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Fandom Final Fantasy: The Age of Ophiuchus [Closed]

Sub Genres


One Espresso Depresso
The Lady Virys, of course, was with the new governor.

How could she not be? House Marchand was a first choice when it came to choosing a governor, given its less than harmonious dealings with the royals, and its desires to take advantage of the new political turmoil happening within Ucantis’s walls. Like flies on chocobo dung. She just had to ensure this man would stay under their heel and know his place.

“Ucantis is a very…quaint little place.” Mama Virys noted, staring out a window overlooking much of the kingdom and its buildings. She sucked from the cigarette holder she held, a prop she had rarely been seen without. She was a tall woman, not unusual for anyone from the Virys clan, with a hard face, one that had grown sterner as it aged. She considered herself vain enough to keep her hair dyed black, her face powdered and always presentable, and the same went for the rest of her.

Most would have just called her an old bitch if they could get away with it. No one dared breathe it.

The man in question – Egbert Marchand – gave a proud smile. A man proud of his nation, his long, black braid streaking with grey a signal of being a loyal traditional Ucantis noble. Fortunately, to the Empire, not quite so loyal to its previous rulers. He had some years on his ‘predecessor’ Queen Inara, though, whether he was just as wise could be debatable. “I’m glad you agree, Lady Virys. In fact, I believe Ucantis is-”

“I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”

The man did pause at that. Mouth hanging open like a wooden puppet before he realised himself, clearing his throat. “My…apologies—"

“Everything about it is rooted in its history,” Mama Virys continued, watching the last of her tobac smoke dissipate into the air. “But that’s what holds it back. Amarum has prospered in its architecture, its technology…Ucantis could afford the same treatment. Ibec and Nalia boast the same improvements now too.”

“Not Prumoor, though,” Egbert murmured. He already felt himself shrinking under the cutting gaze of Mama Virys.

“You,” she started, approaching him with slow steps, “are very lucky to have been offered such a role by the Empress herself. Governance isn’t just handed to anyone, you know. Remember that what she gives can be easily taken away.”

Egbert swallowed, sweating like a schoolboy being told off by his teacher. “I-I—and my family, of course—are incredibly honoured by Empress Zariel’s to offer our humble House such a status. Any…improvements to Ucantis will be most welcomed!”

Mama Virys raised an eyebrow in…amusement? Curiosity? She never was an easy woman to read. “I am glad to hear it.” ‘Was that really so hard for you?’


Their trek into the Bell Woods was silent. Not that it needed to be filled with any conversation. It wasn’t meant to be a pleasant amble in the woods, after all. And anyway, these white ash chimes made enough noise to deafen the silence between Lixue and Zariel.

He disliked the incessant noise they made altogether and all at once. But then he enjoyed silence and enjoyed being alone in it. He knew he would never enjoy being here.

Nor would the viera with that warning shot barely brushing past Zariel.

It was expected. But to see it fly so close…a Viera’s marksmanship was something else. It had unsettled him, only slightly, but again, it was to be expected.

As was the Viera’s stubbornness. Lixue had listened to the parley between Zariel and the forest dwellers as he regarded the trees and the sky around them silently, waiting for the opportune time to signal. He hadn’t even considered a means of agreement between the two. He, in his view, didn’t expect one to emerge.

Lixue raised his left fist, clenched, rubbing at his wrist. “So be it then,” he said before his fist unclenched, allowing fire to emerge and shape in that of a ball above his open palm. Without another word, he flung it into the air, leaving snippets of flames in its wake.

From the airship, one of the soldiers saw the signal zip up and out from the forest. With no hesitation, she turned and commanded, “Release the Mist!”

The command, heard loud and clear, was quickly carried out. From the bottom of the airship came a device that sprayed the Mist over the forest. It wouldn’t take long for the Mist to descend upon the forest and for the sudden onset of panic for the Viera to begin.

They would soon have no choice but to reveal themselves.

“On your guard, Zariel,” Lixue told her, eyes once again peeled around him for any sign of Viera running among the Mist. “There’s no telling a group of them will come right for us.”

An agonised howling cut through the sounds of the white ash chimes. It was different from the yells and the growling from Viera, its sound deeper, raspier, louder than anything of a normal beast roaming this forest.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
The guard led the way through a few different rooms, before eventually coming upon the one where Lady Virys was. They didn’t need to enter themselves, the presence of other guards at the door helped to signify she was there, and a direct question got a positive answer. That allowed that guard to go scurrying off, before the other knocked on the door – and was overridden from trying to gain a polite entry by Oleander just pushing by and opening the door for himself and Lilia.

He frowned a bit at the scene of Chyou Virys and the weirdo, before he remembered Zariel would be establishing a governorship. That had to be the fool she put in charge, then. Well, so long as he learned his place. “Lady Chyou, we need to talk.” It was as informal as Oleander got with her, which, given he was informal with everyone, was actually notable.

Something about the woman still insisted on formality, no matter how attached she was to the Arkidos family. He couldn’t break from it and just call her ‘Chyou’. Nor would he call her ‘Lady Chyou’ in front of the rank and file, either. Perhaps he should have considered the governor still in the room, but he barely even registered in Oleander’s eyes.

Lilia just gave a small wave, looking apologetic.

She did feel it was her fault that her dad was bursting into the room.

“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Egbert asked, not immediately recognizing Oleander for who he was. It didn’t help he’d been put out of sorts by Lady Virys’s comments about Ucantis, and his role in all of this. Now he was making a bigger fool of himself. The presence of the kid definitely threw him off for recognizing who this could be, and Oleander canted his head.

“Oleander Arkidos. You can go run along, do some…reading, probably,” he suggested, giving a shooing gesture with his left hand. He didn’t need to say it. He was far more important than this governor, even if his current needs were on the petty scale. He wouldn’t even be bothering Chyou if Zariel were there, but noooooo, she had to be elsewhere, which meant nothing significant was going on in Ucantis.

So this fool could leave them alone.


The sight of fire was always going to inflame tempers among the viera. Zariel had prepared for it, and this time as the arrows appeared, Zariel was quick to turn each of them into ashes before they could strike her, or Lixue. It might have stirred the viera to come out of their spots and truly engage them, were it not for the Mist.

Even before it hit the ground, the viera could sense its plummet. There were no words spared for the invaders then, just running, heard this time with breaking branches as ringing. There was no subtlety when it came to avoiding the Mist, though Lixue and Zariel remained as they were as the Mist fell around them, protecting them, at least, from targeted viera attack. It could still happen – berserk viera would take any target they could find.

She gave Lixue a bit of a derisive smile for his warning, before she heard it: that sound that was far from viera. Her hand moved to her blade, though she didn’t draw it immediately. “I believe we have something else to worry about besides viera.” She’d heard tales of forest guardians that even the viera respected.

Fairy tale or not, she hadn’t paid it much mind.

Perhaps she should have taken it with more than a grain of a salt.

She squinted, but there was soon no need of that. The fiend did not keep itself hidden, charging forward, thick appendages like vines cutting through the trees like a knife through hot butter, clearing its path towards them.

Zariel might have called it a simple malboro, but it was decidedly not. It resembled one, in the general sense, but it was several times larger, the tentacles around its face all had eyes, and it was a deep, dark purple hue, rather than green. Its maw was also more terrifying to look at, filled with teeth and dripping saliva that Zariel was certain had to be poisonous, given malboro reputation. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you twice to stay back.”

Zariel definitely wouldn’t be – she wasn’t leading this back to her soldiers. The loss of life she’d been willing to accept was loss of life from viera, not from whatever this was. And she could handle it. She let go of the hilt of her sword, both hands seeming to catch fire before she placed them together before her, and launched a beam of flame at the beast.

It struck – of course it did, the fiend was too large to miss – but what Zariel hadn’t anticipated was that the fiend had already used its breath attack. No ghastly steam of color or toxic mist had escaped its maw, no smell even reached her lungs to warn her of it, so she was wholly unprepared to suddenly feel the crippling effects of poison rushing through her veins, or for the fire to suddenly die from her hands as she felt her ability to cast stripped from her.

The sleep was fought off, and some of the other negative effects of the breath, but the poison was the most surprising to her, so when she felt that sudden pain and the wooziness, she slipped forward to her knees.

She was immune to most poisons, damn it!


One Espresso Depresso
The Lady Virys turned to the door, though, instead of a guard, she was met with the Imperator himself impatiently barging into the room. Of courses, the lack of formal title should have bothered her, but Oleander had never been one for formalities. Shame it had to show in front of their new governor though. She, of course, noticed the young Lilia by her father’s side, and gave a slight nod, a rare, but small, smile. Poor girl wasn’t at fault for anything.

Nothing at all.

Egbert cleared his throat. “Of course...Imperator.” He awkwardly gave a bow to him before turning to Chyou and nodding, “Lady Virys.” He didn’t stray a moment longer. In fact, it almost seemed as if he couldn’t wait to get out of the room.

Lady Virys watched him leave, glad to be rid of a headache, even if for a short time. She turned to Oleander then. “Imperator. Always so good to see you. And of course, your daughter especially,” she again, gave something of a smile to Lilia, before returning her gaze to Oleander. “I didn’t expect you both to be back so soon from Escander?”

