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Fantasy ♡ need you like a heartbeat. (starboob & ellarose.)

Sub Genres
  1. Magical
  2. Romance

starboob

lover / leaver
In the year of 1989, Willow James decided that she was going to save love.

She liked to believe that she was an ordinary girl. She had few ambitions and moderate goals. Nothing exciting ever happened to her and she was fine with that. She grew up leaping with the frogs, running with the wolves, and buzzing with the bees. She practiced her magic, got good grades, and kept a moderate social life. She dated, had her heart broken, and fell in love again––despite knowing that all of those relationships had been with no strings attached (literally). She loved her life––it wasn’t perfect, but really what was? Wasn’t life all about falling in love with all the little imperfections because that’s what makes it so special? She liked to think so and she was perfectly happy with that. Really, she was.

Well, no.

There was this secret part of Willow––that she shared only with her diary, Phil, and the letters to her future love––that desired to be more than just ordinary. More than extraordinary, even. She wanted to become legendary.

The problem with that? The tree that tapped against her window scared her every night. She squeaked whenever the toaster surprised her––she swore it knew when her guard was down. And the most exciting thing to ever happen to her? Probably the time Meredith, her high school best friend, “abducted” her on a typical Tuesday night (a school night!!) to sneak into the carnival. (Her heart was beating so fast climbing over the chainlink fence and she swore up and down that they were going to get caught, arrested, and she’d never go to college or escape that small town.)

There was just no way for this Willow James to ever become legendary––at least not like the heroes in her books. So even while she desired to become a legend, she also knew that might not be in her cards in any capacity and while she was disappointed to know that, it was fine. Really, it was!

The only thing she could never ever give up on? Finding her one true love, the love of her life, her end and beginning, her Achilles heel. Ever since Willow James had been a little girl, she’d dreamed of her big, big love. She read countless books and magazines and watched as many movies as possible in preparation for the moment that she’d look up, lock eyes with her love, and just know. She didn't know when or how it would happen, but she knew it would. It had to, because everyone had their invisible string to follow. Everyone. Nothing in the world could sever it.

Or so she thought.

It started a few years ago with a case a few counties over. A fated couple who had met sometime in their youth, whose relationship was nowhere near picturesque, got into a fight, said things they could never take back, did things they could never undo, and their string just snapped. They hadn't seen their string since they first met, but in that moment it appeared between their chests and it was severed. When it happened, it was chalked up to an anomaly. Anything can happen, right? But then it happened again with another couple a few months later. Then again. And again. And again. Once is a coincidence, but twenty-two times? That was a pattern if Willow James ever saw one and she knew something had to be done.

So how did ordinary scaredy cat Willow James become the savior of love? Well, it’s kind of a funny story…

***​

With one big heave, she pulls on her favorite burgundy adventurin’ boots, adjusts her dragon print wool socks, and sets her baseball cap determinedly on her head. For luck, she’s even wearing her favorite flannel (a gift from her high school bestie) and her great great great grandfather’s flight jacket from the war. She even has her dad’s colorblock hiking backpack that sits right beside her door––it’s stuffed to the brim (and that’s saying something for a pack that’s bottomless). Essentially, she’s packed everything except for the army. (Her only defense is that she truly doesn’t know when she’ll be back. She is hopeful she’ll be back before classes start again, because she definitely did not tell her thesis advisor that she is taking a leave, but she doesn't know for sure. Is this a bad idea?)

She cannot get into that debate. Not when she’s this close to embarking. She’s Willow James and she’s going to be the change she wishes to see in the world––

“H––“ she claps one hand over her mouth and the other clutches her chest.

‘Ho, ho, holy shit!’ She slowly opens her eyes and looks over to face that terrible pegasus panther scraping at her window! Oh. ‘Just the tree banging on the window. Nothing new. Come on, Willow. Sorceress up!’

She clenches her fist and takes three quick breaths, turns on her heel, and then grabs the bag. The entire time she shakes like a leaf, still spooked from the window knocking and also scared that with each step she takes, the more confident she becomes in this choice. Like, this isn’t a joke or a fantasy. This is real. She’s doing this. ‘I’m doing this. Holy crap.’

She takes one last look at herself in the mirror, smooths her hands over her blue-green flannel and tiptoes through the Rhode Island house. As she walks by each bedroom in the multi-family home, and she is deliberate in making sure that she stops by each one, she says a quick goodbye. “Goodbye, grandma Juniper,” she whispers, sliding a letter under the door. Then she moves onto the next room to repeat the process. “Goodbye, Leif. You still suck for stealing my piece of bread.”

And so it goes.

Once she has finished with her goodbyes, the sorceress glides through the living room and swipes her family’s sacrificial dagger from over the mantel, looping it through her belt. The dagger is a family heirloom said to be from the Other Side––back from the time when the two sides still interacted with one another. It technically belongs to her idiot brother, Leif, but he’s not using it for anything important. (She is deeply horrified that her brother, upon inheriting the relic, immediately went to ‘his guy’ and ‘totally tricked it out.’) I-it’s in better hands now, she knows that for sure. Before she can let the guilt of her theft consume her, she grabs her staff and slips out the door.

The morning air is crisp and it bites into her cheeks like apples. The grass around the property is wild and reaches her knees; it moves with the wind like the sea. She used to love hiding in the green waves when she was a kid, but there’s no time for silly business on this gray morning––she’s on a tight schedule if she wants to reach the checkpoint before noon. And she knows that if idles for even a second more, she'll turn right back around, shed her clothes from her body, and slip back under the covers, never to go on this important mission.

Without thinking on it any longer, she crosses the field between the house and the barn, throws the barn doors open, and beams upon seeing her sleeping twilight colored dragon, “Lucky, you better get up. I told you seven times already that we’re leaving at the buttcrack. No more snoozin,’ we have a big day and I don’t want to lose my nerve!”

***​

Willow James likes to have a plan for everything. She even likes to have several back-up plans at her disposal. Most people––everyone––think that she over prepares and she kinda sees where they’re coming from. Packing twenty-seven toothbrushes probably is overkill––even if she had a particularly scarring experience trying to haggle in a dialect of elvish that she isn’t familiar with for a new one after dropping hers in the ducking toilet while on vacation. Still, it’s never really hurt her! It's under preparing that hurts and, apparently, there is one thing Willow James did not consider (and she really should have).

Getting lost.

While she is prepared for almost every type of known disaster (and even a few she made-up just in case), she did not prepare to get lost. And now she’s lost. Hopelessly lost at that. Usually, this wouldn’t be an issue. She has Lucky, her dragon, who could easily take her above the trees and fly her home! Except that… Lucky saw something fluffy, went to chase after it, and now she hasn't seen them for at least two hours. (It's worrying, for sure, and she's trying not to think about it.)

“Great,” she mutters, turning her map around and around as if that might help her pinpoint just exactly where she is in the woods. “I knew this was a bonkers idea… I should be working on my research,” she continues, still speaking under her breath, as she wanders around aimlessly. The woods used to be a place where she'd play and explore––as many kids do––but she's never been this far into it before and it's honestly giving her big haunted energy. Haunted energy that she is trying to ignore lest she curl up into a ball, cry, and bargain with the gods to take her home. To make matters even worse, there's a threatening rustle coming from her left and she's too scared to look. If she doesn't look, then it's not there and therefore not real. 'Don't look, don't look, don't look!'

Turns out, she doesn't need to worry about temptation when the totally scary monster bursts out of the bushes and flies right past her, flicker her with their tail as they passes by. Naturally, because she had been trying to not look, her eyes fly over in time to catch Lucky's blue and purple tail fin disappearing around the bend. "Ah, Lucky!" The sorceress taps her map with her staff, disappearing it back into her bag, as she breaks into run to chase after that unruly dragon of hers. 'Why couldn't you have stayed, like, a cat or something? You were so cute as an ocelot!' "Lucky! C'mon, get back here! This isn't funny and I think I actually want to go home! Don't make me use the whistle," the dragon whistle that only Lucky (and other dragon's) can hear. Lucky has informed her, not with words, that it is deeply annoying so she tries not to use it, but if they're going to be like this she won't ducking hesitate.

She rounds the bend just as the tip of her dragon's tail slips through the split in one of the willow trees. There's no time for Willow to process this properly––in her mind, she only needs to chase her dragon––so she completely misses the shimmery veil like substance under the archway of the split. She just runs straight through it and bursts out the Other Side.

"Ooof––" Her head knocks right into a thick surface with a concerning thunk! The impact briefly knocks out her vision and she completely disassociates when crashes right on top of something. Someone. The, um, firmness of the body under her tells her that. 'Shoot, shoot, shoot!' She blinks her green eyes open and hurriedly pushes herself up and rushes out an apology, "S-Sorry!" She also starts running away, not because she's awkward (she is), but because she needs to get her dragon! Obviously! (It has nothing to do with her deep deep need to literally escape from the fact that she just ran right into someone like an idiot. It's probably a good thing that she doesn't notice the thread connecting her chest to the other person's. If (when) she notices that, she'll be mortified.) "Just gotta catch my dra––" To future Willow's utter horror, she totally eats shit and turns her nose into a faucet.
 
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ellarose

wanderer
One by one, Juliet August intends to destroy the gateways. Every last one of them.

"It's fated, Juliet. One day a savior will appear from the Other Side. Someone who will help you clean up this mess.'" The princess often sighed yearningly, staring out the balcony window as if willing miracles to happen with a longing gaze. (And as she spoke, Juliet would usually cast her own longing gazes at the silver tray of pastries sitting in the corner. Considering that the queen could become quite distracted with all her yearning, she might surreptitiously slip a cream puff into the pocket of her red cloak. For the road. And if she gauged from her surroundings that she was still indeed in the clear, she would swipe a second one and promptly pop into her mouth. Mm. Heavenly.) Savoring the sweet taste melting over her tongue helped her hold onto her sanity as the princess's theatric pause stretched on. Staring out the window, wanting, wanting, wanting. (But what good does that do-- expecting heroes to show when they never do?) "One day you will not have to fight alone."

'Poor Juliet.'
Is the narrative that some townspeople cling to. (Though don't be fooled. There are a great many narratives spoken in a great many different tones pertaining to Juliet August. There are so many that she thinks if people invested nearly as much of the energy they have for gossip into relationships with those they claim to love, they would find ways to solve their own damned problems. Alas.) 'Poor, poor Juliet. There's no way she can fix this all alone.' Ah. She is just one woman, after all. How can she possibly clean up the mess that has become of love all on her own?

Except where everyone thinks she's failing she's actually succeeding, with bows lovingly crafted from the threads of all of her ex-lovers. And she's having a marvelous time ruining everything.

Juliet ventures deep into the wood and knows she needs to make this quick. Not that she's particularly concerned about arriving late to the silly banquet being held that evening or anything like that. But she knows that if she misses the banquet altogether, people will talk. (Except people always talk, regardless of whether she turns up or not.) Her parents expect her to be there, she supposes. The princess, too. (Apparently she has an announcement to make at the banquet... and she has stressed multiple times that she would feel safer if Juliet were there. For some reason.) Most importantly, there will also be lots of food. And food always provides incentive when guilt trips fail. It's no secret that she keeps to these woods more often than she goes into the cities and towns. She is prone to disappearing into the wood for weeks at a time. That's just how she is. (How she's been, ever since...) She always comes back around eventually, though. Usually like a stray cat searching for a bite to eat from anyone who might be willing to feed her. It's a simple fact that berries, plants and game are incomparable to the warm meals they cook up in the city. At this point, food is the only incentive anyone can use to get her to socialize anymore.

Using the red crosses she left upon the trees as a guide, Juliet can tell that she's getting close. She remembers noticing the entrance just around here... ah. Yes. It sparkles and shimmers like a crystal lake in the daylight. (A splash echoes in her mind, as well as a laugh. She shakes her head to clear it.) Juliet approaches it, gingerly tracing the bark around the split in the willow tree bordering the veil. Hm. If she pushed her hand through it, it might come out on the Other Side. Or it might not. Not everyone can travel through the gateways, for not everyone can see them. Juliet has never met anyone in her life time who has traveled to the Other Side. Apparently a savior is fated to emerge from one, one of these days. She intends to destroy the remaining gateways so that never happens.

Prophesied as a 'fated heroine' herself (much to everyone's dismay) the princess will assess that Juliet must continue her 'legendary journey' (a sickeningly romanticized way to define what it really was) alongside whoever comes through from the Other Side... and her days working comfortably alone will end. If she can do something about this, then she will finish what'd been started long before she ever picked up her bow and arrow. She brushes her fingers along the smooth curvature of the bow of her first heartbreak. By feeling alone, she's memorized the indentation of every scratch and nick. A tingling sensation of sorts reaches her fingertips, in a way she can't define. Apprehension? No. No, that can't be it. She doesn't hesitate. She never does. So why--

Juliet might have examined and disposed of that thought properly had something not swished out through the split in the willow tree and flown over her head. And had a person not burst through the gateway precisely afterwards, colliding directly with her instead of going over her head. With no time to brace herself, she falls backward beneath the figure's weight. Her sight blurs and whirls backward, shifting from the shimmery gate to the skies and the green of the canopy of leaves above. (And the green of the woman's eyes. A woman, she can tell. And that's about as much of an assessment she can make before said woman is backing away and running off like a mouse who had accidentally bumped into a lion's paw.) With a sigh, she slowly brings herself to sit up and picks fallen leaves from her red waves. What in the world...? She closes her eyes and presses a hand to the side of her head in preparation for whatever it is she'll have to face when she next stands up.

Someone from the Other Side has crossed over. Juliet couldn't stop it. Wonderful.

Reorienting herself, Juliet brings herself to stand. Her white dress for the banquet is dirty now, which will certainly give people something more to talk about. (Among them, she is not normal for spending all of her time out in the wood. However, she never stood a chance. She never would, even if she tried. It's inevitable.) What is infinitely more concerning to her, though, is the fact that the cream puff she'd been saving in her cloak pocket has been effectively crushed. Not only will it be a pain to wash... but she mourns the satisfying snack she'd been saving for her journey back to the city.

A flicker of bright orange swishes among the trees nearby. Grace is cautiously approaching the stranger from the Other Side while remaining out of sight.

Juliet notices the woman has fallen once again, not too far away since knocking her off her feet. She also notices a thread, connecting them together. It sparkles in the light of day, just as the gateway had. It sways lazily in the breeze and she holds her breath watching it. (Harmless on the surface, yes, but the implications... Juliet guardedly steels her heart. No. It means nothing.) This must be the other 'fated heroine', then? And yet she seems to be a disaster that has taken a human form. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment. However, she has promised herself not to fall again and needs to steady herself in preparation for the mischievous hands of fate and their attempts to push her over that edge. No, no, no. She will not put herself through the heartache of crafting another bow with another severed thread. Never again.

With that resolution written clearly in her heart, Juliet finally brings herself to approach the (strangely dressed) stranger. She's bleeding. Biting her lip awkwardly, she nudges the woman's shoulder with the toe of her boot as if to check and see that she is still alive. (Because this is clearly how civilized people treat each other. This is just how she is, though. Once in her childhood, her mother had watched happily as she began staging her dolls around her room as if to act out a ball with them, or perhaps a proper tea party. Anyway... that happiness quickly morphed to horror when she realized that Juliet was actually setting the dolls up for target practice.) That isn't to say that she is completely coldhearted, though. She does reach into one of the pockets on her belt for a cloth and silently offers it to the woman, so that she might use it to staunch the bleeding.

"Catch your dragon?" Juliet squints at the sky as she finishes the sentence she believes the woman was trying to compose before falling. Something had flown over her head shortly before the woman appeared. Now she can make it out, flickering between the sky and the trees. "I see."

Hm. Perhaps this woman will just turn around and go home once she has her dragon back? Reaching for the quiver at her hip, Juliet grabs one of her arrows-- one of which has an arrowhead with the trick mechanism to spring a net. She tilts it idly between two fingers, observing their surroundings with a careful eye. Ah. She notices Grace is already at work luring the dragon in closer range for her. "I can help you with that." She nods, efficiently nocking her arrow to her bow before raising it towards the sky.
 

starboob

lover / leaver
Huh. Willow always thought that the expression 'seeing stars' was a total exaggeration, but, having just smacked herself in the face for the second time in the span of three seconds she's now enlightened to the experience. They swirl over her head and their dizzying pace convinces her to rest on the ground for a few more seconds before attempting to rise; so she lays there in the grass with her limbs splayed out and watches the stars dance over her head. The young sorceress sighs and pinches her eyes closed, trying to gather up her senses so that she run away and hopefully disappear from the memories of this stranger. (The thought that anyone knows that she is, in fact, totally embarrassing haunts her every single night when she recounts all of her life's mistakes. It even, at one point, convinced her to become a master of memory charms––unfortunately, the courses that were coupled along with the ones on memories included topics such as, Law & Ethics of Memory Spells, Appropriate Handling & Use of Memory Charms, Dangers of Charm Induced Psychosis, etc. Those all more or less convinced her to only use such spells in dire straits. Plus, it's not like Willow's ever been able to cast a charm on the spot. She gets too nervy.)

When she feels the boot pressing on her shoulder, she groans, and tries blinking her eyes open again. She winces against the backdrop of the sun and moves her head so that it's in the stranger's shadows. Her nose is still gushing blood over her lip and down her cheeks, there's most definitely a bruise forming under both her eyes, and none of that really matters when her green eyes lock onto that pale thread hanging from their chests. Her eyes widen and she stares between the place where their threads connect and about a million questions rush through Willow at once.

'How's my hair?'
'What's that matter when you ducking ate it in front of her?'
'Is she disappointed?'
'Wait, is this the Other Side?'
'Where is Lucky?'
'Wow, she's beautiful.'
'Where are my letters?'


And on and on and on. While these thoughts roll through her head, she's stunned into absolute and astonished silence, unsure of what to say or what she wants her first words to be. (Never mind that her first words to her Achilles heel had been, 'S-Sorry! Just gotta catch my dra––' and she'll knock herself over the head for that one later.) However, it doesn't seem that Willow will get to decide what their first (second) words to each other will be when the wavy haired redhead wordlessly hands her a cloth. (She mistakenly thinks it might a token of some sort––like how princesses give knights tokens––but then she remembers her nose is still running like a faucet.) She takes the cloth and presses it to her face, tilting her head back, and giving an automatic, "Thanks." Frick! What is her name? How can she even thank her properly!? It's far, far more difficult to speak than usual knowing this woman is the love of her life. "I... wow."

Wow, really acing this test, Willow James. Mentally, she smacks herself on the forehead as she tries to remember what words are and how to use them. 'This is so not how I pictured this going down! Quick, quick, quick! Think of something intelligent or witty to say!' Because even if this thread tells her exactly who she is fated to be with, now more than ever is it clear that the thread alone is not enough. Willow James always was going to make an effort to have the romance of her dreams, and now when confronted with the reality––she's twice as determined. 'K.I.S.S.––keep it simple, silly.' "Uh, hi, I'm––what?" Right, Lucky. Her eyes follow that of the archer, spotting the blue-purple-pink dragon doing loop-de-loops in the sky and she grimaces. That dragon of hers is always getting her into trouble. (This is not the first time Lucky has caused her to crash land into a cute girl, for the record.) "Shucks, yeah, sorry about them––wait! No!" Her eyes widen once again when she notices the stranger nocking her arrow and readying to shoot Lucky (obviously, Willow doesn't realize or even think of the possibility that these arrows are tricked out); she steps in front of the markswoman––ignoring every safety protocol there is in the book to get the woman to stand the frick down! "Don't shoot! They're harmless, I swear. They're my companion and I bet there are seven hundred laws––"

That's about when Willow looks around and realizes that she's on the Other Side. She claps a hand over her mouth out of habit and gasps. "Ohmygods, this is really it?" Her head, full of bouncing shoulder length curls, whips from side to side as she takes in the scenery of the woods from this half of the portal. (Wait, is her soulmate from the Other Side? Or is she someone from her own side who just, like, hangs out here too? Is it possible to even have a soulmate from the Other Side? She figures that anything can happen, but that would be a real game that the fate's had been playing with her love life if true.) "I'm on the actual Other Side. Oh. Wow." Forgetting that she's holding a cloth up to her bleeding nose, she lets it drop to the ground as she reaches behind her to grab her staff from its spot on her bag. She swirls it through the air in a practiced manner and summons the previously mentioned dragon whistle. (Summoning and other small game spells are easy for her to do in front of people, but anything more high stakes and she totally chokes. Clover and Leif say that she has performance anxiety.) She brings the whistle to her lips just as a flick of orange catches her eye, causing her to yelp and jump into the stranger. (The love of her life whose name she still doesn't know! Come to think of it, she hasn't introduced herself either.)

