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One x One Final Fantasy: Age of Ophiuchus Flashbacks

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Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
The History of Ivocea, from different Points of View

Zariel Arkidos
: Age 26, The Death of Emperor Lavi
Oleander Arkidos: Age 24, The Death of Emperor Lavi
Reva: Age 47, Meeting Leviathan
Reva: Age 57, Leaving
Lixue Virys: Age 28, Shiva's Kiss
Zariel Arkidos: Age 29, Trisha Vespers
Oleander Arkidos: Age 16, Jealousy
 
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Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Zariel Arkidos: The Death of Lavi Arkidos

Slap!

It was not an uncommon sound nor fate for the beloved daughter of Lavi Arkidos, and she did not so much as flinch or move as Emperor Lavi’s hand connected with the side of his daughter’s face. She remained standing, glaring more at open space than him, pulling her lips into a tight line to shut herself up.

“You are a year late in summoning Phoenix, and some pathetic scientist has already found his Zodiac.” Lavi reminded her, palm folding into a single accusing finger which he placed near her chin, “At this rate, even your brother will have his Zodiac before you.”

“I do not know what more you expect me to do,” Zariel said calmly, “It is not that impactful on our people. We conquered Prumoor two months ago. We’re poised to take Escander. My Zodiac will come, and I will keep working at it.”

“That’s not good enough.” Lavi said, lowering his hand, “Leander had Phoenix at twenty-five. You’re twenty-six. Everyone thinks you should have it by now. That’s what we told Amarum!” He was pacing now, “We are losing support. We are losing morale. People are forgetting what we’re fighting for!”

“Perhaps because you like to keep it a secret,” Zariel said, and he paused in his pacing. Zariel half-expected another blow, but it did not come. Her father was growing increasingly violent in his age. He’d been fighting Prumoor for decades.

In truth, the people of Amarum doubted him. Zariel heard it everywhere she went, when people questioned what they were doing – they were questioning what Lavi was doing. “Do you know what Lord Lixue thinks should be done?”

“I have heard the theory that the Zodiacs are brought by death, but I’ve also heard he has voiced some doubts on this, given the cryostasis involved in his personal situation which was unlikely to have actually killed him.” Although magic was clearly involved, so who knew?

“It’s a theory I think we should try.”

Some fear betrayed itself on Zariel’s face, a minute twitch of her lips, a slight widening of her amber eyes. “I disagree. Leander died, and he didn’t come back from that.” Zariel reminded, “A year before I was born, I don’t think death is the way. We’ll find another way.”

“I see nothing wrong with testing this.”

“I see plenty wrong!” Zariel’s voice pitched up, and she wondered a moment if she ought to call for the guards stationed outside her father’s quarters. Would they even answer to her? Would they help her, when it was her father who was the possible assailant? Either way, she crossed a leg, stepping away, “This is my life at risk!”

“A small thing in the grand scale,” Lavi turned from his pacing to start towards her, and Zariel wished she’d brought a weapon right then. She hardly thought it was something she needed when visiting her father, never mind the fact Lavi was always armed.

‘But what about Oleander!’ It was an outcry that Zariel held back in her fear, not wanting to actually throw him at the mercy of Lavi just to test this. That the thought was even there almost repulsed her, and certainly sent a spike of guilt through her.

Instead, she tried to stay calm, even as she was stepping back towards where she did see a weapon.

“You’ll have to wait for another to be born if you lose me. If I die, morale will plummet further, and you’ll be left with Oleander as your heir.” Something she knew her father didn’t want, and he paused.

Zariel hesitated those few steps towards the weapon, hoping some sensibility would return to him.

It didn’t. “A small price to pay with Ophiuchus still taking more and more over.”

Zariel didn’t have time to pivot on her heels and turn to run, though she thought she would. She had forgotten that, in spite of his age, her father was still a skilled combatant. He drew his blade in a fluid motion, and lunged forward, pushing the greatsword through her abdomen, and out her back.

She didn’t feel any pain.

Perhaps that was the strangest thing about all of it, as her lips fell open in surprise, but no sound.

She heard the doors open.

She felt the blade leave her body, all that was holding her up at that point. She fell backwards, catching sight of the golden cloak her brother always wore, before her head hit the floor. That sent pain rushing through her, and she blacked out, sparks of gold following her, as if torn from that same cloak. It painted the darkness for a moment, before she was able to recognize that it was downy feathers raining around her.

‘Did I…?’

She tried to reach for one, with no hands, with no ability to move. She tried to focus on just one, and she watched that one seem to unfold, to catch fire.

And then she was awake, in pain, and everything around her was charred black as she sat on a cot in the infirmary.

The fire remained in her hand, a flickering flame that danced and sputtered in her hand as she tried to get her bearings, while others ran around, shouting for more healers, and moving bodies of attendants too close to her, out of the room. Their loud shouts were almost painful to take in, and the flame extinguished in her hand as she finally moved both hands to cover her ears and draw her knees up to her chest as she tried to center on where she was, and what was going on.

The room cleared around her as she shut her eyes.

The sound dissipitated until she was mostly alone. Someone was standing by, and after a few deep breaths, she opened her eyes to see the room she’d tried to shut out, and the woman in heels standing off to the side, waiting, patient.

“Empress Zariel?”

Her hands lowered from her ears, and she turned her body so her legs dropped over the edge of the cot. A hand went to her torso, covered by some flimsy white gown.

The doctor took that as her cue to continue speaking, “You were brought in with a cauterized wound to your front and back. Oleander brought you in, babbling quite a bit, but we gathered he killed your father…and your mother. I’m sorry.”

Zariel didn’t recall the wound cauterizing, or any sensation of flame.

She swallowed, “He…didn’t kill my father,” she said, shaking her head as if she could will that truth away. Except, she knew that he must have.

However, to say that would mean keeping him in prison. He had saved her life. She owed him much more than that fate, and she had to keep the memory of her father pure in the mind’s of the people, as well.

She couldn’t let it be known her father tried to kill her.

She couldn’t let it be known Oleander killed him, either.

In spite of the fact she didn’t feel all there, and her head was still spinning from waking up, she knew this had to be addressed immediately. “There was an assassin. I…I remember the colors of Ucantis,” her voice trembled. In another state, the lie would have been too obvious, but as it was, “He saved me. Oleander saved me,” that, at least, was true, and there was conviction, “he couldn’t save our father then….”

“He said he killed your father. He said…,” and she trailed off, not wanting to say that Oleander claimed Lavi tried to kill Zariel. Perhaps that was a bit too much in her state.

