Ages ago, in a continent where mortals and spirits of providence resided with one another through a cruel pyramid of hierarchy, a revolutionary of iron perseverance and strength revolted against the lords of the heavens, and waged war that shook the lands and reshaped civilization for the eons to come.
His influence conceived an empire of mortals, armed with weapons forged by ordinary fire and blessed by the blood of the fallen celestials. Through sacrifice and their tenacious will, the mortals rose victorious after decades of bloodshed, shattering the thousand-year-long law that held humanity chained to the dirt. From His battle against Heaven did an empire of tellurian supremacy thrive, bringing forth a new reign across the continent, establishing reconstituted law and order for the sake of the godless.
However, as even the mightiest is susceptible to the deterioration of the mind through aging, the revolutionary-turned-king began showing symptoms of dementia, worsening over time through the curse known as immortality after fortuitously consuming the souls of His slain foes.
What came after was a series of disasters that led the world into unfathomable discord.
A war was triggered between the mighty kingdom of His rule and His theocratic adversaries with the intention of rescuing the remnants of their fallen god, now nothing but a crystallized fragment used for the greed of humanity. His poor leadership initiated the death of thousands outside the capital city. And after His successor, His firstborn son had miraculously managed to diplomatically cease the war for a set period of time, the demented king ascended from His throne and chastised His beloved offspring, believing that His firstborn had fallen into the hands of the gods and their deceiving words.
An execution soon followed after as their lifeless corpse stained the memories of the innocent princess, whose will and determination strengthened over the course of her adolescence.
From the flames of her brother’s resolve, her fortitude became impenetrable, succeeding in their foolish dream of world peace, and abandoned the empire with a group of adventurers looking to imbue their names into the fables to come.
As they walk through the adversarial environment and collect the trust of the foreigners, the denounced princess seeks to build a nation from the people of the world, and defeat the malice that lurks beneath goodwill.
Such an adventure will not remain simple, however, as this world was forged from the raging inferno of conflict and suffering, and they will be met by an entourage of opposers whose ends would spell doom for her endeavors.
Location: Forest of Northias, Northern Territory of Exultius Interactions: Idalia Eluard, Reymond Heracles
Chapter 0: Prologue
On a somber and rain-soaked evening, three hooded figures emerged from the mist, their footsteps muffled by the heavy downpour. At the forefront, a lady clutched a lantern, casting an illuminating glow upon the path ahead, revealing an isolated cabin nestled deep within the woods, shrouded from prying eyes, its windows darkened in obscurity and interiors concealed. A collection of protective talismans encircled the cabin, serving as a magical barrier against the potential encroachments of the vile beasts, ensuring the sanctity of their home. As the trio approached, the cabin's sheltering eaves offered respite from the rain, permitting them to expose their faces beneath the lantern's light, suspended from the ceiling by the wooden door.
The crimson-haired woman, whose visage was renowned throughout the region, exercised utmost caution in revealing her face beyond the walls of the castle she once called home. A momentary sigh escaped her lips as she conducted a swift appraisal of the cabin's surroundings before delving into her satchel in pursuit of the key that unlocked the door before her. It was then that a deep, resonant voice, belonging to a man whose appearance bore an astonishing likeness to a deity of the old, echoed from behind her.
"You appear disappointed," the man remarked, his voice devoid of both sympathy and ire, notwithstanding the frankness of his words. "The timber is aged and fragile, but it shall afford you temporary refuge. I reckon it'll endure for a span of approximately one week, before any inkling of your whereabouts dawns upon the Imperial Knights."
The young girl snickered before negating with a subtle shake of her head. Swiftly, she retrieved the keys lodged within the pockets of her satchel and employed them to unlock the door before her. "No, this is plenty enough. It's just that... Well," she twisted the keys and opened the door to the cabin, the air of the forest and old furniture brushing past her as she continued, "It's a little embarrassing to admit it, but I think I've been too spoiled."
The third member of the trio chimed in as they entered the cabin, gently closing the door in their wake. "As anticipated, our princess is finding it quite difficult to live with normalcy. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. Just don't be comfortable anywhere, like this guy over here."
The white-haired knight, who had engaged in informal conversation with her male counterpart earlier, shared a light-hearted chuckle alongside the princess. "Indeed," the princess replied, "My brother once told me a story about Reymond sleeping between two boulders, and he claimed it was an undisturbed slumber. Is that accurate?"
"Quite so. You'd be astonished by his adaptability, despite his demeanor."
Both young women shared a hearty laugh, deepening their camaraderie as they savored their last hours together. Meanwhile, Reymond, the tall knight stationed near the entrance with an impassive expression, chose not to respond. Instead, he calmly drew the curtains shut, impervious to the playful banter between the two ladies that had been spun around him.
"The fated night draws nigh." he spoke with a hint of warning, alerting the princess to be on edge. The blush on her face from the laughter earlier disappeared as the other white-haired knight winced, slightly bothered by his words. Regardless, he continued.