With so much going on at once, Willow James once more forgets her previous task and pulls herself away from the archer. She then sticks out her hand and says, "Hi, I'm Willow James. I like your thread. It's connect to mine." She panicked. She totally panicked and now her face is red; her face is red and her nose is still bleeding; and she's pretty sure she's going to pass out (or away) from sheer embarrassment. ('You have got to learn to chillax!' Leif had said to her once right after he threw a snowball at her in the middle of July. He thought he was so funny.) "I came here to save love and who knew I'd stumble right into her arms." 'Shutupshutupshutup!!!!'
 
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ellarose

wanderer
The dragon is within her range... but the other woman is quick to protest and stands directly in front of her. Juliet blinks perplexedly and lowers her bow without comment. (...Harmless? Oh. Does she think she intends to hurt the dragon? That wasn't the case, but she doesn't speak up to clarify this.) This is the first time she's really been able to look the stranger up and down since she first stumbled through the gateway. From the burgundy boots on her feet to the peculiar cap perched atop her dark curls... Juliet has never seen anyone dressed quite this way before. (But she seems enviably comfortable. The socks, the trousers, the jacket.) Is that the way people dress on the Other Side? Apparently they also have hundreds of laws for... something. (Presumably something involving arrows, dragons, or both.) She may never know, because this is yet another sentence the stranger abandons as something else catches her attention. In fact, she goes as far as to gasp and cover her mouth with her hands. Huh? What is it?

Juliet tenses, bracing herself as she glimpses left and right to survey their surroundings so that she might understand what the other woman is reacting to. But there's... nothing there? No nosey goblins gathering around to see what the commotion was, not even a rabbit rustling in the bushes. Oh. Is she only realizing just now that she crossed over? It's such a delayed reaction that Juliet finds she doesn't know what to say in response. (To be fair, she doesn't know what to say in most situations.) Rather than say anything, her gaze follows the bloodied cloth as the woman drops it onto the ground. She blinks once more, allowing the other woman the time she needs to come to terms with this (belated) realization. Ah. So surely this is all a mistake, then? She must have fallen through accidentally while chasing after her dragon.Then this... probably isn't the fated heroine. (Even if they are connected rather suspiciously by their threads. Never mind that. It's unimportant!) There is something undeniably scattered about her. When the princess spoke of a 'savior', she's fairly certain that this woman isn't the person she was envisioning.

Except then the stranger reaches for a staff, summons a whistle and-- and then proceeds to latch onto her? Based on the first time, Juliet presumes it's nothing but still gives their surroundings a once-over just to make sure that she hasn't missed any potential threat. (Oh. It's just Grace.)

The woman steps back again, offering her name and her hand. Willow James. Juliet squints confusedly as 'Willow James' proceeds to compliment her thread. (Why? Her thread is jinxed and unworthy of compliments. It's hard to see that on the surface, she supposes, but... it's just a thread?) Despite her initial confusion, she supposes she ought to at least take her hand. So she does just that after a beat of hesitation. This moment is short lived, though, considering she releases it once Willow James confirms that she is there to 'save love' after all. (And also gives the implication that Juliet is love? ...Um. Because of the thread she supposes. This statement is so forward that at first she genuinely doesn't know what to say in response. Although, again, she doesn't necessarily have a way with words to begin with. Ahem.)

"Ah." Juliet says. At a loss, she glances down at the fallen cloth once more. It is what it is. The fated heroine has arrived and there is nothing she can do to change that now. It's too late. However, if this is who she'll be dealing with... she supposes it could be worse. This is manageable. (She thinks. She hopes.) "Okay. Good." (That's a reasonable response, isn't it?) The princess has never informed her what to do if she ever encountered the fated heroine this way. Although she supposes the princess will know what to say if she simply brings her prophesied savior forth. And then this discussion will not be on solely her shoulders. That, she supposes, will make this development easier for everyone.

"...In that case, we have a banquet to attend this evening. We must leave soon or we'll be late. Collect your dragon and I'll show you the way." Juliet supplies succinctly, nodding her head once in a businesslike manner. Taking action is the best way to squash whatever uneasy feeling is crawling around in her chest. The sooner they leave the better. She supposes they may need to make a stop along the way to ensure that Willow James is appropriately dressed for the occasion. (She can lend her one of her dresses. Considering her own clothes are dirty, she might as well change her own clothes while she's at it as well.) Although even if she does appear in a dirty dress, she figures that 'Willow James' will be the center of attention tonight. Grace, her fox, emerges from between the trees and sits dutifully at her side. "This is Grace. She is also..." She considers the word that Willow James used in regards to her dragon as well as her flighty reaction to the sight of her through the trees. "Harmless. Are there no foxes on the Other Side?"

"My name is Juliet August." She introduces herself like it's nothing more than an afterthought (that's essentially what it is) and moves to slide the tricked out arrow she'd pulled out back in her quiver. Then she pauses as if thinking better of it. "...Are you sure you don't want my help? My nets are very efficient."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
When the archer lowers her bow, relief immediately washes over Willow and cleanses her of (some) anxiety. She even breathes out a quiet, “Whew” and takes a step back. It also then occurs to her that she stepped directly in front of a loaded weapon and could have seriously injured herself (more than she already has). She smacks herself in the forehead for that and wonders if the other woman thinks she’s a total fool for being so careless––it would totally be the wrong impression to leave her with, because Willow James is careful. To a fault. It’s just that the whirlwind of events that has taken place in the last five minutes has caused her usual thought processes to crash into each other all at once. It’s probably even ten times worse because she’s so anxious about impressing the archer. (Again, it’s not that Willow even needs to try––not necessarily. The threads, historically, have been able to stand against any test, including something like a terrible meet-cute and Willow trusts that, she does. Still, her fated romance is something that she has always wanted to be magical and fantastical and that naturally means she’s spent a lot of time imagining how she wants this to look. Making a terrible first impression is not in her game plan––although she really should have accounted for it just knowing who she is as a person). Of course, she also has no way of knowing what the other woman thinks of her given that she does not know anything about mind reading charms (and she doesn’t plan to learn––while that would soothe her anxiety, she has a feeling it would only spark a million new ones). So there is a sliver of a chance that maybe, somehow, the redhead is impressed with her?

‘That’s a stretch, Willow James.’ She sighs and scratches the top of her head, remembers she’s wearing a baseball cap she stole from Leif, and pulls it off to actually scratch her head. Without the bill of the hat to obscure her face, the golden beams of sunshine cast a sparkle on the freckles dusted over her (bruised) nose and cheeks. Then she realizes that the other woman hasn’t said anything since her introduction and she starts to think that maybe she’s already fudged this. That thought causes her to sway side to side, thinking of new impressive zingers to fill the silence. Except all words, facts, jokes, and pick-up lines elude her now that she’s trying to actively grasp for them. (The only fun fact she can remember is that dolphin nipples are located inside of their anus and she doesn't exactly think that will wow her fated lover.)

Then the woman does start talking and… and leaves Willow wanting for more. It’s a lackluster response, hands down, and that only convinces her that she definitely is disappointing the one person she shouldn’t be able to disappoint. (Maybe her thread is already being affected by whatever curse is spreading through her half of the realm?) “Um, so what do you do?” she asks, trying to maybe pull more information from the redhead. “Were you trying to cross over?” That would make sense since she was close enough to the portal’s entrance when Willow burst through (and subsequently ran smack into her).

Of course, whatever answer the redhead might provide to those questions matters very little when she mentions a banquet. Not only that, but she makes it sound like they’re supposed to attend it. Both of them. That’s obviously odd because Willow has only been here for all of five minutes so how could there already be a party for her to go to? (Not to mention this gives her absolutely zero time to mentally prepare herself for a seemingly large social gathering where there will be a ton of strangers; not to mention she’s a stranger in a strange land; not to mention her attire is so not banquet material––especially judging by the other woman’s (dirtied) dress; and not to mention she’s totally going to have hat hair!) All of these anxieties walk across Willow’s features making her look like a deer caught in headlights. “B-banquet?” she repeats, stupidly. “I-I’m not ready for a banquet! I didn’t even get an invite. I can't crash a banquet––or are you plus one-ing me? I mean, totally fine, but I just wouldn’t want to make you look like a fool for bringing me to something that sounds so fancy shmancy when I’m totally not fancy shmancy. At least not right now.” Ugh, she should have learned fashion magic instead of teasing Meredith about it.

Once again, Willow flinches when the fox comes into view but relaxes when she seems to be with the archer. Her question does strike Willow as odd, but she figures that the two sides haven’t interacted on a regular basis since… geez, she doesn’t even know how long. Willow decides to take the curiosity as a good sign––like the woman is warming up to her or something. “Grace! What a cute name,” she drops to her haunches and holds out her hand for the fox to sniff. “We do have foxes on the Other Side, but I’ve never seen one for myself before. They’re usually pretty shy around humans.”

When the subject of Lucky is brought to her attention again, she looks back up at the sky and rises from her position. She sets the baseball cap back on her head and squeezes the whistle in her fist. “Net?” once again repeating back to Juliet August (what a pretty name!) what she has just said. In all fairness, she doesn’t recall seeing Juliet with a net just her… “Oh. Oh. Wow, sorry about the mix-up earlier––we do have foxes on the other side, but not too many archers. There are a lot of restrictions on openly carrying weapons, so I’m just not used to that. I shouldn’t have assumed you were going to hurt Lucky––you did say you were going to help… Oh! Maybe we can ride to banquet on Lucky?” It would totally be romantic since she can tell they’re nearing the golden hour and maybe that can help salvage her first impression? She majorly hopes so!

With a bright grin, she turns back to face the sky and brings the whistle to her lips. She gathers in a breath and just as she’s about to blow, something shakes the earth. Naturally, Willow yelps and the whistle flies into the air, then hits the ground. Though the sorceress has already proven herself to be jumpy, this time it is not without warrant! Really, it’s not, because a second later an ogre––disgusting and lumpy and boogery––pushes aside some trees and peers down at the two women (and fox!).

He seems surprised to see the two women at first, but then his face breaks into a toothy grin––showing off his corn-yellow teeth. (Willow wants to vom.) “I was just looking for dinner,” he beams, “I usually prefer the little ones but I suppose you two will have to do.” He then lunges towards the sorceress who has dropped her staff and is cowering in a ball on the ground. Classic Willow James.
 
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ellarose

wanderer
Crash? Plus one-ing? Fancy schmancy? Juliet's not certain she follows everything that Willow has to say as she frets over the concept of attending the banquet. It seems simple enough from her perspective. The princess will want to know sooner rather than later that the 'hero' has crossed over from the Other Side-- she does not believe she will be made to feel particularly foolish if she thinks to bring her along. Gatherings held in the castle are never small enough to lack in accommodations for unexpected guests, either. Quietly, she mulls over what she can say to reassure the other woman in spite of her confusion... and then the topic of Grace takes precedence before she can compose her thoughts (let alone her words) in a cohesive way she thinks will truly matter. (Later, then. She will find her words and try again later.)

Juliet and Grace both tilt their heads at the same time when Willow outstretches her hand, appearing very much like reflections of each other in their curiosity. That is a relief at least. While the other woman was initially surprised, it seems that her fear is not so extensive that it's going to have a lasting impact. Grace is rather perceptive when it comes to picking up on such things. The tension might have made her uneasy otherwise. Anyway, 'shy' is certainly one way to put it. "...Grace is rather cautious." She admits. This is evident as the fox sniffs at the air near Willow's hand almost as a courtesy before padding away so that she's standing slightly behind the folds of her cloak and dress. (Ah. Sometimes Juliet wishes she had someone convenient around to hide behind as well... but she is not a fox.) "It usually takes much longer for her to appear in front of strangers." At least not since... ah, no. It's not worth thinking about right now. (It's never worth thinking about. And she's sworn not to squander her time thinking about things that no longer matter.) She doesn't even try to understand why Willow James might be an exception.

There is not much time to think at length about that anyway as Willow searches the skies again for her dragon and proceeds to tell Juliet about the shortage of archers on the Other Side, as well as the restrictions on weapons. Just as she attempts to conceptualize the nature of a world with such rules (unheard of-- how does anyone survive the woods on the Other Side without weapons?) the other woman proceeds to throw another idea at her... that they ride Lucky to the banquet? (Okay. So she has no qualms with attending the banquet now? But what convinced her to change her mind?) Conversation topics tip from side to side in such a way that Juliet almost loses her balance and misses the unmistakable noise of footsteps through the wood. (Something-- someone-- is coming.) The steps are heavy. She braces herself, her hand instinctively flicking to the hilt of her falchion at the same moment that Willow raises her whistle to her lips.

When ground rumbles Juliet holds herself firmly, grounding her heels into the dirt. (She briefly glimpses Willow James from the corner of her eye when she drops to the ground in fright. Hm. Is this truly the 'hero' who is meant to save love? Because had she not been present in this moment, the other woman might have been gobbled up by this ogre before she could have ever had the chance to do anything about it. Juliet is not a coldblooded murderer, though-- nor does she want Willow James to die a gory death at an ogre's hands. Naturally she will not allow that to happen. She even attempts to think of words she might say to comfort her in this moment. 'There, there?' Ah. Maybe not. And now it is too late to say anything at all, because the ogre is reaching for Willow.) In the end, protection will serve her better than encouraging words will.

Juliet steps in the ogre's path and unhesitatingly slashes his outstretched hand clean off with one sweeping motion of her blade. (A fitting punishment if you ask her. Anyone who attempts to touch a lady without her permission deserves to have his hands cut off.) The ogre stumbles backward a few paces, shaking the earth as he does so, and bellows with a nasty scream. Although he might have liked to retaliate, he finds he has to use his one remaining hand to clutch the bloody stump where his hand used to be.

"You-- you...!" The ogre gasps out. Undeterred, Juliet brandishes her blade in front of her to state without words that she will strike again if necessary. (It's a simple threat, really. One that doesn't need words to explain. Does he truly want to stay around long enough to risk losing another limb? To risk losing his life? The choice is his.) The ogre narrows his eyes as he looks her up and down. Then his go wide, as with a belated realization. "Red hood. Should've... should've known..." He spits a curse under his breath. Then he turns around to run, his footsteps promptly 'thump-thumping' away.

"Weapons are necessary on this side lest you wish to become someone's dinner." Juliet explains matter-of-factly. Fetching the bloodied cloth that Willow dropped earlier, she swiftly uses it to clean the ogre's blood from her falchion. As she does this she surveys the grass and notices the ogre's detached hand. (Ah. Disgusting as it is, the witch of the wood might find a use for that. Grace appears to think the same thing as she nudges it with her nose and gazes up at her. Juliet nods once and the fox understands, picking it up in her teeth before darting off between the trees.) Finding that she has the silence to speak her thoughts and answer some previously unanswered questions, she decides to take that opportunity to continue. "As for what I do... I was monitoring the gateways when you came through." She supposes this is a sufficient enough answer to what she was doing there. "The princess has been expecting you for a while, therefore your presence at the banquet will not be unwelcome."

The timing is so uncannily perfect that Juliet is unsure if can be called a coincidence. Since she has touched on the banquet again, she decides to address the other concerns as well.

"I will need to change my clothes first." Juliet gestures an arm to indicate her white dress, dirtied and splattered with ogre's blood. While she does not mind it so much, she knows there will be many people in attendance who would deem her attire unacceptable. "If you are uncomfortable attending dressed as you are now you may borrow something of mine to wear." Her face warms a little and she bites her lip. In truth she's not used to speaking quite this much in one day. She awkwardly collects the whistle from the ground and offers it back to Willow. "...Are you all right?"
 

starboob

lover / leaver
In Willow James’s short tenure on this green earth, she never ever would have suspected herself as someone who would eventually be facing an ogre. (Of course, in this instance, 'facing' is a relative term––relative to the fact that she is curled up on the ground and whimpering. That is beside the point. Ahem.) In part, because the ogres that used to live on her side in Elsewhere haven’t been seen in ages. Some say they all fled to the Other Side and others speculate they’re hiding out in the bogs. That aside, the people of Elsewhere also decided to clear away parts of the woods and set up magical boundaries so that ‘safe zones’ can exist for children to play in without worrying their parents. All that to say, there has always been a very slim chance that Willow James would ever 'face' an ogre.

So she thinks her reaction is totally appropriate! Yes, it’s not the most dignified and no, it’s not very heroic, but she’s only ever read about ogres and, as she has learned time and time again, academic knowledge means nothing if she cannot apply it in the real world. Even worse is that she’s actually forgotten everything she knows about them, because all of her mental faculties are stuck in survival mode. (This always happens to her. She’s whip-smart, but when presented with a challenge remotely stress inducing she panics. It’s always been this way for as long as she can remember. The only people who have proof of her capabilities would be her professors/mentors, her small circle of close friends, and some family members. They’d all have privately laughed at her if she had told them she was going to spend the summer saving love, because really? Can this Willow James save anything? The jury is still out on that, but she'll be damned if she doesn't try!)

Her heart pounds in her ears. Her eyes are pinched so fiercely shut that she's pretty sure she’ll rip her eyelids before an ogre can (she’s heard they like smearing eyes on toast!). Not to mention she’s using her hands to protect her head while also curling into a ball to protect her core. (A smart move, when looked at through a certain lens, but it also completely ignores that Willow James is a sorceress; she absolutely knows protection charms stronger than curling into a ball, covering her head, and closing her eyes super tight.) She comes out of her protective position when she hears a guttural howl followed by the soft thud of something hitting the ground near her. When she blinks her eyes open again, she spots the upset ogre (sans right hand) and Juliet brandishing a small… falchion, if memory serves.

Admittedly, she’s at a loss for words. Her mouth just hangs open, her eyes are somewhat disbelieving, and she watches how cooly Juliet gestures simply with her blade to get the ogre to step off. ‘Wow. This really is a fairytale world. Except I had sorta hoped I could be the knight in shining armor. I guess there can be two knights in a relationship?’ Her very important thoughts on ship dynamics will have to be put on pause when the archer addresses her.

Oh. Weapons. That reminds Willow of the sacrificial dagger hanging on her belt. She feels around for it as she unfurls herself from her balled up position, sits up, and pulls out the curved blade. (It’s always reminded Willow of a bowie knife.) “I do have a weapon,” she supplies, showing Juliet said weapon. “It’s supposed to be able to deploy poisons or potions from the handle, but my idiot brother shoved a bunch of Starbursts into the canister thing and then left it in the car for months and… it’s ruined, basically.” Not to mention those ‘upgrades’ he had ‘his guy’ do. “Um, but that’s not important, I suppose.” She pauses for a beat and squints up at Juliet. “I’ve never actually used it. I haven’t used any weapon before––aside from kitchen knives, but I used those for their intended purposes.” She decides that rather embarrass herself further by talking, she should keep quiet and maybe not mention she’s never cast a spell on someone either. Her general inexperience might just go without saying at this point. (Ugh, why did she so boldly introduce herself as a hero!? Yes, probably because her gay little brain concluded that lesbians love heroes, but did she have to say that to an actual hero? Because without a doubt, Juliet is clearly the knight in this fated romance.) “Oh, and thanks. I should have led with that. You totally saved me,” she admits as she puts the dagger back on her belt. “H-how you do that? How’d you act so quickly?”