Zariel had told her he wouldn’t be back, not for a while, at least. But then the man was always so full of surprises. Something had happened, clearly.

“Come, you should sit with me,” Chyou suggested, already walking towards a pair of fine blue sofas, even beckoning for Lilia to come along and sit with her. Of course, the Bandoethel interiors had to match with their House insignia. A shame that would soon be replaced. “You must tell me all about your time in Escander.”


Lixue stood prepared himself, waiting to utilise that magic that lay dormant in his veins for quite some time. He could feel that cold stir in him, the one that had always been present with him, though, now much stronger. ‘Not now.’ There would be no need for her, not if this were a beast that they could dispose of quickly and quietly.

Foolishly, he had not given it a second thought.

Not until that Malboro appeared, or at least, something resembling it made its appearance known to them. Like Zariel, Lixue was quick enough to discern this was nothing like the infamous monster, in size, hue, or appearance. He knew from the look of it, it was bound to have abilities beyond that of a normal Malboro.

Was this truly what the Mist was capable of…?

There would be time to ponder that later, when they weren’t threatened to be turned into Malboro meat. Lixue nodded to Zariel. “Of course not.” If he wasn’t careful, he would be the first one to be reduced to mush. He had kept his distance, but added, “But I certainly won’t be leaving this to you to handle alone.”

He could support from the backlines, observe its behaviour. He had the means to do both. And already, even as Zariel had launched her offensive and fought it quite literally with fire, its behaviour was erratic, stretching out its jaw in such a way as if it was…

“Zariel! Back!” But the warning came far too late, and even if it didn’t have a physical form, the effects of the Malboro’s bad breath had already reached Zariel. Lixue had been far enough back not to catch anything off that breath, but he watched Zariel sway, wooziness eating away at her senses. She fell to her knees, practically incapacitated.

Lixue clenched his fists. How foolish to think she, or either of them, would be able to handle the likes of creature on their own! Chastisement for them could come later. He had to keep the Malboro off Zariel until she recovered.

As the creature made to launch at the incapacitated Empress, Lixue reacted purely on instinct. Pulling his arms back, he felt the magic burn at his fingertips, and as he launched them forward, a wave of fire crashed into the Malboro’s gaping mouth, a pained roar erupting from it.

But he knew he couldn’t do it own his own, now that he was to become a prime target.

“Now’s finally your chance,” Lixue said, locking his eyes on the tentacles that began to stir, rising to shoot towards him. “Come, Shiva!”

The air around them grew cold, much more chilling than this season usually had been. From behind Lixue, ice curved upwards from the ground in a set of blooming petals, like a rose delicately opening in its anticipation of spring. From its bud, a woman with pale-blue skin emerged. Many would think she was simply human, though, with being a full foot above Lixue, the skin, and pointed ears, and even the purple and yellow streaked hair flowing from an updo either side of her head was otherworldly. Her body was a sight to be envied, one that was unashamedly revealing, adorned in gold ornaments up her arms, legs, even her bare feet.

Shiva of Aquarius needed no further command. Motioning from the ground, she pulled up a wall of ice in front of Lixue, which still managed to stand even as four tentacles plunged through the ice.

Close, but Shiva always strayed close to the line as it was.

She gambled, just like he did.

“Keep the Malboro off me,” Lixue ordered, glancing behind him. “Zariel needs time to get back on her feet.”

Shiva sat back in the air, crossing her arms. “So bossy,” she huffed. “Not even a greeting spared for me.” She sighed. “But I shall do as you will, dear Lixue.”

Without another word, she left her rose, the ground below her frosting as she flew from behind the ice wall. Each ice petal was plucked from the rose she once hovered over, rising and following the airborne Shiva. Once she had the Malboro in her sight, she shot each one towards it. Each one struck a different mark – its head, its side, and even some sliced through the tentacles stuck in the ice wall. With each blow came the same pained roars, and the Malboro turned to face Shiva head-on.

Lixue watched the ice wall drop into a puddle of water. Approaching Zariel was risky, especially if he was to attract the Malboro’s attention suddenly. Damnit, if only he had something, anything on him, to negate the creature’s effects on her body.

Her only choice would be to fight it, to push through it. “Zariel, on your feet! This isn’t over!”


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Lilia’s lips blossomed into a brighter smile was she was acknowledged, and she came more out from around Oleander’s form, and hurried to the couch that Chyou suggested they sit at, Oleander following after her, noting the color scheme, but not caring enough about it to be concerned, or to comment. It’d be replaced soon enough.

He knew that, just as well.

He sunk into his seat, arms falling to rest upon his thighs as he leaned forward, “Yeah, I wanted to talk about something in Escander. I wanted to talk to Zariel, but she’s gone, apparently,” his tone requested an answer to that, even though it wasn’t phrased as a question. Zariel hadn’t told him of any business elsewhere. Then again, she always had a few secrets.

Things he didn’t need to know.

Things he should know.

“We met a Sesario…,” he sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to pronounce it right, but he said it as Lilia had been saying it, “Kavleers, of Rozari. Apparently, Lilia knew him,” or of him, rather, “Something about an arrangement with Zariel, that he seemed oblivious to?” Oleander canted his head, figuring Chyou would know she could begin explaining what all of this was about with that much information.

“I’m sorry,” Lilia said, “I didn’t know it was a secret,” she was assuming it was, since Oleander didn’t know, and Sesario apparently didn’t know, so she shouldn’t have said anything at all to either of them. “But he was nice. He helped me.” She held the chocobo a bit closer.


Zariel was not unfamiliar with poison, of course. Far from it, given her efforts to immunize herself to their effects, but that didn’t mean it was pleasant. She did, however, have the strength to push through it – it just took a bit of time, and she was grateful for the time that Lixue gave her as he brought forth Shiva. She still couldn’t help the envious glance at the summon, that momentary feeling that she couldn’t shake of being not good enough when Lixue had brought forth a summon, and she still failed to do it.

So no, she wasn’t going to stay down, and she got back to her feet shakily, Lixue’s words heard.

Trust both of them not to bring antidotes. She did have an echo herb, however, and once on her feet, she shoved the herb into her mouth and chewed, drawing out its power and relieving herself the inability to cast.

Getting back to the group would provide enough antidotes and potions, but first this thing had to be dealt with – and then the corpse dragged back, not by them, personally. Zariel wanted this thing looked at, for many reasons.

As Shiva brought the brunt of malboro’s rage towards herself, Zariel grit her teeth and pulled her blade into her hands. She channeled heat towards it, and rushed at the creature’s back while it was distracted, and slammed the blade into the back of its head. It cut smoothly, but more than that, the flames she’d put on it exploded outwards with the sudden connection, shooting fire through it, and within its mouth. She dragged the sword across it to the left, cutting a nice, gaping hole in the back of its head, before stumbling backwards and out of the way of a few tentacles it lashed towards her, cutting one off before it reached her and then finding a position to hold her ground.

Again, and again, ignoring the pain of the poison as it tried to shake her, growing used to it, growing numb to it, the way she did any pain.

She didn’t know if she and Shiva could continue to bait it’s aggression, but she was willing to play that game. Something told her the creature was probably too smart for that, though.
Last edited:


One Espresso Depresso
Chyou sat across from Oleander and folded leg over the other with a straight back. Years of intimidating others with such a posture had rubbed off on her, and she had been used to sitting in such a way. Though, she knew that wouldn’t have mattered to Oleander.

“She left not so long ago,” Chyou answered, taking another drag of tobacco into her lungs. “Important business to conduct in Ibec regarding those marks. But I have no doubt she’ll return soon enough.” She continued, smoke billowing from her nostrils like a dragon. She never mentioned her son travelling with Zariel. Everyone knew where Lixue was, something, experimental or otherwise, would be occurring.

She heard enough about what that man got up to.

The Lady would have saved Oleander the trouble, but she let him butcher the man’s name for her own entertainment. Only so she could reply with its proper pronunciation, “Kava-leer-ess. But I admit, it’s a mouthful.” Rozari names always were. Her eyes did move over her spectacles to the young Lilia, though, not out of any malice or disappointment, more of a, ‘did she now?’

Even as she apologised, Chyou just shook her head, giving a slight chuckle. “Well, it isn’t a secret anymore. Not for much longer, anyway,” she looked to Lilia. “Helped you? Did you get lost, Lilia? Escander is a rather big place,” she shifted her gaze to Oleander, raising an eyebrow. She suspected the man was busy in whatever escapades he got up to there. “No matter. You’re safe and as long as he was kind. At least we’ll know he’ll care well for your cousins.”

With that comment thrown out there, she turned back to Oleander. “It hasn’t been proposed to Rozari yet,” she started, “but Zariel intends to offer an alternative to Rozari, an alliance and a solution for its rulers. Sesario’s poor parents can’t tie him down and we need the nation on our side before that Bandoethel boy gets to them first. So, a marriage, we believed, was a viable solution, and a benefit to the Empire.”


Lixue watched Zariel rise to her feet, glad that she was able to push through and do so. He would never hear the end of it from Oleander, his mother, Twelve knew who else, if he brought Zariel back pulverised.

This was only a testament of the strength she was capable of.

Now, he just had to make sure she would live long enough to show that strength to others.