"Get some rest. You'll need the energy for tomorrow when you disembark to Stadtholm."
Short and concise, Reymond immediately switched his attention to the other knight, "Idalia, brew her some camellian tea. It'll help her sleep and reserve her energy for tomorrow."
"It doesn't hurt to share some last moments with Solara, you know. Aren't there things you want to say to her as well before we separate our paths? I recall you had a few..."
Reymond swiftly shook his head, discarding his poncho to unveil the dark steel armor concealed beneath. Without uttering a word, he proceeded to the kitchen area, where he settled onto a wooden chair and placed his sheathed longsword upon the table, next to Idalia's. With closed eyes and folded arms, he awaited the moment when the clock would strike the twelfth hour.
Idalia sighed, offering her commentary, "This guy," she gestured towards Reymond, "Well, he's not mistaken. As per the grandfather clock over there, we have slightly less than four hours until the scheduled arrival of your new allies. We should be reasonably prepared."
Solara, the crimson-haired princess, gracefully removed her raincoat and hung it alongside Reymond's on the hanger near the front door. Upon mention of their comrades, she promptly raised her chin inquiringly, "Ah, that reminds me. Have they received the letters without any complications?"
Idalia nodded assuredly, her demeanor exuding confidence. "My crows returned unscathed, their pouches empty. Typically, any unforeseen hitches would have them in a state of panic upon their return. The entire process transpired seamlessly, so there's no cause for concern."
The princess seated herself gracefully upon the antique couch, her hand gently resting upon her chest as she emitted an audible sigh, a tangible manifestation of her apprehension. It was evident that the prospect of the letters failing to reach their intended recipients had weighed heavily on her mind. "Given my inability to personally deliver these missives, you cannot fathom the anxiety I experienced, fearing that they might fall into the hands of an adversary. Thank you for your help, Idalia. Just how can I pay you ba-"
The silver knight promptly silenced the princess with a gentle gesture. "Hush. Our destinies are intertwined, and we not only pledged to your brother our support in your endeavors, but we also vowed to extend our aid to you without any expectation of repayment. Such acts of kindness are the essence of true friendship."
Solara, though composed, regarded Idalia with a curious gaze. "Is that truly the case? I was unaware that friends... did favors for one another without expecting favors in return."
Idalia paused, the herbal packets hovering just inches from the water's surface, as she comprehended that the princess's isolation had fostered a skewed perception of friendship, akin to acquaintances and loyal subjects. She resumed her tea-making task, albeit with a slight pause in her movements, her heart heavy with empathy. "Simply treat your allies as you would your devoted subjects," Idalia advised, blending the herbs with water heated through basic magic. The silver knight then handed the prepared drink to the princess, and stated, "Lead by example and inspiration like your father during his battle against the gods, and your brother who ushered in an era of peace during turmoil. The Evernights are... quite eccentric in that regard. You'll know what I mean soon enough."
Solara's eyes widened as she fixed her gaze upon Idalia. Unable to articulate her response, she accepted the tea and cradled it in her hands, feeling its warmth seep into her palms, evoking memories of her dearly departed brother.
And the comforting embrace of her father, whose descent into madness had shattered their family.
-- PART 2
Paymonia is a vast continent where not all people have access to the materials beyond their respective countries. Thus, individuals hailing from diverse countries and tribes frequently encounter challenges in communicating with one another, potentially exposing themselves to severe societal consequences. To make possible the dissemination of Solara's letter to those residing beyond the borders of Exultius, she initially embarked upon a strategic endeavor to dismantle the existing barriers, leveraging the connections given to her by her deceased brother, who personally requested that she gather a small force of allies that would help her in her adventures.
The names inscribed upon the notes left by the late prince presented a difficult challenge. Some among them were preoccupied with their personal aspirations, while others resided beyond the territorial boundaries of Exultius. The task of extending an invitation to her guild to these individuals was far from straightforward. To dispatch ravens as messengers entailed a considerable risk, as any failure in their mission could potentially ignite a significant international dispute, particularly if the contents of the letter were to fall into unintended hands. Therefore, she found herself compelled to rely upon an acquaintance endowed with an extraordinary ability: the capacity to clandestinely dispatch spiritual avian messengers into adversary territories, avoiding detection by vigilant sentinels.
Idalia Eluard, holding the position as the advisor in the service of Prince Wilhelm of Exultius, assumed the role of emissary on behalf of the princess who aspired to initiate a revolutionary movement. As a mark of reverence for the late prince, disregarding her personal aversion to the innate powers bestowed upon her from birth, Idalia conducted a ritual intended to summon spirits from the realm beyond and imbue them within the bodies of deceased crows. This arcane process bestowed upon her the ability to fashion creatures existing in a dimension between life and death within the medium, where they would perpetually abide in a state of perpetual existence and death. Until such time as Idalia chose to dispel the enchantment, these five avian entities were consecrated to devote their eternal lifespans to serving Solara Evernight’s requests.
