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Hero, Don't Kill The Demon King! Chapter 2: What Once Was is Once More

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Bladen had been half listening to the conversation in front of him, more preoccupied with this strange woman's comments about his magic than anything that the General was talking about with them. If she could sense his magic, would she be able to teach him about it? He'd been waiting for a lull in conversation when suddenly a warm presence at his side pulled his attention away. Asami was clearly not entirely ok. Something was bothering her, for her to be clinging to him like this without even a hint of teasing in her voice. He quickly pulled his arm out of her grip, instead wrapping it around her waist and pulling her close. "Hey, you know you don't need to ask. You're always welcome next to me." He gently kissed the top of her head, enjoying the warmth of her against his side.

"It seems like she knows a lot about magic," he said, gesturing to the red woman. "She even identified that I have magic, interesting magic. Said that I have a promising future if it develops well." Asami had been helping him learn about his magic as she could, but she was busy and they were both easily distracted when they were alone together. Not that he was really complaining about that, but it wasn't helping with the learning magic thing either. "Do you think it would be worth asking her for help learning my magic? She seems. Interesting? Hard to interact with? But if it means I got a better control over my magic, that seems like it would be worth it, right? Not that I haven't made a lot of progress thanks to your help, it just feels like there's more that I should be doing to get stronger, to get more useful to the group. You know?"

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Fortunately, Nisha helped Lucille help Susan to her feet, making sure that Lucille didn't have to do it herself. If it wasn't something she could use her legs for, lifting or helping people up was something she was never good at. Lucille quickly released Susan's hand, and quickly took a deep breath to calm herself as best she could. "Y-you're welcome." She didn't want to ask about her hand. Lucille was expended, there was far too much to think about now. For the moment, she just wanted to go back to holding Seila-- Then her head was patted by the fox. Lucille didn't quite know how to take it given that she'd already downplayed any effectiveness that she may of had. Lucille pouted just a little; again she'd been touched without her say so, but this one was very clearly with good intentions. Though, Lucille could have sworn that she saw something on the fox's face, a blush? She quickly absconded, and Susan continued, stumbling over her words in a manner that Lucille empathized with. Maybe we are related, and not all that removed after all... 

"I, um... that's f-fine I gu--" Lucille paused, as she finally parsed the first part of Susan's sentence. The part that she'd kind of just walked past. "Huh?" Lucille felt her face get really warm as Susan called Seilan her "boyfriend". Lucille looked at Seilan, and then back to Susan twice quickly, "He's, uh... not, my boyfriend? He's, uh... a friend, and a boy, and I like being around him, and talking with him but--" Lucille quickly cut herself off. She was sure that her face was blazing red now, maybe as bright as her natural hair. "Haha... ha..." As soon as Susan had taken Nisha and moved away, Lucille immediately hugged Seilan again burying her face before Seilan could ask what any of that was about. He's not... but I... I would... like. that. 

Lucille's last thought brought up the cat, and the conversation that she had Nessraya not too long ago. Lucille had to be confident at some point. She thought about trying to say anything, and mustered all of her composure... Before electing just to squeeze a little tighter instead. Today was not the day to try. Any confidence was expended, and only embarrassment was left. Nessraya's words still echoing in her mind... 

Matters of Confidence 

Spoiler

The Wastes weren't getting any easier to deal with. Lucille just felt exhausted and, admittedly, she hadn't done much of anything. Except keep herself company mostly with Seilan, but there had also been the cat from before. She'd not bothered to ask Seilan, not really wanting to put him more on the spot. She'd gotten jealous over him, and also the cat's confidence to not hide her interest. She sighed, she'd let that conversation simmer, and she decided that she was going to kill two birds with one stone. 

The events from Mixoco were long gone, but Lucille's promise to explain her aversion to fire was still very fresh in her mind. But she'd seen the general around the group, and, much like the cat, she handled making her interest known remarkably well. She was unlike what Coteon's teachings of Succubi told her. Really, the general was the only choice to ask, Lavinia was an option but their last conversation still bothered her just a bit. Marina had to be even less experienced than she was, and the only other person she trusted enough to ask, was the person she was interested in. The general hadn't made fun of her before, so she could at least believe in that. 

Peering into one of the wagons, she found the succubus after what felt like an eternity. "Oh, there you are General Try-- Nessraya. I, uh, can I talk to you? I said I'd...  tell you about things properly, and uh... there's something I want to ask you. If... that's alright."

These wastes were a truly horrid place... not that she hadn't been aware going in, but experiencing it personally was another matter entirely. As Lucille found her, Nessraya had been idly sipping at a mana potion. It did the trick, and with everyone's mana being sapped, proper feeding couldn't truly be called... ideal, however... 

"Oh, Lucille. I am unoccupied at the moment, and have no qualms with speaking to you. I am still quite curious, truth be told." Nessraya replied, setting the potion down, her nose wrinkling slightly. Her thought had been interrupted, but still wanted to make itself known.

"Mmm, I do not enjoy these things. I suppose it is a personal issue, perhaps Lavinia might share it... they are so... impersonal. Not fresh, nor invigorating... but I am more sensitive to such things than most. Nevermind me, though... I simply wanted to put voice to a small grievance."

"Oh," Lucille found her way into the wagon with a surprising amount of dexterity, all the while listening to Nessraya's musing. Lucille was a tad curious, what with Nashwa's exhaustion and resulting oppressive aura. She'd seen her again, and it appeared that she was doing quite a bit better. "...So, the mana potions, they work but they don't work ideally?" Lucille sat across from the succubus, still a distance away. "I don't mind, and it's good to voice grievances and not bottle them." If only you'd take your own advice… "But... I guess on that note... Is it just an intimacy thing, or do the mana potions not really work as intended? I know that succubi gather their mana primarily through... you know. But... I guess with everyone having their mana sapped by the wastes..." Lucille paused, realizing that she was starting to ramble a bit, and not even about what she'd come for... technically. "Oh, right, uh, sorry."

Lucille took a deep breath and placed her gloved hand in her lap, "I promised that I'd explain why fire is such a big issue for me." She shuffled a bit in her seat, "Probably good that I do so since... I already freaked out on the battlefield once, and I don't want to make more people concerned. It's... not exactly a pleasant story, and it's still pretty hard for me to get through it. Um... can I ask you not to say anything to anyone else? Not really, comfortable with people knowing too much." 

"They... suffice. It is, in part, a matter of intimacy... once succubi reach sexual maturity, our bodies... lose efficiency, taking in mana from alternate sources. Granted, that is less so in my case, being not pure-blooded, but that is an entire tangent on it's own really... the potions sustain my needs, and in a pinch, were I to consume them in excess, I could theoretically replenish my reserves beyond keeping them steady. They simply aren't, fulfilling. They lack freshness, lack flavour... condensed mana is quite bland. For you, it likely makes little difference, since it is more a supplement, but consider that for me, mana is also food. It is like... mmm, you could survive on hard tack and watered down soup, it would keep you alive, but you would not enjoy taking in the bulk of your sustenance that way." Nessraya explained, letting her tangent fall off as Lucille began to continue. Yes, her fear of fire... there was no way the origin of such a thing could be pleasant, was there? 

"It is your story to tell. I would not think it mine to spread around. Even were it to be prudent, I don't need to explain the details of such a thing in order to tell someone to be mindful of their fire."

Right, mana was sustenance for succubi, and so it would make sense that they would be more attuned to different tastes and feels. But that was something that could be talked, or mused on later. 

"Thank you. Well, the simplest way for me to put this is... My aversion to fire really stems from two events, one that made me question, and the other just solidified it for me. Truth is... my affinity is neither in wind or thunder magic, it's in fire. It's been the main affinity for my father's family, the Altairs, and I was no exception. But well, I had my ability to subconsciously cast, and use magic without a tome, which made my magic a lot faster, and that both bothered and intrigued some people. My mom... really didn't trust the Church, and made sure that they weren't allowed to train me as they kept asking. Well..." 

A deep breath, she netted her fingers together before continuing, "Many other people in the Altair Family weren't... pleased about the daughter of a lesser branch of the Altair family potentially becoming head. So... on my tenth birthday, our home was attacked. Both my sister and I were targeted, and I... I, I..." Lucille stomped her foot on the ground, "I watched... a lot of them die. Charred... b-burned to ash. Both of us were taken, and I thought both of my parents were dead that day. Thank... the stars they weren't."

Saying the words felt like something was singeing her insides, every word a painful burning feeling. Anger, despair, but most of all, guilt. "...We found ourselves in the hands of the church. I don't... know what they really did to my sister. She said it, it wasn't a lot... but... They, they forced me to use my fire magic... I... I, I d-d-don't know how, but..." Lucille pulled her gloved arm up in front of her chest, "They... they nearly killed me with my own fire magic. A-a-almost incinerated my... arm. A-after that... I, I, I just can't... it's hard to even talk about it." 

It had gone better than when she'd spoken to Seilan, but it still felt awful. Tears starting to well in her eyes.

"Oh dear..." Nessraya paused for a moment, before floating towards Lucille, planting a tender kiss on the girl's forehead and gently petting her hair, hoping the light touch would help with her clear distress.

"I will never understand what would bring people to target their own family over something like that... even were it jealousy, increasing prestige for the family should benefit them as well... it is simply barbaric. I am sorry, Lucille. It surely must have been an unspeakable ordeal... do not feel the need to keep it bottled up. Cry if you must, I can already see the beginnings of it."

Lucille tensed at the light touch, but... there it was again. That same feeling, and having felt it twice, Lucille was more willing to believe it. Nessraya gave off a similar feeling to her mother, but in... a different sort of way. It was still difficult to place, but that one lull of calm was enough. She slowly wrapped her arms around Nessraya and hugged her.

"I'm... s-sorry. This... this is so... embarrassing. I..." Lucille's words slowly morphed into quiet sobs. She didn't feel the need to hold back as much, anymore. 

"There is no need to apologize. It must be agonizing to re-live, and all of that in spite of the difficult situation you've found yourself in. No one could blame you." Nessraya tenderly whispered, glad that she had managed to calm Lucille to an extent. Allowing her to continue at her own pace, Nessraya simply floated in place, allowing herself to be used as a support for the moment.

Lucille managed to regain control of herself quickly, a series of sniffs, and several deep breaths later, she released the hug. "I, I... I'm sorry, again. I... I guess I'm getting a little more... capable of talking about it. Last time I did... I wound myself up so much that I... passed out in, i-in... Seilan's arms..." A different kind of embarrassment started to overtake Lucille as she let herself say those words. "I, um... I, I told him after I told him about what happened at... Mixoco. I had to fight my former... commander, and she used fire magic, and unluckily for me, it was the same spell that nearly took my arm. Lavinia... knows about my aversion because of that. I, I'm sorry about taking so long to say anything... things could have happened." 

Lucille noticed that her magic wasn't really acting up at all. Likely because of the wastes, but that hadn't stopped it from happening when the cat was prodding at Seilan. That... was the next thing she needed to talk about, since it appeared that airing her thoughts was actually working somewhat, "S-speaking of... Seilan. There is... something I wanted to ask you relating to that... B-but, that can, wait a bit." Somewhat.

"Seilan, huh? That man seems to be a rather hot commodity, as of late." Nessraya couldn't help but chuckle ever so slightly.

"So long as you are able to share what we need to know for tactical reasons, there's no need to rush past your comfort zone in other matters. And your commander, was it? Is there concern about other remnants of your unit, or were they accounted for?" Nessraya continued, figuring what Lucille wished to ask about Seilan would come up when the mage wished it to.

Lucille flinched for a moment, "Uh... is... he?" That was... mildly bothersome. Well, on thinking about it some, Seilan was one of the only men in the group, and the only one who didn't have a steady relationship at the moment... and he was fairly capable and good-looking... Oh boy...

Lucille quickly walked past her sudden worries to the general's other question, "That, that was all of them. Just because of who I am, I was kept pretty sequestered. So it was pretty much just Naomi, myself, and four others. Our unit was basically a supplementary force, so we were small." 

Lucille had absentmindedly started tapping her foot after Nessraya spoke about Seilan.

"So it seems to me, at least." Nessraya continued, taking notice of the fact that Lucille's foot had began an assault on the ground below as she replied in regards to the status of her unit, the tapping continuing even after she had finished. Well, that seemed to put the nail into the coffin of what her questioning in regards to Seilan would be, if her intuition was anything to go by.

"Well, if nothing else, that means they won't be an issue in the future. As for issues in the present... if you're already comfortable enough with one another to discuss those sorts of things with him, then I would think you've already gotten a foot in the door, with Seilan." Nessraya smiled a little bit, looking Lucille over a little.

"Really, one of the most attractive things in a woman is confidence, Lucille. Play to your strengths, and own them. You clearly have some level of chemistry to have made friends so quickly, so that part shouldn't be an issue. I don't know what his type is, so to speak, but, well I don't think anyone with an interest in women could ignore those hips of yours if you made an effort to show them off." Nessraya advised, nodding her head slowly at her own assessment.

"Oh but listen to me. You were going to ask for advice on wooing him, yes? I jumped ahead without confirming my intuition first."

"...huh?" Was all Lucille could manage as Nessraya's response was as if Lucille had already said exactly what she was about to say. In the ever present heat of the wastes, Lucille couldn't really tell if it had just gotten warmer, or if she'd gone bright red. "Am, am I that obvious? You're, you're the second person to just, figure me out like that." Thoughts of the cat drifted through her head. 

Lucille forced her foot to stop tapping the floor, "...Yeah. That's, uh, what I was gonna ask. I was there for a conversation that her had with... this cat. I didn't really realize it at first but... she was very clearly flirting with him and I got upset. But she was right, too. I... I, I like Seilan. A lot, but I haven't said anything or done anything that would tell him that. In reality, I don't think I was mad at her at all--Seilan's attractive, why wouldn't people be interested in him--I think I was just mad at the fact that I just don't... know what to do."

Lucille then realized that she'd walked right past something. Well... it was something she kind of knew--it had been mentioned several times to her while in Coteon, by member of her units, and other soldiers alike--but hearing it from someone else, especially someone who was also quite attractive, herself. She felt herself somewhat attractive, but there was a tendency amongst people to see her as a child. 

"Wait... my hips? You think so?" 

"You really are, if I'm to be honest. First off, why come to me with questions about him... were it about him specifically as a person, surely there would be better people to ask. Not to mention your body language..." Nessraya trailed off, no reason to continue down that line of thought, really.

"As I said, one of the most attractive things in a woman is confidence. You know what you want, so just be up front about it. If you waffle about, it only displays insecurity. Be assertive. You want him, you deserve him. Make him feel like you're giving him the privilege of deserving you. Make an impression." Nessraya continued, but she couldn't help but stop and laugh for a moment at Lucille's response, composing herself after a few moments to continue.

"Sorry, sorry, I just... mmm, honey, how do I put this?" Another pause, before deciding to follow her own advice and just take a swing.

"Lucille, you have an incredibly fat ass. And I mean that in the most positive possible way, I promise. To use a common phrase, you have child-birthing hips, and like similar signs of fertility, it's incredibly attractive. So if your intent is to seduce him, well, as they say, best foot forward. Show off what you've got."

In truth, there had been another reason why Nessraya would have been the best option for her to have asked. Lucille felt like, if what she heard was true, Nessraya wouldn't mince words or try to dance around the question. She would, as she just had, be unmistakably blunt. It was the confidence that Nessraya was talking about, her own brand of it, since there were others that met what Nessraya was talking about without being necessarily as forward. However, she didn't expect the succubus to be this blunt. 

"...I, uh, huh. I, um... don't know how to... respond to that." Lucille bobbed her head back and forth, "I... guess I never really thought about it in that way? Like, I know it... is? But, other than trying to find clothes, and the offhand comment, it's… never really come up. Well, maybe it has, but it's almost always been by... less than ideal people, and there have always been other things on my mind. N-never really had time to think about all of this." Hearing that it was incredibly attractive was a bit of boost, perhaps one that she desperately needed and hadn't realized. 

Her advice did ring bells; while perhaps brazen in Lucille's eyes, the cat basically did the same thing. She knew what she had, and knew what she wanted. She didn't need to be as forward as she was, but she did need to make her point, in her own way. 

Still quite red in the face, "...Show off what you got, huh? I, I think I can... work towards that." Most of that was brought on by a genuine interest in Seilan, and a growing desire to at least be seen as a possible companion. A small part of her also didn't want to just let the cat carry on without something to overcome. "Just... gotta figure out how I want to do that."

"Well, it's not generally the sort of thing to bring up out of the blue, without context. Those who do tend to have particular goals in mind, as you might have guessed." Nessraya replied, not entirely surprised that Lucille wasn't especially... versed. From her understanding of how Coteon overly demonized her kind, their people having more reserved and reigned-in views on sexuality and expression didn't seem like a stretch to her.

"As for how, well... that really depends on you. I can go on and on about picking outfits that accentuate your shape, hug your curves, but that's all simple enough to figure out, really. You have other strengths as well, of course." Nessraya added, reaching out to curl a lock of Lucille's hair around her finger.

"Mmm, I have to say I preferred the old colour... it was incredibly striking. But I understand the need to adjust things for that very reason. Still, your hair is wonderfully soft and puffy, perhaps try some fancy ringlet curls or other stylings, perhaps wash it in lavender to match the new tone..." Nessraya mused.

"Really, it's all about communicating interest, and showing the sides of yourself that you have confidence in. You want him, make him want you. The best way to do that is to sell the best parts of yourself. Mmm... sit down a moment."

"Outfits and the like... I think that's pretty simple. I tend to prefer things that hug me a bit more; easier to move around in." Thinking about it more, she didn't really need to change anything about her outfits, really. She leaned towards tights--since pants tended to be out of the question for her, for a myriad of reasons--her skirts weren't short, but they weren't long either, and it was already difficult to mask her figure. Being small helped, or hindered, in that regard. 

Nessraya then reached out for her hair, and Lucille found herself oddly fine with it. Nessraya had proven herself to be entirely trustworthy, and it didn't seem like there was much to worry about in her company. It was nice to relax a little, and even nicer to hear compliments that weren't so obviously geared to a particular outcome. 'Strengths,' what a novel concept for someone who tended to be so hard on herself. "I... do too. I like this color, but... I like my original color more. Styling it though... I've never really considered that. But this will have to do for now; never know if the Altair Family is helping with the occupation in Hwein." Lucille huffed, if the Altair Family could kiss the church's ass any harder, they'd have found a way. 

"Hmm?" Lucille guessed that Nessraya meant to sit next to her, so she wandered over. Seemed like an odd request, but Lucille wanted to see where it went. Something to learn, was something to learn, after all.

As Lucille sat down, Nessraya grabbed the mana potion that she had set down, and finished it off. A small infusion would be perfect for her demonstration, shifting her body to be closer to Lucille's proportions, shifting weight to her waist and extending and floofing her hair. Setting her feet down on the floor, Nessraya took a few deliberate steps towards Lucille, making a concerted effort to accentuate her hips whilst doing so.

"Really, it's about the approach. Accentuate yourself with body language, aaand-" Sitting herself down on Lucille's lap, Nessraya shuffled herself into place, letting the softness of her plush thighs speak for itself as she leaned in close, making and holding deliberate eye contact as she brought her lips ever so close, a curled lock of hair falling just beneath Lucille's nose so that she could smell the fragrance... not the lavender that Nessraya had suggested for Lucille herself, but rather a light citrus. 

"-make it utterly impossible for him not to notice you, take you in... ignite the desire in him. Make his heart race... when you're ready to take that step, make his loins burn~" Nessraya added, gingerly placing her hand on Lucille's thigh. Point made, Nessraya made a point to pull away before Lucille could get too claustrophobic for the situation.

"Something like that. Obviously your pace will differ."

Lucille watched in bewilderment as Nessraya's appearance shifted, into... honestly, Nessraya didn't look too different from Lucille herself, figure wise. Succubi magic was well, well beyond much of what she knew and understood. She sashayed towards Lucille, and... 

Lucille kind of froze as Nessraya sat down on Lucille's lap, leaning ever so close, her pink eyes--wait was that a heart?--locked on hers, the scent of citrus, even the soft feeling of her thighs against Lucille's own. A gentle caress of Lucille's thigh, and it was over. Lucille was quite good at processing information quickly, but Lucille wasn't quite doing anywhere near as well with anything that just happened. It was a little much for Lucille to take in all at once... especially being as sensitive to touch as the girl was. Not entirely the best at surprises, and that was a hell of a surprise. 

"I, um, uh... huh... I think... I got that." Face blazing red once more, "I, um... Nessraya, I know that was to... show me an approach but, uh... could, could you warn me before you do something like that?" A spark ran up Lucille's arm. "I'm sensitive to touch and well, that was... a lot... It helped, but, ahh..."

The stammering was either a good or a bad sign, and it took a few moments to determine which. It seemed that, while a helpful demonstration, it had been a bit too much for Lucille. Who was also touch-sensitive... good to remember.

"A lot. Hmm... well, I suppose it would feel like that from your perspective. My apologies, I didn't realize you were quite so sensitive to touch. Mmm... you seem close to discharging magic, even despite the wastes... is there anything I can do to help bring you down?" Nessraya inquired, floating with a concerned look on her face, attention mostly drawn to the arm that had just sparked.

"Mmm... N-no, it, just tends to happen when my... e-e-emotions are a bit..." She paused, took a deep breath, "I... think it has something to do with that subconscious casting thing of mine. It just happens when I'm feeling something strongly. Anxiety, anger... excitement occasionally... It's rarely anything more than a flicker... I'll, I'll be fine in a moment." Lucille was talking quickly. 

 

It was a bit concerning that even with her magic being sapped, that still set her off. The combination of it all was a lot for Lucille all at once, but the activation of magic in these conditions warranted the concern that was on Nessraya's face. Still, that brought a question to Lucille's lips, "Does... does this generally happen to others that can tomeless cast?"

"That is... a difficult question. From the last time we spoke, it seems evident that tomeless casting is far more rare in humans than in other races... I haven't had an opportunity to properly research it yet, but the races that tend to manifest the ability are more magically-tuned, tend to have higher mana outputs, or feed on mana for sustenance. It is not a stretch to say that I'm more attuned to the magic around me than you are, simply as a circumstance of our births. As such, it is difficult for me to come to a conclusion on how your circumstances differ as a human. However, if I had to theorize... your casting is incredibly fast, and at times happens subconsciously." Nessraya rested a finger against her chin, thinking for a moment.

"If you could not cast without a tome, I do not think that such a phenomenon would occur. It seems as though the neural pathways that developed to allow you to cast with such agility, are likely bypassing the typical steps of theorizing and applying the spell's form... essentially a shortcut in your magic circuits that takes a known outcome and generates it faster than someone forming out the same spell could. If that is the case, then the likely cause is that certain stimuli activate those same shortcuts, but as there is no intent behind it, to a smaller scale. So no, this isn't generally a problem for tomeless casters... I believe it to be most likely a combination of your tomeless casting in addition to the speed-casting technique of yours." Nessraya concluded after a few moments of pondering.

"That feels like the most likely scenario to me, at least. Without further testing, I cannot say for sure, and this is neither the time, and most certainly not the place, for such a thing."

It appeared that even Nessraya didn't quite seem to have an answer for it, although, she had generally more information than most. The musing made sense--it was about the same idea that Lucille had come to herself--it appeared to be the combination of the subconscious casting, and tomeless casting that caused her flickers. The question then became, what would have caused her to have both?

"That... makes sense. Like I said, it only happens when my emotions are running high, and it doesn't really matter which. The emotion does tend to affect how strongly I have to feel said emotion though; it's easier for it to happen when I'm anxious or upset, then when I'm happy or excited. I can control it just fine when I notice it and all, but I tend not to notice it until it happens."

The word "testing" made Lucille visibly flinch. She'd heard that enough in her life, to the point where she'd be fine if she'd never, ever heard it again. But at least here, Nessraya appeared to be just curious, and not also murderous. But, Nessraya was quite right; this place was entirely unsuited to such tests, sapping the pair's mana as it were. "Nessraya... is it possible to look into someone's magical circuits? The church, and others weren't able to do so, but monsters appear to have a far greater degree of magical understanding, being as intertwined as they are. There would be... some sort of clarity in there, wouldn't there? Of course, doing that now is not a good idea, if it were possible." It didn't feel like testing, when Lucille herself was the one suggesting it. It felt like for once, that Lucille was a bit closer to understanding something so vitally important to her.

"So for it to happen here, I must have really gotten you going, hmm?" Nessraya teased, although that ended rather abruptly when Lucille had a reaction to her musing... given what she had said about her aversion to fire, an aversion to tests didn't seem wholly out of place. Duly noted. When Lucille asked her next question, Nessraya visibly shuddered, shaking her head to free it after a moment.

"It is possible, yes. And the church is more than capable of doing it... though you should be glad they didn't, given what they've done." A scowl couldn't help but cover her face as the memory surfaced.

"As for clarity... it would depend. If there are any anomalies, I should be able to spot them, but whether they will suffice to confirm or deny any theories is yet to be seen. I can take a look when we're in a better place for it, if you so wish."

Nessraya's teasing was met by Lucille shrinking a bit, "Well, um... it, was, more a combination of things... it was a little... exciting." Lucille had always enjoyed soft things--her sensitive skin, and Serena's propensity for hugs had seen to that--and well, Nessraya's thighs then had been quite soft. She wondered for a moment if that was what hers felt like to someone else. But Lucille didn't miss Nessraya's own reaction to her question. The obvious question had formed, but Lucille saw the scowl that formed. It had been the only time that Lucille had seen Nessraya be anything but generally positive, so she thought it better to leave it alone. But... the church was capable of doing it? Then... had she been lied to? The church was anything but trustworthy, so she should have expected as much...

"I... would. There's been something bothering me about this all... and that seems to me to be the only way anything would be found out. Tomeless casting is one thing, but... subconscious casting? It sounds like that's not a thing that's too prevalent amongst monsters, either. So... if you can, I... I trust you to do it."

Lucille stood up, "I think... I've taken enough of your time, otherwise." She quickly bowed, "Thanks, for listening, and helping me, Nessraya." Righting herself with a bright smile on her face. 

"A little, hmm? I'll have to endeavour to be a lot exciting next time, then~" Nessraya shot, bouncing back after a few moments. It seemed Lucille didn't wish to pry, so there was no need to go any further down that train of thought.