And perhaps Oleander was a bit…out of it.

“He must have been feeling guilty for not saving Lavi,” Zariel managed, feeling half-lucid as she got to her feet. The doctor immediately stepped forward and tried to press Zariel back to the cot. She managed it, and Zariel was forced to sit once more. “How did my mother die?”

“Poison. She…was found in his cell, dead.”

“Suicide,” she said softly, “it must be.”

It would be. “Poor Oleander….”
 
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Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander Arkidos: The Death of Lavi

Oleander Arkidos had spent another tiring day in the training yards, mostly to get away from everyone. He was just so exhausted with the politics that had popped up with the takeover of Prumoor, and the way that shifted the focus from military excursions to governing territory and moving soldiers about. What should have been a celebratory event had instead seemed to be the most difficult event in Amarum’s history.

He didn’t understand it.

He was passing by his father’s room towards his own quarters when he paused, hearing the pitched voice of Zariel behind the door, and noting no guards posted outside. ‘Strange.’ He crept closer, and eased one of the two overlarge white doors open just a bit to peek in, and hear a bit better.

He noticed shadows first, Zariel’s moving away from his line of sight, before Lavi stepped into his line of sight, pausing with words that seemed almost too desperate from his sister. He never heard her desperate. Or afraid. Or anything remotely indicating weakness, really.

“…die, morale will plummet further, and you’ll be left with Oleander as your heir.”

‘What are you talking about? Dying?’

“A small price to pay with Ophiuchus still taking more and more over.”

Oleander was horrified as he saw his father pull a blade into sight, and thrust it forward. Although he could not see Zariel, he knew where that blade went. He felt stuck in time for one, terrible, moment.

And then he saw red.

He pushed both doors open, letting them slam on either wall, as he ran forward. His father pulled the sword from Zariel’s body, and although Oleander saw her fall back, he did not pause to look at her or stop her fall. He had drawn his own blade into his hand. “Oleander, wait! This isn’t—”

SHUT UP!” Oleander screamed at his face as he used his strength to slam into his father’s own blade, an upwards stroke that moved his father’s hands and sword above his head. Oleander followed through, sloppily, but nonetheless, successful enough as his father lost his balance against the weight of his own blade’s upward momentum.

Oleander had enough time to make another swing down, this one cutting across his father’s torso, deeply. Another cut followed as Lavi stumbled backwards, blade falling to the ground but not leaving his hands. He cut through Lavi’s arms, severing them, before he stepped by his father’s now-fallen sword and pushed his blade into Lavi’s chest and into the nearest wall.

He held Lavi there, watching him struggle to speak as blood came up his throat instead of words. What words he might have said, were lost to his drowning in his own blood and pain, but Oleander waited until the light in his eyes dimmed. Until he was certain.

And until he heard an inhuman shriek behind him. He spun around, hoping to see Zariel awake, even if it would be in pain.

What he saw instead was brief, the sight of a fire rising from her body, “No, NO!” Oleander ran to her body, leaving his sword in the wall, to try and pat the flames out with his cloak. He thought it worked, as they died away. He did not notice, in his haste, how they sealed her wounds so she wouldn’t bleed out – there was still too much blood around her, too fresh, for him to know that no more was leaving her.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Oleander cursed, “Zari…” No amount of hoping and waiting there would do anything, though, and although he had a thought it might not be wise to pick her up, he did so, cradling her limp form in his arms as he got to his feet, and then sprinted out of the room, trying to remember the way to the infirmary in his panic.

He ran into a guard long before he ever found the infirmary on his own, and the guard paused long enough to see what Oleander was carrying, “What happened to Zariel?”

“I—infirmary! Please!” That was more important right then, he could confess afterwards.

The guard nodded, and though Oleander could see the panic and fear spread, they were of saner mind than he was at the moment, and able to lead him to the infirmary, where Zariel was taken from his arms immediately, and taken from his sight, before a battery of questions hit him from all sides about what happened to her, and he spilled it all, all that he knew.

“I was just walking by – I was just going back to my quarters, I just got back from the training yards. I heard her and my…my father,” there was a nervous, anxious laugh as he said that, calling the man he’d slain his father, a man he knew never really loved him, the way Bellona never loved Zariel, “but she sounded afraid, and I looked in because I was worried and – and he stabbed her! He just stabbed her, I don’t know – I don’t know why, and I had to protect her, right? I mean….”

His shoulders dropped.

He was crying, though he didn’t really realize it as he spoke on, “He was in the wrong, right? Trying to kill her – right?”

There was uncertainty in the infirmary, that much was evident. “Of course,” someone did step forward, “but while we sort things out, you’ll need to go rest,” the woman in the heels put a hand on Oleander’s shoulder, and then looked to some of the guards that had followed, “Would you please see him to a cell?”

Oleander looked up, startled by the request, but as the guards stepped forward, he realized what he’d just confessed to. Not only patricide, but regicide. So, he did not fight the guards as they came forward, and took both of his arms to turn and lead him out. He went willingly enough, and when he was put into the cell, he sunk to the floor of one corner, and he stared at a wall.

He zoned for hours, though was still barely startled when the cell door eventually opened, and in slipped his mother. He couldn’t find a smile for her as she came towards him, regal as ever in a burgundy dress, and she came to kneel at his side. “My boy,” she touched his cheek, still wet from tears that had remained on-and-off even in his distant state. “Are you okay?”

“Mmm….” It was committal enough, he supposed.

“I heard what happened,” she said, “Zariel’s on her deathbed,” she sounded smug about that, “but she needs to be finished off.” Oleander’s gaze started to lose some of its glaze as it came into focus, falling on Bellona as she was pressing something into his hand, a glass vial, “I can get you out, no one is going to question me for that, and since you saved Zariel, I’m sure no one will question you going to see her. This poison won’t be detected. You can finish things. You can secure the Empire for yourself.”

He felt his mother curl his fingers over the vial.

He knew what he heard.

He felt the tears stinging his eyes again, uncertain if he’d ever really run out. He shifted, straightening his position against the wall, as she clasped her hand around his wrist and straightened up herself to try and urge him to stand. The hand on his cheek drifted away, but he caught it in his own hand, and drew her back.

He pulled her into an embrace, burying his head briefly in the crook of her neck.

“There, there,” she cooed, “it’ll all be over soon.”

“I know,” he agreed, voice muffled. “I’m so sorry.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for.”

There was, however, as he proved to her after a few more moments of memorizing her embrace, and all the good she had wanted for him, at the expense of others he loved. At the expense of a love he had always craved from his father.

