pocket, laying it in the palm of an open hand. "It's magical, yes. The runes inscribed are what lets it take its form. I came up with it some time ago, back when I had less skill with magic... that's putting it lightly. I was hardly able to use a staff, then, let alone a tome, and even now thunder magic is all I'm able to cast." He shrugged a little, indifferently, as if to show his acceptance of things.

 

Lucille listened intently as Seilan explained the sword. It was an unusual application of magic, to be sure, and incredibly limited. But the fact that it worked at all was intriguing. "Hmm... so if the runes are what lets it take form, then it's your own magic that give it shape. So then... could someone else's magic be used to form the blade? Like say, wind or water magic?" The application might be limited, but it was so unusual and unexpected that it would be rather potent in the hands of someone with a powerful variety of magic. 

"So... you're a Thunder Magic specialist, basically?" It was fairly rare for an Anima mage to not be able to use other elements. Sure, there were those that picked an element to focus on the most, but that rarely messed with their ability to branch into other elements if they so chose. She wanted to ask a bit more, but figured it was rude to ask something so personal. Especially when she knew that she wouldn't answer it.  "...I really think you should be proud of that sword. It's limited in application... now, but that's something that could be made into something incredible."

 

Unexpectedly, she'd taken quite well to his explanation. He'd intended to keep it short; most he'd spoken of it to before had been thoroughly disinterested. "I... hadn't really considered that. You're the first to ask something like that, actually. Typically the response is along the lines of 'Well, but that's far less effective than a tome!'... I think it could work, though. And a blade of wind or water would cut quite nicely, I imagine." 

He spun the hilt in his hand, idly, looking it over. "To say I'm a specialist might be giving me a bit much credit, but it's not wrong, per se. And... thank you. That's very kind of you to say." He felt a bit sheepish at the praise, glancing aside for a moment. She was being surprisingly kind, for the situation she found herself in. "Your magic was quite impressive, too... you're certainly a quick hand at casting." He recalled not realizing she'd even cast until the thunder was in the air...

 

"Well... it is less effective than a tome, but..." She placed a finger on her cheek, "For starters, I didn't see or feel you cast anything when the blade lit up. It was like it just activated when you touched the hilt. The speed of that is way more useful than a tome in some situations, like if you're up close." Though, admittedly, just having a regular knife achieved effectively the same thing, and didn't require his magic to be useful. Still, if he'd made it back when he was less experienced, he could very likely refine it.

Her musing over Seilan's blade was brought to a halt by his return compliment. "Haha... That's... related to the spark from earlier. Dad explained it as me doing the casting subconsciously, somehow. The result is that I can cast magic way faster than normal. I'm not really strong enough to make really good use of it though..." Lucille was surprised with how easy it was to talk to Seilan. He was quite the listener, and on a bit of a closer inspection, fairly c- Lucille quickly buried that last thought. "Oh... I think we're getting close."

 

"That's true, delays can be disastrous. It saves me having to be skilled with an actual sword, as well... never could keep up in drills. Subconscious casting, though... that certainly falls under 'rare talent'. And I would say that's quite the strength in and of itself, plenty to match any magical strength you may be lacking. One of the most important things about a flying fighter is their speed, right?" Casting subconsciously... I wonder if that means she loses some finer control over her spells. That would mean she's casting without deciding each aspect of the spell... 

"O-oh, are we?" Their travel had faded into the background as he grew more focused on the conversation. It seemed she'd been a bit more aware than he had... "Looks like we are. They'll be holding a strategy meeting soon." He sighed, thinking about it. "Always want me there, but then I'm always the odd one out..." Ah, he'd said that aloud... perhaps he was distracted, or something.

"I should probably get going... It was nice talking to you, Lucille. Feel free to come find me anytime if you need someone to talk to, alright? If you'd like, that is."

 

Lucille paused a second on his griping about the strategy meeting. He certainly seemed more of a studious type, so perhaps strategy came naturally to him. But given that this was a Vaian outfit, a human being expected at the strategy meeting seemed odd. It was at that moment that Lucille realized that, aside from his sword, Lucille hadn't asked a single thing about Seilan. But that would have to wait, their destination was coming into view.

"Thank you for coming to check on me, Seilan. It... means a lot more than you know." She was trying to remember the last time she had a genuine conversation with someone that wasn't either giving her orders, or actually had a degree of trust. It had to been almost two years now. "I will, provided we get through this. I enjoyed talking with you." She gave as bright a smile as one could before being thrust into battle. Maybe this wouldn't be more of the same, after all. 

 

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Assessment

Spoiler

That was... most of the collateral from their little night raid dealt with. They hadn't suffered any casualties, the supply line was intact, and the convoy hadn't been compromised. Nessraya's understanding of the matter was that the intent of the raid had been to assassinate Ariana and recover Princess Tenebria, or so it would seem from the lone survivor of the attackers.

Which was the last loose end to be dealt with. After failing to put down the clone of the Hero, and failing to escape, she had been captured. Evidently, her circumstances were sufficient for her to flip sides. Nessraya didn't know the details of those circumstances, but they had been enough to convince Thesephise, so there was no reason to question her King's judgment in that regard. But if she was going to be joining them just before such a crucial battle, it was vital that she knew what she was working with. Everyone else had fought with them at least once before, she had some level of understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and prowess. However, this Lucille was a mystery, and they didn't have the luxury of a practice run.

There she was. It wasn't hard to pick out the one new face. Floating over to the rider, she set down with a small flap of her wings.

"Lucille, was it? I am Nessraya Tryxyss, General of Vaia and Commander of this operation. I'll be brief... if I'm to account for you in the coming battle, I need to know your capabilities."

 

There was a lot to think about and parse all of the sudden. Lucille expected that things wouldn't have gone entirely smoothly, but she also didn't expect that the Vaians would have mobilized so quickly and efficiently. To say that they slaughtered her unit would have been an understatement. It appeared that she was the only one who put up some kind of a fight, and some people hardly would have called that a fight. 5 on 1 it might have been, but Luci had dealt with similar numbers before. This group was far more competent as a team. I wonder if they really could stop the Church? 

Before she'd even heard her name, she had this feeling of unease. A feeling that something, something powerful, was coming. The woman landed before her, and the sudden unease made complete sense. She wasn't a siren, like the irksome white winged woman from before. No, her wings... and tail seemed to suggest that this one was a Succubus. She pulled her gloved hand behind her instinctively. 

"G-general T-Tryxyss." Lucille sputtered out. She quickly took a deep breath, "I, uh... I'm... not really sure what you're asking of me." Mostly panic speaking at this point, Lucille knew that there were only really two ways that this conversation was going to go.

 

Well, she certainly seemed jittery. Not entirely unexpected given the circumstances, but it might be difficult to get anything substantial out of the girl if she was to be so guarded.

"As I said, I'm acting as commander for the assault on Mixoco. I've been informed that you've decided to fight with us... as such, I need you to tell me your combat capabilities. Normally I would prefer to observe your prowess in a smaller stakes bout, or through training regimen... but we don't have the luxury of time for that approach. There are enough unknown factors in this siege already, I don't need one of my own allies on the field to be one of them." Nessraya clarified, settling back into a more relaxed stance, wings folding back and tail swishing about leisurely. Hopefully it might help take Lucille off edge a bit.

 

Lucille relaxed a bit as the General informed her that they had neither the time nor luxury of a bout. She wasn't entirely sure but she could just... tell that the general was very, very strong, half reminded her of her... No, no time for that. And she was exactly right, having an unknown assisting in such a crucial battle after having just been an enemy was a risk that needed to be eliminated. 

"Oh... of course." She cleared her throat, "...I'm a pegasus rider, I have been for pretty much all of my life. Villkiss, isn't with me right now, but we've been riding together since I'd been able to. Aside from that, I'm a mage, focusing on Anima." Lucille shuffled a tad, "My magic isn't very strong, so I'm not particularly much help against stronger opponents, but I'm confident in my riding ability and... the ability to use magic without needing a tome. They've... gotten me this far." She kept her gloved arm out of sight hoping her explanation would suffice. 

 

"Hmm... aerial support is always useful, though you may be limited once we get inside the fort... Mixoco is not small, but the ceilings might pose an obstacle if you're used to open air." Nessraya mused, watching Lucille's body language as she spoke. One thing had stuck out at her the whole time, it was that right arm of hers... something seemed off about it. She kept the whole thing covered, and seemed to be guarding it and keeping it out of sight.

"Well, the strength of your magic is relative... I'd like a demonstration of your ability. Doesn't need to be aimed at a particular target, I'm quite magically attuned, so I should be able to get a feel for your output. Before that, though... you seem to favour your left arm. Will I need to keep your right flank supported?"

 

"Yes... um, I don't particularly like flying indoors. I can do it, if I'm needed to, but I would prefer not to." Lucille replied. Being indoors would hamper her evasive fighting style, and given her lack of armor, not being able to avoid an attack would almost certainly incapacitate her. 

The general then asked for a demonstration of her ability. But before Lucille could say or do anything, the General continued, 'You seem to favour your left arm. Will I need to keep your right flank supported?' Lucille froze up. Goddamn it all.. If nothing else, she was meticulous in getting a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of her soldiers. A normal skill for a leader turned out to be a damned curse. "I... uh... Yes, I prefer... my left arm, but... you... don't need to cover my right flank. I... can do that myself. I... I can still use... it in a pinch... but I shouldn't need to." A spark of electrical energy danced up her arm, "S-sorry, it's not something I... want to talk about. You won't have to worry about it."

 

"Well, I'm certain that there will be fighting outside the walls. It isn't as though the indoor space hampering mobility is an issue unique to yourself of course... I'm sure that you can judge your own capabilities moment to moment." Nessraya replied, nodding her head as Lucille addressed her arm. It wasn't as though Nessraya expected an explanation of whatever the issue with the limb was, as it was likely highly personal and this was their first time speaking.

"So long as you can cover yourself, that will suffice. I don't intend to pry, certainly not on our first meeting." Nessraya continued, her eyes darting to the spark of electricity that shot up Lucille's arm as she felt the small surge of magic. A nervous tick?

"I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that spark wasn't intended to be your demonstration, else you could hardly call yourself a mage. Go ahead then, at your ready."

 

Lucille calmed herself, barely. The general simply had to know, that was her job, and if for some reason Lucille couldn't perform her task that was something she needed to know. Probably would have noticed her gloved hand squeezed tight, if she could feel anything at all with it. 

"Y-yes. I... can cover myself. And... you're not prying, you have to know if I can actually help or not." Though, Lucille did not appreciate the small jab. Wouldn't be the first time someone's said that... Lucille couldn't be sure if the general's intent was to prod her in a similar way to how Ariana had earlier, or even if they'd spoken. But if it were her intent... Lucille quickly composed herself before almost simultaneously casting a bolt of lightning back the way they'd come. They were the furthest back, so no chance of anyone being caught in the blindingly fast spell. "...Did that suffice, General?" She did everything she could to stifle the huff at the end.  

 

"I am glad you understand." Nessraya responded, it seemed that the girl was reasonable enough. Well, the fact that a soldier of Coteon had flipped sides to begin with proved she had to have been somewhat reasonable from the start. Nessraya cocked her eyebrows at the demonstration. Interesting.

"I expected far worse, given how you described your magic. You are, perhaps, slightly less potent in raw magic than a few of our other casters, but not to a particularly noticeable degree. And the speed of your casting is very impressive. I barely felt the wind-up at all. I hadn't remarked on it until now, but tomeless casting is also not the most common of abilities. No need to sell yourself short, Lucille."

 

The praise caught Lucille off balance. She was much, much too used to her peers, and unit's almost single-minded focus on sheer destructive power. The general seemed to have a more nuanced outlook on magic as a whole.  But more surprising was the matter-of-fact tone she used to speak of tomeless casting, "You... sound like you've seen this before. Have... you met other people who can cast without tomes?"

Lucille had almost completely forgotten the rest of their conversation. She guessed it made some kind of sense; monsters lived quite different lives and as such would have seen and understood things quite differently. There had been so little explanation as to why Lucille could use magic without a tome, from her parents, to doctors, to... the church, none could explain it.

 

That was an... interesting response. While it wasn't common, such an ability wasn't exceptionally rare in monsters... perhaps it was more rare in humans than she had realized? She'd have to look into it further...

"Met them? I have, but it is also an ability I myself possess." Nessraya replied, a snap of her fingers causing a small ball of fire to hover above her hand for a few moments, before she waved it away, no tome in sight.

 

The succubus had a bit of a surprised look on her face at the question. Before immediately answering Lucille's question with a snap of her fingers. A small ball of fire appeared in her hand. Lucille's voice shot up about two octaves as she jumped upon realizing what the General had casted. The scream likely loud enough to have alerted anyone in the vicinity. She missed the landing, falling into a heap. "Oh my god, please get that away from me!" She pushed herself away from the General quickly. Being so close to it without warning had set her off in a way that it hadn't in a while. She felt the tears welling up as she began to shiver, "Please... oh god, don't come any closer. Please..."

 

That was... unexpected. Lucille had an... intensely visceral reaction to her fire spell. She hadn't intended to pry, but... well, the only conclusion she could draw from such a reaction was that whatever ailed the pegasus rider's right arm had something to do with fire. It wasn't tomeless casting, as she herself demonstrated the ability without issue...

"Lucille! Lucille, calm down. The fire is gone, it was merely a demonstration. I didn't mean to dredge anything up." Nessraya clarified, coming down to Lucille's level, trying not to get too close incase she lashed out. Note to self, keep her away from fire... as much as it was almost assuredly related to trauma, it would have been far smoother had she not... left that detail out.

 

"N-n-n-n-no, d-don't come closer!" Lucille said, her voice still elevated. The general was right, the fire was completely gone, but the sheer fact that Lucille had been so close. She needed a moment. Several moments. It's over, Lucille. It's done. Breathe goddamn it. Lucille tried to slow her panicked breathing, tears falling from her face. Panic slowly became turned to embarrassment. Lucille buried her face in her hands. "I-I... I'm...sorry... you had to... see that... General. I... should have... said... something..." 

What a joke. Just break down the moment you see fire again. What use are you if you can't control yourself? Hardly be of any help on the battlefield. Stupid, worthless mage. 

 

"It didn't come up in the moment. I will take care to make distance from you when using fire magic in the future... most of our mages fall into the range of specialists, and don't tend towards fire magic themselves. I am truly sorry Lucille, I hope you know I meant no ill intent." Nessraya replied, after Lucille's panic had dissipated into embarrassment.

"I won't ask you to divulge them in the moment, but if you could think of any accommodations you might require, do let me know when you've recovered. Do you need something to eat, water?" Came the followup, the General offering her hand to help Lucille up, should she be willing to take it.

 

"I-I-It's not... your fault, General. ...It's mine... for trying to hide... it. You... were just answering my question." She answered, her words muffled by her hands. She wiped her eyes before looking up at the General's hand. Her face was hot. Mad at herself that this happened on her first encounter with her new commander. But the General seemed sympathetic to her panic, far more so than any of her commanders before. It was unusual, but greatly appreciated. Maybe she had a large hand in why the group seemed to be so well put together.

"I... water might be nice... I-I, think I'm okay now." She took the general's hand her pulled herself to her feet, and began dusting herself off. She still found herself a bit unsteady, but combat wouldn't wait for her to pull herself back together. "I-I I really am sorry... about this. I should have... said that I'm... not good with fire. It... makes fighting a lot harder, but... I promise I won't let it stop me."

 

"Well, what's important is that it came to light now, and not in the middle of a battle. If you say it won't stop you from fighting, I'll believe you. I trust you know to avoid enemy combatants using it... and I'm sure that surprised likely played a part here, even if you come across it in the chaos of a fight." Nessraya noted, helping Lucille up to her feet, and unhooking her waterskin from her belt using her tail, offering it to Lucille.

 

"Yeah... I'm usually a little better about it but the surprise and proximity... really caught me unprepared." She took the waterskin from the woman's... tail, and took a quick swig. "...You know, you're the first commander I've had who... hasn't made light of my... aversion to fire. That... means a lot to me, General Nessraya. I um... I apologize, but I think I just need to be alone for a bit so I can calm myself down for the battle ahead." Lucille took a deep breath and brought her gloved arm in front of her, "After the battle though... I'd like to ask you more about tomeless casting, and... I... I-I think I should tell you about my arm."

 

"Everyone has their own weaknesses and circumstances. That you're willing to fight despite them means more than the fact that they are there. Perhaps it is simply a difference in upbringing... for monsters, many of us are born with inherent vulnerabilities to different types of elemental magic, and light in particular is particularly wide-spread. For many... fear of such things is commonplace. To fight past your fear, and accept that taking up the sword means you may need face that fear head on... we take that bravery as a virtue. I cannot speak for Coteon, but any commander who would mock and belittle the men and women expected to put their lives on the line... they do not seem the sort I would want to follow." Nessraya answered sternly... it was little surprise that the methods of Coteon's upper crust would continue to be unsavoury, but it still left a bitter taste in her mouth.

"And that is fine, of course. I wanted to get an understanding of your ability, and I believe I have that, to an adequate degree. I want you at your best on the field, after all. Take the time you have left to rest and prepare. I'm a bit of a scholar of magic myself, so I would be happy to indulge your questions."

 

Edited by Mercenary on the Winds

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An Attempt at Friendship

Spoiler

Marina finished up pretty quick today. The more the groups did to setting up camp, the faster it got. However, that left Marina at an unfortunate standstill, figuratively and literally. She had places to go, but... she was indecisive. 