"Well, I am honoured that you would allow me access to such an intimate part of you, Lucille. I can't say for certain what I'll be able to discern... subconscious casting isn't something I have much of any knowledge about... if my theory is correct, I may be able to find shortened pathways along your circuits, but the root may be something else entirely. It doesn't hurt to look, at any rate. And of course, feel free to ask any time. Even if not directly at that moment, I have no issues making time for you, Lucille."

Nessraya bounced back, joking(read: threatening) to be more exciting the next time. Considering how much this was for Lucille, she'd have to come prepared for every possibility... somehow. Lucille wasn't good with surprises, and even less from surprises like that. "Aha... I'll be ready for that... I hope. Thank you again." With a wave, Lucille hopped out of the cart with the same dexterity that she used to get in. 

For once, she felt like she was getting answers to her unusual magic traits. But equally as important, she felt like she was starting to get a bit more comfortable. She had gone and found Nessraya of her own accord, and even spoken to her about her trauma. Before joining this group, she wouldn't have ever dreamed as such. Dreams… That turned her thoughts to Seilan, another thing she might not have ever considered. There was an excitement that ran parallel to her worry. The church would try to take him too, that much she was sure of, and she didn't want to get him hurt, just because he was setting her heart aflutter. But... he was setting her heart aflutter, and for once, it was something she wanted for herself.

"Just... you have to believe in yourself. Even if... even if they come... you, you can fight back this time."

A deep breath, Lucille thought to practice a bit of the walk that Nessraya had lead that... experience with. Though, after a few steps, Lucille realized that it wasn't too different from how she walked anyway. But it would have to be something she paid closer attention to if she wanted Seilan to notice. It would be a learning experience, and hopefully, one that Seilan would undertake with her.

 

 

Edited by Mercenary on the Winds

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"Well, if Ilrios and Hess still count themselves among the living, they have not made themselves known for centuries." Nessraya replied... there was little point in remarking on Miz'Githon seeming to have known them personally, it made about as much sense as everything else that was coming to light about the ancient mage.

"As for your offer. I cannot in my right mind overlook an opportunity to learn from a mage of your time, let alone one of your aptitude. I look forward to your solutions." Nessraya replied... her 'terms' were a bit outlandish, one could only hope that she would mellow out a tad as time passed, but she could put up with a bit of it, given what was being offered.

______

With how clearly shaken Susan was by everything that had been going on, Nisha didn't put up a fight when, after helping the woman up with Lucille's assistance, she was pulled along towards a far wall by Susan. When the woman released her and leaned into it, a loud sigh escaped her lips, face buried in her hands.

"I'm sure it's a lot to process. I'm not sure if you pulled me over for a reason or if it was just subconscious, but if you need to get anything off your chest, go ahead." Nisha noted, leaning against the same wall for a moment, before sliding down and sitting on the floor, back resting against it instead.

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Seilan had been content to somewhat unconsciously listen to Susan, being rather more occupied with Lucille's sudden embrace. He was stunned by the hug briefly, but managed to return it before too long; he had something of an impression that returning the gesture would probably brush aside any thoughts about the delay. What to say, though, in a situation like this...? If anything?

"Ah... hey there, Lucille." No, that's not the right answer. No- wait, I already... well, too late.

She was about halfway through her realization when he began to parse Susan's parting words, and for some reason or another she'd happened to drag Nisha with her, and was it just him, or was she starting to feel rather warmer than usual? "Ah, Susan-" No, she was long gone, and he wasn't exactly going to be going anywhere right now. He was quiet a moment, or five; unconsciously tense, trying to find the words; was she hugging him tighter than usual? Was there a usual? If something was usual, it was the frequency with which he was ending up at a loss for words, through what was (at least, so it seemed to him) little to no fault of his own. 

"W-Well... it certainly would be quite the coincidence to meet here, if the two of you were related..." It seemed like both a poor time and place to broach the topic, and she seemed to think the same, insofar as she wasn't saying anything. "All that aside, I'm glad you're alright..."

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Nisha's question brought Susan's mind back to the surface, but it wasn't really an easy one to answer.

"You were... convenient, I guess? I wasn't really, but I think a part of me..." Following the other woman's lead, Susan let gravity slide her body down the wall until her butt hit the floor. Unlike the chaos of her thoughts, there was actually a bottom for her body here. "In an instant... I've lost pretty much all my goals and hopes. It's hard to say if there's anything left to live for, or if I would've been better off locked away asleep for another several hundred years... heh." Sniffing back tears after her derisive laugh, she rubbed her eyes and cheeks, then shook her head. "And here I am, in uncommon honest and open mood. I know better, I should just shut up and ride it out, and yet... haaa." Another deep sigh and Susan tilted her head back, suddenly a burning urge to examine the ceiling.

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"Ouka seems to have her own plans firmly set given what I know, but this land has it's own set of dangers..." Ayane turned to the side a little. "It almost feels like the deck is always stacked against us, it worries me but..." She paused for a moment, as plans seemed to form in her mind. She turned back to the priestess. "I may need to count on your strength for the future, miss Taiyou. I believe we're getting closer to some actual danger." 'I wish to have safeties in place as well. After all, Asami said I can't attack Ouka so predictably...I may need Ren to...' She narrowed her eyes a little. "Ah, sorry. I shouldn't speak of doom and gloom after we just narrowly escaped with our lives."

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Seilan felt tense for a moment. He'd said, and done little the first time she'd hugged him, and it was more the same when she returned to it. She felt her anxiety returning. Had she been too presumptuous? Was she being clingy? Then, Seilan dispelled almost of those worries with a single sentence, 'All that aside, I'm glad you're alright.' Seilan might have felt Lucille straighten a little. She finally pulled her face up to look at him, face still incredibly warm. "R-Really? ...I, I am too... I worried that... that blast might have..." Lucille shook her head, and then lessened her grip on the emerald haired mage. "I'm, I'm sorry... I'm, uh, not making much sense. It's been a... stressful day. But..." Lucille put on a small smile, "I'm glad that you, and everyone else seem to be okay. And, and sorry for hugging you so much... right now, I'm sure that you have other things to be doing." 

Lucille said that, but she hadn't quite let go. 

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"Aside from the one horrible slash I took that was healed right away, I'm fine. Got to suck one of those stupid dolls dry too." Nashwa was tired enough not to bother avoiding the double entendre, not that she thought the human would go there anyway. "Even though it's mana-rich down here somehow, I'm still drowsy now that there's no combat high going. Ugh... I wanna be home already. Even if I have to deck a Coteon knight to get to my bed." That would surely be easier than this gauntlet of surprises. The succubus stretched her arms a little, but paused as she realized something. "Hey, wait a minute. When did I give you my name? I guess you could've just heard from the others, but I don't think we've spoken before..."


"I am not such an important person as to be required back home, milady. I have traveled across Vaia over the past years and seen most of what our fair nation has to offer, avoiding the war to the best of my ability whenever I could not make a difference by my lonesome," Ilvira answered, or at least, answered halfway. "But then it was that I set my sights to Hwein, and lo and behold, underestimated my need for supplies in crossing the white barrens. Caravans would not take a sole elf at the risk of being apprehended by the occupation, making the trip unfeasible any other way." She shrugged, looking somewhat disappointed in herself. "And that would be when you all happened across me. A shame upon my name to be rescued by the King herself, when I should be the one serving you, but you have my eternal gratitude for it. I would gladly serve in your entourage for whatever period of time you may deem necessary." Again, she took a deep bow, supposing that would be enough for Thesephine... and if not, more detail would have to wait until they had some privacy.

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He felt an odd warmth in his chest as she looked up at him from the hug, mumbling that she'd been worried for him; that despite all the other stress she'd been going through, she'd been thinking of him. Or perhaps it wasn't despite her stress, but rather part of it. Either way, as she apologized for her closeness, he smiled. "Right now? Nothing but waiting to get out of here like everyone else, Lucille. Nothing to apologize for, okay?" He pulled her back in, even as she lessened her grip.

She was... warm. Warming him, for sure; it was nice... admittedly, at this point, he was finding it less and less that he was doing things just for her sake, but he could hardly express that aloud, not least after what Susan had just walked off saying.

...Could I?

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Instead of agreeing with her, Seilan seemed to be more than fine with her sudden closeness. Then, the young man drew her back into the embrace. Lucille froze, despite the warmth coming from her, and Seilan. The returned hug eliciting a high pitched "!!!!!!!!!" from the woman, and her arm lit up. Normally, Lucille would have started squirming, trying to break away. Though... Lucille couldn't find the strength to do so. No, no strength wasn't the issue. Lucille still wasn't squirming, or even worried. She... wanted to be here, and she was okay with Seilan hugging her back. 

It took a moment, two, four... several. She had to fight with that internal voice. That internal voice of fear; the voice that worried that the church was watching, and that worried that he was lying for her sake. ...No, he's, he's... ! Lucille pushed the thoughts away. She could worry about it later. Even if she wasn't worth this. She reaffirmed the hug, shrinking a little as she did. 

"T-T-Thank you... Seilan." Her voice still very elevated, and her arm still sparking away. For a moment, she felt something familiar as she tried to calm herself. After another moment, she reined in her magic, only a few sparks remained. Even with everything that had happened, Lucille suddenly felt a lot better than she had throughout the entire trip. This... this is nice. She half hoped that things took a little longer to get sorted. She probably wasn't going to get another chance like this for a little while, so she wanted it to last. She felt familiar warmth inside of her, but hadn't noticed that the glove on her right hand was very slowly singeing. 

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Posted (edited)

Identity, behind eons (Moments before the regrouping)

Spoiler

Tick, tock.

Time passed normally along the hallways, a feeling too foreign to the worn walls of the spire. The horde of constructs coming through the stairs were slowing down at Hecate's command, heeding the voice that came above their directives. Having had enough of the visitor's mistrust, and the escape of familiar faces, Hecate moved to the few that would give it heed. "Stop. Help me."

The ascending group stopped and turned heads to Hecate's command, fixating silent gazes at their superior, the light in their eyes blinking.  "ID recognized. Mistress Hecate, visuals give a 98% confidence match with body 32-C. Recognition has been assigned to current form." The hivemind seemed to work efficiently, a singular construct walking to the fore, towering over Hecate with an empty gaze downcast for a moment, before dropping to a knee. "Specify the parameters of 'help' needed. In case of needing command guidance, request the guide."

"...Yes. Give me the guide." Though it was a very artificial way of talking, it spoke well to Hecate's concerns, soothing what could be soothed of the construct's current state. "Wait. Be brief, how can I command all servants at once?"

"Arbitrator access grants Mistress executive orders. Issuance of executive orders precede sentences by 'complete executive order'."

"Complete executive order: Retreat and not attack unidentified." Draconian as the methods were, they came as second nature, as intuition. "How do we reach the top floor from here?"

"Schematics shows the central spiral can stil be deployed. Activate it through the magic circle 35,860. The central spiral's final access is the balcony, the highest point in Xensat."

Highest point... maybe that was true in old times, but definitely not if living beings fell down through the place. "Hm. Understood." At least it seemed like Hecate had a door to show all of them, a relieving thought. "What else... Tell me about myself."

The construct stopped, its stare affixed to Hecate's frame, the light in its eyes seemed to blink, as if processing the request. "Mistress Hecate Argyris Hippocratis Kairos. Access Rank: Great Arbitrator. Age: ...Calculating error. Cannot assert current date. Please adjust the Temporal Research and Domiciliar Spire's chronometer as soon as possible. Former Autocrat of the Xensat Alliance, lasting 5 years, before resignation and delegation of the Alliance to a regent. Removed herself from politics after the breakdown of the Alliance 74 years later, mantaining diplomatic subservience of the founding city-states of the Xensat League. No family records indicate live relatives. Capabilities include space-time manipulation, smartcrystal melding, engineering, and mythrite alloy manufacturing. Unfinished projects include the Lunar Jump, Complete Artificial Body Synteshis, and the Hyperspace Identification Sensor. Accredited inventions include the Physic Staff, Wa--"

"Okay. That's enough for now." It was good information, but Hecate felt pressed for time with the visitors that she had. This would do enough for now. "...Argyris Hippocratis. Hm. Time-space manipulation... a woman." Her memories were angrily bashing against each other, like a brute-forced jigsaw. The torpor of the mind slowly lifted itself, though it would take time to adjust still --perhaps compounded by this artificial body, and its unique memory space. "So this is body 32-C? That sounds like a lot of bodies."

"32-C is the most likely. C modifications were meant to make Mistress' body more compact, improving motor control while retaining durability." The answer was prompt, almost preempted.

"It's hard for me to move." Hecate raised her arm, opening and closing her hand, there was a bit of stiffness to her movements.

"...Odd. Troubleshooting." Pausing, the contruct looked intently at Hecate, focusing on her movements. "The body might be miscalibrated as byproduct of a quick installation. It is recommended to do a calibration test on sleep mode. In case of failure to produce satisfactory corrections, exercise is suggested to automatically calibrate through Mistress' central intelligence."

"Calibrate..." Hecate blinked, making little sense of the word, though it did not strike as unfamiliar. "Very well. We will continue this later. Executive order: Bring all unidentified guests to the central spiral."

"Understood."

Too much to process at once, though those steps were making Hecate more acquainted with her old self, slowly but surely... "One last thing... Why was I locked here. If this place is mine... my home. Who did this to me?"

"...The Hero and the Changed. Mistress. Your original body was deal a killing blow by the sword that disrespects causality."

"The sword that... what?"

"The sword that disrespects causality and changes properties outside the parameters of the world. A name for it was never registered in the database." The construct finished, "While Mistress managed to sever her central intelligence from her body before the fatal wound affected her, the Changed had already begun to seal your home. Mistress speculated that the sword must have been used as a catalyst, as the spire seemed severed from conventional time-space. It was asserted a supernatural feat, even for Mistress' standards."

"And I, lived?"

"Barely. Back then, Mistress took Prototype 0F as her body.  It was incomplete, and severely impacted productivity." The construct continued, "Mistress shifted project focus to a perfected body since. Production stopped on series 32 after concerns of the finite resources of the spire, and Mistress chose indefinite hibernation."

"I did, huh..." Memories weren't coming back that easy, but having so much information was bound to be a boon. "Thank you, you are dismissed." Seeing the construct away, Hecate resumed her walk back to the group, with far more on the mind than before.

Watching the bickering and conversations of the group wasn't easy. With so much on her mind, Hecate was more focused on Susan, which seemed to have found family of sorts. "I know you..." The fox seemed to throw away a number, 700 years, that possibly separated Susan from this person. It didn't make sense. Only this much time passed? It couldn't be. It felt wrong. "... another troublesome power that I contained. Are you going to take responsibility for her as well?" The question was directed to Thesephine, and so was Hecate's following glance. "If you would, I will not object. This place is clearly in no condition to hold these people." Attempting a sigh, Hecate walked towards the center of the room. "Clear out, please. Since you came from above, that's where you should find a way out. We're going up." Extending a hand forward, Hecate seemed to attune with the floor, a sygil shining bright in front of her. "35,860."

"Rec_g__ed. A__ess G__n__d."

The response was barely audible, cutting off-- a testament to the wear of time. Loud creaking reverberated along the building, with the center of the glyph shaping itself up, floor rising in a spiral, wide ramp, ascending --and descending as well, to Hess-know-what remained in the darkness. "This should more than fit all of you. My constructs will help carry anything heavy outside." That eagerness to comply belied her desire to see these visitors well out of her home.


The caravans were notably worse for wear, but what further damage could be was prevented through the handling from the constructs, which carried them without breaking a sweat. "Executive Order: Return and work on repairing the upper floors." With a quick demand, the contructs retreated towards the spire... if it could even be called that, completely swallowed by the ground as it was. With a quick scan towards the group's position, Hecate turned once more to Thesephine and Asami. "That should be it... correct? You can leave now." Hecate seemed almost... expectant of parting ways.

Edited by Xinnidy

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"Ah, heheh... We haven't spoken before, nn, no." Tenna ignored her comment about decking Coteon knights, looking away slightly. "I did my best to learn all of the nn, n-names of people here, so that I could... Mmm, deal with them, better. I'm... I'm s-still afraid of Mmm, monsters, so... Familiarizing myself makes this, easier." She nodded at Nashwa, looking back at her. "I hope that's okay and nnnn, n-not weird or annn, n-nything..."


Thesephine sighed through her nose, huffing a little. This was a confusing situation, but her story was checking out a little and she didn't want to waste too much brain power trying to figure this out. She finally shook her head and rubbed at her eyes a little. "Alright, well... I'm just glad you're safe, Ilvira. Stick with us and we'll try and get your situation sorted out once we're in Hwein or, just, somewhere better than here..."


"You really know what to say to make a girl feel special..." Asami's tail swished and her ears twitched a little, mumbling something ever so faintly under her breath. "Well! If you think it's worth it to speak to someone so full of themselves about your magic... By all means. Just a warning, though, unless someone puts this little devil in her place, I don't think she's going to get any better. She's been like that for as long as I could remember-- when I read about her, anyway. So feel free to take your chances... It's not like she'd be able to hurt you with how she is right now."


Hecate had gotten their lift out ready, Thesephine hoping that it would stop at other floors on the way up to hopefully gather their lost comrades. Hecate's way of talking was worrying, though. Thesephine had let Stholia return to its necklace form, gently gripping it around her neck. "Yes... We can leave. You can too." Thesephine was expecting a struggle...

"I can, but I'd rather stay." Hecate nodded in response to Thesephine's word, an almost innocent obliviousness to the meaning behind the words. "There is much I still need to understand about the world now. I'd rather do it within the walls I called home." Her tone remained neutral, despite rebuttal.

"... I think you're misunderstanding something. You're coming with us." Thesephine sighed, releasing her weapon and holding her hands on her hips. "You are an unknown power living in a secluded, hard to reach place, with who knows what magic at your disposal... I cannot comfortably leave you here to your devices without knowing what you are and what you're doing here."

"Misunder... what?" Suffice to say the words were met with negativity, Hecate bringing an arm closer to her chest, a frowning expression slowly forming. "But I helped you out of this... can you not afford to trust me?" The face struggled to emote, but Hecate's discomfort didn't need to be dug deep. "I barely know what I am, either. Surely we can strike an understanding?"

Thesephine squinted. "Surely you can realize why I'm concerned, yes? As someone without information, I can't simply leave you here in the middle of barely traversable territory to experiment to your whims. If you could see the surface, maybe you'd understand. Now... Please, don't make this difficult, Hecate. I'm trying to trust you. Don't give me reason not to."

"Surely? But..." Motioning a sigh, Hecate looked back to the opening of the balcony they'd risen from, "You mean to take me around to places I don't know, as well. Is it really that difficult to let me be?" Hecate seemed almost a bit oblivious to the way she was perceived. "I've already sent all of my constructs back, too... how could I abandon..."

"Mistress," one of the constructs entered the room, bowing before Hecate. She was dressed in simple clothes, a shirt and shorts, perhaps to give a sense of modesty. Long, almost ridiculously long blue hair, red eyes, pale skin, and a red glow emanating through her shirt ever so gently. "I am willing to accompany you, if you are concerned about your research. I can act as a conduit between this space and yourself." Thesephine was put on guard by the sudden approaching automaton, but it seemed to want to help the situation resolve in their favor. "Well... Yes, it is difficult to simply let you be. It would be difficult to let any of the magic users that were uncovered here today be. You, the seemingly human one, the eyeballs monster, the red one... We can't leave any of you alone. Not after everything that's happened."

"Ah...?" Hecate did not expect interruption from one of her own constructs --in fact, that was completely out of the norm. "A conduit?" Another futureproof from her old self, it seemed. "It's good to know I prepared to leave for long periods of time..." Mumbling, she gave the construct a thorough look. "I take it I gave you a distinct denominator...?" What is this? Will? Did I manage to do that? "Thesephine... I don't want to sour what trust we managed to build. You're right that I know nothing about this world out here, as it stands." Slowly satisfied with her assessment of the blue haired construct, Hecate turned back to Thesephine, a slight frown, after everything. "I understand you cannot trust them so easily. I hoped out situation was different." Hecate didn't want to fight all these people either, not here, not anytime soon. "If I must, then I'm taking this construct with me. There's much I still need this place for." The sigh was long and drawn out, she wasn't one to hide her disappointment. "I suppose I'm of the few people that can stop the red one if she gets out of control..."

"You did, mistress. Though I have not been given a complete personality, you designed me with enough intelligence to grow, provided stimulus." Her matter of fact way of speaking belayed any true intellect, at the moment, at least. "I am happy to be of service to you, Mistress." Thesephine... wasn't sure what to think of Hecate still having access to... all of this. It felt like a danger that they shouldn't take. Still, it would resolve things quickly if she were to agree... "Mmm... Alright. She comes along. As for the red one, I wouldn't worry about her. I can't sense any serious magic left in her... Whatever she did earlier seems to have drained her of her stores." Thesephine sighed. "We can leave now, at least..."

"Hmm... noted. If I gave you a name before, please state it." This one was a lifesaver for her, Hecate could have a thread connecting her to the spire, and comply with Thesephine. It would be useful to refer to them by more than 'construct'. "Thank you, Thesephine. We can leave... Me too, I suppose. Lead the way and tell me where in your sight you'll want me."

"Lazuli, Mistress." She bowed again, hands held across her stomach. "Just stay next to me. It'll help me keep an eye on you... I don't know if you can tell, but of everyone new here, you are the strongest magical source."

"Mmm... very well, Thesephine. I'll do that." Strongest magical source... for some reason, that didn't surprise her. "Follow me and standby, Lazuli."

"Of course, Mistress."

Edited by Mel the DM

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"A-ah." He'd messed up. He wasn't entirely sure how, he really had thought that it was a reasonable suggestion, but her reaction, combined with the too cheery warning told him to backtrack. "Well, thinking about it more, I've already made so much progress with learning from you, why would I switch? It was just something that popped into my head. Besides, one dangerously powerful ancient being in my life is enough, right?" He smiled at her, hoping she would laugh, trying to right course with her.


They finally were hoping to escape. Bladen had followed Asami over to their exit route before gently resting his head against the side of hers. "Mmm, I just want to be out of here and in a place I can sleep and forget everything that happened today. Strange new people, strange new magic, weird animated dolls, arms and legs inside of chests, I just want to leave it all behind." He sighed, straightening up again and shaking his head. "I need to talk with our new pegasus rider at some point though... I owe her an apology, I think. Besides that though, I just want to sleep and pretend this all never happened as best I can."

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Lucille's squeak and following murmur of thanks were perhaps indicators that what he'd decided to do had been correct; and perhaps it was just his imagination, or was she getting really warm now? "Mhm... of course."

The structure shuddered loudly, both under them and the ceiling above, the ramp leading out of the labyrinth slowly coming into form. The fact that the ramp led not only up and out, but down into the darkness didn't escape him; he hadn't known how deep below they were, given their rather sudden transition into the labyrinth, but it was evident that this place was still full of secrets to uncover. Or, would be; it was entirely dependent on whether the whole thing collapsed from the damage before it could be explored any more.

"Ah... looks like that's our way out. Well, no rush... we can go once everyone's ready."

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Marina found her conversation interrupted but the sound of movement, and a spire ascending from the floor where the silver construct stood. She looked up to the ceiling that had also opened up. Also of note was that it also led down. How deep was this place? There was a question that immediately formed on Marina's lips, "...What is this place?" The question wasn't particularly aimed at anyone, but Marina then looked at the one who had raised the spire, "What... is this place?" In truth, it didn't seem like it mattered all too much in the grand scheme of things, but... this place felt alien. Almost like it held secrets far greater than anyone understood, and almost definitely proven by the red demon and her caretaker. 

Marina looked up the spire once more, and then something clicked in her head. Her next course of action was set. "Agni, you said that Tali's... on one of the other floors, right?" Marina didn't wait for an answer. Up was the only place she could be. She had to make sure that she was alright. Marina was the first to set foot onto the ascending spiral, though unlike many of the others, leaving was not her foremost priority. Please be safe Tali... I can't... I have to make sure that you...


Lucille heard the spiral ascend, and another shudder through out the ruins. She pulled her face out to look around, but the moment that Seilan said that they probably still had some time. She returned to just being with him for a moment or two longer. If this had happened out in the waste, she definitely would have overheated, the chill of the ruins was greatly appreciated. Lucille did see Marina quickly start up the spiral, but someone would definitely follow her. 

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As an agreement was struck with Hecate, the constructed woman brought the group out towards an elevator that began to raise them all through the upper levels. As luck would have it, the presence of automatons on the upper floors was quite slim, due in part to their being more activate in the vicinity of their creator for her safe keeping, above all, and due in other part to Mae having reduced several to piles of scrap without discretion. Some were almost reformed as they reached upper floors and collected the rest of their party, finally breaching through the darkness above towards light shining through. The Wastes were still as unwelcoming as they had been, but the presence of sunlight warmed the hearts of many, even if the magic coursing through them was being sapped away.

Travel continued with their new additions in tow, but not before Meridrya sent several people away at the behest of Thesephine and with the aid of Nessraya. Lavinia had been concerned for her sister from the outset, but recent dangers had put her in a place of serious anxiety, asking the King to send her back despite her kicking and screaming to remain. The princess of Nanbu had requests for some to leave as well, namely Ren and her caretaker, which had Thesephine both surprised and worried. Ayane's motivations for having them sent back home made a modicum of sense; safety and the regrouping of their people were this to turn into a much larger war, but to leave Ayane by herself in the face of Ouka... Thesephine hoped that they would be able to deal with this witch without the aid of Ren and the little maid they had saved from Ithraxl. At the last moment, Gabriela jumped into the warp with Ren, leaving Meridrya taxed and Thesephine shocked, but they had been close... Maybe she saw a future better for herself than this taxing fighting and talk of potential continental war...

With Meridrya and Nessraya sufficiently drained of their magics, several potions and volunteers were supplied to make sure they would survive. The portions from those that had been sent away made sure the elf would make it through the Wastes and Nessraya... Saw to her necessities. With that all handled and their new additions, Hecate, Xetketh and Miz'Githon all saddled up and ready to ride, the caravans left for the next two weeks of travel across the Wastes.