Naturally, this is the part where Juliet drops another bomb on Willow and Willow proceeds to forget everything prior so that she can appropriately panic. “P-princess?? Like a real-life princess?” And she’s… And she’s expecting her. Willow James. (For a while?) What? “What?” As far as Willow James knows, princesses don’t expect her. Princesses don’t even really exist on her end (they’re mostly just figureheads in the modern age). Yet somehow this princess does exist, has been expecting Willow, and there is a conveniently planned banquet this evening where she’ll be able to make her acquaintance. “This feels like a fairytale or a fever dream… or like those brownies Leif made once.” (He may have told Willow they were enchanted and would help her chill out before prom, but Willow later discovered why he grinned so much watching her eat them. The only enchantment on those brownies had been to hide their distinct skunky flavor.)

She reaches over for her staff and uses it to help her stand back up as Juliet explains the fancy-schmancy situation that caused her so much duress only a few minutes ago. (Only ten minutes on the Other Side and she feels like she’s aged a few months.) Admittedly, Willow could get the stain out of Juliet’s dress––but only under very specific conditions that would just be shy of performing a lobotomy on Willow––and the idea of stopping by her place and having a little make-over is very enticing. It’d be just like in the movies! (Willow also technically packed a fancy outfit herself, because she prepared for almost every occasion, but, again, it might be nice to bond with her soulmate in this way. Plus, what she packed is far too modern than what seems to be in vogue on this side and she doesn’t want to stick out more than she probably already will just being Willow James.) “That sounds splendid––if it’s not too much trouble, of course,” she laughs nervously, hoping that this isn’t a burdensome offer. (The creeping fear that Juliet is only being this not-mean to her out of obligation does bubble up within Willow and she tries to suppress it. This is her soulmate. She shouldn’t need to fear her soulmate.)

Noticing the pink on Juliet’s cheeks, Willow nearly drops dead. It’s. So. Cute!!! Juliet is so cute! (What would it be like to make her blush all the time? When will she be able to get lost in those eyes? How many different shades of red are in her hair?) Realizing she’s staring and, once again, making this weird, she swipes the whistle and looks away. “I-I’m alright, yeah. Living and breathing and still have all my important body parts, thanks to you. You’re really good at that fighting stuff, it seems. Will you teach me?”

Before she can stay on this topic for too much longer, Lucky makes their grand entrance via tackling Willow from behind. This sends the whistle and her staff flying through the air as the sorceress’s face is planted into the ground (again). Pain explodes across her face and blood is once more gushing out of her cute little nose. (Probably doesn’t look so cute now, she realizes.) Despite that, the sorceress doesn’t seem concerned as she starts chastising the dragon immediately, “Lucky! Come on! Get off––”

She struggles beneath the dragon, who is currently no bigger than a rottweiler, and eventually manages to knock them off. (More like, Lucky relents and hops off of their companion.) Once she is standing again, the dragon shrinks down a bit more so that they can comfortably curl themselves around Willow’s shoulders. Even with her annoyance and worry, Willow rolls her eyes and affectionately rubs their slender nose. With the dragon now on the ground, it’s easier to see the lilac and baby blue scales that cover their body, dappled with random pink scales here and there; their two short arms, similar to a tyrannosaurus rex; and their horns that look more like deer antlers than anything else. They also have pearly white eyes that are currently boring into Juliet with suspicion. The spikes along their spine start to raise and they hop from Willow’s shoulder to the ground, skittering over to Juliet. Their look very much says, ‘Who are you?’

Willow answers that question when she goes to scoop her dragon up from the ground, holding them right under their armpits. “Juliet, this is Lucky––they're, uh, protective over me," to put it lightly, "Lucky, this is Juliet.” She leans in conspiratorially and whispers, “Our threads are linked, dude! Please be cool.” She then looks back up at Juliet and sets Lucky on the ground. “So, off to the races then? You cool if we take Lucky? It’ll be a lot faster,” and more romantic, “than going on foot, I imagine.”

Without waiting for a response, she sets Lucky onto the ground and settles down onto her haunches. “You up for a two passenger ride, Lucky Duck?” Lucky hates that nickname and hisses at Willow in response, but they are not bothered enough to be stubborn about their companion’s request. By way of agreement, they simply step back into the clearing (and Willow gestures for Juliet to step back as well). The air stills around them and then their body starts to flicker into a white glow as they grow to the size of a house. The brown leather saddle that had been strapped to their back also grows in size and, once Lucky is settled, Willow hoists herself aboard and reaches back to offer Juliet a hand. (The gesture feels very knight in shining arm and that thought alone hatches butterflies in her stomach and colors her cheeks pink.) “I’m the only one who can steer Lucky, so just tell me where to go and I can get us there in a jiffy.”
 
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ellarose

wanderer
"I see." Juliet says. Mostly because she sees the weapon that Willow is showing her. Poisons and potions. That does sound rather useful, but... Starbursts? Car? While she considers asking for clarification on exactly what she means by that, her point is sufficiently made when she eventually claims that the weapon is ruined. Ah. Touching upon the finer details might not be an efficient use of their time when they have a banquet to attend, then. Perhaps they might find someone who can help with it eventually as well. Then Willow James thanks her. Juliet simply nods. (Although she does indeed have a weapon, she makes a note not to let the other woman wander around the wood all alone. Mainly because she does not like the prospect of her being eaten alive.) Her tasks are about to get much more difficult, she realizes, but she brushes that thought aside for the time being. Perhaps her new companion will be comfortable in town, perhaps she will need breaks. Juliet knows ways to slip into the wood and back undetected. This is an inconvenience, yes, but not unmanageable. "I am quick because I had to be." Once it had simply been her lifestyle... although it is not the lifestyle of most girls in Amoria. She recalls running to keep up with Lara's long strides when she barely stood as high as her waist, recalls riding on her back on the rare days when her stony disposition softened. (Lara. The woman who saved her, took notice of her aim and encouraged her to pick up the bow and arrow. The memories are so faraway now.) There is more to this answer and she sees no reason to give it. Not here and now. The answer she's given will have to do.

"Princess Elise. She is indeed real." Juliet clarifies with a nod, staring wonderingly at Willow's disbelief. She's not sure why this information shocks her so. She supposes the only explanation can be amounted to the fact that they do not have a princess on the Other Side. She waits patiently from here as the other woman grapples with this information, figuring she may sort herself out once more if she just gives herself some time. She compares it to fairytales, fever dreams, and then... brownies? Although she once more finds herself in a position where she doesn't completely follow what is being said, what truly matters is the fact that Willow agrees with the course of action she's chosen. Whew. "It is no trouble." Rather, it's a relief to her that she is willing to come along this way despite her apparent shock.

Juliet sighs inaudibly when Willow confirms that she's all right. (Surely she can wash up when they change as well. It will be fine.) Then she tilts her head when Willow asks if she can teach her how to fight. She blinks her brown eyes once. And then twice. "...Oh. Yes, perhaps." (No one has ever asked her to teach them before. Except for...) Fortunately, the dragon appears before she has to supply any more words or thoughts towards this particular topic.

"Hello Lucky." Juliet gives a polite half-curtsey upon her introduction to the dragon, sensing the creature's hesitance. She supposes that it is a good thing that Willow's companion is protective, considering her earlier reaction to the ogre. (It helps to set her mind at ease, too... although she wonders if it's a common occurrence for the dragon to fly off that way.) Grace will come and go as she pleases... but she always finds her way back. That may be the case here as well. They seem close and therefore trustworthy enough to ride. (When was the last time that she properly rode a dragon? It has been a while. She tenses at the thought of her feet rising from the ground... but knows this is an efficient solution. And if Juliet appreciates anything it's efficiency.) And so? With that, Juliet nods and takes Willow's hand when it is offered to her.

Juliet clings tightly to Willow as they soar above the familiar wood on Lucky's back. (Perhaps a little too tightly. But not because she is frightened. They are just... very high up. It's practical.) From above she can map out various different landmarks-- the Crystal Lake, the Riddle Vales, the soft glow from the pixie's grove and even hints of the Forgotten Falls. (There is also the smattering of trees that have scorched to an inky black, stretching out of the earth like a monster's scraggily hands. A purplish mist hangs about in the air around them. That is where Grace is headed, towards the witch of the wood.) However, exploring the wood and the lands that stretch beyond it is not their priority-- however magnificent it all might appear from the clouds-- and she quickly gives instructions steering them towards the city. She casts a cautious glance towards the setting sun. It's best that they make it there before it gets dark.

Once they take to the skies, it does not take incredibly long before the kingdom of Amoria is within their sight. With it's scale, it's rather impossible to miss. While she does not care as much for the city, it is indeed a breathtaking sight to take in from above-- sparkling and bathed in gold from the light of the setting sun. (Truly easier to admire from afar, when she forgets the people who live within it.) There's the grandness of the castle upon the hill, the intricate clocktower, the gothic architecture of the buildings and cobblestone streets. Upon closer inspection of the streets there are market stalls selling baked goods (which smells so good she can almost taste from there) weapons and artwork. Each street and hidden alleyway holds a certain artistry and identity of its own. The walls and entrances of many homes are strewn with abundance of lush greenery and flowers. The streets bustle as those with an invitation set off to the castle and others close up their shops for the evening. (Or, alternatively, open their pubs to the evening crowds.) Juliet supposes she could suggest a place to Willow to get her dagger looked at... but perhaps she will suggest it later, as not to get sidetracked when they have a set objective.

"...We're nearly there now. We can go the rest of the way on foot." Juliet says after giving instructions to land on Cornelia street. (This street is rather quiet-- there's not a soul in sight.) She slides off of Lucky's back and takes a breath as she reorients herself. All right. They would make this quick and then make it to the castle. "Thank you, Lucky." She dips her chin respectfully. Then, believing unquestionably that Willow will simply follow right behind her, she begins to walk at a swift clip towards home. (Silently, she tamps down on any remnant feelings of vertigo the flight might have left her with.) It has nothing to do with walking Cornelia street again. At least she doesn't think so. The homes lining this street are all quite large and beautifully maintained. That includes the one that she grew up in... but rather than approach the front door, she instead enters through the side gate to cut through the gardens instead. It's quiet in the garden, with nothing but the trickling sound of the fountain that sits as the centerpiece.

Rather than appreciate the flowers, though, Juliet instead approaches the wall and deftly scales the footholds on the side of the house, hoisting herself up onto her bedroom's balcony. Then she peers down at Willow (she hadn't checked to see if she'd been following all of this time until that very instant) as if this is not strange. It's not strange, not for Juliet. Even if she does look a bit like a thief in the night. "...Willow? Are you coming?"
 

starboob

lover / leaver
It does make Willow uneasy that Juliet is so quiet, in all honesty. Usually she wouldn't be so talkative herself, but she finds herself needing to make up for her conversation partner's lack of, well, conversing. This is fine. She's only known the woman for all of fifteen minutes (give or take) and so long as they don't succumb to their strings snapping, she has her entire life to get to know Juliet. They can afford to take it slow so long as they prioritize understanding, honesty, empathy, vulnerability and communication. (Her research indicates as much at least–– because, yes, Willow James is writing her dissertation on string theory and relationship satisfaction.) Even so, she is anxious to skip to the part where they're together; when she knows how to make her laugh when she knows she's about to cry, when she knows all her favorite songs, when she tells her about her dreams... Willow James cannot wait for that. (She's only been waiting her whole life!) She deeply wants to unravel the mystery of who Juliet August is. The mystery of mysteries.

Questions swirl through her head the more she learns (and doesn’t learn) about the archer and she privately files them away for later, imagining the moments when it will be appropriate to ask these questions. Such as, 'Why did she have to be quick?' For as talkative and as big-mouthed as she's been so far, she does hold back asking this particular question. It's obviously not that she doesn't want to know, but the implications could be personal and, so far, Juliet does not strike her as the kind of person who goes deep right upon meeting her soulmate for the first time. That’s okay! Really, it is––the excitement is in the mystery.

Besides, she’ll likely have plenty of time to get to know Juliet now that she’s sort of accepted to teach Willow how to fight. And now that she is thinking of that prospect, she realizes how physical fighting is and that Juliet may be required to touch her––to fix her form or even while they spar. She might stand behind Willow and…

Her cheeks instantly flush and she tries to pretend that it’s just because she’s exerted herself helping the other woman onto Lucky’s back. It’s definitely not because her thoughts are inappropriate or anything! Pfft. (Besides, they were totally PG rated! It’s not weird.) She clears her throat nervously as she settles further into the saddle. She then peels off her dad’s hiking backpack, sets it in front of her, and then removes Leif’s baseball cap so that it does blow away mid-flight. As soon as Juliet’s arms are looped around her waist (wow), she strokes the spikes on Lucky’s neck and the dragon launches into the air, sending a small shockwave through the earth as they depart.

Once they’re above the trees, Willow cannot help but to gasp at the sight of the Other Side from the skies. While she can spot similarities between the realms, she is more so fascinated by the differences––like how much bigger and more sprawling the woods are; how the lake hasn’t shrunk in size and is still one uniform lake; there’s also the fact that the mists that hover around the woods on this half are colorful and glow. A dozen more questions spark in her mind over these observations, and before she can ask them the kingdom comes into view over the horizon and steals her attention. She gasps in wonderment as her eyes twinkle. It looks exactly as it does in the books she’s read about the Other Side. Except, a million times more dazzling with the golden sun awash over it and making it seem that all the more magical. It truly looks as though it has its own shimmer and shine.

Though her favorite view? Corny as it is, it’s looking down and noticing how firmly and securely those arms are wrapped around her waist; it’s stealing glances over her shoulder––obviously to make sure her passenger is okay––and noticing the way that the golden hour lighting intensifies the red of Juliet’s hair and warms her brown eyes, giving them a glow that only brown eyes in the sun can achieve. (The way her arms are wrapped around her, so firm, so secure, inspires a number of daydreams that Willow will absolutely be falling asleep to later. It’s not hard to imagine how Juliet is her person when her arms feel so much like safety and home. Nevermind that Willow has felt this way about all of her previous lovers––it’s obviously much more special knowing their threads more or less guarantee this outcome.)

When Juliet indicates that they can land, Willow nods and steers them towards an open space on one of the cobblestone streets. (It’s neat that there don’t seem to be laws around where one can and cannot alight from their dragons.) She sets the baseball cap back on her head and then hoists the backpack onto her back; Lucky shrinks back down so that they are no bigger than a raven and settles on top of Willow’s pack. Though the street is much quieter than the ones they had flown over, Willow still finds herself overwhelmed with all the new stimulus. Sure, they’re just houses, but they’re much different than the ones she grew up around! Architecture aside, they're all much bigger than the childhood home her father lost and far more maintained than her grandma's house that she grew up in. They're adorable!

Lucky, most likely sensing that their companion is getting sidetracked, bops Willow’s head with their tail (spooking her) and flies down the street in the direction that Juliet went. This is when the hero wannabe notices that the archer has left her behind, filling her with some feeling she would rather not name, and she chases after Lucky for the millionth time today.

It doesn’t seem that Juliet got too far ahead of her as she catches up with her (and Lucky) rather quickly and just in time to see her sneak through the garden. Entering through the back doesn’t really strike Willow as odd, to be honest, and so she doesn’t think to question it. Instead, she marvels over the garden and takes note of the flora that seem similar to what grows over in Elsewhere. She likely would have summoned her sheers to collect a sample (entirely forgetting that this is someone’s garden), but Juliet calls to her––reminding her of where she’s at––and she squeaks in surprise. “Ahh,” her face flushes, “Yeah, coming!”

As she spins around, the world moves in slow motion the second her green eyes lock onto Juliet––the last rays of sunshine bathe her in their fierce orange and pink hues and light her in such a way that she appears angelic. Like someone from a dream. A million lines of poetry and prose come together in Willow’s mind and while the romantic in her does want to recite some, she buries the urge. Juliet’s lukewarm responses haven’t been all too encouraging and she doesn’t want to make this weird or force anything before it’s meant to happen. 'Patience. Just be patient.' She averts her gaze, chews on the inside of her cheek and then marches over to the wall.

Climbing up to the balcony doesn’t strike Willow as odd, if only because Meredith and herself often would climb up to each other’s bedrooms when they were young. It was always a good way to avoid their families and she assumes that Juliet might be trying to accomplish the same. That, or she forgot her key. That’s also a possibility, she supposes. Once she makes it to the railing, she manages to pull herself up and then proceeds to topple onto the balcony. Ah, almost smooth. Embarrassment spreads through stomach, but she masks it by springing back up to her feet and offering a grin to say she’s alright. She even jokes, “I meant to do that. Landing on your feet is for cats.”

She sets her bag down beside Juliet’s bed, but doesn’t dare intrude further into her space. Juliet seems reserved and perhaps would not really want someone in her space, even if she did invite Willow here to freshen up and change. She takes off the hat, musses through her hair to liven it up, and then sheds the flight jacket. “Ah, so… I have to wear a dress, yeah?” She hadn’t necessarily seen many women on this half wearing pants, but she also only saw them from above. Perhaps Juliet has a nice suit? But also perhaps not. “I haven’t worn one since I was seven. Will you help me pick something? I just have no idea what would look good and, well, it’s your wardrobe so I don’t want to wear something that maye you wanted to wear or maybe something you were saving for a particular occasion…” she trails off, realizing that she’s talking too much again and bites her lip. Her eyes find Lucky, who is crawling around the room and sniffing anything that seems remotely interesting, and tries to concentrate on them rather than Juliet. (Extremely difficult task, in case you were wondering.) “Would you like help with your hair? I know it’s not much, but I suppose I’d like to thank you in some way for helping me out. If I were back home, I’d probably bake you something.”

“Oh, and since this banquet is all fancy-schmancy, what etiquette rules are there? I never went to finishing school, so I have no idea what forks are for what dishes... and is the princess mean? How should I greet her?” Ah, so much for trying to simmer down; seems her anxieties have taken full control. (As if they ever aren’t in control.) "How do you know the princess?"
 
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ellarose

wanderer
Juliet dutifully removes her shoes at the door, ensuring she does not track any mud on the carpet before padding across the room towards her wardrobe. This bedroom is pristine and untouched. Like something that belongs in a display case more so than a space that someone actually occupies. It's soft, feminine, and everything within it blushes and dims in the sun's dying rays. Aside from that, it can also be noted that it's severely lacking in character. It does not appear lived in at all-- as there's no clutter of even the smallest sort to be found. No cloaks or gowns could be found draped haphazardly over the tuffet or the reading chair, nor were there any unfinished books or papers to be found strewn about on any of the surfaces. There's not even a single crease to be found in any of the floral pillows or the bedding. (It's not that Juliet is painstakingly tidy or anything like that. She doesn't live here anymore and only ever uses this room anymore when she's visiting the kingdom and needs a place to sleep.) Most of her belongings (weapons and preferred clothes) are stored within her attic room in the witch of the wood's home. That room is different from this one in nearly every way. Drafty and a bit tattered. But it is preferable, for it suits her much better.

Even as a girl Juliet did not care much for this room. None of it reflected who she was... the furniture that she rebelliously carved into (or outright broke) was always promptly thrown out and replaced with something shiny and new to hide all of the imperfections. It always existed as a silent plea to masquerade and eventually become the kind of girl that a room like this might be meant for. For this reason she does not particularly mind as Lucky wanders and sniffs about the room. The traces of the girl she'd been within this room had long since come and gone. There's nothing to be found here.