As he broke the embrace, lifting the hand with the poison up through the gesture, making it seem like he was using it to hug her back – which, wasn’t a lie – he grabbed her hair and tilted her head back.

Her surprised gasp, and, “Oleander, what are you doing?!” was enough of an opening for him to pop the top off the poison, and pour it down her throat. She sputtered, no doubt didn’t drink it all as she was able to spit some out. He let her go, and she got to her feet, swaying, and stepping away from him.

He watched her with that forlorn look as she swayed into one of the walls, the poison surprisingly fast-acting. She slid down it, and collapsed alongside it.

He let the vial go, and rolled it towards her body.

The body wasn’t taken out until the next morning, when someone brought him breakfast.

He was kept in silence, with two meals, for days on end.

He waited.

And waited.

Until the day Zariel Arkidos stepped through the door, holding herself up, radiant in red and gold, her regalia already screaming ‘Empress’. She didn’t kneel or bend, but walked to him and offered her hand. “I’m sorry they put you in here,” she said, as he reached for her hand, and was helped up to his feet, “You’re a hero, Oleander. The entire kingdom knows what you did to save me.”

For a moment, he was confused how that made him a hero, but before he could get that question out, Zariel wrapped her arms around him in an embrace, and whispered in his ears, “Everyone knows you fought off an assassin from Ucantis.”

‘But I didn’t?’

When Zariel pulled away, he stared down at her, confused, “But mom…?”

“I know…you couldn’t save her. She was besought with sorrow. I’m sorry she had to take her life in front of you.”

‘But I….’

He nodded, mutely, and let Zariel take his wrist to lead him out of his cell and back into the light.
 

Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Reva: Meeting Leviathan

The Faded Timberlands groaned and creaked with an unusual pain. Her shrieks were twisted and muted, cut off one second, only to come alive the next in a soul-rending howl. Reva heard it, ears flicking with each new sound, as she crouched atop one of the intricate gazebos within Abysh village. She could not sleep. It had been going on for days now, for weeks, and only she seemed to hear the agony that the Timberlands was in.

“Sister.”

Reva looked down to Syji staring up at her, no blood sister, as her white skin and white hair indicated. Her yellow eyes stared up at Reva in deepening concern, “Come down, sister. Come sleep,” she extended an arm up towards her, “I will stay with you.”

Reva shook her head, and let herself descend from the gazebo, landing lightly on her heels, “I cannot sleep, sister. There is something wrong. I must go see what it is.”

“The only thing wrong is you are not sleeping,” Syji came forward and touched a hand to her cheek, trailing it down to her neck to rest on her shoulder, “You are hearing things, you may be sick.”

Reva took Syji’s wrist and put it on her forehead, “Do I feel sick?”

“No, but you act it,” Syji said, and Reva noted as she spoke, that Syji’s constant shadow, Ajmi, was behind her, behind a pillar and looking over at them. Syji brushed her hand over Reva’s forehead, “Come with me. Tomorrow we will annoy the healers until they can figure what is wrong with you.”

“It isn’t me!” Reva said, shaking her head, tossing her unruly mess of fluffy hair around with her, before she let out a huff, and started to walk off. “It is not me! She is hurting! She is in agony!” Reva kept walking, and Syji was quick to catch up, realizing that she wasn’t heading towards any of their sleeping hutches.

“Where are you going?”

“If no one will listen to me, I shall listen to Her and find what is wrong.”

Ajmi was still trailing behind, but caught up at that, “That is not good! We do not know – this may be a trap!” Her voice was always high, but it was higher yet in her fright.

“You all think nothing is wrong, then there is nothing to fear,” Reva stated, picking up her glaive on the way out, where it was leaning in the area of the caretakers. Syji grabbed her bow and arrows, but Ajmi took nothing, following closer to Syji as they left the protection of Abysh village and went into the Timberlands.

They walked mostly in silence, letting Reva’s hearing guide them deeper into the forest. “We are almost out of the forest…anything beyond is not our concern.” Syji said cautiously.

“Are we? I do not see trees thinning,” Reva noted. “Is it someone else’s forest? Is this where our men go?”

“I…no,” Syji shook her head, and held her tongue.

“We should go back,” Ajmi said, but neither commented to that, continuing forward and finding the trees did not thin, though as they saw a fog ahead, the trees started to look damaged. Poisoned.

Reva approached one near the edge of that fog and touched it, “You see?”

Syji hesitantly approached and touched the tree, finding that the tree itself seemed literally frozen from within, damaged from such a thing. “I…what has caused this?” She turned her head towards the fog.

“We must find out.”

“I do not think we should go alone. We should return, tell the others, and think of a plan.”

“A plan against an unknown? We must go back with information.” Reva said, and went forward, as did Syji, and then, begrudgingly, Ajmi.

They did not get far, as all three realized too late that the fog was not fog at all, but something far fouler: Mist. It was rare within Ivocia, or so it was supposed to be, and certainly not prone to falling upon Viera lands. Yet, there it was, the pungent smell of aether entering their noses and starting to remove the senses of the three viera women.

Reva tried to get a grip on herself, but all for naught; she fell prey to the madness of it, and lunged at Syji, thankfully, no longer considering her glaive as anything useful. Her fingers wrapped around Syji’s throat as she knocked Syji to the ground and fell with her, trying to take the life from her as Syji reached up to try and claw at her instead.

Ajmi grabbed Reva’s hair and pulled her all the way off of Syji with surprising strength, tossing her some feet away.

Reva let out a feral cry, and started to get back to her feet, before an overwhelming sound in her head caused her to grip at both sides of her head and pull her ears down. She stumbled against the voice, uncertain where it was even coming from. She was taken to the ground again by Ajmi tackling her, but it didn’t last.

Despite their wild states, or perhaps because of it, they were all taken by surprise as the Mist around them seemed to crystallize in the air, beautiful shards of ice hanging still in the moment between them all. More seemed to rise out of the snow, and started to move off the trees, hanging in the air, and starting to twist into a serpentine shape.

Ajmi ran before she could see the end of it, a monstrous, translucent dragon appearing in the Timberlands, body wound around many of the trees. He let out a roar that seemed to clear the Mist in the area, pushing it from the area, helping to clear the heads of Syji and Reva.

The moisture left behind turned to rain, and seemed to steam as it connected with the snow, creating a different, natural, sort of fog around them. Reva was startled by the rain drops falling on her, but it helped to clear her mind quicker as she got to her feet, hand on the trunk of a tree as she oriented herself.