Luckily, as it may have been their demise, another sink hole containing ancient magical beings buried beneath the broken world of Xensat's wastes did not appear, leaving the group unbothered in their travels to Hwein. As days passed, talks happened, mana was consumed and their horses pushed as much as was safe to do so... The white sand-like grains of the Wastes began to slip away along the horizon, patches of yellows and browns slipping into view. Actual dirt, actual earth; the safety of a border still barren, but not actively trying to harm them. With another day's travel, the broken earth and sandy patches turned into green fields. They had arrived in Hwein proper.

A border station saw their entry. Despite the current issues with Coteon, none would stay the arrival of the Demon King herself, Hwein's border to Vaia still manned by Monsters rather than humans. There was no proper place to stay there, though, so as the group passed through, a week deeper into Hwein...

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Their caravan finally made rest in the trade city of Chiaca. A bustling and booming center for commerce that saw lines coming in through Vaia, Coteon, and even the coast which travelled across the continent by ship. Large and sprawling, the city had no walls to contain it, constantly expanding and spreading as more merchants settled and more people began to live there. The alleys were tight, the roads were wide, the goods, inns and places of entertainment plenty.

Thesephine led the cart she was leading towards the Wayward Wanderer. It was the largest and most lavish place to stay in Chiaca, but after that horrifying, trek, they could all use rooms. Collecting herself, the mid day sun shining down on her tiny form, she lazily pulled a cloak out of the cart and stuffed herself into it. Their large caravan was already going to be suspicious enough. They didn't need people finding out exactly who they were. Hopefully the rest of the group realized that, or at least, the more recognizable folk.

"Okay... It's mid day, so, anyone that wants to go about the town, go right ahead. Chiaca is large and has a lot for everyone, plus, we're far enough away from the capital that it shouldn't be much of an issue for you all to wander, just... Be careful. If anyone from Coteon finds us, we could turn Chiaca into a battleground. I'm gonna go inside and get our rooms sorted out... Just make sure you tell them you're with 'Thessy', when they ask for your group affiliation, to pick up your key. Understood?" Thesephine was too tired to double check. Someone, Lavinia or Asami or even miss hero could repeat what she had said if it was necessary...

Edited by Mel the DM

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They ascended out of the Labyrinth after collecting the others from the upper floors, and most important of those to Marina, was Tali. The young lizard girl didn't appear too much worse for wear, so Marina could breath a sigh of relief. She wasn't sure if she could live with herself if Tali just vanished like that. She'd put her through too much already. With their new allies in tow, and a new destination on the horizon, things were going to change. Things just began happening a lot faster than she'd expected. A small portion of the group was being warped off to other places, and for various reasons. Bridget was one of them, the pure vampire who had despised Marina's very existence--not an uncommon occurrence in this group--but Marina felt like she was making headway on that relationship. Unfortunately, as she was sent through the warp Marina felt that potential connection vanish. Perhaps nothing would have ever come of it, but it still bothered Marina a little that she would never get a chance to really know if things could have changed. Then, it was the Nanbu denizens, Ren and Ayane's attendant, Shizuka. They were being sent back to bring order back to Nanbu while Ayane would stay behind to prepare to face Ouka. Marina hadn't gotten close to either of them, so the pair leaving was sad, but not painful. That was, until, Gabriela jumped into the warp with Ren.

Marina knew that the pair were close, but she hadn't thought that they were close enough for Gabriela to jump into the warp without so much as a goodbye. It was so sudden that Marina couldn't say anything before they were across the world in a place that she could no longer picture. One of her closest friends in this group was just gone now. The pit that was forming in Marina's stomach was uncomfortable. The group seemed to be becoming closer knit, and here she was feeling as if she were drifting further and further away. That made the remaining journey more difficult--Marina had Lucille and Seilan, but it was difficult to not notice that the two were quickly becoming friendly with one another, and it felt like she would have been intruding. Nessraya had more important things than to listen to her whinge, and Lavinia was similarly preoccupied, both with driving the cart, and with Jade right next to her. So Marina kept to herself. Nights became a constant repeat of a singular question in her head: "What next?" She hadn't heard from Yukari either in a time; one of the few things that had genuinely made her happy. One thing became very clear to Marina in the two weeks of almost self imposed solitude: She was aimless.

She had a goal, and something to strive for, but it didn't feel like it was hers. Was she fighting to clear her conscience, or to protect Vaia? Did she even really believe that she was doing the right thing? Even if it certainly wasn't the same thing, she couldn't help but realize that things weren't too terribly different from when she was with Coteon. Marina didn't even really know what she wanted. That was what came next. She had to figure that out. What did Marina want from all of this? Was it as simple as returning home? Marina struggled, and fought with things she thought might have been the answer, keeping the darker thoughts away, before deciding that this wasn't something she could answer on her own. Yukari was in Hwein somewhere. That would be the next leg of her journey, then. Find Yukari, and see if she could help her sort her feelings, and figure out what she wanted from all of this. Gabriela might have gone, but she had to move forward, and perhaps she could better socialize in Hwein. 

They arrived in Chiaca finally, and Marina was already dressed to keep herself as minimized as possible. She'd blow the groups' cover in an instant if she wasn't careful. Marina didn't really have plans; she was sure that she didn't want to wander alone, but she was unsure of who to wander around with. Perhaps Seilan and Lucille again. Lavinia and Jade was also an option, but in both cases she wasn't sure if she wanted to insert herself. So she'd just wait, and if someone asked, she'd go along with them. "Gotcha." Marina nodded at Thesephine's words, and resumed checking her things. The next step of this journey had finally begun. 


Lucille begrudgingly left the cool air of the Labyrinth below, and returned to the sweltering, and mana sapping air above. She may have disliked the Labyrinth on account of what transpired below, but it certainly was preferable to the heat. Lucille immediately went to rest; she was more exhausted than she realized, and the wastes' oppressive atmosphere hit her incredibly hard all at once. Fortunately, she wasn't required for anything, and by the time she was awake again, people started to funnel her way. Lucille was still annoyed about the events that led up to the cave-in. Less that it had happened, and more how she had been treated leading up to the moment. To her surprise, that evening, and the following one both Ayane, and Bladen came to speak with her. Both seemed to agree that things hadn't gone as either had expected, or wanted. Although, the impact the two had were markedly different. 

Learning to Trust 

Spoiler

A white haired Oni made her way across the camp, she had her red eyes scan the area, as if she were hunting for something. Or rather someone. “...where is she?” Ayane had been worried about a few things since they left the maze, there was a lot on her mind in fact. One of which was a certain magically inclined girl she was with, so Ayane put some time out of her day to find her. The issue was, she wasn’t sure which tent was her’s. “I suppose I could ask around…”

Lucille wasn’t sure if preferred being in the labyrinth, or back in the wastes. On the one hand, the Labyrinth was at least a reasonable temperature, and her mana wasn’t being sapped. On the other, that place had been part of perhaps the most strenuous day since joining the group, and that was saying a lot. In the day since being out, Lucille hadn’t seen or spoken with either the crow or Ayane. One bothered her a little more than the other, but she wasn’t particularly interested in speaking with either of them just yet. Lucille sighed, and stood up from her desk. “Maybe I’ll just go see Seilan, or something.” She fanned herself, as she decided to brave the heat to go see the mage.

Almost immediately on stepping outside though, Lucille saw the white haired oni. Head on a swivel, as if she was looking for someone. It probably had nothing to do with her so she could leave it be. 

As soon as Lucille had stepped outside, Ayane’s gaze fell upon her. Target in sight. “...there you are.” She stepped toward her. “Good, I suppose I got lucky. I was worried I’d have to chase you down.” But she stopped herself when she realized how she phrased her opening act. “...I mean, not in the way you might think. I’m sorry, I simply wanted to talk. Do you have time?” ‘Ugh, this is awkward…’

As if preordained, Ayane strode over to Lucille saying something about looking for her. Phrasing it in a way that Lucille did not appreciate in the slightest. Her eyes narrowed, “And what exactly would have I done that would warrant chasing me down?” Ayane quickly apologized but Lucille’s walls were now up. “I do have time, but I don’t really know what you’d want to talk about.” Lucille still remembered the look that Ayane had given her before deciding to join the rescue party for the… elf. Lucille couldn’t quite remember, nor did she care all that much by the end of that day. 

A gentle spark ran up Lucille’s gloved arm, “So what do you want now?”

Well, the tension happening was her own fault. Ayane was aware of this. So with a deep sigh she hung her head and upper body to Lucille in an act to settle things down. “...I’m sorry, Lucille. I may seem standoffish and rude, and the truth is I can be. But you deserved none of it. I don’t want…tension between us, so allow me to extend a proper hand this time. Please.”

Lucille blinked. The reaction was almost night and day from how Ayane seemed when they were lining up for the rescue. It wasn’t the stoic iron-willed woman that Lucille half expected from her. Lucille sighed, and forced herself to relax a little; it was clear that Ayane was just here to talk. Another spark ran up Lucille’s arm, “Haah… Fine. Don’t worry about the sparks, it just happens when I’m anxious, or annoyed. I’m not doing it on purpose.” Lucille then crossed her arms, “Why were you looking for me?” 

She lifted her head a little and watched her with curiosity. “...is that so? Just like me then…” She raised herself back up. “I have a short fuse myself, the Oni curse upon me is quite strong. But, I’ve resolved to not let it control me.” After another moment passed, she spoke again. “It was quite rough in that maze, I was left alone with my thoughts. Believe it or not, I was concerned for you and Bladen. So I wanted to check on you, and apologize. My brash actions were part of the reason why we were put down there..”

Lucille tilted her head at Ayane’s explanation, “Oni… curse? Is that what you are?” She seemed mostly human, but the horns on her head were unmistakable. “It’s… less a short fuse, even if I do kind of have a short fuse, but it’s more like… any of my emotions? It’s easier if I’m anxious or upset, but my magic acts up if I’m really happy or excited too. It’s nothing to worry about; I’m not magically strong so it’s more like a stray shock if anything.” 

Her second sentence was the one that brought Lucille the most pause. First, it gave the crow a name, Bladen, second, she was apologizing, but not for what came before the cave-in. Lucille frowned a little, “I’m glad that you decided to check in, and apologize… but I don’t think you’re apologizing, to me anyway, for the right thing. It wasn’t your actions that put us down there. How exactly would you have known that there was going to be a cave-in in the middle of the wastes? No, they weren’t a part of the reason we were put down there, the only way we wouldn’t have gone down there was abandoning the woman you saved.” Lucille huffed, and then sighed, “Even if it was… I don’t think I’d be all that upset at you. If I had the option, I would have done the same thing. Don’t apologize for doing the right thing, alright?” 

“I am a human, cursed to become an Oni. In my land, Oni means demon.” After she cleared that up, Lucille brought up apologizing for the wrong thing, and that she would have done the same for the new woman. “...yes, I suppose you’re right. I’ve been in situations where I lost people right in front of me, so I couldn’t let it happen again. As for…earlier. Was it the feeling of distrust?”

Lucille nodded at Ayane’s explanation of what an Oni was. “That would… explain your clothing; it’s completely unlike any style I’ve ever seen. So you’re not from here then?” Lucille hadn’t heard of lands beyond Xensat, but she could very easily believe that it was just Coteon controlling information. ”Don’t worry… I understand the feeling of losing people right in front of you, so I get it.” Then it was the real crux of the matter. Lucille took a deep breath. 

“Yes, it was. I got it from you, and the crow. I would have understood if it felt like I was being distrusted because of my poor tolerance for the heat, and that I was a mage, in the wastes. But neither of you two knew how much the heat bothers me.” A spark up her arm, “It wasn’t overly explicit from you, but it was from the crow. It felt like I was being distrusted because I was human, and thus not worth trusting. That I was going to stab one of you two in the back, so someone had to keep an eye on me. I’ve never liked people assuming my intentions before I’ve done anything.” The grip on her arms was tight, but she wasn’t getting too visibly upset. She at least owed Ayane that much for being so cordial. “I was prepared to help, and to be so quickly rebuffed… it’s really upsetting. I get that I’m not owed that–being from Coteon and all–it just…” 

Ayane simply listened to Lucille’s issues, all she could do was nod and take everything in. “...trust is a difficult thing for me.” She looked aside. “I lost everything to Ouka because I let my guard down, I came to this land to find and kill her. I kept to myself often, and let Ren branch out for me. But I’ve come to realize…I can’t beat Ouka the way I’ve been going. I need to change.” She lowered her head again. “So I apologize for distrusting you, Lucille. You didn’t deserve it…”

Lucille looked up at Ayane, her eyes a little wider than usual. “Losing everything to someone, huh? Hmm… we are a little more alike than I thought. It’s… still really hard for me to trust people. Even knowing that most of you aren’t going to do anything like they did. It’s… hard to break out of that shell, made worse by being so shy.” Lucille let go of her arms, and let them fall to her side. “So I can at least understand it.” Lucille shuffled as Ayane bowed her head again, “You don’t have to do that. It’s… a little embarrassing… But, I, uh, accept your apology. You had your reasons.” 

She raised her head once more and simply nodded. “Hm…I am told I’m stubborn, so I may be overdoing it but…well I’d rather put in more than less.” She cleared her voice. “Mm…well, that’s about all I wanted to do, truth be told. As long as you’re ok, then that’s good enough for me.”

“Mmm… yeah, I guess that is what matters the most. I guess on that note… the person you saved. Is she alright?” Lucille felt more than a little bad about saying for Ayane to leave them when the ground started caving in, but her responsibility was to Ayane and Bladen, and as long as she could make sure that they were alright, they might have been able to rescue the unknown still. Though the crow really put a damper on that when his wings failed. Two people in that mess put a lot of strain on Villkiss, four would have absolutely caused them to crash. 

“I, uh… panicked when I said to leave them. But I, uh, t-thought that we probably could have rescued them still if we were together.”

“I understand. You weren’t sure what their status was, and you prioritized people you knew were well.” Ayane simply nodded again. “Ilvira is fine. She is…a bit of an odd one, but I suppose I’m not one to judge. Still, I think she appreciated our assistance.” Ayane wanted to talk to her a bit more, but it seemed like Ilvira was more interested in Thesephine so she left her be. “Either way we all walked out of that situation alive, despite the tension. Perhaps it was good fortune…”

Lucille exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding when Ayane sympathized with her decision making. The rescuee’s name appeared to be Ilvira, I should probably keep an eye out for her, and check in myself. “Yeah… we managed to get both incredibly unlucky, and then quite lucky at the same time. Well, some more lucky than others…” Lucille did still worry about Villkiss. She seemed fine after everything, but she’d never really been like that after such a short flight, frantic as it was. “...Maybe I should go check on her.” Lucille put a hand up to her mouth as she realized that she was speaking her thoughts out loud. “Aha… Oops. Wasn’t really thinking then.” 

“Hm? Check in on Ilvira? Well, that’s fine. I’m sure she’d appreciate it. I’d do it myself, but…well I’ll be busy for a little while.” She rubbed her arm. “I plan to send Ren and Shizuka back to Nanbu to gather survivors, while I continue on here with the army. It’ll be difficult, but I need to prepare for some worst case scenarios. This means I’ll need to trust this army more. Which is why I’d rather not burn bridges.” She stepped closer to Lucille. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t mean my apologies on a personal level, I did, and I thank you for understanding me on some level Lucille…”

“O-oh, no, not Ilvira. Although, I will go and check on her… eventually. I meant Villkiss, my pegasus. With everything that happened, Villkiss was a little weak, and I’m a little worried about her. The wastes sapping her, and then the cave-in, the feeling of being sucked in… all of it was a lot on her, and then I had to still ride her through a lot of that. Sorry, it’s really not all that important.” Lucille tensed as Ayane stepped closer, but she willed herself to not step back. “T-T-Thank you for explaining, and apologizing, Ayane. I’ll… help in the ways I can, which aren’t many.” 

Then Lucille realized what she was saying, “...Wait, send people back to Nanbu? You can do that?” Was Ayane a noble, or something? Arranging stuff like that was quite difficult without some level of standing, a fact that she knew well.

“Oh, Villkiss…” Ayane realized she was talking about her pegasus. The wastes weren’t easy on anyone, so being a pegasus must have been rougher. “...I used to ride horses back home too, so I understand. Try to make time for her.” She nodded. “I am a princess Ayane Kusanagi, though the name is simply just that now. My empire has crumbled. Despite that however, I still have a small number of people willing to help me. My cousin Ren and my maid Shizuka, and Yukari is somewhere in this land as well.” There were also others she could count, but she wasn’t entirely sure where they stood on their own merits.

“O-oh.” Lucille blinked again, she couldn’t remember the last time–well, no, there was Tenebria, and the Demon King, Nessraya apparently counted herself, and now there was Ayane. The group certainly had its fair number of royalty, or high up nobility. Lucille might have counted herself, but the Altair name left a bad taste in her mouth. “I didn’t realize…” Of course her circumstances weren’t similar to yours, idiot. “That was caused by this Ouka then… Mmm…” 

Lucille straightened up, and looked at Ayane, “Well… like I said, I’ll help in the ways I can. If Ouka’s up to something here, it will affect all of us…” She sighed, and looked up at the sky. “Mmm… it’s starting to get dark. I probably should go off to see Villkiss if I’m going to do that tonight.” With a swing of her hips, Lucille turned. “It was good talking with you, prin– Ayane. I’m… sorry for how I acted at the start, and if you need me, I’ll probably be in my tent.” Or with Seilan… Lucille waved at Ayane, walking slowly in case she had anything else to say. 

“It’s quite alright, please just stick to Ayane.” She took a wave herself. “And take good care of Villkiss, she deserves it. It was good talking with you as well…” Ayane waved back and walked off herself. ’Mm…I hope she knows I tried. Being social is difficult…’ She took a sigh. “I have to keep trying though…”

Ayane had been the less pernicious of the two, seemingly only worried about Lucille's capacity to assist in the rescue, rather than any prejudice. Not that it made it feel any better; even with her heat intolerance, she was still an capable rider and a mount would have made carrying the body back to the group that much easier. Still, that one was much easier to forgive when sense was made of things, and Ayane was fairly amiable. The same was... difficult to say about Bladen. 

Learning to Open Up

Spoiler

Bladen sighed, pacing a short distance outside the tent he knew to be Lucilles. “Ugh...” He ran a hand through his hair as he abruptly stopped, staring at the tent. “Just go talk to her. Yes she’s a human, but what is she going to do? Try and kill you in the middle of camp? No, she’s much more likely to just throw you out, but that’s fine. You, you can deal with that. Probably... Ugh.” He started pacing again, trying to decide if he really wanted to do this. Up until recently, it had been easy to ignore the humans in the group. The Hero and her clone were completely avoidable, not people he wanted to interact with at all if possible. And Agni was the Hero’s second in command essentially, no safer than she was. But then more had joined. Sei. Lucille. And despite them not doing anything to him, he’d found himself staying away, not trusting, believing them to just be waiting. For what, he didn’t know, but it couldn’t be good, right? They were humans. But then. Then... The frightened panic of Lucille as she’d thought those she’d cared about were dead flashed through his head. The fact that she’d helped their group however she could, and all he’d returned to her was distrust had struck him in that moment, leaving a guilty heart that hadn’t gone anywhere. Fine. FINE. I’ll do it.

Taking a deep breath, hand instinctively going for the sword that he had left in his tent on purpose, he pivoted, and headed towards the tent. Outside of it, he took another calming breath, trying to gather his courage, and then called out, “Excuse me... Might I have a moment of your time? If you’re busy, I understand, but I was hoping to talk to you. For a minute or two at least...” There. Now all he could do was wait to see if he would even be able to start the conversation he needed to have.

Lucille was looking over one of her older letters that she’d gotten back from her mother. She missed being able to write to her, both because she wanted to know that she was alright, and because it was one of the few things that gave her life some structure. It was a comforting feeling knowing that she could talk with her mother, even if it was in some highly monitored sense. Now that she was supposed to be dead, she couldn’t do that, and she was sure that her mother was beside herself with worry. “Mom… Anna…” Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice. A voice that almost immediately made her arm start sparking. It was the crow. 

She quickly stashed the letter using her other, not sparking hand. “Surprising that you’d want to talk with someone you don’t trust.” She responded, not bothering to move to the tent opening. “Don’t you have people you’d rather talk with instead of bothering me? I’m not busy, but why would I want to talk with someone who didn’t even allow me a chance to do anything before writing me off?” Lucille thought about how he was the one who got her to calm down at least a little when her panic just got to be a little too much to handle. She pushed it out of her mind for the moment. If he really wanted to talk, he was going to have to do better than this.

Bladen almost turned on his heels and left at the reception he got, but he steeled himself. This was what he deserved. He had no reason to expect anything but this reception. He had to push forward. “Yes. You’re absolutely right. I didn’t allow you a chance. That’s why... That’s why I’m here.” He didn’t enter the tent, but rather sat down outside it, legs crossed, as he considered his next words. “I’m here to apologize for my actions. What I did, how I reacted to you trying to support me, was completely unfair to you. I have excuses, reasons why I acted the way I did, but none of them excuse the fact that I treated you in a way that you, personally, had done nothing to deserve.” He took a short, slightly stuttering breath, pushing emotions back, trying to keep calm and concise. “I. I have no expectations that you’ll forgive me. Or want to talk to me or hear my excuses. So if you send me away, that’s fine. But I do owe you an apology, so allow me to at least say that before I leave. Lucille, I am sorry for how I treated you in the Wastes. You were trying to help, you had as much, if not more reason for going out to check on the collapsed woman. Perhaps if you had been the only one to go, we would not have ended up in the situation as messily as we did. I should have treated you better, and I apologize.” He stopped talking, aware he was starting to ramble. This was hard. Much harder than he had expected. A huge part of his mind was calling him crazy for apologizing to a human. But he had to do it. He had to.

The crow began to talk, not willing to give up so easily. So Lucille listened, and listened. The monologue was a little long, and winding, and it sounded a lot like Ayane’s explanation for her actions. Which was why her first thought was to believe him, but him realizing that, and seemingly knowing that… Lucille hopped up from her seat, arm sparking as she stormed out of her tent, seeing the crow seated outside. “It’s really, really fucking hard to listen to all of this having been there out in the wastes, alongside you. Well, no, not even really alongside you, as far as you were concerned it was you, Ayane, and a liability. You say all of this now when your first thought was how you could just keep an eye on me, and then get me off your back when things went south.”

Lucille crossed her arms as she continued to unload, wanting to be sure that she didn’t do anything more than shout. “Then you went and nearly got yourself killed because you didn’t want to believe that maybe I actually wanted to help!” She took a deep breath. “I hate it! I know I’m a human, and I know I’m from Coteon, so I don’t deserve your immediate trust. I don’t deserve any of your trust, but how could I even begin to earn that trust if my intentions have already been chosen for me!? I’ve had enough of that!! That was my entire time in Coteon’s forces already having malice, or something sinister attributed to me when the only thing I wanted was to get my family back! …Then it was just more of the same.” 

Lucille just stood there, and looked at the crow for a good long while. “...Say what you’re going to say. Maybe it will prove me wrong.” 

Bladen sat, listening, accepting. She was right. Everything she said was right. He listened quietly, not interrupting, but visibly flinched when she mentioned wanting to get her family back. “I... I don’t think anything I say will prove you wrong. You’re right in everything you’ve said. ... I didn’t trust you to not try and kill me or Ayane. Which I know is stupid.” He sighed, rubbing a hand across his eyes, surprised to find a slight dampness there that he hadn’t realized had surfaced. “The Church’s army killed a majority of my clan. Of my entire race. Including my father. We’d... I wasn’t supposed to be there. My father was leading our warriors, to try and defend the King, after we failed the last King. Ever since then, I can’t trust humans. Especially not the Hero and her people. And I knew you were a member of the Church’s army, that you were strong, and to suddenly have you at my back, I...”

He shook his head, standing up, finally looking at her directly. “As I said. I- I have my excuses. But you are right. I cannot excuse my actions. No matter why I say I did what I did, it doesn’t make it ok. All I can do is apologize. And say that I will try to do better. ... Both with you and other humans we have in our party.” Not the Hero. Never the Hero. She may have been a pawn, but I cannot trust her. Not after how she’s treated me. He gave her a stiff bow, trying to hold back emotions he hadn’t expected to show during this conversation. “I understand if you don’t want me to be around you though. I will try and help you and your goals if you want my help, or I will leave you alone if you prefer. You deserve that much after how I’ve treated you...”

He didn’t say anything that seemed to disprove what Lucille thought. She was about to turn away, and fume by herself when she noticed that the crow had wiped his eyes for a moment. She could have sworn that there had maybe been a tear at the corner of his eyes. Then, things started to make sense. The slaughter of his clan, his father, and all at the Church’s hands. He had to watch as the Coteon faithful took his father, and his clan’s warriors. Lucille felt her hand twitch as he said that he couldn’t trust the Hero, Marina, after what had happened. Marina, even if she had been a pawn, was the nexus of everything. She at least understood his hesitation, she’d felt it herself. Though, knowing her now, and seeing what she’d gone through… “...The Hero has a name. It’s Marina. Use it.”

Lucille sighed, her arm was sparking a lot more than normal, and she couldn’t seem to get a handle on it this time. “I’m… sorry about what the Church did to your clan. It’s what they always do. Kill anyone, and anything that gets in the way. Just like my mother’s brothers and sister, and just like my home. Bet it’s kind of strange to hear that the Church was behind everything that happened to me. It’s… I don’t know, infuriating, to hear myself referred to as a part of the Church’s army. I was forced to be there, and they never considered me a part of it. They considered me a liability. Just–” Lucille stopped herself. As upset as she was, with everything that the crow, Bladen, had just said. That would have been too far. “You’re also wrong… I’m not strong enough to bother any of you. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to do anything to any of you.”

Lucille chuckled bitterly, “You don’t have to do something you don’t want to do. You don’t have to try to help me out of pity or something. If you’re going to do it, then do it. You didn’t seem to want or need my okay for anything before.” 

"They considered you a liability, just like I do, is what you mean." Bladen let out a short laugh, shaking his head. "No. No, it's the... Marina. That I consider a liability." He shook his head. "It's why I don't trust her. Not that she trusts or likes me any more than I do her. But I don't blame her for anything anymore. I know she was a pawn. But she's been put into a leadership position that she's not ready for and she's going to get someone in this group killed. If she's lucky, it'll be herself and she won't have to live with the guilt." He sighed, and winced slightly at how harsh the words came out. "That was rude. I know. I'm trying. But she... She's naive and puts herself and others in positions that leave them at risk. And I can't trust her. Maybe that's too harsh, maybe she'll prove me wrong, but up to this point she hasn't."