With Zariel now back into the swing of battle, it meant the three of them could get back down to the dirty work. The malboro’s mouth a burning furnace and with a gaping wound on the back of its head, Shiva continued on the offensive. Even as the Malboro turned towards Zariel, Shiva summoned icicles, sending them flying like javelins. Three pierced through its head and out the other side, and even with the gruelling shrieking, it still continued moving towards Zariel. The Empress had been right in that assumption that malboro was smarter than to let them distract it.

That was when Lixue had to step in. “Zariel, back!” He warned, the flames between his hands growing stronger. Most malboro had been weak to fire. Given the reaction of this one, he had to think this was had the same aversion to it. He raised his hands up from the ground and pushed forward, a wall of fire rushing forth into the side of the malboro. It hit, of course, and its side caught fire. It writhed in pain, its tentacles having caught fire too.

Lixue, however, couldn’t celebrate just yet. Not with how it started swinging its tentacles around. Some struck nearby trees, their trunks cracking and splintering upon impact. He was lucky to have even found cover behind one tree that hadn’t been hit. One had caught Shiva in the stomach and sent her flying backwards.

“Shiva!” Lixue shouted, seeing her whiz backwards from the corner of his eyes. She was recovering, despite the burn mark stretched across her stomach. But that seemed trivial to her. He could feel that anger and chaos rising with her.

And that was what was needed for her to channel a greater power. The two just had to keep it busy until such times she could release it.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Ibec. Holy lands. The most boring place in their entire Empire. Oleander was glad to have Escander as a part of it, but he wondered what was going on in Ibec. Was it something about a survey or census there, too? He supposed it was possible. After all, there were lots of things to check, and double-check. ‘At least it’s not Rozari.’ With that Prince.

He huffed a little at the ‘mouthful’ comment, but wouldn’t protest. At least now he knew how to say it, and it was easier than Bandoethel. What kind of name was that, anyways? ‘One of a prince you let escape, who is apparently putting pressure on Zariel for the Rozari situation, because the last thing we need is a prince getting Rozari allies and causing a ruckus here.’ Fair enough.

He didn’t like it, though.

Lilia nodded to the question Chyou asked, but didn’t verbalize. The adults were talking. She shouldn’t be talking too much.

Oleander pulled a face about ‘cousins’, though. He knew they had a dynasty and legacy and all that other bullshit to keep but…still, “That’s my sister, Lady Chyou, I don’t want to think about that.” Even if he knew too much about Zariel’s tastes. “Besides, Ses doesn’t have the cheekbones,” he had a decent jaw, though. One Oleander would probably hurt his fist punching. But it was a good jaw.

Just not the cheekbones.

He still let out a sigh, “I don’t think he’s gonna go along with it. Didn’t seem a fan of us. Didn’t like the idea of the census lottery in Escander.” Besides the fact arranged marriages were always terrible. One look at his parents confirmed that.

“But maybe when he understands more….” Lilia apparently wanted to be hopeful. For cousins, and the nice man.


The creature couldn’t be easy and go down by burning up, could it? No, they weren’t that lucky, and Zariel clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth in agitation as she watched it secreting a liquid across its body that seemed to be helping with putting out the fire, even as it raged, flinging its tentacles about everywhere in an effort to stamp out the fire that way.

It was a careless action, which made it all the more dangerous. Zariel would try to keep her distance, but one of the trees that cracked did fall towards her. She lifted her palm and set it ablaze before it struck her, the wood disintegrating into ashes that fell around her. Shiva was recovering further away, and the creature seemed to have doused the flames on it, for the most part.


And it was still stuck on targeting her, too. She lopped off another tentacle, felt a wave of poison rush through her again, and didn’t quite sidestep the next strike. It glanced off her arm, drawing blood in the pass, and took the sword with it, sending it across the ground.

Zariel didn’t run for it, but grabbed her whip instead and set that on fire, meeting the next tentacle with the whip and setting it aflame once again, before she’d use the whip to get her sword back into her hand in a more dignified manner than scrambling for it and putting herself at the mercy of the beast.

“I can keep setting you on fire all day,” Zariel doubted it was smart enough to understand the threat. Not that it was going to take that as incentive to just die.


One Espresso Depresso
Lady Virys scoffed and shook her head. “It’s not that bad, Imperator,” she told him. She thought he would have been different with a daughter of his own, but then again, women could talk about that so freely and without batting an eyelash. He had heard the man was good looking, but most from Rozari were said to be so narcissistic that they couldn’t leave the house without checking the mirror three times.

Being unattractive and coming from the land of beautiful flora never mixed.

Chyou tilted her head to the side with a raised brow that asked if Oleander though the Rozari prince really had a choice in the matter. Though, she was curious about his dislike for the census lottery. Anyone would begrudgingly partake in it to continue trade. “I suppose someone of his…occupation wouldn’t. It means bad business for them if we’re flushing out the depravity out of that city.”

Taking advantage of it too, for sure.

Lady Virys turned her gaze to Lilia and nodded, humming in affirmation. “Exactly, when he understands more. Your father could do with some more faith in us,” she said again. “And anyway, we’re very good at persuading people to see our side of things.”

Not exactly a lie, but some forms of persuasion were…more forceful for others. They hoped they wouldn’t have to do the same for Rozari.

Hence the idea of a marriage alliance.


Even if it was just a monster, it clearly had a higher intelligence than most if it was able to try and douse the flames with that liquid it had. What other methods could it utilise that they didn’t know about?

Again, it wasn’t time for Lixue’s musings. A tree hurtled down towards Zariel, though, she had been swift enough to rid of the threat entirely. And it seemed what large effort they made against the creature was only quite literally stamped out. Not only that, but that thing still targeted Zariel, trying to break her down bit-by-bit as Lixue felt the heat of fire prickle his fingertips again.

Whatever Shiva was doing with that inner rage of hers, he would have appreciated it manifesting itself, and soon, before, or if, Zariel succumbed to that poison.

As the Malboro turned back to Zariel, roaring in its defiance, Lixue lobbed it with a fireball, desperately wishing to burn a hole into that slimy head. Though, it had only turned its attention towards him with a tentacle, throwing it into the sides of his legs and effectively tripping him up. He landed on his stomach and a grunt. Where most people could recover quicker and get back onto their feet, Lixue struggled. He could already feel the bruising blooming over his stomach, winded. He was managing to rise onto his hands and knees, just as another tentacle went hurtling towards him.

Before it could think to reach him, it froze. The ice coated it from its tip and travelled up the tentacle, all the way back to its body. Shiva, in the meanwhile, zipped around the malboro’s body and up, each part of it freezing in blocks of jagged ice.

Instinctively, deep down, Lixue knew what it was Shiva was about to pull. “Zariel…cover…!” He strained, trying to force himself onto his feet, just enough to get him behind a tree.

Shiva would give them time. Just barely. She was always so impatient after all. Moving back from the creature, she raised a hand, finger and thumb poised…

And snapped. The ice trapping the Malboro cracked and shattered, splintering into fragments. Some fragments shot into trees, easily splitting bark, and others fluttered around, glittering in the air as they fell.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander canted his head as Chyou mentioned an occupation that would be against cleaning up Escander. He wasn’t as political as Zariel, it was true, but he was pretty sure Rozarian Prince would be all about cleaning up Escander. ‘He’s someone his parents have difficulty controlling, he was in Escander to play around probably…but hadn’t been forced to—oh hells.’

“He’s a pirate, isn’t he? Or a thief--something bad.” Oleander just sounded exasperated to even be saying it aloud. “He’s run off from home to be a pirate, soaring around free as a bird, and mommy and daddy want to fix him up with a nice respectable woman and save Rozari while keeping power…or that’s what you’re all hoping for?” He just sighed.

This was a stupid idea.

“Aren’t pirates bad?” Lilia asked, seeming confused given how nice he was.

“Yes, they are, they’ve messed with a lot of things for us.” Oleander wouldn’t let Chyou suggest anything different, although he doubted she would. She might just find a way to explain it that suggested second chances or he wasn’t really a pirate. Still, he sighed, “But I can’t stop you, I can just complain about it.”

And make sure to get an ‘I Told You So’ in when it all fell to pieces. He didn’t get enough of those with Zariel anymore, which was honestly so disappointing. It was his job as her brother, after all.

“Is there really no on else in Rozari? I mean, we’ve set this guy up – whatever his name is – here in Ucantis, can’t we just play politics there? Zari’s—Zariel’s not as bad as our dad was about all that.” Lavi was…miserable at politics and it showed in his one conquest.


As much as Zariel wanted to preserve something of the creature for research, she wouldn’t mind turning it entirely into ashes at this point, either. Seeing Lixue fall, she almost shouted at Shiva to remember to protect him, but it wasn’t necessary – Shiva never forgot her charge, and stopped another blow, before beginning to freeze the creature entirely, zipping around it. Zariel was unfamiliar with what was going to occur, but took Lixue’s words to heart.

She didn’t think the trees were all that safe, but she still went to one and ducked down, covering the back of her neck with her hands as she let her weapons fall along her side.

Then came that cracking and shattering sound from behind, followed be even more devastation to the forest. Zariel was fortunate her tree was among those that withstood it, and she got up to her feet – a bit too fast, perhaps, as she had to lean into it a moment later to check the situation with the fiend.