From the corner of her eye she spotted the unmistakable stature of Lavinia’s pureblood sister. That gave Marina a thought, maybe...

Maybe now would be the best start. Hopefully...

Marina followed Bridgit until she was away from the rest of the camp. Probably wanted some alone time? Well, Marina was already here. She didn't mean to seem like she was stalking but, she cleared her throat,

"B-Bridgit...?" She sheepishly asked, admittedly afraid of being immediately blown off, "Can... c-can I talk to you?"

Bridgit really didn't know what she was thinking, missing meals here and there.  Well, it's mainly on the lines of not wanting to bother Lavinia much about it and thinking it more important for her sister to feed than herself.  It's not as bad, just an itch in the back of her throat that is more than manageable, but what then when it turns to something more acute?  A hunger she won't be able to hide, the danger of harming a group member imminent-

"!!" A startled noise leaves her throat at the sudden presence, turning around as she schools her expression to an impassive mask as she swallows back a groan.  Of all the people to follow her, it just had to be her...

Admittedly, she could ignore her and leave to hid- find a quiet space to read.  She lightly taps her fingers against the hard cover of the book she managed to snag from who knows where, and weighs her options before feeling a sigh leave her as shoulders sag just a bit.  Barely a movement.  

"...If you must, we will listen."  There, it's out and she can't take it back.  Might as well get through this now, lest she gets ambushed later on.

Marina nodded, she didn't really smile, or do anything like that in response to Bridgit's understandable response to her. The hero deepened a breath. Inhale, exhaaaaale. She wasn't sure how to start this conversation. Or if she should even approach the girl. In reality, it probably would've been easier to just do as needed but, the sheepish girl wasn't one to overstep boundaries and feel good about it.

"I, u-um..." She struggled putting words together. She decided, her... 'trust test' may have been the best way to start anything.

"A-Are you hungry? I haven't r-really seen you feed, or... anything like that, and I was concerned... If you need something, I-I don't mind." The girl nodded, finally getting the words out. If she could let this girl, who Marina was positive hated her very person, feed on her, she could probably hopefully trust her...

Maybe even start fresh... hopefully...

She waits patiently enough for the other to speak up, only offering an arched brow to show the hero still has her attention.  When she brings up her little...problem, the pureblood merely presses her lips into a thin line and grips the book in her hands just a tad too tight.

"How did you...nevermind that," she says with a sigh and closes her eyes.  The better question should be why though.  "Are you suggesting we feed off you?  Explain." There's no reason for Bridgit to trust her, not with something like this.  Yet, Marina has proven herself on and off the battlefield and has stayed the distance so far....

"Explain to me why we should trust you with such offer?"

Marina listened intently, eyes closed as she thought, trying to put her words together. She didn't want to just push away the pureblood even more. 

"I-- mm... How to put this?" Focus Marina, you got this far. "I... I get it... well, no, I guess I don't. I... was hoping we could... attempt a fresh start?" She finally got out.

"If you don't want to, I mean... I understand. But, you could still use someone to feed from right? If it helps..." She unclipped her belt holding her weapons and equipment, setting it on the ground. "I swear on my life I'm not gonna do anything."

Marina listened intently, eyes closed as she thought, trying to put her words together. She didn't want to just push away the pureblood even more. 

"I-- mm... How to put this?" Focus Marina, you got this far. "I... I get it... well, no, I guess I don't. I... was hoping we could... attempt a fresh start?" She finally got out.

"If you don't want to, I mean... I understand. But, you could still use someone to feed from right? If it helps..." She unclipped her belt holding her weapons and equipment, setting it on the ground. "I swear on my life I'm not gonna do anything."

There's a second where she feels the anger building up at the "i get it," but is just as fleeting when Marina corrects herself.  It only then turns into confusion when the little herol throws down her weapons, and for what.  Just to prove herself a nonthreat?  Fresh start, such thought at the chance-

...

Bridgit continues to watch, face staying unreadable as she weighs her options before letting the mask fall into a weary frown.

"Foolish hero, no need for the pomp and circumstance," she huffs, letting her hand twirl a lock of hair in contemplation.  "To make one thing perfectly clear, this Bridgit does not hate you...specifically." Wow okay, this is actually happening.  "We hate the idea for which you stand, for what the church has taken and rend asunder.  For what has been lost, for who-"

She pauses again, swallowing thickly and regaining composure.  

It takes another moment for the pureblood to actually speak once more.  "Lavinia cares for you, and so far actions have been in the best of the group.  There...really isn't a reason at the moment for us to reject such offer, lest you change your mind and take it back?" 

Bridgit's words were followed by gentle nods. She got the point, if multitudes of people being pissed off at her tipped her off any... Similarly to Bridgit's point of saying there's no reason to try, there really was no reason for Bridgit to say yes. 

Marina's first response in word was a, "R-Really?!" In a half excited tone, but she brought herself down a tad to think on what Bridgit said. She didn't hate her, but hated what she represented. Given that heroes have apparently arrived before and caused mass havoc, that was clear as day.

Marina cleared her throat, and began to speak again, "I... I think I get what you mean, and... I don't blame you. Honestly, I still feel like I'm asking too much when I approached you." Inhale, exhale,

"But if able, I just want a chance, to just prove I'm not that kind person... that I want to be better than those before me. If... if you'll let me?"

"Nary we see someone excited for us to bleed them out," is her flat response at Marina's enthusiastic reaction to her acquiescence of this...this...

If she were properly fed color would be appearing on her cheeks, and she only thanks that much in order to keep her neutral composure in front of the little hero.  "A commendable goal, but do remember this: not everyone you'll meet that's on your side will like you," she warns while nearing the girl.  "Offering your blood so recklessly, count your stars that we're not one to take advantage of that."  She only hesitates for a moment before lifting up her hand.

"Present your wrist, if you will."

Embarrassed at her point on Marina's excitement, there was a small tint of red in her cheeks. In reality, she got excited over the chance to mend the gap between her and the pureblood, but... she wasn't going to try correcting her. Not right now.

She followed with a nod in regards to the comment about people liking her. Something she also understood, but... "You're right. But, I'd at least like to try and find some compromise. I'm... not good with conflicting feelings like that." She shook her head.

And finally, offering her arm. Hopefully, it'd be just like with Lavinia. No issues, just... like a trip to the doctor. "Okay, Bridgit," She didn't think to offer thanks again, due to Lavinia's comment when the similar situation played out... She didn't have to worry about that, and she tried to stop overthinking so much.

Marina held her wrist out to Bridgit.

"So we've seen," she can't help but jab at that, but no real heat behind her words.  Giving Marina one more passing glance a small sigh leaves through her nose before reaching out to gently wrap her hands around the other's arm.  

Carefully revealing more of the hero's wrist, Bridgit leans forward to swipe her tongue against the skin.  Mostly just out of reflex, maybe a bit to comfort, but overall the pureblood is taking this little offering as serious as the declaration of trust being made here.  A soft inhale, the tips of her fangs pressing down and piercing skin-

Oh.

Oh dear.

Never has Bridgit been grateful than this moment that she didn't stave off her hunger for longer that she did, lest she lose control and drain the little hero.  Aside from the sharp exhale, the pureblood's hold on Marina's arm tensed slightly before releasing once more.  She only took what was necessary, and once that was done gently pulled away.  Licking once more for good measure, Bridgit fully releases the other and steps back two steps and looks back with a brow already arching up.

"Well, that...certainly wasn't what we expected."  Her tone is steady, but there is a slight roughness around the edges and newfound color painting her cheeks.

Marina simply relaxed her hand as Bridgit took hold of it. Calming her breathing as best she could, too much pressure would just spew out blood like a fountain... and that wouldn't be good for either party, and probably attract unwanted attention.

Just like with Lavinia, the feeling of Bridgit's teeth was like small hairs poking into her skin, and the pressure of her blood being sucked into was... still an odd feeling. 

After a minute or so, Bridgit let go, Marina quickly treating the holes with some quick first-aid. She sighed with relief that nothing crazy happened, but she could read the pureblood's face.

"S-Sorry, I should've warned you... Lavinia struggled some, too." Another sigh, the feeling was still rushing through her arm, "A-Are you alright?"

"Perfectly fine all things considered, although a warning would've been appreciated."  She doesn't acknowledge the previous comment, Bridgit herself now a picture of calm composure.  She does not struggle, thank you.  "Now I truly feel in the right when I- we say you're foolish and reckless in offering your blood so freely." A pause, mainly to cross her arms and arch a brow at Marina.  "If it were anybody else you'd be bled dry."

Marina nodded, not really having any retort in regards to not notifying Bridgit ahead of time. But that lead mostly to Marina's next retort.

If it were anybody else,

"I agree, but I told you I trusted you." She followed, giving a smile, "But I do appreciate the concern, Bridgit, thank you." She hoped the pureblood wouldn't take the thanks the wrong way. She really did have that faith Bridgit would be fine. It's not like she'd go up to a random soldier and let them feed...

Another sigh left Bridgit, waving her free hand lightly while the other still holds the book she meant to read before...all this really.  "No need.  The thank you, I mean- no, we-" Before stuttering any more she lets out a little frustrated huff to sort herself.  Better make her escape now.  Right.  "We appreciate your trust.  No thanks necessary.  Now, if you'll excuse me, this novel won't read itself!" She turns, offering a curt nod before stomping marching away from the hero.

Marina had a light smile show up, as she held back giggling at Bridgit's stutter. It really was cute seeing the normally well-refined pureblood fumble.

"I..." Marina barely got a word out before the other girl went her own way and stormed off. Marina didn't say anything, just gave a light wave, wapking away in the opposite direction. 

As she walked off, a sizable distance from Bridgit, she finally got a giggle in. It was good that they had a decent start.

A Moment of Advisory

Spoiler

They were almost there... Almost to Mixoco. As much as Marina started finally started piecing herself back together, she was increasingly paranoid about the fight coming. It'd be rough...

As Marina ponder, she saw Nessraya over by a tent, it looked like she was still working on it. She approached and kneeled a little next to her,

"Nessraya? Do you need some help?"

It had been awhile since they really sat down and talked. It'd be good to check up on her advisor. Maybe discuss some things...

"Oh, Marina. No, I... I was just making sure the supports were properly set. Everything appears in order." Nessraya replied, looking over at the Hero with a small smile. Her face was still a tad sunken and her skin pale, but the succubus was nowhere near as pallid as she had been during her impromptu fast. Did she smell of blood still? She had washed herself, but... she had been desensitized to the smell after so much recent exposure... it was hard to tell.

Getting up from the ground, Nessraya opened the flap of her tent to reveal the inside... still quite a disaster. While it wouldn't be falling over, the inside would still need work before it could be considered livable. A slight grimace crossed her face as she took the sight in again, a sigh escaping her lips. She'd have to sort which clothes could be laundered and which were simply too far gone and needed discarded, too.

Marina followed Nessraya's smile with one of her own, but it did quickly dissipated when she noticed her face and tone. Was she tired? Hungry?

She was taken aback as she gazed into the tent. It was... well, terrible for a lack of a better term. She knew she had been distant, but...

"Can I... c-come in? I had a few things I wanted to talk about. Would you like some help in here?"

"If that is what you wish, go ahead." Nessraya answered, floating inside her warzone of a living space, holding the flap open with her tail as she set up a pair of chairs around a small table. Normally it would have housed the war map, but that was still folded away in a chest for the moment.

"Ah, you don't need to worry about this, though. I will deal with it... quite garish, I must admit. I've not quite been myself as of late. Would you like some tea?" Nessraya answered in short order, fishing out a small kettle from among her possessions, turning it towards Marina as she offered.

Marina nodded, taking a step in, watching as Nessraya brought together the chairs and table. She took a seat, hands clasped together. "I understand, that was... actually the first thing I was going to ask," she would've made a slight chuckle but not while she was like this.

"I'm sorry you're not feeling well," she followed up. "I-I would like some tea though, thank you Nessraya." She smiled, tea sounded better than water after having it for so long. 

"Well, I do suppose such questions were inevitable, given the circumstances. The short version is that I was suffering a... lack of appetite, for a time. I've mostly managed to stabilize my magic levels, although my skin will suffer for it a while longer." Nessraya answered... it wasn't that she was unwilling to discuss the matter with Marina, but didn't see much point in divulging more than what the outworlder wanted to know, on such a personal topic. As she answered, her tail fished out an assortment of blended teas, placing them down on the table for Marina to peruse as she filled the kettle with water from her personal ration, and applied a controlled flame to the metal, rapidly bringing it towards a boil.

"Feel free to pick out whichever variety you'd like, while it boils."

She nodded as Nessraya explained what had happened, "Well... if you're stabilized, I'm glad." She smiled, trying to act positively in regards to her weird situation. Why ever, she would go so long that it made her look the way she is... "I w-won't prod, don't worry, just know that... I'm here if you ever need an ear. You've always been one for me when I needed it," And she gave a small laugh.

Looking down at the types of teas, she... didn't know what to think of. She wasn't the biggest tea person but... now it was time to pick a bag and pray...

"Hmm... Let's see..." She pointed out, and separated a blend from the mix, "Chamomile and white. That sounds good, I think." In reality, she was totally confused, but she wasn't afraid to experiment.

"Well I appreciate the offer, Marina. It's... mmm, no, it's been settled, for the most part. No need to dredge up those wounds so soon." Nessraya replied, sitting down across from Marina and settling the kettle down on the table, just as the water inside began to whine and whistle. Looking at what Marina selected, Nessraya gave the Hero a small smile, tail swaying playfully behind her.

"Ah, that's a good one. It helps you to sleep more soundly... as for me... I think I have another late night ahead of me, so something with more pep..." The succubus noted, picking up a blend from her collection and setting it into a cup, placing another in front of Marina before beginning to pour the water.

"I see," She simply replied to the succubus' comment on her situation. Like she said, she wasn't gonna prod. Instead, Marina paid attention to Nessraya's description of the type of tea. Good for sleeping, "Well, I guess I picked a good tea then," she replied with a playful tone.

She hadn't been entirely sure what Nessraya meant by late night, but Marina just gave a light nod, and just mentally crossed her fingers her night wouldn't be anything crazy.

Focusing on her cup, she poured her mix in, "I... aha... It's just a pour mix, pour water, and mix with a spoon right?"

"So you say, but you've not been to visit me in a while, Marina. You can't be having that much issue falling asleep." Nessraya shot back with a smirk, beginning to prepare her own cup, and shaking her head at Marina's inquiry.

"You want to allow the tea to brew for a few minutes before you drink it... you could just mix it in, but it would be quite weak. It really needs a moment to develop."

"It hasn't been too bad after awhile, and I think I have you to thank for that," She replied honestly, even if she was positive Nessraya was teasing her. Listening to the instructions, thinking it's what the succubus meant to do, she simply poor the mix into the cup of water. She left it there, continuing her thoughts,

"It did come back, really bad a few nights ago but... I had some extra help." She smiled, gazing intently at the cup, "I've... I think I've been feeling a lot better though. It's been... a long time since I've felt so... light, I think the word is?"

"Oh? I suppose I may... not have been much help at the time, but I can't help but be a little disappointed that you didn't even come to ask. Replaced me with a new hug pillow, have you?" Nessraya prodded, the fact that her visage hadn't shifted negatively hopefully providing enough of a hint that she wasn't truly upset. Still... whoever had been helping Marina appeared to be doing a competent job, given her own description.

"Thank you, Nessraya, I appreciate your concern," Marina's smile developed a bit, taking the hint of the teasing again. Her face actually blushed a tad, but she wasn't sure how much got through. 

"The thing about that is... funny, I think. And maybe it a little crazy," She started, since they had gotten to that point, "What I'm about to tell you, can you keep it a secret? I don't... want this to exactly be out in the open yet."

"Oh? If this is about Tenebria's attraction to you, that is incredibly obvious, Marina. If you've indulged in her royal bosom, that would hardly qualify as something worth keeping secret." Nessraya quipped, although surely Marina couldn't be... that dense. Still, she couldn't think of anyone that Marina would consider worth keeping secret aside from the Princess... it may have just been carryover feelings from when she had been in Coteon.

"Regardless, I will keep your secret, Marina. So long as it doesn't become a national security issue." She added with a smirk, sticking her tongue out playfully.

"W-wait, what...?" Marina had been taken aback. "T-That wasn't..." Was she really that attracted? So much that Nessraya noticed?

"I-I never noticed, I... always just saw her as like a sister..." If Tenna really did like Marina, then... oh no, that won't be a fun conversation later... "I-I'm such an idiot," She sighed, but with Nessraya, she was able to giggle about it.

"R-Right, but... no, it's not about her." Marina got herself back into focus, "It's... there's a reason it needs to be a secret, until... there's a better time to address it."

"Oh dear..." Nessraya pinched the bridge of her nose with a sigh... poor Tenebria. Well... that was a whole other can of worms, but apparently Marina was indeed... that dense. And apparently her secret didn't involve the Princess after all.

"Well... that aside, if it isn't her, then who? I can't think of anyone else that you would feel the need to keep in secret."

Marina nervously took her tea and look at it. It looked ready it seemed, "Okay..." She took a sip as Nessraya spoke. Now with that... unfortunate news under her belt, some relaxing tea needs to kick in. It was... pretty good. She took a stronger sip, setting the cup down.