Trying to reorient himself, he turned his thoughts back to her. "As for you and your power, mmm... I suspect you are underestimating yourself. Maybe I'm wrong, but you seem, well, don't take this the wrong way but you seem more likely to have a low view of yourself than a high one. You're not arrogant? I guess is what I mean?" I'm digging myself a fine hole here. Should have asked Asami for help with this... "Either way... I want to get better. And maybe it's not fair of me to try and use you to improve myself. So if you want to tell me to fuck off, I'll understand. But I. I don't want to become what I'm becoming. Hating humans as much as they hate monsters. Not trusting people just because they happen to be a different race... So. I do. I want to help. Especially if it means fighting back against the church. But also just because, well." 

He hesitated, and then sighed. "Seeing you... In the labyrinth. Seeing how scared you were, worried about those you cared for, it's not pity, it's just. I realized I had been unfair. And viewing humans as people who couldn't feel things like that. And I don't want to be like that anymore."

Lucille didn’t like that Bladen considered Marina a liability, but she couldn’t fault his reasoning as such. Marina being the leader of the army, even with Nessraya about didn’t exactly sit well with Lucille. She did worry that Marina would cause something to happen, and then spiral from there, and that Bladen’s words would actually come true then. “That may be the first thing I agree with you on. I’m not… fond of Marina being in charge, but.” Lucille glared at him, “The only thing I can do is help her.” Lucille thought about Marina jumping into the fissure back then with no plan, no understanding of what could be below. “Be really careful about how closely you tread that line, Bladen. I don’t disagree with not trusting her as a leader; she’s young, and entirely inexperienced. But I’m not going to sit here and let you say stuff like that, got it?” 

Lucille shook her head, “Maybe I am, but it’s still nothing in comparison to many of you.” Lucille couldn’t help but be a little exasperated by how easily he seemed to talk himself into bad situations. He was trying at least, and that was better than nothing. Lucille slightly lessened the grip on her arms, her hands were starting to hurt a little. “If you want to get better, it will… probably have to be with someone else, for now. I’m not going to tell you to fuck off, but I don’t really believe you either. You can prove me wrong, of course, but I’m not going to expect you to.”

Then, finally, her little episode in the labyrinth. She was surprised that he’d managed to hold back on it for this long, and expected him to bash her over the head with it. “Yeah… I was. That’s how I am all the time, and in every single battle. Sometimes, I keep it under control, other times, like that… it just bubbles over. It happened at Mixoco too. That time I needed Lavinia to talk me down from it. Then… you happened to be the first person to notice in the labyrinth.” She paused for a long moment. As if she was trying to figure something out, before her shoulders fell with a long sigh. “Thank you for that. I should at least say that for helping me then. I’m not ready to forgive you, but if you want to help fight the church, I’m not stupid enough to turn away someone willing to fight them.” 

"I can promise you I would never do anything to subvert her leadership. Not trusting her does not mean I will try and ruin the mission of this group. If I ever got to the point of wanting to do that, I would just leave the group. I'm not officially assigned this by the King like some, I'm just here to try and protect my people. And now to protect the friends... And more I've made here. I mostly just stay away from Marina. I'm fairly certain she prefers it that way as well, though feel free to ask her and see if I'm wrong." He snapped his mouth shut, aware the frustration was coming through. "That was harsh. And not fair to you. Again, I need to apologize."

He sighed, shaking his head. "I'm not... I'm not good at this. At people in general. I grew up in an isolated clan, this is the first time I've been out in the rest of the world in my whole life. Again, it's just an excuse, I know it doesn't make my behavior ok." He shook his head. "As for comparing power, it's pointless. We aren't going to fight each other, but none of us is as strong individually as we are together. That's what I need to remember. This group, our mission, it only works if we work together. I can be the shield for the group, but I can't be the sword too. Not really. I'm not strong enough for that. But I'm good at taking a hit."

He was getting off track again. Again. "The point is. You not forgiving me, I absolutely understand and respect that. I will not pressure you or try and be your friend unless you change your mind. But... I will be trying. Trying to make myself change. And, well, trying to help you in your mission. Because it is my mission too. And... Because I don't want other people to lose their families like I did. So if I can help you find yours again, maybe that will be enough. Make what I've lost worth it. But. Until you tell me differently, I'll stay out of your way outside of battle and trust you to fight with me in battle." He took a step back and bowed. "I'm... Sorry for interrupting your evening. Thank you for giving me the courtesy of listening to my selfish words."

Bladen really didn’t seem to like Marina, Which, again, was understandable given all that had happened to him because of Marina’s actions. Everything he said before felt genuine, and Lucille was sure that he wouldn’t do anything to directly harm Marina. Then his frustration took over again. The exasperation was no longer in Lucille’s head, exhaling sharply. “I’ve been doing… reeeeally well keeping my temper under control… reasonably. But you really are just amazing at pushing my buttons.”

She took a deep breath, finally noticing that her foot was tapping the ground. “I know it’s pointless, but it doesn’t stop me from doing it. Kind of the result of everything…” He was completely right about the rest of it though. The proof of that was at Mixoco, their small little group of four weathering much larger opposition. Each one of them doing exactly what they could and leaving the rest to the others. “...I believe that you’ll be trying, and I’ll be paying attention. For now, though, keep your distance. I promise that on the battlefield we’re fighting as allies. And maybe we’ll be fighting towards similar personal goals in the future.” 

Lucille turned away, and started walking back into her tent, but then she stopped. “...Thank you for at least trying, and apologizing. I’m sure you know that I was going to be mad at you, and admittedly, I’m probably more upset than I’m saying. You didn’t have to try, but you did. So, you’re welcome.” 

Bladen didn't trust himself to not stick his foot in his mouth again, so he simply nodded, and quietly added, "Goodnight Lucille. I'm sorry if I've made things worse." He turned, leaving, walking just far enough to be out of sight before he shuddered, dropping to his knees. The emotions he'd been holding back were finally flooding up. Sorrow, pain, frustration, everything all at once. He wrapped his arms around his waist, trying to hold himself together. I need to do better. I can't treat someone like that again. I need to be better. For now though. He struggled to his feet, making his way back to try and find Asami. Right now, he needed someone to hug.

Lucille walked back inside her tent, and almost immediately, just let a spell out into the ground next to her. That was… something, some of it positive, quite a lot of it had Lucille questioning how much more she could bottle before she just blew her top. Every time she felt like she was being a little too harsh, Bladen seemed to dispel that thought. Still… it was eerie just how similar this conversation was with Ayane’s. Instead of a kingdom, it was Bladen’s father, and his clan’s warriors. She understood his anger at Coteon, and the church intimately because she was the same way. They’d taken almost everything from her too. 

A lot of what Bladen said hurt. So many apologies, and so few of them Lucille felt like she could say she believed. His thoughts about Marina. Lucille didn’t quite know about anything before her joining, and Bladen appeared to have been around for a long time. Though, nothing hurt more than Bladen explaining what appeared to have changed his mind. Her moment in the Labyrinth. Her intense feelings of concern, and dread were what proved to him that humans could feel at all. What did he think before that? Lucille shook her head, she was just frustrating herself more. It was over, they’d said their pieces, and come to an accord. She just needed to relax, and calm down. She pulled out the letter from her mother that she’d been reading earlier, and tried to slow down her sparking. This was not exactly a good thing to have happening in the wastes. She’d given Bladen a chance to prove her wrong. Hell of a lot better than you gave me, or any of the other humans, it seems like. Haah… why? Why does everyone do this to me…

She hoped that Bladen would have just said that he had been wrong to be so quick to judge, but he had agreed with her assessment. He hadn't trusted her because she was human, and fully expected that she was going to stab them in the back. He had a compelling reason; his father, and warriors of his clan had been slaughtered by humans. She understood that pain deeply, and him using it as his justification for his blatant prejudice only served to upset her more. Still... Lucille wondered if she had been too harsh. Bladen did appear to want to apologize, and to try to be better about this. His words about her panic in the labyrinth echoed in her head. He really saw humans as people who couldn't feel things like that, and his disdain for Marina was off-putting. Lucille didn't want to deal with it at this stage, but... she did at least owe it to him to pay attention. If he really stepped up, then he did and he deserved acknowledgement for that. For now though, she'd keep her distance. 

The moment the wagons pulled to a stop in Chiaca, Lucille hopped out of the wagon, fully covered, and stretched. The heat was far less annoying than the wastes, but still not exactly a comfortable temperature for her. At least the sapping effect would be gone forever unless they traversed the wastes again, which was a tad unlikely. She was ready to get out of the wagons, and hopefully stay out of them for a little while. Despite her willingness to hop out of the wagons, Lucille was perhaps more aware of the threat of Coteon than anyone else. The Altair Family was buddy-buddy with the church that they could, and likely were, assisting the Hwein occupation. The last thing she wanted was for anyone of them to discover that she was alive before she could do something about her family. She was even more concerned about church zealots finding her again. The journey through the wastes had made the threat of the Church that much more concerning to her, and all because of two revelations. 

The first came in the shape of a green clad mage. Seilan had certainly kept her grounded since joining the group. A joy to speak with, and just all around pleasant to be with. She'd spent much of the journey with him after she'd finished speaking with people. She worried that she was being a tad clingy, especially after understanding that she had been rather jealous when Amera was heavily flirting with Seilan. It had been less than a month since meeting him and Lucille was concerned about how strong her feelings seemed to be coming on. She didn't really know if it was because she liked him that much, or she was simply starved of affection for so long that even the faintest amount of it was enough for her. One thing was for sure; Lucille wanted to know what he thought about what Susan had said in the labyrinth. 

Glowing Embers 

Spoiler

The wastes were certainly sapping him; or perhaps it was just the heat. Had it been this bad crossing the wastes on the way to Vaia? Seilan couldn’t remember; he rolled over, cloak pinned underneath him, refusing to give in and fully lie down, searching for the energy to sit up properly and do something. He almost missed the sensation of regaining consciousness on that cold blue tile floor, abrupt though it might have been; thought it probably was for the best that their group didn’t do any more falling into suddenly forming giant pits in the ground.

At least they’d be out of this heat, in a few more days.

Ever since leaving the labyrinth, Lucille had been a rather busy woman. She’d spoken with Ayane, mostly shouted at, but also came to a reasonable accord with Bladen, Susan had come by to explain what had happened in the labyrinth and why she’d mistaken her for this Cosette. It did feel like she was starting to at least meld into the group some, but at the same time, it had also kept her from visiting Seilan. That had been the one thing she was absolutely sure that she wanted to do. Their embrace in the labyrinth after everything had made her feel so much more comfortable than she’d felt in several years, even. It did leave her questioning how quickly her feelings were coming on; whether they were genuine, or that it was desperation and being so starved for any sort of affection.There was also the omnipresent worry, the metaphysical sword hanging above her head called the Church of Coteon.

Lucille sighed, and struggled to push the thought from her head. Even if the threat was out there, for now she could allow herself to be happy like this, right? The myriad conversations she had up to this point did have her in a little of a talkative mood, and she wanted to talk to someone about her freak-out in the labyrinth. It felt like she was just justifying wanting to go see Seilan, but she was already on her feet. As she searched for him, Nessraya’s conversation ran through her head. Really, one of the most attractive things in a woman is confidence. Play to your strengths, and own them. “O-okay… I can do that.” 

After a moment or two of searching, Lucille found the emerald haired mage. She took a deep breath. Confidence… you’ve spoken before… just relax. “H-hi, Seilan. Are, uh, you doing okay?” Nailed it. I think? Hopefully. The heat, and oppressive nature of the wastes suddenly started getting worse.

He blinked, briefly. Lucille coming by to talk to him was by now not an unfamiliar occurrence, and far from an unwelcome one, but at the same time they never failed to catch him somewhat off guard. “Ah - Lucille.” ...this is awkward timing. Presentable, presentable... He sat up, almost hurriedly. “I’m alright as I can be, I think, given the weather and... well, where we are. I imagine you’re feeling much the same... how’s Villkiss doing?” 

There was something of a loose thread in the back of his mind about the labyrinth, and Susan’s... misunderstanding, and their talk, and it wasn’t so much leading anywhere so much as meandering in circles in a manner that refused to be reduced past the background. “Oh, and... feel free to sit wherever, if you want.” Oh, well done; usually you say that first, not after everything else.

Lucille appeared to have a talent for appearing whenever Seilan wasn’t quite prepared for it. A mirror image of when they first met, well, spoke–their first meeting had been under circumstances that were best forgotten. “That’s g-good.” Lucille fanned herself, “I almost wish that we were still in the labyrinth… The wastes are just awful; I can’t stand the heat, and the sapping just makes it worse.” Lucille smiled at his request, walked over and sat down on the opposite side of the bed from him. “Villkiss is… doing better, now. I was really concerned with everything that happened. Worried that I overworked her, but it seems like she’s over it at least.”

Lucille didn’t feel quite so ready to talk about what occurred with her in the labyrinth, but he’d been elsewhere inside. “S-so, uh… about the labyrinth actually. What was it like for you down there? I mean, obviously, we all probably had to deal with those… machines.” Lucille looked Seilan over tilting her head slightly, “How are you still wearing your cloak in this? I feel like I’m melting in just this.” She let her hand glide down her white and green ensemble, and she’d chosen to leave her covering back in her tent. 

Oh - that’s good. I wasn’t sure how she’d react to all this... a person is one thing - I came through the wastes on my way to Vaia - but a pegasus; I had no idea.” He paused for a moment, thinking; the labyrinth... “There wasn't too much trouble in the labyrinth, not in our part of it, at least. Cooler than out here, certainly, and it didn’t feel like I was just weaker for being there. There was some fighting, but... well, between the general and Nashwa there wasn’t much that posed too much of a threat. And then there was that explosion, and... everything seemed to happen all at once, after that.”

He shrugged. “Oh, my cloak... hmm.” He picked up the corner of it, idly. “There isn’t too much reason for it, really. It’s... well, I probably wouldn’t be feeling the heat as much without it, but it must have become something of a habit, enough that I’m still wearing it. To my own detriment, probably.” 

It didn’t escape him that she was dressed perhaps a touch lighter than back in Vaia; what was escaping him, oddly enough, was the words to comment on that fact, try as he might to do so in some kind of normal fashion.

The labyrinth appeared to have been about the same for Seilan as it was for her; a pretty simple encounter with the machines that was mostly handled by Marina, Lavinia and Gabriela. Then, Lucille shivered at the mention of the explosion. That unfathomably powerful blast of fire magic. “Y-y-yean… that sounds about what happened with our group. Some fighting… and then that huge… explosion. It just… cleaved through the labyrinth.” Lucille grabbed her gloved arm. “I was so worried that, that, people were caught up in it.” Her face started to flush.

“A-a-anyway, umm, I guess as long as you’re… comfortable in your cloak. I, I could never wear anymore than I am right now in this heat.” Lucille had unconsciously slid a little closer to Seilan. Desire to hold him rising as she played the explosion over again in her head. 

“Ah... right, that was...” He remembered, perhaps more distinctly than the blast, how distressed she’d been afterwards; her fear of fire had obviously had quite a hand in her reaction. It was clear enough that she didn’t feel like lingering on the topic, and he saw no reason to do so either. Best just to move on from it...

“I can see why you wouldn’t... maybe I’m just a bit more used to the heat - ah, not that I’m used to the wastes, I don’t think anyone ever could be - but Hwein might be warmer as a country, or something.” He paused for a moment, thinking. “Maybe it was actually lucky Nashwa lost her armor - I mean, could you imagine being out here in a full set of armor?” He laughed a little, then stopped. “Ah - don’t tell her I said that, though; she seemed, ah... pretty attached.”

Seilan seemed to want to touch on the topic of the explosion, but hesitated, and then rerouted onto the heat of the wastes. Lucille would get around to it, but if he wasn’t going to continue down that line, it was better to follow. “It’s uh… definitely a combination of things. I’m really not used to the heat, but, just like my mother, we’re both just terrible in the heat. I’m better about it than she is–she’d probably have gotten sick with how oppressive this all is–it just makes us feel terrible. My sister’s fine with it though.” Lucille hadn’t really planned to talk about her family all that much, but it seemed like such a natural flow.

Lucille shuddered at the thought of traipsing through the wastes in armor, “I don’t want to imagine it… The thought of armor is bad enough, but throw in the heat too? I have no idea how Nashwa managed it the first time through the wastes.” Lucille then nodded, “It makes a little sense why she’s attached, though. When you think about what a succubus’s magic can do… the armor would at least dampen the effect, wouldn’t it? She’s not exactly keen on being in the spotlight, and if she’s with it all the time, it almost becomes a part of you.” Lucille touched the blue flower pin in her hair. “I won’t tell her though, don’t worry about that.”

Mmm… what do I do? I don’t mind this. Talking with Seilan is fun, but mmm… How does she make it look so easy? Lucille started to get a little antsy. She stood up from the bed to allow herself to move around. Movement always helped her to calm down and think. “Hey, uh, Seilan…” Lucille went to turn and face Seilan, and hadn’t realized that one of Seilan’s staves was precariously placed. The next thing Lucille knew, she was falling forwards away from the bed, “Eeep!” Lucille was caught so off guard that she wasn’t able to react to keep herself from hitting the ground. 

“Hmm. I guess your sister’s just lucky to be able to deal with the heat well, then. My brother’s the same way, though it’s more so he had to get used to it since he’s a smith; spends a lot of time at a forge, and all that.” I wonder how the shop is doing...

“That’s true - it did seem like she was having some trouble when we first met her, after all...” Lucille made a good point; he’d just been thinking about the armor for the heat, but he hadn’t really thought about why else Nashwa might’ve liked it. He pondered what the effect on her magic might have been briefly, before his line of thinking was suddenly interrupted by Lucille’s fall; it had happened so quickly that he hadn’t been able to do anything.

“Whoa - Lucille?!” He stood up from the bed, kneeling next to her. “Sorry about that, I... I shouldn’t have left that there. Are you alright...?” It might have been a bit much concern for what was probably just a fall, but it was sort of his fault in the first place, having left a staff and tomes rather strewn about…

“Ow…” The fall hadn’t really been that far, but just the surprise of it all left the woman a little stunned. She looked over at Seilan who had shown a good amount of concern, even apologizing for the staff that neither had noticed. “Mmm… I’m okay, I think. It, it was a pretty clean fall…” Lucille started shrinking behind her hair as her embarrassment as the event was now catching up with her. “No, no… I just wasn’t paying attention. N-nothing to apologize for.” She was quite glad that Seilan was concerned even if it was such a minor fall.

Lucille pushed herself up to a kneeling position. Smooth, Lucille. Incredibly smooth. Not only did you not say what you were going to, you also basically face planted right in front of him. She looked over her shoulder at the culprit for her tumble; a simple heal staff. “I didn’t realize that you could use staves. Mmm… Sorry that you had to see that.”

She was recovering quickly, if a bit embarrassed. That was good to see; it certainly would have been some odd kind of poetic circumstance if she’d hurt herself tripping on a heal staff. “Ah... alright, then. Glad you’re okay... and, ah, yes. I can use staves - actually, I was able to use staves before I was able to cast from a tome; that happened later. It’s not too much of an interesting story, but I can tell you about it, if you’re interested.” He stood back up, offering Lucille a hand. “Here - no reason for us to keep sitting on the ground...” 

Lucille internally sighed. She was very much interested in learning more about Seilan, and even more so because staves were involved. Thanks to Serena, Lucille always had a strong interest in healing magic–though she apparently didn’t have the affinity for it herself. On the other, it appeared her attempt to say something would continue waiting.  Mmm… We’ll have time. There’s no reason to rush it, right? But, mmm… you will have to say something, Lucille. You can’t hide and wait for the right time forever. Seilan offered his hand, and Lucille smiled up at him before taking it. “I’d love to hear it. Healing magic has always been an interest of mine; my mother’s closest friend, and our caretaker, was a talented cleric.” Lucille pulled herself to her feet, and then shuffled, “She was the one who rescued my arm when, well.”

Lucille continued to hold Seilan’s hand even after she’d pulled herself up. “So… you learned to cast from tomes after you learned staves?” 

“Ah, I see. It makes sense why you’re interested then.” He sat back down on the bed; she hadn’t let go of his hand, so he continued to hold onto hers in return. “Where to start... well, from the beginning would be best, I suppose. Hwein has something of a long history of mercenaries. People who want to do more than just farming and merchantry, people who want to see the world, all that; lots become mercenaries. All ages, too; there are academies in Hwein for leadership, since things would be a mess if there wasn’t any organization and everyone who felt like it ran around with a sword or a lance.” 

He shrugged, slightly. “That’s where I ended up, when I was young. My older brother was set to inherit the family business, so they figured it’d be a good way to make something of myself. Of course, it turned out soon enough after I got there that all I was much use for was a staff, which isn’t exactly the sort of person most want leading them into a battle. So mostly I sat around on the sidelines while the others smacked each other with practice swords and the like and healed their scrapes.” 

He glanced at one of the tomes lying around. “It was like that for a long time; coasting, mostly. History, tactics, all that, I did well enough; but a mercenary who can’t fight doesn’t get a second look, if a first. There was a professor, though, in the later years - Reisfin. Everyone thought he was... well, eccentric would be one of the kinder words they used, but that aside he was looking for assistants one day, so I volunteered; I wasn’t doing anything else. I don’t remember every detail of what or why, since I hardly knew anything about magic then, but after some tests eventually I was able to cast from tomes. I remember thinking it was strange how he didn’t bother teaching the fundamentals of magic until then, but...” He shrugged, again. “That’s... most of it, I think. The interesting parts, anyways.”

Lucille listened intently, her head swaying back and forth. It was perhaps the most obvious tell that she was greatly enjoying the little moment that they were spending together. The talk about Hwein was illuminating too; it sounded so different from what she experienced in Coteon. “All ages… so even children could potentially start gathering the skills to become a mercenary. It sounds like Hwein’s history makes sense; if they’re preparing and training people from an early age and giving them direction, it’s no wonder Hwein is known for their mercenaries. As far as I really know–and it’s not much–being a mercenary in Coteon was something you fell into. There are schools and things, but they’re more geared towards leadership, magic, and knighthood. I went to a magic one for a little while before everything happened.”

Lucille then frowned a bit as Seilan admitted that his affinity for staves made him into sort of a black sheep, not really paid much attention to. “That’s a little silly. I mean, I guess I get it–you want someone who can protect themselves, but healing magic is invaluable for things like that, and, clearly, there was more to you than met the eye.” Lucille huffed, and then winced at the mention of “tests”. Surely Seilan just meant usual written exams–she hoped–but the word just carried an unnerving weight for her now. “It is… really strange how he didn’t teach the fundamentals of magic to start with, but… if it worked, I suppose you can’t really question the method.” This Reisfin sounded both intriguing, and frightening. Simultaneously someone who wanted to take a different approach to the rigid formulae that pervaded the art, and also someone who sounded dangerously close to those at the church. “So… he basically taught you how to cast from tomes in the way you do. Is he also responsible for helping with your silver-hilted sword?” 

Lucille’s head bobbed back and forth. Her love for magic was piqued, and she was holding hands with her crush. There was forward progression, especially after crashing to the floor not too long ago. Though, that did leave the question of what the next step was going to be from here. Nessraya’s suggestions played through her head, but none of them really seemed to be applicable at the moment. 

Lucille’s enthusiasm was rather obvious; it came as a bit of surprise, honestly. He’d thought it was far from an enthralling story, and that in addition to his - at least, as far as he could tell - rather dry retelling of it had left him with a bit of a different expectation. That was fine, though - far be it for him to complain about the outcome. “Mm. Hwein definitely does do things differently than other countries, when it comes to mercenaries. It’s a cultural difference, I suppose. Oh, and I suppose I should mention too - Hwein doesn’t really have a standing army, so when things get bad they call on the mercenaries, that’s how I ended up in Vaia.”

He couldn’t help but smile a bit at her reaction to his academy days. He hadn’t really been bitter about things, but it was nice to have her support. “It... is a bit odd, but so was the professor. I picked it up fairly quickly once he actually started teaching, so... really not quite sure. Still, I can’t complain. I wouldn’t be able to use thunder tomes, otherwise.”

He pulled the silver hilt from his pocket, holding it in his other hand in an open palm. “Ah, this. No, it wasn’t the professor - actually, it was my brother. Dorren. Something to keep me safe, after I left the academy and started properly being a mercenary. The smithing work is his, and the inscriptions are mine. I hadn’t thought of it, to be honest, but he must have had some kind of idea from the bits of what I was studying I put in my letters home.” He turned it in his hand, looking it over. “He really did do good work; he’ll do well running the workshop. He’s probably doing tools and baubles right now... better off than the forges that only did work for the armories. The current occupation isn’t exactly fond of people, mercenaries or otherwise, arming themselves.” He sat, lost in thought for a moment. “Well, we’ll sort that out soon enough.”

“Well, that would explain it. It’s a clever way to not need a standing military. A lot less rigid too, but we’re comparing Hwein and Coteon, which is basically comparing rushing water to a stone slab. It’s a nice cultural difference.” She nodded at the elaboration of the professor, “If it works, it works. He seemed to really know what he was doing. I hope one day I can be that competent at teaching magic; what he helped you learn to do is incredible. Changing formulae like that in order to achieve a more natural form of magic… it’s so cool. There’s so much to know and…” Lucille blinked, and then flushed, “Aha… oops. Sorry, magic is just… very exciting to me. There’s so much to do with it, healing, smelting, building things, even things like performances.” 

Lucille moved closer, almost enough that the pair were touching so that she could look closer at the hilt. It was a beautiful marvel of smithing, and more importantly, it was crafted by his brother, Dorren. He’d mentioned him before, right before Lucille found herself on the floor. It was a lot better than some of the smithing work that her uncles and aunt did. “Your brother really does great work. It’s a beautiful gift, and it fits you well. If he can do this for a hilt, he can definitely do it for other assorted items. I’m sure he’s doing just fine.” Seilan’s moment of hesitation was familiar, so much that Lucille couldn’t miss it. Worry for the wellbeing of his family. “Mmm… yeah, we’ll sort it out. But if he’s your brother, I’m sure that he’s keeping well.” Lucille wondered for a moment if the Altairs had anything to do with the occupation in Hwein. The family was much larger than just her branch, and most of them were in lockstep with her grandfather.