The malboro-thing hadn’t disintegrated into ashes, but it was certainly no longer moving, if it was even alive. The ice had not only broken through trees, but broken through the malboro, slicing it deep in several locations. Plenty of tentacles had been severed, as well as the eyes around its maw, which was basically just drooling blood at this point.

Zariel was still tempted to set it aflame, but wouldn’t, as she bent to retrieve her weapons and put them away, “Thank you, Shiva.” She probably needed no thanks, “Lixue, you’ll get a team prepared to extract this thing. I want it researched,” he probably did, as well, so she didn’t imagine that would be a hardship. “I also want its poison isolated if you can manage it.” That might be asking too much, as she straightened back up, hand staying on the tree for the moment.

She’d find the strength to walk back.

And she’d find a way to get an antidote as soon as she got back. The others had prepared for poison; they didn’t believe it against the viera code to use poison arrows.


One Espresso Depresso
Lady Virys watched the realisation set in on Oleander’s expression, smoking again as he said his part. “Now you’re understanding it. The former I’m surprised you hadn’t heard.” Most people knew about the man’s habit to return home, then run off when responsibility reared its head towards the Prince. She heard the doubt in Oleander’s voice, clear as day, but simply sighed and nodded.

“Yes, they can be, but even if he is a pirate,” Chyou began, leaning back, “it’s not to say he’s so horrible a person. Far better than being faced with would have happened if any other pirate or criminal had found our dear Lilia?” For all she knew, the prince could have been a horrible shit for she knew, but she’d be damned if she was going to let Oleander paint him as such to Lilia.

“We can’t go pillaging the whole continent,” the Virys woman told him, shaking his head, “as much as perhaps that would seem easier, especially just replacing leaders constantly. Forging amicable alliances is necessary too.” As amicable as they can be at least. “As it stands, his younger brother is already married, and for the other three…” She clicked her tongue. They were of dubious parentage, even if they had been legitimised by their father.

“The results remain to be seen,” Chyou said, for even she knew this offer would have to be met with some sort of resistance, “but plenty of people outside of Amarum lead happy lives with Imperials.” Nalia, for one, saw an influx of Imperials settle there, and surprisingly, there had been quite the number of weddings and little Amarum-Nalia crossed tykes running around.

Still baffling to think about to this day.

Though, her nose wrinkled at the mention of Lavi. “My grandchildren play better at politics,” she muttered, certainly apologetic about even mentioning such a comment. A woman to always speak her mind, especially when it came to the previous Emperor’s terrible decision making.


Lixue could hear the destruction whistle around them, covering his head all the while as he used another tree for cover. He somehow always seemed surprised by the level of impact that Shiva’s abilities had, but then he would have been disappointed, seeing as she was one of the Twelve. When the cold chill had disappeared and that whistling had stopped, Lixue peered from behind the tree, only to slowly rise to his feet as well.

It was dead, that much was discernible. Finally, dead.

And now he could spend all the time thinking about it. Perhaps this would be another thing to keep him up at night…

Shiva’s laughter had brought him back into the moment. Lixue looked to her, who cupped her face in both hands with a smile.

Thank me? Thank you! It’s been so long since I’ve been able to let go like that…” Though, before Lixue could even ask, she shook her head and giggled. “A story for another time, of course.”

He should have known better. Lixue turned his attentions to Zariel, who already insisted upon having the corpse taken away for further investigation. That, of course, had already been the first thought in his mind. If Mist had caused this, then they couldn’t be sure as to what else it could do. Lixue nodded. “Of course. I’ll have it seen to immediately.”

They’d at least be able to get traces of its poison in its corpse too.

Though, before he could think of moving on to even request such things, he did pause to watch Zariel recover herself. Ever the leader, even when poison burned through her veins. Even if it seemed admirable to him, it could be equally as foolish.

“Don’t waste what strength you already have, Zariel,” Lixue said, “I can procure an antidote and return to you.”

Then, later, think about himself. His stamina and his durability certainly wasn’t what it used to be. And now, his stomach ached.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
It was obviously better that Sesario found Lilia and returned her. Oleander knew that, and he wasn’t that upset to have parted with a substantial sum of gil for that. That was what the man deserved for it, after all – although he wished he’d known the rest of this so he could also feel things out more. As it was, he probably wouldn’t get to meet him again soon.

‘We could.’ Oleander wanted to protest. He wanted to be childish. It wasn’t as if Nalia or Ibec fell to Leander without violence. Sure, things were good now, that’s what time did – but none of them cared that much about time, or even conquest. Conquest was just a means to an end. ‘And so is marriage.’ If it made things turn around quicker with Rozari, he knew Zariel would go through with it.

Still didn’t make him happy.

“Of course they do, they are Imperials,” Oleander noted. He knew some tensions remained, some still didn’t feel that way – but he knew Zariel also preferred not to separate them. They were an Empire now, not different countries. It would take time, with places like Prumoor, Escander, and Ucantis, but Ibec and Nalia may as well have been a part of it all.

Not everyone saw that.

Especially not Old Amarum Nobles.

He was sure Zariel had plans for that, eventually. When the wars were over.

He did snort at her comment, “Yeah, I know,” he couldn’t disagree. His father…wasn’t smart. He’d tried to kill Zariel. ‘No he got assassinated.’ Oleander shook his head. “I’m guessing this was kept from me because you all knew I wouldn’t like it, huh? Are you plotting any secret marriages for me?” It was a tease, but he was also really hoping not.


Zariel really didn’t know what to make of Shiva, but she was far from offended by the Zodiac’s response, even if Lixue was likely driven mad by her. Unfortunately for Shiva, Lixue was also worth too much to be put into these situations regularly, or intentionally. He’d been brought out this time because it was necessary to witness the Mist, and now they might have evidence of something more with it.

Or of a viera forest guardian.

Or both.

Despite being prepared to continue on, Zariel did consider Lixue’s offer. She knew she’d be doing herself no favors if she walked back, and it wasn’t a short walk, either. There were pros and cons to it. If she stayed behind, there remained the chance that something left in the woods would find her. If she kept going, she could end up passing out.

She could end up passing out if she stayed behind, as well, and so she had to shake her head, “Tempting as your offer is, I doubt that creature is the only thing in the forest, and I’d at least prefer to make it closer to the border.” Zariel rolled her whip back up and hooked it on her belt, but kept her sword out, as she walked to join Lixue’s side. “Besides…you might still need help if we encounter anything else.”

She wasn’t oblivious.

Lixue was…well, weak.

Shiva may do well to hang around longer.


One Espresso Depresso
Chyou tapped her cigarette holder with one finger. Shame that Oleander couldn’t see what she saw, but the younger nobles never were able to see what she saw. Even if he wasn’t that young. All was not perfect in their vision of an Imperial run Hyune, but if enough supported it, it would drown out the sounds of the more disgruntled.

She was glad, though, to see that Oleander agreed on the subject of his father. She was sure many others did, but they hadn’t had the guts to talk so openly about it. Chyou had been an exception to that fact. How she never suffered the repercussions for it was a miracle.

Lady Virys did give a scoff at Oleander’s next comment. “Don’t give us ideas, Imperator,” she teased…without so much of a teasing expression. “We’re still…finessing the plans, of course. One of the reasons you haven’t heard much about it,” she explained. Of course they hadn’t told him if he was simply going to complain about it. Else, find some way to muck things up, purposefully or unwittingly. He was very vocal in his complaining...always had been.

“But that will be discussed more with Zariel when she returns from her business in Ibec, of course,” Chyou brushed off the conversation as easily as she had discussed it.


Lixue had watched Zariel as she considered his offer. Of course, like everything, she was considering the benefits and the consequences of doing so. He appreciated it, but he knew she pushed herself. Her commands to have the Mist Fiend’s corpse to be dragged back and examined was evident of that. Business first, above all.

So, he wasn’t surprised that Zariel opted to come with him. But it hadn’t been out of concern for her own safety, but his own too.

Because he was indispensable, of course. And he was okay with that. With his knowledge and Shiva in possession. His physicality, perhaps not much, but it would be a shame for him to be lost to some Viera guardian.

“Perhaps that is wiser,” he grunted, hand rubbing at his stomach as they began their walk back. “Though, that's what Shiva is here for. She saved me once. No doubt she’ll do it many more times.”

Shiva did look rather proud at that. She floated on her back as she follower them, leaving an icy chill in her wake. “It would have been so many years wasted otherwise, Lixue. To start all over again would have been so much effort.”

Lixue sighed a little, shaking his head. “It explains the effort you put into answering my questions...” Any time she had been summoned for questions or opinions of his theories, she had always been vague about it. He often was on the verge of losing his patience when he dismissed her.

“What is it you mortals say? ‘Don’t put your chocobo eggs all in the one basket'?” Shiva chuckled, spinning through the air. “What an odd saying. But anyway. You have to procure more of those bearing marks. Otherwise, you’ll discover little.”

“Or you could always just tell us what we don’t know.”

Shiva just looks to Lixue, tapped her nose, and giggled.

Lixue tutted, shaking his head in annoyance. The nerve of this...Shiva. Most would have been abhorred to hear how Lixue spoke to one of the Twelve. He was sure the priests and priestesses in Ibec would have been having words with him.