"So... back on the way to Tepel," She started, "I... How do I put this? I met a girl named Yukari," Her fingers tapped on the table, "She... visited my dream, with what she said was a magic mirror, and she's an oni princess from Nanbu, who said she's a friend of Ayane's." God, this is so embarrassing... "She picked me out, to protect her from Ouka. No one else knows about her... yet,"

She took a deep breath, "But... she came back again a few nights ago, and... I never felt it before, but... I think I'm in love?" the poor Hero now pondered, "And, she gave me a chance to impress her when we finally meet. She told she's on her way to Hwein," Marina finally finished, now ruffling her hair a bit as her face reddened.

"I know, it sounds super crazy..."

"You even replaced my good dreams, you really are going to make a girl cry, Marina~" Nessraya interjected with a chuckle, letting Marina finish aside from that single quip. The magic of Nanbu was still... relatively unknown to her, but an artifact that allowed that sort of limited long-range communication didn't seem outside the realm of possibility. And then, Marina admitted that she thought she had fallen in love with this Yukari. Oof... poor Tenebria indeed.

"Hmm... well the fact that she visited you and you came out unscathed seems like a good sign, however we can't be sure whether harming you through your dream is a capability she has... something to keep in mind. I think... that you should corroborate this girl with Ayane and Ren, Marina. I will not force your hand, nor speak for you... but if she claims them as a reference of character, you should make use of that reference." Nessraya thought it over for a moment as she spoke. This whole love at first sight phenomenon seemed to be a growing trend in their little entourage... a trend which left her own shortcomings in that regard rather difficult to miss. Even Marina, density rivalling the sun, had managed to figure herself out.

"If nothing else... if we are unable to get a proper read on her beforehand... I would ask you make your date with her a double. For your own safety. Pardon my bluntness Marina, but you are... rather naive. And while the naivete is a part of your boundless charm, I would hate to see it taken advantage of to your detriment, especially since no one else here can see these interactions of yours, to get an idea if you're being deceived." Nessraya concluded, taking a drink of her own tea. Yes, that hit the spot...

"Mmm, if the flavour is not to your taste, a small addition of lemon or honey pairs well with that particular blend."

Marina intently listened. She knew Nessraya had the best intentions of her in mind, there was no question. Marina herself, was not good at any of this discussion on her feelings. She did feel something when she met Yukari, and spent more time with her. The compliments, the faith in her, her smile, her... Marina shook her head, taking a sip from her tea again, "N-no it's fine right now, thank you. Lemon and honey can come later," She answered with a smile and nod.

"I understand, Nessraya. I know I'm... me, and I want to be optimistic. The worst part of it is, her... device she used to talk to me was broke in the process, so... I don't how much of her I'll be able to learn until we find her again," She gave a small sigh, "But... when I have a chance, I will speak to Ayane and Ren. I just... don't want to detriment her safety if she's hiding from Ouka. There had to be a reason she didn't go directly to either of them, y'know?" Maybe she'd finally have found some safe haven if she made it to Hwein, but Marina can't be sure anymore if they can't contact her.

She took another sip of her tea, "I promise, I will try to be as alert as possible when we get to that point, if I'm fooled, then I mean... I guess I get fooled. But despite my own naivete, I'm confident she wants to help us." She smiled, grateful she could even have a conversation with someone about this in the first place.

"And I... I'm glad you think I'm charming, Nessraya..." the hero's smile beamed up, "I'm glad I can always come to you, and you know what to say. Thank you, I really appreciate what you've been doing and have done for me," another sip.

"How troublesome... well I suppose in the meantime, any details you can recall of your dream that might help identify her or corroborate her story would be helpful... if nothing else having a record of it could be a boon. Although... that she didn't go to one of them is... concerning to me. Why bank on a stranger?" There was simply too much Nessraya didn't know in this instance, to really make any sound theories. 

"If neither of them, perhaps Asami might know something... she always does. As long as you are alert and remain properly equipped, I trust you to be able to handle yourself were it to come to that. Just... if possible, have her meet with Lavinia or myself before going off alone with her if nothing else, and bring someone with you if at all possible. I hope you don't take this as my calling foul over your judgment, simply... well, I value your safety over hers. I'm sure you can understand." Nessraya added, thinking things over a bit... 

"Oh come now, Marina. One does not get where you are without a natural charisma. Summoned from another world or not, people would not rally behind someone without a certain charm to them."

"Mhm, mhm," Marina agreed, nodding along, "When I have some time, I'll take notes of everything I remember from the dreams with her. At least, the important stuff," She scoffed at her own dumb joke, trying to add some levity to their discussion. It did make sense why she'd be concerned about a stranger being who she contacted, "If it helps, from what I could infer was that she was able to pick me out from everyone else, cause... y'know, my title." That was the best bet she had in regards to that bit.

Asami... Oh, how Marina didn't like that idea. Especially since... everything else regarding her that makes this situation... way too uncomfy. She nodded along to Nessraya though, the uncomfy is meant to be treaded sometimes, "I'll... consider Asami as well Nessraya, of course." And she shook her head at her next point, "I don't think that Ness, don't worry," She smiled, "I'll have someone with me when we get to that, promise." She smiled.

And then more compliments on her charisma. Her smile lightened, face reddening again, "I-I guess. I've just never thought of it that way. You know, it's been... difficult, trying to look at me positively for awhile. Not anymore, though... I think. I can say something but," She pointed to her head, "This thing isn't always as willing."

"Now now, leave out no detail, Marina dearest. If she is going to be ravaging your body, I need to know if she's doing it correctly, else we'll need to have words." Nessraya joked. The fact that Marina being the Hero made her easy to identify made... sense enough, but was still vague enough reasoning that it could have been falsified. Marina seemed to take pause at the suggestion of Asami... was something afoot, in that regard? Curious...

"Well, I will leave that to you, then. My lips are sealed~ But you really must give yourself more credit, Marina." Nessraya shifted topics, reaching out to caress the Hero's deeply reddened cheek.

"You have many, many fine qualities to you. A virtuous heart, a strong sense of justice... people want to follow you, despite a lack of formal training. Rather than try to convince yourself that your misdeeds were justified, or collapse into your shell, you struck out to make things right, when you learned of the truth. Look at Ariana, even simply taking you as a base, they could not remove that earnestness and drive... they had to mask and corrupt it simply to have her work for them at all." Nessraya continued, letting her finger trace down Marina's chin playfully, craning her face upwards.

"Not to mention that simply adorable face of yours, hmm? I could go on, about your strong arms, or your wonderfully fir- ahem, well needless to say I have enough experience to compliment your physical attributes as well~ There is much for you to be positive about, I assure you."

Marina laughed at Nessraya's joke, grateful that when she was down to keep things nice and lowfi without getting too serious. She was glad to be confident enough to talk to Nessraya when needed. 

Then Nessraya went in, to describing all her nice features. Marina was ready to try and cut her off, but she held her feelings back, taking in everything the succubus commented on. From her personality to her looks. Even pointing out Ariana as another reason to appreciate herself.

"I guess if anyone knew me like me, I guess it'd be you," she replied, in her own seemingly teasing tone, as she chuckled again, "Thank you, Ness. I'm blessed to have someone like you around." She tried complimenting, fitting a warm smile.

"Ohh, you're growing up. I expected stammering and intense blushing, but you took that quite in stride~ Mmm, maybe you are ready to give yourself up after all." Nessraya teased, a toothy grin across her face, interrupted as she took a sip of her tea.

"Mmm, I wish I wasn't out of biscuits. I can't simply make more on a whim like with the tea, either. Oh well... I do want you to trust me on this, Marina. I've watched you grow through this campaign. A weak or bad person would not have made the choices you made, the sacrifices you've made. I know that it can be difficult to accept, that you feel at times you cannot deserve the praise given to you, but it is genuine."

Marina smiled at Nessraya's response to her joke. Taking another sip from her tea as well. It was nice, smooth... and some biscuits also sounded good too. 

And Nessraya made another valid point, someone less than willing wouldn't have tried to do the things she has. All the fighting, putting herself behind the others despite their efforts to protect her...

It was almost like her mind beating a dead horse but... Marina truly felt like she deserves the kind words. She deserved to call herself good... She deserved to be the Hero...

But really, Marina still couldn't lean all of the good things that happened on herself, "Don't forget Nessraya, it's because of you that I'm even here. Anyone else less caring than you... I'd be a pile of ash and just a painful memory. You deserve as much credit as I do. I would've died unable to prove myself if not for you." She smiled, trying to give her advi-- her friend some encouraging words. 

"Well, I did lift the veil from your eyes, didn't I? Perhaps that deserves working out feeding privileges, even with your new girlfriend in play, hmm?" Nessraya launched her riposte in short order, spade-tip of her tail snaking out and poking Marina on the nose. She wasn't the one who was in need of encouragement after all, though the praise was never unwelcome.

Marina made a small giggle as the tail poked her, blushing again, "I-I mean, not that I'm against the idea, we never know when I need help again," she tried to give as a retort to what was probably once again teasing from the succubus. But she was quick to take her finger and poke Nessraya back, since she was lacking a tail of her own.

"Well, glad to hear I've not been entirely shut out, then~" Nessraya replied, taking the return poke in stride. Finishing her cup, the succubus began lazily preparing another, lifting the kettle with her tail as she did so.

Marina finished her cup as well, setting it down. Now, she had one more thing she wanted to see. Something that's still bothering her. 

A hefty sigh, "Nessraya, there's also one more thing. It's, a little more serious..." she tapped her teacup. "Can you... look into my ley lines?" She asked, a bit of her meek attitude returning. 

"If not, it's fine but I... had a paranoid feeling in the back of my head, when you found how they controlled Ariana. I need to know, just in case... if there's something like... a sleeper agent, or something hiding in me somewhere..."

"That is... a difficult question." Nessraya replied with a sigh, s grimace crossing her face. 

"You saw what happened to Ariana, when I removed Carlon's magic. I would have to do the same, were I to find something inside of you. It would be... exceedingly painful. Thinking back to it still makes me feel ill... not that I believe there is anything to find, but..."

Marina nodded, Ariana's reaction still echoed in her head. Her violent screaming and the pain in her face... But for what it was worth, she had been freed. It'd be painful if they found anything, but...

"I-I did. You're right... But, if there's something there, I think it'd be worth it if we can find it and get it out," she nodded, a look of determination on her face. 

"..." Nessraya let out a breath she had been holding. Ariana had Marina's face, but she had ultimately still been a stranger, an enemy. She had taken no pleasure in inflicting such pain, but it wasn't personal. But Marina... no, she couldn't let her own misgivings get in the way. If there was something there, and Marina was resolved to see it taken care of... she had that right.

"Okay. Lay down on my bedroll, on your stomach. I'll need to access your back, and... if there is anything there, I'll need to be able to restrain you."

Marina nodded, "Okay. Thank you Nessraya..." She got up and went over to the bedroll, taking of her jacker and laying down as asked. She calmly waited taking slow, deep breaths.

This was it, then. Hovering over to Marina and setting down on top of her, Nessraya placed her hand on the Hero's back, accessing her leylines. Examining them, combing through her magic circuits... if something was there, it would make itself known any moment-

Marina laid, feeling the weight of the succubus on her back. She closed her eyes, and simply... prayed in her head nothing was wrong. It was the most she could do in this moment.

Searching, searching... after a few tense moments, Nessraya stopped holding her breath for the second time in a very short while.

"There is... nothing there. No corruption, no imprinted orders... nothing that I can find, at the least. On the contrary... it feels as though, given practice and nurture, you may have quite the potential as a mage, Marina." Nessraya announced, a relieved sigh escaping her lips as she floated above Marina's back, lifting her weight off of the Hero.

A sigh of relief, Marina couldn't how good that made her feel. As the succubus lifted off, the hero was able to get herself off the floor and to her knees.

"Good, good..." She stood up stretching her arms, "Potential for magic, huh...? That sounds, really cool, actually."

"Mmhmm... it is faint, untapped... left on it's own, it is unlikely to manifest, but... the potential is there. I can feel it." Nessraya nodded along as she spoke. Truthfully she was simply relieved that she did not have to put Marina through such a harrowing experience.

"Hmm, I see..." Marina thought about it. If there was potential, it meant it'd be something to help Marina get stronger. 

"In that case, mm... when we have time, Nessraya, could you... maybe help me tap into it?"

"I wouldn't mind, not at all. I'm rather curious what potential lies dormant in someone born of another world, if I'm to be honest. How will you take to the magic of Xensat?" Nessraya mused, the possibilities were practically endless. But-

"However, that will have to be an endeavour for another day, I'm afraid. It wouldn't do to try and introduce a new regimen right before such an important battle, after all."

She said yes... that alone that was nice to give her to nod happily. Even if Nessraya validly points out how close they are to Ithraxl.

"No no I understand. That's... that's perfect." She smiled, grateful of the idea of learning magic. She considered it, she rememeber being told no for the opposite reason.

A sigh of relief again, Marina hugged Nessraya. "Thank you so much, Nessraya..."

"I, err-" Nessraya returned Marina's hug, somewhat confused. Was learning magic such a big deal for her? She was glad to assist, if that was the case, but the reaction was more than Nessraya had expected.

"You're welcome, Marina. I must admit I am surprised to see you so excited over this, however."

Marina let go of the hug, "R-Right. It's just... it's something that would help me be stronger right? I... wanted to learn back in Coteon, but they didn't see anything in me. Honestly, maybe it's good they didn't," and she followed with a light laugh. 

"Hmm... I suppose that might be true. Who knows what they might have decided to do if they had looked into your ley lines... I wouldn't be surprised to find them capable of anything, at this point." Nessraya pondered, shaking her head.

"If you wanted to learn magic, I'm surprised you didn't ask earlier."

"I did, I just... whenever I'd think about it, something would come up. That's all," she laughed again.

"It's been a long trip, but... hopefully after Ithraxl, we'll have some elbow room, y'know."

"Yes... hopefully it will be smooth sailing to Hwein, but... mmm, it will depend on whether the remnants of his insurrection surrender or keep kicking up a fuss."

"You're right yeah. Hopefully they'll get the point, I'd like to... avoid unnecessary fighting if we can." It was probably inevitable people will still try but, Marina shook her head. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

"Yes, only time will tell. Mmm, is there anything I can help you with, Marina?" Nessraya asked, reaching over to the table and picking up the second cup of tea she had made for herself.

"No no, I think that's it. But um... could I get another cup of tea before I go? That was really good," she gave a goofy smile.

"Of course, Marina." Nessraya responded with a smile, gesturing to the kettle. There should have been just enough water left for one more cup.

 

Edited by Silver Gallade

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Double Date

Spoiler

Lavinia had not expected Jade to ask her out on a dinner date, of all things, for their evening in Tepel. She further hadn't expected it to be a double date, Gabriela and the oni, Ren, coming along with them. She wasn't a social creature, yet she had to play conversationalist to Jade, and now two others? If she could sweat, she would have been, furiously looking through her belongings for the most feminine of clothing she possibly owned.

She couldn't find much; armor was too typical for her, leaving most of her clothing simple things to wear underneath it. "You have to look good for a date though, right? I'm sure that's how it goes, I can't have already forgotten..." In some small part due to luck, Lavinia had afford herself casual clothes at some point for her travels. A white, long sleeved blouse, with a button up v-neck. Black dress pants. Likely relics of her life in Hwein and Vaia before nestling so comfortably in the line of duty that had been thrust upon her.

Asami passed by during her dilemma, and she made sure the fox girl gave it all a good whiff. She couldn't smell them properly, not wanting to come across in old clothes that smelled as they looked. The fox told her, several times, that they were fine, and she was let go to return to her own interests. They would do, then...

A flair of lipstick and an old and plain silver necklace completed her outfit to the best of their ability. The sun had begun to go down, but not completely; her hair had changed back to its deep black, but contact would still be trouble. To afford not covering the ensemble with a hood, she borrowed a parasol from the fort, bringing herself to the pub. It seemed, in her hurry and worry, she'd arrived first... At least she wouldn't end up late on accident. That would've sent her anxieties flying sky high. Waiting outside the doors to the establishment, she kept glancing back and forth, trying to spot any of the other three.


Lavinia had said yes. Of course she would have, right? But Jade had momentarily felt the flutter of butterflies in her stomach at the asking, nonetheless. After that, she'd gotten word from her co-conspirator that the fourth member had been roped in successfully, and that was another hurdle overcome. Victory was within their grasp.

But after that, it had been hard to calm down and pass the intervening hours. And along with the excitement came the second guessing. They had an insurrection to put down, and here she was being selfish, diverting attention from more important matters. The moment she thought of that, it was hard to fully shoe away the pessimistic thought from her mind. If... If it was truly a problem, surely Lavinia would have turned her down and told her though, right? Yet all Jade had read from her was a bit of pure surprise. Certainly nothing like disappointment. So it had to be fine. Then it was just a matter of getting prepared. She'd snuck a bath, getting the dust of the road off her body, and changed into her expensive outfit. Marina had washed it properly before returning it, and the zombie found herself most grateful for the hero's thoughtfulness. Sure, there'd been plenty of time she would have taken care of it if they'd come back dirty, no doubt. But she hadn't had to, and that was nice.