Lucille placed her hand on her lap, and then realized that she wasn’t feeling her hand on her thigh. Wait… wasn’t I… Lucille looked down, and saw that she’d unconsciously placed her, and Seilan’s hand into her lap. 

“Right. There’s a lot of uses for magic, but ever since people figured out how to use it to fight, and started making tomes just for that, the art started to be lost.” She’d brightened up considerably just from talking about learning about magic. “I’d be happy to teach you more about it; most people aren’t nearly as interested in it as you are, honestly. No need to be embarrassed about it.” The topic was reminding him of some memories he hadn’t gone over in some time. “I haven’t spoken with the professor since the academy, actually... I wonder what he’s up to nowadays.”

Lucille was shifting closer to look at the silver hilt, reassuring him at the same time. He’d been trying not to think too hard about things at home - nothing good would come of it, really - but it was relieving to hear, all the same. “...Yeah. We’ll see what’s happening when we get there. I’m sure things are fine.” Their hands still clasped together, Lucille gently pulled his hand onto... her thigh...?

He felt himself flush - slightly? he wasn’t sure if it was slight - and made a noise something like clearing his throat, but only about halfway. What- ah, wait... is this supposed to be... something...? What am I supposed to say, here...? “Oh- ah...” No, not thanks, you idiot...

Outwardly, Lucille was quiet. Inwardly, she was screaming and floundering about. What did you just do?!?! Despite the reddish-pink that Lucille knew had to be spreading across her face, she turned to look at Seilan. He’d made a noise, and then stammered something, but aside from the blush on his face, he hadn’t said anything. On the one hand, Seilan hadn’t pulled his hand away, but on the other Seilan wasn’t really saying or doing anything. Though, when Lucille thought about it a little more, she couldn’t say for certain whether she wanted to move his hand. “Uhh…” Lucille’s voice was elevated. “Uhh… I would, um, be happy if you would… would, uh, t-teach me about y-your magic!” 

Lucille squeezed his hand a little tighter. Her foot started tapping the floor. Perhaps the right thing to do was to apologize, but Lucille wasn’t sure she was sorry, so it wouldn’t seem genuine. “Uh… ahaha… mmm.” Lucille took a deep breath. There was one direction that seemed to make sense. “Um, S-Seilan. I was, uh, going to ask you about, a-about what Susan said in the labyrinth. That’s kinda sudden to change t-topics to, isn’t it? I was… gonna ask earlier but, I ended up on my face first… I, uh… wasn’t really thinking when I put your hand here but… I, I…” Lucille trailed off, leaving the words unsaid, stuck in her throat. I think I did it on purpose. Because I… don’t want to move it.

She was as flustered as he was, or maybe more; he wasn’t exactly in a good place to be determining how flustered he was. Her face was red, as was his, and she was squeezing his hand more, now... “Ah, s-sure. When we’re out of this heat, and things are quiet and we have some time, we can... do that.” She was stumbling over her words; he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was as well, even as he was trying to keep himself steady, questionably successful.

“Right, what... what, um, what Susan said. I don’t think... I-I mean, it might be... moving a bit quickly, but, er... maybe it isn’t, I don’t really... know.” It was difficult to figure out a coherent thought all of a sudden, and it occurred to him that he didn’t really have any plan in mind going into that sentence, or the next one, and what should he be doing with his hand right now, it was markedly comfortable and perhaps it would be for the best if he simply did not move right now? “Sorry, I... I haven’t ever... so I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I - I think it... might be nice...?”

Seilan’s fluster, his audible fluster was calming. Because it told Lucille that the both of them were in a similar place. Neither one of them had any idea where to begin, or how to proceed. Even what to say if their inability to say a single sentence properly was any indication. “It’s… alright. I, um… I don’t really know either. What’s too fast or too slow… I mean, we’ve known each other for a couple weeks, but, uh… I do know one thing, at least.” She took a deep breath, and did her best to look into Seilan’s eyes. “I, I… mmm, like being with you Seilan. Even if it’s not in the manner that Susan said.”

Lucille slid closer still, legs touching, “But…” Lucille felt the voice inside trying to shout her down. The Church will take him from you if you make it known. He doesn’t deserve that, and you don’t deserve him, or anything like this. You’ll take his brother from him, just like you took your mother’s family Lucille froze up for a moment on that thought. Could she really do that? If she just let it be, it wouldn’t be her fault. She’d be doing it to protect him… right? Lucille squeezed Seilan’s hand, reassuring herself and pulling herself away from the voice. “B-but… if, if you think it might be nice… maybe, maybe we can try? I don’t… know what I’m doing either.” She had to believe that she wouldn’t cause something like that again, and instead believe in that growing warmth inside of her. Though, the moment Lucille got the words out, she shrank immediately, her composure evaporating in the heat of the wastes and her own increasing warmth. 

Well. They were both clueless, reassuring as that was. She was looking directly at him, squeezing his hand - he really had to actively try to listen to what she was saying and not get lost in his own head - and, what she was saying... well, that was quite close to what he was saying. Agreeing. That’s the word, agreeing. Kindly keep it together , please. “I... yes. Let’s try. I mean, the both of us not really being sure... maybe we’re right? And... well, if we are, er... I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, so - so, yes.” 

That was... remarkably incoherent. Setting a new record incoherent. It was rather convenient how his inner voice seemed only to be good for pointing out his stumbles at times like these, rather than contributing in any sort of fashion. “Since neither of us really knows what we’re doing... we’ll just have to help each other. Right?” She was close. He could swear he felt his face flushing further, not that he’d thought that was possible.

As Lucille shrank, her mind immediately went to the worst possible outcome. She’d actually managed to get her words out, and now it was just waiting for Seilan to say what he was going to say. Then he spoke, and Lucille paused. Yes? Did… Did he just say… yes? She tilted her head slightly, finally noticing that Seilan’s face was reddening even still. His words were almost entirely incoherent, but somehow, Lucille seemed to understand most of it. By the time that Seilan was into the last syllables of his sentence, Lucille felt a weight lift from her. A weight that she didn’t realize that she had, and the first thing that she did with this new found freedom was to hug Seilan, wrapping her arms around him. Lucille flinched as she caught up with her own movements, and then nestled into the hug.

“S-sorry. I, uh, mmm… I’ve been wanting to do that the, uh, entire time we were talking, and… there just never seemed to be a good time. Well, I, I don’t know what to say, so, someone told me that you’ve got to express yourself in your own way, and…” She looked up at Seilan from the hug, “This… is the best way I know.” Their legs were touching quite a bit more now, Lucille’s thighs pressed against his as she hugged him. It was perhaps the last thing on her mind at the moment. 

It felt almost as if he’d blinked and five, maybe ten seconds had passed. She was hugging him, and he was hugging her, and that alone was all the answers he’d needed; as far as expressing herself went, this was very clear. “Mhm... you don’t need to be sorry, I understand... Lucille.” They’d hugged before some number of times, but this time it felt more... right. Maybe it was just that the tension was suddenly gone, or something else, he didn’t know. But - it didn’t really matter, not right now.

“It’s... this is... nice.” Eloquence had once again left him, naturally, but that didn’t really matter either. They were so very close together, and he was so flushed he felt as if his ability for deeper thought might just be evaporating; this was nice, and she felt the same way, and was she always this... soft...?

Lucille had the brightest smile on her face, probably the brightest one she’d had since… she almost couldn’t remember, but maybe on her 10th birthday, almost eleven years ago. They’d hugged before, and Lucille had enjoyed every single one, albeit in different ways. This was the first one that they’d shared where Lucille wasn’t exhausted or frightened. Her arm sparked, shocking her out of this lovely moment. She blinked, noticing how warm she felt; she’d been excited for plenty of things, but she’d rarely felt like this. Excited enough that her magic was activating on its own, especially considering the wastes. Seilan was a far stronger mage than she was, and his affinity was for thunder magic, so the spark was likely nothing more than a tickle to him. She didn’t want to let go yet.

She looked up again, sharing her beaming smile, and the resulting blush of admitting everything, with Seilan. “It’s… really nice to be able to… hug you and for me to not be beside myself with some worry of mine.” She snuggled in closer. “Thank you so much for being here, Seilan.” Lucille could almost feel Seilan’s beating heart, and yet another spark ran up her arm.

He paused for a moment, stunned by Lucille’s radiant happiness. Seeing her so unabashedly cheerful filled him with an almost indescribable feeling of joy. For the first time in what might have been months; at least since he’d left Hwein, and maybe even longer before; free of worry, anything else, just happy. “It’s nice to see you like this... I’m glad I was able to be there for you, those times, but this is just... it really is nice, I don’t know how else to say it...” He would have pulled her closer, but Lucille seemed quite content to come closer on her own, and so he simply continued to hug her.

She was warm, warmer even than the hug they’d shared in that labyrinth, not that he minded. This was the closest they’d ever been, the closest he’d ever felt to her, and he felt as if all the composure, all the outward focus he’d carefully kept all this time was just slipping away, and yet he paid it no mind; this was, after all, far more important... 

Seilan seemed content to allow Lucille to lead the embrace. He didn’t appear to know what to say to seeing her so excited, other than that he was happy to see her like this. Speaking of firsts; Seilan himself was far less guarded than normal. His fluster, his incoherence, and now his happiness. “I… think the word that you might be looking for is ‘wonderful’.” Lucille eased up a little on the hug. She sat up to her full height–quite a bit smaller than Seilan–no longer hiding behind her hair. Her arms were still around Seilan, her gloved arm sparking occasionally. “J-just like you’ve been to me. I… I, I want… you to… count on me in the same way. Okay?” The words flowed naturally, despite the flush. She fought back the fluster, and nervousness as best she could. 

He returned her smile, suppressing the urge to smirk ever so slightly as she raised herself up to her full height. It was... cute, and for once he found himself not having to struggle to admit it to himself. “Ha... yes. Wonderful is the right word. And... yes. I’ll count on you being there for me. I... I know you will be.” He hugged her tighter, as if to affirm what he was saying. There was something, almost like a tickle around his back; he couldn’t see it, but it was probably her magic. Not that he minded - but it was quite the tell that she was quite flustered; not that either of them needed any more tells to show that. 

The words perhaps slipped a little too easily in his mind; he didn’t have to debate himself internally anymore, and before he could think about it really he found himself mumbling. “I’ve been thinking for a little while now... you really are cute, Lucille...” He really was having quite a struggle with his inner voice; it seemed a little louder than usual…

I did it! I said it! I said it! Her internal voices were conspicuously absent. It wasn’t a complete admission or anything, but it was still so much. Yet, Lucille had been leading for long enough that when Seilan answered her, and pulled her back into the hug but even tighter, Lucille could only squeak in surprise. The squeak brought a stronger than usual spark from her hand. Lucille noticed it. “That’s…” 

Lucille didn’t get to finish her thought, as Seilan’s own interjected and it completely overwrote Lucille’s words. “!!!!!!!” Was all Lucille could manage as Seilan admitted something that she hadn’t the confidence to ask. Lucille’s sudden composure vanished. Seilan hadn’t just thought she was cute. He’d been thinking so for a little while. How long, exactly, was a little while? Lucille fidgeted in Seilan’s hug, and the warmth inside of her finally overwhelmed whatever was holding it back. Lucille felt a familiar energy run through her, and then a small burst of flames appeared behind Seilan.

“!!!!!!!” Lucille froze, and her eyes went wide. The burst of flames disappeared, but it had been just close enough that Seilan’s cloak had caught. “Oh no, nononono…” 

It took a moment after she’d reacted for him to realize what he’d just said; there was a squeak, then some fidgeting, and to be honest he couldn’t blame her, though for his part he was just about frozen as he processed what had just occurred. “Ah, o-oh. Well, I might have... let that slip a bit early, but it’s true.” 

He was beginning to get accustomed to her warmth, but he couldn’t help but somewhat get the feeling that her hands were rather warm, wrapped somewhere around his back. Hot, even. His face shifted to confusion as Lucille’s eyes went wide, and he cocked his head a bit. “Er... Lucille? Is everything all right...?”

Lucille looked at Seilan, and then back to the creeping flame on his cloak, and then back to Seilan. “I, uh, mmm…” Lucille wanted to back away, but she was the one who set the cloak on fire. Seilan appeared to not have noticed–a quirk of his magic? Think about it later you idiot! He’s on fire! 

Lucille started shivering, but she pushed through it. She asked Seilan to rely on her, and pulling back now wasn’t something she could do. “Y-y-you’re… S-S-S-Seilan, you’re on… fire.” Lucille started patting at the flame, not thinking to use her wind magic to do the same. Using all of her mental faculties just not to panic. What did I do?! I’ve… never had my fire magic trigger like this! Why now?! 

“I... huh?” Fire? “What? When did...?!” Ah, so that’s what that warmth had been. That wasn’t some kind of unusual flustered warmth on Lucille’s part, that was... fire.

Wait, I’m on fire? “Er - how bad is it...?!” He twisted about where he was sitting, trying to see, though he couldn’t quite see the fire behind his back…

“It’s not bad, it’s not bad, it’s not bad!” Lucille repeated while continuing to try to smother the flame–yielding less than stellar results. Lucille jumped up; she’d need to be closer to– Wait! Think, Lucille! You set him on fire, put him out the same way! 

“S-S-S-Seilan, stay, stay still for a moment!” She felt for her magic, still shivering.Get it right… Get it right… The flame was small, and of her own creation. She remembered controlling flames of much larger scope. She just had to focus, and not lose her nerve. 

“Oh - okay, okay, okay...!” She hopped up for a moment, seemingly going back and forth about what she was going to do. “Right - okay, not moving, go ahead!” He did his best to remain still, despite his vague awareness that he was some degree of on fire, the specifics of which he still wasn’t quite sure.

Lucille focused, frantically trying to remember how it all worked. Seilan stopped moving, which meant that it was all on her now. “Okay, okay…” Lucille closed her eyes so as not to let the sight of the flame deter her. Neither her wind or thunder magic was applicable here. Using her fire magic should allow her to dissipate the flame the fastest. Slow your breathing down, focus, focus, focus. Lucille let the familiar warmth flow through her, and pointed her hand towards the burning cloak. For a moment, she found herself back outside their Coteon home. A small log burning away, and three people standing around it. One was herself, and the other two were a teal haired woman, and a long, red haired man.

Focus yourself onto the flame. Fire magic is very easy to mess up; most magic is really, but fire spreads. You want to keep everything under control. I already showed you how, so it’s your turn, Lucille. 

Don’t worry if you mess up here, dear. Both your father and I are right here, and we’ll make sure that you’re okay. You know you can do it. Just relax, and do it as you know how. Focus, and grasp the flame… or something like that. 

Lucille waved her hand wordlessly. Grasp… the flame. Quickly, the small flame on Seilan’s back vanished; the energy driving it stolen from its form. After a moment or two, Lucille opened an eye, afraid that she’d only made the fire worse. Her eyes widened instead because the flame was gone, save for the already done damage. Lucille shivered, and then slid to her knees. “It’s gone… it’s gone… I did it. Ahh… S-S-Seilan, it’s gone… Are… are you okay?” Her hands squeezed her face. [i}I’m so stupid…[/i] 

He watched as she focused intently, eyes closed, as he tried to remain still. A quick wave of her hand, and the feeling of heat around his back dissipated, Lucille promptly falling to her knees - he moved, kneeling next to her. “I’m fine. I didn’t feel a thing - promise. I’m okay.” He hugged her again, without hesitating this time. “I know how you feel about fire, Lucille, but I’m okay. It’s okay.”

He couldn’t tell what exactly she was thinking about, but it was obvious that she was stressed from her fear; right now, this was probably the best thing to be doing for her…

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Lucille tensed as Seilan hugged her. She felt the urge to return the hug, but the scent of burned fabric kept her frozen. Lucille grabbed her gloved arm. “I, I, I… I’ve never had my… magic do that… before. It’s always, always been my thunder magic… I could have… I could…” Lucille melted into Seilan’s hug. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” 

Seilan’s repeated mentions that he was okay did temper Lucille’s panic somewhat. That, above all else in that moment, was what was important. That was my fault… I could have… Why then? My fire magic has never done that before. It was always under control. Why? Why right then?

“S-Seilan… please… please don’t say anything… about this… I can’t… I can’t use fire magic anymore… please… I’m so sorry, I’m sorry.” The words were barely audible at this point, less noticeable than the shivering.

“Lucille - Lucille, it’s okay, it’s okay...” He hugged her tighter, unsure how else to slow her panic in the moment. It might have been the most afraid he’d ever seen her, moreso even than when they’d first met. Being unable to control her own magic, and the fire... she’d said it had always been her thunder magic, and yet, today, this time, it was different; and he had to wonder if he was responsible for the sudden change.

“I won’t say anything, Lucille. I promise. It’s - I’m alright, you’re alright, it’s okay...”

“...I’m so sorry, Seilan. I, I didn’t mean… to ruin this…” Seilan held her tighter, almost smothering her as she tried to do to the flames. I nearly burned Seilan. But he’s… comforting me instead… I’m, I’m supposed to be the one… Why was it so simple? Eleven years since she made use of her fire magic, and yet, the motions were still second nature. Her parents, and teachers were bewildered at how quickly Lucille learned new fire spells. What took other children weeks took her days, and she rarely lost control of a spell. Not until now. It wasn’t a spell per se; it was a lot like her flickers of thunder magic, though, quite a bit stronger as her natural affinity. It was all so sudden, and the only thing that Lucille noticed before it happened were her feelings of happiness, and fluster. 

Lucille started taking deep, slow breaths. Seilan’s words slowly calmed her in tandem with his warm hug. Finally, she released the vicegrip on her gloved arm, and wrapped herself around Seilan. Though, she left her gloved arm between them. “Th-Th-Thank you, Seilan… I, I can’t… I shouldn’t have…” She shook her head, “I’m… I’m just glad you’re okay. I, I almost… hurt someone I really care about again. I’ll, I’ll be… okay in a moment. I’m… I’m so sorry.”

She was calming, slowly; thankfully so, as he didn’t know what to do if she hadn’t. “It’s okay, Lucille... you didn’t ruin anything. You didn’t... listen, no matter what happens, I’ll be alright, Lucille.” Hurt someone she really cares about again... it must be really terrifying for her, not just to not be able to control her magic, but that it’s fire...

He gently rubbed her back, still hugging her. “You didn’t do anything wrong, you don’t need to apologize... and, take as long as you need. I’m here.” He felt fortunate, perhaps more so in this moment than any other before, that he was rather... durable, as far as magic was concerned. Not that it would make Lucille worry less, if at all, but it meant he could say for certain that he’d be fine, and that he could keep being there for her...

The answer she got was better than she could have hoped for, or it would have been, had she not almost immediately ruined it. She looked down at her gloved hand. She still wasn't entirely sure why it had happened. Her outbursts of magic never appeared like that, but the line of logic was incredibly easy to follow. That had been the first time in almost eleven years that Lucille had been so happy, excited, and then flustered all at once. She'd kept some distance for a bit after that happened, but soon enough they were back as if nothing had really occurred. 

The second, and more problematic thing was something that Lucille didn't really have any idea how she was going to explain. She wasn't quite sure if she entirely believed it yet herself, but... it had been "proven" to her. She completely appeared human, and all of the other monsters appeared to have believed it as well. All except one. One of the new arrivals, Miz'Githon, Terror of the Sands. Lucille would be omitting the Terror of the Sands, even if it was fairly accurate. However, the revelation that Miz bestowed on Lucille was one that placed her family in much greater danger than she'd known at first. 

After all, why would Lucille have had any reason to believe that she was a demi-succubus? 

True Heritage

Spoiler

A mystery, this one. Her control over magic was superior to the rest of the humans around this group, but Miz could’ve sworn she felt why. She didn’t know why the girl was keeping it hidden, but the only way to solve that would be to ask. Ghhnn… Getting along with these people is troubling, but I… Hmph. It would do well to keep them owing me as to keep them under heel later on. Yes, that’s why! I’m not fraternizing with these lesser beings, I’m simply having them owe me favors~ 

With a confidence now filling her, Miz trudged along towards Lucille’s tent, pushing into the flap and staring at her. “You. Demi-succubus. We have things we must discuss.”

Lucille was quickly writing things down in a journal. Positive things; her long, enjoyable, happy moment with Seilan. Finally knowing that the mage thought the same way about her, and even found her cute. Though, the entry found itself dominated by the incident towards the end; Lucille’s sudden flare up, and all sorts of ideas as to why it occurred. After a bit, she deflated onto the makeshift desk, expelling a long, slow sigh.  I can’t let that happen again…

Then a voice called out; not specifically to her, just a “You.” spoken like a command. Lucille turned towards the flap, seeing… what was she seeing? A red girl that didn’t sound like a girl. She turned her head back away from the girl, “I’m not really in a mood to want to talk with anyone. You can come back tomorrow or something, just not now.” 

“No.” Miz didn’t bother listening to Lucille’s demands, walking past her into her tent and sitting down like it was her right to do so. “Demi-succubus, I am here because you lack control over the fire magic within you and I wish to see that solved. Call it a whim, but I can’t have someone of my lineage… Be it distant, very, very distant, failing to handle their own mana and setting people on fire.” She didn’t break eye contact for a moment, arms folded.

“I happened past your tent when your little moment began to singe that Seilan fellow… Luckily his own magical barrier prevented something too weak from harming him, so it felt, but someone less fortunate next to you could suffer a real wound, and really? That would be a horrible disgrace to all Changed kind. So! Sit down. We must talk.”

The girl did the exact opposite of Lucille’s request; she walked further inside, and plopped herself down. Her request was not a request. Lucille let out an exasperated breath, and turned to look at the red person, eyes narrowed. “I… don’t lack control over my fire magic, and what the heck are you talking about with this lineage stuf–” Lucille paused. “You… You heard all of that?” 

Lucille shivered, but her eyes narrowed even further. “...fine. If you want to talk, then we can talk. But, I, I don’t want you to tell anyone else. I don’t want people to know that I can use fire magic… I don’t want to use my fire magic.” Lucille sucked in a deep breath, also folding her arms in front of her, “Also… why are you calling me Demi-succubus? First, my name is Lucille, and second, I’m human; both of my parents are human. I’m really, really not in the mood to be messed with so if we can just stay on real things, that would be great.” 

“... Okay, Lucille, I’m not sure how to explain this to you, but, to put it simply, I am a creature of magic far beyond what you or any human will ever be. And that privilege gifts me with the innate ability to feel the magic in others~ So! You have succubus blood in you. That is an immutable fact and I do not care for your protests. One of your parents is a liar or someone in your history was one. Anyway…” Point established, or at least Miz felt it was, she sighed. “I suppose I owe you a name… I am Miz’Githon, Terror of the Western Sands. You will refer to me as no less than Miz’Githon, else there will be an issue.”

Miz cleared her throat, nodding. “I do not care what you do with your fire magic once this has been resolved, and I did not hear the entirety of your conversation. I simply felt it escape your control, which is pathetic.” Miz spawned a fireball, which was magically weak, but the sensation Lucille would feel from it wasn’t fire. It was raw magic. To showcase this, Miz pushed it into the edge of the girl’s tent… The tent moved with the force of the magic pressing into it, but it did not catch fire. 

“Do you understand what I am getting at? Magic is an extension of yourself. It is yours to control, when not cast through a conduit… You make it ‘fire’ with your will, giving it the form of fire and the power to destroy…” She swirled it back to herself, holding out a finger and letting the orb rest at the tip of it. “It shouldn’t harm anything unless you let it.”

Lucille twitched. She gripped her gloved arm, but instead of the flames manifesting again, it was her usual sparking. “There already is an issue.” Lucille stood up from her seat and marched over to Miz, realizing that she was actually taller than the girl. “I don’t really care who you are. You don’t get to come in here and imply that one of my parents would lie to me! You have no idea who they are, or who I am! You could be Queen of the universe for all I care! Don’t talk about my family like that!”

By the time Lucille had stopped shouting, the girl was already in the midst of something. Lucille started to shiver again. What… that’s…! An orb of fire appeared, at least, that was what it looked like. Lucille jumped backwards, “Wh-wh-what are you doing?! St-st-stop that! Get that out of here!” The woman moved the fire ball towards the edge of the tent, but nothing caught fire. The feeling that Lucille was getting from the orb wasn’t “fire”. She didn’t really have the ability, or the head space, to put it into words. The woman continued, as if the whole thing was a demonstration.

A few quick, and shallow breaths later, Lucille found the shivering mostly subsided. Lucille kept looking at where the girl had pushed the orb, waiting for it to catch fire. “I… know that it’s an extension of me… but, how… how did you… are you what caused that… blast in the labyrinth?” Lucille slid further away, the memories of that horrific energy resurfacing. 

What a mess. Miz felt her patience being tested, letting the magic fade, crossing her arms once more. “... before I answer that question. Lucille? I am trying to help you. Stow your outrage. I have said nothing more than facts. Your parents could be liars through ignorance rather than intention; perhaps one of them is also a demi-changed and does not know it either. So instead of getting upset that I am spending my precious time and grace on someone that is barely a ‘monster’, ugh, as they so call it in Vaia now… Sit down and listen.” Miz’s voice echoed as her eyes glowed golden for a moment, that same sensation of the blast in the labyrinth resurfacing completely for a second.

She gasped quietly afterwards, almost immediately breaking out into a light sweat. “Grrhh… I shouldn’t be using, my mana like that… Do not test my patience and simply let me help you, you foolish girl.”

Help? You’ve got a strange way of helping people, Words that Lucille had wanted to say, but the presence of the woman made her freeze. Her eyes flashed golden, and it was there again. The overwhelming magical presence, and this time it was right in front of her. “No… No, please…” As soon as it appeared, it vanished. The girl suddenly was having physical difficulty after revealing the sheer gap in their powers. There was no mistaking it; she was the origin of that horrifying blast that ripped through the labyrinth. 

Lucille’s sparking had all but vanished. Lucille was motionless, save her rapidly rising and falling chest. “... … …why? Wh-wh-wh-why would you… bother?” Lucille pulled herself in, making herself smaller. Lucille was doing everything she could to not completely break down from the fear, and, somehow, was managing.