Syji couldn’t help but let out her own shriek as she saw what was before them, and she started to pull her bow out to aim at the dragon. “Reva! Move!”

But Reva looked upon the dragon as he lowered himself and brought his head down to be on the same level as her. She reached out a hand, and he brushed his nose against her palm, holding still, allowing the understanding that he wasn’t there to harm to reach Reva, and Syji, even though Syji kept her bow aimed and prepared to fire on him.

“He has helped us, Syji,” Reva said, “I do not know why or who he is, but he has helped,” she said, “Find Ajmi before she hurts herself wandering,” Reva advised, and Syji nodded, and went to do just that, hesitant though she was.

“Who are you?” Reva wandered, as she moved her hand over his muzzle, “Why have you come to us?”

There was a trickling in her head, a deep burbling, like water over stones in a creek. She squinted, “I’m sorry, I do not understand.”

She could hear the physical laughter, and within her head, she heard a sound like water crashing, like a waterfall, but there was something comprehendible in it, the suggestion that she would understand in time. “I thank you, no matter. You have done us a good service, and we will restore our Timberlands to their proper state. We will heal the forest. Is that what you want?”

There was something interesting in the way he righted himself, not shaking his head, nor nodding. Reva took his answer for a positive one, nonetheless, as he rose up into the air, and seemed to disperse into more water droplets to fall upon the forest, as Ajmi and Syji returned to Reva.
 

Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Reva: Leaving

“Do you not see? Do you not hear? There is more out there we must know about!”

Reva stood before the elders of the Faded Timberlands, fists clenched at either side of her as her red eyes glared upon impassive faces. Too old, too long-lived, too stuck in tradition. Though by human years, none would call Reva young, among the Viera she was still considered just that, and her defiant outburst was only further proof of this.

“We have spent a decade tending the parts of the Faded Timberland so impacted by the Mist, but we know not the cause, we know not why it fell into Mist, we know not where Leviathan comes from, and we know not what is going on beyond the Faded Timberland. Had we gone beyond that year, perhaps we would have answers.”

Veda, the Head of the Faded Timberlands, held Reva’s gaze with her own amber eyes, shining both with the firmness and gentleness that one who aspired to her position ought to hold. “Reva,” she spoke as if placating a child, “even now, She tells us to stay here, and tell us our concern does not lie beyond Her reach. Would you disobey Her? She has been here ages longer than any of us.”

“And She is as stuck as the rest of you!” Reva’s words were tantamount to heresy among the viera, and there were a few startled gasps. Except from Veda, who had lived long enough to hear such words before, and see the defiance in eyes such as Reva’s before. Her gaze remained as impassive as before.

“Stuck, and yet, She remains. Our home remains. Our way remains. She has been through things like this before, she will go through much more. She knows what is best, Reva.”

Reva bit her bottom lip. She had little argument against something so eternal as the very woods she was born into, but how could it be right? How could they just ignore this?

It was not the Wood which spoke to her as she addressed Veda, but the burbling of Leviathan, ever-present with her, “Did She not tremble when the stars fell from the sky, those years ago? Stars older than her, stars more everlasting than She?” Her voice sounded petulant, childish, and Reva hated that.

Yet, it caused a reaction. No longer was Veda’s face impassive, but her white brows knit upon her fair face, and she stepped down the stairs that led up to the meeting-home of the elders to join Reva on her own level, “What would you know of this, Reva? You were not even born when such as that occurred.”

“But you saw, did you not, sister?” Reva inquired.

Veda sighed, “All things must die and pass on, Reva, even stars. To be confronted with mortality would cause any to tremble, even Her. It is a hard thing,” Veda allowed, “to know we live but once, to know we shall pass, but we viera become part of the Wood, feed it, nourish it, and speak with it, in our passing. Those who stay.” There was the unspoken unknown of what happened with those who left, “This is our way, sister. Here we begin, and here we return.”

“And when the Wood is gone, what becomes of us after death?”

Veda shook her head, “I know not, Reva. It concerns me not. If we should fade when the wood fades, then we fade.”

“Should we not do more to hold it off? Should we not find more answers?”

“Why do you think we have healers, care-takers, and hunters, if not for such things?” Veda asked, placing her hand gently on Reva’s shoulder. “Do you think She means us harm by directing us in this fashion?”

And yet, in the moment that Reva’s eyes began to water, Veda and Reva both knew what her answer would be. “No, She loves us,” Reva said, sniffing as she accepted that, with her own path laid before her eyes as the vision of Veda began to blur in front of her, “And I love Her, as I love you, Veda, but I cannot stay. I cannot, for love of Her, and love of you. I must see more of the world, I must know what is happening out there.”

Veda gripped Reva’s shoulder a little tighter, “You will be cut from your past, and your future, Reva.”

“No, sister,” she shook her head, as she reached up and lightly picked Veda’s hand off of her shoulder, “I will have my past with me the way we all have it with us, held close in my heart,” she stepped back and rested her hand briefly over her heart, “but my future will not be yours, or of the Wood. It is not cut from me. I am picking a new one. That is all.”

Veda shut her eyes, tilting her head down.

She spared no tears. Though this did not happen often, it did happen. She had to appear strong and continue to uphold their way. “Go, then. Take nothing with you other than what you have now, lest She bar your path.” Her voice was choked with emotion, in spite of her resolve not to cry. A terrible anger, and a deeper sorrow.

Reva thought to protest, to ask for weapon or food, but bit down on that resolve. If she was to leave the Faded Timberlands, she had to leave it all. No longer could she take what it had provided for her. By rejecting it, she also rejected all of that.

She took a step back, sound enough to spur Veda to open her eyes. She spoke no words, for she had said it all in speaking of her love. To respond with anger, bitterness, resentment, or anything else at the end was not how she wanted to leave. She gave a simple dip with an inclination of her head, and turned away in silence.

'Will you stay with me?' She wondered of Leviathan, and felt his presence all the closer as if in response.
 

Arcanist

One Espresso Depresso
Lixue Virys, Age 28: Shiva's Kiss

Retching sounded throughout the lab, only heard by Lixue, the retcher himself. It had been long since the researchers hung up their lab coats, bid goodbye to the lab for another day. The young man stayed behind to work late, as he and others of the Virys clan were prone to do. Though, rather than simply catch up on paperwork and read up on the newest case studies for magical enhancement, he was overcome by his own obsessiveness.