Jade briefly wondered if she oughtn't have gone shopping for something new, Lavinia had seen this outfit before, both on herself, and on the Hero, so maybe it would be a let down if she showed up like this? Or maybe she should pick up a gift? It wouldn't be anything so fancy as the Ring of Favor, but maybe a little something? No, but then again, hmmm. Well, it was unlikely, but if the vampire was feeling a touch of nerves herself, then surely the more familiar outfit would ease her into it? And this was really just a friendly affair too, hence the double date nature. A setting that provided minor escapes if being alone with your date suddenly felt overwhelming. A gift might be too romantic, and she wouldn't want to make Gabriela look bad if she wasn't prepared to surprise Ren with anything either...

These were all logical arguments, but it was still hard to fully put the preoccupation to rest. Jade found herself smoking quite a bit to take her mind off things before the appointed time rolled around. Maybe she should have already been waiting at the destination? But no, she should be eager, not desperate. On time was good enough. Mmm, but that old saying: If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; if you're late, you're fired... Two minutes then, two minutes early would be fine. She could say she 'only just arrived' if anyone asked, and it would be true.

But Jade was not the first to show up, as it turned out! As the merchant walked up to the pub doors, another was already there, waiting. It was immediately clear who it was, the height and the parasol alone were dead giveaway, but for some reason she also had trouble believing her eyes. The Lavinia here before her was very different from her normal armored appearance, and even from her casual bedtime demeanor. The zombie felt two quick thumps of her heart in her chest, and hastened her steps. "How rude of me to make you wait here, outside. And we really should have pushed it another hour later, huh? I'm sorry..." No, don't get too carried away, deep breath. "You look, really nice. What do you say we wait just inside until the others come, shall we?"


"Oh, Jade." Lavinia smiled as the zombie approached and gave her introductions. An apology as well, that Lavinia would've chastised her for, had she gone further. Instead, she cocked an eyebrow and stifled a bit of a laugh, nodding to Jade's suggestion of entering early. Surely two undead wouldn't be difficult to find looking into seating area? "Yes, let's... And try not to worry further about the sun. You didn't make me wait, either; In my own anxiety of what to wear, I ended up prepared far too early. I haven't gone on a date like this in... Far too many decades. I'd almost forgotten how exactly one should dress for such an occasion." Hopefully pleasing banter aside, Lavinia led Jade into the pub, folding her parasol once the rays of the sun were no longer coming after her hands and face.

"Welcome! Table for two?" Braksen was tending to food behind the bar with several other staff. The pub was lively, but far from overrun with patrons. A few drinking on stools, some eating at tables, a healthy atmosphere in the air. Most soldiers from the barracks, some the remaining townsfolk who hadn't evacuated. A lamia was sitting in the corner as well... Piercing eyes that seemed to sparkle pink and teal seemed to glare through her and Jade, but only for a moment. Hmm... Odd. You don't see many lamia outside of northern Vaia... She wasn't staring at us, right?

Lavinia paid it no further mind, deciding her glance had simply been towards the noise of people entering the pub. "Table for four, my good man. We've two yet to arrive."

"Aye, table for four... Away from the window." Braksen gave Lavinia a glance to make sure this was correct, to which she nodded. Even if the sun was going down, a stray ray through a window would do their dinner mood no good. "Right over there near the entrance. I'll be around with your menus quick as I can be."

"Thank you... After you, Jade. Quite a lovely place they have here... I hope the blood is as good as the mood." There were other vampires working at the fort, Braksen was likely to have some on hand.


Gabriela was quite in good spirits after Ren said 'yes' to the double date. But to be fair, why wouldn't he? This was their first real outing as a couple, and he doesn't seem like the type to say no to a double date either. Jade was probably more nervous than her. After all, she wouldn't guess Jade to be the type to go on dates very often, whereas Gabriela goes.. or 'went'.. all the time. That said, those 'dates' were more for money than anything else, but it's thought that counts.

Unfortunately, Gabriela's income definitely wouldn't cover a new, beautiful dress. Luckily for her though, quick fingers were a must in her previous 'career' and she certainly enjoyed 'helping' herself to some expensive items. Those rich vampires and the wealthy elves certainly wouldn't miss some beautiful dresses or elegant accessories. And even if they did, they would surely have the funds to afford more, which the siren most definitely hadn't. That's how she justified in her head, anyway. She chose her most beautiful dress, a white one that went along quite well with her wings, which Ren would most certainly enjoy. Add in some lunar earrings, which she grabbed out of the drawer of a very annoying creature she didn't even know the name of, only that his name was ''Jeri'' or something, and you've got the perfect look for a night out!

There really wasn't a lot to do before the time of the date arrived, so the time was mostly spent taking a well-earned nap. With all the recent happenings, a nice beauty rest is just what Gabriela needed. And who knows when the next battle would come along? Heck, it could even be this very night, and if she was going to be fighting in a fancy dress and earrings, then she might as well be prepared for it. Besides, her wings get awfully heavy-feeling if they're not well-rested. She wouldn't want to be like Bladen, whose wings appear to be just for show at times.

An hour before the appointed time and Gabriela was up and preparing her look. It had to be perfect, not only for Ren, but also for Lavinia and Jade! Wouldn't want to embarrass either of them. When she really thought about it, it was a little difficult imagining either of them in a dress. Lavinia always felt like a warrior while Jade always felt like a rough type. Would they even be wearing dresses? The thoughts of what the other ladies would be dressed up like almost obscured her view of how Ren would be dressed like! She has been with some handsome men in the pasts, but none of those men were really the reputable type. Mostly just the ones spending enough cash to build up a reputation. Ren wasn't really anything like them, but perhaps he had similar taste in eveningwear?

Finally, the time was upon Gabriela, and she left for the pub. She left a little later than she wished to, but long hair isn't easy to take care of, especially not when you also have wings to brush. She made sure not to fly, because if she did, all that work would be for nothing! When she arrived, no one was standing there. Hopefully she wasn't too early! Or perhaps they had gone inside already. Given that Ren was nowhere to be seen, he would most likely not have arrived yet. All she could do is wait outside, and hopefully not get funny looks from the non-feathered ones around the town.


 It's no surprise for Ren to be the last one to appear, especially with how events have transpired for both his cousin and himself.  

Finding out what happened to Ayane felt like a blade through his heart, newfound guilt overwhelming him for a moment before pushing it down and locking it away.  He'll deal with that later.  He wanted to focus on her, on her wellbeing and to make sure she was safe.  

Unfortunately he had already promised to join the two undead on a double date with Gabriela, and that puts him in a precarious position.

He'll go, not one to stand up others on something that's been planned beforehand.  Finding out about the incident with his cousin right after agreeing was not ideal, but he'll manage.  Ren is good at compartmentalizing, especially when it came to his emotions.

What's one more failure to add to the list?

Working through the motions he picks out his outfit, something subtle that won't bring attention to himself but also dressed enough to where it won't make him look sloppy.  He places his hair into a side tail, tying it with a ribbon to match.  He contemplates bringing Tonbokiri, but in the end opts to leave it behind.  Ren trusts his cousin to keep an eye on it.

As he leaves, he doesn't head directly towards the pub.  He sees no reason to arrive first, and the ex human needs to reign in any stray emotion that will show the others that something's not right.  Once that's done, a smile plays on his lips as he notices his date waiting outside, looking lovely as ever.

Truly, she could do better than him.

"Gabriela," he calls out, waving a hand in greeting as he makes his way towards the siren.  "Were you waiting for me?  You shouldn't have," he teases, reaching out to gently play with one of her earrings.  "Heavens, I feel underdressed beside you dear~.  You look lovely this evening," he continues, offering a hand for her to take.

"Shall we?"


 Lavinia had been anxious too? Wondering what she should wear? When she looked like that? It was hard to believe. Jade's only possible complaint was how far up the v-neck was buttoned, and she wasn't sure if she wanted it higher... or lower. "Well, we shall just have to schedule some more of these going forward then," she smiled, accepting and acknowledging the vampire's concerns, and hopefully diffusing them. "If this is you when you're out of practice, I will eagerly await seeing what you come up with when you've finished shaking off all of the rust."

Then, she let Lavinia lead them inside, where the royal guard also took charge of getting their seating arrangements squared away with the bartender. Taking in the vampire's standard demeanor throughout the exchange--calm, collected, composed--found herself wondering if the bartender had any idea this was a date, or whether he just assumed it was a few members of the general's entourage stopping by for a bite. A further tempting thought was how that might change if she were to somehow fluster Lavinia, say by grabbing her hand, or maybe something more? But the urge passed. Maybe another time, not on the first date. Or... actually, maybe never. There was something appealing about keeping a shy side of Lavinia all to herself too.

At any rate, the merchant had been wrapped up in daydream and delusion, and neglected to scan the room to take in the other patrons, completely missing any glances directed their way. And then, having taken a seat facing the door, her focus was more on her date, and watching the entrance to catch sight of when the other pair arrived.

"It certainly is," the zombie agreed with Lavinia's comment about how nice a place the pub was. "Both attentive and eager to please, good traits for any 'tender." They could easily have fared far worse than the wholesome, salt-of-the-earth atmosphere they found themselves in. Especially in a military fort. "I'm sure there will be something on the menu that suits your tastes," Jade continued optimistically, and then was reminded of something better to get out of the way early. "About the bill... I'm more than happy to pay, I did invite you out, after all. But if you'd rather split the costs instead, well, better to have that figured out now then to end up arguing over it when the time comes..."

Oh, white wings outside, was that...? "Ah, I think that's... do we just call out? Or should I go outside and get them while you wait so Braksen doesn't show up to an empty table with the menus?"


Watching Ren approaching in that dashing outfit of his, was enough to make Gabriela's heart start beating just a little faster. ''Of course I'm waiting for you, silly. We're going on a date together, aren't we? Well, with two others as well, but clearly it would be bad form if I went in without you.'' She winked, as Ren started playing with her earrings. ''How do you like these earrings? They match the siren's connection with the moon very well. Plus, they are just very pretty and shiny.''

After not too long, Ren held out his hand. It seems the waiting time was over. If Lavinia and Jade weren't in the pub already, they would most likely come in at a later time and enter on their own accord. ''Yes, let's go.'' Gabriela took her date's hand, and together, they headed into the pub.

As they headed in, Gabriela spotted Jade and Lavinia pretty quickly. ''Oh look, there they are!'' Gabriela took a quick glance around the pub, but didn't really look at many of the other costumers, scared that perhaps they would just be glancing at those wings of hers. You don't see those very often, after all. Instead, she just walked to the table. She waved as she approached. ''Hello Jade, hello Lavinia. You both look absolutely stunning! Thank you for this double date, Lavinia. I'm sure we will have a simply wonderful time!'' She waited for Ren to pull her chair out, if he wished to. If he didn't, she would simply sit down on her own. ''I hope we didn't make you two wait too long.''


"We'll split it, Jade. How could I make you pay for me? Giving me your company is more than enough." Lavinia wasn't offended, though definitely amused at Jade's innocent offer to pay. "There are other vampires working here, so I'm certain they have something more than palatable on tap... And I do believe you're right." Lavinia moved to get up, but their friends had already arrived. She met them with a smile and sat back down, trying not to blush over Gabriela's excited compliments.

"Yes, mm... Thank you. I don't dress up often, so I can only apologize for not having a more... Appropriate outfit. I'm glad it seems to please, at the least. Well met to you as well, Ren... You two look great together." It was interesting that they had become an item so quickly, but Lavinia wasn't going to judge, nor was she one to talk. A bit of a bashful glance at Jade had her swallowing words she was barely holding onto.

"Right then, here you all are," Braksen interrupted, placing four menus on the table while Gabriela and Ren decided their seats. Three that looked the same and a much smaller one. "Drinks for you, miss." He winked at Lavinia, not the first vampire he'd served.

"Thank you, kind sir. We're not in a rush, I'll wave you over when we're ready."

"Of course. Enjoy yourselves! I'll ask the boys not to get too rowdy." With a gentle bow, the lizardman turned away from the four and headed back towards the bar, waving down a man that looked like he was about to start singing.

"Hmhmhm... Well then... Ren, Gabriela, what have you two been getting up to here in Tepel?" Lavinia would let them speak first, she wasn't much of a topic setter. Better to bounce things off of than set them going.
 

He laughs, agreeing with her while offering a small smile.  "I think you're very pretty," he whispers into her ear as they go inside, swiftly looking back up and waving at their two friends who were already seated at a table.

"Yes, quite the striking pair you both make," the ex human can't help but tease, giving them a quick wink as he pulls out the chair for Gabriela.  Once she's seated he does so as well, agreeing once more as he nods at the other two.  "I would hope so.  I rather not think of work while enjoying a night free of it," he says with a smile.

It's so easy to lie, although technically he wasn't thinking of work.  Ayane was more than that, more than just another job to perform.

For now he simply smiles, waving a hand at Braksen when he comes back with their drinks.  Once he leaves and Lavinia asks just what they were up to in Tepel, Ren simply shrugged a shoulder as he gets comfortable.

"I was mostly here, did a few errands for some people," he answers, looking at his drink before taking a sip.  "Didn't catch much of anything, although I did help an orc with a little gift for their intended," and that actually manages to bring a soft smile to his lips. 


Lavinia's comment that Jade's company was worth more to her than any amount of gold stopped the zombie in her tracks, cutting off any motion she had been making to stand up to go flag down the other pair. Instead, she turned her head and had to focus on trying not to blush. When Gabriela called out a greeting, sitting down in the chair across from her after Ren pulled it out for her like a proper gentleman, the merchant had to just hope she'd composed herself enough to respond.

"Not long at all, I hope it didn't put you off that we went ahead without you to secure a table," Jade answered the siren's polite request for excuse with one of her own. With both parties admitting their incredibly minor faults, the scale of etiquette should be balanced and they could move on to other, more enjoyable matters than mere formalities. "Your earrings are a delight, by the way, I might have to enlist your help in accessorizing one of these days." The customary ribbon Jade always wore around her neck was a good start, but there were clearly multiple avenues for improvement. And maybe she should even mix it up with a choker on occasion? Or a necklace that was broad enough to cover her scar? It was food for thought, anyway.

When Ren chimed in with his own compliments it was time for another pause to collect herself. Maybe her self-esteem would eventually climb to the point it had been before she died, but Jade hadn't made it there quite yet, and so it was always a bit weird for her to hear something like that. It was easier to brush off Gabriela's gushing for some reason... perhaps because they'd planned the outing together? Luckily 'striking' was somewhat ambiguous praise, so she recovered soon enough. Nodding, she returned with, "I like the ribbon, it does you justice." She hadn't really paid the man much attention before, but now that she looked closer it seemed the siren really had landed herself a fine catch. More exotic than Jade would go for personally, but luckily she wasn't in the market to have to worry about that anyway these days.

"Gabriela and I spent most of the afternoon together," she added her answer after Ren's to Lavinia's question. "A couple visits here and there. I think the stop at the forge might have been the biggest thing? Aside from coming up with the idea for this," she gave a sweep of her hand indicating their current gathering. Leaving out the fortune teller was both to give the siren the chance to add her own take on things if she chose, and partly because there was a slight bit of reluctance. If it came out that she'd asked a stranger for advice on love, what would Lavinia think?

Then, not wanting to hog the conversation entirely, the merchant began to glance through her menu, keeping her ears open for replies and follow-ups, and darting her eyes back up to look at whoever the next speaker was when they began to say a piece.


''Oh, these earrings? Thank you! I like them a lot too, if I do say so myself.'' Jade's compliment hit its mark, but she was certainly not going to tell her where she actually got the earrings from. It's not like Lavinia didn't already knew enough of Gabriela's reputation, and giving her more ammunition to distrust her was something she was very tempted to do. ''I'd love to go shopping with you and the other ladies sometime! I'm sure all of you could look absolutely beautiful, all decked out in dresses and jewellery!'' She turned to Lavinia. ''I've met some vampires who look quite good in red and grey, I think you'd look beautiful in it too! That is, if that is your thing, of course.''

The conversation went quite well, and Gabriela was enjoying herself before the real thing even began. Ren began telling of his day. It doesn't appear as if his day was terribly eventful, but it didn't take a microscope to notice he was troubled with Ayane's situation. Gabriela had almost thought he would cancel the whole date because he couldn't focus on other things while his cousin was in peril. Nevertheless, it didn't seem like he wished to talk about it anymore, so she certainly wasn't going to bring it up. Jade meanwhile began talking about the day she and Gabriela had, leaving out the fortune teller of course, probably for the siren to fill in the gaps, if she wished.

''Yes, our day was quite eventful and enjoyable. Jade and I even visited a fortune teller. I've learned.. quite a bit. Let's leave it at that for tonight, shall we? Tonight is about fun things, after all.'' It was certainly worth it to report what she had learned about the sirens and the church to Lavinia, but tonight during a date wasn't the time or place. Who could be listening, after all!


Helping out one of the orcs, visiting a forge, and getting their fortunes told? Lavinia's escorting Marina around felt like a Sunday nap compared to the fun everyone else was having... Save for Ren, who had not taken the news of what had happened to Ayane well. Lavinia would keep herself reminded to not mention anything regarding what had occurred today with their intruder.

"I mostly spent my day taking care of Marina and one of our new additions... A star child fell around here, recently. I must say, speaking with her, I learned more today than I have in decades... I didn't think they were real, if I'm being honest. Though, if you want to know more, I'm sure Astraea will be more than happy to tell you herself... Jade, tell me more about your forge visit. You use firearms, so... Surely there wasn't much there for you to deal with, no? Unless you've picked something interesting up."