These same birds would ultimately serve as vessels for missives dispatched to the five warriors and scholars, bearing correspondence elucidating the circumstances and Solara's overarching goal of establishing a renegade guild poised to catalyze transformative change in the world by eradicating war and animosity. Given the allure of substantial rewards, certain individuals might be incentivized by the prospects of fame or wealth, while others could be driven solely by the idealism associated with the revolutionary cause. The passage of time alone would discern the true motivations of these individuals, as Solara patiently awaited the gathering of her future allies, a moment foreseen to occur when the clock struck the twelfth hour.
With regard to the content of the letter and the directives in the second scroll, the text explained that on the ninth day of May, approximately one week following the perusal of the epistle, the skies shall be void of stars and shall weep until the stroke of midnight. At such time as the addressee is prepared to embark from their respective location, they are enjoined to return the aforementioned letter to the crow that will manifest at the place of their previous encounter with said avian. Upon relinquishing the letter, the crow shall proceed to reduce it to ashes, which shall then be enclosed within a receptacle fashioned from silver. These ashes are to be disseminated within an open expanse.
Following this dispersal, the ashes shall coalesce and transmute into a spectral entity, assuming the semblance of a sphere. This apparition shall then guide the recipient to the location where Solara anticipates their arrival. Towards the conclusion of the travel, it is stipulated that the spiritual escort shall evaporate upon making contact with an oversized statue of a primordial deity associated with Northias. Only upon the convergence of all five such apparitions with this statue shall the precipitation desist.
Finding harmony in the cold isn't easy. Yet I can.
Status: Tired, hungry, uninjured
Fear. Stress. Anxiety.
It was all consuming. It was the only thing on her mind in the lucid moments of consciousness the girl had. She couldn’t get her mind off of what she had done. The blood on her. The taking of a life. It was all her doing… It was all her fault. She had just been training with her chaos root, like any other day; and like every single time she couldn’t get the hang of it. There was a hole in her memory. When the girl had come to, her mentor was dead. She had no recollection of it, but it had to be her. There was no other way. How else would she have blood on her?
Opal had always been told she was dangerous. But now, she saw the consequences firsthand. She saw it herself.
That was hours ago though. Opal now lay in a carriage taking her away from the city, as far away as she could get. She not only wanted to get away from the consequences but escape the memory. Opal had no plan, no goal, nothing she was working towards. Right now, she just wanted to get away. However, she was losing her memory more and more often. Holes in it where she couldn’t remember what she had done. Granted, this had been happening for some time, but normally it was rather infrequent. But since she had run away, there were multiple hours she couldn’t remember.
It scared her.
Opal closed her eyes, exhausted, but knew no sleep would come her way.
Veliona almost jumped out of her skin as the sound emitted from right near her ear. She sat up, only for some sort of rave, or crow to drop a letter and fly off…
Whether it was fate, or a coincidence mattered not. This was a chance for Opal to get a roof over her head, and perhaps receive assistance from others. Having nowhere left to turn, she would head for the Northern Territory of Exultius.
The next day it happened again as she arrived by carriage in Exultius. More holes in her memory. More peculiar belongings ending up in her possession. Money, a backpack, food and water. More blood stained her hands and some of the belongings. Opal felt a chill down her spine every time she came to. But at least she could afford a room.
Having not slept for over 24 hours, Opal slept fitfully for much longer than she thought she would. That night, she woke as the clock neared 10 and set out into the sodden night. The crow had given her the letter just before she’d entered Exultius. So, it wasn’t far. The woman set out, and waited where she felt the crow would be. At midnight, she had to walk a bit farther, but she found the crow. The message was handed over, and some sort of sphere formed from the remnants of the paper… Opal followed the sphere north.
This was starting to feel weird to her, however. She was having second thoughts. What was all this? What was it about? Why all the secrecy? Was she about to be abducted? Was there a bounty on her from Ukrethia? Opal hugged herself, as if trying to calm and soothe herself. It was getting to be too much. Maybe she shouldn’t have run from home. Maybe she should’ve just stayed and faced the consequences. What was a noble to do, suddenly living the life of a homeless peasant?
Lost in her thoughts, she almost walked right into the statue. It was dark and no light penetrated the darkness aside from a candle she’d taken from the inn’s room. Even that was only sheltered by an umbrella she’d found in her bag after regaining consciousness at one point.
She was here, and she might as well see this through…
Opal put her back to the statue and looked around in the darkness. She would have jumped at the slightest of sounds, but the incessant cacophony of the rain drowned out any noises that could scare her. The complete pitch black of the night blocked out any shapes that could play tricks on her.
The girl’s hair caught the faint light of the candle, making her hair shine like a gem. Rainbow-like, as the light refracted and offered many colors to see. Almost like a beacon in the dark. However, she obviously didn’t look her part anymore. Her hair and dress were messy. While her clothes looked like that of a noble, or at least someone from a high class, her backpack and umbrella were befitting of a simple commoner. While the lack of light may hide this now, it was clear to anyone that something wasn’t right with her lack of consistent apparel and accessories. Those more empathetic may even feel that something was slightly off.