“I already said why. Have you been listening, or did you let your feelings close your ears?” Miz tilted her head, her pink hair shifting ever so slightly against her shoulders. “I am the progenitor to what you all call succubi. As much as it shames me that your kind has gotten so weak over the centuries, I still owe it to the lot of you to at least impart what wisdom I can as your long, long gone ancestor, so that you can at least control your own magic. Sit down already. I am tired of craning my neck up at you…”

She huffed and looked down, hoping Lucille would finally get over herself and sit. She conjured another fireball, but with a moment’s focus, the fire surrounding the magic faded, every little flicker, until a small, perfectly spherical orb of red energy was floating in front of Miz. “Ready for lesson one?”

Lucille just looked at Miz, focusing on her instead of the ball of energy in front of her. Lucille was torn; on the one hand, it did seem like in a roundabout way, that this Miz’Githon was actually intent on helping her figure some things out. Making sure that her magic didn’t get out of hand like that again, even if it was a rare occurrence to that degree. If she never had to worry about potentially shocking, or worse, setting another person on fire when her emotions got too high… but there was the other side of this. Despite the obvious gap in their understanding, and powers, the way that Miz spoke about Lucille and others was inexcusable. Her voice, her manner of speech, all of it served to remind her of the people who kidnapped her and Soleanna so many years ago. 

Lucille fell backwards unceremoniously placing herself on the floor as Miz had commanded. As she did, words that Lucille had intended to keep as thoughts slipped out, “...I don’t believe you.” Lucille looked up at Miz, “I… I’m not a succubus. I, I can’t be… P-prove it. If, if you can tell… then you can prove it, can’t you? That can’t be true. It… it can’t.” 

Miz scowled. “Do you not find it weird? Do you not find it weird that every human here must use a conduit to cast any sort of magic? Seilan and that blonde fellow from Coteon have their tomes. I’m willing to wager one Hel of a guess that you don’t know any other humans with natural control over anima magic. That is because that power belongs to us. It is not theirs to wield… The fact that you can channel your mana without a conduit should’ve been an immediate sign to anyone with a brain that you had the blood of a Changed within you. Gods… But you want me to prove it?”

Miz sighed and leaned back a little, looking at Lucille with an incredibly bored expression. She flung the orb above her finger towards Lucille’s face, bonking it against her nose, enough to feel it, but not enough to hurt her. “Eat that. Grab it and focus on it. If you at all feel it sinking into you, then I am not a liar. Succubi feed on magic, so go on. Eat~”

Lucille squirmed at Miz’s barrage of questions. Her parents, and almost anyone else that they went to for answers didn’t understand why Lucille didn’t need to use a conduit. She’d always thought that it was just her surroundings, but she really didn’t know any other human who could cast without a tome. Her parents were both skilled mages, and both of them needed tomes, as far as she knew. There was her mother’s unusual magic, but magic was so variable that it was just chalked up as a very rare manifestation. Which then bled down to both her, and her sister. “I… did find it weird, and I’ve never met any other human who could cast in the same way I do… but even then, I haven’t found anyone, monster, or human whose magic flickers like mine. So I don–” 

Miz looked down at Lucille with a remarkably deadpan expression. “...Yes?” The woman flicked the red orb right into Lucille’s face hitting against her nose. Lucille had no time to react, but the orb was like getting hit with a ball, and nothing like getting hit with a ball of flame. “Oww…” She flinched as she looked at the orb, and then Miz ordered her to… eat it? Lucille looked up at Miz with the most confused look before shaking her head, “...What? Eat… Eat magic? Me? Hold… hold on a second. I, I know that succubi feed on magic, but, wouldn’t that mean that I would have had to have been fed magic before this to survive? I… I most certainly haven’t.” 

Lucille just shook her head; the quickest way was not to explain that she wasn’t a succubus, but to at least attempt, and then fail, to consume the magic directly in front of her. “...This, this is nonsense…” Lucille slowly reached out, and gently took the orb. Then… “!” The orb started to dissipate in her hands, and Lucille felt the magic course through her, much like a drink of water might have. It was soothing, empowering even, and then when the orb had completely gone the sensation vanished. Lucille looked at her hands, and then back to Miz, and then back to her hands, “What… but, b-but, that’s… oh god… they… they were…”

Miz finally smiled. “Good! You understand, now. You didn’t have to survive on magic because you are not full-blooded. Maybe a quarter or an eighth depending on who in your family was the one that gave it to you… Now… Are you going to panic again, or are we going to finally be able to start learning? Should I call Seilan? I’m not sure how to… Comfort others.” A bit of genuine concern fell out of Miz, the smugness in her voice leaving her at the mention of Seilan.

Lucille sat there thinking through the implication of what she’d just learned. She really was a succubus, a monster, or a changed as Miz had been calling them this whole time. Which meant that the Church had been right in targeting her family. Lucille still didn’t know what they were after, but if she had monster blood within her. Lucille could only grimace at herself, but it was the other thought that made Lucille start to panic. If… if I’m a succubus… that means… that Anna… is too. 

Miz’s question got Lucille to focus, if only because it was entirely out of character for her. Even if only for a moment, there was genuine concern in her voice. Still, Lucille wasn’t a fan of Miz’s air of superiority, and the mention of Seilan made Lucille stiffen, “N-no… I’ll, I’ll be fine… You, you can start with the learning.” Lucille forced her panic away. She already made Seilan worry, and nearly set him on fire. She absolutely could not put anymore on him right now. Equally as important, she had to at least try and not break down again in front of Miz. Lucille didn’t want to add anymore reasons for Miz to look down on her. A deep breath.

“I’ll be… fine.”

Miz conjured another ball of fire and stripped the flames away from it, watching Lucille. The revelation that part of her was Changed seemed rather frightening to her. “You should be proud to be what you are,” Miz mumbled, not understanding how anyone could be upset about being above human. “Mmm… If you’re sure that you’ll survive, lesson one. Make a fireball and convert it into pure magic. Which means… You’re going to have to do that. We’ll do it in steps. Cast fire and let me see it.”

Lucille shook her head. “It’s… not something I expect you to understand. It’s, It’s not as simple as just being proud.” It’s realizing how much danger my family really could be in. Lucille then met Miz’s gaze again, “...You’re going to make me use fire? Surely, I… I can just use thunder magic and do the same thing right?” Lucille put her gloved hand to her lips, replaying Miz’s words over in her head. “You, you said that magic is just an extension of myself, which should mean that any magic I cast I would be able to convert it into pure magic. So… I wouldn’t have to use fire to do that,” 

“Do you have an issue casting thunder magic? Do you randomly fry people with discharges? Not those paltry sparks you were letting off earlier.”

“Well, no, but I don’t typically have that problem!” Lucille’s foot started tapping the floor, before she let out a long sigh. “Mmm…” Lucille closed her eyes, and wordlessly conjured a small ball of flame, a distance well away from her. She opened her eyes, but kept them exclusively on the increasingly frustrating girl. “There. I don’t have a problem controlling my fire magic. I just don’t want to use it. I don’t know why it happened then, other than sometimes when I get emotional that my magic can trigger.” 

“That is because you do not have enough control… We’re trying to fix that at the source of your most problematic magic. Between the sparks and the fire you’ve let off, the fire is immensely more dangerous, because you can’t control the spread of it. Once you let it go, it catches like real fire and then someone is on fire. Foolish girl…” Miz sighed again, getting frustrated with all the back talk and excuses. “If you don’t have any problems controlling it, then go ahead and make it just like mine! Strip away the elements that make it ‘fire’ and show me your magic in its pure unfiltered form. Can’t do that? I didn’t think so~” Miz didn’t give her time to respond.

“Bring your fire closer. Focus on it. Really focus on it. This is not natural fire. It is magic given form. All magic is given form through the mana innate in individuals. With conduits, mana is routed through a design and produced in the form stated within the conduit. With innate casting… You give the magic form. It is an extension of your will and the mana you control.” Miz’s eyes slid towards her orb as she spoke, the flames returning, but then turning green, blue, purple, yellow, disappearing again– suddenly it was a ball of water, then a swirling vortex, a crackling orb of electricity, a diamond of ice, then back to fire… And back to a perfectly spherical red orb. “This is my magic. It belongs to me, so it listens to me… ‘Fire’ is fire because you create it as such. It destroys and burns like fire because you allow it. Control begins… With taking away parts that make it, ‘Fire’. Bring it closer to yourself and focus… Focus on the heat. The temperature. The flame. It’s hot because you made it hot… So make it cold.”

Lucille remained silent, but the grip on her arms tightened, and her tapping continued. Miz was right, of course; Lucille’s sparks were hardly a threat to anyone, often just a shock if anything. Stronger mages almost completely ignored them. Her fire was her natural affinity, and thus stronger, and fire was more naturally destructive. It was the very first thing that her father taught her about fire magic. It required much more discretion because even the smallest uncontrolled flame could hurt many people. 

Lucille looked at the ball of flame in the distance, and then back to Miz. The explanation was similar to how most learned magic. Magic is given form through a conduit, supplying the basis for one’s mana to take shape, and effect. Then, Miz’s orb reappeared, and Lucille couldn’t help but brighten up at the display. All different colors, and then elements, and then back to the red orb. It was a stunning display, and one that Lucille grasped on a conceptual level. Lucille looked down at her hands, and then back to the orb. “So… I’m taking away what gives an element its shape? I’m… adjusting more fundamental aspects of magic, because it’s mine to do so?” 

Lucille brought her ball of fire, ever so slightly closer. “I… I can’t bring it any closer. I, uh,” She pulled her gloved arm behind her back, “I, I can figure out how to do it while it’s over there. I, I think I get what you’re saying… I might have done it before, kind of.” 

“Lucille, the reason you bring the magic closer to you is because the strength of your connection to your magic is dependent on distance… You’re a novice at this kind of control, so don’t make this harder on yourself. The last thing I need is for you to lose control– No, wait, it’s fire, it’s fine if you lose control… Anyway. Closer. Make this easier on yourself.” Miz watched her, unsure why the distance was such a big issue for her. “Is there something I’m missing…?”

“I, mmm… I, I can’t.” Lucille looked at Miz. Lucille gripped her arm tightly again, and her foot tapping was replaced by her shuffling in place. “Can you really not tell? I, I… I’m terrified of fire. I know how dumb that sounds, and I can’t wait for you to start laughing over it.” ‘Really? A fire mage like yourself, terrified of her own element? Haha… a disgrace to changed or something or other.’ Lucille did her best to mimic the woman’s voice, only managing the air of superiority. “That’s why the ball is over there, that’s why I can’t get it closer, and that’s why I don’t want to use fire!” The words poured out as Lucille's frustration bubbled over finally. 

Rather than sigh and tilt her head, groan, or even chuckle, Miz shuffled awkwardly, letting her magic fade and folding her arms again… It was more like she was holding herself, starting to look away from Lucille. “What… What, has you so terrified? What happened?” She finally glanced at her, not realizing how different her body language was. Miz was not one to truly understand herself…

“Wouldn’t you like to know? I–” Lucille paused. She looked over Miz, and expected Miz to continue her superior-than-thou shtick, but that had been the complete opposite of what occurred. Miz’s voice was similar, if not more concerned than when she offered to go get Seilan–wait, when did she learn Seilan’s name? Lucille shook her head, Miz’s entire demeanor had changed. She looked almost exactly how Lucille imagined she looked to Miz.Is… Why is she…

Lucille sighed, “I had to watch a lot of people close to me be incinerated alive. All of them trying to protect me. From people who took me, and forced me to use my fire magic in their tests.” Lucille’s breathing quickened, but she kept going, bringing her gloved arm out from behind her. “They nearly killed me. Almost rendered my arm completely useless. Only reason it isn’t is because of my caretaker, and then… Princess Tenebria. They… They took any control I had and forced me to use magic I didn’t know I could. If my parents, my sister… were any slower, the last thing I would have seen, have remembered, was the sea of fire that they made me create and endure. Never mind what they did to my village eight years later.”

Tears streamed down Lucille’s face, but she kept eye contact with Miz. “There.” Lucille wiped her face, “Now you… know.” 

“Then… You also…” Miz wasn’t sure at all how to try and comfort someone. The pain was similar, but what was she meant to do? Hug this girl? Such an act was beneath her… Is it beneath me? I am… a superior being… But we hurt the same. So we… I am… On the same level, as… Miz seemed to have some sort of internal struggle, slowly moving towards Lucille. She didn’t hug her, unable to bring herself that far, but she slowly placed a hand on the girl’s knee in an awkward attempt to give her something.

“I… mm… I suppose, we should start with… Getting you able to have your own fire magic near you. Is that alright? I…” There was something there, something she was struggling with whether or not to talk about… She couldn’t get herself to say the words. “If I can help…”

Miz wandered over to Lucille in some strange haze and patted… her knee? It was an odd gesture, but perhaps there was a lot to be said about it. Miz had been acting strange, and, to Lucille, it was a familiar strange. It was… almost as if she was looking in a mirror. Having to bottle all of her own emotions, her fears, and anguish, it made her feel as if she were possessed sometimes. Forcing herself forward, while using everything else to keep her emotions from boiling over. Continuing to pressurize them until she couldn’t anymore, and they burst. 

“...What do you mean, you also?” Miz’s look, and tone were all so familiar. Lucille just looked at Miz, studying her, looking for anything that she could properly intuit. A pause, before shaking her head. Would she even say anything if she pressed? With everything before this moment, Lucille doubted it. It would place Miz on the same level as Lucille, and so far, Miz had seemed like she wanted to appear above them. “...I, I think that w-would work, better. I… I just, can’t escape those days. It’s pathetic, I know.”

“Heh… It’s not pathetic at all. You’re a fool… And so am I.” Miz shook her head and retreated to the other end of Lucille’s tent, continuing to look away from her, trying to recover from her burst of memories. “Let’s start with that, then… Cast your fire again. Bring it closer to yourself… One inch at a time, taking breathers in between. I won’t rush you, nor get upset if it takes a while.” Miz looked down at her hand and focused on something deep inside her… Something she hadn’t touched in a long, long time. As the tiniest orb of blackness began to form in her hand, she shivered and sent it away. “Mm… That, would probably be the best place to start.”

And so am I? There it was again. Something about what Lucille had said, regarding her fear, and events surrounding it seemed to have affected Miz. She moved away from Lucille, and a very different orb appeared in Miz’s hand for a moment before she hurriedly sent it away. It couldn’t be… right? It looked like it had been Flux, dark magic, that Miz held in her hand. A school of magic that Lucille had very little understanding of personally, but it was simple enough to tell. 

Lucille made the ball of fire again at a distance, “...Miz’Githon. That was your name, right? That was Flux just now, in your hand. You can use Dark magic as well? …Why do you keep mentioning things like also, and when you called me a fool… why did you include yourself? There’s one, uh, conclusion that I can draw with everything that was said before. You changed the moment… the moment I mentioned my fear, and why it came about. You may consider me beneath you, but even I can notice that.”

"Don't!" Miz barked out an order and looked away from her, gritting her teeth. "Do not… I just lost everything I held dear. My people. My friends. My empire… All I have left is Xety. If it wasn't for her, I'd have gone mad. So don't… I can't go back there." That was all she said, conjuring another fireball and playing with it in her hand, focusing on the comforting magic instead. "Make your fire… Practice. Just… Just, do that…"

Miz’s voice was suddenly loud, and filled with unmistakable pain. Believable, tangible pain. Miz had lost everything. Not just her family, or her home. Everything. Lucille pulled her hand in tight, and then did as she asked. Focusing on the object of her own trauma in the distance. Lucille took a deep breath, and moved it back to where it had been before. 

...You know you can’t leave that there. Not like that. Lucille closed her eyes, and quietly chuckled. Almost impressed that one thing could make her feel like she had to do something. I really can’t just leave things well enough alone. “...I’m not this Xety, and I’m not someone from your empire. I’m not one of your people, in that way, either. I’m not even someone you should really concern yourself with, but… Don’t try to bottle this all on your own. I’m the last person who should ever say that to anyone, but that’s why I’m saying it. I… may not be able to help, I doubt I will, but… you’re trying to help me, and I still don’t really get why. So… if you ever feel like you want to say something about what happened. I’ll… try to be there, to help.” 

Lucille let out a shivering breath, and returned focus to the sphere of flame. Drawing it closer ever so slightly. She couldn’t figure out which one of these tasks was more difficult. 

"Do not presume that we are friends just because I had a moment of weakness." Miz bit the words out, almost a defense mechanism, shrinking further away from Lucille. "I already told you why I'm trying to help and I'll not repeat myself a third time! We just met… So leave it at that. Overly presumptuous little…" Her words were harsh, but she just looked uncomfortable, not wanting anyone to have seen such a thing, let alone someone that barely classified as a real Changed. 

"Just focus on your fire… Just like that. You're doing good, so focus on that. Nothing else." At least she seemed to be able to make push come to shove when it mattered… I guess human tenacity is worth something… Even I can't do that much.

Lucille pouted at Miz’s understandable reaction, but understanding her reaction didn’t mean that Lucille had to like it. “You did tell me why, but I can just as easily say you’re being presumptuous by trying to help me. We just met, after all.” Lucille huffed, and drew the sphere closer. It wasn’t close enough for her to feel heat from it, but Lucille certainly was sweating. Her whole body was warm again, and it wasn’t the enjoyable warmth from when she and Seilan were embracing. It was a smothering, bothersome, exhausting heat. 

“Mmm…” The orb was still a good three feet away from her, but her shivering was telling her that it was way too close to her. Lucille took a step back. “It’s… it’s too much right now.” The flames had been closer when she accidentally lit Seilan’s cloak ablaze, but that was an entirely different scenario. She had to be that close, and making space would have just wasted time. This was completely different. Lucille tried to draw it a little closer, but the moment she did, her hands shot up. The fireball thankfully remained exactly where it was, but Lucille backed away, “That’s… too much… I can’t.” 

Miz watched her struggling… And felt a little jealous. She would never admit it. "Good work," she began, holding her hand out and completely stealing the fireball from Lucille's control, messing with its shape and element a little. "Your magic is a little unrefined, but it's not bad… If you're willing to keep trying, I'll teach you what I can. You're…" She paused, unable to find the motivation to say what had to come next. Miz had been thrust too deep into her own memories today. It was making her act weird…

"Hmph~ You're a little better than the rest of the people from Coteon, at the very least. Consider that praise and be proud of yourself for managing this much. We'll get that trauma solved and fix your magic control… Maybe your magic will be half as terrifying as mine someday~" The act was back on and strong, Miz smirking and shrugging her shoulders. "I doubt that will ever happen, but since I owe it to you, we'll see how far you get, Lucille."

Miz took complete command of her fireball as Lucille backed away. Lucille’s foot tapped the floor again accompanied with a slight pout. It was mildly frustrating to see her own magic so easily controlled by someone else. “Mmm… Y-yes, I, want to keep trying.” It seemed like Miz was about to say something, and then, the walls that had vanished reformed, and the annoying red girl was back in full force. 

Lucille clicked her tongue, “Don’t joke about things that will never happen. I’m not a strong mage, and I don’t expect to be. I saw what you did in the labyrinth, I won’t be able to pull off one tenth of that in my lifetime. I’m only this… far because of my ability to subconsciously cast, and control.” Lucille shook her head, and then huffed, “That said… that doesn’t mean I won’t figure out everything you try to teach me. I… I won’t let you talk down to me forever.” 

"At least you know your place~" Confidence was appealing so Miz left her mockery at that… Suddenly yawning and getting a little woozy. "Mmm… I need to rest. I've spent too much energy… I'll be borrowing your bed. Wake me up in a couple hours…" Miz yawned even harder before crawling onto the bed roll and curling up against it, her whip-like tail finally settling, her wings flapping a moment before curling in towards her. "Mmnnnhn… Thank you…"

Her continued mockery had Lucille’s foot going again. Even before her run in with the Church, people like this were just infuriating. Though, at least Miz had some basis for her feelings of superiority. Then Miz started yawning, “It is pretty late… you should– huh?” The red girl crawled onto Lucille’s bed roll, and uttered a thank you before falling right asleep. Lucille blinked, and a quick flicker ran up her arm.”...Are you kidding me? I, wha, what am I supposed to do then?”

Lucille thought about kicking the girl out, but much like her, Lucille was exhausted. The magic from earlier helped, but everything that followed burned the energy right off. Oh… right… Lucille quietly sank to her knees. The truth of her ability to tomeless cast was that she had monster blood within her, specifically succubus. Today was just… a little too much. “Mom… Dad… Anna… Please, please be okay.” Things slowly began to make sense. She’d have to speak with someone, probably Nessraya, or Nashwa. I, I can’t think about this right now… 

Lucille pushed herself to her feet, and set about figuring out how she was supposed to sleep tonight. 

Lucille's grumbling made Miz stir enough to Crack an eye open at her, staring at her for a moment. What is she supposed to do…? Oh… She has to sleep too… Miz shifted enough to give Lucille enough space, grumbling a moment. "You can stay… Mmnn… Thank you…" She yawned again, her thinking groggy. "Thank you… For letting me know 'm not alone…"

Lucille paused as Miz appeared to wake for just long enough, to shift on the bedroll, which… probably gave Lucille enough space. She just looked at Miz dumbfounded for a moment. I can stay?! What do you mean I can stay, this is my tent! Aghhhhh! Lucille left her simmering in her mind, not wanting to wake Miz again. Then, Lucille found herself experiencing whiplash as the nearly completely asleep Changed thanked her. 

Lucille just flopped down next to the bed roll. Holding her jacket and cloak. She turned them into a makeshift pillow, and laid down next to it. “You’re welcome…” Why couldn’t this evening have just ended with me in Seilan’s arms, just talking. But no, I had to go and set his cloak on fire, and then Miz shows up, tells me that I’m a demi-succubus, which means that everyone is in real danger and, and how am I going to tell Seilan that?! Ahhhh! Why does this always happen to me?! 

Lucille tried her very, very best to try to get to sleep. 

For now, she couldn't worry about it. If she did, she'd start spiraling with worry over her baby sister. For now, Chiaca was in front of them, and perhaps there were things to look forward to here. Perhaps something for Nashwa since her birthday was steadily approaching. And so is yours... 

She turned to Seilan after she finished stretching, "Seilan, have you been here before? Do you... want to see things around here?" She looked around, the place reminded her a little of where she lived before her family was forced to flee into the more remote regions of Coteon. "This place... it's rather pretty." 

Edited by Mercenary on the Winds

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Bladen stretched as he hopped out of the wagon. Wings unfurled not long after, stretching out to their full length before folding back in, shrinking down to their smaller size. Glancing around at their group, he gave Lucille a wide berth as he headed towards his target. His talk with Lucille had gone not as badly as it could have gone, part of him had expected to get magic thrown at him if he was being honest, but it still had gone far from well. So for now, he was going to avoid her. He would prove his intent later, bothering her in peaceful times was just going to make things worse. Spotting a fluffy pink tail, he smiled slightly, and made his way to Asami, sliding up next to her, plan quickly forming in his head. "Well, it seems like we have a free day then, or at least an afternoon. I was hoping, if you don't have any more pressing matters, that I might get to take you out on a date?" The two of them hadn't had much alone time together during the rest of their trip, not after their late night talk at least.

Spoiler

The night after their excursion in the mysterious ruins, where they had met strange creatures that Bladen had never even imagined, he was feeling restless, remembering the words the red demon had said about his magic. It’s weak, but you have an interesting magic about you, boy. He shuddered. Something about the way that she had looked at him in that moment had left him unsettled. Though he had considered asking her to help him train, Asami’s warnings (and seemingly hurt feelings at the suggestion) combined with the feeling that he had, in that moment, been an interesting bug for this Miz’Gisomething to inspect left him unwilling to approach her. Besides, even now, well removed from that tower and everything that had happened that day, he had little interest in interacting with any of the people they had found there. 

So instead, he found himself headed for the familiar. Asami. He spotted her, alone in a tent, but hesitated for a moment. She’s so beautiful. And dangerous. I know I should be careful with her, with everything that she brings, but... “I love you Asami...” It was whispered, a quiet promise sent out on the night wind. And it resolved something in him. Straightening up, he moved forward again, quickly joining her and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Hello there, beautiful.” He smiled at her, enjoying the warmth of her against him. “I know that it’s not exactly easy to use magic here in the Wastes, but I was hoping to maybe train again with you soon.” He hesitated, and then added, “Well that and. I guess, just learn more about you. And those connected to you. I know that’s dangerous, but... I need to know the threat if I want to help keep you safe from it. Right?”

Asami’s ears twitched as she was addressed, glancing at Bladen with a blush. He wasn’t typically this forward, so it left her momentarily disarmed, gawking at him. “I… H-Hello. Mmm. It’s incredibly difficult to use magic in the wastes, so perhaps we shouldn’t do that… But, mm… Information… You’re going to have to start asking questions, Bladen, because there’s a lot I… Can’t tell you, for your own safety. If you knew things, you’d become a target, and in the same way you want to protect me, I want to protect you all the same…”

She swished her tail, turning a little more to face him better. “So start asking, pretty boy, and I’ll answer what I can for you. If you don’t… You coming on that strong really lights a fire in a woman, so don’t blame me if I get distracted and you start to lose clothes…”

Bladen sighed, leaning against Asami more as she reminded him that practicing magic in the wastes was essentially a waste of time. "Yeah... I know. It's bad enough just trying to keep my wings out, I've even given up on that. I just. Can't help but feel as if I'm falling behind somehow. Not doing enough. That... Miz. Her words got to me I think. 'Weak but interesting' like I was some specimen she was hoping to see grow. Ugh." He shook his head, trying to focus back on what was possible.

A focus that was quickly deflected once again, as a slightly smug grin crept onto his face as she threatened him with distraction. "I have that much of an effect, huh? Good to know for the future. But for now, I think I want answers more... If only just barely~" He  pulled away from her, though only just, letting him actually look her in the eyes, and then, after a small pause, wrapped his hands around her wrists. "There, now you're trapped, no distracting until I get some questions out." But where to start... Start easy, build up... "As for making me a target, well, I'll do whatever it takes to keep you safe. So if that means I'm in danger too, as far as I'm concerned that's the price I pay to get to be with you. So. You and your... Sisters. There's nine of you? Including the big one, no name there obviously. You all can sense each other, unless you block each other out. And she is trying to... What? Collect all the rest of you so she can regain her power again? Take over the world, all that sort of fun?"