Lavinia held onto the mention of a fortune teller, though... She was definitely interested, if only a little, of what her future held. She was going to live more than long enough to experience it at a comfortable pace, but now that Jade had ambled into her life, things were uncertain, exciting, and a bit worrying. Some steady ground of where that would go... Wouldn't that be nice?


"Hm?  Oh, thank you," he tells Jade, not expecting the sudden compliment.  Letting his hand reach to where the ribbon fell, he mostly kept to his thoughts after saying his piece and listening to the other's answers.  At the mention of the fortune teller his eyes show subtle interest, but lets it go after a moment.  Not one to care for such things the ex human simply hums  in thought.

His mother had loved being told her fortunes, what little good that did her.

Just like Jade he picks up his own menu as the conversation continues on, looking up only when Lavinia brings up their newest member after telling her own side of the story.  "She sounds interesting.  A being that came from the stars?  I've heard of legends but never really witnessed something of the sort," he replies, going back to the menu if only to cut the conversation there.

Although...

"How is Marina, anyway?"  Might as well ask, looking back up as he looks over to Lavinia with a soft smile that betrayed nothing else.  At the same time, he made sure to show Gabriela his support by taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.  He won't pry, and will patiently wait for when she's ready to tell what she learned at her visit with the fortune teller.


The siren had indeed picked up where she left off, at least mentioning the fortune telling, while leaving the details secret. That was fine by Jade. The eagerness of her friend to take all the girls out shopping someday was also welcome news. The zombie allowed herself a brief mental indulgence, imagining Lavinia in red and grey per Gabriela's suggestion, and she had to admit she liked what she saw, nodding in approval though the others could only guess at why. Scrolling her way down the menu, one of the dishes was blackened fish, which both settled itself in as her choice, and planted a seed in her mind. "A port city... that would be one of the best places to shop," she murmured, not entirely to herself. "Pearls, shells, and just... access to shipping lanes opening up room for all sorts of exotic options..." Would she look good in a pearl necklace? ...Probably not, maybe earrings? Black pearls, perhaps? Hmm... the mind wandered, only brought back to focus when her girlfriend asked for some more specific details on her business at the forge.

"Oh, oh yes, about that. Funny you should ask," Jade sets her menu down on the table, having by now decided, even if not actually submitted the order, and turned her full attention back to the conversation. "Nothing so exotic as fallen stars, but you remember that wreck I dug up the other day? When you chastised me for ranging too far ahead and leaving you behind, while we were investigating the monsters in the ruins? I'd wanted the forgemaster to take a look, see if there wasn't some way to salvage it, begin to make it into something usable again. Should be able too, by the sounds of it. It's not going to be a walk in the park, we'll have our work cut out for us, but well... maybe I should hold off on any celebrations until it's done, hmm?" Lavinia's slight surprise at her forge visit was unexpected. Sure, firearms weren't the first thing you'd think of when the image of a smith hammering away at an anvil came to mind, but there were plenty of metal parts to a gun, and if nothing else asking a master craftsman for advice, even if not fully within their field of specialization surely wouldn't be a complete waste of time. It was probably just a good excuse to move the conversation along though, so she smiled throughout her explanation.

When Ren asked after how the Hero was doing, since Lavinia had spent most of the day with her, she turned to look at the oni, and her thoughts again returned to sea. That was where he and his cousin had come from, and surely there were plenty of stories there. Jade was very curious, only having seen the rare piece of art or craft from where the pair had called home, but how and when would be the right way to ask?
 

Having Ren as moral support was nice. He definitely knew how to calm someone. Someday soon, she would tell the details of what she heard. Gabriela would like to think it would be on a need-to-know basis, but when she really thought about it, everyone here needed to know sometime. What if they ran into the enemy, and there was a siren among them? Gabriela's credibility would hit an all time low, if she wasn't just killed off to cut off any risks that the church might have an advantage. That's why it was absolutely necessary to tell them soon, but the only question was, how soon?

Needing a break from heavy thoughts, the siren turned her attention to the menu. What delicacies were available for any hungry soul to try? Meat, fish? Perhaps some greens as well? Gabriela was pleasantly surprised by the vast array of items available for consumption. She loved fish, and she hadn't had any for.. about two years. Perhaps this would be a good time to try some... blackened fish, huh? The siren had never had that particular type of fish before, but she wasn't shy to try something new. It didn't look too bad, that was for sure.

''Well, I hope you guys have made your choice. I for one would love to dig in into this blackened fish that is on the menu.'' She looked around at her comrades to see if they selected a dish to order yet.


Hit with a few things, Lavinia did her best to pick it all up. Jade's reminder about how far ahead of the group she'd gone left Lavinia with a small sting of frustration, even if it had ended up working out. It was nice to hear that her endeavors had earned her something rather than a pile of scrap, at the very least... The vampire would be interested to see how that turned out. Would they really be able to turn a chunk of metal; a slab of what was left of a gun, into a working firearm? Those machines really were odd contraptions, as far as Lavinia was concerned...

"Ah, yes, I am ready to order... As for Marina... She's been well today, I think. Not the best over the entire trip, but she made quick friends with this fallen star, and got a gift from Taliyah. Seemed in high spirits when last I saw her today." I just hope that the news of this Ariana doesn't completely ruin them... We can't avoid telling her, even if I haven't yet. I'll make sure to let her know when we're done here. "I do hope that the further we go, and the more that we help, the more she'll see that she had purpose and meaning here... So many of her worries rest on how she thinks people see her, and what's she's done. One of those can be addressed with this campaign, at the least... The rest... Is up to her, in the end." No one could reconcile Marina's actions for her. She had to overcome the feelings of guilt herself, or find a way to live with them.

"Uhm, but, yes, what about you, Ren? I should really be taking the time to speak with you and Ayane more, given you're both from an entirely different continent. It would do for me to broaden my horizons with information I can't get anywhere else..."

Braksen slipped by as Lavinia finished, noticing menus closing. "Ready for yer orders, then?"

"Ah, yes, thank you. Werewolf for me, Braksen. If you don't have any fresh from the past few days, then elf, or orc is fine." Lavinia was talking about blood, of course, nonchalantly, not paying attention to the rest of the table. She'd clarify if necessary, but it was so normal for her, it slipped her mind to reassure everyone else.

"Whole pint of werewolf then, got some donated just yesterday. The rest of you?"


"Oh, you were thinking of that one too, Gabriela," Jade exclaimed with a bit of surprise when the siren expressed her intended meal. Perhaps she shouldn't have been, though, birds do love fish... wait, that was a little racist wasn't it? No, it was better that she hadn't expected the choice after all. A slight frown crossed her face for a moment, as she wondered whether or not she ought to change her selection for politeness sake, but when she saw Braksen approaching from the corner of her eye, her expression melted into a happy one again. No, no point changing it now, it would be more impolite to keep everyone waiting while looking for something else. And of the many possible faux pas to commit, it was far from the worst. In fact, in some instances, picking the same dish was certainly the way to go, especially if there were no similar ones. For example, when on a date, and your partner chooses a dish prepared with something pungent, like garlic. Either you both eat that, or neither of you do... at least if there's any hope for kissing later in the evening.

Oh boy. That was certainly a thought to have just been thinking. The wood grain pattern of the tabletop in front of Jade suddenly became the most interesting thing in the room, she couldn't take her eyes off of it. When the owner asked for their orders, the zombie absently answered after Lavinia with an "I'll have what she's having," her unconscious by this point firmly on the path that had been sketched out earlier, and it was only a few seconds of silence afterwards that she realized what she'd said and had to stammer out a correction. The blood stores really ought to be saved for those who needed it, after all, not just some undead who didn't subsist on it trying it out on a silly lark. "Wait, sorry, that was ummm... not what... just, uh." Her hands curling up into nervous balls, Jade suddenly wished to become very small. It was not a wish that would be fulfilled however, so she finally managed quietly. "The blackened fish... and a water."


Gabriela was surprised at Jade's own surprise at her order. ''Hmm? Is something wrong, Jade? Fish is quite delectable, isn't it! I used to always eat freshly caught fish that we caught in the ocean. Oh, how I miss those days. Let's taste test this to see if it's any good, shall we?'' She then eyed Ren to see what he wanted. ''And you, Ren? What is it that you want? Do you enjoy fish also? Or are you more of a venison type of guy?'' She giggled a bit and then faced Braksen. ''Hello sir. I would like a blackened fish as well as... some good alcoholic stuff, I don't particularly care what kind. It's been entirely too long since I have had something good.''


"Marina does tend to dwell on what she's done in the past, and not what she can accomplish further on.  At least, from what I've seen and spoken with her," he agrees with Lavinia, still keeping his hand resting with Gabriela's as he arches a brow at the menu.  Didn't Braksen say he only had meat to serve?  Hm, maybe that was for lunch and there were more options during the evening.

Still, as the man arrived to take their orders he couldn't help the slight tilt to his lips as his eyes never left his own menu.  "I thought you only served some form of meat dish here Braksen?  Surely you weren't holding back on me," he teases, clearly jesting at the man, before letting out a huff of laughter.  "Bring me a dish that will compliment your best ale...and bring me that too," he adds after a small pause, smile now on full display before turning back to Lavinia.

He hadn't ignored her question out of rudeness, no.  With being caught offguard and taking advantage of Braksen's sudden appearance to take their orders, he had used that time to gather his thoughts.

"Well, it depends on what you'd like to know about my home country.  I do appreciate that you're taking the time now to gather information about my cousin and I, so hopefully I can provide some answers," he responds smoothly, almost mechanically but fully in control now of any wayward emotion that might surface.


"I bet you'd like that, but we just got a shipment in this evening. Finally arrived from the north... Fish has been difficult since Hwein got cut off, but we get it from time to time. Lucky for your lovely ladies, eh? Two fish, best cut of steak for you, werewolf for miss Lavinia, the strongest red in the house once again for you, some white for the bird... And a water. Heh. Back with you all in just a bit." With a snicker at Jade's expense, Braksen took his little list and left.

"Ahah... Jade, if you want a taste that badly, I don't mind sharing." Lavinia wouldn't let her live it down either, but even if they were both undead, blood would just taste like blood, to Jade. The nuance of a fresh werewolf would be lost on anyone but another vampire, of course...

Ren didn't dwell for long on Marina and Lavinia appreciated that. He hadn't known her for that long, even if she hadn't either, but it still felt a bit off to her having someone so new to the group and to Vaia reading into her behaviour so deeply... It did seem like he was more comfortable speaking about his country, so for now, prying into that couldn't hurt, right?

"Well... Tell us about your bird, and the weaponry you and Ayane use. I'm sure Jade and Gabriela have different questions, but that's what I'm most curious about, not getting into more... Private details. I'd never thought much of single sided blades... There are a few here, used in Hwein, but they're much wider, and with more of a curve. And your spears are bladed with extra prongs at the end. Like a horizontal trident... Such a change seems lot more... Lethal."


"Well, just a sip then, I guess," Jade was in too deep to back down now. Maybe Lavinia would forget by the time the drink came back around, maybe not. Either way, the change in subject to a focus on Ren's homeland was a welcome one, and the merchant indicated her enthusiasm.

"Oh certainly, I'm rather interested in your fan, or any other such cultural objects you'd care to enlighten me on, either functional ones or just those for purely aesthetic purpose. Also... I have to ask, what was crossing the ocean like? I have had half a mind to make a trip at some point in my life, but just, never worked up to it yet. Hearing first-hand might be a good boost in that direction."


''I must admit, your culture is unlike anything I have ever seen here in Vaia... and I have seen quite a bit of Vaia. I would really like to hear more about your mannerisms and traditions you are used to that are very different than here. And honestly...''

She looked at Jade and Lavinia. ''I would also like to hear more about special traditions you two have. Whether it's your own thing, or tied to your race. I find things like that quite interesting.'' She heard Jade speak about crossing the ocean. ''Haha, I don't think my wings could carry you across such a large body of water. But I too would like to cross the ocean sometime to find foreign lands.''


Ren couldn't help the laugh that Braksen was able to get out of him, only to linger when his amusement extended towards Jade's obvious yet cute blunder over her advances towards Lavina.  Watching the other two awkwardly skitter around each other instead of actually taking action and just kiss already, Ren wondered if he had been that bad in the past.  Hopefully Gabriela and he weren't that bad about it...

And then the attention of all three ladies were on him.

At the mention of him the feathery orb of fluff poked his head out of Ren's braid. and the ex human thought nothing better than to start there.  "Speak of the devil.  He's just an ordinary bird -that earns him a peck on his cheek, ow- but one of the many that I used to care for back home.  His name is Ukogi and he loves getting preened and observing others." He doesn't mention what happened to the rest of its kin, doesn't mention the broken cages and melted metal or the blood and feathers-

"As for our weaponry, you're right in deducing it being lethal at least," he continues on while using his free hand to gently pet the small bird's head.  "We take pride on the craftsmanship of our weapons.  Our blades take more precedent in dealing as much damage towards our opponent in precise strokes.  It's quite the sight to behold when watching a blade master fight," and his voice softens lightly as he remembers his uncle and father fight, the memory distant even if it hadn't been all too long ago-

"As for my yari, the extra prongs are to lodge into your opponent...and for it to stay lodged.  Not just for show I'm afraid," he continues, his smile sharp and showing just a bit of teeth.  "Messier than my cousin's blade, but just as beautiful when in experienced hands," he ends that line of questioning with a small shrug and a more subdued smile.

Now, Jade.  "I'm quite impressed at how observant you are Jade.  Normally people don't think much about my fan," he says, pulling his hand away from petting his small friend to smoothly untuck the mentioned item from his sleeve to flutter it open with grace.  "Mine used to be part of a pair, a gift from...my mother.  She kept the other one, and they were mostly used in performances really.  Dances."  He hides the lower half of his face, his eyes the only visible things now.  "Quite convenient to have if you want to garner an air of mystery, want emotions hidden or simply be flirtatious with a significant other," he continues while wagging his brows at Gabriela.

Bullet dodged.

"Although, I don't think a trip to our home country would be advisable.  Quite the opposite really, I'd advise against it.  The waters are turbulent and fierce, and the only reason my cousin and I even arrived here in one piece is due to the fact that our ships are specifically made to deal with said waters."  He pauses, a frown hidden behind the blessed ornament.  "Besides, there's not much to see at the moment..."

Ah, pesky thoughts are pesky.

Hearing Gabriela helps with said pesky thoughts, focusing on her curiosity as his hand squeezes just a bit against hers.  "Depends on what you'd like to hear my dear.  I'll try my best to explain any topic you bring up that peaks your curiosity," he offers, closing his fan with a sharp snap while leaning in to kiss her cheek.  "Same for you Jade.  Anything else you want to know about such objects, if you have a certain object or artifact in mind I am...more than happy to oblige in answers."

Right now though, he's quite glad to let Gabriela divert her attention to the other two ladies.  Putting his fan away he went back to petting Ukogi, now as much a listener as the rest of them.


Jade had a small chuckle at Gabriela's joke, but when Ren began to seriously answer questions, the zombie quickly became all ears. His explanation about his bird and his weapon were straightforward and matter of fact, so when it came time for him to talk about his fan, his little flourish, hinting at a dangerous mysteriousness caught her quite by surprise. The man had a certain sense of humor, that was for sure. And it was enjoyable, garnering a quiet laugh and the smallest of golf claps.

"Your dances and festivals would certainly be a treat to see then," better to focus on that aspect than to prod too deeply at the pause behind his mention of his mother, and the other half of his fan's pair. Jade had heard enough about that tragedy to not tread carelessly, and she honestly didn't need full specifics, especially not at the cost of emotional pain. "It's a shame it sounds like I won't get to experience them in person." The oni had been pretty straightforward with shooting down any plans of sea travel.

The zombie laughed again when Ren opened up the floor for more questions, diverting the subject a bit, "No need for you to field a full inquisition, there's plenty of topics for conversation to go around. Speaking of which," Jade turned to look at Lavinia, "We've heard about Ren's pet, but what would you say about your preferences, Lavinia? Are you a cat person? A dog person? Some other animal or none at all?"


To lodge and stay lodged... A weapon meant for killing, not fighting. What a dangerous society Ren came from, truly. It wasn't as though the modern weaponry of Vaia was meant for less than subduing an opponent permanently, but... For a weapon to be designed such that it would ram itself into someone and only be able to be removed through serious force... How scary. Lavinia took a moment to remember her days of using spears before Thesephine's worry got the better of her. They were clear and meant for medium ranged combat, definitely not quite lethal, without precise training and aim. How very, very dangerous...

"You say the waters are dangerous, but you and Ayane made your way here. Surely you still have the vessel you landed in, somewhere... Perhaps our forges and smiths can design similar, enough to escape the waters surrounding Xensat." Perhaps in the future, it would be good to branch out beyond the continent. Maybe not to Ren's home country, but elsewhere. Surely their two lands couldn't be the only in the world...

"Wait, me?" Suddenly the spotlight was on her. "Er, dogs. If I had to choose... Cats are too... Wiley. Sure, they'll return your affections, but I find myself not completely being able to trust them... That, and they find the lack of heat from my body troublesome. I never could get any to cuddle up against me once I'd turned..." A bit of a longing sigh left her, perhaps remembering some stray tabby that didn't want to acquiesce to pets.

"Dogs have definitely treated me better. There are even a few that work with some of the castle guards as attack animals... Hmm. Speaking of dogs, Jade... Where did that beast you attempted to coerce go?"