Tsk. Not they would participate in their hunt for knowledge either.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander groaned as Chyou teased his possible future. Of course, unlike Zariel, he could and would say ‘no’ to things he disagreed with, even where it concerned business. He wasn’t going to tie himself to someone who might put a dagger through his heart while he slept, as he was certain his mother wanted to do several times to Lavi. That she never did was testament only to the fear she had of the consequences.

And she had wanted him to poison…..

No, she had committed suicide at the end.

“Of course,” he echoed. He wanted to ask if she would be going to Rozari. If he should go to Rozari with her. That latter was certainly not going to be considered a good idea, given the likelihood of him messing it all up. On purpose. Definitely. “All right, I’ll try not to get anymore involved, but if he comes back to Escander, I make no promises about not interrogating him.”


“It’s what I have to do,” he said, putting a hand on Lilia’s head, “It’s what siblings do.”

“When do I get a sibling to learn?”

Oleander’s face went bright red. “Aaaah….ah, yeah, um, don’t know about that one.” Lilia wasn’t even planned, or really wanted, once upon a time, though he’d be damned if he ever told her that. He loved her now, that was what mattered.


There were small things that Shiva revealed; that it was effort, apparently, to unite with someone was a theory Zariel had long held, given the infrequency with which the zodiacs themselves manifested. Phoenix had only been known of once, in Leander. Alexander also only once. There were others, many others, but their stories hadn’t spread as far or as wide.

If they had manifested before or not.

They knew of no stories with Scorpio.

It was still strange, Zariel would admit, the way that Lixue spoke to Shiva. He was certainly his mother’s son, there was no question of it. It remained a breath of fresh air, amongst the rest of the Amarum nobles who were simple ass-kissers.

Zariel listened, putting a hand over her bleeding arm as they walked. “I was told Phoenix was never quite so difficult to get answers from, although I suppose the little we know now may suggest that was a lie.” Or perhaps Leander had kept much to himself. She had never known Leander, only the stories Lavi had, but Leander had seemed…very aware.

He had kickstarted all of this, after all.

There was more sounds of chaos and fighting as they continued walking – and not only viera’s shrieks. Zariel really did hope they’d somehow get out without much further chaos.


One Espresso Depresso
Chyou, on one hand, couldn’t blame the man for showing disdain for arranged marriages. Of course, plenty had worked out splendidly, given time and the nature of the two matches. Others had started off well, with life-long declarations of love, before they fizzled out, those vows rendered empty and meaningless.

Much like her own. But she was a mother and a matriarch. Her marriage became trivial considering those two positions.

But she never mentioned her agreement with Oleander. Instead, she hummed at his insistence he would be interrogating Sesario, should Oleander come across him again, though, she could easily see that interrogation being anything but cooperative from both sides.

“You can learn with your future cousins first,” Chyou told her. The thought of Oleander siring any more children threatened to put years on her; more than she had already earned of her own accord. “Your father has important work as Imperator to do first, yes? And he has to focus on you first before considering more siblings.”

Again, finding him someone to settle and stay down with would be an effort. There would be no siblings, taking that into account, for a long while.


Lixue could never quite understand the bond between a Zodiac and its host. He felt Shiva and he were miles apart in terms of goals, how they acted, how the spoke with anyone. Yet, he felt a synergy with her, one he always felt. Even before she manifested, he felt something was there with him, but had never been able to discern what or who exactly it had been.

A strange paradox, one he could never quite find one answer to.

Then, of course, there were the other Zodiacs, whom they had been with before. Shiva made little mention of her past host if she had one. He had been investigating claims of a monk who previously had the marking of Aries but couldn’t garner much more on such a story. There was a claim of a marking in Nalia, though, inspection then

For once, Shiva had paused, thoughtful at Zariel’s comment. Though, she never remained like that for very long. “Phoenix never has to give answers.”

Lixue’s nose twitched at the vague answer. Another riddle or clue perhaps he would be forced to try and work out. Another sleepless night of playing cold and cold – hot and cold, but where the game seemingly goes nowhere. It could have been Phoenix never gave answers because they didn’t want to. It was something he had to figure out later.

The shrieks and the noises in the forest didn’t go unheard by any of them. He hoped no more of the creatures had been adversely affected by the Mist, at least not to the point of that rogue Malboro. He did hope that some of the soldiers had managed to apprehend some viera for him. So many questions, so much to figure out.

Not to mention find another Zodiac host.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Again, talk of cousins. Oleander didn’t flinch so visibly this time, but he still huffed, even if Lilia smiled at the thought that she might get to learn with cousins. She didn’t have cousins, after all. It would be fun to have cousins! At least, she assumed it would be. She could introduce them to the chocobos and teach them how to ride the chocobos, too! Zariel probably wouldn’t teach them that, she never saw Zariel do much with chocobos, although Oleander assured her Zariel wasn’t ignorant.

“Yeah, I have…a lot to do,” he said, agreeing with Chyou rather than argue, since it got him out of the mess. Comparatively speaking, he had much less to do than Zariel. He wasn’t going to mention that when this was to his advantage. Besides, so much of Zariel’s things were political, anyways. “Which I guess I should probably be heading back to Escander to do.”

He could stick around here, but there wasn’t much of a reason with Zariel gone. He’d made this trip for nothing. Well…not nothing. He got confirmation from Chyou, at least. He wasn’t happy about it, and he wouldn’t be talking to Zariel personally to let her know about this Sesario, and what he thought of their work in Escander, but he realized it probably wouldn’t have phased her much.

She likely would have still at least gone through with the approach, and met Sesario first, before deciding anything. One of her good traits, also one of her bad traits, she never liked other people to make judgments for her.

Especially him.

He didn’t have the best reputation himself, especially for getting along with other people. “Sorry to barge in like that, Lady Chyou,” he sighed. He didn’t think he messed anything up, but he did take away some of her time that she could have been using to get their governor acquainted with things.


Zariel couldn’t help but chuckle, in spite of her pain, at Shiva’s non-answer. “No, I suppose none of you have to give any answers, unless you’re okay with what the Serpent is doing.” She didn’t feel so comfortable speaking the name in the woods. The Viera spoke of how woods had voices, lives, and she knew better than to think it all a lie.

She knew better than to assume she wasn’t being watched by Ophiuchus, that they all aren’t weren’t being watched by Ophiuchus. She didn’t know how close it watched, or how little it watched. She got the sense from Leander that it was at a distance still, but that distance was closing.

So long as Ophiuchus thought the Empire was just conquering things with no ties to what Ophiuchus was doing, or what Ophiuchus was, that was for the best.

She still slipped – necessarily – in speaking more directly about it. She had to, after all, to explain things to those who had joined her, so they knew the stakes, but where possible, she didn’t. It was why Jagger didn’t know much of anything, yet.

Their path back wouldn’t remain clear, but the fiends that came before them seemed more like normal coeurl fiends, twitching tendrils and sharp claws, but none giant or oddly colored, although they did seem a bit out of it, staggering about. They were more impacted by the mist than some of the others in the forest (not the viera) given they were tied more to magic. Yet, on sight of others not like them, they charged forward.

The crack of a whip across the face of one severed its tendrils and knocked it backwards, though the other kept coming towards Lixue.


One Espresso Depresso
At least Lilia was happy at the idea. Then again, why wouldn’t she? It must have been lonely without some siblings. Her spending time with her grandchildren certainly wasn’t the same. Though, perhaps it wasn’t all bad that she didn’t have siblings. Being a noble and having a sibling in Amarum was almost and most times, a death sentence. Zariel and Oleander excluded.

Chyou nodded at that, agreeing that the Imperator should return to Escander. It was a shame that Zariel hadn’t been here to greet him – or perhaps not, considering it would have been less of a headache for the Empress. Oleander should have been at least grateful it wasn’t him that was getting married.


Lady Virys shook her head at his apology. “Oh, please. I should be thanking you,” she sighed, her eyes moving to the door with a stern stare. “Our new governor needs a lot of work. And it requires much patience to deal with him…” She wondered if Ucantis would take to House Marchand as their ‘new rulers’ with the same love and commitment to the Bandoethels.

She intended that to be the case.

“But he’s easy to point in certain directions, to plant the seed of an idea in,” Chyou reassured, sitting forward. “Let’s hope the rest of the Marchands are willing to be strung along, hm?”


“Exactly,” Lixue agreed. “You’d do well to tell us what you know, Shiva.” He warned her again, though, he wondered what more he could do to squeeze an answer out of her. She had her host, and that seemed to be all that mattered to her for the moment.

There was the option of her host disappearing, but risking the process to start anew, right from birth, wasn’t an option. They didn’t have the time for that.

“You mortals don’t have a slither of patience,” Shiva tutted, bringing herself upright once again. “All in good time. When the Twel—”

“Twelve start to reunite, yes,” Lixue sighed, rubbing at his temples. “I remember that statement well.” It was all he ever got from her. Hence why they needed to find the prince, his bodyguard, and the one with the mark of Libra…how odd that the three would end up in the one place.

It couldn’t have been so well planned. But it was too coincidental to be an accident.

Lixue stopped though at the sight of two coeurls loitering, or rather, staggering in their way. Of course, it didn’t take them long to become hostile and lunge towards them. Zariel, of course, had her form of attack at the ready. Lixue, however, needed longer, just that little bit longer. But he counted on Shiva to step in for him and to give him the time needed.