As of late, they had acquired large amounts of mana, enough to enhance the strength and speed of large beasts, and making their technology and machinery run more efficiently. If it could do such wonders for machinery and beasts, the process it could make for humans would have been marvellous.

His colleagues and superiors, however, were less than eager. If inserting so much mana into a beast’s veins caused its very heart to burst and kill it, then the same could inevitably happen to a human. Magical enhancements were a boon but they hadn’t been confirmed as safe and effective methods of gaining the upper hand in their subjugation of the rest of the continent. Lixue’s suggestion to bring in willing subjects for magical enhancement testing was denied, the overwhelming majority in favour for the gatekeeping of such measures.

Lixue had no choice but to take it on the chin, to take his defeat willingly and selflessly. Once the last of his colleagues had vacated, the young man was quick to begin conducting his own self-experiment, having injected himself with a large dose of mana, and recording the effects and outcomes of this experiment.

Now, he was suffering the consequences of it.

Lixue spat the last of the yellow bile into the trash can, which had already been amply filled from the beginning of the evening. He lifted his head, and slumped his body back up against the wall beside it. His hand brushed back strands of soot-black hair, feeling sweat stick to his fingers. His veins burned and his body felt as if it had been locked inside a furnace. His body was rejecting the substance he had so willingly put into it, fighting against the potential goods it could do.

Or perhaps the harms.

Lixue didn’t want to think about that. He managed to get himself onto his feet - though, how weak he felt doing so! - and approached his desk. He grabbed some water, taking a swig and letting it swish through his mouth, before returning to the trash can to spit it out again. Even after throwing up the contents of his stomach, he still felt horrible.

Lixue slid down the wall beside the trash can again, the sweat continuing to bead on his forehead. Maybe if he just slept, it would all go away.



He awoke in a panic. He grimaced, feeling something clamp onto his chest -- no, his heart -- as it battered against the cage that was meant to protect it. He didn’t know how long had passed. Was it morning already? Had anyone found him? Maybe he was already...no, he was still breathing, barely. Was he going mad?

The longer he sat there up against that wall, assuring himself his heart would slow, hoping he was getting over the worst of it, begging for his body to make it through it, the further his confidence waned. Lixue had bet all he had, his very life, on some unachievable notion he had let himself grow obsessed with. An unlucky bet on life’s game of roulette, and he was set to land on the completely wrong colour and number.

“Fuck,” Lixue whispered, the dire realisation coming over him, panic setting in. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He yelled, straining as he clambered onto his feet, though, even as he pushed himself from the wall, he fell straight back down onto the floor. His body couldn’t take it. He tried to push himself onto his hands and knees, but every limb in his body ached and burned and trembled. He couldn’t do it. Everything was turning against him and he couldn’t do anything about it.

Lixue sobbed. He sobbed like a child who couldn’t get its way, his chest heaving, him panting, squirming against the ground in agony. “No...no, I can’t…” He blubbered into the ground. “Can’t...take...anymore…!” He strained through gritted teeth, tears running into the sides of his mouth. He was coming to the end, he knew that. His body was taking its damned well bloody time to shut down on him.

Lixue panicked, lost control of himself, and practically shrieked, “Someone...just...end it! Kill me!!”

Lixue wouldn’t see it, would never have known it, but the strange marking on his back started to glow golden through his clothes. What he did know was that he felt an icy wind rushing past his ears, whistling around him, a cold frost hitting his body. His poisoned mind had thought it was his death finally coming to pass. Ice creeped up the walls, though, he hadn’t noticed it. Lixue waited instead. He waited for this chill to consume him, to stop breathing, for the pain to just ebb away. He thought it was coming, when the room glowed an icy blue.

But something else did. And with each crackling step, ice webbed itself against the ground, not that Lixue was in any state to make sense of it. Two high heeled feet stopped before him, and when Lixue mustered the strength to look up, he realised a woman was standing before him.

His mother? Yenay? Sying?

But he realised she was none of them. In fact, she was much taller, taller than any of them, or him, for that matter. Her skin was coated in a pale blue, with long blue locks, and ornamental hair pieces to boot. As for the rest of her...well, she was a sight to behold. It was clear any man would lust after her, with what little was left to the imagination.

Lixue didn’t want any of that though. He crawled closer to the woman, weakly grabbing onto her leg. He flinched at how cold she was, how ill she must have been to be this cold... Breathless, he requested the same thing that he had only moments before. “Please...kill...kill me…” It was a pathetic sight, Lixue lying on the ground, begging for death in his barely conscious state.

The woman never once thought to mock him. She leaned down to him, helping him onto his knees. There was no pity in her eyes when she looked into those tired, pained eyes. She smiled, placing her hands on his face, while he still gripped her arms for support.

“You needn’t fear any longer,” her voice echoed through Lixue’s head, like the pair of windchimes that always rung out in his garden during seasonal breezes. “I will ease your pain.”

Lixue never questioned her, never thought to ask how she would do it. He only knew that she would fix everything, that maybe he could die with some peace and dignity. And so he never pulled away from her even as she leaned in, and kissed him.

They were so cold against his lips, yet, he felt no discomfort. Even as he felt his body go cold and stiff, his very blood freezing, he felt oddly at peace. He let his eyes close, felt his body go numb.