Gabriela thought about what she was going to say for just a second. ''Hmm.. do you guys have any special rituals for couples? I am a little curious.'' The siren certainly had their fair share of traditions centered around love that would be fun to uphold together. Perhaps they had some own unique ones in Ren's homeland that they could explore together as well. It would help them feel more connected.

Hearing about festivals was a treat. ''Oh, I just love singing and dancing! Of course, I would have to be careful as to what I sing, but I would love to visit one of those festivals! They sound so much fun! We should try some dancing together sometime, Ren. Show me your skills on the dancefloor sometime!'' She gave a brisk wink in Ren's general direction.

Listening to their talk about animals was certainly interesting, but Gabriela herself wasn't so interested in them. The squabbling of all the sirens amongst one another was enough of a zoo, anyway. Besides, with her being a vagabond, she wouldn't really have had any time for animals in the first place. No, to Gabriela, they were just food, nothing more, and nothing less. Perhaps a cuddle partner if one was nearby.


Seeing the two ladies be this interested in his country's festivities made Ren feel...odd.  Not the bad kind of odd, but definitely something to keep in mind as he gives them both a sheepish look.  "I would not be opposed in performing what I know.  If we have the time for such things later, and...a-ah," he pauses, Gabriela's question interrupting his thoughts and leaving him tongue tied for just a moment.  "Well, aside from actual marriage ceremonies there's not much of a difference in a courtship unless certain conditions are set?  I guess we're just...formal in some aspects of it.  Usually I'd have to ask one of your parental guardians permission to court you ha," he explains, his words a bit rushed as his cheeks color somewhat.

Not wanting to stay on that topic for longer, but giving Gabriela a mouthed 'later', he turns back to the discussion of pets and finding amusement in Lavinia being placed on the spotlight.  When the discussion of boats is brought up once more, he hums softly in thought as he taps a claw against the tabletop.  "You can certainly try.  If you find my ship then by all means study it if it helps, but as soon as I landed not much thought was left than to find my cousin.  Wouldn't be able to tell you where exactly I had docked," nor did he want to remember really.  

Remembering has been dangerous these days, and he rather not trigger something...unpleasant.


'Wait, me?' Pff, why are you surprised? I'm on a date with you, you better believe I'll be trying to find out more about you. Silly vampire. It was hard for Jade not to be amused at Lavinia's reaction. And it was probably a welcome relief to the oni as well. Pets, animals, favorite likes and dislikes are all a fair shake lighter subjects, even if not necessarily as exotic and mystique as his homeland.

That said, Lavinia's answer was incredibly telling in its own way. So she misses cuddling, huh. Well, that is a fixable dilemma if I've ever come across one. An unconscious smile spread across her face as her date sighed a bit wistfully. But then the shoe was on the other foot, with the question tossed back to the zombie's side of the court.

"Tres? Well, that one sort of comes and goes as he pleases, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's still nearby. I think he likes me, but the fort was probably too much of a new experience. I'd wager a small purse once we're back on the road he'll come padding up to the edge of the fire, first night out. Maybe he'll even let you pet him this time!"


"I can't... Say, that I'm too enamored with the idea of petting your three headed dog, but... So long as it behaves, I suppose it won't be a problem. As for dancing, I have two left feet, but I'm a quick learner. If we come to such a situation, then, I'd love to share a dance with you, Jade. A nice ballroom, a fancy dress... It sounds wonderful."

"I hope it's as wonderful as your food," Braksen cut in, plates of foot laid across his arms, balanced in that way only waiters could. "Fish for you both, a steak with wine, and blood for the vampire... You sure you don't want your own glass, miss zombie?" He couldn't help his chuckle, setting down waters with their meals. "Yell if you need anything else... And enjoy."

"Ah! Wonderful... That was quick, but I won't complain. Already cooking when we arrived?"

"Magic works wonders on a proper meal." With a final wink, the lizard was gone back to work.

"Magic it is~ Mmm... Werewolf goes well with the warmer weather." Lavinia took a sip and leaned back a bit, enjoying the taste.


"Oh yes, dancing could be quite fun. I haven't at all since... well, you know, but I quite enjoyed it before. I was told I was good at it, but maybe I was just being buttered up." Jade agreed at the idea, wheels already turning in her head for figuring out when and where might be the best place to arrange such an outing. It might even warrant more couples than the gathering tonight had assembled, actually. A lot of variables were at play with a dance...

And then the bartender came back with their meals and another round of teasing. That drove all thoughts clear from the zombie's mind as she endeavored not to blush or otherwise make a fool of herself. "I'm... good. Thanks," she managed without stutters, though her eyes were boring a hole through her fish. Which really did look appetizing, though. Breaking off a piece didn't even require anything more than her fork, and placing a morsel in her mouth, "How flakey! This is really good."


Ren's mention of 'parental guardians' felt a little like a blow to the head to the siren. ''Ah... haha... that would be quite difficult in my situation, wouldn't it?'' she laughed a very ungenuine laugh, but picked up on Ren's 'later' that he was mouthing. ''Our dancing will be very spectacular. But we will see who teaches who, Ren.''

Almost immediately after, the blackened fish arrived! It had been entirely too long since the siren had tasted a quality portion of anything even relating to fish. Putting the thing in her mouth was absolutely mouthwatering. Jade seemed to enjoy it too. ''I agree with Jade. This fish is absolutely delicious! How do you like your food, Ren?''


It'd be a difficult thing indeed from both sides really, but Ren simply let that topic go as promised.  Tuning back to the conversation, he can't help but raise a brow at the mention of... "Three headed dog you say?  When...did this even happen?" Was this before they arrived at Tepel?  Certainly not when fighting the wraith at the forest...right?  Hm, interesting.

"Ah, I'm afraid ballroom dancing is still a work in progress for me.  It's not something that is widely known in my country, at least not the kind that you frequent here," he informs while perking up at their meals arriving.  He thanks Braksen kindly before cutting a piece to taste.  "Quite delicious if I do say so myself," he answers Gabriela after swallowing, already cutting another piece.  "Still on the topic of dancing, I think it fun if we learned each other's dancing styles.  Aside from performing myself, I wouldn't be opposed in teaching you," he offers, before stuffing his face with the next bite.


"Ah, three headed dog. Yes... Jade decided it would be a wonderful idea to try and coax over one of the monsters we fought in the woods, you know, with that wraith? Yes, so... Well, it didn't attack her. Much. Seemed rather docile once she'd talked it down... Then it ran off. If it comes back, I'm sure we can accomadate it, but... It's still feral. Rather dangerous." She eyed Jade as she spoke, sipping her blood. She didn't quite agree with the decision, but so long as it didn't try to eat anyone, she wouldn't complain.

 

After Dinner

Spoiler

There had been a few embarrassing moments during the date, but none of her stumbles had been anything that could be termed disastrous. Jade was counting it a success at any rate, at least for her half. That said, she was pretty sure the other pair had had a good time as well. The two couples had parted ways at the end, to either wrap things up there and call it a night, or, if they chose, to try and extend the moment, to perhaps transition to a more intimate, one-on-one setting. Speaking personally, the zombie wouldn't mind a little more time together, in what felt to be a fresh and exciting atmosphere rather far removed from more general day-to-day banality.

"Do you think... they'd let us walk along atop the walls, circling around the fort, beneath the moon? Or, I guess, are you even interested in a bit of a night-time stroll?" Jade turned to the side, looking up at her date, eyes resting a moment on the silver necklace before continuing their upward arc, ultimately meeting Lavinia's gaze.


The date had gone well enough... Hopefully Lavinia hadn't made a fool of herself in front of Ren and Gabriela, but they seemed to have enjoyed their time. "Mmmh... A walk along the walls, is it?" Lavinia smiled gently, meeting Jade's gaze and finding her cheeks flushing somewhat red. The fresh blood in her system had left her feeling slightly tipsy, giddy, fresh. Spending more time with Jade felt like a wonderful idea and with the sun disappearing beyond the horizon, she didn't have to worry about her parasol much longer.

Taking the zombie's hand in her own, Lavinia turned towards the walls, heading on to them with a bit of a spring in her step. "Let's go~ I'm really enjoying my time with you... So... Let's enjoy some more time together, Jade~"


Jade had quite entirely forgotten what it felt like to be drunk. Five years with a dead body that ignored all compounds and chemicals, either harmful or beneficial, had a tendency to do that to a person. But when Lavinia grabbed her hand, told her that the time they were spending together was magical, well, the zombie somehow managed to fool herself into feeling some kind of intoxication. She grunted an enthused affirmation, squeezing the hand back, "Mmm, let's."

There was a period of silence then, a quiet as they made their way to the walls. Jade was indulging in the company, and she didn't feel any special need to be talkative to do so. Words could be certainly be good, yes, but there was no need to force them. Not forcing, not rushing, when she thought about that, her mind drifted back to other things the fortune teller had said. A few of them swirled around, but one in particular she latched onto. Lavinia Caera. A different last name, surely from before her husband, before Roman. That brought an interesting, and unusual thought. While Jade have never expected she'd be a Persyn till the end of her days, had implicitly expected taking a name from a husband of her own at some point... If she were to take Lavinia's name, she... wouldn't feel quite right with taking Roman's. Was that shallow of her? How would the other one sound? Jade...

"...Caera." The word slipped out softly, unthinkingly. Tentatively, as if tasting it out.


Lavinia hadn't much of a thought as they walked along the town and towards the walls of the fort city. The moon wasn't quite full in the sky, but it was shining down on them, leaving Lavinia blissful in her semi-blood-drunk-stupor. Jade's hand was lukewarm, or at the least, the vampire could feel a faint heat coming from the zombie... It was calming, and she only gripped her hand tighter as they walked, heading atop the walls.

Their silence continued, Lavinia slowly starting to this about a few things... Unrelated to them, thinking about their job, their need to fight, what they'd be doing after today...

Then, Caera. Her own last name... One she was afraid of hearing, but from Jade, it didn't send her into a rage or worry. It simply made her sad... She slowly turned around and took Jade's other hand, holding them tight in her own. "Yes... Caera. A name that, I shouldn't... Keep on running from... But I'm afraid." A wry smile, a glance away, then an effort spent to look back at the undead in front of her.

"I kept his name, so I wouldn't forget. We talked about memories... Eventually mine will go. It will take several centuries, sure... But... I'll forget all about him. Even Bridgit will... So I kept his name. Maybe hearing it something would trigger, and they'd come rushing back, should they truly become buried in the back of my mind. That's... Not fair, is it? You... W-We..." Lavinia was blushing again, flustered over the drink, flustered over her name, flustered...

"Do... Y-You, want to take, my name, Jade? Is that... Has that c-crossed your mind? This is too sudden... I'm sorry, f, forget it, I didn't say anything, uhhh--" Lavinia let go of Jade's hands and turned away from her, leaning against the fort's walls, staring down into the field and trees below. "Uhm... Th-The date was, wonderful, yes? Nice to speak to people, and... The blood was g-good, er... I'm sure your food was too, so... We, should go out like this more."


The zombie hadn't quite expected the vampire to stop, turn, and take her other hand. Hadn't expected the hint of forlorn in Lavinia's voice as she confessed to running away from the past. Though perhaps she really should have... Lavinia said she was running away from it, yet that was only part of the story, she was still clinging tightly to part of it as well. "I... that's not..." I didn't speak it to judge you or anything. By the time Jade lined up the words she wanted to say in her mind, she came to the conclusion it was better to just let Lavinia keep talking, without interrupting. It didn't appear she needed to defend herself after all. She simply looked up into her face, nodding at the appropriate times, conveying understanding.

And then, while blushing and bringing up the question of fairness, Lavinia did a rather unfair thing, guessing the secret reason behind Jade's utterance. But as she gave voice to her theory, let it play out upon her lips, the vampire grew steadily more flustered, managing somehow to feel even more embarrassed about the subject than Jade was, suddenly dropping her hands and, unable to continue facing the zombie, instead turned to gaze out over the ramparts, changing the topic to the most generic of platitudes about the evening.

Jade couldn't leave things stand like that.

"The name came up during the reading, at the fortune teller's. I hadn't meant to snoop or anything, I'd asked her about my present, even, so it was somewhat incidental," she wove somewhat of an apology into her explanation. "I thought I'd try saying it now on a whim. It's a beautiful name. I didn't really put enough thought into whether, whether it would hurt you or anything..." While she'd deflected somewhat, her words were sincere. And having gotten that off her chest she was feeling a bit better about the situation. Enough so that she felt she could be a little bold, a tad bit playful.

"That being said, my dear lady knight, I think the werewolf must've gone to your head a little," tugging at Lavinia's sleeve, imploring her wordlessly to turn back around, when the vampire did Jade smiled up at her. "I dare say you've gotten the order of things rather backwards there?" Pushing herself up on tiptoes, pulling a little on the vampire's arm to steady herself as she leaned in, the zombie pressed her lips up against Lavinia's. Only a few seconds before parting, and then entrusting her head to the crook of her shoulder, leaning against her and finishing with, "Asking a girl to take your name before you've even kissed her? Who does that?"


 Lavinia turned around slowly at Jade's insistence, unable to ignore her tugging plea, even as embarrassed as she was. "What, do you mean order, of..." The quiet fell back on them. Jade stole her kiss, made her quip... All the blood left in Lavinia was rushing to her face. Her eyes looked away from her green companion; suddenly, the stonework of the fort's walls was ever so intriguing...

A quiet fell over them once more. Lavinia had no sharp comeback for such an honest assault. No quip, no retort, no riposte, as it were... Or anything of a proper reply. It was only after moments under the moon, in that silence, that she finally steeled herself to look at Jade again. Still smiling... Still beautiful. "I can't think," she started, flushed, embarrassed, but trying her best to kill the silence, "of anything to say to that. My apologies, for skipping such an important step... Allow me to offer my apologies."

A hand slipped around Jade's waist and picked her up into another kiss, Lavinia taking the time to savor her lips... Then another, and another... The werewolf had certainly gotten to her head. Her free hand was already greedily grabbing at Jade's clothes.


The considerable silence after her small act of daring was warm at first, and Jade enjoyed the bit of breathless surprise she'd caused. But as it drew longer, she began to feel a bit uncertain. Had she pushed too far? Lavinia had been a bit uncomfortable just then, and she'd gone and ignored that, selfishly doing as she wanted. Yes, she'd meant to lighten the mood with it, but then again, there was that saying about paving roads with good intentions, and all that wasn't there... Still, she didn't let her smile slip as she stared up at the vampire, watching for a sign.

When it came, it started bashful, then swiftly gained in strength. Jade gladly let herself be pulled in to Lavinia's 'apology'. The vampire's hunger was infectious, and on the second or third helping--Jade surely wasn't keeping count--she began 'apologizing' herself, taking Lavinia's bottom lip in a little between her own, adding some suction and clinging tight to her shoulder as she did. The zombie was aware of the hand roaming across her body, felt it keenly and was torn wondering whether she should stop it, whether she should guide it somewhere, but unsure how or where. Her indecision led her own hand to wander, playing along the back collar of Lavinia's v-neck, till her fingers brushed up against the necklace she was wearing, and now with new purpose began to follow that instead, tracing it around clockwise from the rear toward the front.

"Ah, I didn't know I needed this... I realized, with my head, that you were serious, that your compliments were more than just empty words, but... feeling your desire close like this, this is... ahhh ha ha," during one of the small breaks she breathed out the words, almost laughing, a happy contented sigh of a laugh. "It's not anything I could have imagined, but now that I am, I don't want to stop. Apology most accepted, and doubtless the same for any future apologies, I warrant. Haha. Bring them on," another broad smile and she closed her eyes. Lavinia's face was beaming so bright it almost hurt to look at.


"It's alright, Jade... I... I should have been more forthcoming. I'm far too afraid for someone who has centuries to work out her feelings. You deserve this much and more..." Withholding the urge to kiss her again, Lavinia finally caught her hand, Jade's shirt nearly halfway up her stomach. It let go in a panicked flinch, the cloth collecting properly on her again, Lavinia's blush worsening. "I, ah... Th-That, was... Instinct...?" Yes, horny instinct... How desperate are you, Lavinia? It was a moment of passion, yes, but atop the fort's walls... At least wait until you're back at your room.

With a small chuckle of her own, Lavinia tried to keep things more calm, taking in Jade's smile instead of returning to their impromptu make-out. "Worry not, Jade... I'll bring on plenty for you, alright? Thank you... For getting me out the door on my own worries. It's greatly appreciated... Now, if you don't mind." Another strong grip pulled Jade closer again, hand having slung itself around her back... But this time was not for a kiss, as Lavinia's mouth met the zombie's neck and sucked gently on the skin...

"Nnhnf..." Fangs pierced the thin layer protecting Jade's blood from Lavinia's wanting mouth, taking a moment to let it pool out to drink, slow as it was. "Mmm..." Even if thicker, it was still definitely delicious... Lavinia dared to say, more than the werewolf she'd had earlier~


"I don't think you heard me objecting?" Jade offered a soft rebuttal to Lavinia's embarrassed apology for her hungry hand. "While the time and place aren't quite..." The zombie trailed off, trying to figure how not to make her objection sound... well, like an objection, she quickly gave up and laughed. "Ha, at any rate, I can't say I'm not pleased to learn that years of disuse have not dulled your instincts. When we're both well and ready I'm sure they will... ah--"

Any further words caught in her throat, as the vampire's fangs came to keep them company. Jade's hand on Lavinia's neck slipped to her shoulder, fingers curling, grip tightening. Her other hand sought the vampire's waist, pulling close, trying to maintain balance as she leaned in to the feeding. The slightly uncomfortable sensation of being pierced was quickly followed by a soothing warmth. And this time, an almost manic urging, but with no goal in particular. Just, restless energy, no outlet. Moaning slightly before biting her lips to hold it back, transforming the utterances to low murmurs in her throat, Jade fought back a strange impulse to jump up, wrap her legs around Lavinia and climb her way to the top. What would she do when she got there? There was no plan, there was no reason. It must've been how the mindless hordes felt when they scaled their fallen brethren, scrabbling to mount and cross a wooden palisade, surging toward the fresh meat hidden cowering beyond the defensive walls.