But for now, Opal was left alone with her thoughts, and she wished she wasn’t…
Location: Primordial deity statue, Northias Interactions: Young lady with iridescent hair
Chapter 0: Prologue
“You know… You should put your face to better use.”
Molten gold hues flickered up to briefly acknowledge the comment before returning to the tea set before him. In a practised motion, the kettle of hot water was lifted and the tinier ceramic teapot was filled to the brim with hot water. Gently wetting the rim of the pot, Sun Xiang eased the lid back onto the teapot, “Well, am I not putting it to good use?”
“Why work here when theaters will do anything for a face like yours?”
A quiet chuckle passed Sun Xiang’s lips as he picked up the ceramic teapot, “Then, would you patronise the theaters if I chose to work there instead?” Smoothing a free hand over to the lid, the hot water was poured from the spout into the awaiting cup, filling it to the brim as the belly of the pot was emptied of its contents.
“Well, of course, I am a loyal customer after all,” The answer came in a heartbeat, without thought or hesitation.
“I am honoured, Mr Cheng,” Sun Xiang picked up the little bamboo holder perched at the corner of the tea set. Holding the dried tea leaves out to the customer who leaned in to admire the gentle fragrance, nodding in approval of the fine quality of tea leaves offered by the tea house. “However, have you heard of the saying that goes, 演戏的是疯子, 看戏的是傻子?” Sun Xiang offered as he removed the lid of the teapot yet again for the second time and gently shook the bamboo holder of tea leaves into the pot.
“Not at all, will you care to enlighten me?”
“Very well, it simply means that madmen are those who act in plays and fools are those who watch the plays,” Sun Xiang offered the translation plainly, allowing a moment of silence for his words to sink in before he added, “I would rather not be known as a madman, I’m not too sure about Mr Cheng yourself?” Practised hands moved elegantly across the tea set as the teapot of dried tea leaves was filled with hot water and sealed firmly with the lid over the rim.
“Well, I certainly would rather prefer to be known as a tea enjoyer than a fool,” The customer agreed with a hearty laugh before adding, “Besides, it will be a waste of your tea-brewing skills.”
“You speak as though only my tea tastes good, my co-workers make perfectly fragrant tea as well,” Sun Xiang laughed as the water in the cup was poured away and replaced with freshly brewed tea.
“But no one else provides quite the view as you do,” The customer chortled.
Molten gold hues lifted from the cup of tea seated in his hands. His gaze languidly traced the smiling features of his customer before a smile painted his lips. How simple. How predictable. The same superficial compliments, the same simple attraction to all things beautiful. They meant no harm, in fact, each of them approached him with the same sincerity as the previous had. A conversation he had with many faces and none had deviated from the same trajectory. It was old, and if he was being honest, boring. Sun Xiang placed the freshly brewed tea before his customer, “Well, unfortunately, this View has to go get ready for his mid-day performance or his boss will kick him out for slacking, so please enjoy the tea and your time here.”
Bidding the customer goodbye, Sun Xiang stepped away from the table and made a beeline to the back of the shop. The stairs took the male to the second floor where he was greeted with the familiar sight of a long aisle of closed doors, of which the one at the very end belonged to him. The room he owned had been fashioned to his liking. Trinkets and toys lined the shelves, and each curious item which had piqued his interest found a spot in his little room. However, as how novelty wore off with time, these little trinkets gradually lost their appeal and now sat in their little spot to gather dust until their fickle owner decided to pick them up again. "It seems," Sun Xiang shrugged off his work attire to exchange it for a more vibrant one, "I have a little guest with me today."
"What pleasure do I owe you, little one?" Honey gold orbs flickered towards the black feathered creature perched by his windowsill. With a wave of his hand, he beckoned the raven closer. The intelligent creature seemed to understand the unspoken command as it hopped into the room and with a flap of its wings, glided across the room to perch on the Draculus’ shoulders. “You are dead yet alive,” Sun Xiang murmured as a hand extended to greet the bird. Docile, it allowed the male to give it a light head rub before a letter was pressed into Sun Xiang’s palm.
It wasn’t often that people wrote to him. And the sender was definitely a surprise to the male. The letter spoke of the perils that the world would soon face, it held a promise for the better and an invitation to see through that promise. Setting the letter down on his desk as he reached the end of the letter, Sun Xiang turned to grab his di zi off the shelf. He should make haste, it was time for his mid-day performance. His last mid-day performance at this teahouse.
Perhaps he should also prepare for the dramatics of his boss when he submits his resignation the next day.