And he was gone.

~~~~​

“Lixue? Lixue! Lixue--aah, you’re freezing…!”

Conscious ebbed back to him as he listened to the distant voice call out to him. When the spots of darkness burned away, he was met by the distraught expression of…

“Shiva?” He uttered, blinking at the confused expression that overtook the woman’s face. He looked closer, his mind foggy, but he definitely recognised the face, the black hair that had been pinned up so neatly. “Yenay…” He whispered, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment, trying to regain himself.

His older sister closed her eyes and let out a breath, relieved that his brother had at least remembered her.

Lixue found he was sitting up with colleagues swarming him, a blanket thrown over his shoulders. His eyes were unfocused, drifting from face-to-face, one icy wall to another. He glanced back at the cocoon of ice that stood unfaltering, despite its shattered entrance.

“Lixue...what happened to you?”

He glanced back to Yenay. When he opened his mouth to explain, he found that he didn’t know where to start. He looked back to the cocoon, the frozen walls. Shiva...Shiva.

“My Zodiac,” was about all Lixue could muster. Those that surrounded him broke into some murmuring, some claiming that had to be the case, others not being so sure.

Yenay blinked, then her eyes dropped. “I see.”

Such a muted reaction wasn’t uncommon from her. Not when the Aquarius’ Constellation had already caused such a sizable gap between them in the past.

It would have to be addressed another time.

“Please, help me onto my feet,” Lixue said.

Yenay raised her eyes back to Lixue and her lips formed a taut line. “Don’t be stupid, Lixue. You’ve been frozen in that thing for five days. You’re confused, and you’re not well, and--”

“Don’t play doctor with me,” Lixue told her, referring to the woman’s complete dedication to her profession. “Help me onto my feet.”

Yenay was set to protest again, but the watchful eyes of his colleagues and other scientists told her to hold her tongue. It was bad enough she denied him once. Twice would be the talk of the nobility. She helped him up onto his feet, and he groaned, a testament that perhaps he should not be moving so soon.

“Where’s our mother?” Lixue asked, half-expecting her to have been here waiting for him to emerge. Caught up in her research as usual, no doubt.

“You can’t be serious,” Yenay hissed, “you’ve just emerged from that...that thing, and you’re freezing, and you’re clearly--”

“Cocoon, actually.”

“What?”

“Cocoon of ice,” Lixue corrected her again. “Like for butterflies...or whatever else has cocoons….” He waved his hand dismissively, taking a stunted step forward, as if slowly learning how to use his legs once again.

“Lixue…” Yenay sighed.

“Come then, if you’re so eager to nag me, you can do it on the way to our mother.” Though, Lixue realised he was at a disadvantage there. He’d have two Virys’s harping on at him then. He felt Yenay take an arm in hers, helping her brother towards the entrance of the lab. Realising he left the other colleagues behind without so much of an explanation, he looked back to them. Most of them began moving and returning back to their work, not even questioning Lixue.

He’d have to hope they weren’t stupid enough to touch anything.

Slowly, Lixue was learning how to use his legs again. Though, he had been more focused on that than anything else around him, or anything particular about himself, that his sister seemed suddenly keen to point out.

“Did you do something to your hair?”

“Pardon?”

“Your hair. It’s all…” Yenay vaguely gestured with her hand, to which her brother narrowed her eyes. She sighed, turning him towards a window, which barely showed their reflection.

“...blond,” Lixue mumbled. A result of Shiva. Or maybe the magic. He pulled at a tuff and said, “I suit it so much better than you ever did when you dyed it.”

Yenay scowled. “I’m sending you back into that cocoon.”
 

Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Zariel Arkidos, Age 29: Trisha Vespers

“Empress.”

Zariel lifted her gaze from a letter she’d read over a thousand times to see the woman brought before. She smiled gently and rose from her seat, gesturing for the blonde woman to take a seat as the guard inclined his head and was quick to head out. The woman marched forward, trying to look as if she had no fear in the room with its high ceiling and long windows. “You must be Trisha Vespers.”

“I am,” she said, sliding into her seat and casting a wary look around, before meeting Zariel’s gaze. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Empress Arkidos. I’m not sure why you’ve summoned me.”

Zariel’s smile never faltered, “I understand there has been some confusion about what you are entitled to, given your relationship to my brother. I am hoping we can clarify this together, for Lilia’s sake.”

Trisha tensed, “Don’t bring her into this, there’s no reason to—” Zariel lifted a hand, smile fading, but slowly. Trisha bit down on her bottom lip, but waited.

Zariel continued, “I bring her into it simply because she is the tie that binds you to Oleander and myself, and I understand you have felt mistreated in this situation,” Zariel continued, “I would like to rectify that.”

Trisha folded her arms over her chest, “All I want is enough money to care for Lilia on my own, then I’ll be out of your hair.”

“You have been granted a stipend, once a year, of 120,000 gil, paid out monthly. That is more than most of our citizens make in a year, even those with children.”

Trisha shook her head, “You’re not understanding,” she said, biting her lip a moment, and feeling tears threaten to spill in spite of her clear resolve to stay strong, “I don’t want to stay in your life, or Oleander’s life, and I don’t want Lilia involved in all of this. I just want one payment – just enough to move and not be found.”

“Or you tell the world that you have Oleander’s child, and you fight for her to have a claim to the throne.” Zariel said blandly, and leaned back in her chair, taking the letter up and flicking it towards Trisha, “He hasn’t read it, if you’re thinking Oleander told me.”

Trisha grabbed the letter and skimmed it, before balling it up and throwing it to the ground, “You take your brother’s mail now?” She said, as if that could somehow inspire guilt or revulsion about what Zariel had done, “You are a controlling bitch.”

The words did nothing.

“Your desire to have Lilia not be a part of this mess, as you claim, seems at odd with your threat. Besides that, Oleander seems to love her.”

“I don’t care,” Trisha said, shaking her head, “I don’t want him in her life, I don’t want any of this in my life, I just want out. I thought two million gil would be a small price to pay to make sure there were no threats to your non-existent dynasty. I didn’t think there’d be any questions like this,” again, the waterworks, “You must understand – it wasn’t – I didn’t want all of this, it was just a night out and this happened—you’ve made sure we wouldn’t have to suffer like this.”

She crossed over her own lines, her own logic, emotions hot, and fear making her stumble. ‘If you were so concerned about it, you could have just cut and run, rather than threaten.’ But she wanted money. And when she had money, she would eventually want the power.

She would use her daughter as a pawn.

Zariel had seen it too often.

And yet, she smiled, and rose, walking around the desk to set a hand on Trisha’s arm, “I’m sorry,” she said, “I haven’t been in your position, precisely. It’s hard to understand the anxiety, but I am listening,” she reassured, “I want what’s best for my brother, but I don’t want Lilia to suffer for it,” she gently squeezed Trisha’s arm, “I’ll have the gil sent to you tonight. You’ll have to cut what ties you have here. I’ll keep Oleander distracted – it should only take a few months before he gives up and gets bored.”