With a click that wakes Juliet from her thoughts, the wardrobe doors swing open and invite her back into the present moment. Dresses. Yes. Right. Much like the room itself, the dresses hang neatly creaseless, ordered meticulously by color and design. She tilts her head impartially and selects a blue one for herself. Then she steps away purposefully to allow Willow access when she begins asking her questions. Oh. Seven years? That news... is almost as enviable as how comfortable the other woman's attire appears. "You are not made to wear dresses?" Not ever? She blinks perplexedly and then briefly eyes the jacket she laid down on the bed, wondering how it might feel to try it on. (Most of the time she prefers to wear trousers herself. Hers are kept in the cottage, however, hidden away and reserved for her outings in the wood or the back alleys. There are some villages where that style of dress is more common as well... but at a traditional event such as this-- in the heart of the kingdom no less? It's unheard of for a woman to wear them unless she is trying to make a statement. Juliet only knows because she has tried once herself.) "Ah... yes, I'm afraid it is traditional to wear dresses. At least for occasions such as these. You may change into something you prefer once we return."

Juliet steps behind the elegant dressing screen in the corner and promptly begins to change out of her dirtied clothes. "You may take whichever dress you prefer most. It is not often that I use this wardrobe, so you needn't worry." She admits draping her red cloak and white dress over the screen as she disrobes. Then she begins the tedious process of changing into the blue dress. "Perhaps the green one?" It will match Willow's eyes. Not that it particularly matters... it's just a thought. "Oh... and that is all right. We're running a bit late." She hesitantly tugs at the end of one of her waves, considering the current state of her hair. It's a bit tousled, but she's still adhering to the dress code. It should be fine. (...Ah, baked goods. Would it be rude of her to say she prefers baked goods to anything else? Yes, perhaps. So she holds her tongue.) "You've done plenty just by flying us here."

Ah, damn... everything about this conversation reminds Juliet that she is hungry. She hadn't expected for her afternoon snack to get crushed the way it had. (With this in mind, she's almost tempted to ask Willow what she likes to bake. However, this might only accomplish to make her hungrier.) The sooner they make it to the banquet the sooner they will get to eat. That will be reward enough in her eyes. She doesn't need to doll up for those people any more than she needs to, nor does she need to make her companion go to the trouble.

"There are many etiquette rules, but you should be fine so long as you stay by my side. No one will expect you to know everything since you've only just now arrived from the Other Side." Yes, yes. They hadn't expected Juliet to know everything when she first showed up, either. (...Never stopped them from talking, though. But she cannot spare Willow from talk. Coming from the Other Side and arriving alongside Juliet August will make her a topic of conversation by default.) "Princess Elise is rather..." Frivolous? Theatrical? Ah, that's not the kindest way to put it. Princess Elise is generally harmless, if a bit judgmental at times. "Lively. She told me she has an announcement to make at the banquet."

Finishing up, Juliet steps out from behind the dressing screen and approaches the wardrobe again. "We've known each other since childhood. My mother was close friends with her mother. The queen. Now she employs me to investigate what has been happening to love." She takes the green dress she spoke of out and drapes it over the bed for Willow to inspect. "...Is this one all right? Let me know if you need any help tying it in the back."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
This room reminds Willow James of her room when she would come back to the Rhode Island house during school breaks and holidays, in that there are only echoes of evidence that someone used to occupy this space full-time. It is crisp and clean. It has belongings that seem only to belong. However, unlike her room back at home, this room doesn’t tell a story. Or rather, the story that it tells is of someone other than Juliet August. At least not the one who Willow James has come to know in their short time together; and knowing that it has only been a short time together, she does try to keep in mind the mystery that is the woman tied to her invisible string. Still, whoever occupies this room (or did) does not share much in common with the archer who swiftly cut off an ogre’s hand without hesitation. (Then again, she does know that dualities exist. This does not, however, account for the fact that the vibe just feels off.) The room inspires more questions that will have to be saved for later.

When Lucky is satisfied that there is no danger (or snacks) hiding within the nooks and crannies of Juliet’s bedroom, they hop onto the bed and nest there while the women prepare for the banquet. Willow reaches over to brush her companion’s spine out of habit as her eyes scan through the neatly hung dresses. (When were they last worn? Did the Juliet who used to dress like this… was she happy? What memories are carried in the threads of this fabric––the washed out stains, the loose stitches, and even the colors and patterns picked––what are the secrets clinging to these dresses?) She waits patiently for the other woman to pick out her dress as these questions float through her mind like peaceful clouds. “No, I haven’t worn one since Christmas almost two decades ago? My uncle had to beg me to wear it, because grandma Juniper had gone through the trouble of getting all the girl cousins matching dresses for the family dinner.” She smiles at the memory, recalling how her uncle agreed to magic his Christmas outfit into a matching dress––much to grandma Juniper’s disapproval (but even she couldn’t help but smile at her son’s antics). “Wearing a dress is fine, of course. I don’t have the same qualms I used to,” she assures in case Juliet were worried about Willow’s comfort.

Once Juliet has selected her dress and stepped behind the screen, Willow flips through the dresses, not feeling particularly attached to any one. They’re all nice dresses and the colors are pretty, too, but the style… Well, it’s just beyond anything Willow has ever worn. They also strike her as more complicated, noting the ones with backs that need to be laced and tied. She swallows imagining Juliet helping her with the dress. (This beats any trope involving dresses with zipper backs as she imagines the moment will last much longer.)

“This wardrobe?” Willow notes, turning to glance over at the woman––rather, her shadow behind the screen. (Willow immediately regrets looking in that direction as the fleeting minutes of sunlight do give the small lesbian an idea of Juliet’s naked outline. Ah!!) It takes her a minute to recover her thoughts, but enough silence passes that she isn’t sure it’s worth clarifying her question. Besides, she has plenty of time (her whole life!) to follow-up on curiosities such as these.

Then when she suggests the green dress, Willow blushes wondering if perhaps Juliet has thought about the way it might complement her eyes. Then she wonders if that means that Juliet likes her green eyes and if she’s thought about getting lost in them. “Green is nice, yeah. My favorite color even!” she nods, staring at the dress on its hanger though she does not grab it just yet as Juliet then mentions that they’re late. Like, as in not on time in case that weren't unclear! If there is one thing that Willow James hates it’s tardiness! In fact, she hates it (fears it) so much that she has become a master of being early to being early. (And sometimes she’s early to being early to being early. She showed up to her GRE exams three hours early because she was worried about getting lost and finding parking…) “Woah, woah––late? How late? Like, fashionably late?” Not that Willow totally embraces the concept (see above). “Or like, now we’re going to be whispered about the entire night??” It’s for best that Willow does not realize the novel that is being from the Other Side and doesn’t make the connection that this will be like being the new girl in class midway through the school year. (She hated when that happened to her in the fourth grade.)

Juliet doesn’t necessarily stamp out any of Willow’s worries when she confirms that there are etiquette rules. Even if the sorceress won’t be expected to follow them, she hates the idea that she’s going to stick out like a sore thumb. There’s nothing she can do about it––not unless she freezes time and holds Juliet hostage until she’s confident that she can ace this banquet without looking like a fool, but that would require time magic permits. (Although, maybe there is no such regulation and bureaucracy on the Other Side? Juliet did more or less suggest that openly carrying weapons is the norm. And she didn’t say anything about where Lucky can and cannot land within the city. So it’s either that there are no such rules or her (soon to be) lover is a total bad girl rule breaker. Wowie. Anyway, she probably shouldn’t use time magic on something that’s a bit frivolous.) “I’ll, uh, just follow everyone else’s lead then––I don’t wanna accidentally offend anyone.” Besides, all this anxiety has scared her appetite away so she won’t really need to worry about the multiple fork situation.

And her anxieties continue to skyrocket with all the possibilities over what 'lively' could mean––does that mean princess Elise is energetic? Spontaneous? A party girl? Is she weird and eccentric? Gargh! She really might give Juliet one of those letters she’s written. (Not all of her letters to her love had been love letters––many of them are, but there is still a hefty stack devoted to How to Care For and Properly Love Your Very Own Willow James.)

Willow totally misses the part about the princess’s announcement as she starts pacing through the bedroom, chewing on the corner of her thumb, as she tries to remember everything that she has ever learned from mocking fancy people. ‘Do I need to hold my pinky out whenever I have a bevvie in my hand? Agh! I guess I just won’t touch anything until I see what Juliet does. Solid plan, Willow James!’ With that bandaid temporarily affixed to her worries, she turns and lets out a small helpless noise when she sees Juliet. (A common theme that she guesses is going to be a regular recurrence.) “You look so stunning, Juliet,” she breathes, watching the woman pull out the green dress. Willow doesn’t even look at it, she simply gathers it and disappears behind the screen, all of her thoughts dedicated to picturing Juliet in her blue dress. Green and blue. Blue and green. Those are nice colors together. They’ll look nice together. “Sorry about ruining you dress earlier, by the way. I can, uh, help you with the stain later?”

The sorceress sighs, thinking about the woman on the other side of the screen as she sheds her clothes (falling backwards when she tries to wrestle out of her pants and she is so grateful that Juliet cannot see her face rival a stop sign). Next, she wrestles herself into the dress, getting lost in all the folds of fabric before she has it on properly. ‘Okay, Willow. Be cool. Be cool.’ “Uh,” she clears her throat and looks over her shoulder, “Yeah, Juliet, can you help me tie the back?” Gods, she wants to die.

Then she wants to die twice as hard when she finds out just how the princess and Juliet know each other. Her eyes widen to saucers and her heart flutters. (She isn’t able to think about the implications that Juliet might be high society and that’s probably for the best. She can save that anxiety for later.) “You’re also trying to save love?” This is just way too perfect. Their first lesbian date is going to be saving the world (love) together and Willow James could not be happier. “Woah––the fates really do know what’s up.” This also confirms Willow’s hypothesis that the worlds are still more intricately connected than either side likes to believe. It also proves that she had been right to trust her gut and start her investigation on the Other Side! “What’s been happening to love on this side? Do you have any hypotheses on what could be going on?”
 

ellarose

wanderer
Fashionably late? Juliet believes she's heard a similar phrase to that one before. Somewhere. (...At this rate it seems that she really might have to pick up one of those old books of phrases heard from the Other Side so that her mind does not snag on them this way.) If she considered that they were going to be late on account of dressing for the occasion, she supposes that 'fashionably late' might be an apt way to describe it. "Yes, we will be fashionably late." She nods, feeling rather sure of her answer in spite of her initial confusion. They would be wearing the suitable fashions for the occasion and arriving late. Therefore fashionably late. She finds herself curious about fashions from the Other Side as well when Willow speaks of it. Neither of her parents ever had to beg her to wear a dress when she was a child... namely because dresses were the only option available to her in this household. (When she first met her parents she was ten and well beyond the age of wearing nothing at all as a sign of rebellion. That and her father's trousers could not possibly fit her.) Anyway. People will also whisper (they always whisper)-- it's inevitable. But there's something in Willow's voice that tells Juliet that she shouldn't confirm this right now. The woman's senses for danger seem to be rather delicate and it seems better that she doesn't encourage them to heighten or cause her unnecessary distress. (Much like Lara leading her into dangerous territory to train without telling her first. Rather than give her a list of things to worry about beforehand, she trained her to react.) "It will be fine." Hopefully.

"...It will be all right. You are very observant." Juliet continues awkwardly, feeling that she might have failed in setting the other woman's mind at ease. (That is what she's trying to do, but words are never easy.) "None of the guests will try to eat you the way the ogre in the wood did. And if they tried I would not let them." She leaves out the aspect that she personally considers the people who attend these events far more troublesome to deal with than the creatures of the wood. (Not that she wishes to outright murder anyone... that isn't who she is. That's never been who she is. But threats she can cut through with knives and arrows are easier than those she must combat with words.) Technically the princess's guests will try to eat them alive, although in a less literal way than the ogre had. Willow James seems to notice the slightest of shadows and noises, however, so she is sure that as long as she knows to stay close to her side throughout the evening they will get through it.

Juliet tilts her head perplexedly, alert at the strange noise Willow makes upon seeing her. Before she can wonder what's the matter the woman gives her what she believes is compliment. Ah. So it was a good noise, then? "Oh. Thank you." She nods distractedly as she watches her take the dress and disappear behind the screen. Okay then. While she waits, she pads towards the bed where the comfortable looking coat is resting. She hovers her hand over it, debating on whether or not to touch it to sate her curiosity. (The material looks durable and thick-- but also rather plush. Perhaps it's soft to the touch? She wonders what it would be like to try it on... but retracts her hovering hand when Willow speaks up again.) "...That's all right. Angelica will take care of it. I don't intend to wear it again anytime soon." If she ever wears it again at all. If Angelica cannot get the ogre's blood out of the dress it's highly likely that she'll burn it. (Which the woman will be very cross to do. This is why Juliet sneaks in through the back rather than risking an encounter with the maid.)

Speaking of Angelica... Juliet's heart races just a bit when she hears the clatter of Willow's fall. The maid might hear if they aren't careful. "Are you..." She's about to inquire after her wellbeing when she is asked for help with lacing the back. Nodding, she swiftly heads over to do just that.

"Yes." Juliet begins working on the back of the dress. It accentuates curves previously hidden within the folds of Willow's comfortable looking clothes and her own chest tightens with sympathy as she laces up the back. (She doesn't draw the emerald green ribbon too tight-- she's not a monster.) It is too bad they are not going to a pub in one of the back alleys for intel instead. Then they could have worn whatever they pleased tonight. Distractedly, she listens for Angelica as she also focuses on the lacing and Willow's questions. (It is a lot to keep track of at once.) "...It has to do with the distribution of scissors made from hexed steel. They're being used to purposefully cut threads. They're... rare. But once a few threads are cut, it doesn't take long for others to unravel." (Snap, snap, snap. Flashes pulse through her mind like the thumps of a pained heartbeat and she chases them off as soon as they appear to her. Focus.) There are a mountain of problems associated with the scissors. None that they have the time to discuss now. While her feelings on the matter are long dead (are they though?) Juliet needs to acquire a pair of those scissors herself if she wishes to study them properly. "Heart glows are dimming as well. If someone's glow burns out entirely they, ah, turn into a monster. We've been calling them the 'Lightless' and they gravitate to the wood. I have enchanted arrowheads designed to heal those afflicted. Alongside inspecting the gateways I am trying to investigate where they are..."

Juliet stops suddenly, hearing footsteps down the hall. Ah! Finishing with Willow's dress, she springs into action as if she has done this thousands of times before. Quickly, she pulls a large hatbox out from under her bed and taps indicatively on the striped lid. "Put all of your belongings in here. That way they'll be safe from inspection." There's no time to explain what this means. Once she gives those instructions she hurries to the wardrobe to grab two capes. It gets cold at night, after all, and will offer some extra comfort. (She doesn't have time to pay attention to how they will go with their dresses. She grabs red (her favorite) and also a white... which ought to go with anything.) "Juliet!? Is that you?" Angelica's muffled voice rings out. Juliet tosses the white cape in Willow's general direction, not checking to see how it lands, and makes sure her room is as tidy as if she had never been there at all before rushing towards the balcony.

"Ah, you mischievous little spitfire! You know you're supposed to be at the banquet. Your mother is expecting you and--" Juliet's face burns almost as red as her hair when the maid continues her heated lecture. She sounds out of breath, though, and undoubtedly still has a ways to go before she climbs the staircase and ventures down the hallway to the bedroom. The archer hovers at the balcony, ready to scale down whenever but also wanting to make sure that at least Willow makes it out first. She has a feeling that they'll miss the banquet altogether if she has to explain the presence of the woman from the Other Side to her maid, who will undoubtedly have about a million questions. (...And potentially make a number of embarrassing, dirty jokes at the implication of her sneaking around with a woman. That cannot happen!) "...We need to hurry."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
Fashionably late. Okay, Willow James can totally deal with being fashionably late. (No. No, she cannot. While being fashionably late is preferable to being entirely late––like Clover’s lola who never fails to show up when the party's been long over––it is still not preferable. Timeliness is important to her because it shows respect for another person and she definitely wants to respect a princess! …And, perhaps, Willow James is still scarred from always being the last one to be picked up after school, because her mom always worked late and her father could never be bothered to leave the pool hall. Things did at least improve when Leif got his driver’s license and could drive Willow to school, but even he would be late to pick-up thanks to baseball practice and theater. Sometimes he’d cut his last class to get Willow so she could at least be at the high school while he did his after school activities. Anyway, point is she hates being late as a result.)

‘It will be fine,’ she repeats to herself while she pulls at one of her curls. This action also reminds her that her hair is an entire mess, thanks to the baseball cap, but this doesn’t birth new anxieties (thank goodness). With the privacy of the screen to block her from being seen, she whisks her finger through the air and wills the winds to gather her hair and put it up into a half-up half-down style. That’s a pretty safe go-to so she hopes it fits the vibe tonight.

As Juliet continues to console Willow’s anxieties, she does calm some, sensing the other woman’s efforts and knowing she will have one person looking out for her. (That person also being the one connected to her thread doesn’t hurt either. She automatically trusts the magic in that!) “Well, I certainly hope that princess Elise is not the princess of cannibals.” She gives herself a lopsided grin, pleased with her own joke. Of course, then she immediately starts to wonder if the Other Side is full of cannibals and if she has perhaps offended Juliet. (Is that maybe why the two sides haven’t spoken in eons?) ‘Willow James, do not be redonk. None of the books you have read on the Other Side have indicated this. That would be a huge detail to miss.’ “I’ll for sure make sure to stay by your side. I mean, you’ll be the only person I know. I just hope I don’t cramp your style around all your friends.” Because Juliet had said that she grew up with princess Elise, Willow makes a leap and assumes this banquet will be full of people who are friendly with the archer. (It’s not lost on her that this will be a great opportunity to gather intel on Juliet since her future lover is not quite as forthcoming as she initially imagined.) “I’ll be glad to have you there with me tonight, to be honest. I mean, I know we only just met and I barely know you, but. I dunno, it just calms me down knowing you’ll be there.” Totally because of the string. Willow knows she shouldn’t put expectations on anything, but she literally cannot help it. This is her soulmate.

When the other woman finally joins her behind the screen, Willow stops breathing for a full minute, not wanting anything to distract her as Juliet fixes her dress. She gasps ever so slightly when she feels the faintest pressure from the brush of her fingers and has to bite her lip when she tightens the lace. The poor gay mess is so distracted that she almost misses the archer explaining the situation on this side. Once her brain comes back to life (by some miracle), her heart stops again. ‘Hexed steel scissors?’ She hasn’t heard of them on her side, but if the world’s are as intertwined as Willow thinks, then maybe love only needs to be messed with on one side for the other to react. Willow doesn’t rule out there being a similar object on her side of things just yet, but she also keeps in mind this hypothesis. She also has no idea what to make of the heart glows and the ‘Lightless.’ Nothing like that exists on her side. “No one’s had a heart glow in centuries on my side––like, not even my grannies experienced that and they have the best relationship ever.” Their relationship is what she’s always wanted for herself, because she sees how happy they make each other. They still dance in the refrigerator light. “I kind of thought they were just an exaggeration from when everyone was a repressed Victorian,” she scratches her head and wrinkles her nose. (Wait, has the Other Side even had their Victorian era yet? Will they ever? Did Willow just spoil history? Ah, mist.) “On my side the strings are just snapping. I don’t think scissors are invo––”

Oh. Okay. They’re scrambling like eggs now. As has been her experience this last hour, there is too much for Willow James to process at once. She just focuses on one thing at a time, starting with following Juliet’s instructions and summoning her belongings over to her. Before she dumps them into the hat box, however, she summons her keychain from her bag––it has so many trinkets attached to it––and grabs her staff. She’s so practiced at this that it doesn’t take more than a second and soon everything else is disappeared into the box. She slides it back under the bed and looks up.