Time had made him a fickle man and the Draculus had half the mind to ditch the plan of even making it to the statue with the skies trying to cry up a flood. While the letter had made him aware of the crying and starless skies, it did little to improve his overall experience of getting himself to the designated location with a glass-candy-like orb as his tour guide. To be fair, the orb had been a perfect guide who did not lead them in the wrong direction. However, having to spend a few days cooped up in the tiny carriage, with nothing to do but stare at the same dreary scenery of dark clouds and pouring rain, Sun Xiang felt his tolerance for boredom being tested and it did not help that the claustrophobic confines gave the male war flashbacks to his slavery days where war slaves were packed like sardines into a space far too small for the number of bodies it hosted. Thankfully, before Sun Xiang could consider anything drastic, his journey on the carriage came to an end.
Passing a word of thanks to the coachman, a white umbrella adorned with golden outlined peonies emerged from the open door of the carriage. With an umbrella to keep himself dry from the rain, Sun Xiang alighted the carriage, grateful that he had accepted the umbrella that his ex-boss (aka the owner of the teahouse) insisted that he bring along. The middle-aged man had slapped his knees and spoke with such confidence that he could feel it in his bones that a storm was approaching and he refused to see Sun Xiang looking like a drowned chicken. A peculiar way to express one’s concern but Sun Xiang accepted and was thankful for the goodwill nonetheless.
Like a compass pointing a steady north, the orb guided him ahead. And it wasn’t long before his destination came into view. Or more specifically, the presence of an individual with hair of iridescence reflecting the soft glow of the candle into faint shards of rainbows caught his attention. Like a moth drawn to a flame, Sun Xiang drew closer to the figure crouching near the statue. As he neared, Sun Xiang got a closer look at the young lady’s attire - messy and hastily put together. If one’s attire spoke of their status, this young lady’s attire seemed to aim to confuse. However, Sun Xiang had learnt better than to judge one by their appearance.
Slowing to a stop as he neared the young lady, the Draculus tipped his umbrella back and offered her a smile, “Hello there, are you perhaps here for the same reason as I am?”
Location: Primordial deity statue, Northias Interactions: The other two at the statue
Rhia looked over at her fellow nurse. Mara, a kind human girl who had been here even longer than Rhia had, and was the first person to show her the ropes here in the medical zone of the barracks. The two had grown quite close over the years they worked together, and Rhia even thought of her as a mentor of sorts as well. So for her to catch Rhia in her room packing up her things for a long trip without even saying anything to her must've been a bit of a shock. "Sorry, Mara... I didn't know how to tell you..." She told her friend, as she used her work packing up food, traveling gear, and medical supplies as an excuse to avoid eye contact with her. She didn't know if she could bear seeing the hurt expression on Mara's face.
"Where are you going?"
"I... don't know." Rhia admitted. The letter she'd received from that spiritual crow didn't say anything about where she was supposed to go, just that there would be a statue of some kind at her destination... Such secrecy was warranted, of course, considering the remaining contents of the letter she had received from the crow. "I just know that I need to go. There's something important that I need to take care of."
Mara clutched her hands over her chest, taking a few steps towards her. "Is it a family matter? Or... does it have to do with the prince?"
Rhia stopped for a moment, glancing in Mara's direction. Getting the first look at Mara's expression since she entered the room, Rhia didn't see any hurt or anger in her face, instead her eyes were filled with worry and concern for her. Of course, why wouldn't they be? If she'd already figured out it was about the prince, naturally she'd be worried about Rhia's safety, considering his eventual fate. Still, Rhia was glad Mara wasn't angry at her for leaving, at least. Knowing that there was no way she could answer that question out loud, Rhia went back to her packing.
Mara took another step forward. "Rhia... I know you feel about the prince's death. He was a wonderful man, and was a true friend even to those like us who only saw him a few times. Even I wish I could repay him for his kindness to us. But whatever it was he was doing, whatever you think it is that he left unfinished with his death... It's not your responsibility. You were just one of the many medics who tended to his injuries after combat... You're one of the last people who should be expected to shoulder his burdens."
While Mara spoke, Rhia put the last of her supplies into her satchel, before turning around and slinging it over her shoulder while she looked at Mara once more. "Ordinarily you'd be right. It wouldn't be my responsibility. But it seems like fate has other plans for me today..." She said, as she started walking towards the door to her room.
"What do you mean? Did something happen...?" Mara wondered aloud, watching her partner make her way to the exit. At Rhia's silence, Mara decided to speak up again. "I guess there's no changing your mind, then... Be careful. Don't get in over your head out there. And... come back soon, okay?"
Rhia sighed in response, knowing she likely won't be coming back here for a very long time. "I'll... see what I can do. Take care of yourself, Mara."
Give the letter to the bird, take the resulting ashes, spread them out, and get a magical orb to point the way forward... Whoever set up this system really didn't want to take any chances that their meeting point could be discovered, did they? Of course, with this being her first time outside the city (other than many frequent family trips to MKC when she was younger), such guidance was probably necessary for her as well. She, admittedly, always felt lost even in the main parts of the city, let alone outside the city gates. So she made sure to follow the orb's directions, holding an umbrella over her head to shield herself from the falling rain. Well, as well as an umbrella could do that in such a downpour, anyway. Her shoes were unfortunately not spared from the rain as she made her way across the wet ground.