He was right.

Shiva appeared in front of Lixue and with a wave of her arm, created a slip of ice, which, notably, the fiend had lost its footing on. It gave Lixue a window of time, allowing him to conjure up his own icicle and lunging it towards the coeurl. His aim was off from having it go right into the fiend’s leg, though, it did leave a gash in it on its way past.

The other coeurl had narrowly avoided the icicle that had came flying it way. Though, rather than charging back towards the trio, it instead lowered itself, its remaining tendril starting to glow. It seemed to have more difficulty illuminating without its other tendril, but nonetheless, it was an attack that would still come.

And if it hit, it wouldn’t just burn, but they could expect to be without their sight or more if it hit.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his lips, and then the snicker as Chyou continued to badmouth the governor. Then again, she was rarely satisfied with anyone, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the governor didn’t make her happy. Lilia looked worried, though, not completely aware of how Chyou was probably just being too critical.

“So long as he looks nice and does his job, that’s all we need,” Oleander said dismissively. “I’m sure you’ll get him all straightened out so he doesn’t mess up that job. That’s why Zariel put you in charge of it,” and she probably quietly loathed that. Maybe even vocally. Then again, at least Zariel knew Chyou had the talent for it.

And Chyou would do it.

All for the glory of the Empire.

“Have you met the other Marchands yet?” He asked, leaning forward, not yet rising, but clearly poised to do so.

“I’m sure they can’t all be bad,” Lilia murmured, hopeful, but still with that worry in her tone, over those things she didn’t fully understand about running an Empire, and why this was all so important.


There was little time to muse on the impatience of humanity in comparison to quasi-immortals like Shiva. The coeurls gave them little time for it. Shiva helped, of course, and Lixue was able to cut through one fairly well, but the other was smart and hung back, hunkering down to charge a spell.

Zariel took a couple of steps forward, lifting her whip in the air and twirling it around to gain momentum and bring it down on the other tendril, severing it with ease while the creature was focusing it, and wrecking its spell attempt…and its balance. The coeurl faltered, staggering and falling onto its side, letting out a pitiful yowl as it fought its way back up.

The other tried to rush forward, heedless of the pain in its leg, and that damned pain of the poison kept Zariel from striking out at it, causing a spasm to run through her. The flare of fire around her being kept the coeurl from lunging at her, at least – it quickly realized that was a bad idea.

The one with the missing tendril was trying to make its way away from the area, apparently realizing this was a stupid, stupid fight to pursue, albeit clumsily.


One Espresso Depresso
Chyou scoffed, shaking her head. “I’d like to think so. We need a good little governor to keep Ucantis under our thumb after all,” she said, rubbing her forehead. The man was enough of an idiot for them to manipulate. She understood she herself had strange means as to getting what she wanted, that she was cutting and cold. Sometimes too cold for even a Arkidos’s wants, but it was simply the Virys way.

Chyou looked to both father and daughter at their question and musings of the other Marchands. She tapped her cheek with her cigarette holder before answering, “No, but I feel as if I might as well have met the son,” she sighed. “He briefly mentioned a daughter too. Had even played with the Bandoethel boy when they were children.”

How sad, to see how one had fallen and the other had risen.

Well, not for the Empire.

This was almost like a typical Tuesday where Amarum’s nobles were concerned.

“I’m hoping the children aren’t as dim-witted as the father,” Chyou grumbled as she rose to her feet. “Perhaps the daughter was spared of such qualities.” Though, as she said that, she shot a warning glance to Oleander.

The last thing they needed was him getting ideas. Not that the governor could do much about it, mind you…


A sharp crack later, and the coeurl’s other tentacle had been severed by Zariel’s whip. She had always been the better fighter but then she had been trained to fight as such. Lixue, as everyone knew, preferred to keep out of the fighting and to his multiple projects. Always had been like that, even as a child.

Shame he couldn’t have been in the lab right now.

Lixue was less worried about the coeurl who had decided to flee the scene. He was more concerned with the one in front, who had been trying to get at Zariel. Thankfully, she had her defences against it, though, that had meant the coeurl had turned on Lixue next. It gave him little warning, little time to prepare, and all he could do was thrust his hand out to meet the creature’s chest, sparks bouncing between his fingers.

Sparks plunged into the coeurl’s chest, sending it on its back, writhing on the ground with a pained shriek, though, only for a few moments. It was only a spur of the moment spell, one that would buy them enough time. Before it could roll onto its front, an icicle plunged from the ground, piercing through the coeurl’s back and lifting it up onto its pointed pillar. No shriek nor writhing came.

Shiva had put it down good.

Lixue could see her staring down the coeurl that had been scampering away, eager to add it to her list of kills. “Leave it, Shiva,” he ordered, “don’t waste your strength. It’ll know better than to cross us again.”

Shiva gave a groan of utter disappointment. What was the point of being an almighty Zodiac if she couldn’t take down who she’d like to be rid of? But his word was her bond, and the mortal Lixue knew best. “I pity the creature. It would be better to put it out of its misery.”

Lixue rolled his shoulder back, sighing once again as he murmured, “I hate this forest…” That being said, he still hated Escander most of all.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
There were at least two children, and Chyou thought they might have been spared some of the idiocy of the father. ‘I wonder how much of his idiocy might be a ruse.’ If any, Oleander wondered, and before Chyou’s warning came after mentioning a daughter, his thoughts turned to ‘accidental’ death. He wasn’t exactly an assassin, but….

Chyou’s warning caused him to cant his head and frown. He didn’t think she was warning him off death, following her comment about a daughter. He pulled a face, then smirked, “You know, I might like the son better.” He was fairly certain Chyou wasn’t a fan of the fact he and Zariel really didn’t care who they bedded in that realms. He also knew he favored women, so he was at least doing the right thing in that department. Even if he still wasn't married with a proper heir.

Given the Empire’s way, it wasn’t exactly smiled upon in Amarum, either. Oh sure, either child could inherit, male or female – one advancement – but marriage was still meant for heirs, and so all views of love and lust were viewed in those terms, which he assumed was one of the problems with Amarum in general, as he got to his feet. “But I’ll try not to play that nice.”

Lilia didn’t know the implications. She was confused, but not sure how to ask what was being implied. She just knew something was being implied, as she scooted off the couch and got to her feet.

“Are we going back to Escander now?”

“Yeah, may as well,” he probably shouldn’t stay a night in Ucantis. He might have, if Zariel were there. He could get enough sleep on the airship, though. “Give the Marchands my best, tell their father I’m so sorry for intruding, or whatever will smooth things over next time I’m around.”


It might have been merciful to put it out of its misery, but Zariel wouldn’t counter Lixue’s statement. Perhaps they’d see it again, and see if the Mist had done anything to it. The wound, if it remained in some form, would tip them off as to which couerl it was. The flames died away from around Zariel, and she fought against the urge to fall forward. The poison certainly seemed to worsen with more activity, there was little denying that.

She was pretty sure most poisons did.

Still, she chuckled at Lixue’s statement. “Perhaps we’ll burn it down if the viera don’t cooperate.” She didn’t mean it. Not yet, anyways. It was needlessly cruel, but…well, she supposed if the viera found a way to be uncooperative in a notable fashion, withholding something they needed, then burning the forest was an option.

What would happen to such a large group of viera if their woods were burned?

Zariel should probably think of the ecosystem, or the creatures, and how they might go running and infest the nearby area, but she’d do that if necessary. Besides, this area could probably use a lake.

Either way, they had to move on, and Zariel walked ahead again, ignoring the flickers of pain as best she could. The temptation to just send a pillar of flame through the forest was tempting, if only to alert the soldiers outside that there might be an issue, but she wouldn’t.

It was just a little further, the chaos of sounds making that more obvious. The viera apparently weren’t making things easy, but no one expected that.


One Espresso Depresso
Chyou gave a dissatisfied hum at Oleander’s comment. He had forgotten about Oleander’s preferences, just briefly. And his sister’s, now that she thought more on it. The man would have been correct in believing Chyou disliked the two’s preferences, at least in the context of nobles and marriage. It was a key part of nobility, after all, something that she had to do, and her daughters did.

It was a shame about Lixue. She had just hoped he would make good on his promise that after all of this was over, he’d finally settle.

Or else she’d have to go and choose someone for him.

“Yes,” Chyou cleared her throat. “That would be better for all parties involved, I believe.” She wondered if any nobles in Ucantis had such strange notions like that. She doubted it, given the traditional aspects of the nation, though, she wouldn’t doubt if something more was lurking under the surface. Perhaps it would surprise her.

Lady Virys nodded to Oleander first upon his request. “I’ll be sure to pass the message onto him.” She turned then to look down at Lilia, sparing her a rare smile. “Be sure to take care of your father in Escander, yes? He needs someone to look out for him,” she explained, unable to help but get some sort of jab in.


Lixue nodded slowly. Perhaps they would burn it down. Lixue knew the many consequences of it, but it was a consequence that most viera would have on their conscience of not cooperating with them.

The Empire would deal with the consequences of their own actions later.