‘Okay, focus.’ She doesn’t want to mess this up and, honestly, Willow James does not want to meet whoever is stomping up the stairs. Like, awkward. She wouldn’t even know how to explain herself, because she’ll have forgotten her own name in her panic. (She's already starting to blank out and shut down.) ‘Be coo––’ The white cape smacks her right in the face and then flops into her arms. It takes her a second to figure everything out, but she accepts it and dashes over to the balcony, throwing her staff over the edge like a javelin. It sticks the landing on the ground then shoots up until it’s high enough for them to reach on the balcony. Without hesitation, Willow leaps over the barrier, grabs onto her staff and slides down it firemen style. Once she's on the ground, she fastens the cape around her shoulders (and tries not to geek over getting to wear a ducking cape!) and looks up at Juliet, assuring her, “It’s totally stable––I do this all the time when I’m late to catch my bus.” As in, when she thinks she’ll be late to catch her bus and still ends up thirty minutes early to wherever she needs to be (and that is late for Willow). (She remembers once when she and Dorthea made plans to hang out one weekend and Dorthea, knowing Willow’s tendency for being early, showed up early herself. That had been so sweet.)

Once Juliet is beside her again she’s pulled from her thoughts, but there’s no time to check-in. Their is still urgency in the air, especially now that she can hear that woman jostling the doorknob to the bedroom. She grabs her staff, it automatically shrinks down to the size of a twig that she slaps around her wrist to form it into a bracelet, then whistles for Lucky who flies out the balcony into the night. She grabs Juliet’s hand, in some show of boldness, and pulls them out of the garden. As she runs, she fumbles with her keychain until she’s wrestled off a homemade finger skateboard that she tosses onto the ground; it wiggles and shakes and then bursts into a full size board that she then turns into a hoverboard from Back to the Future II (she figures a hoverboard is better against cobblestone). She jumps onto the board and then reaches back for Juliet (she is seriously hoping she looks cool). “Hop on, this’ll be faster and I really don’t wanna show up in the middle of the feast and have everyone’s head turn.”

By subtly manipulating the winds behind them, she's able to propel them through the city with little issue. (It would be totally romantic were it not for the rush they're in.) While Willow James doesn’t know exactly where the palace is, she does remember the layout of the city from the aerial view she got while on Lucky’s back and thus knows the general direction of where they should be headed. Plus, she's confident that Juliet August will steer her in the right direction if she starts to go astray. Fun as the jaunt is, however, as they approach the castle Willow James remembers that she doesn't know how to stop properly (at least not with two people on board) and has to warn, "Jump!" as they approach the steps and a group of perplexed guards.
 

ellarose

wanderer
Juliet finds the rest of their escape rushing by in blurs of color. (Living with Millicent, the witch of the wood, means that she has witnessed all sorts of magic at work before. Enough that she doesn't necessarily need to pause and gape wonderingly at it... but there is no denying that something about the magic that Willow James uses that is different from anything she's ever seen before. Hm. Is this what magic from the Other Side looks like?) The only image that shows up with clarity when she reflects back on it is the sight of the other woman jumping atop her floating contraption and spinning around to face her, cape flapping behind her, to offer her hand. Hearing the doorknob jostling above is all the incentive she needs to accept. Taking the other woman's hand, she jumps on with cautious feet. Sucking in a sharp breath, she ducks her head slightly and closes her eyes tight as they take off through the gardens. Calm down. It is better than getting caught by Angelica, isn't it? Yes. Yes, of course. Yet her feet are disconnected from solid ground again and her heart flutters like an anxious little bird in her chest. (Can Willow feel it pumping between her shoulder blades? Ah, she hopes not.) At least she can pride herself on the fact that she doesn't make any strange noises. Calm down and focus. Unless Willow James also uses magic that will help her take the fastest route through the winding city roads to a castle that she has never been to before, she needs to open her eyes to give directions. (The castle is large and enchanting, with spires that stretch into the clouds. It rests on the highest hilltop and offers a view of it that can be seen in most parts of the city. There are a great many winding roads leading to it, however, and there are some they're better off not taking if they want to avoid trouble.) That and there are several secluded shortcuts that she herself has used in the past to swiftly make it to such occasions. She supplies instructions and efforts to focus on that rather than on her own troublesome qualms with floating.

Before long they're speeding towards the castle, the guards and endless steps are within sight, and Willow is telling her to... jump? Juliet does not need to be told twice and instinctually does so right away. With the unfamiliar momentum pushing her forward, she stumbles in the process and nearly falls flat onto the walkway when one of the guards on duty lunges forward and catches her in his arms before she can. "Juliet! Are you all..." Recognizing the voice, she immediately stiffens and yanks herself upright and out of his arms, taking one big step backward. Calm down. Take a breath. She focuses on smoothing out the creases in her dress and runs her fingers through her wind-tossed hair. (It's a mockery of what anyone will consider presentable, but it's better than before.) Then, finally, she lifts her gaze to confront Flynn Everson. He's got a lopsided smile on his annoyingly innocent face, which morphs into a confused frown when he glances over at Willow. The rest of the guards stir uncomfortably behind him, but Flynn waves his hand at them and that's enough to convince them to settle. "Lady Juliet. I'm pleased to see you've safely returned from the wood."

Of course. Flynn is always so happy to see her safely returned. He's so heroic, so well-meaning... all while ignoring the fact that he ruined everything for her. Juliet simply narrows her eyes.

A long moment stretches by where she doesn't respond. Out of practice dealing with the silent treatment, he carries on because he doesn't expect her to respond. "Princess Elise has been expecting you. Shall I escort you and your guest inside?" He along with the rest of the guards are rather perplexed at the concept that Juliet August of all people might bring a guest with her. (These days she's always keeps to herself.) They do not recognize her or the magic that they just witnessed either. Flynn knows his knightly manners by heart, though, and is able to accept this sooner than the rest of them. His smile returns and he bows politely to Willow. "You certainly made a surprising entrance. Will you introdu--" Juliet is already striding by the guards on duty to ascend the endless staircase. None of them move to stop her because this is normal. Obviously she does not need to be shown in. (They know her and she knows them. She used to sneak onto the training grounds when they were boys and she was just a girl. She can contend with most of them in a fight and they know it.) Flynn falters and offers Willow an apologetic smile.

"Ah. Jules has never been one for formalities." Flynn tries, faltering between what's proper and what's familiar in attempt to explain on her behalf. "Always in such a hurry. I've been concerned that she's been overworking herself lately, so it's nice to see that she's had the time to make a friend. Surely we'll have an opportunity to acquaint ourselves properly later." With a nod, he considerately gestures towards the staircase as if to give Willow permission to follow without finishing the full introduction.

This is about the same moment that Juliet circles back to take Willow's hand and guide her up the staircase, to ensure that she's with her and that Flynn isn't telling her anything strange. (He's always so concerned. He's too concerned if you ask her and needs to mind his own business. However, no one they will meet upstairs know how to mind their own business either.) "...Come on, Willow. We have an ungodly amount of stairs to climb." And she isn't exaggerating. There are an ungodly amount of stairs to climb. The pearly steps are lined with hedges that teem with meticulously maintained purple and blue flowers. Each petal is painted with silver strokes of moonlight. (Halfway there up is a sitting area, decorated with more hedges and a fountain with a statue of a maiden and a dragon affixed to the top.) Juliet doesn't pay any attention to these familiar surroundings tonight, focusing on the glow of light beaming from the grand entranceway they're headed towards. The higher they climb the louder they can hear the ballroom music as it swells, softly pouring out. (Ah... are they so late that they've missed the food?)

"That flying plank..." Juliet begins, deciding to take her mind off of everything. (She's referring to the hover board.) "Is that common on the Other Side? I've never seen anything like it before."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
Willow James wishes that she could say that she lands with grace and elegance; she wishes that she could say that all those years of bailing off her skateboard are coming in handy. However, she cannot claim either of those things, seeing as the only thing that prevents her from totally eating it in front of Juliet August is the guard who rushes to her aid and catches her before she can hit the ground (and that would have undoubtedly ruined another one of Juliet’s dresses). Her face immediately lights up like a stop light as she struggles to untangle her legs from the all the flowing layers of fabric. Once free, she bolts backwards towards the archer, ducking behind her much like Grace had earlier in the wood.

The sorceress swallows hard as her eyes dart between the knights and Juliet, trying to suss out the dynamic between all these new faces and whether or not they are friend or foe. She immediately notes that the knight who caught Juliet is quite charming though the redhead doesn’t seem responsive to his charm. Then again, this isn’t quite so surprising as this is Juliet August. Willow James may not know her well or at all, but she does get a sense that the woman holds her cards close to her chest. Still, Willow does detect something akin to disdain or even flat out hostility towards this man. (Perhaps this is just Willow fishing for gossip and hoping her projections are accurate.) ‘Well, she isn’t slicing off his hand so that’s probably a good sign?’ However, that is all that Willow James can say with some level of certainty.

The guard then shifts his attention towards Willow and the shade of red on her cheeks deepens, having entirely forgotten every word in her vocabulary. (She almost doesn’t understand what he’s saying. Nice as he seems, Willow James is uncomfortable with so many eyes on her at once. While only one guard addresses her, she feels the others behind him and it's like spotlights burning her up.) ‘Wordswordswords. Willow James, you know so many words please remember them.’

“Suilad––” she greets, for some reason defaulting to the Elvish she knows from her studies. Thankfully there’s no more time for her to embarrass herself further in front of people who know Juliet (presumably might even be her friends or know her friends) as the archer comes back to grab her hand and starts pulling her up the acoustic StairMaster. She scoops up her hoverboard from the ground and waves her hand over it to return it to its fingerboard form and attaches it to the keychain that she’s hiding in one of the many folds of the dress.

The burn in her thighs at least distracts her from her prior embarrassment and the scenery fills her thoughts with wonder that’s loud enough to drown out all the voices in her head telling her that she is the biggest fool on the planet and should wear a paper bag over her head and take a vow of silence. With the plentiful distractions around her, she admires the carefully kept hedges and notes how the pale moonlight gives everything a silvery shimmer. Though she has to wonder if there is magic involved in this too, for she doesn’t think she can recall seeing something quite so fantastical. But, perhaps, that is just her rose colored lens taking over. (In the back of her mind she also is reminded of Dorthea once more. She remembers how they met; how she caught the other girl in the greenhouse singing to the plants. “Oh, hello Willow. Shouldn’t you be in class?” Dorthea had asked back then and Willow had been shocked Dorthea knew her at all given her severe case of popularity and Willow’s distinct lack of such a condition. Anyway, apparently the plants responded better to her spells when she sang to them; though Willow is pretty sure anyone would respond to a song that comes from Dorthea Birdsong’s heavenly vocals––she’s a descendant of a god, after all.) As the music from the banquet upstairs tumbles down the steps, she notes how the plants remain still and don’t sway to the beat. She even stops her ascent to watch the leaves and branches to see if they’re holding the beat at all, but they remain frozen and still. She rushes to catch up with Juliet and, once she catches her breath, she huffs out, “Do the hedges here not respond to music? Back home they prefer jazz, mostly.”

As they continue up towards the banquet, getting closer and closer to the promise of food and most likely a chair to rest in, she also wonders about the interaction from only moments ago. When she tosses a glance over her shoulder, she can see the guards standing in a circle and debriefing before they return to their posts as statues. While she is wondering what they’re saying about her, specifically, she also wonders about what the guard had meant when he said that that Juliet (Jules?) is always like this, that she has a tendency to overwork herself, and the implication that she’s a loner type. Willow doesn’t know what to make of all of this information (yet), though none of it rubs her the wrong way or gives her cause for concern––there isn’t anything wrong with keeping to one’s self, after all. People could say the very same things about Willow, to be honest. (In fact, she can hear grandma Elva saying something like that to literally anyone that Willow brings home.) She decides it's a good thing they have so much in common.

As she follows after Juliet, she also decides to ask, “Who was that? He seemed… polite.” She settles on that adjective because it seems apt and safe enough in that it’s not a stretch and does leave much open to the imagination. (Though she recognizes this might not be a wise strategy with one such as Juliet August, who is sparse with words and might not elaborate further if she finds the descriptor apt enough as well.) She also almost asks about the nickname, Jules, and then decides against it. When the time comes, she’ll know whether or not Juliet prefers Jules and by that point she figures she’ll also know if that is a name reserved for friends. (Not that the guard seemed like a friend.) And she knows that despite their thread, they are not friends. Not yet. (She hasn't even memorized the sound of her voice and doesn't even know the specific shade of brown in her eyes. She hardly knows a thing about her and there is excitement in that, there is.)

Though when Juliet asks her question the sorceress gives her a perplexed look, tilting her head to the side. “My flying plank?” She scratches the top of her head, trying to figure out what the archer might mean by this. When it clicks, she grins, snaps her fingers and beams at the woman, “Oh! My hoverboard, you mean. No, usually they’re just skateboards but a skateboard would have been hella slow on cobblestone. So I changed it into a hoverboard from this movie that I just saw.” (This reminds her to always live in fear of accidentally telling Juliet she is her density instead of her destiny. She tries to not get too caught up in that line of thought.) “Do the sorcerers and wizards here not enchant objects to fly? Brooms used to be all the rage for centuries, but these days we’ll enchant anything.”

"Also," Willow pauses for a beat, placing her hands on her hips while she catches her breath for the nth time this last minute, "have y'all seriously not figured out escalators? Or a––a spell to make this less butts? Seriously, why are there so many steps?" Of course, by this point they're so close to the top that complaining is only making Willow's suffering worse. She knows this, but she still cannot help herself because this truly is the worst and her thighs and lungs officially hate her and are probably turning in their resignation letters soon. "I hope the chairs are comfy."
 

ellarose

wanderer
"I suppose there was a time when they used to. I haven't seen them dance in years... at least not in the city. They always dance in the pixie's grove." Juliet observes as she walks alongside the hedges. She glances down at them, delicate and frozen like sculptures. Without even a wind present to sway them, there's something rather melancholic about the sight them. (She remembers running up these stairs, laughing so hard her stomach hurt-- come to think of it, had they always been that shade of blue? She remembered them being warmer, composed of reds and pinks.) "They still change colors..." Gently, she tapped on one of the petals. A pinprick glow of red shines where her finger was and spreads all over the flower, illuminating it like a flame in the night. Like a red, bleeding heart among a sea of blue. A moment longer, though, and the color darkens to an inky black and the petals curl and warp like burnt paper. (Cursed.) It flashes once, twice, and then reclaims its original shape and shade of blue. She hasn't killed it. (She's not a killer.) "But they're not the same as they used to be." Neither is she. Drawing the ends of her cloak tighter around her shoulders, she picks up her pace. No need to think about things that don't matter anymore. No need to feel any of it now.

"Flynn Everson. Son of the Commander." Juliet answered matter-of-factly, resisting the temptation to roll her eyes. "He is very polite." Too polite, really. And that's all she intends to say about that. (His palms had been sort of sweaty back there. He's nervous about something and that puts her on high alert.) However, information about Flynn Everson is not a crucial part of their quest to 'save love' and so she figures that Willow James does not need to know much more than that. She doesn't see why anyone would want to either. There is not much to say. He's very simple. Always has been, ever since they were kids.

"Hoverboard." Juliet repeats the word slowly to test it on her tongue. "I see. It was very efficient." And a nightmare, truly, but efficient all the same. And she could appreciate the efficiency. Of course, Willow James proceeds with words that she cannot entirely keep up with. Skateboards. Hella. Movie. She recalls the other girls sitting over books about the Other Side, chatting about their slang and advanced 'technology'. Perhaps she should have paid more attention back then because as it is now... she's rather lost. "Hella fast." She is trying, though, and the meaning of the term 'hella' is simple enough to catch onto.

"Ah. Well, she does... but the only witch I know lives in the wood. She mostly uses it for everyday things, such as fetching her books or setting the table. Witches tend to prefer the wood or smaller towns." Juliet explains. (As does she.) A witch's signature was discovered on the first pair of enchanted scissors and many fled to escape suspicion for their creation. More than that, though, even before then witches were associated with 'sinister magics' of all kinds. (The archer even knows the heat of that judgement by associating with a witch... she can only imagine how Millicent must have felt.) "The sorcery in Amoria is misunderstood." There is much that can be said about this... but it is not the time. They near the entrance with each passing second and she needs to bolster her strength to endure the presence of so many people she hates all at once. "...You will be fine, though, because you come from the Other Side. And you've arrived with the intent to save love." Yes... the prophesied 'heroine' who will save them all. The same person who is huffing and puffing about the amount of stairs they have to climb. This is fair enough, though, because there are an absurd amount of stairs. Evidently they have not 'figured out escalators', because Juliet has no idea what an 'escalator' is. (The name sounds vaguely threatening to her, as does the flying contraption she visualizes in association with it.) However, she gets the gist of what Willow is saying based on her body language. There are a lot of stairs and she is understandably upset about this.

"...We arrived late. Had we gotten here sooner, we could have taken the Flower Lift." Juliet points to a sloping structure above their heads, decorated elegantly and created to be intentionally subtle. Tracing her finger across the way one might trace constellations in the sky, she eventually locates the carved wooden swing decorated with roses resting at the top. Enchanted by the castle's pixies, this device carries guests to the top of the stairs in a rather extravagant fashion. (Extravagant and terrifying, because this method also involves her feet dangling off of solid ground. She vastly prefers to ride on Grace's back to make it to the top of the stairs. Princess Elise once joked that Juliet always arrives late to the castle's functions specifically to avoid the Flower Lift. This is... not true. Not entirely so, anyway.) "Perhaps we can take it back down at the end of the night." Ugh. So much flying in one day.

They're nearly at the top, though, and it isn't long before they make it to the entrance. They have to walk down a long carpeted hall lined with shiny armor and gold-framed portraits before they finally make it to the stairs (yes, more stairs) that lead down into the ballroom. The butler standing at the door takes their cloaks. Upon stepping inside, they notice the long tables and chairs have been pushed aside for the evening and the center of the room is now occupied with couples dancing to the music, a the swishing gowns creating a garden of colors below. (Pixies hired to entertain the guests lounge on the crystal chandeliers and fly about the atrium, lending the ballroom a whimsical glow. The music is provided by nymphs and mermaids, who lounge and sing in the large fountains placed at either side of the stage. Princess Elise's personal touch, no doubt. Juliet wonders how much she had to twist her mother's arm to prepare this banquet precisely the way she envisioned it. For if it were the queen's decision, there would be a strict dress code-- everyone would be made to wear the same color (except for her) the music and dances would be far more traditional.) They are very late. So late that they missed the food. Juliet narrows her eyes, scanning the ballroom for any sign of leftovers. It seems there is still a table of refreshments on the outskirts of the room.

...At least no one is staring at them upon their arrival, like Willow feared. Many of them are much too preoccupied with the dancing and entertainment to take notice. Well, all except for Princess Elise herself, who immediately escapes the crowd of ladies hovering around her to bound towards Juliet and Willow at the foot of the staircase. Her dress is sparklier than the chandeliers and her equally sparkly golden hair swishes behind her as she runs.

"Juliet! You're so late." Elise throws her arms around Juliet, who stands unmoving in her embrace. (The queen would not approve. Elise can get away with it, though, because she is Elise.) Then the princess quickly steps back, puckering her lips playfully before breaking into a fond smile. "...You were out in the wood again, weren't you? It is such a long journey. I kept telling everyone that. Even so, I had faith that you'd come. No matter what Lavinia and the others said. Goodness, they were making bets that you would arrive with blood splattered all over your dress again!" The princess rolls her eyes. Juliet shuffles awkwardly. "And here you are, fresh as a daisy. It is a good thing, too, for I wanted you to be present for my announcement. It is only because of you that I have the courage to make it." The stars twinkling in Elise's eyes are vaguely threatening, much like the word 'escalators' had been. (Because of her? What kind of announcement is she planning on making? If it is inspired by Juliet, it is sure to cause chaos.) That's when the princess conspiratorially extends a cute cake to her, topped with a strawberry. (Juliet's favorite.) "You must be hungry. The feast has ended, but I kept this safe for you."