As she traveled, her body focusing on following her spherical guide, her mind wandered elsewhere. While she had seen the prince on many an occasion at the barracks, the princess was someone Rhia did not know much about on a personal level, having only seen her on a few occasions when she came to visit her brother at the barracks. But this seemed like an incredibly bold move for her to make all of a sudden. Breaking off from her kingdom to chase after her brother's wishes for a better world? Just what did the prince leave her that drove her to make this decision?
Still, the idea that Rhia could have a chance to make a difference, not just for a few workers or a handful of soldiers, but for Exultius and potentially the rest of the land as well, caught her attention too strongly for her to ignore. Ever since the prince's execution, Rhia had started to question if the Godslayer was fit to be a ruler anymore, or if his continued rule would only lead to the suffering of his subjects in the future. Whatever Solara had in mind, if it could ensure the future of the kingdom, and she believed Rhia was somehow able to help her achieve that goal, then she would offer whatever assistance she could.
Coming back to the moment, Rhia peered through the darkness of the night as best she could as she walked further and further from her home. Being of a race that originally lived underground, she could see through the darkness better than most... or at least, that was Rhia's assumption, as she never really found an opportunity to confirm it, nor had she been curious enough about it to try. But it made sense to her, anyway. She found a certain amount of comfort in darkness at least, and she could definitely attribute that to her heritage. Either way, up ahead of her she spotted a small light next to a statue, though in the darkness and rain it was difficult to make out any details until she got closer. Still, these must be her companions, she thought.
Sure enough, the orb led her straight to the statue, and disintegrated, indicating that she had arrived at her destination. Now all there was to do was wait for the rest to come... In the meantime, she looked over at the two people who had come before her. One of them was a man with a pale complexion, probably a Draculus, standing over the other with a white umbrella decorated with golden flowers. Quite different from the black umbrella with a purple trim that Rhia had. But they both matched their respective attires quite well, so Rhia silently acknowledged a fellow veteran in the world of fashion.
The other figure, on the other hand, was quite striking to her in a number of ways. First, while messy from a no doubt long trip, her attire was of a sort that Rhia recognized instantly. Many of the people she'd been acquainted with due to her parents dressed in similar ways, with fanciful robes and dresses, but this woman's outfit gave off a sort of radiance that one couldn't just find anywhere. That radiance was also reflected in the prismatic hues of her hair as well, which appeared to fade from white to a whole rainbow of colors depending on how the light from the candle in her hands hit it. Rhia had certainly never seen hair do that before.
But what caught Rhia's attention the most was how despondent she looked, as she leaned against the statue behind her, her eyes almost locked on the ground in front of her in a distant stare even as the man approached her first to speak to her. Rhia knew that look... That was the same look she had seen on many new recruits who had returned from their first combat encounters. That look of shock and fear that came from taking a life with your own hands, it was one that Rhia could never erase from her memory no matter how hard she tried, how horrified the soldiers looked while they processed that they killed a living, breathing person like themselves. Yet, the look on the woman's face was slightly different from that... She didn't look to be in quite as deep a shock as the soldiers, but it definitely seemed like something of that nature at least. The look in her eyes was too similar. Perhaps she watched someone die, or took a life in a way that prevented her from seeing the outcome...? Rhia couldn't be sure exactly what was different or why.
Either way, it seemed like the girl needed comforting. So while the Draculus man came and greeted her, Rhia approached as well, first responding to the man's question. "Considering how far out of the way this place is, I'm guessing we're all going to be here for the same reason. There's not a lot of other reasons anyone would be here, anyway." She said, before turning to address the shellshocked girl with them. She gave her a warm smile, and spoke softly to her, or as softly as she could over the roaring rain. "Hey there. My name's Rhia. What's yours?" She asked the girl, knowing that establishing a personal connection with someone was the first step towards helping them recover from what Rhia assumed was a traumatic event for her.
Location: Von Styrmir Estate, Orichalcos / Northias Forest, Exultius Interactions: Various
Prologue - "With Wings Tempered by Tempests"
There he sat, under moonlight, on the soft grass of his family’s courtyard. It must’ve been late; he could see dew forming on the tips of the nearby flora. Yet here he was, still fully awake. At least the cicadas were keeping him company. Their buzzing rang clearly in his ears.
Insomnia would usually strike Alexander when something weighed on his mind. In the first place, such a thing was rather uncharacteristic of him. He tended to sleep early, which gave him ample time in the morning to prepare for the new day. But, like anyone else, he was human. The stresses of life could get to be unbearable for him too, contrary to what his subjects believed.