Trisha looked flabbergasted, caution returning in a moment, “R-really?”

Zariel nodded, and went back around to the proper side of her desk, opened it, and tossed the bag of gil she had in it, “There is a down payment,” she said, “take it, and get started for tonight.”

Trisha didn’t look twice. She reached for it, smiling as she got to her feet, “Thank you. I’m sorry—I—I really didn’t know what to do, or how to…thank you.” She didn’t finish her words, bowed deeply, and took her leave.

Only an hour later, Zariel was meeting with one of her assassins.

That night, when Trisha opened the door to someone bearing the Arkidian Empire’s symbol, she would be met with steel instead of gil, and Lilia would be left, to be found later, after the house was ransacked to make it look like a simple robbery. Not that Oleander would ever shake off the suspicion that it was somehow, his fault, for being with Trisha and having a child with her.

He’d never truly know how right that was.
 

Lucyfer

I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander Arkidos, Age 16: Jealousy

“There you are!”

The look on Zariel’s face as she stepped into the Arkidian Castle, out from one of the secret passages, gave Oleander life. The utter shock was priceless, and he cocked a smirk at her as she tried to regain some of her poise in a glare and straightening up. It didn’t work very well. Not with her hair as messy as it was, or her make-up just barely touched up.

Or the alcohol on her breath when she spoke.

“What do you want, Oleander?” There was a slight drift in her speech, though she held herself up admirably.

“I was thinking we should go talk to dad,” Oleander said, moving forward and catching Zariel’s arm before she could consider moving away from him, “about how that project you were working on tonight is going.”

Zariel narrowed her eyes as Oleander tried to pull her along, digging her heels into the floor. He didn’t have the strength he’d have one day, and while he was stronger than her, it wasn’t by as much as he’d like. “What. Do you want?” Zariel repeated in a lower tone, clearly not wanting to go along with this.

Oleander turned back around to face her and put a hand on the nearby wall.

“I just want to get you in trouble.” He stated, “I’m sick of you getting away with everything.”

“Have you considered learning how to get away with things?” Zariel retorted, and felt Oleander’s grip on her arm tighten considerably. Nearly painful, but not quite.

But, she had his attention, “And how do you propose I do that?”

“Half-lies,” Zariel said, “Omissions. Guard schedules. Bribery.” She was trying to get herself out of this hole, obviously. “I know how difficult it is to be held up that way.”

You don’t know shit!”

“Why do you think I sneak around?” Zariel was able to wrench her arm out of his grasp, though nearly at the cost of her balance. She stumbled back and had to reach out to the wall herself. Oleander watched her take a steadying breath. “My project is finished, I’ll receive high marks tomorrow for it. Shouldn’t I be allowed to have some fun? Shouldn’t you?” That imploring gaze.

Oleander wasn’t going to argue that he didn’t deserve the same things. “Fine. Next time I wanna go out with you.” Oleander said. He watched her brows knit, “Yeah, yeah, big adult party with liquor and sex and drugs, and your baby brother tagging along – you do it, or I have that party crashed.” He threatened.

“Okay,” Zariel didn’t argue, “I’ll help you come up with a good reason and make sure you have an alibi.” Proof. “Deal?”

“Deaaaal…but I wanna know who you were with.” He put on a cocky smile, “Was it that boy who’s been over here – the one with the really high cheekbones?”

Zariel shoved Oleander into the wall on her way by, “None of your concern.”

He laughed softly, but followed after her, “Come onnnn,” he whined, “I wanna know who the future Emperor is gonna be!”

“Who said it’ll be an Emperor?”

Oleander paused a moment – then quickly caught up, “Wait, wait, an Empress? Two Empresses?” He could see he was getting on her nerves, that she was regretting she’d said anything at all, “I don’t judge, I like both,” he added, “but we have this whole bloodline thing, dynasty bullshit—”

“It’ll be whoever I want, if I want,” Zariel grumbled, “but yes it was high cheekbones boy, will you leave me alone?”

“Deal.” He’d just make sure high cheekbones kid knew he knew in some fashion down the line. He really didn’t think high cheekbones kid was good enough – Zariel was just having a weird phase, which he understood.

She wasn’t wrong – the stress on both of them certainly made them deserve time to get away from it all.

He just hated she always got away with it and was never found.

But at least now she’d teach him. He was excited for that. He wanted in on the big-kid parties.
 

Arcanist

One Espresso Depresso
Cleon Bandoethel, 13: Brave

Cleon was lost. Hopelessly and utterly lost. The boy hadn’t enough sense to mark trees he already passed, and now, every tree he did pass looked identical to the last. The trees loomed over him like Ucantis’s blank staring statues. He could feel the darkening evening’s chill against his neck. With the departure of the day’s sunlight behind the mountains in the distance, Cleon grew more anxious with every bit of light that was lost.

But he would not be fearful in the face of adversity. He had to be brave. No boy his age was afraid of the dark or what was in it. He would be resourceful. He would be brave. That was what he had come here to do, after all.

When the darkness did come, Cleon was lucky to have gathered branches, leaves, twigs, anything he could use to build some cover for himself. It was horrible. Even when he managed to find long, sturdy branches, the way they would be positioned refused to stay up. They tumbled down and Cleon awoke during the night with a pile of branches lying on his torso.

If he were not a prince, he would have never been an architect or a builder, that was for sure.

He slept very little as you can imagine one trying to sleep in an open forest. Instead, he stared up at the stars, counting each one in the hopes he might sleep. At one point, he raised his right hand to the sky, imagining how the marking would look up there with all the other stars.

It was a rather simple marking, he always thought. A crooked upside-down Y - from his view. To anyone else, it was an upright crooked Y, moving from his middle finger and branching off over his hand.

“You shouldn’t hide your mark,” he remembered his mother telling him, unwrapping those bandages he had coiled messily around his hand.

“I’m not,” the young Cleon had told her. “I hurt my hand. That’s why I have the bandages on.”

Inara Bandoethel knew better. When she had unwrapped all of them, with little protest from Cleon, and turned his hand for injury...only to find he was right. At the bottom of his palm, the skin had broken raw and there was dried blood at the wound. She sighed, not at him, but for believing he had used the bandages for other purposes.

“I didn’t want to bother you or Reva about it,”
Cleon explained, though, ironically, as he said his next piece, tears welled up in his eyes and he threatened to burst into sobs. “But I just wanted to be brave.”

His mother had told him he was brave, but he should have told one of them so that they could treat the injury. And then she had cleaned it up, and bandaged it up again for him, and kissed his cheek, and made it all the better for him.

Cleon dropped his hand from the sky, sighing.

He wished the same looking up at the stars.

~***~​

For the second day, he wandered again. His stomach gurgled at him, demanding sustenance. He lapped up at any bit of saliva that thought to fill in his mouth. Cleon thought about the breakfast he would have missed that morning. Porridge was still a firm favourite of his, even in the early spring. Extra honey, an unhealthy dose of bananas and blueberries. His stomach growled again, and he wished he never thought of it.