This successfully tears Juliet's attention away from the mysterious announcement. Cake. Her dark brown eyes light up as she accepts it and immediately pops the whole strawberry into her mouth. (This earns a few hypercritical stares from Lavinia and her posse, watching the exchange from their corner of the ballroom, but she does not care in the slightest. Strawberries are so sweet that they parry all of their bitter judgements.) Princess Elise simply giggles at this before turning her attention over to Willow, recognizing her presence and the implications of her presence all at once. Her gloved hands lift to her lips as she unleashes a dramatic gasp.

"Oh, hello. I don't believe we've met." Princess Elise beams, dipping into an effortless curtsy. "...Have you made a new friend, Juliet? How marvelous!"

"Willow James." Juliet introduces her. (...She has already wolfed down the entire cake. Remembering her promise to help, she gently nudges the other woman's shoulder and makes a rolling gesture with her wrist, hoping that it articulates the message to curtsy in return.) Then she nods towards the princess, realizing then that she hasn't been introduced either. "Princess Elise."

"Willow! My, what a lovely name. Did you know that willow trees are my absolute favorite? They are so beautiful. And so green, just like your eyes! And your dress. I recognize that one, actually. Juliet, did you lend her one of your dresses?" Princess Elise's big blue eyes widen again. Juliet already dreads the moment that either of them mentions that Willow is from the Other Side. "That is so sweet. Where is that you hail from, Willow James? Somewhere faraway, perhaps? Juliet visits so very many places that I have never laid eyes on before myself. Journeying through the wood is so treacherous... and now more than ever before."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
All the wonder in the world cannot distract Willow James from the burning sensation that is eating up her thighs. She is already dreading tomorrow morning as she knows her legs will be screaming their vengeance for the crimes she is currently committing against them. She cannot even find it in herself to be fascinated with the way the flower transforms under Juliet’s touch. While she isn’t able to marvel over the transformation––the plants on her side never change colors––she does note that it’s abnormal for the plants to be so still. At least, as a recent phenomena it is new and while Juliet doesn’t say much about the change, Willow has to wonder what is causing this and if it is related to the forces that have been going after the strings and love altogether. (This also makes her wonder whether or not this is bigger than love––if it is attacking the root of magic. Why else would the plants be affected? Though the theories on the origins of magic are hotly contested, Willow James has always been of the belief that it stems from amorous feelings that exist within all beings. Yes, that might be because of her own romanticism but the research backs this theory as well! There’s a reason that the most protective charms are rooted in love; in fact, magic has been proven to be amplified when amorous feelings are present within the caster. Love conquers all may be more than an adage when it comes to magic. So why would it not also be its origin?) She doesn’t have the lung capacity to voice this and climb the steps, so she once more makes a note to mention this to Juliet later.

Though she isn’t so focused on the climb that she fails to grin when the redhead tries out the adverb ‘hella.’ It’s super cute and she wonders what other phrases/expressions she might be able to teach her. (She is likewise curious to know what sort of slang she’ll pick up from Juliet.) Her grin, however, is not long lasting. When the archer utters the word ‘witch,’ Willow visibly stiffens and her wrinkled nose and curled lip accurately reflects her disdain for the word. (On her side, ‘witch’ is considered dated if not flat out derogatory. Nowadays those who use magic are either referred to as sorcerers or wizards exclusively. The former is used to identify those whose magical ability is inherited and the latter for those whose magical ability is gained through study.) It would be entirely unlike the sorceress to call this out, however, so she holds her tongue and says nothing of her offense. Besides, she doesn’t assume that Juliet had meant ill and, a few seconds later, she recalls that the word does not have that same connotation as it does on her side.

It actually doesn’t even occur to Willow James that she should be more cautious using her magic so openly––not until Juliet mentions that Amoria hasn’t fully come around to the uses of magic. The reassurance does little to reassure the anxious sorceress and her helpless gaze says that perfectly. “Ah, geez, are you for real? I–I can just keep it cool on the magic. My staff should be innocuous enough and the guards… Duck. Should I wipe their memories?” She chews on the corner of her lip as they reach the last step (angelic choirs play in the background of Willow’s mind) as she contemplates this option. “No, no. This isn’t a substantial enough reason to tamper with memories. Uh, but you don’t think Sir Everson will blab, do you? I really don’t want too much attention on me.” (It’s unfortunate for Willow that this night will not allow her to remain out of the spotlight.)

The only thing that keeps her nerves from totally eating her alive is the promise that they can take the Flower Lifts on the way back down. ‘How romantic…’ Those such fantasies––ones where Juliet wraps her arm around Willow while she rests her head on her shoulder––remind her that with the music playing there is a possibility for dancing. Naturally she has to wonder if Juliet would want to share a dance with her. After all, they are fated lovers on a mission to save love together, so it wouldn’t be totally out of the question. Nevermind Willow James being about as rhythmic as the last few spasms of a corpse––she’ll just enchant her shoes when no one is looking. No one and nothing will stop her from living out her fairytale fantasies!

But her fantasies will have to wait if she is ever to keep up with Juliet, who seems to not need a moment to catch her breath once they’re treading down the hall––this also gives Willow no time to admire the portraits or suits of armor! (The palace looks far more immaculate in person than her books could have ever captured through pictures––pictures that she realizes are severely dated.) However, she cannot fault her companion for speeding through all of this as they are late and while Juliet assured her earlier that they are fashionably late, once the banquet doors open it becomes immediately apparent that they are so not fashionably late. Willow may not know much about the fancy shmancy but she does know that dancing is usually a post-meal activity.

Entirely unprepared for this, she slides closer to the archer and is tempted to loop their arms together so that she doesn’t get lost in the sea of strangers. (She is able to breathe a small sigh of relief that not everyone turns their head at once to look at the later comers. Actually, no one turns their head and there is no spotlight shining on them as they descend (more) stairs. While this goes against the expectations that Starlight movies have set, she can’t say that she’s disappointed.) Just when they reach the bottom step, Willow whispers to Juliet, “I thought you said we’d be fashionably late?”

Of course, while she is concerned about what impression this will make on the princess there is enough stimulus from the festivities to distract her from her worries. Such as the singing mermaids and nymphs and the plethora of pixies fluttering above them. “Mermaids,” she whispers, not because she’s never seen one but because she hasn’t seen them in years (much like how Juliet hasn’t observed the flowers shimmying to jingles). They used to hang out on the rocks close to the shore by the Rhode Island house. Willow, Leif, Clover and Crimson all used to play games with them when they were kids and she can still remember the faces of the ones she considered her summertime friends. Then, one day, the mermaids informed them they were leaving. Nobody knew that that meant they were taking the ocean with them, too. Previously Willow had determined this had been because of the landers' poor treatment of the ocean, and now she suspects that could have been the canary in the coalmine.

She has more thoughts on this, as there will always be more for Willow James to think, and it seems there will also always be an interruption to her thoughts. When the princess approaches them (and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who is approaching them), the woman from Elsewhere scoots a bit closer to Juliet and wraps her arms around herself. She looks anywhere except for princess Elise as heat creeps up her neck. She’s beautiful, elegant, and everything Willow James is distinctly not. (Can she smell the cheap soap clinging to her? Has she already figured out that Willow James is not royal let alone noble? What will she think knowing her blood isn’t blue?)

So worried she is about the princess’s judgments (because even if Juliet only described her as lively, Willow knows high society types tend to turn their noses to people like her), that she forgets she needs to be on high alert, collecting data on her fated lover. Thankfully, she returns to the present in time to hear the princess say something about a Lavinia and the archer showing up splattered in blood. Again? At that implication, Willow gives the redhead an inquisitive look. However, that’s hardly as interesting as watching the woman’s reaction to the slice of cake, topped with a strawberry. She watches with rapt fascination as the archer scarfs down the pastry and smiles, making an amused note, ‘Bake her cakes.’

Too bad Willow’s amusement leaves as quick as it came and the sorceress pales when the princess starts to address her. Her. As in Willow James. Not only that, but she’s offering a curtsy? (Her father’s voice rings in her head, reminding her, “If anyone ever tells you, you’re trailer trash, just tell ‘em you’re trailer trash from the Lakes.”) She tilts over when Juliet nudges her and, no, she doesn’t pick up that she’s supposed to return the curtsy. She has no idea what to do and the group of girls the princess had been with (is one of them Lavinia?) are smiling to show their fangs––she just knows it. This is high school all over again. The sorceress is quiet. The sorceress is still. The sorceress might as well be dead.

In her panic, she drops to a full bow and when she comes up her cheeks are bright, bright red and the room is definitely hotter than before. ‘Picture the snake. Picture it letting you go. Think calming things. What can you see? What can you feel?’ No, she doesn’t have time for any of that. The princess is waiting for her to respond and she looks expectant. ‘Getittogether. Getittogether. Getittogether.’ She offers a shy smile and barely whispers out, “Thanks, my mom’s family has a thing about plant names. P-pleasure to make your acquaintance, your… highness? And, um… Not from around here. Sorry. Came late this afternoon.” Crap, she’s speaking in fragments, that’s not good. Nope. Nuh uh. ‘Just answer the question. You can do this. In English.’ “I’m from Elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere?” princess Elise repeats, tapping her chin thoughtfully, “I do not believe I have heard of it––do forgive me.”

“It’s, uh––it’s, uh, on the Other Side.”
 

ellarose

wanderer
Juliet’s teeth pull her lower lip in as the princess shifts her attention over to Willow James. Although she does not see her now, not yet, (thank goodness) she can feel the heat of one of her mother’s disapproving glares snapping like a backhand to the face chastise her for it. That is not how a ‘lady’ behaves. (You need to start acting your age, Juliet, or there will be no hope for you here.) Except Juliet does not see her future here. The archer is only present in the castle now for everyone’s benefit but her own. She never set out to hurt her parents specifically. They’ve done much for her. Mother, her standing with the princess… Millicent asks why she still bothers with it all and she never has a solid answer to offer in return. Information and resources does well enough to placate her. It sounds reasonable enough. But also… obligation, perhaps.

(Juliet cannot forget the sound of those sobs the night they brought her home. Mother’s arms wound tightly around her as she cried that she thought she’d lost her forever. When her mind urges her to disappear— forever this time, forever forever— her heart cannot silence those cries. Because no one had ever loved her like that before. Enough to want her to stay. She thought she hated her. Love from mother often felt like hate.) Love is terrifying. It’s everyone’s favorite excuse. A weapon, a lethal poison with a flowery aroma. An acceptable justification for cruelty— because if it is done in the name of love it must be pure. It’s a beast that needs to be slain… and then healed, revived like a phoenix. Something needs to change because all it has ever brought her is—

Juliet should have disappeared forever and never looked back. She should have never heard those cries at all. (She is here because of love, some form of it anyway, and she resents that it hasn’t completely rotted in her heart yet.) Still, her lip pops back out from between her teeth and she fixes her posture. Stay focused, stay present. Music swells, dancers sway. Lights, parties, ball gowns. She hates parties.

From where they are standing, Juliet can see Lavinia’s gaze leveling on her as well. This she does not care about nearly as much. (She never did, never will.) Gazing back, the archer pops a finger into her mouth to suck the leftover frosting from it. The way Lavinia and the others balk with horror and flutter in towards each other like birds to consult each other on her behavior almost makes her smile. Almost. Meanwhile Princess Elise is oblivious to all of this. She always has been, ever since they were kids. (And if she has, it has never swayed her judgement. Princess Elise has always been rather eccentric, though. Everyone knows that Lavinia only grins and bears her company politely because of her title.)

Princess Elise is completely fascinated by Willow James. If Juliet needs to stay present for anyone, she needs to remember her own promise. There’s something stiff about the woman standing next to her and, in spite of herself, an empathizing ache settles in her chest. (Juliet remembers being the same way at ten years old, when she first arrived. That feeling of not-belonging. Ever since that day, she still hasn’t found a way to ‘fit’. Not that she particularly wants to.) The bow suffices because princess Elise has never cared nearly as much about manners as her mother did.

“The… the… the…” Not only that, but Princess Elise is all worked up and repeating her words in a stupor. Her blue eyes are wide, emotional and bright, like two oversized droplets shimmering in the daylight. She clutches her chest in a way that catches the attention of several partygoers and Juliet holds her breath. (The archer ought to step in here. Ah. Very well.) With that, she physically steps slightly in front of Willow as if that might shield her from some of the princess’s excitement.

“The Other Side, yes. I scarcely believed it myself.” Juliet supplies, the calm to princess Elise’s… everything. “You still have your important announcement to make, princess. Shall we discuss this later? She only just arrived and all of this is rather, ah…” Overwhelming. The swirling guests, the entertainment, the mingled perfumes floating on the air.

Princess Elise claps her hands together and twirls (she has always been one to express even the smallest of her thrills and whims with big gestures) her big, glittery skirts swooshing around her in a way that attracts attention to them. Juliet wishes there is something she can say to stop this, but there is no stopping the princess. Elise steps closer to Willow James and takes her hands in her own, staring at her with those big eyes. “You are the heroine, then. I dreamed that you would come! For you to arrive tonight of all nights-- it is truly fate!” She is bouncing now and attracting even more attention. “Forgive me, I am ever so excited to meet you at last! Oh my, I have so many questions.”

"Princess." Juliet tries to hedge before she can ask them.

"You simply must stay in the castle tonight, Willow! Allow me to extend you a proper welcome to the great kingdom of Amoria." Princess Elise carries on with a flourish. "There will be much to discuss in the morning and it shall save you another trip. You are welcome to your room as well, Juliet. Your mother looked rather, ah, cross." A nervous laugh flutters out of her then. "Oh. Heaven knows my own mother will be cross with me by the end of the night as well." (Okay. Just what kind of announcement is she planning on making?) "It relieves me to know that fate is indeed on my side. The brave heroines who are destined to save love are here with me tonight and that gives me strength."

"...Tell me, Willow James. What are your thoughts on love?" Princess Elise continues. Juliet resists the urge to sigh audibly at this. Here they go. Her gaze automatically begins to wandering across the ballroom in search of other refreshments.
 

starboob

lover / leaver
There are so many eyes in this room and it feels like they are all cast on Willow James. It feels like they are all trying to pick her apart, molecule by molecule to decipher how much of her is worthless, tactless, an outsider. The other. They probably all find her gauche. They’re probably wondering why she’s here. They’re probably all whispering and snickering about her. (She knows that’s a narcissistic thought to have, because surely these people have better things to do than tear apart Willow James––except for maybe Lavinia and her gang.) ‘Straighten your posture. Find something to do with your hands.’ She goes through a mental checklist of the few manners she did pick up growing up, but she knows it won’t be enough. These people practically invented manners––manners that go far beyond the usual chew with your mouth closed, elbows off the table, ladies don’t fart/belch, etc.––and she knows that she is going to mess up. In front of Juliet August who she doesn’t know well enough to know what she might think. (Though, in all honesty, Juliet August does not seem to be the type to care about social graces given her flippant reaction to her dress getting ruined earlier, how she scarfed down that cake, and her overall sense of calm. Still, Willow is Willow and so she will worry herself over everything, especially the things that do not matter.)

The sorceress shuffles awkwardly where she stands as the princess loses her own sense of calm when she realizes where Willow is from. And, to be honest, the reaction does put her somewhat at ease. She does hope that there won’t be too much attention on her, but she suspects that the princess's excited stupor is a precursor for what is to come. A warning. So Willow tries to brace herself for it all.

And, thankfully, she has Juliet August on her side who, much like a knight in shining armor might, steps in front of Willow to protect her from the, uh, princess. (Okay, so the narrative is a little non-traditional, but that’s okay!) A light pink dusts across her cheeks, deepening her ever-present natural blush, and her hand gently rising to her chest, touched that her person is looking out for her like that. The only issue is that princess Elise is a princess and so there is only so much her knight can do to protect her from an eager princess. At least she seems friendly enough and not at all like a menacing ogre.

Then the princess (who is very pretty) grabs Willow’s hands––like, touches Willow James––and is unmistakably addressing her (as in, Willow James). The girl from Elsewhere’s face floods pink and she barely holds onto consciousness. “Oh, well, I am a heroine… sorta?” Willow chuckles nervously, trying to remain as still as possible. Like, that might make her less visible, right? (That’s how it works in the wild.) Gosh, maybe she should not have introduced herself as someone who wants to save love. Except… That isn’t how she introduced herself to princess Elise and unless Juliet shares a psychic channel with the princess (and Willow doesn’t rule this out just yet), then that means the princess knows something. …Of course now she belatedly recalls that Juliet had said that the princess had been expecting her and that’s the entire reason that she is even here at this banquet. This all is confirmed the more the princess talks and talks and claims that she’s even dreamed of the day Willow would arrive. ‘Alright. So there’s definitely been a mistake…’ Because, yes, Willow James does intend to save love and, yes, Willow James would like to be a hero but… she’s just Willow James. While she’s determined and driven, she doesn’t know that she is the heroine. She’s the wannabe and she knows it. It’s fine. Really…

She doesn’t know how to break this news to princess Elise who is now asking her to have a sleepover at the freaking castle! ‘Okay, knowing that I am deffo not the heroine she’s been waiting for I can’t accept this…’ Before Willow can even begin workshopping ways to letdown a princess, said princess asks her about love and, boy, does Willow James have thoughts on love. Rarely does she ever lose those thoughts, too, so she doesn’t even feel the need to prepare herself. Rather, she simply blurts out the first thing that comes to mind, “Princess,” Willow claps her hands together and puts them in front of her lips, then leans forward a bit. “I have many thoughts on love, but I will always be called back to what my sixth grade math teacher told me: the meaning of life is to love and be loved in return. So my concise thoughts on love is that it is everything. Our end and beginning, the reason for being. We’ve got to cherish it. I-It’s not to be taken for granted, as we’re witnessing.”

The princess sighs dreamily and, in that moment, the princess and the sorceress do appear to be twin flames. “Well spoken, Willow James. This must be why the fates selected you as their champion for love! Oh, you must regale me with the tale of your journey thus far and how you came to be a heroine,” she bats her long eyelashes, but it is very obvious that it is not a request. (At least, Willow doesn’t think so. This is a princess she is speaking to and she’s pretty sure that only queens and kings can deny a princess.)

“Uh?” Her eyebrows rise up to her hairline in surprise. “I mean… It really isn’t that exciting. I was just monitoring some of my samples––I’m actually a grad student and I study the effects of different stimuli on love,” she catches herself rambling and corrects her course before she’s started a mini-lecture on string theory. “Anyway, I noticed some anomalies in the data. Went to the library, started flipping through old newspaper articles, and started collecting my data…” Crap, she’s almost positive she’s boring the princess. (The princess looks fascinated, by the way, but Willow is pretty sure she’s only being polite because she is a princess and everyone here seems to be very polite. Like Canadians...) “Uh, anyway, I presented all this to the council and they just…” They just kept passing notes between each other and snickering. It probably did not help that Willow was a sweaty and stuttery mess when she made her presentation, but they could have at least looked up and pretended to give her the time of day. By the end, it was clear they had not paid any attention to her materials as they were adamant that nothing was wrong with love and the news stories were nothing of concern. They even went so far as to suggest that even if something were happening, that the strings don’t even matter. The scandal that crossed her heart then is exactly what spurred the careless man’s careful daughter to action. “Well, they did not support my cause and this is important to me,” selfishly because she’s always wanted her great big romance and hadn’t known who her person would be until only a couple hours ago. Still, that doesn’t mean she’s going to leave everyone else hanging. Sharing this mission with Juliet will also be a great way to get to know her! (Maybe she’ll even discover her favorite flavors of cakes and whether or not she prefers buttercream frostings or whipped cream ones.) “And since no one else wants to step up, I am. I spent a whole three months coming up with the basis for my plan, packed my bags, and started searching for the corruption––I figured I would start with the Other Side, because it’s where creation began. I only left home this morning and ran into Juliet, like, a couple hours ago? It’s been no biggie.”