…Which is why he finds himself awake. In times like these, he made a habit of laying amongst nature, just as he did now. On occasion, he would even roll around in it — fauna and all — if his mind was working through something; the movement would often help him to gather his thoughts, though he would leave with stains on his clothes afterwards. The laughter-inducing sensation of grass tickling his feet, not to mention the peaceful ambiance that accompanied the stillness of night — Alexander found solace in such things. In the end, these simple comforts would ease his worries, cradling him into a deep slumber. He would feel like a child again, with not a care in the world or duties to fulfill.
He stared intently at the letter in his hands. With the emblem of Exultius’ royal family stamped at its fold, it was unmistakable as to who it originated from: Princess Solara Evernight, the sister of his dear friend. Her letter would bring back recollections of the prince's execution. He could still remember it with vivid detail. Of course he did. How could he forget the fact that he remained idle during it all? As Prince Wilhelm faced the guillotine’s blade, there he stood in the crowd, in silent acquiescence. He left an innocent man to die a wrongful death. He might as well have killed the prince himself.
He shook his head. Now was not the time to dwell on past regrets. A chance to act had presented itself to Alexander, and he would be remiss not to take it.
The shuffling of feet behind him alerted Alexander to the presence of his father. “Sleep eludes you as well, I take it?” On his left hand was a mug Alexander had sculpted for him many years ago. It had been a while since he’d taken lessons in pottery, much less practiced, but he could still recognize his own handiwork. Those slight grooves in the cup’s rim were a result of a mistake he’d committed while making it. He was disappointed in himself then, to say the least. But despite its obvious flaws, his father accepted the gift willingly. For young Alexander, praise from his father trumped even his own perfectionism. If his father liked it, that was all that mattered.
As the baron drew closer, Alexander could smell fresh coffee wafting out from his cup. The baron took a seat beside him, offering him the beverage. “Have this. It is not caffeinated.”
“Much appreciated, Father.” A hearty sip. Alexander would have drank more, had the coffee not been recently-brewed (and, by extension, exceedingly hot). He would blow on the cup, hoping to reduce its temperature, before drinking it for a second time.
Wordlessly, the baron put his arms over Alexander, pulling him close and ruffling his hair. Alexander could sense there was more to this strange interaction, but he struggled to find the words to explain himself. And so, for the next foreseeable minutes, the two of them sat with not a hush escaping their lips.
“Look after yourself, Alexander.”
Ah. At those words, Alexander finally understood.
“I will.” His father was simply worried for him.
Alexander would set out to meet with Princess Solara tomorrow, a plan his father initially disapproved of. When he first told his father of Princess Solara’s letter and its contents, the baron expressly forbade him from following through. “Have you gone mad?! If this reaches Invictus’ ears, he will kill you!” He rarely raised his voice at Alexander, but that was one of the few instances that he did.
“A revolutionary you are not Alexander! I will not have my son risk his life for such folly!”
Tensions ran high as the exchange between them grew increasingly heated.
“You are a coward, Father! Do you not see what the new war is doing to Orichalcos? The casualties among our ranks? The uncertainty in the faces of our people? The Godslayer is leading Exultius down a path from which there is no return, and we must put a stop to it!”
Part of Alexander wished he had chosen his words more carefully. He knew his father was merely concerned, as any parent would be. He knew ever since the prince’s death that he had grown more protective of him and Isidora. But instead of exercising empathy, Alexander had called him a coward.
“Father… I—” A stutter. “I… apologize for what I said before.” He didn’t mean it. To Alexander, the baron was no coward. He was Albert von Styrmir — wielder of the Terraforming Blades, a Slayer of the highest caliber, a walking catastrophe capable of felling mountains. Most importantly, he was “pops,” an irreplaceable treasure.
Unexpectedly, the baron would let out a laugh that would penetrate the night’s quiet. “Ha! You have nothing to apologize for, my son.” A knuckle to the head. The baron would ruffle his hair again. “I must remember not to treat you as a child. You are nearly 30 years of age, for god’s sake! You can make your own choices, my opinions be damned.” A finger to the cheek, and a light pinch. “But do not forget, my son: know that you always have me to turn to.”
That night, for the first time since his childhood, Alexander would fall soundly asleep on his father’s lap.
The journey to the Forest of Northias proved rather troublesome, though not for the reasons one would expect. Alexander was already familiar with the forest and its location, so navigating to it was no problem. The problem lay with Cell, one of Alexander’s Vile Beasts. Try as he could to hang onto Minerva’s wings, the poor wyvern would simply tip over at his weight. Alexander wasn’t surprised. The chameleon was practically the same size as Minerva, after all.
Cell mewed a frustrated mew. He would attempt it again, this time dividing himself into smaller chameleons. He would crawl atop the wyvern, distributing his weight evenly across, even perching on Alexander’s shoulders and head. But to no avail; prolonged flight would prove difficult for Minerva in this state.
Fed up with the excess baggage, Minerva growled in objection, forcing Cell off of her.