Cleon, disappointingly, didn’t find any berry bushes, never mind berries that were edible. Eventually, though, he did find a stream...and had the gall to drink from it. He was desperate enough, and he hadn’t thought of any ill consequences of it. Clear streams meant clear water, didn’t it?

Not quite. But whether or not it was the water that did it or the conditions in which Cleon had travelling in, he felt himself weaken.

He grew too tired to gather any resources to build cover for himself. The most cover he could find was from sleeping under a tree. But even at that, when the rain came, he couldn’t avoid all of it. Usually, he found it relaxing to listen to the rain, but being out in it, impaled by cold slaps of water to his face, took away that joy. Instead, he had been left drenched, freezing, even more, exhausted than he had been before.

Cleon thought about when he was told he was born during a summer rainstorm. He thought about his mother telling him not to go outside without a coat. He thought about how Reva let him jump in puddles, even if he wasn’t allowed to.

He cried when he thought of home and how he so desperately wanted to return.

~***~​

The third and final day was a blur, and yet, it felt like an entire lifetime was passing by him. He wandered again, slowly, and often found himself in another part of the forest he hadn’t recognised. He was thirsty, he was hungry, and he felt worse than he had the night before. At one stage, he sat against a tree, drifting in and out of consciousness. Cleon’s body felt heavy. Lifting any part of his body was an effort.

He hadn’t considered that he might have been dying, that his body was struggling to fight against any possible infection he had developed in the past few days. He was technically a boy still, smaller and weaker than most. There was only so much he could handle, and this was not one of them.

Cleon gave in to tempting thoughts of sleep. He lay down near some bushes, mumbling incoherent words.

He thought he heard voices. Several, by the sounds of it. All strong, loud masculine voices, shouting his name.

He opened his eyes. Though, he hadn’t the strength to cry out or the mental fortitude to alert them as to where he was. It had gotten dark in the past few minutes he had closed his eyes, he believed. It had obviously been much longer, though, he couldn’t tell that. There was the flicker of a warm, golden glow in the distance. Lanterns.

But it wasn’t enough to warrant him to stay awake. Cleon was about to fall back into sleep when he heard another call his name.

A woman’s voice. One who spent all her time calling his name, all her days running after him like she was doing now.

“...Reva...” Cleon whispered, though, it was not enough to be carried to her. He swallowed back and again, tried to call for her. It was a little louder, but no doubt it was being drowned out by the other calls of his name.

“Reva…” Cleon tried again, but he groaned, feeling darkness fall over his vision, his eyelids grow heavier.

Dying still hadn’t occurred to him as a thought just yet. Something wasn’t right, he knew it, but he pushed such thoughts to the back of his mind in hopes of rest. In the hopes he would wake up, be well again.

Cleon mumbled again. He could hear Reva speaking, hear footsteps nearby. He heard leaves rustle, then, his name. He felt two hands grip onto him, shaking him. He was drifting far from the realm of reality. The shaking, his name, the orders Reva was giving out, they felt as if they were all happening within a dream.

But he was comforted by it. Even if he couldn’t be pulled out of his heavy slumber, he was at peace.

Cleon knew he would be home soon.
 

Arcanist

One Espresso Depresso
Jagger Petrea, 23: Plans for the Future

“Do you ever get bored of doing all of this, Jagger?”

Said woman glanced to Juno, lying in her arms, as her fingers continued to glide over her bare shoulder blades. The heat of the day often carried through to night in Ibec, plus, the two always managed to find a field or an open plain far from camp where they could indulge in their own privacy. In this case, they claimed a large, smooth rock as their property for a few hours.

“Is that supposed to be a trick question?” Jagger asked teasingly, grinning when Juno chuckled. That familiar low and musical hum.

“Just answer the question, dummy.”

Jagger smirked, glancing up at the reddening moon. Most would have thought that to be an ill omen but Jagger and her cohorts knew better. A red sky at sunset, riding yellow waves and a scattered blue sky often meant for fair weather the next day.

"How could you be," Jagger started, nodding to the sky, "when you've got a view like that?"

Juno smiled, though, hadn't turned her head to look at it. Instead, she kept her eyes on Jagger. "I mean, you can get that view from anywhere...right?"

"Ah, but you get the best view of the red skies in Ibec," Jagger countered. "See, you get those fancy sky lights further north, past Ucantis. And then don't forget, storms are best viewed in--"

"Yeah, yeah, alright, no need to be smart about it," Juno attempted an annoyed tone, though, yet, she couldn't stop smiling. Though, she did prop herself up onto her elbow, and Jagger stopped stroking her back, though, kept a hand on it. "I meant, don't you want to go further than Ivocia?"

Jagger hummed, shrugging her shoulders. "I mean, I guess it'd be cool." In all honesty, she hadn't thought much about it before. She had been focused on simply walking most of Ivocia, earning enough coin to keep her afloat, and so on. She thought, maybe, they could go further than that, on a few occasions, but…

"Wouldn't it be expensive?" Jagger asked, raising an eyebrow. "Ships are steep, airships are even steeper."

"That's why we save up our gil," Juno said, poking Jagger's chest. "As in, you stop squandering your coin away on ale and food."

"Uh, now," Jagger smacked her backside lightly, causing her to giggle. "Don't forget the inn rooms. Nice ones, I'll remind you."

"I never forget," Juno whispered, leaning in closer to her face.

Jagger chuckled, stealing a quick peck on the lips. Now that she had put the thought into her head, she was curious by it. "So, what's your plan then? We sail all the seas and walk around like regular tourists?"

"Exactly," Juno grinned. "We go wherever we want. Do whatever we want."

"And when we run out of money…?"

"We do what we always did," Juno resolved. "Set up as mercenaries again. Or do odd jobs. Or, if we're desperate, sell off our bodies for some quick coin!"

"Tch, you're on your own," Jagger said, to which Juno laughed. "I'd rather not suffer the creeps."

"We've dealt with plenty of creeps before."

"Yeah, but we didn't have to get with any of them," Jagger pointed out.

"That's true," Juno laughed, returning to Jagger's arms.

The two descended into silence again. Not an uncomfortable one. It had rarely been one of those, unless they had argued about something. They quickly learned not to do that after the whole group of mercenaries were afraid to break the silence in camp.

Jagger stared up at the darkening sky, thoughtful. "Let's do it."

"Eh?"

"If you want to go travelling, then we'll go travelling," Jagger looked to her, smiling. Though, she barely had time to finish her sentence as Juno practically jumped on her. She managed to sit up and kiss Juno, who just giggled. Jagger did pull back for a moment to speak. "On the condition...that you're the one to tell your dad."

Juno laughed and nodded. "You let me handle that beast."

Jagger showed her immense gratitude with yet another kiss.

All she needed to do was not overindulge in ale for a while. Perhaps a long while.
 

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