Jade's customary leash on her true strength slipped. She hugged and clung with more power than she thought, her nails biting into the vampire's flesh. And then, peace. However many seconds, however many minutes the drink had taken, the zombie had lost complete track of time, but it seemed to be over now. She didn't trust her voice to talk, so she just, slumped a little, slackening her muscles and releasing the fierce deathgrip she'd been applying. A soft, unintelligible murmur, a groan of contentment. That much was likely to be fine.


Lavinia hadn't expected Jade's powerful grip. It didn't hurt, nothing ever did, but it did surprise her. The wounds from her nails would heal in moments, but what did it mean? Had she enjoyed the sensation that much, or was there something more? The bite had ended, Lavinia full and happy on several sources of blood now, gently hugging Jade, now... Should I ask about it? Certainly it's fine, right...?

"Mm... You seem to have enjoyed that. I did too... Jade, I..." Lavinia took a breath first, leaning back some to catch her eyes. "I want, to make sure that... Us, works. For a long time... If there's ever anything I'm doing, like... Like holding back on this affection, and you feel I should be doing more, tell me. Don't be afraid to tell me... I won't get mad or bothered, I promise. To that end, I... Will do my best to keep moving forward without the need for your bravery. You pulled quite the maneuver tonight. Very sly." With a smirk, Lavinia stole her own small kiss, giggling a moment.

"Hopefully I have it in me to do so without being full of blood. It certainly makes it easier, this warm, fluffy feeling surrounding me... But you deserve more, and better, than that. Tomorrow... When this has all worn off, I'll make sure to kiss you again. Show you that I can be brave when I need to be."


"It was... a little stronger sensation than usual. Probably due to the mood?" Jade agreed with Lavinia, then quickly went silent and listened as the vampire bared her feelings. She smiled, a small shy blush as she got kissed back, and then added her own little confession.

"It's not that... I know we agreed to start slow, and feel things out, and, I'm still fine with that. Probably still need that myself. It's just," a pause, and a hug for reassurance. "You know, there's a difference between taking things slow and simply standing still, and I was starting to worry. But... clearly I don't need to worry any longer. Tonight was wonderful. Thank you."


"We've got all the time in the world, Jade... But if this helps to calm your worries, I'll kiss you any time. So long as it, is appropriate... The battlefield is no place for such affection, much as Nessraya might argue against that." A small chuckle, Lavinia picked herself up, standing properly, before clearing her throat.

"I, er, uhm... Will say that perhaps, we should retire to our room, and... Ahhh, ehm... P-Perhaps avoid further affection. Given my current state I can't promise I wouldn't do anything to you. I, I suppose I wouldn't be against it, but... I don't, er, well... We, should come back to being physical... When I'm less pumped up on blood. Y-Yes...?" A sheepish look and a small smile, Lavinia hoped Jade understood in between all of her stammering.


"My, my, my. How drunk are you, my dear?" Jade feigned outrage as long as she could manage, before the brief facade collapsed into giggles. Which wasn't very long at all, maybe three seconds? "But I agree. I, uh... I uh," then it was the zombie's turn to stammer a bit, before finally spitting the words out. "If you did--try anything, I mean--I uh, probably ah," her voice grew almost vanishingly soft and indistinct, "would not be exactly what you call opposed," before regaining its usual vigor and volume, "But umm... yes! That would be better when uh, top condition and, uh can really enjoy and remember and all and... Oh my god, what am I saying." A deep breath, trying to collect herself, "We'll just both of us retire and..."

And what, Jade? You don't sleep, and she only does when she feels like it. How are you going to survive until morning with this kind of atmosphere without going crazy? It will be the longest eight hours of your life. Are you going to be able to keep that promise, to not hurt her when she's still got baggage from Roman? Even without the fortune teller's warning you knew that going slow had to be how it...

The fortune teller. Jade stiffened, remembering a different promise she had forgot. "Crap," softly, sharply. "Mmm, actually, I'll walk you back, but I just remembered I need to find Circe and let her know I'm not buying the magic ring after all. I told her I'd get back to her with the decision tonight, and then one thing drove out another, and here we are. It was the ring, or the project at the forge, and when it came down to it... feel free to stop me if I'm rambling, I think you did get part of the story earlier, after all." This new outlet was the perfect escape for some of the manic energy that had been filling her.


Wait, she isn't...? Lavinia had stopped herself for Jade's sake, but... The woman saying she wasn't opposed hit the vampire rather roughly, had it been a mistake to stop? I know I'm a bit... buzzed, but, I... Does she want this? Right now...? Am... I doing something wrong, holding back on her? Roman had always led. Lavinia didn't quite know how to, the memories of their times together were foggy, now... Would it be for the best? Would Jade be upset...? No way to know... Unless I try, yes...?

"Mmm... A ring? I'm afraid I don't follow, but if it's important, then go ahead and deal with it. As for your flustered feelings... While I'm still feeling brave, Jade."  Lavinia stole the zombie into another hug and kissed her neck, giving it a gentle suckle, before a hand snuck onto her chest, giving it the squeeze the vampire had been wanting to give. "If you finish with this Circe, come back to the inn. I'll still be awake... F-Forgive my hesitation a moment ago. I didn't think you would want me to be so forward, but, if you aren't opposed... Perhaps, in the time it takes you to do your business, I'll have sobered up enough for us to... Make, clear decisions. I hope that sounds worthwhile, to you."


It made sense that Lavinia was a bit lost with her talk of rings and Circe, had the fortune teller's name even come up during the date? It had probably been just vague references if that, Jade couldn't recall. The zombie didn't have long to think on that though, before a parting hug and kiss as a send off prior to running her errand. A hug, and kiss, and... a little cop a feel bonus. Certainly unexpected, and doubtless because of the very mixed messages she'd been sending the vampire. Though, to be honest, Jade's brain had been giving herself very mixed messages as well: being both excited about, and worried over the rapidly developing situation.

Part of her was certainly tempted to respond tit for tit, er... tit for tat, but if things escalated too much further... No, a smile and a joke. Cover any awkwardness with humor.

"Your, uhhhhh... withdrawal has been logged. Your account remains in good standing. Further, uh, adjustments to the balance will be negotiated... upon my return, yes..." A slightly nervous laugh, and she finished, "I'll do my best to find her quick and not take too long on it."

While she'd initially offered to walk Lavinia back, maybe the bit of time apart and space to think would be better sooner than later? Or maybe if she didn't have to go out of her way to the inn and back instead of just to Brasken's she'd be all the quicker to return to the vampire's company. Not really sure which argument was driving her, she followed up her lame joke by leaning into a hug, feeling Lavinia's hand sandwich between their chests, pressing further up against her. That should make it clear this was not a rejection, right?

"As quick as I can," she whispered close to her ear before parting, reaffirming the commitment, and swiftly making her way down from the walls, headed toward where she'd been told to meet the fortune teller.


"As quick as you can..." Lavinia smiled, and with tired eyes, slipped away from the zombie, to let her deal with her meetings.


Jade made it down the wall, parted with Lavinia, and not a minute later, a snake tail beckoned from around the corner. "Hello, Jade~ You wished to meet with me, yes~? You didn't notice me during dinner... But now is better than never. Hmhmhm... No need to apologize, by the way," Circe began, slowly peaking her head in to smile at Jade, eyes uncovered this time. Purple, with no pupil, almost glittering like the night sky. "The ring you had your eye on was sold earlier."


Oh, that was a surprise. The zombie had thought it would be a much further walk back to Braksen's, but... how many lamias could there really be in Tepel. Ones that knew her name, at that.

"Ah... yes, dinner was well... my mind was elsewhere," Jade apologized even though she'd been told not to. At least she kept it to a minimum though. "Maybe I saw you, but didn't recognize without the veil?" Enough of that though. The merchant was also pre-empted in what she'd planned on informing the fortuneteller of as well, when it was mentioned that the ring had already been sold. She nodded and finished drawing close to the corner, so the two could have a real face-to-face, even if only just for the brief bit of conversation there probably was remaining.

"Mmm, I see. Congratulations on finding a buyer, that's a relief to hear. I'd unfortunately decided upon making a different investment, so was hoping you wouldn't be too disappointed when I broke the news... although, perhaps you knew this already?"


"I've no idea what you spent your money on, I didn't peek on you for that long... Congratulations on your lovely girlfriend, though; I shouldn't quite keep you for long considering what you have planned, hmm~?" A small giggle, Circe idly rested her face against her hand. "Xalrei has the ring, not that anyone else can have it, now... Feel free to ask her about how it feels if you're ever curious again. And, while it wouldn't have bothered me either way... I appreciate your concern to come and see me to tell me. Quite the customer, this one~"


"P-Planned..." Jade stuttered slightly at the insinuation. She'd been doing well so far, but now that the fortune-teller was weaving back and forth between business and pleasure the zombie couldn't help but fluster. "We've, uh, veered off of any well-laid tracks for a while now, headed straight to improv in the great unknown but..." It was more than a little awkward explaining herself. Better to just shut up on that topic and accept the congratulations. "Right, um, cultivating good business... important."

Very eloquent, Jade.


"Cultivate away, my dear~ Now... Any more questions, before I keep you too long, and your lovely vampire passes out? You may be unable to dream, but I assure you that she can... Get a move on, my dear... And if you're ever in town, stop by. I'll tell you anything you'd like to know~"


"Nothing more tonight," the merchant managed quickly, curtly, coherently. A blush, a bow, and a wave as she turned and moved to go, briefly stopping to look back over her shoulder one last time to add, "But next time I'm in Tepel, again, surely."


When Jade arrived back at their room, she had come to a decision on what she thought a fine end to the evening would be. She'd even mentally rehearsed a few lines, for whatever good that might do her. No plan fully survives contact with the enemy... though that was absolutely the wrong word to be using for the other party, in this instance. Knocking, to provide awareness that she'd arrived, she hesitated a moment, but not long, before turning the knob, opening the door, and letting herself in. "Apparently Circe'd had a hunch I'd be coming, met me halfway..." the zombie explained, then fell silent. Smiling apologetically, she looked at Lavinia, trying to read her expression.


"Goodbye, Jade~ Have fun... Hmhmhm~" As Jade walked off... CIrce disappeared into the night, like a waft of smoke.


Lavinia had collapsed on the bed by the time she'd made it back to the inn, only barely awake when Jade arrived again. She sat herself up on the bed's edge and smiled, wiping hands at her eyes. She didn't feel tired, but her body might've been feeling it. "Mm, isn't that good? That means that you didn't have to spend all night looking for her... Get that all resolved nice and quickly. I'm feeling better, if you're wondering." She stretched her arms out behind her head, yawning quietly.

"A little rest worked that blood through me, so no need for you to worry about me making any drunk mistakes... Mmmm..." Lavinia coughed quietly to clear her throat, before looking at Jade. "I love you, Jade... ... .. Ahh, th-there. I didn't want to wait until morning to say it with a clear mind... I was thinking about it the whole time walking back to the inn... I'm... Sorry if that's, too forward, right away. I just... Chances. Missing them... Something there..."


Jade smiled as the Lavinia sat up sleepily on bed. "Fortunate indeed," the zombie agreed, and feeling a little more relieved and at ease, she took off her boots, leaned them up against the wall, and made sure the door was latched. She'd finished and turned back to face the bed just in time to catch the cute yawn and stretch. Something about that defenseless gesture was so cute and vulnerable, it hit her hard. No defenses was a powerful offense.

And as she slowly walked over to the woman, the assault continued. 'I love you Jade,' brought the merchant to a halt, standing in front of the vampire, at a loss for words. She raised a hand, stroking it through Lavinia's hair, cupping it at her ear, and finally managed a couple of happy grunts. "Mmm, mmhmm."

"I uh, think it would be nice, um, to..." No, this wasn't working, she'd been pushed off balance. She had to remember what she'd practiced saying in her mind, just go with that instead of finding an answer that fit the changing situation.

"I want to hold you, be held by you, cuddle. Be beside you as you fall asleep, watch you waking up within my arms. Can we?"


"Mm..." Lavinia slowly rubbed her face against Jade's hand, happy to be where she was, right now. "Of course we can." Lavinia didn't wait, hands coming around Jade, hoisting her up around her legs and her waist, before dragging the zombie into the bed and immediately cuddling up against her.

"I'll be here the whole night... And if you'd prefer that I be up alongside you, say the word. I only sleep to dream... Call it a hobby, I suppose. Right now, though... Reality is much more interesting than whatever my brain could cook up." Idle hands weren't going to remain idle for long, running along Jade's back and down her thigh. "Now... Are you sure, you only want to be held, and cuddle? Stop me now if that's all you want... I'm, currently willing to do a lot more... Think I still have the courage to say that."


"Whoa," up-up-and-away, and she'd been lifted up onto the bed. It was a good thing Jade had already taken her boots off. Her surprised gasp quickly dissolved into giggles, and she cuddled back, contentedly.

When Lavinia offered to forgo her daily dream, the zombie raised her eyebrows, and murmured back, "Oh, you'd just looked so tired, and I assumed... uwah!" A bit of a squirm as a hand had roamed somewhere a bit unexpected, her legs brushing back and forth briefly before she calmed herself.

And then, there was the question. Jade couldn't pretend she didn't hear it, and it would be a lie if she said she hadn't have expected it, not after the hand on her chest earlier. The vampire had said she was lucid now, and there was no reason to doubt her, so that was no longer an excuse she could hide behind. There was only the truth then.

"I'm... I'm really not sure what I want. I know I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm... anxious and uneasy. Like I'm standing in a rocking boat, afraid of falling over the edge. Of getting dumped into the deep, and floundering just to keep my head above water. I think I want, that it'd be better to paddle along in the shallows until I got more sure of myself, but then I worry I'll have wasted good opportunities. That I'll have soured memories that could have been so much more. I'm just... I don't know. And it's terrible because, ha, I'm the one that unlatched the brakes, can I really complain now that the cart is rolling down the mountain? I'm sorry... It's been such a wonderful evening, too. I'm... pathetic, for wasting your courage like this, aren't I? It must have taken a lot, to bring yourself to ask that."

Jade rested her head against Lavinia's shoulder and tried not to cry as she hugged the woman tightly.


Surprised, but not disappointed, Lavinia smiled and ran a hand through Jade's hair. "You may have launched the boat, but the ocean isn't violent. Nothing but fare seas ahead, Jade... If you want a calm voyage, you'll have it, without question. You might've pushed me to press my feelings... But you never wanted to rush me. Far be it from me to ask you to rush yourself, yes?" A gentle leaning of her head, Lavinia placed a kiss on Jade's cheek, giving her a squeeze after.

"If all you want is talks and cuddles, this closeness, then that's fine. I am not a greedy woman... This warmth and comfort is familiar and enticing all on its own... And getting used to being so close to you will make that courage all the more easy to bring back up in the future, don't you think?" Hopefully it would satisfy the woman. Lavinia had been prepared for more, but she too had little experience beyond being led. Taking such an aggressive lead with things and then being the one to disappoint would make her just as unhappy as Jade assumed on her end.

"Mmm, I may have looked tired, but I promise I'm not sleepy in the slightest. Stay here with me... No tears, and simply start telling me about something. Anything... An old memory, a funny item you sold, a terrible business partner... Places you've lived and visited, people you've seen. The night will pass before you know it." Jade's stories were good for her mind, as well. Reminders of places and people would spark old memories on the vampire's end. Keeping the network of her mind alive served them both in ways Jade didn't quite know yet.


"Mmm, the water is warm and inviting," Jade murmurred, snuggling up closer, one hand holding tight to Lavinia's shoulder, while the other loosely rested at her waist. "I'm glad that when it came time to dip my toes in, to get used to these things, it's been with you. And soon, soon enough I'm sure, we'll be splashing around, getting each other wet, and having the time of our lives. So, thanks. For being understanding. For being everything a girl could ask for." Then, letting herself get a bit daring, she wrapped one leg around the vampire's, locking their ankles together.

"Hmm, as for stories... You remember the tobacco tariffs of '77, right? Well..." It wasn't a particularly thrilling tale, no huge reversals of fortune, or unexpected twists. But perhaps a simple narrative about having to make some changes on the fly, and coming out about even in the end, when all was said and done, well maybe a story like that was just the right call for a time like now? It was certainly fairly representative of her life, barring the few large exceptions. And now that Lavinia was going to be a permanent part of it, it was something she wished to share with her. She deserved to hear about all of it, the large parts as well as the small.

 

Edited by Balcerzak

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With Thesephine off, the fight was upon them. A fort to storm, enemy soldiers to kill, and the man leading it all to take down...

Player Phase/Turn 1!

tiT5UOL.png

Objective: Defeat Ithraxl!