“Mrh?” Her ears twitched again as he grabbed her wrists, grumbling some and tugging on them, her tail swaying in slight annoyance. “I’m still not telling you things that are too dangerous, Bladen. No matter how you feel. Call it a policy~” She sighed and adjusted her legs to sit more comfortably with her arms in jail. “Yes, nine… Technically eight, because she is one of the nine, even when we’re separated. As for goals…”

She sighed, but it was sadder this time. “Gods aren’t something that existed before people. They’re made. Through worship or rituals or ancient magic. Your Hess and Coteon’s Ilrios are both beings raised to that level through centuries of worship and perhaps a few incantations here and there… That Miz might’ve hit that point eventually if she hadn’t been sealed by Hecate. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not… The point is, she… Isn’t just how she is because it’s in her nature.”

Her ears fell a little, tail stopping its swaying. “It was a long time ago now. Too long for me to remember the years. The memories are all still there, though…” Asami steadied herself. “Tamamo,” she spoke, bristling a little, “was a vessel for a certain village long ago. She took in their hatred, their anger, their sorrows… Until she couldn’t anymore. She lost herself and became the twisted version of a Goddess that she is now. Unrestrained and unwilling to stop, just… Performing evil on whims to retaliate against the reality that made her. It’s possible that she could be purified. Some of us are good. I like to think I am… But she’s… Too powerful. We wouldn’t be able to do it alone.”

Bladen sighed, releasing her hands and shifting himself so he was resting up against her. There was a lot to unpack here. Gods, Goddesses, evil and good, a massive mess. He slowly slid his arm back around her waist, gently hugging her. “I’m... sorry if this is hard to talk about. And I understand that you don’t want to tell me things, that you’re trying to protect me. But, I just. I can’t help but worry that some day I’m going to lose you because of something I didn’t know and I don’t think I could live with that. All of this is so far above me, so beyond my power, my abilities, I can see why you don’t want me too deeply involved. But, well... It’s too late for that, my love. You’re stuck with me being as involved as I can be, because I want to have you in my life for as long as I live.”

Turning back to the questions bouncing around in his head, he considered the things that she had told him up to this point. “So T... she is just twisted. She doesn’t even really have goals, she just wants to be evil because she was made evil... Does that mean because she’s split into parts, split the good parts away, she herself is more evil? Like she’s a concentration of the evilness and you’re a good part? I don’t know if that even makes sense.” He rubbed his eyes, trying to understand. “And Yui. She’s good too. But not enough of you are good to save the core? Could you get help?” He frowned, a thought occurring to him that he didn’t especially like, but that he was going to say anyways. “That... human. Tenebria. She’s... powerful, right? The Saintess or something like that?” He’d purposely not been paying attention to her, but he’d picked up some things. “Could she help? I know it would be accepting help from the church, but if it could save you, well. Maybe that could be something. I guess the only other thing would be to try and capture her or something, but wouldn’t that risk capturing you too? Since you’re a part of her? I’m just. Out of my depth here.”

“Repeat yourself all you like, Bladen, I’m still not telling you everything.” She huffed, a little annoyed by his persistence, even if she understood it. “She won’t have any real power until we’re together again, but she is the core of our being, yes. So long as she is what she is, if we reform, she’ll take over again. I can… No, that’s not safe enough.” Asami shook that idea out of her head, thinking on this alleged Saintess. “Hmph… People like her aren’t anything special. Ilrios touched her soul and gave it a part of his magic. It’s nothing that people couldn’t manage centuries ago… It’s just been lost to time. Nothing beyond mortal means. We need… Mmhnn… It’s very, tricky.”

Asami cleared her throat. “If you kill a God’s physical body, they still exist, and will reform after some time. We could kill her, yes, but that would just put a pause on the problem, leaving it for someone else to deal with after some centuries. Ayane’s clan attempted to seal her, which worked for a time, until a bad actor– Ouka –came around and unsealed her for her own means. She’d been split before she was sealed, which made things safer, but all it took was one witch with a plan to release her again… So that’s far from foolproof either. I…”

She groaned, flopping. “The only way I can think of at the moment is if several of us came together against her… And by came together, I mean… Literally. We haven’t because we both want our independence, but Yui and I could… Fuse. The problem is that one of us would cease to be…”

“I know. I know, I do.” He gently rested his head against her shoulder, trying to control his emotions. This was all so much. The thought of losing her terrified him, but he couldn’t deny that something needed to be done about this threat. “So none of my ideas would work. Got it.” He chuckled dryly, still having his head on her shoulder. “Sorry. Trying not to despair too much here. But the whole feeling out of my depth thing is coming up pretty strongly. Maybe you were right and I shouldn’t have started asking.” 

Straightening up, he shook his head, gently slapping his cheek. “Right, enough of that. I can’t just give up. Even if all I’m good for is a shield, I’ll find some way to help you. Which means I keep thinking. Sealing is no good, killing her is no good, so fighting against her then. Which means I could lose you. But save the world. Is that the choice you’re facing here? Losing yourself but potentially saving the world? How can you manage to even consider that sort of thing? I know there’s a lot you’re not telling me. I accept that. Fusing... Is that something you need to do willingly? Or could she... force you or others to do it with her? Since presumably that would. Well. Give her more power?”

“She could. It’s part of why we ran away even with her sealed. She’s the core. If she managed to get a hand on us, woosh. Gone. A part of her again. There would always be the chance for her to split once more, but who’s to say we’d be the same after? The rest of us, it would have to be done willingly. I imagine Yui would be willing to give herself up for the chance it would do something, but I don’t like that. She’s my sister; she’s one of the good ones of us. She doesn’t deserve that sort of thing… So I don’t know what to do or suggest, Bladen. Not right now, anyway. Maybe Miz knows something. Maybe even Carlon does, not that I expect the arch bishop of the church would be willing to sit down and speak with us… But, he’s been around as long as I have. He knows this is a threat, too. Who’s to say? I wish I could offer a more realistic solution…”

“Right. So we keep you away from her then, unless we’re ready to fight her.” He tapped his fingers on the ground, trying to consider his options. “I... I agree, I don’t think that you should fuse with Yui. She’s. I like her. She deserves to live too. Just like you.” The suggestion of Miz and even the archbishop were floated around, and he frowned. “Wait, a human has been around as long as you? What... I mean, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but that’s. Strange. Maybe there just isn’t a good solution.”

He turned back towards her, pulling her into a hug and gently kissing her. “But. I won’t stop trying to find one. Even if it means working with the Church. Or Miz. Because Asami, I love you. And I will never stop fighting for you. We’ll find something. I know I can’t promise that realistically, but we’ll find something. Somehow.”

“Mmm… It’s nice that you mean well, Bladen. I… will admit, that I haven’t exactly been looking. I didn’t want to think about it all once I’d gotten away. I had my whole life ahead of me! I could do whatever I wanted to do. No longer a speck of consciousness floating in an unknown sea… It was the most liberating feeling I think any being will ever truly feel. So I’m… I’ll, look into what I can. I’ll try and see if there’s anything. It’ll be easier with Yui’s help… Even if it scares me. I like, living. I really do… I’m sure there’s something out there. Gods end eventually. Just need to find out why…”

Wrapping both of his arms around her, he just held her for a long moment. “Why would you want to look into it? She’s so powerful, from everything you’ve said. It’s so much easier to just live. Trying to think of how to face her, and I don’t even know the extent of her power, has left me terrified. So I have to imagine how much worse it is for you.” Pulling back away from her enough that he could look into her face, he smiled at her, a tinge of sadness evident. “So don’t worry about the past. Only look to the future. Maybe Miz or Hecate will know something. Maybe Carlon will. Our ‘Saintess’ might be able to help with that conversation. But someone will know something. And until we find that something, all we can do is enjoy the time we have. So I’ll focus on that. Maybe I can’t help you find a way to beat her, but I can make sure you enjoy the time you have before facing her. Maybe that’s why I’m here.” Maybe I’m powerless in the actual important fight... That speck she described against a mountain. But I can be her support. That little bit I can do.

“Someone will have to know something… Mmm… I’d honestly put my faith in Carlon. With this crusade to wipe out the monsters, he must’ve had some kind of plan to deal with Hess. Whatever would destroy her could be repurposed for our problem… Just would need more scale. Hess is only a few centuries old. T is… Is so much older. Age makes you stronger…” Asami sighed and let herself melt into the hug, letting out a very high pitched whine and suddenly cuddling closer against Bladen. “Comfy… Safe…”

"Then we'll find a way to work with him. Somehow." Asami collapsed against him and he smiled softly. "Alright. I've pushed enough for tonight." He gently pulled her fully into his lap, holding her close and gently stroking her hair. "I've got you. Nothing is going to happen if I have any say in it. So relax. I'll take care of you. I promise."

“Myah!’ Asami got hoisted for a moment, ending up in his lap, her tail swishing furiously. “B-Bladen! Gosh, you give a mouse a cookie and he’ll ask for some milk… Where did all this come from? Not a few weeks ago you were such a wallflower to all this flirting. Mrrrhh…” She sighed, flopping against him. “But fine… I will take this comfort. For now…”

"Heh. You must bring it out in me. You make me want to protect you, keep you safe, hold you tight..." He grinned down at her, amused at the slight outrage that quickly turned to acceptance. "If you mind, I can go back to that wallflower, but it's quite nice being able to be the one flustering, even if it's only every once in a while. Besides. I like having you in my arms like this. And with everything that's happening in the world, everything we face, maybe I need to be a little selfish now and again and do the things I like." 

“Mmmnhnn…” She whined again, high pitched, ears twitching some, tail wagging. Whatever she voiced in frustrations, she retorted in kind with genuine comfort, happy to be where she was in the moment. “Mm, fine… Selfish is fine, sometimes…”

"Heh. You're adorable like this, I hope you know that." He leaned down and kissed her forehead before going back to holding her against his chest, one hand gently stroking her hair. "I know there are times when I have to accept that you know best and not be selfish. But for now... I'm going to hold on until you make me let go. I love you Asami. And that will never change. I swear it."

Asami grumbled and hid her face against him to hide the growing redness across her cheeks. She didn't say anything back, just squirmed a little bit closer, hoping that would be enough without any words. For your sake more than mine, I truly hope there is a solution out there… I don't want you to have to suffer loss twice.

It hadn't been the best talk, if he was being honest, ending on a vaguely hopeful but scary note. But he had made a promise to himself. That he would make sure the time they had together was as full as it could be. He grabbed her hand, smiling at her pleadingly. "Let me spoil you a little, ok?"


Astraea had spent most of their trip in the back of Jade's wagon. Their talk had helped her to feel safe there, even if the Wastes had still terrified her. But now they were out of that place, in the open world. As worried as she was about her future, she was still curious about this world. She made her way to the front of the wagon, looking up at the merchant. "Uhm. Miss Jade, I was hoping that... Perhaps thou would accompany me among the town today? I perhaps should not be wandering by myself, with how little I know of this world, but I would like to see the sights if possible."

 

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Their journey - after their rather harrowing experience in the labyrinth, however brief though it may have been - was uneventful, and they'd managed to cross the border to Hwein unhampered. He was rather heartened by the fact that people of Hwein still stood at the border, and the distinct change in the land from sweltering, sapping heat to a more familiar, comfortable atmosphere settled him, somewhat.

Liberation, now. That's what lies ahead of us, and nothing else; no more barriers, borders, nothing. Just us, and Coteon...

In short, now that they were in Hwein, he was in a far better mood, and perhaps a fair bit more determined, more centered in his purpose - certainly he'd be begrudging these battles less than those in Vaia, necessary as they might have been. Being with Lucille for most of the journey had done a lot for his mood, as well - there was a distinct lack of fretting about where exactly the two of them were, and a lot more room left in his mind for the moment.

Still, it had been quite the eventful night when they'd finally figured out what exactly to do. Not least so because they could be more open with one another, now, but the other guest he'd had that night had been rather different in nature.

A Barrier…

Spoiler

Lucille was one thing, but this man was another. Her magic was a mess, but his was unique, frighteningly so. That barrier of his was far too similar to my own magic. I need to speak to him of it… And speak to him about the weird twist in his magic. Really, passing by that tent was far too much of a shock, all over. Miz sighed, pushing into his tent, staring at him. “You. Thunder magic boy. We must speak.” She held her hands on her hips, not striking a very intimidating presence, though her voice was as deep as one would expect to come out of a grown woman. “Your magic is unique and interesting, so I must learn of it.” 

Another visitor to his tent; and this one was one he’d expected far less than Lucille. He had to pause for a moment to process who it was, in fact - the red... girl? woman? Either way, he was aware that she was the one responsible for the vast damage the labyrinth had so abruptly suffered, and then had apparently subsequently lost the ability to do so. “...er, hello. I... don't believe I've caught your name yet properly... miss, ah, Miz?” He hesitated slightly; he'd heard some part of her name, at least he thought so, but probably not enough for her not to introduce herself.

She was certainly rather demanding, as far as first impressions went; he was far from unwilling to share when it came to his magic, but there was generally an order to these things...

Thunder magic boy...? That's new...

She visibly bristled at the sudden speaking of her nickname, only managing to calm down because she hadn’t properly declared herself to these dregs. “My name is Miz’Githon, and you will refer to me as such, at the very least. Just Miz is reserved for those that deserve my respect. Considering you’re just a human, I doubt you will earn it so easily. Hmph… I am here simply because you have an interesting magic about you. Something like a barrier and something to do with your magic leylines. They’re twisted and bent in odd ways…”
She sat herself down in his tent, crossing her legs and folding her arms, her whiplike tail swaying behind her as she adjusted her wings slightly. Her golden eyes were locked on him, staring intently, waiting for an answer.

She - Miz’Githon sat and stared at him, rather pointedly so, obviously content to commence what felt more like an interrogation than harmless questions. “Is that so... ahem. Miz’Githon, then, my apologies. And, fine; I’ve no issue telling you about some of that, but I must warn you that in truth I don’t know the full workings.” Well; if she was going to get straight to the point, so be it. Given how this conversation had started, she didn’t seem quite the type to be dissuaded easily. “The... barrier, that you speak of. I’m rather uncertain of when it began to affect me, but from my personal experience with it, it’s something like an insulating layer of magic... if that makes sense. I suppose you could test it, if you so wished.” Especially given that she is apparently rather... lacking in power, currently...

“The latter, my leylines... I’m not quite certain what you mean. I wasn’t able to use thunder magic until relatively recently, but aside from that I’m not well acquainted enough with leylines to know what you mean. It’s not exactly the most widespread of topics.”

“Your leylines are twisted, that is what I mean. The lanes of magic that swirl through your body snake and swirl in unnatural ways… Certainly, you can cast through a conduit, but there’s no telling when they will lock up again and cause your magic to attack itself. Which might kill you~” She smiled, rather uncaring as to whether or not Seilan died, but it would do to keep him alive until she figured out how his magic worked… “I can fix that if you wish, though it will hurt. Hurt you, that is. As for this barrier of yours…”

She suddenly got onto her hands and knees and crawled right up to him, staring close, inspecting him, though looking through him and not at his face, as if she was staring at something invisible. “Hmm… Interesting. This is incredibly similar to my own… What I could do previously, at least. Your magic creates a shield around yourself. It’s not your innate magical resistance, either… That is quite weak, but this is different. How very interesting…”

His brow furrowed, listening to her explanation regarding his leylines. He hadn’t ever had any problems casting in a way that he felt any harm, only that he simply hadn’t been able to at all; but if what she was saying was true... “You’re saying this could kill me? And you don’t know when?” He crossed his arms, thinking; but he simply couldn’t fully form a response, not without knowing more. “...How could this have happened? I didn’t... I mean, I don’t think I did anything to cause this. And when you say fix - how do you mean to do that? Do you have that fine a control over leylines?”

He backed up slightly, not having expected her to suddenly crawl up to him; though when she stopped short of him, seeming only to examine - examine almost the space around him more than anything else, he stopped. “Yes, that’s - it only has any effects on magic, a blade hurts as any other - that’s why I still wear some armor... anyways, do you have some sort of evaluation, or...?”

“Stop moving,” she said in frustration, climbing onto his lap to hold him still. “Hmmm…” She spent another moment despite his question to examine his magic further… “Yes, I do have an evaluation. You are interesting enough that I would like to help you stay alive, as long as you would be willing to allow me to examine your magic at my leisure. What do you say?” She didn’t seem to be aware of how close she was, or care, looking up at him from his lap, golden eyes focused on his reaction. As far as she was concerned, she was touching him, not the other way around, so of course, it was fine.

He’d thought that was as close as she was getting, but apparently his expectations were going to be subverted today. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?” He picked her up - rather easily, he found - and set her back in front of him, now looking rather miffed. “Yes, I have a vested interest in... not dying, so I suppose to that end I could let you examine my magic. I don’t suppose that’s not going to continue to consist of you doing that again...?”

He couldn’t tell if she was simply so focused on what she was doing to the detriment of all else, or if she was simply that socially oblivious, or... well, any number of possibilities.

“How dare you!?” she squeaked as she was moved, placed down on the ground of the tent, arms folded, glaring knives into him. “Do not presume to touch me, whelp. I was touching you and that is how it should be, NOT the other way around. Filthy…” She huffed, looking away from him. “Praise my kindness; I shall still keep my offer open despite your ridiculous manhandling of me. Anyway… Yes, I will have to get that close to inspect you properly at times. My magic is not what it used to be, so even if I can still tell what is going on, I must be close to do so. Play along or perish; in the end, it matters not to me. I’m sure I will come across someone else with interesting magic… Decide, thunder boy. And tell me your name.”

He stared at her for a moment, dumbfounded at the apparent incongruency in her logic. He sighed, struggling internally to decide if this was going to be worth it... eventually coming to a conclusion. “...Fine. I suppose I can handle that, if that’s what it takes for my magic to not kill me. Just... give me some warning, in advance, if you could. Please. It’s not exactly... commonplace, to be doing such things.” He sighed; keeping it internal, this time. Seeing as she clearly expected rather... preferential, bordering on royal treatment, it would likely be best not to express too much discontent, for his own sake.

“Seilan. It’s Seilan. Not thunder boy, Miz’Githon.”

“Hmph… Alright, Seilan. Then, sit still. There’s your warning.” She didn’t wait any longer, climbing back into his lap and focusing on his magic, shutting her eyes finally. “Hmm…” Her hand gently placed against his chest, her eyebrows furrowing. “It’s… Deep, in here… Mmm…” There was a sudden tugging on Seilan’s magic, something that he might’ve felt deep inside himself. Like something was being tugged at in his soul…

“This is going to hurt. I will give you a moment to brace yourself… But you’re going to feel a searing pain for a good few minutes. I’m quite literally twisting the mana that encompasses your being… To try and fix these knots. Whoever did this to you did not know what they were doing…”

“Alright, fine-” He barely managed to get the words out before she was already on him again, and he sighed, grudgingly remaining still as she placed her hand on him. There was something like a pull, somewhere within what might have passed as the ‘core’ of his magical essence, and as he concentrated on the feeling it was almost oddly familiar, though he couldn’t quite place the feeling. Some kind of distant memory...

“Okay. I suppose I’m ready... not exactly much I can do to physically brace myself. Do... whatever you need to.” He closed his eyes, trying to keep his composure, anticipating the pain…

“Doing. This will not be pleasant.” Miz focused and began to pull out his magical core, enough so that she could touch it directly. The pain would be intense, but he would have to deal; leaving this half finished would harm him even more than this shoddy magical job. “Mmmm… Almost…” Another knot was left deeper inside him than she’d initially felt– this was beginning to feel like an intentional sabotage of his magic. Someone had fucked him up in an attempt to harm him without his knowledge… But who and why? Well… No matter. Whoever you are, your plans have been foiled by the great Miz’Githon~ “Almost done…”

“Okay - aaaaARGH, a-agh!” Seilan groaned in pain as Miz began the process, this new sensation certainly new in comparison to what might have been familiar moments ago. “Agh, nnnrhh...! How - how long is this going to take?!” There was something of a constant sensation within him, some kind of cross between cracking, stretching, and snapping - not of the body, but of his entire center. He shuddered as the pain continued to wrack him, knuckles starting to turn white as he gripped his bed. Almost?!

“I told you this would hurt… And you agreed… Just a few more… There.” The knot in his leylines untwisted, his magic receding back into his self. “Your magic is fixed. Another year or two and you might’ve had a critical mana collapse~ How horrible.” She shrugged, still sitting on him, once again living in her one way permission system. “Who did this to you?”

He grumbled a reply through gritted teeth as she continued her work. “I'm aware I agreed, it is simply extremely painful, as you... agh! As you mentioned...”

He let out a sigh of relief once she completed her work, felt the myriad sensations of pain - some having been unpleasantly novel - cease, and leaned back slightly, recovering, trying to catch his breath. “Okay... whew... all right, finished... thanks.” It took a moment before Seilan caught something she'd said. “Only another year or two? Really? That's... I don't know who did this, or when it happened. It's not possible I was born with my leylines like this, is it?”

Miz shook her head, not removing herself from her place on his lap. "They were unnaturally twisted. Sometimes a child would be born in Ishtaria with misaligned leylines and I or Xetketh would see to fixing it for them… These were too peculiar to be natural. And if they were natural, you wouldn't be able to cast at all. Someone did this to you, to allow you to… Imagine a shoddy rope bridge. It sees constant use, but is never repaired. Eventually, the rope snaps, and whoever is on it at the time plunges to their doom… That is how your leylines were twisted."

He frowned; if what she was saying was true, then it put some of his past in a noticeably different light. It was a strange coincidence that he'd been talking with Lucille about it just earlier, though he'd thought of those times rather more fondly than he might now. “If it was done to allow me to cast, then I know when it likely happened... but I don't see why it would have been done maliciously. Could it just have been that whoever was doing it simply lacked a complete understanding?” He kept the details of who it might have been quiet for now; best to be prudent and not share too much until he had a better picture of the situation, and anyways it wasn't of much importance to her...

“This feels very deliberate. With how deep it was inside you… In any case, it’s fixed now. You’re welcome.” She huffed, spinning on his lap and leaning against him, grabbing his hands and pulling them in front of her– not to hug, but she started inspecting them like she was looking for something. “Hmmm… Very interesting… mmm… Your barrier is veeeeeeerry interesting…”

“Is that so... well, alright then. And... thank you, it’s a relief to hear my imminent death that I was unaware of until today has been averted.” She was grabbing at his hands now, in a manner that he was simultaneously already getting used to and yet still thoroughly annoyed by; examining them as if the answers to some profound questions lay within his fingers. “Interesting, yes; certainly, I’m sure. ...And how might that be, exactly?”

“Hmm. I’ll tell you next time~” She suddenly hopped off his lap and stretched, tail wagging gently in his face. “That’s all for now. I gave you quite the boon and got my fill of interest in how your magic functions… I’ll do some writing and thinking on it, and I’ll get back to you. I hope that’s good enough, Seilan. Your compliance is quite appreciated~” She finished her stretch and her talking, heading towards the tent’s exit. “I suppose I shall be… Amiable, as this general of yours has asked of me… If you’ve any questions about magic that I can answer swiftly, then ask them.”

“Next time...?” His line of thought was interrupted by the tail in his face, and as she slunk away to the entrance of the tent he sighed yet again; if he'd been counting he'd certainly have lost count by now. “Questions? Not at present, no; but if anything crosses my mind I hope to rely on your... amiability. Miz’Githon.” He leaned back slightly; between his conversation with Lucille and this following interrogation he was beginning to feel rather drained. “I do hope that I have more than compliance to look forward to...”

“We’ll have to see, won’t we? How much you lowly humans can impress me…” With a smirk and a sway of her tail, she was gone, walking off to her own tent…

He shook off the thoughts. It would do little good to think of the death he'd learned of and promptly avoided, and he hadn't had any more experimenting visits from 'miss Miz'Githon', so he'd deal with that when the time came. For now, Chiaca was ahead, and Lucille was asking him a question...

"Only a couple of times - the academy had a lot of leeway with where they could stage their trainings, and they didn't hesitate to march us everywhere for the experience. I know my family's sent a fair number of goods this way, too. I don't know it as well as the capital, but it is certainly a beautiful place."

He dug into his memories; besides passing by on the way to Vaia, it had been a while... "Let's see... I remember some of the older trainees snuck off to town when we set up camp nearby... I didn't go with them, though. The amount of trade means that there's a fair amount of leisure here, so I'm sure we can find something to do. Did you have anything in mind that you wanted to do? If not, we can just see the sights."

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Well, the day had finally arrived. Ayane had somehow convinced Ren and Shizuka to return home, and after a heartfelt farewell the two were in a warp with a surprise Gabi as well. While it was entirely necessary for her aides to return home it still left Ayane with some concerns, which she decided to keep to herself for the moment. By the time the group had arrived at Chiaca, Ayane was struggling to keep those feelings down somewhat. When she arrived in Vaia she was prepared to focus on her quest, but ever since Ren and Shizuka had reappeared it slowly changed Ayane's mentality. 'Dammit, why aren't things ever so simple...?' Thesephine had addressed the group, Ayane did her best to focus on her words to take herself out of her mind. "A town visit..." Her gaze wandered about as she tried to find Ari, if there was one person who could help keep her mind busy it was her. "...Ari?" She called out, hoping for an answer.

An Oni and her Cat

Spoiler

The talk with Lucille had Ayane feeling like she was walking on thin ice, and her default angry state would have only melted the ice faster. Thankfully, she took a more mellowed out approach and the two are on better terms. That being said, the oni princess was glad it was done and over with. She took a sigh of relief as she approached a tent ahead of her. “...well, just another talk until the day is over.” It was mostly an optional talk, but at the same time it was also important to Ayane. “Ari?” She called out outside of the tent.

“Mmrow?” Ari had been alone the entire time, ears wiggling a little as Ayane called out to her. She’d been in her resting clothes, the odd bodysuit and leggings she wore, poking her head out of the tent to see the woman. “Hello? Did you need me for something, Ayane? I was just getting some rest while we camp, since the trip is far from over and we’ll need all our strength, but if there’s anything I can do for you…”

When she called out in return the oni turned to Ari and nodded her head. “I did, actually. I just…needed to talk with you.” She came a little closer. “I’m about to make some important decisions, and I need someone to talk to right now. Keep my head clear I suppose…”

“Well… Alright.” Ari wasn’t sure what was on Ayane’s mind… She never really was sure. Ayane didn’t speak much; she preferred to get her emotions out while fighting. It was a sight to behold, but it made her difficult to approach. Ari was more than happy that Ayane wanted to spend time with her, stepping back into the tent and sitting down with legs crossed, her tail wagging behind her. “Mmm… Please tell me whatever’s on your mind, hun. I want to be here for you, if… You ever want to talk about, anything.”