“You are much too modest!” the princess exclaims, waving her hand at Willow and not at all believing that Willow James might not be the heroine she has been expecting. “This already sounds so harrowing. Though I must admit, I find it baffling that there has been such apathy from the good council in Elsewhere.”

‘Oh, she’s a fellow romantic.’ That actually does warm Willow and she offers the princess another one of her shy smiles, feeling hopeful that this is all going to work out. No matter how perilous the journey. “Much appreciated. The council back home is,” full of old gas bags, “slow moving anyway, so it’s best to take direct action. Um, and to your earlier invitation… I’ll stay wherever Juliet stays. She is,” she pauses and stares at the faint thread hanging like a spider’s web between them. (Does she say it?) “She’s my first ally here, so I’d feel more comfortable around her. I’ll go where she goes." She bites her lip. "But we can sort all this out later. You have an announcement, right, princess?"
 

ellarose

wanderer
There. Juliet locates the food across the ballroom, at a two o'clock from where she is standing. It sits upon small table by one of the grand windows and contains elegant tiers of pastries and beverages stacked high, placed strategically for those who might want to quench their thirst from all the dancing with a drink. It is clear that she has long missed out on the main courses she'd been anticipating, though she figured that must have been the case from the moment they walked in. The maids must have carted away all of the main dishes long before she and Willow arrived. She supposes it is still possible that princess Elise has set her portions aside for her, much like she generously saved that piece of cake for her. (She did promise her food for coming, after all. While she is late, she did show up and that always counts for something these days. Otherwise Juliet makes herself sparse, like a shadow among the dazzling lights.) Once again she chews on her lower lip, lost in thought as she considers her options. She wonders if the two women beside her would notice if she snuck away to the kitchens. The castle staff is a lot more fun when they're off duty than a majority of the couples dancing all around them now, in ball gowns shaped like the pastries on the refreshments table. (Moreover there is nothing for her to contribute to this conversation. She has no interest in discussing love with anyone unless they are discussing their love for good food. Ah. Now it's consuming all of her thoughts, just how hungry she is.) However, the affairs of love are supposed to be her business and so she stays, because it feels proper to keep up these appearances. Sadly, the food will have to wait.

'Well, they did not support my cause and this is important to me.' Juliet finds herself drawn back into the conversation by these words. She looks at Willow James, perhaps to see what conviction looks like on her face. (She carries it well despite her softness. Although she'll need to fight like hell and burn brighter yet if she truly intends to see this through.) It is admirable. Brave to venture to venture across one of the doorways, hardly knowing what will await her on the other side. (Brave and... stupid. Naive. She's not thinking it to be cruel. It just reminds her of something she might have done, before...) It is a shame that their goals do not align. It is a shame that she stumbled into Juliet August of all people. (But had she not run into her, she would have become that ogre's dinner. Whatever the case, she should have destroyed that doorway sooner.) Quietly, she crushes the bud of pity in her heart before it can bloom into an ache.

Juliet is not rid of it fast enough when Willow says she will go wherever Juliet goes. Her first ally, she feels comfortable around her. ('Silly Other Sider. You are giving me the power to hurt you.') The archer looks away and gives an inkling of a nod. At least the thread remains unmentioned. ('And I do not want it.') She does not want to hurt Willow James. But she has her own ambitions, her own convictions.

"Yes, splendid! Juliet is so strong, is she not? She grew up in the wood before she came to the kingdom, you know. She's bested all of the guards standing outside in combat. I am always telling my mother that she would make a excellent addition to the royal guard." Princess Elise's attention flicks to Juliet, who is now making a face that communicates her distaste for this aloud. She giggles behind her hand and discreetly points her out to Willow as if they're sharing a secret. "Juliet clearly needs more adventure than the position has to offer. Not that I can blame her. And my mother would never allow it, anyhow. It must sound dreadfully antiquated, especially to someone who hails from the Other Side." Her expression turns a shade more serious. "In fact, we once had a guard who..." She seems to think better of what she is about to say, carefully glimpsing Juliet again before she shakes her head. "Never mind. Forgive me, I've had a little too much champagne to calm my nerves." Even if she smiles as if nerves are a thing a graceful princess such as herself could not possibly possess. "The point is, there are ways in which we are slow moving as well. I intend to make big changes as soon as I am able. I often believe I would not be so open minded if I hadn't had Juliet as a friend growing up. Jules, I really am so happy that you came."

Juliet nods as if her heart is not beating like a fox's paws upon the ground as she's chased by hunters. (Princess Elise calls everyone her friend. She is the type of person who wants to be everyone's friend. But there is something about the way she says it this time that...) Damn. What has she inspired her to do?

"Truly. I know that it is difficult for you to come back here after..."

"Elise." Juliet stresses. And then she blinks, a touch surprised at herself. She did not mean to say her name without the title. But she does not want to hear her say anything more about anything that happened in the past. Princess Elise might feel sorry for her, but she cannot 'know' how difficult it is for her. She is naive, too. The way she calls her a friend so earnestly gives her the notion that she will eventually hurt her as well. There is already so much going on in her heart tonight. There is only so much she can take before it starts to show. And Juliet August doesn't let it show. She doesn't budge a single inch.

"Right, right. I am getting carried away again. I ought to prepare to make my announcement!" Princess Elise drops the matter with her cheerful grace, her smile a touch warmer after hearing her name without the formal title attached. (Princess Elise has never liked being treated like a princess. But if her mother catches anyone treating her informally...) "I simply must freshen up beforehand. Please enjoy the music and help yourself to the refreshments." She curtsies again. "It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Willow James, champion of love." And with that the princess is scurrying off to do just that.

Juliet does not need to be told twice to enjoy the refreshments. (Along with sweets she believes she might need some champagne as well to endure whatever is coming.) Distracted with her thoughts and believing that Willow James will follow, she weaves through the crowd in that direction.

Lavinia and some of the other ladies are quick to take this opportunity to swoop in between them-- Lavinia specifically positioning herself where she blocks Juliet from view.

"Did I hear that correctly? That you are the champion of love?" Lavinia asks, her brown eyes impressionably (strategically) wide. "Ah, pardon me. My name is Lavinia Laurence." This statement is punctuated with a proper curtsey. "The princess was so very enthusiastic that I could not help overhearing. And we are all overjoyed to hear that you have finally arrived." A few of the women behind her nod in agreement. "However, seeing that you arrived with Juliet August of all people..." She shakes her head sympathetically. "I do hate to say it, but I must take it upon myself to warn you to be careful around her."

"She is always causing trouble." One of the women echoes behind her.

"...We've heard that she conspires with witches." Another chimes in, completely unaware that they are speaking to a sorceress.

"Of course she conspires with witches. She came back from the dead."

"Hush, all of you. Remember your manners." Lavinia waves her hand dismissively at them, although she doesn't seem particularly upset to be spreading this information around with her posse. "You see, my sister's fiancé is showing signs of..." She brings an anguished hand to her mouth. To her credit, this does not seem to be an act. Not entirely so. "He is contracting the sickness and so this matter is near and dear to my heart. We all want what is best for love. So I thought it only fair to warn you now while I have the opportunity to do so." She sighs. "Poor Juliet is doing the best she can, I am sure. But her efforts to do anything always have a way of ending in... disaster." She smiles then as if to say 'good luck'. "I do hope that you can set her on the right path."
 
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starboob

lover / leaver
Oh, boy–– here it is!! As promised, hot off the presses, the juicy-juicy gossip, er, data she has been hoping to gain about Juliet has finally arrived and it naturally leaves her with a miles long list of questions. To Willow James’s credit, she does try to keep herself level as the princess drops more breadcrumbs for her to follow. (Although, hopefully these breadcrumbs won’t eventually get her lost and eaten by a magic old lady with a candy shack. She shudders to think about that as a possibility, silly and nonsensical as it is.) However, try is the operative word in this case and Willow James absolutely has dazzled stars sparking in her eyes.

The pieces are all starting to fall into place, even as more are added. For example, Willow James now knows that Juliet spent some of her childhood in the wood and, based on her earlier comments and actions in said wood, she guesses that this is the reason that Juliet August had to be fast. Otherwise she would have become someone else’s dinner. She also remembers that Juliet knows a sorceress in the wood and wonders if perhaps that sorceress raised her. This all does beg the question why Juliet August, a noble lady as far as Willow James can tell, ended up separated from her parents. (The thought then occurs to Willow that her parents might be at this very event and… Well, actually she’s not the nervous about that. She does great with parents! She still plays chess with Ryan’s dad at the park, because they hit it off so well when she and Ryan were dating. Ryan hates it, but at this point she’s accepted that Willow James and Theodore Blake are bros for life.) She wonders what it must have been like for them to realize their daughter was missing and the joy the reunion must have brought. Even so… She wonders what Juliet’s relationship is like now with her parents. Not that Willow would judge her either way––gods know she has a complicated relationship with hers, but who doesn’t? They’re parents.

While these questions, wonderings, and hypotheses all percolate in her mind, she also keeps a watchful eye on Juliet for her reactions––what is princess Elise saying that she shouldn’t? She pays attention to this both to feed her curiosity and to also remain mindful of what the archer may not want to touch. And there seems to be quite a lot she doesn’t want said. ‘A guard who what? Come back after what?’ Those questions, she adds to a separate list of questions that are reserved for when they’re, like, married or something.

“She does seem to be a good friend,” Willow smiles and agrees. It does warm her to know that Juliet has friends who are inspired by her––that’s always a green flag in her book. When the princess parts with them, the sorceress tries out a curtsy (having noted a few other women greeting each other this way in the background), and watches as she sashays away, her skirts sparkling as they catch the lights. 'Ohh, sparkles.' Earlier she had not noticed this detail before (probably because she was too busy trying not to pass out), and now she's totally fascinated by the garment. “Hey, Juliet, what do think…” she looks to where the redhead previously had been standing only to find that she’s not there. “...the princess’s announcement is about…” she finishes with a frown. This is fine. (This is just like high school.)

It gets even more like high school when the popular mean girls (she’s guessing) surround her like lions. (This does remind her of high school in an oddly specific way. Like, Elise is kind of like Dorothea in that she’s a nice popular girl and, for some reason, she’s friends with the crummiest people out there. She knows she’s being hasty to judge, but she just has a feeling about this one.) The girl from the Other Side is immediately on guard, bracing herself for the worst. Except… they offer more information on her knight. “Careful?” Okay, Lavinia Laurence does not seem at all like a trustworthy source of information (kind of like Inez), so she decides to take this all with a grain of salt.

Then she tenses when they start talking about witches like it’s a bad thing. Her heart rate thunders in her chest and she can feel a cold chill run over her. ‘Be cool.’ She moves her hand over her staff-turned-bracelet, in case one of them somehow knows/figures out what it really is (her staff). 'They need to shut up before...' Yeah, right. As if Willow James will ever step up. It would be nice, she guesses, but that just isn't who she is. (So how the heck is she going to save love?)

Before she can even process any of that, one of the ladies oh so casually mentions that Juliet came back from the dead? Her mouth hangs agape in shock. They’re just going to say that (all of that?) without explaining more!? Gods, the only thing that keeps Willow bursting with questions is Lavinia and ‘the sickness.’ (Huh. She wonders if this is anything like the recent reports she's read where couples experience an 'attack on their nerves' right before they snap on their partners.) “Um, the sickness? What are the fiancé's symptoms?”

Of course, Lavinia has to end that moment of half-vulnerability with another slap towards the archer (who left her). Her brow puckers together. Okay, it’s like there are two different versions of Juliet or something, because nothing is adding up. Willow will admit that she doesn’t know Juliet well (or at all), but from what she’s seen… Juliet August seems more than capable. (Unlike Willow James.) If something is going wrong with her missions then the sorceress doesn’t think it’s the archer’s fault. It tells her that whatever is out there is not to be trifled with. (And here she is, thinking she can just go trifle with whatever this thing is. A thing Juliet August has not succeeded in tackling and if Juliet August––who beat up all those guards outside, cut off an ogre's hand without flinching, and grew up in the wood––is having trouble? It's not for a lack of effort.) She knows that and while Lavinia claims she believes in Juliet, she senses something else underneath those double edged words. In any case, why should she trust their assessments of Juliet August? Juliet August doesn't make a big deal of conspiring with sorceresses.

While Willow James longs to snap and say something, she can feel her throat tightening at the thought of being a little feisty. Instead she chuckles like she usually does when she’s uncomfortable or trying to hide something. “Well, uh, teamwork does make the dream work and I'm sure we'll both be able to help each other out. I've got loads of data on what's been going on, so I'm sure if we put our heads together, we'll totally mcgoatly figure this out." Ah, crap. They're totally (mcgoatly) going to figure out she's an imposter. Where the duck is Juliet??
 

ellarose

wanderer
"...The sickness." Lavinia repeats once more, as if Willow should automatically understand what she means. When she realizes this is not the case, however, she brings a hand up to her glossy lips. (In shock or maybe contemplation. Even when caught off guard her every movement flows in a manner that seems calculated. That could just be the look in her eye, carefully scanning the woman from Elsewhere and down that gives her this air.) A moment later, it drifts down to sit elegantly over her heart instead. "Dear me. You are not joking, are you? Has the sickness not afflicted anyone on the Other Side?" At this observation, the women behind her stir into conspiratorial whispers amongst themselves. (They share theories as well as feelings of unease.) This realization takes even Lavinia herself off guard as she has some difficulty phrasing it now that it's out there. "Well..."

"It is truly terrible. It starts with... with their fingers." One of the women supplies with a shudder, rubbing her gloved hands together warily as she does as if the action might prevent her from meeting such a fate herself. "They elongate. Change color and shape."

"...No, no. I heard that it starts with their teeth! They become sharp, much like a vampire's in the night." Another chimes in. This accompanies a rather theatrical gasp from the woman rubbing her hands together and more worried gossip about symptoms ranging from horrendously bad breath to spikes growing from their spines and Lavinia looks visibly shaken. "It is ever so wretched. They become repulsive. Monstrous." ("Is this really the occasion to be discussing such vile things?" Another lady whispers further in the background.)

"You are all mistaken. It starts sooner than that. It is all in their eyes as their behavior itself changes. They become irritable, reclusive..." A third woman with a calmer disposition speaks, effectively silencing the frightened whispers around her. "and then violent. They lose their minds last of all and run off into the wood. Some never to be seen again." A grave silence falls over all of the ladies for a moment after this. (It's clear they're gauging whether or not it is safe to say any more on the topic-- at least in Lavinia's presence.)

"...So it has something to do with dreams, then? How very strange." Lavinia presses on, clearly attempting to rise above it all with grace and composure. (Although she is making an effort to stay in the know of the conversation with the Other Sider dialect sprinkled in, she is clearly misunderstanding the 'team work makes the dream work' phrase.) "But how is your data meant to help anyone if you have never heard of the sickness before?"

"Totally mcgoatly?" Naturally, there are whispers that are spawned by every unfamiliar word that Willow has to say. Then there's a smug and quiet. "...Speaking of goats."

"You've never taken an interest in my work before, Lavinia." Juliet muses smoothly, completely unaffected by the goat comment she is obviously meant to hear as she slips like a shadow through the colorful crowd of ladies and finds herself again at Willow's side. She offers the sorceress the glass of champagne she decided to bring back for her upon realizing that the other woman had stayed behind. (Whether by choice or not, she had been cornered by Lavinia of all people. Had the promise of food not been laid out right in front of her she might have noticed sooner. Either way, she supposes the champagne might be... helpful.) "I thought such an occasion was no place for young ladies to be discussing 'unseemly affairs of the kingdom'?"

"What can I say? Your presence inspires it, Juliet." Lavinia ducks down into a half-curtsey, like a mockery of one. "Even princess Elise says that she has been inspired by you to make her announcement tonight. With that in mind, I trust that it will quickly rend anything I say now into mere background noise in comparison." The sheep behind her snicker, but the archer does nothing to indicate that this bothers her. There is no change in her expression whatsoever.

"Yes, so I've been told. I consider it an honor." When Juliet smiles, it's a sharp and careful little thing that betrays none of her nerves. "...Anyhow, it is a relief to see you've all taken an interest in something other than yourselves. After all, there is only so much I can do on my own to save your hearts. Some of the work must be done within if you are to be spared."

"You insensitive--" Lavinia fumes. "Of course I care. My sister, her fiancé is... Juliet, you must do something about it."

"That is exactly the problem. You only care once it affects you personally." Juliet supplies as cooly as ever, with an icy disposition that doesn't dare to melt even when faced with the other woman's anger. (There is something about Lavinia Laurence that makes her want to turn all of her words into swords and she spars with them as if that is the case. The champagne only encourages her.) "...Gerard was already half a monster himself, as is the case with most of those the sickness affects. It would do your sister good to take this threat from the fates as a warning." Threats from the fates typically being Juliet herself. Taking requests from various letters to target scoundrels who collect the ends of severed threads like trophies, robbing them of everything they've stolen. Gerard is hoarding approximately seven of them as they speak. However, she realizes a moment too late that she might have gone a touch too far with that one.

"And is that what you did?" Lavinia cuts in. She has weapons at her disposal too and this will not end well unless one of them stops or someone else intervenes. "Have you found your dear Brooks yet, Juliet? Or have you given up on him altogether? You do realize that finding him would be the fastest way to clear your name."

Juliet's ears blaze red and she can't find it in herself to reply this time. Brooks. The name and the indication of the accusation shoves her heartbeat into her throat. (...Despite her hatred for the man, she did nothing to Brooks. In that matter she is completely innocent.) It's a foul thing for Lavinia to mention him here and now and a few of the other women appear to think so too as many of them uncomfortably disperse from the group to dance or escape to the refreshment table. (Had the archer not desperately needed to drink the remaining champagne in her glass she might have thrown it all over Lavinia's silky violet gown.)

"Lavinia." One of the ladies behind her urges, tugging her shoulder. Lavinia, finally noticing that most of her posse has scattered to escape the awkwardness, hits Juliet with one more snobby look before turning with a swish of her skirts. "...A pleasure to meet you, Willow James. I do hope you'll consider what I've told you."

Juliet swiftly downs the rest of her champagne and then nods subtly towards the refreshment table. It is only a matter of time before the princess makes her announcement and she wishes she could escape to the balcony get some air. Champagne is the next best thing. "...I think I need another drink." She mentions. (She does not think, in fact. She knows.) At least this time her companion will know where she is headed, so perhaps they will not get separated again. Ah. She should have been more attentive to begin with. Lavinia Laurence has always been a thorn in her side. Then she chances a glance at Willow. "Are you made to endure parties like this on the Other Side? I find them insufferable."
 

starboob

lover / leaver
Yeah, so repeating the phrase again is actually not helping Willow catch on to whatever ‘the sickness’ is and she finds herself surprisingly grateful when the other members of the pack speak up to fill in the blanks. Each new detail––from the elongated fingers to the spikes coming out of their spines––shocks her. Though she does remember how Juliet mentioned that the heart glows going out is ultimately what causes individuals to transform, this all is still unlike anything she has ever heard before. Her side is not experiencing nearly as many dramatic effects. This does make her wonder if the progression of the effects come in stages and if the string snapping is only the first one. What if those people who have had snapped strings… What if their sickness is only beginning? What if they’re still in danger? (There’s also the possibility that the effects between the realms do not correlate and those on her side may never turn into monsters. But even Willow knows that’s wishful thinking. This does give her the idea to find out for how long this has been affecting the people of Amoria, because that may help her home in on whether or not the two sides are experiencing the exact same condition or only variants.) With all this in mind, she knows she’ll have to write to Sawyer tonight––it’s clear to her that she will need someone on her side to track new cases and monitor those who have already been affected and Sawyer is probably the only other person who didn’t find out about Willow’s endeavor via letter slipped under the door. Mostly because they are researching similar topics and of everyone in her cohort, Willow trusts and likes Sawyer the most.