The men guarding their cells suddenly began to talk amongst themselves. Had something happened? Verah pushed herself off of the cell wall and tried her best to listen in...

"They're already here!? Attacking in the middle of the night!? Madness! We don't have nearly enough vampires to stave off this sort of assault... And we're still expected to play guard to these folk?"

"It's stupid, I know," the other guard retorted, glancing back at Verah and her cellmate before snarling. "Further back in there, you! This isn't for your ears!"

It was too late, though!

"Water, surge through!"
Verah moves to 9,18, casts tidal wave on Sword Armor #3!
Roll: 65,3
Crit!
"Bwahhghgh!"
The armor is washed into the wall and crushed in his suit!
Verah gains +37 exp!
 

"Yui! Miss Yui! Wake up! There are people here attacking the fort! We can escape!"

The fox in the cell with her stirred, blinking, not that she could see anything... But her ears perked up to the sounds of Verah's spell, and cell attendant being crushed by it. "Give me a moment... Try to save your energy. Even if you kill the guards, there's no way for us to escape the cell without a key, yes?"

"Er... Y-You're, right but..."

"Y-You, monster! You killed him! Call for reinforcements! The prisoners are trying to escape!"

"Ahh... Hess."

 

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Andddd she's gone. Thesephine disappeared by herself back, towards where the enemy reinforcements were set to arrive. Lucille sighed, if she was really concerned, the only thing she could do now was to help make quick work of Mixoco. They could double back if Thesephine hadn't returned by the time they were done. No turning back now, she made a vow to the medusa, that she'd be worthy of the kindness that she showed her. She returned to Villkiss, mounting her partner in a single jump. A deep breath. A brush of her now lavender hair. "Alright, Villkiss. Let's make the best of this chance. For Mom, Dad and Soleanna." With a flap of Villkiss's wings, they set off towards the fortress. 

Lucille from 16-4 to 17-9

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He exhaled deeply, trying to settle himself. Attacking a fort like this was different than tracking down bandits and criminals, or... well, defending a fort. But it was in his best interest to fight his hardest, here. It would be unwise to let the Vaians do all the work, lest a lack of contributions on his part see the Vaians undue harm, or worse, have them deny him help... and that said, there was always value in getting the first strike. There was no way a group their size hadn't been spotted approaching the fort, after all; it would be up to who made the first move. Onwards, then; there were some well-armored troops at the front gate that might serve as good lightning rods.

Seilan to (20, 7), equip Elthunder (S), attack Sword Armor #1.

Edited by mcd900

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The assault had begun, everyone seemed about ready for action. Ayane had some concerns in the back of her mind, she wondered if there was really a way to save Taliyah's father. She had hoped so after everything she said to the poor lizard girl. The oni gave Ren a quick glance, this was the first time they had been with each other in weeks. There were a few things Ayane wanted to say, but she still wanted her space. So she settled on a small smile to her cousin and a brief word. "I hope you've been sleeping well." She turned and rushed off to do her work.

Ayane moves toward 21, 4

Edited by TheRoon

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That was it, then. The King was off, and it was time to siege down the fortress. Tight corridors and walls was entirely up Nisha's alley, once they got inside... they just had to break the outdoor guards. And the one on the right looked to be pretty easy pickings for her new bow... she just needed to get a bit closer.

"Hey Asami, think I could ask for a little boost? I heard you're pretty good at that sorta thing." Nisha asked, getting a bit closer to her target. Plus, I mean... who wouldn't be curious, right?

Nisha to 19,8

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Seilan launches magic at the unfortunate guards!
Roll: 56,66
23 damage!
Seilan gains +11 exp, +1 anima wexp!

Asami yawned, as usual, but it was much louder and pronounced this time. She'd even cracked her neck and her knuckles, a frown sat upon her face. "I can feel you in there, Yui... I don't know how you got here, or why you're even here, but... At least running into you first could be a good thing." She didn't mind if Bladen heard her, getting hailed by one of their fighters for a nice little dance.

"Of course, hun~ Don't get too excited, though... You might be darling, but the yukata only comes off for good boys~"

Asami to 18,8, dance Nisha!
Asami gains +10 exp

So this was Mixoco... It hadn't changed much from Lavinia's distant memories, if they could be trusted. She hadn't committed much of the place to memory. "Mmm... For the mounts!" she barked, towards Lucille; Jade would here, she was next to her. "Mixoco has another entrance towards the side; our left... If you wish to take yourselves that way, since you've got the freedom of movement to do so, please consider it!" A pincer on the fort's troops would save them a lot of time spent struggling at a chokehold...

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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"Ooh, that is invigorating... you're a lovely dancer. A pity, but what can you do? Thanks love~" Nisha replied, feeling an extra kick in her step... shadow slide? Regardless, that bit of distance was all she needed to take aim, and fire.

Nisha to 21,9, Greatbow Sword Armour 2

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Yui... It had to be one of her sisters. That wasn't good. The more sisters she ran into, the higher the chances... No. He couldn't think about it right now. All he could do was move forward.

19-8

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"Nothin', hun~" Asami winked, letting the archer go off to her business.

Nisha fires!
Roll1: 59,31
30 damage!
Roll2: 92,35
30 damage!
The armor is taken out!
Nisha gains +37 EXP, +6 bow wexp!

 

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Marina gave Nessraya a pat and an assuring rub of the shoulder as Thesephine took her leave to hold off their pursuers. Hopefully she can handle herself, or at least, keep them at bay long enough to not get pincered. "Come on Ness, we have to finish this, right? I'm counting on you," and offered a smile. As she made her advance, Lavinia gave some useful information, a rear entrance? If their riders were going to make their way that way...

"Gabby," she called out to the siren, "If you'd be so kind as to join them? I believe you'd be most useful with them." She might lag behind, but her being able to fly would be more beneficial to them than some of the others. A deep breath, and Marina set forward... Her new Wind Sword in hand.

Marina moves to 20,10, engages the Sword Knight with the Wind Edge!


"I see..." Taiyute nodded, continuing to ruffle the young girl's head. "If so, I and many others also, are proud you are strong so." She smiled, "Have the best of lucks, Taliyah." And Taiyute advanced.

Taiyeet yeets herself to 20,9.

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Marina goes SCHWING
Roll: 39,84
14 damage!
The slice takes him out!
Marina gains +34 exp, +2 sword wexp!
Marina levels up!
Level 13
1 96 64 23 97 57 30 55
+Hp/Skl!

The guards to the fort's rear defeated, the group began to approach the doors, while the rest guarding the wagons piled into them and started to drive away. None were too worried; the group was strong, capable, and here to win... But one person was. Biting her nail, Tenna finally gathered up the courage to call out. "M-Marin, nnaaa! Agn, niii!... X... X-Xalrei! Do your best! Don't, d-die! Come back, with a smile... On your faces!"

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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That was Thesephine gone, and in short order, the door guards taken care of. They would have to see if one of them had a key on their person, but just in case...

"Agni, do you think cracking that lock is... within your capabilities?" Nessraya asked, it was worth having him ponder at the very least. If they had to start busting walls down, this was going to turn into quite the siege...

Nessraya to 21,11, equip Nosferatu

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Amera couldn't help a giggle as their captured princess called out to the expected, then unexpected. She shot Xalrei a grin, sticking her tongue out. "Do your best for the princess, miss royalty slayer~" Chuckling to herself, she ran off after Ness, ready to punch some heads in.

Amera to 22,10!

"Uh, ahhh... B-Best of lucks to you, too, Taiyute!" Taliyah nodded, axe tight in her hand. They were doing this... And she could too!

Tali to 20,8

Ariana steeled herself, heading along after Ayane, glancing at their troops. "The guards are already down... You're heading for the nearby houses, Ayane? I'll help you, if you are. The people around here need to know what's going on."

Ariana to 20,4

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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In Search of the Truth

Spoiler

Having Ren dragged back to her room made the siren happy. How he could just sleep on her bed while she packed her things, and made preparations to go to this fort. While she didn't really want to go to some fort, it was the only way she would realistically be able to find her kin, so there was no choice but to try her hardest. 

Yet, if the good king thought that Gabriela would simply sit around while a PRINCESS of the enemy was in their camp who likely knew something about the fate of the siren clan, and not do anything? Well, she would be mistaken. While Ren was out like a log, Gabriela snuck out for a bit. No need to involve him into this. Besides, sneaking was better done alone. If the siren could sneak into the demon king's castle with no one finding out, surely a camp would be a cinch.

The princess was hiding out in a tent, and Marina might or might not yet have said something to Tenna about a siren paying her a visit. She was hoping Tenna was actually present so that she wasn't wasting her time sneaking in and possibly getting caught and into trouble. But eventually, she reached the tent with little trouble. Really, that was almost too easy.

Gabriela was a firm believer that everyone deserves privacy, so even the princess did, and she couldn't just barge in. ''Hello, Princess Tenebria, are you in there? I am Gabriela. I would like to discuss something with you.'' She didn't bother asking her whether she could come in or not, since she was going to anyway. This gave the princess at least some time to answer and prepare.

Oh no. Marina had warned Tenna that this would come. The girl shrunk into the furthest corner of her tent, clutching a tome, swallowing hard... "It'll, be... Okay... Y, Yes! You can, come in. Gabriela..." The angel, or, siren... As the princess had recently learned, was likely looking for answers about the rest of her race. Tenebria had a few on hand, but not all of them... She simply hoped that the few would be enough to sate the monster's curiosity, and not get her attacked out of frustrations.

A swift answer? Great, she was cooperating. Gabriela entered the tent and immediately spotted Tenna in the back of the tent with a tome in her hand. ''What are you doing? I am not going to attack you, you know. I just want answers.'' She looked a little more stern. ''I'll get right to the point, princess. You have seen wings like mine many, many times before, have you? Tell me about them.'' She crossed her arms, waiting for the princess to speak.

"A... F-Few times. Yes. A-And, this... Isn'nn't, for attacking you." Tenna held the tome out for Gabriela to take. "This, er... I-I don't kn, knnnow, how to use tomes, so... I figured that, the on, nnly, person around here that seems to be, able to use light magic... Would appreciate it." It would hopefully temper her potential frustrations as well.

Gabriela receives an Aquinas tome!

"Er... O-Okay. All... All I knn, know is that, one day... One of the bishops brought a, h-hoard of, An... S-Sirens, in, nto, the main church. He, claimed that they were, s-sent by Ilrios... To provide comfort and, calm, to the people of Coteon. They... Didn't, look hurt. Or, scared... J-Just, happy to be there. I... I wish I could tell you, uhm, why... S-Since then. Everyone referred to them as, 'Angels'... They would sing for the, people. Protect them from wild annnn, nnnimals, or, mon... nns, sters. I... Spoke to one, on, nce... And he, told me, he... He thann, nked me. For saving his people. I don't... Kn, know what he, meant."

Gabriela didn't expect Tenebria to have a gift for her, but a new light tome is certainly appreciated! She would be able to take down enemy monsters more skillfully, at the very least. ''Wow, that's... very nice of you. Thank you, Princess Tenebria.'' she did a slight bow, showing gratitude for the gift.

But hearing what the princess had to say... it wasn't an overstatement that Gabriela was angry. Not at the princess, but rather, at the church. How could they have brainwashed the sirens so? ''Angels.... i've heard that from a fortune teller around here. Do your people really revere us as gods? Because I can tell you, sirens were never the most popular race in Vaia. In fact, we all lived at the edge of Vaia in one village. But to think that... the siren were happy to be there.... am I truly wrong for... interfering?'' If the siren seemed so happy, could she really go with the group to attack them?

However, after thinking it through, the answer was a resounding 'yes.' Some treacherous, power-hungry sirens not only left Gabriela behind in a village, but also betrayed their homeland and the rest of their clan. The church must have brainwashed them somehow, and the fact that they are being treated as objects of worship and shields from monsters is unforgivable! ''Princess, are you telling me that the sirens have been taking down monsters? And singing for people? Because one of the reasons that we siren lived so far from the rest of Vaia is that we were feared for our knowledge of light magic, and that our singing is primarily used to hunt, for fish... or otherwise. The people of Coteon and we, the group sent to invade Coteon, could be in much danger if we come across a siren. So... if you're taking to the battlefield, promise me this. Don't hesitate to cut down any siren you see. If you hesitate for even a moment, you could be in grave danger.'' Gabriela looked serious, yet somehow relieved.

"i... C-Cut, down?" Tenna's eyes were wide in fear, but not at Gabriela. The mere prospect of ever having to kill someone... Let alone a monster? What if she failed? What if they attacked her!? Tenna shook her head, hiding her face against her knees. "Th-There's, nnn, n, no way... I, I'm sorry, I..." She paused to try and calm down, deep breaths, happy thoughts... Marina sleeping. That was a good one.

She'd calmed down in record time, swallowing hard. "I, appreciate the warnnn, ning. And... I, hope you can get a better annn, nnswer, from someone who kno, knows... more. But, I... I haven't, ever k-killed... Annn, n-nyone. I... I'm sorry, but I won't... Be able to do that. I... N, N-Not, as I am, nnn, now... at least." She'd need to overcome... A lot, to be able to bring herself to strike monsters. People were still scary, but not scary enough... If she were charged, a panicked spell could probably be flung back their way. Monsters? The claws. The teeth, tails, wings... Sheer horror. She'd collapse on the spot and resign herself to her fate.

''I ... see.'' Gabriela looked at her and began feeling kind of bad. ''I'm sorry, I had no idea. I hadn't killed anyone either before I joined this group... it's not the most fun thing. But... well, you should stay close to someone who can protect you, okay? It wouldn't do to have yourself killed out there. And if you see a siren, please run, as far as you can! And well... thank you for your time, princess. You've given me plenty to think about.'' She gave a short bow, then turned to leave. The princess seemed to be still a bit scared of her, and she couldn't blame her with how she was brought up.

"... Thank you, Gabriela... Y-You, kn, know?" Tenna paused for a moment, peeked at the siren, and managed a tiny smile. "Mon, nnnsters... Aren't, that bad. I'm... I'm still scared. I can't, f-forget... What happen, nned... To my mom. B-But... Mmn. You're, all n-n, nnnice, people. N, N-Not... Monn, nsters. People... Thank you."

Gabriela turned around one last time. ''Thank you, princess. Someday, who knows? Maybe us two could become friends. I had a bad impression of Coteon, but it appears their princess is a fine person. Now, I will have to sneak out of this camp again... so some discretion would be appreciated, okay? Buh-bye now!'' Gabriela left and closed the tent again, satisfied with what she heard. Now what to do with this information...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So, the day of reckoning was here, then? The fort didn't exactly look at what Gabriela had expected, but it's not like she was a frequent visitor to places like this. Even at the young age of 92 could she learn more about Vaia, how thrilling! Though, this wasn't exactly a sightseeing mission... it would be time to battle once again. But with her new Aquinas tome, she would hopefully be able to make short work of these monsters!

She heard the hero's request loud and clear. ''Sure thing, Rina! You be careful now, okay?'' truth to be told, the siren couldn't help but be more concerned for Tally. She would have to talk to her later..

Gabriela flies over to 12,5, preparing to take the rear entrance of the fort.

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"Wh--" Xalrei nearly tripped on her feet, head snapping back to look at Coteon's princess. "Why am I included in that group!?" She shouted back, huffing quietly to herself as she got out of range of anymore callouts. "One conversation and she thinks she can just say whatever she wants..."

"Sh-Shut up!" Xalrei turned bright red for a moment from the cat's teasing, ironically putting both Marina and Agni in between her as she hurried along.

Xalrei to 19,10


"Be careful Thessy! Come back safe!" Sollowy shouted after Thesephine as the Demon King flew off. A strong part of her had wanted to speak up and offer to tag along with her, but she knew that, as she was now, she'd just be a burden on her lover in a fight. The battle with the Oni had told her as much, even if they'd sparred a little on their journey to Tepel. She sighed then shook her head, an usually resolute look on her face. I have to get stronger, so I can stand side by side with her when the time comes. Resolved, the fairy floated forward into battle.

Sollowy to 21,8

Edited by Ursali

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At his cousin's call, Ren offers a smile as he lifts his hand to a lazy salute.  "Sleep has found me well, and hopefully it has for you too," he replies, giving her a half truth as he watches her head over to the houses.  In the midst of battle there's no reason to worry her at the moment over nonsensical things he can figure out himself.  No, right now he's more worried at seeing the would be murderer following Ayane towards said houses-

"You know you're being too obvious, right?"

He doesn't startle, letting a breath hiss out through clenched teeth as he turns to look at the vampire brat.  "And what, pray tell, would you propose me to do?" he bites back sharply, eyes narrowed and one brow arched.  "If you're only here to antagonize me, as you usually do, then kindly fu-"

Ren doesn't finish his sentence, his expression one of surprise as he reaches up to rub at his forehead.  Right between his horns no less.  What even... 

Looking back at Bridgit, all she does is sniffle petulantly before retracting her hand back to examine her nails.  "You're worried.  It's understandable.  If anything I can join those two and keep an eye out for you, that way you can easily focus on the fighting ahead," she explains, giving him a look that says 'i dare you to tell me otherwise'.  Ren thinks about it for a second, then lets out a winded sigh as he returns her look with a flat stare.  "You're such a little brat, you know that?"

All he gets is a fanged grin in return before the pureblood teen floats over to the other two girls.

Bridgit floats towards 23,4 

"Do be careful you two...and good luck."

Ren moves to 19,7

Edited by sweet podado

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