“Thank you.” She took one more nod before she followed Ari back in her tent and sat across from her. “My time here has been a bit more difficult than I imagined, but I’m doing my best to adjust.” She took a sigh, almost as if she were preparing herself for something. “I spoke with Asami, and she offered some advice. My usual strategies may not work against Ouka, she’s far too cunning for that. So with that in mind, I’ve made some plans for the future. It involves sending Ren and Shizuka back to Izuna to look for survivors, and to gather them together.”

“... Is that wise?” Ariana was suddenly confused, ears drooping a little bit, a concerned face meeting Ayane as the cat sat down inside her tent. “You’ve been having a tough time, so wouldn’t it be better for your brother and close friend to remain near you? Unless… I mean… the only things I can guess you’re hoping to achieve with this are: one, you fear you’re relying on Ren too much, so by removing him, you’ll push harder to find avenues of success without his assistance… Even if that would be very dangerous; two, you’re worried about their safety and while you’re sending them away for information and consolidation, you want to make sure that they’re safe while you handle the burden yourself… Which is incredibly risky. So… Which is it? Or am I barking up a wrong tree and there’s some other reason I haven’t thought of…?”

“...it’s a little of both.” She spoke. “My cousin Ren has always been by my side, he covers for my weaknesses. The one time he wasn’t by my side well…” She eyed Ari a bit. “...I realized I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. Crumbling to my own weakness long before I see Ouka isn’t very ideal. Sending him and Shizuka back home is just one way of forcing myself to change, and of course their safety is an added bonus. But I’m hoping they’ll arrive later with reinforcements.” She took a sigh. “I like to think it’s a sound plan, but…truth be told, I’m a little scared.”

“Mmm…” It was certainly a plan. Whether or not it was sound, only time would tell. “If you think it’s for the best, you have to convince them, not me. I’m here to support you in your decisions and make sure you don’t fall, as much as I can… So if you make this choice and send them home, I’ll stand by it.” Ari sighed a little, shuffling closer to Ayane. “You need to let me in, though, Ayane… We’ve barely spoken since we left Vaia. You’re a very closed book, with a hefty lock on it. You were the one that kissed me… So what are you afraid of, now?”

Ari’s shuffling was certainly noticed by the oni, she perked her head up toward her as she asked her question. “...I am a woman who lives by her emotions, decisive in the moment. It’s all I’ve ever known, Ren tells me it’s a bad habit…” She rubbed her arm a bit. “Ever since I’ve become an oni it’s only gotten worse, I’ve been incredibly emotional. Maybe I’m good at hiding it, or maybe I let it all out on the battlefield.” She looked Ari in the eye. “I’m willing to trust this army…but I’m afraid of hurting someone with those feelings. It’s frustrating…” She blushed a little. “...then again you do have a point, my kiss was my own choice. It wasn’t a bad one either.”

“If it wasn’t a bad one, then start sharing! What do you like? What are your hobbies? What are you gonna do once we’re in Hwein? I’m, basically a reprint of Marina, so I don’t know what I like yet. I’ll have to find out, but until then… I want to know what drives you beyond your duties and combat. Surely you’re not some battle junky that can only thrive in the midst of combat…”

Ayane hadn’t thought on it, but Ari was basically a second Marina. It was a fact she knew of course, but the meaning hadn’t hit her until now. “Hm, I guess that makes a lot of sense…” She nodded. “You’re right, I’m not just a warrior. It’s just all I’ve focused on since I got here, but…” She thought for a minute. “To be honest I haven’t fished in a long time, I would like to do that again…it’s quite soothing.” She had other answers, especially to Hwein, but she wanted to take things slow for now.

“Fishing… You’re like an old man…” Ariana mumbled, not entirely surprised, but also not against the idea of a quiet afternoon throwing a line into a body of water and pulling up a few meals. “There are rivers and lakes in Hwein, scattered about… What else, though? You must be into more than fishing. I won’t accept that you spent almost twenty years swinging swords and swinging rods, you had to do other things…”

“...what was that?” Ayane rose a brow, just barely hearing the ‘old’ part. She wanted to jump on that, but simply looked aside. “Nanbu is incredibly close to the water, so fishing is quite popular. But if there’s rivers and lakes then I could look into that if we have the free time.” Ayane had no idea what the plan was when they reached Hwein, but she at least had plans now. “Well…I loved playing games with my father, like Shogi. I don’t know if you know the game though…” She tried to think of things that weren’t behind a culture barrier. “Oh! I enjoyed horseback riding a lot. In fact I had a horse back home, his name was Sora.”

“Okay.” Ariana took out a notebook and started writing things down under a list labeled ‘Ayane’s Interests’. Those were all things that she could both look into and get into. Marina seemed to have similar interests to games and even enjoyed fishing already, so all Ariana had to do was manage to enjoy it on her own and make that her interest instead of leftovers from Marina. “Okay… Okay. We can try all of that in Hwein. I think it’ll be good… Though… I know what Shogi is because of Marina’s memories, but I can’t think of a time I ever saw it here. Maybe you can make it? There were a lot of complicated pieces and stuff, but… Still.”

When Ariana took out a notebook and started writing Ayane raised a small brow, but held back commenting realizing it was harmless enough. “Ah, Marina knows quite a bit huh?” She laughed a bit. “I suppose Shogi wouldn’t be a thing here…I think I’ve heard they play “chess” here instead, so we can try that. Surely it can’t be that different.” She smiled a little. “I’m looking forward to reaching Hwein then.”

“Mmm…” Chess hadn’t crossed her mind, but playing it was simple enough. Surely they could sit down for a casual game and chew each other's minds for a moment. “Well… if that’s all, then. I won’t keep you from… Whatever it is you do during the breaks. Meditate? Train? I’m not sure, but whichever it is, miss samurai.” Ariana was feeling a little cheeky, teasing Ayane some, smirking as she put away her notes. “It was nice to actually talk, even if it was just a little bit…”


 

 

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Posted (edited)

Finally seeing sand that wasn't completely void of color and life was more of a welcome sign than Agni expected. Having spent the journey concerned about the well-being of the more magically attuned of them, being able to rest without the sapping concerns of ambient magics was a blessing.

Settling down on Chiaca meant they could finally restock and gather their bearing after the frustrating route. Having seen that the rooms were arranged, Agni relaxed and considered simply checking up on Taliyah again,  back to his business... but there was a distressed face that was all to easy to see, and to drive him to serve his duty.

"Marina. How are you faring?" Agni approached cautiously, trying not to overbear. "Between miles of soul-sucking sand, I was worried about the chance it could harm you. How did you manage?" He knew she was spending time with Tali, and for that, he felt indebted to Marina's sense of duty.


All that warping was... exhaustive. Nessraya was against it at first, finding it a bit of a risk in their current surroundings, but deciding to try anyways, as Thessy seemed set on that. The lightened load was a decent reason --at least, the first easy motive Ness grabbed to go through with it. It was rightfully exhausting, leaving Ness spending a majority of the journey gaining her mana back through her conventional means. All that mana draining was quite souring to the mood, not to mention the several new guests they picked up. Their distinct magic readings...

Having been one of the first to leave the wagons, Ness dressed herself conservative, hiding her features for the time being, following along to the inn. Chiaca was going to probably be a short stay... but that was still welcome. "Mmm... 'Thessy', huh. Understood." While amused at Thesephine's choice of words, Ness did her best to let it go. She didn't want to stay much longer at the inn, yet. It was a good time to scout what supplies they could buy.


Seeing Shizuka and Ren part ways so soon was a bit saddening for Taiyou, hoping to be among more of Nanbu's people for this foreign journey... then again, she wasn't as affected as Ayane. She had to admit that one. "Hmm... good, I was getting tired." A breath of fresh air in the trade city was good.

Taiyou couldn't help approaching Ayane once more, "So... how has it been, Ayane? I didn't expect Ren to leave so suddenly... but what about you?"


Tick, tock.

The time that passed along the trek was more fleeting than expected. Hecate was interested in the manner that the vast expanse they left drained mana, for sure. The while coloration seemed unnatural, and turned out to be a fine observation after coming to an unaffected place. Good to know her memory wasn't that shattered.

Of course.. that still posed the problem of existing along civilization now. Was this group intent on keeping her on a short leash. "Mmm. Demon King. What shall I do while we're here?" Having decided the caravans weren't the scenery she wanted after those days passed, Hecate looked at the King expectantly.


Fyl breathed a sigh of relief as they reached the other side of the Wastes. The mana drain had been a toll to his sensitive self. He'd focused on taking care of Merydrys after that exhausting warping. "Chiaca... it should be an amenable place for us to stay, Lady. Would you like to go somewhere while we honor our stay?"

Edited by Xinnidy

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Sollowy was more than happy to finally be out of the wastes and back on proper soil, even if she rarely ever touched the ground. It had only been a year since she'd left Hwein, traveling over the plains to the north rather than through the wastes, and now she was back home, in a sense, without having accomplished her mission. They were closer than ever to Yggdrasil and the meeting that she and Thessy were going to have to have with her and it only filled the usually light-hearted Gathlain with dread. She was hanging near Thessy, not actually on her like she usually was, waiting for her to head inside to complete her business so they could go around town and hopefully take her mind of meeting with her mother.


Ember was glad to finally set foot back in civilization after the mess that was the Wastes. She'd never actually been to Hwein when she was traveling as a mercenary with her father, they tended to operate within Vaia's borders for the most part, so she was excited to be in a new place. Though, she'd have rather they left the ancients back in their prison and tossed away the key instead of inviting them to into the group. Even weeks later she still saw that red demon in her dreams on bad nights, her terrifying image she'd cut etched into her memory. She still felt a little bad for shutting down on Tenna and Nash when they were checking up on her, but maybe now that they were free to roam about in a town for a while she could make amends...


"You could do us all a favor and drop to the ground, unmoving." Normally Xetketh kept her distance from the ancient witch, mostly because she was too weak to kill her in her current state, but with all of them disembarking from the wagons at the same time it was unavoidable that she would end up near Hecate. The majority of her eyes had settled in to glare at her, save for one straggler actually doing it proper purpose and taking in the environment around her. This place was, quite rustic, to put it kindly. She didn't know what she had expected of civilization in such a mana deprived world, but that it so closely resembled any of the dime-a-dozen trading village from hundreds of years ago was depressing. Even if the magic had become so thin, surely science must have continued apace in it's absence? That was what she had hypothesized, however, what she was observing did not seem to support it in the slightest.

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"I didn't have anything especial planned," Jade began to respond before qualifying, "Though I do hope to visit the Trade Guild at some point before we leave, that will require a bit more planning and organizing to go about properly. So for now, the docket should be fairly open. Where were you thinking you'd like to..." The zombie trailed off, realizing that her question was stupid. The star was still so unfamiliar with the mortal realm that putting the decision in her hands would likely cause more confusion and apprehension than comfort in getting to choose.

"Greg's might be fun, but hmm," no, on second thought, let's not take the innocent to a den of gambling, what are you stupid. "Actually, I just had a better idea. What would you say to the spa? Especially after having come through the wastes I feel like it would be quite invigorating."

Spoiler

Oh. That's odd. The star was still in her wagon, even after they'd set up camp. And, hmm, come to think of it, she'd never... was she avoiding someone? Jade felt a little guilty that it's taken her this long to pay attention to one of her passengers, but the honeymoon effect had been hitting her pretty strong. Lavinia was attending the King right now, so that lovely distraction was gone, maybe it was time to take an interest?

Walking around to the rear of the wagon, Jade took a seat at the edge, and swung her legs a little before turning over her shoulder and looking back at the star once again. How to start up the conversation?

"So... How have the wastes been treating you?"

 

Astraea huddled in the back of the wagon that she had spent most of their trip in, trying to fit her whole body under the cloak she had been given back when they first made their way into this forsaken place. The drain on her energy, as a being made almost entirely of magical energy, was too strong to be doing much more than survive. As such, she barely noticed the person approaching, flinching as the wagon owner called out to her.

"A-ah, thou are Jade, yes? I... I am afraid that this is not an easy place for me to sustain my life. This body that thou can see, it is energy, made of mine mana. So to be in a place that wants to suck away my very essence, my very being, it is. Unpleasant. I am. Afraid. Which is a constant state for me these days, I am finding." She shook her head, a half, sad smile on her face. "I am alone in this world that does not seem to want to welcome my kind. I wish that I could return to my family above, but I am stuck with thee and thine group. Who have been most welcoming, it is true, but I am not a person that belongs here."

 

"Yes, 'tis I, Jade," the merchant unconsciously slipped somewhat into the speech patterns of her partner, a technique that often went a good way in negotiations. It took a very thin-skinned person to take offense and assume mockery, rather than the honest intention of meeting in the middle and putting everyone at ease. She listened as the star recounted her recent woes, which were thankfully much the same as everyone's suffering, though perhaps more pronounced.

"I will admit, I too am finding this passage a harsher one than times previous, whilst I was alive. Whether the wastes are just growing worse, or 'tis a product of my change, well, one simply hopes for the best, yes? Still it does good to hear that your current isolation is just for this cause of circumstance, and not that you are being bullied or otherwise treated unkindly by the group," Jade set about preparing to produce her pipe and pouch, and have a small smoke while she chatted. As she did, she paused and reflected on what she'd just said. She was perhaps treating things too lightly? The way Astraea had phrased it, unwelcomed by the world, that was certainly a step farther than just the mana-draining wastes. Certainly, not anything caused by the group, but not a worry to just be brushed aside either.

And that stray thought launched a bit of a curious cascade, with the zombie remembering those ancients that had been unsealed from the times reaching back to the golden age. Surrounded by those folks and the star, her own worries about being removed from the world of the living seemed quaint and overblown. In the scheme of things, she could be much worse off. "We're growing close to the end of the trek at least, so some of this should be swiftly addressed, but I wonder if you mightn't speak to some of our newest arrivals about feeling ill at ease with the current state of the world. Perchance they have a closer sense of understanding, with the vast gulf of time they've been subject to, and what they claim to be experiencing as changes to the core workings of the world. Clearly 'tis no one-to-one, but, well... Myself, it is still a bit foreign to comprehend the life where you came from." How had it been described again?

"Visiting mortal dreams, returning to speak of them with your friends, then diving in again?" Jade paused to pack a pad into the bowl of her pipe and prepared to light it before musing. "I must say, that is one of the things I miss most about sleep. The dreams."

 

"Mmm, no, these people... They are kind. Unknowing of my race, yes, but kind to me. I am simply tired, so I stay here. Apologies if thou wished to be using this wagon. I can vacate if it is needed." She shuffled awkwardly in her seat, hoping that it wouldn't come to that. Astraea liked this wagon. It was safe and cozy. And it protected her from looking up and seeing the life that she had lost. She pulled the cloak tighter around her body as the zombie across from her continued talking.

"Mmm, these new faces, yes they are... Different. I have seen different types of your races throughout my dreams. My old dreams. Perhaps they might know something. Perhaps. I shall consider thine words. It cannot hurt. I suppose." Except to further drive in the point that I am alone here in this world... 

It seemed her companion had some regrets involving dreams herself. "It is, well, yes essentially thou are correct. Our dreams do not visit yours however. Rather, our dreams show us this world. Thine history and present. The changing ages and constant life. And we can rejoice together in these dreams, sharing the joy, the sorrow, the light... But now there is only dark. I would trade you, in a second. The ability to never sleep and thus to never have these empty dreams, that is something I would love."

 

"Ah, you are fine to stay as you are," Jade issued a reassurance, as she sensed the passenger might be preparing to vacate.

"I will charge you, mind," the merchant joked, her tone of voice lightening and brightening to broadcast that fact, "Though the fare be cheap. 'Tis nothing more than conversation I'm after, and so far you're earning your keep." A smile crept across her face, both in response to her own levity, as well as the fact that the star seemed to be taking her suggestion about the ancient ones under consideration. Good, good.

Then came the reply on the matter of dreams, however, and the mood changed. Jade didn't notice the full impact immediately, as for a start Astraea stuck to just the factual corrections of what the zombie had gotten wrong. But by the end it was clear. 'I would trade places with you in a second,' was a phrase the zombie would never have expected to hear uttered, at least not directed at her. Maybe if overhearing another's conversation but. Someone willingly wishing her fate for theirs? The poor girl must well and truly be in a funk, and that left her troubled as how to respond.

After a lengthening awkward pause, she began with what was easiest. "...I am told... that I am not so ripe as to help you with that, if that be what you're truly asking." Even this statement though was no simple matter, as now Jade's thoughts were back in Aensbrook, when these conversations had been fresh and relevant. Her hand slid to the pouch in which the vial of vampire blood rested, the out Lavinia had given her if her condition ever became unbearable. She remembered the fear on Bladen's face--

They'd... never really talked, after that, had they? She should...

Jade shook her head, trying to get her thoughts back on the track of who she was dealing with now. The vampire vial. Probably wouldn't be the solution the star was seeking either, assuming she were serious and not just waxing poetic in a moment of self-pity. But even if it was a possible remedy...

Not a decision to be made on a whim. It had been entrusted to her for a specific purpose.

So how to respond instead? Jade puffed her pipe and stalled for time.

 

"Ah, no, apologies." Astraea shook her head, a small, sad, smile on her face. "I suspect that even if I wished for that which thou are suggesting, it would not be possible. I am not... Mmm. My body is not that of true flesh and blood like yours. I am a creature of mana more than anything else. It is why this wasteland is so scary to me. It sucks at mine very essence. So I suspect that even if thou were able and I were willing, it would be a waste of time for all." She sighed, sinking further against the wagon, pulling the cloak closer around her body. She shook her head, looking down at the ground. "I am sorry for being such a negative presence. I would understand if thou would prefer to leave and talk to others. Perhaps after we leave this place I will be a better company, but tonight, I am afraid that I am too caught up in my fears..."

 

"I have nowhere to go, least not till Lavinia returns and takes me away, so I'll just sit here and smoke until that happens. If you don't feel like conversation tonight that's fine, but maybe at least my presence will transform the silence from a cold, dark, and hungry one; to a more warm, pleasant, and comforting alternative." Jade took another puff, and made herself comfortable, leaning up against the side of the wagon.

 

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"M... Marina? Agni?" A quiet voice spoke out towards the pair, Taliyah approaching them with her tail low against the ground, twiddling her thumbs and looking down. "I... Uhm. Marina. I'm sorry." She bowed, suddenly, finally coming back up and looking at her with a half smile, mixed with sadness. "I know you didn't kill him... But I held it against you. Even with how horrible my father had been... And... And I talked to Agni about it. I thought... 'am I going to hate her forever?' It's... It's not been fun. At all... B-But, when, when we all got separated down there, with all the machines and the corridors and... I got really scared, I thought that maybe, this would be it. It kind of... Well, it..."

She sighed, sinking a little. Words were still difficult. She stepped closer and took Marina's hand with a shaky claw, sniffling some. "I thought that it would be a waste of time to spend it hating you, when I could get so much more out of staying your friend. So if... If you're okay with me. I'd really like to still be, friends... Mari." Taliyah felt herself blush slightly, hoping that a silly nickname wasn't too forward all of a sudden.


"See the sights, is it?" A haughty, tired voice interrupted Lucille and Seilan's conversation, Miz stepping up between them-- not that she split up much with her height. "Shall we, then? If I'm to learn more of your kind and see the value in humans, I must be taught your civilization and how you live, no? And..." Her confidence shrivelled a little, arms slowly folding, looking down to hide her face behind her hair. "I... Do not, prefer, to be around any other humans of this... Group. A-And Xety can't show me around since she, doesn't know any better than I do. S-So, it has to be you two. Hmph!" She huffed and stuck her nose up, which just gave a clearer view of her face and the darker red tinge that was showing due to her embarrassment. "Shall we?"


"A date, is it?" Asami wasn't surely if Bladen, bless his soul, could handle spoiling her with a full day of what she had in mind for a city like this. There was so much that could be done here in Chiaca that, a full eight hours until sundown couldn't possibly begin to cover it all. The place was a far cry from Vaia where entertainment was spread thin and most lived rural lives for comfort and survival instead of excitement. "Mmmmm... Well. If you think you can handle me by yourself, then you're free to try, little bird... After you~" The gently took his hand and smirked, pulling herself in close to lean against him. "Make sure to show me a good time..."


Ariana had hopped off the wagon and put the hood of a cloak up to cover her ears, about to head over to Ayane as she called out for her name, but the priestess beat her to the oni. She paused for a moment, tilting her head somewhat. She hadn't spoken with Taiyou yet, but it wouldn't hurt, of course. She seemed quite amiable and forthcoming... "I'm here, Ayane. Well met, Priestess. If it please you both, I would like to see what this town has for sale and for street food... I'm rather hungry and my group didn't get the chance to stop in Hwein when it was charging to find Marina. Would it be fine for the three of us--"

"The four of us~" Mae's voice rang out, right into Ariana's ear, the cat flinching back and drawing her sword. The oni appeared in a flutter of color, grinning ear to ear with her eyes half closed. "Touchy, touchy. I'm your ally~ It's already been weeks... Were I going to kill any of you, I would have, goodness..."

"Rrrhhh... Don't sneak up on me. I won't stop my arm next time... mmh. The four of us... Would it be fine for us to venture into the city to see what is available?" She looked at Ayane, especially, staring right into her eyes. "Unless, Princess, it would be favorable for us to be alone. Please, speak your mind."


Thesephine had almost been about to hug into Sollowy and forget about her problems for a moment, when one of her problems approached her. "Mmm... You should be fine to explore the city, so long as you don't get into any altercations. Lazuli, I expect that you'll be able to both keep your Mistress safe and keep her true to her agreement?"

Lazuli stepped forth, covered by a cloak, nodding. "Yes. I shall make sure that no harm befalls my Mistress, nor shall I allow her to escape the town unless discussed beforehand. Though, if she is to get serious, I will not be able to apprehend her. She is much more powerful than I am."

"Gehh... I'm sure she won't want to destroy you, just for that. Hopefully... Anyway. Think of this, Hecate, as a way for you to gather information on a few things. The current goings on of the world, the current magical level of the beings that exist here, and how everyone lives and exists... You seem to think that you are not a danger to the people of the world. Once you see how weak everyone is compared to you... I'm sure you'll understand. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Thesephine grabbed onto Sollowy's arm and dragged her towards the inn. She needed cuddles, stat.


"Hey, big dog. Sup?" Amera caught up to Ember and tapped a fist against her arm, smirking. "Didn't get a chance to talk with you before, cuz, uh... I was dealing with some feelings, but, I think I got a handle on myself, now. You wanna see the city together? Throw some dice, eat something nice, maybe beat each other up a bit? I know they've got some training grounds here... And I'm feeling a little lethargic. You'll probably wipe the floor with me, but it'd be a good way to gauge where I'm at. What do ya say?"


Meridrya cooled herself with a folding fan she'd pulled from her belongings and lazily rested on the front of one of the wagons, glancing gently at Fyl. "Mmm... If you've an idea in mind, by all means, take me away. Honestly, all of that magic spent in the Wastes; I felt like I was going to die. Never again shall I agree to such a strenuous activity... Hahh..." If Nessraya hadn't agreed to help her with the act, she likely would have died. Sending four people away over such a distance, it was frighteningly expensive. At least she had time to relax now, but she was still tired, even weeks after doing it. "I need a vacation... I thought this would be something like one, but I've done more work taking care of miss Demon King than anything in my day to day helping my father. Goodness gracious..." She didn't know who that spoke poorly of, really. Was Thesephine overworking her or was her Father not working hard enough? "Mmmh..."


Hwein... Tenebria felt much more at peace here. Both away from the country of monsters and through the horrible sucking feeling that accompanied the Wastes, this place held many more humans, so even if the group she was travelling with still scaring her sometimes, this almost made her feel at home. With how Coteon was acting, perhaps this would even make for a better home... "Uhmmmm... X-Xalr-- Er, Tundyssa..." Tenna approached the dragon carefully, placing herself beside her. "Can... Would... Er... Would you be willing to accompannn, ny me around town...? I don't want to... Or, well... I-If I get into an altercation, I don't really think I could handle myself. Nnn, n-not that I think I will, but... Just, in case. I'm hoping no one recognnn, nnnnnn... Recognn, nizes me, here."


"Lady Astraea, Jade. I do hope I am not interrupting." Lavinia appeared behind the two of them, hood up, but armor off, sporting the cloak she was wearing, some fancy knee high boots, a pair of tights coming out from under a thigh length skirt, and long gloves that disappeared into the sleeves of a short she was almost certainly wearing under the cloak, all in black. "I couldn't help overhearing talk of a spa, and even if I can't feel that my body is in pain, I can feel the slowness in my limbs from overworking them... A professional working my muscles sounds absolutely heavenly, right now. Though... I do hope, once again, that I am not interrupting anything. If I'm getting in the way of your planned outing, of course, feel free to tell me, and I shall leave you two to it." She smiled between the both of them. "What shall it be?"

Edited by Mel the DM

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Bladen smiled, his cheeks a slight pink, but he didn't try and pull away. Instead, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze before looking out at the city. "Hmm, well, I... Am afraid that I don't know this city very well. Or, well, at all. But I thought we could go shopping maybe, I could buy you something nice? Or if there's something that you wanted to do here, we could do that too. All I know is that I want to make you happy." He leaned over and kissed her cheek, before starting to walk down the road towards the rest of the city, still hand in hand with Asami. I just want to give her the best day I can. Cherish the moments we have together. It's all we can do.


"Ah, a... spa? I am unfamiliar with what this is, but if thou would enjoy it, then this is acceptable to me. But if you would rather visit this... Greg's? Then we can do that instead." Even as she suggested that though, Lavinia joined them, expressing interest in joining them for the spa. The offer to not join if she would be in the way horrified Astraea, and she quickly moved to reassure the vampire. "No, no, please. I would be most pleased if thou would join us. I am not one who should be stopping others from doing things, I am simply hoping to become friends with more of the group. So, if thou are interested in joining us at this spa, it would be wonderful for me. I am, though, assuming that Jade has no issue either. But, surely thou does not have any problem? Right?"

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