What is clear to Willow James through all of this: the people are frightened. Yes, these women may be a little dramatic for her own tastes, but their fear is palpable and their anxiety is real. No matter what is causing this or how it manifests, there is an enemy on both sides of the realm who is working to untangle love. (She wonders if they are the same person, traveling back and forth, or a group of people; it is even possible it is only one individual who is working on one side without realizing the effects on the other. Sigh, at this point Willow has more questions than answers and she will need a few days to think on this and puzzle it all out. She wonders if she’ll have time, or the energy for that matter, to chat about this with Juliet before they go to bed. That might be kind of cute, to stay up late talking with her future lover about their ideas on love and how they’re going to save it.)

Ugh, it’s time like these that Willow wishes she remembered to create that notebook charm for her keychain. That way she’d be able to jot down all her thoughts without losing them and she’s dangerously close to losing them when Lavinia mistakes Willow’s adage as something to be taken literal. Her brow knits together and a slight questioning smile tugs at her lips as she looks at the noblewoman, unsure of whether or not she should correct. Ah, she quickly decides to hold her tongue as she really doesn’t want to imagine what Lavinia’s reaction will be to being made a fool in front of her friends. That might put a target on Willow’s back that she does not freaking want.

Speaking of misunderstandings… Willow also quickly realizes that G.O.A.T. on this side is not the same title of honor as it is on her side and quietly seethes on Juliet’s behalf. And with Juliet back? Things get interesting. It’s like watching an old western shootout with Lavinia and Juliet firing off on each other like they are trying to end each other. She barely registers the champagne glass that’s appeared in her hands (or even had the time to properly gush over the fact that Juliet August must have been thinking of her while at the refreshment table). The verbal spar between the two women ends as quickly as it began and Willow is left stunned.

That’s the most she’s heard Juliet say at once. It’s the most emotion she’s seen from the woman. ‘Brooks…’ That name keeps ringing in her head as she follows along after Juliet, still having not touched her own champagne. If Willow James has learned anything of Juliet August tonight, it’s that she has a reputation.

“No, I’m not,” she replies, looking over all the desserts displayed on the table––amazed by how high the stacks go. There's probably enough food (well, desserts) on this table to feed a village. “I don’t really come from a family where we’re invited to these sort of gatherings.” While her family is large and holidays are certainly a zoo, she’s never attended something as fancy as this; and even the catty members of the family aren't nearly as difficult to deal with as Lavinia and her gang. She does remember some of the girls at school talking about cotillion––mostly Dorothea and her friends––but she never went to one herself. “The most formal dances I’ve ever been to would be homecoming, winter formals, and prom all back in high school.”

Willow looks over her shoulder to make sure Lavinia and her gang aren’t anywhere near and when she is sure they are safe she continues. “I have had to endure girls like Lavinia and her gang before. I also find them insufferable,” she admits. Then, a little cheekily, she raises her finger and thumb (in the shape of an 'L') to her forehead, "They're total losers." She laughs airly, drops the sign from her head, and looks down into her glass. Ah, she really shouldn’t. Drinking never does Willow any good and she doesn’t need to make a mess of herself her first night in a totally new realm. She hands the glass to Juliet. “I totally appreciate the thought––it’s just better if I don’t drink,” she explains. “I always end up drunk writing my exes and it’s so messy. Not pretty. Not cute.”

“For the record, in case you were wondering, Lavinia just told me that you haven’t had success taking on this love situation. She doesn't seem to have much faith in you.” She feels it’s important to be transparent with Juliet about this––as she could imagine herself worried over what someone else might have said about her behind her back and she doesn't want Juliet to worry about how she might be interpreting all this information. Especially since they're partners now. “In a similar vein to what she said to your face, so I'm sure that's not news... But I want you to know that I take her opinion with a grain of salt. I don’t care what she thinks and I'll come to my own conclusions as I get to know you better,” she assures. "Besides, Lavinia doesn't strike me as someone who knows a thing about hard work."

Her eyes return to the desserts and the more the pastries spin on their tiers, the more curious she becomes. There are several she has never seen before and some she has only seen in their sad, store bought bastardization. Can Willow James, girl from the Other Side, really pass up the opportunity to try food from Amoria? After a pause she starts again. “So... Which one is your favorite? If you were stuck on a dessert island, what dessert would you want to live off of? Are any of these considered Amoria specialities?”
 

ellarose

wanderer
Juliet withholds a comment that the other woman is lucky that she does not have to constantly deal with these gatherings, for she knows there are other ways in which she is indescribably fortunate for having been brought into this way of life. (Shelter, warmth and food are not luxuries to be taken for granted. She can say this quite easily as someone who has been cold and close to starving. That is why Lara... However selfish it might sound, Juliet often thinks it would be nice to find herself someplace in between. To live a comfortable enough life where she works to provide for herself without suffering the endless obligations of her family's position.) She briefly wonders what 'such gatherings' are like on the Other Side and what kind of family Willow must come from as a result. The questions in her mind multiply as the sorceress speaks of dances and 'high school'. "High school?" Ah. (A place where one studies to become a high mage, perhaps?) Either way, it does sound honorable. The other woman did speak of her research before as well. She must be very wise. (...Right. She will have to be careful around her.) There is no 'school' designated for the noble women in the kingdom of Amoria-- only tutors. And admittedly, Juliet scared a good many of her own tutors away with her mischief as a child. (Being made to sit still for hours did not suit her. They often treated her as if she were a lost cause, having missed out on 'formative years for her education' whilst in the wood.) When a girl knows how to survive the wood on her own she thinks she knows everything there is to know about getting by in the world. She knew how to climb trees, how to wield weapons and defend herself. She knew of foraging and plants-- which ones are poisonous and which ones are edible. By the time her life in Amoria began she only ever took pleasure in finally learning how to read. (Of course her perspective has shifted some now that she is older. Millicent will oftentimes take a book down from her dusty shelf and insist Juliet listen to her read passages at night, filling the gaps in her knowledge of history and magical study. Teaching her subjects that her tutors would not dare to teach.) There are prestigious schools in neighboring kingdoms for those ambitious enough to travel long and far, however, and she has always been rather curious as to what they were like.

Juliet tilts her head wonderingly when Willow makes the 'L' sign over her forehead and smiles as if they are sharing a secret amongst themselves, claiming that she understands. (Her heart only flutters because she is making fun of Lavinia. That is all it is. It has nothing to do with that smile--) Juliet experimentally shapes an 'L' with her own fingers, though she doesn't put it over her head. The ghost of a grin quirks at her own lips. "You are funny, Willow James." She accepts the champagne offered to her with an understanding nod (she is a bit confused, envisioning the sorceress writing messy 'x's', but considers this might be part of a magic incantation) and takes a long sip. Everyone is different. It takes a lot before the alcohol inspires anything dramatic from her. She just intends to drink until she's numb enough to handle whatever storm is coming her way.

"You've taken it with salt." Juliet repeats. (A salty treat does sound rather nice, now that she thinks about it.) While she does not entirely understand the meaning of that phrase in particular, she understands when Willow continues to articulate that she does not intend to forge any opinions based off of anything Lavinia said. That would make her one of the first. Stories spread and then become the truth around here. She has long since stopped trying to defend herself. (Trying only makes it worse.) "I see. Lavinia has not liked me since we were children. She has never forgiven me for breaking her nose when we were twelve." Breaking her nose came after two years of frequent insults, having her shoes stolen and being locked out of the palace after their summer swims in the lake. (And in the end she'd only done it because she was defending her.) "I fear her only joy in life comes from speaking ill of me." Willow makes the comment about hard work then and she nods. "There is some truth to what she says. But she does not understand that tracking the Lightless and healing them takes time. The cases increase by the day and I am only one person. If she is so concerned about it, she ought to stand and do something herself." Of course, Lavinia lacks that strength. Unlike... "Much like you have done." While their ambitions might be drastically different, she can admire Willow James for her bravery and efforts.

"...Only one?" The archer's brown eyes widen and then squint. She appears rather scandalized at the thought of living off of only one of the delicious pastries sitting in front of her now. "Well, that sounds dreadful." Juliet August does not mince words when it comes to food. "They are all delicious and it would be a shame to go on without trying any one of them again." The theoretical question clearly pains her too much to answer right away. She continues to give it great thought, though, examining the pastries on the table before taking one of the strawberry cakes from the stack. "If I had to choose, the red flame cakes are my favorite. However, I would not take them with me to the imaginary island. The excess would taint them and I would not want to become ill at the thought of my favorite thing." She wolfs down the strawberry on top of the cake first once again. Ah. Delicious. She swallows and then gives her definitive answer. "The cream puffs are simple and sweet. I would take them." (As beautiful as an island full of red flame cakes sounds... there is a sort of inherent danger in too much of a good thing, isn't there? Or maybe she is overthinking the question.) "The castle's baker is very skilled. Even so, my favorite foods in all of Amoria come from vendors in the market." She considers telling Willow she could show her, if they decide to venture out to cleanse the 'Starbursts' from her dagger. However this only amounts to a thought when the music slows to a stop, a bell rings, and Elise stands where the nymphs were before. She sparkles like a star under the lights of the chandelier, silencing everyone and drawing their undivided attention.

"Good eventide! I would like to sincerely thank you all for coming tonight on my behalf." Princess Elise's formalities dissolve in Juliet's ears as she takes another sip of champagne. (What is she going to say?) She smiles and prattles on about how well-kept a secret her announcement has been, sharing inside jokes with the castle staff about their endless curiosity in her speech with that disarming smile of hers. The princess has a way of sidestepping expectations and tradition and making it look graceful. (Juliet has never possessed that same grace. With that in mind, maybe everything will be all right.) The queen is away visiting a relative in a neighboring kingdom and princess Elise will have to deal with the repercussions in the aftermath. (She is not the type to ask permission, but rather the sort to act and then beg forgiveness from her mother later.) However, she senses that the princess's bubbly excitement on the stage is just well-masked nervousness.

"I am overjoyed to announce that I... am in love." Princess Elise clasps her hands together tightly, as if pleading to some hidden force that this will be enough. (Juliet's heartbeat speeds up.) "Our kingdom is in much need of healing. And hope. With this in mind, I only believe it fit that I finally share with all of you that I have at last met the love of my life. And he is nearer than you all might think. In a way, he has always been there..." Her cheeks are noticeably pink under the lights. (It's like she can tell her audience is collectively holding their breath. This is not traditional.) "And I wish to tell you all that I intend to marry him. I intend to marry Flynn Everson."

Juliet struggles to swallow down the rest of her champagne. Oh. Oh.

"Our fates are intertwined." Princess Elise seems a bit daunted by the shocked faces she is no doubt seeing in the crowd, but she continues determinedly regardless. "This matter is much more important than pursuing a match for political gain... the kingdom of Amoria itself is at stake. The hearts in our kingdom are at stake. Therefore I wish to marry for love. I believe a joyous wedding will restore everyone's faith in love in such trying times and I do hope that you all will share in my... our happiness. Moreover..." She's seeking out Juliet and Willow in the crowd, because she noticeably lights up when she spots them. (Knowing Juliet, she knows to look for the refreshment table.) Before she can continue, though...

"--Yes. Thank you, princess Elise." The queen's advisor, Ambrose, is quick to materialize on the stage and usher the princess away with a forceful push to her shoulders. (He had not expected that. It's written all over his face.) The advisor quickly concludes the evening with as much poise as he can muster. He's quickly drowned out by guests all around them as they whisper amongst themselves, devouring this new kingdom gossip like a pack of wolves while filing out of the ballroom. Some call her brave. Some hiss that she's being selfish and impulsive. (...Juliet wants to break the noses of those who say that. There is nothing impulsive about this, considering Elise has had her entire life planned out for her since the day she opened her eyes.) It's no secret that the queen had several potential matches arranged for Elise-- none of which are named Flynn Everson. Elise and Flynn's thread has always been connected. However, the queen was always intent on forcing Elise take on a noble husband while perhaps keeping the guard as a lover. This is often the solution for royal families.

Juliet wraps up a few of the pastries on the table to hold onto for later as the ballroom begins to clear out. (The staff will show up any moment now to cart these treats away.) "...We will have to wait a while before we can speak to the princess again." She tilts her head indicatively at the small crowd that has gathered around her. (Also? Also, Juliet needs to get out of there quickly. Before she can be blamed for planting the seed of rebellion in princess Elise's head, that is. Because that is most definitely what is going to happen once they corner her.) "Would you like to see more of the castle?"
 

starboob

lover / leaver
Willow struggles holding back her smile when Juliet gives her something of an impassioned explanation and evaluation of what dessert she would take to this hypothetical island. It’s cute that she gives this so much thought. (Of course she does. Willow cannot imagine that the fates would pair her with someone who doesn’t know how to be silly. She might not yet know how they will come together and fall for each other, as she has only known the other woman for all of one brief evening, but there’s potential in Juliet August. There is excitement in that potential, too, because right now the possibilities are boundless. She only hopes that these expectations don’t leave her maimed.) The scholar is naturally taking mental notes and committing to memory that the archer enjoys ‘flaming red cake’ the most. To be honest, it just looks like a red velvet cake to the girl from Elsewhere, but she takes a slice from one of the tiers to sample. She also surrounds the slice with a few cream puffs, a lemon tart, and something that resembles a turnover. There are several more that she considers stacking onto her plate, but she decides against it, remembering how judgmental Lavinia and her gang are and not needing to worry herself over any potential comments being whispered behind her back. Besides, she figures there will be plenty more opportunities for her to try the other, more adventurous looking desserts. She is about to ask if Juliet will take her to her favorite vendors at the market and if she’ll introduce her to the castle’s baker (as she would love to learn from them; especially since she has yet to successfully laminate her croissants), and before she is able the princess gathers everyone’s attention for her much anticipated announcement.

A quiet captures the room and Willow has to admit she’s impressed that princess Elise is not shaking under all of the attention. Maybe it’s because she knows she looks good tonight? Dorothea used to say she really only spent time on her outfits because they helped her know that even if she were making a fool of herself, at least she would have the advantage of knowing she looked good. (As if Dorothea Birdsong has a foolish bone in her body, though.) Ah, however now is not the time to be thinking of that or her when she ought to be giving her attention to the princess. And, thankfully, Willow does not miss the announcement in her brief distraction.

The champion of love gasps when it is revealed that princess Elise is in love. Her eyes widening, twinkling with stars, and her mouth hangs agape and stretches into an enthusiastic smile. (Flynn Everson is polite and though that is a low bar, princess Elise deserves to be with someone who is polite and makes her happy. Clearly, Flynn does. In this regard, her love life differs greatly from Dorothea’s.) Before bitter thoughts can fill her head, she looks over at Juliet and whispers, “Were you aware of this?”

Though based on the way Juliet almost chokes on her champagne she is going to guess no. However, Juliet being Juliet it’s hard to discern whether or not this surprise is good. It is possible that, being a champion of love as well, Juliet is merely worried about her friend becoming a possible target for this love affliction. It is also possible her reaction is in response to the whispers that run through the room like a chill; not to mention the suspicious glances that are being cast their (Juliet’s) way. This does remind her that Lavinia earlier made it sound like an omen that princess Elise had been inspired by Juliet, so she imagines that regardless of whether or not this is good news over all, this is bad news for the archer.

In the seconds that pass between the announcement and the whispers, the tension in the air makes it feel like they’re all frozen in time but that is shattered once the princess is ushered off of the stage. That’s when Willow realizes just how much of an undersell it had been for princess Elise to say that her mother, the queen, is going to be cross over this. Willow may not be from Amoria, but she knows a thing or two about politics and how power is steeped in blood; Elise has just taken power away from some entitled force (no doubt) and given it to someone who, while respectable, was not born a player. She knows this story's end all too well, having been born a James and having had something taken from her by a King. This is to say, she stands by Elise and Flynn and will do all that she can to protect them from forces that may want to tear them apart––whether that be the love affliction or groups who have something to gain by removing Flynn Everson from the equation. (Willow does not yet realize this commitment may force her to stand up against a queen––as in the paramount authority figure and Willow’s track record with defying authority figures is… rather slim. She prefers to please them.)

Her musings will have to wait (they always do) as she also understands that Juliet means to scurry out of here––she has not even been among this crowd for a full hour and already the girl from Elsewhere understands that this high school all over again and Juliet is their scarlet letter. Discreetly, she waves her finger over her pile of desserts to place an invisible net over them so that they stay put and do not topple over while they make for the exit. When Juliet asks if she would like to see more of the castle? Well, Willow James sees the romantic potential in an evening tour with her soul’s mate. “I’d love to see the second best view the castle has to offer, since I've already seen the first," she blushes, because she is obviously referring to the archer. "Will you take me there, Juliet?”

The archer has no qualms about her request and Willow guesses that’s probably because she just wants to remove herself from the banquet hall as hastily as possible. In a way, making their escape a lot like a secret mission in that they have to be as discreet as they are quick. (She wonders if this counts as espionage practice for her future hero work? All the spy movies she has seen seem to have a lot of sneaking around covertly like they are doing right now.) After they’ve wound through a few halls and traveled up several flights of stairs (why is Amoria so obsessed with stairs?), the tension around them melts away and Willow’s mind wanders back to Juliet adorably contemplating her choice of dessert to be stuck with.

“Donuts,” Willow says out of nowhere, staring down at her plate of desserts and eyeing the cake in particular. She sets the strawberry to the side, swipes her finger through the frosting, and sticks it in her mouth without thought. ‘This is totally just red velvet,’ she grins, humming happily as she cleans off her finger. “If I were stuck on a dessert island, I would want to be stuck with donuts. I didn’t see any on the table, but I wouldn't be surprised if y’all had an equivalent. They’re just fried rings of sweet dough, usually topped with some kind of glaze. Wilco’s donuts are the best, though.” Leif likes the establishment so much, he named his companion after the place and Willow still thinks he’s an idiot for that. (Of course, she has little room to talk. Lucky got their name because everyone jealously told her she 'got lucky’ when the companion chose her instead of the other kids in her grade.) “They’re open 24/7 and you can get a dozen for six dollars.”

Now that she is thinking of their conversation prior to the announcement, she also remembers Juliet mentioning something about breaking Lavinia Laurence’s nose? Belatedly, she smiles at the idea. Not because violence is funny––she’s not even that big a fan of slapstick humor––but because she knows that this is rather harmless, easy to fix, and she can only imagine a younger Lavinia frothing in her bedroom and devising all the ways she might make Juliet’s life a trial. She also just doesn’t doubt someone like Lavinia probably deserved it. Girls like her rarely grow up. "Have you broken anyone else's noses?"

However that leg of their conversation also reminds her that while she has stepped up to take action to save love, rather than sit idly by and worry, she also is a bit of a mess when it comes to hero work. The memory of the ogre is still fresh in her mind and even if Juliet had been the only witness, the longer she stays in Amoria the more likely it is that others will find out the truth of their supposed champion. She just can’t imagine it being a secret for too long. Distractedly, she pulls one of the cream puffs from her plate and pops it into her mouth, pressing it flat to the roof of her mouth because she loves the gushy feeling from the cream. After she swallows, she clears her throat and begins, “I know my performance back in the wood with the ogre doesn’t scream champion of love, and I won’t pretend that I’ll always know what I’m doing, but every champion starts somewhere. I figure, I can only go up from here.” It’s a naïve thing to say, she knows. Or rather she imagines some might think that, especially knowing this is a rather big mission for her first job as a hero (unless climbing trees to rescue cats counts), and while she worries what Juliet must be thinking of her, she also doesn’t want to lie by pretending. Not with the person who she is supposed to build a life with. “I won’t just be your data and strategy girl, to be clear. I know that’s where I excel and I am pretty comfortable in that role, but… I want to actually do something. I’m a quick learner,” but, really, her issue isn’t learning. It’s the execution. “And I'm sure I'll have your back in no time. Just tell me the best way to break a nose and I'll start practicing––on, like, stuffed animals and consenting individuals who might want their nose broken, of course.” Like, she's not a pirate who goes around punching people in the face on sight. "Are we almost there?"
 

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