As Zariel took the initiative to lead once again, Lixue as always obediently followed. Shiva didn’t have much of a choice, even if she wanted to give that coeurl a swift and cold death. She would just have to settle with what other battles Lixue would provide for her, which, in all honesty, could have been very few and far between. A shame he couldn’t fight more, or at least, let her pick his fights for him. Though, with the sounds of rabid viera up ahead, it sounded as if her intervention may be needed after all.
When the two eventually made their way through the forest and at its opening once again, that was where they witnessed the chaos unfolding. Of course, most of the viera had been driven out in their droves, and plenty of soldiers had been stationed to meet them.

The previously planned weighted net drops, each imbued with a shocking element to it, had managed to work on a majority of the viera that had escaped. Some still struggled underneath the traps set, though, many others had given up the fight as they were being gathered up.
Naturally, there were stragglers. The viera that had escaped that fate were quick, vicious, out of control. Lixue had watched as one practically jumped one of their well-trained soldiers, unrelenting as she sunk her nails into their face. Somehow, he watched on with a strange fascination, if not some uneasiness as well.

“It’s like they’ve gone completely feral...” Lixue muttered to Zariel, sparing a glance from them only to speak and look to Zariel. To think the Mist was capable of this and more. Though, even with all of this fascination, they couldn’t just stand around and watch an Imperial bloodbath take place. “How are you doing?” He asked Zariel. Really, he should have asked for how much longer she could stay on her feet with that poison. That antidote was what was needed, but there would be no luck if they couldn’t get past Mist frenzied viera.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander gave a bit of a mock bow and inclination of his head as Chyou promised to pass his message along. It wasn’t mocking in the traditional sense, but it wasn’t a full bow, either. “Thank you,” he was at least grateful she’d continue to cover his ass where diplomacy was concerned. He wasn’t the best at it, and never would be. He didn’t care enough, a fatal flaw if he was in Zariel’s position, but he wasn’t.

Nor did he want to be, any longer. Dreams of that perished years ago. Emperor Oleander had no appeal to him.

He did roll his eyes a little at her comment, though, even as Lilia giggled, “I will!” She agreed, no argument, although of course Oleander was behaving himself a bit more in Escander than he would without Lilia. And he would have better guards on her after the incident that led to her meeting Sesario.

“You should be telling her to behave and stop losing guards in the crowds,” Oleander grumbled, though he knew that might be fruitless. If she was his daughter, she was going to get very good at slipping guards and doing what she liked. He certainly learned, although Zariel taught him a lot later on, when they started getting along.


Her smiles and giggles faltered, “I’m sorry….” She said again, and Oleander sighed. He hadn’t meant to depress her so quick. “I really didn’t mean—”

“I know, I know,” he said, “Just…keep hold of a hand, or something.”

Lilia nodded quickly, and smiled again as Oleander did, “All right, try to have some fun, Lady Chyou,” he teased, walking towards the door to leave the area, unsure if Chyou intended to follow or not, but doubting it.


Plenty of viera were captured underneath the nets, not all incapacitated, but enough. They wouldn’t be escaping. The ones that were free were another matter, and clearly giving her soldiers whatever hell they could. Zariel swayed a bit, grip on her sword and whip loosened, but she quickly clenched both tighter, and rolled the whip back up to put in its place.

One weapon would be better than two in her state.

Of course, it was important how she was doing, but she still answered, “Irrelevant,” when asked, because it wouldn’t much matter if they lost this fight and even one viera got away. It would be one that was marked, with the way her luck was lately. ‘There’s no clearing things up for them, is there?’ The mist was wreaking havoc, even though it was thin in this area, if present at all. ‘It’s present.’ She supposed she could still feel it, the way the flames wanted to spark and flicker with ease.

A problem to consider investigating another time – they did need to figure out how to contain the mist, given the problems it created. They could create mist – but containing it? Removing it? That was beyond them.

“I know where the supplies are.”

All she had to do was make a successful dash – or, better idea – Zariel whistled a familiar tune, one Oleander used with the chocobos. It alerted plenty in the area, and with no name signaled, there was a lovely stampede towards her. They would have bags – she might get lucky and find one with an antidote, or at least, a potion.

Even if the sound was also likely to draw unwanted attention, she was pretty sure chocobos were faster than viera.


One Espresso Depresso
“Tch,” Chyou simply waved her hand at Oleander on his comment on Lilia getting lost. “It happened once, Oleander. We all get ourselves lost, purposefully or accidentally.” She turned back to Lilia again after her defence of her. “It’s happened to my dear Lixue enough times.”

Yenay had lost Lixue several times she was asked to ‘kept an eye’ on him. Eventually, though, that had turned out to be on purpose instead of by accident. And that Lixue hadn’t complained when he was left somewhere on his own.

Always was a strange child. Virys men had always been such strange creatures though.

Lilia’s ‘lost girl’ act was a different case, however.

“But yes,” Chyou sighed, readjusting her glasses, “do be careful. Cities like Escander are no good for children to get lost in. See it as a lesson for next time,” she advised her. Whether such advice would stick with the young girl or not would remain to be seen.

Chyou remained standing as the two began to leave. She would remain for a little while longer. She did have to roll her eyes at Oleander’s farewell as she gave a customary bow, and quipped back, “Only if you promise not to have too much fun, Imperator.” As the two left, she returned to the sofa momentarily, caught in her usual pondering.

Sesario Kavalieris, in Escander of all places. And even better that he had stumbled upon the lost Lilia. Perhaps that could have been used to their advantage, better yet, help to tie the troublesome man down.

She lifted the cigarette to her lips, only to realise it had burnt out.


Of course, he shouldn’t have asked. Lixue often knew better than to ask. Things had been left unfinished and the Empress would be determined to finish them first, above all else. He wouldn’t deny that he had seen her swaying though, weakening with every moment that poison coursed through her. She would never openly admit that, though. Anything to get through it and get the job done.

Lixue looked to Zariel, wondering if she would take the leap and run for the supplies herself. No, she was struggling to keep on her feet as it was. She wouldn’t make it without a viera barrelling into her first.

Though, when it came to Zariel, she always had another trick up her sleeve.

Instead of getting to the supplies, she would bring the supplies to her. A sharp whistle brought a stampede of chocobos their way instead, all with supply bags.

“At least you don’t have to run to them…” Lixue murmured, watching a few chocobos stop in front of them. He approached one, though, did turn to Shiva and told her, “Handle any viera that come our way. Keep them alive,” he added with emphasis before turning back to a saddlebag and rummaging through it.

Shiva had tolerated the order. She could handle some viera, though, as much as she wanted to cause much more damage, she understood Lixue wanted to keep a few as little lab rats. Or bunnies, in this case. And there was potential of one having a marking. They couldn’t risk losing one, not at such a crucial time such as this.

She hoped they wouldn’t be left with much choice, if she was being honest.

They heard the growling before they could see it. Lixue’s eyes shot upwards, seeing one such viera, clearly driven feral by the Mist, sprinting towards them. He didn’t need to tell Shiva twice, for she had already conjured up two spheres of ice, chucking them towards the viera. Both smashed into her head, two cold crashes.

Even if she stumbled, she turned, marking Shiva as her new target and pounced. She collided with the Zodiac, knocking both to the ground. Before that viera could claw out Shiva’s eyes in a fit of frenzied rage, the icy figure shot a powerful cold blast into her stomach, pushing the viera back a few meters off her.

Lixue was scrambling through that saddlebag. Two pairs of eyes were better than one for this situation, and him getting involved would only cause aggravation being shifted to him, at least. Three were much better than one. Shiva had dealt with worse, surely.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Oleander and Lilia were quick to make their way back towards the hangar with his ship in it, although it seemed they were to be disrupted again on the way. Just as the ship was coming into sight, Oleander recognized a blonde slinking back into the castle, and a grin cut across his face. He tapped Lilia, and motioned towards the mercenary, earning a bit of a squealing laugh from Lilia.

Jagger was always interesting! And she spoke in such a strange way, not accent, just…her words seemed to shock a lot of people. Lilia found it to be wonderful, even if she was sometimes still confused about why Jagger had that effect, even on Oleander.

Oleander nodded, as if Lilia’s sound were approval of some sort, and he redirected himself, “Jagger!” He called out to make sure she wouldn’t get too far away without noticing them, “You’re back early!”

So was he.

Not the point.

He didn’t see any scruffy looking thief with her, or the prince, for that matter. Maybe she’d needed to get something she forgot? “You find uh…what’s his name, and the prince?” Maybe she’d already handed them off. One could hope. That would make this day a lot better than it was.


“How can you say that name and not—nevermind,” Oleander shook his head.


The chocobos came on command, and Shiva played at defense for a bit. Zariel tuned her out, for the most part, digging through bags until she found what it was she wanted – an antidote, and a few potions around it. She uncorked the antidote bottle and downed it, feeling the relief flood through her immediately as a chill, before she also grabbed one of the potions and downed it just as quick. Warmth – and the wound on her arm at least stopped bleeding.

She’d worry about a more thorough healing, later.

“Okay, be good,” she moved one booted foot into the stirrup and lifted herself with that, mounting up to get a better overview of the field quickly, counting the viera still fighting, including the one tangling with Shiva. She lifted her blade skyward and shut her eyes. Holy was always a bit harder to call on, like a whisper she’d heard, difficult to grasp and make sense of no matter how many times she’d called upon it.