Alexander mulled over his options. As there was safety in numbers, he wanted to bring both Cell and Minerva with him. But perhaps such a thing was not possible.
In Alexander’s hour of need, his spectral companion would interject. The friendly orb of light would run circles around Cell, flaring up in luminance, and then pretending to run off elsewhere, only to run back in the end.
Huh…? Alexander’s face contorted in a mixture of surprise and confusion. Did his ghostly friend, courtesy of Princess Solara, possess some form of sentience? He put a hand to his face. Of course it did. After all, just a minute ago, the damned thing was a crow. It took a while for Alexander to understand the spherule’s intentions, but when he did, clarity came all too quickly. That settled it. Cell would travel by land with help from the princess’ mystical messenger, while Alexander would travel by air with Minerva.
Given the distance, it would take Alexander 3 days to reach his destination. And so, to keep his hunger at bay, he would stuff sweets and tarts of all sorts in his knapsack, munching on them whenever his stomach grumbled. These snacks would sustain him for the entire trip. Before he would realize it, however, he had arrived. Minerva would make a landing at the forest’s clearing, her wings casting a roof over Alexander, protecting him from the elements.
“It appears the princess was serious about the weather…” Rain clouds hung over the Northias Forest like spiders on the corners of ceilings. Though the downpour was by no means torrential, it was persistent enough to cause anyone inconvenience. From the corner of his eye, he could see Cell taking cover underneath a tree, his tongue attempting to entangle his luminous playmate. Unfortunately for him, the wisp was just agile enough to avoid his advances. Taking notice of Alexander, it would quickly make a beeline for him, flickering frantically along the way. “Don’t worry. He won’t bother you anymore.” One disapproving look from Alexander was all it took for Cell to lower his head and stop what he was doing.
Now that they had arrived at the entrance, it was the messenger’s turn to guide them to the statue specified in Princess Solara’s letter. “We’ll be in your care.” The messenger flickered into action. With Alexander and Cell close behind, their spectral companion would start to lead them through the forest, steering clear of any twists and knots, though it was inevitable that they would have to wade through some stray branches. Eventually, after heading deep enough into the forest, the messenger stopped in its tracks. In a spot not readily obvious to travelers, under an intricate canopy of trees, he could make out the statue of the Primordial God. Not only that, there were people gathered around it. Alexander surmised that they had also received Solara’s letter. He stepped closer, with Cell camouflaging himself beside him. Meanwhile, their spectral companion whirled playfully around them before finally making for the statue. Upon contact, it dispersed in a bright shimmer and was no more. “Thank you for your help.”
As Alexander approached his would-be allies, he couldn’t help but recognize some of their faces. First, the Draculus with long hair caught his attention. His eyes were like gold and his skin like the whitest paper. Alexander often had others poke fun at his own pale complexion. But the man was a couple of shades lighter than even he was. Were these typical characteristics of the Draculus race? He walked towards the Draculus. “Well met, friend. I am Alexander von Styrmir.” Fixating on the scabbard at the man’s side, “Are you a swordsman as well?” Alexander drew his own sword from its hilt, shining a beautiful silver. It was a thin but sharp blade, a falchion infused with the purest adamantium that had been custom-made for him. It was a thing of beauty, the sword. Though if the Draculus was worth his salt as a swordsman, he would likely notice the lack of imperfections on it. That would indicate the sword saw little if any use. “My father is a decorated swordsman himself, and I too used to observe the way of the sword.” He let out a chuckle. “But it has been years since I trained. I’m afraid that, as I am now, I am an unworthy opponent.”
After breaking away from the Draculus, Alexander would finally address the elephant — or rather, elephants — in the room. He turned back, greeting the others among them: Miss Veliona and Miss Mirelle. As the heir apparent of the most prolific mining company in Ukrethia, Miss Veliona was someone Alexander regularly brushed shoulders with regarding matters of business and trade. As for Miss Mirelle, Alexander had met her during an attack on Platina in Orichalcos. The prince had requested for her dispatch at the last minute, and despite such short notice, she rode in a carriage straight into the lion’s den. Alexander reckoned there would’ve been more lives lost in the incident had she not answered the call to service. Needless to say, he was indebted to her. He cleared his throat. “Miss Veliona, Miss Mirelle. It does my spirits good to see the both of you here.” His gaze shifted to Opal. “Miss Veliona, I sincerely apologize for my absence during our most recent meetings.” He would bow his head in submission. “Truthfully, my duties as Captain in the Imperial Knights have been taking up much of my time. I hope my envoy was able to sufficiently take my place in the discussions. They have been keeping me abreast of the relevant matters.”
Towards Rhia, Alexander had this to say: “Miss Mirelle, with you at our beck and call, surely we will be able to see the princess’ goals to fruition.” A soft smile, which he hoped would express his gratitude for her previous actions in Orichalcos. “I do not believe I have properly thanked you for your assistance in Platina all those years ago.” Another bow, more deep than the last. “Allow me to give my thanks now.”