But it was still there, a blossoming white light that opened into gold behind her eyes, nine orbs manifesting around her, above the sword. When she opened her eyes, she took quick stock of nine viera, and launched the orbs in their directions with just a flick of her blade, before she’d urge the chocobo forward so she could more properly join the fight in putting a quick end to this skirmish with no fatalities.

She wasn’t having anymore of that.

Not after Inara.

She was fairly certain Oleander’s quick action had gotten the point across about that, though.


One Espresso Depresso
Jagger had been rehearsing her piece for Zariel on the way into the palace. She knew she wasn’t going to be happy, and the mercenary wondered if it was even worth the trouble. Damn that Didymus, hitting that very slight soft spot of hers. As much as she loved the sound of clinking gold hitting her hand, Didymus hit a lot of good points, especially about them knowing enough about the situation they were all caught up in. And sitting down to have dinner with the very people she should have been kidnapping...

She could have had her band swoop in and catch them all out. But nooooo, Didymus needed more time. Else, he wanted to put off their inevitable capture.

At least she knew where they were headed. It could just ‘slip’ that they were on their way there. It wouldn’t be too late for her or for Diddy, not if they caught them on the run, make up some hostage story for Diddy...

Before she could catastrophise any further though, Jagger stopped at the sounding of her name. She turned, and that contemplative expression on her face faded at the sight of Oleander and Lilia. “So are you!” She shouted back before she started walking back to them. Gah, who could resist that little cherub’s squishy little cheeks and that laugh?! Hell, she was probably one of the very few who enjoyed her company.

Her outspoken nature no doubt did it for her.

It did it for a few people.

Jagger squatted down in front of the girl, reaching her hand out to pat her hair. “Hey, kiddo! Where was my invite for Escander? I hope you at least brought me home a souvenir,” she teased, pulling her hand away as she looked up to Oleander. Twelve, was this how Lilia saw her father at this height?

“Ugh,” Jagger shook her head, “don’t ask. Couldn’t find the fuu-” She passed a glance to Lilia, remembering, before amending her word, “fugitives on the road. Checked the port towns too.” Not entirely a lie. She did check the port towns and the roads, after all.

“What about you, huh?” She deflected. “Escander not meet your expectations?”


Lixue hadn’t needed to scramble for an antidote any longer. He didn’t see her drinking anything, but witnessing her mount a chocobo, and summoning seven orbs of bright light was enough to tell him that she was straight back to business. That meant for now, he could focus his efforts towards the viera that had so rudely gone after Shiva.

Though, when he did turn to the fight he believed was still occurring, Shiva had already finished the job, as in, encasing all but the viera’s head in ice up against a tree. The woman snarled as she threw her head around, trying to shift out of the ice, but with no luck.

“Well done,” Lixue nodded, though, regretted having even praised Shiva with what she came out with next.

“Dear Lixue, praising me? Enough to warm my cold, cold heart!~” She gushed, giving her host a trademark wink. She didn’t falter even as the man sighed, and advised, “Let’s go help your fellow marked one.”

“Zariel,” Lixue corrected with a vexed grimace before heading out into the fray with Shiva. Of course, he would stay well back as he always did. To fall at the hands of a viera, without even knowing if one of them possessed a mark or gathering any sort of knowledge on them, would be nothing short of a tragedy.

Of those that had been briefly incapacitated by the holy orbs, two, at least, were caught in the same encasing of ice that their friend had been caught up in earlier. One stuck to the ground, while the other was forced to stand like a statuette while her comrades continued forth. Lixue had conjured up two balls of lightning in the meanwhile, mostly to act as deterrents to any oncoming viera. One had gotten caught up in the blast, and even as she tried to lift her body and her limbs, she faltered.

Another viera had slipped away from the duo a group of soldiers were trying to contain, while one ran at Zariel and her chocobo at an astonishing speed, though, left herself open to attack even as she tried to lunge.


I Could Tip You Like A Vintage Wine
Lilia giggled as Jagger knelt down to her height and spoke a bit of Escander. She knew that Jagger had to go find her friend instead, “Maybe next time!” she chimed, though considered if she should have brought back souvenirs. Maybe she’d do some shopping while she was back in Escander, and find a good souvenir for Jagger! What would Jagger even like, though? The thoughts moved through her head as Oleander and Jagger started to converse about fugitives.

Oleander did let his gaze harden a bit as he knew what Jagger was going to say. Lilia had probably heard worse, and he’d probably slipped up, but they should still make an effort! Thankfully, Jagger caught herself. It seemed she hadn’t found them, although he wondered if one could really do a decent search of Ucantis in so short a time.

He huffed and shook his head, “Escander’s Escander,” he said, “but no, I came back here to check on someone I met – apparently Zari’s looking at fiancé prospects now, ugh,” Oleander rolled his eyes, “and some prat from Rozari was on the list. Don’t like him. Sesario Kavalieris. Feel free to punch him if you meet him.”

“Dad!” Lilia looked up, offended, “You said you’d just talk to him.”

“That’s a white lie I told Lady Chyou.” Lilia pursed her lips together, upset with him for lying. He sighed, “And it’s Jagger that’s punching him, not me. I’ll still just talk.” Lilia didn’t look any further appeased by this. At all.


The battle was starting to draw to a close as Shiva froze viera in place, and the soldiers of the Empire began to trap others under nets, or find ways to subdue them once they were knocked down. Zariel considered for a moment where she would be needed amongst the groups of still-fighting viera, before she noticed one rushing her.

She almost sighed at the stupidity, and turned the chocobo towards the viera to charge forward, twisting just off to the side was the viera lunged, letting the woman eat dirt. Her brother may be the chocobo master, but Zariel didn’t think she was a slouch. The chocobo kicked back at the prone viera, connecting with her head, and knocking her out.

Zariel made sure to pat the bird’s head, “Good,” she cooed, turning it around towards another group, and patting its neck before urging it forward to continue helping out with the remaining viera. It wouldn’t take too much longer, thankfully – the viera that were left were still in a frenzy, and alongside the soldiers, Shiva, Zariel, and Lixue, they really didn’t stand a chance. It wouldn’t be long before they were shackled well and transported into cages, to go to their next spot.

Hopefully, one would have a mark, but if not…well, they still learned something about the Mist here.

Zariel didn’t dismount until the fighting was done, and sent the chocobo back to its group before she’d look for Lixue in the midst of all this to make sure he hadn’t inadvertently gotten himself terribly injured. She’d tried to keep watch on him, but that wasn’t possible at all times.

At least she was feeling better without the poison, though she knew she was likely going to be full of regrets that evening when the strain started to hit her.


One Espresso Depresso
Jagger raised an eyebrow at Oleander. “Is she now?” She never saw Zariel as the type of woman to marry with how independent she was. Mind you, heirs don’t just magic out of nowhere, do they? Jagger never understood why they couldn’t just adopt a kid and be done with it. Bloodlines, bloodlines, bloodlines. That’s all she ever heard.

Another thing she had heard: Sesario Kavalieris. “Ain’t that guy a pirate?” And rumoured noble. Liked to fashion himself as a pirate rather than a prince. Really, he sounded like a hoot, and right up Jagger’s street, but she never came across him, only ever heard the great myths surrounding him. Jagger turned to look at Lilia and whispered, “I won’t punch him too much. Not too hard, yeah?” She winked. If he really was a prat, like Oleander said he was, then yes, she would give him a good punch. Though, Lilia seemed to think he was nice.

But Lilia liked Lixue, so, she wasn’t sure that was the greatest judgement.

“Didn’t think Sesario would be Zariel’s type. Or anyone from Rozari, really,” Jagger shrugged. It was interesting though, very interesting indeed.


Shiva had been an asset to this mission after all. Of course, Lixue had never expected to bring her out, but it only went to show her capabilities and abilities in such high-pressured situations. Though, she did seem to have too much fun freezing and putting viera in their place. Understandable, given her nature, and that Lixue hadn’t fought all that often. She made the wrong choice in that regard when choosing him as her host. Once he had pointed a few soldiers in the direction of the frozen viera near the forest entrance, he did pause to look at the amount of viera that had fallen into their hands. Even if none of them had a mark, they’d at least be useful in gathering more knowledge about the Mist.

“Well, that sure was a blast, wasn’t it Lixue?”

Lixue turned back to Shiva, considering her for a moment. “I suppose in your eyes it might have been,” he murmured. There was a reason he stayed off the battlefield. His hand subconsciously went to his back, rubbing at it. He still needed to heal, he remembered. “Thank you, Shiva, for your help. We can handle it from here. Get some rest.”

“So tired of my company already?”

“You seem to forget you’re a constant company.”

Shiva just laughed at him and winked. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way.~” She smiled. Without another word, she blew a kiss towards Lixue, before her body glowed gold and faded among shimmering dust. The dust soon disappeared as if Shiva had never been there at all.

It was thereafter that he noticed Zariel among what could have easily been carnage. He was glad to see her well, and from the looks of it, unharmed. He was thankful she had been able to hold out against the poison for as long as she did. Lixue reached Zariel and nodded to her. “Good to see you in one piece.”

Lixue looked across at the soldiers dragging nets full of viera towards cages. Most had the fight shocked, frozen, or otherwise beaten out of them. “We’ll see how long the Mist takes to wear off on them,” if at all, “and we’ll be able to start screening them for a marking.”

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