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Fantasy Till Death Do Us Part ( Syntra & bloom )

Sub Genres
  1. Adventure
  2. Magical
  3. Romance


Baba Yaga
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Yvania had fallen. Yvania had fallen, just like Asteria before it, and Perre before Asteria, and... ah, gods, it was so hard to follow the causal chain to its very beginning. (Did it have one, even? If so, it had been forged long, long before Sereia had taken her first breath; earlier than what written records could reach, and perhaps even earlier than the stars appeared in the sky. Something about 'the cyclical nature of violence,' she guessed.)

Either way, Sereia found herself weary. Just... conquering a country demanded a surprising amount of paperwork, you know? (It did, and it didn't. It did, in the sense that the emperor required it; the territories Leveria had snatched had to be evaluated and 'put to work,' as one of the clerks she hated with a burning passion had put it. It didn't, in the sense that she always could have outsourced the duty to someone else. Still, Sereia rarely did that. The paperwork was there for her, real in a way her thoughts weren't, and she could get lost in the whisperings of the quill gliding over parchments easily. The candlelight irritated her eyes, yes, but gazing at the numbers was still easier than looking at--)

Sereia could have jumped out of her skin right here and there, but, thankfully, Evrian didn't. (Evrian's arm never wavered, either. Especially not his sword arm. It was a good thing that she had him, she supposed; just like it was a good thing that she didn't really have herself. In all regards, Sereia had proved to be too much trouble.)

The intruder was barely a man, soft-cheeked and wide-eyed, and so she relaxed her shoulders. Not an assassin this time, huh. (It wasn't that she didn't deserve that, mind you. One day, a sharp blade would emerge from the darkness, and cut her heart out of her chest before she could utter so much as 'sorry'. That was fine, too. One who sowed death could only really expect death in return, because nothing else ever grew from ashes. And, really, hadn't she drowned enough cities in those? Enough to... no, nevermind. Nevermind anything. It was too late to mind, and so she just didn't.)

"Yes?" the general raised her dark eyebrow. "Is there anything you need?"

"The emperor requests your presence."

"Right now?"

The boy nodded, and Sereia... well, Sereia could only guess what the man might want in the dead of the night, with half the realm asleep. One thing was certain, though; you didn't say 'no' to an emperor.


The only room more lavish than the throne room was the emperor's own chamber, and, as always, Sereia felt painfully out of place. How could she not? It was like... like standing before the gates of the academy all over again, and wondering whether she'd be good enough. Except, you know, this time, 'not being good enough' likely translated to having her head chopped off. After all, the emperor did have his standards.

"Evrian, my friend," the man gave her a practiced smile. (Sometimes, she wondered just how honest it was. At other times, she was too wise to walk down that path.) "Sit down. There are matters we need to discuss. They are matters of great importance, and I believe you should hear the news first."

Another war, then? It wasn't often that the emperor invited her for a game of chess, or for anything that didn't relate to their war efforts. Still, Sereia had kind of... dared to hope that their armies would be given at least some
time to rest? Perhaps in vain, as it turned out.

"If I may, Your Highness," she began, knowing how bad idea of an idea it was and yet unable to stop herself, "it is my opinion that our soldiers need to recuperate before we make them march again. The last victory wasn't an easy one."

Bracing herself for whatever consequences may come, Sereia raised her gaze, and... found the man smiling? Alright, that was actually more unnerving than an outburst would have been. (The strongest storms, they said, came unannounced.)

"I didn't invite you to argue with me, but yes, I actually happen to agree with you. What the empire needs now is a celebration."

"...a celebration?" Sereia repeated, uncomprehending. What, did he hope for her to arrange the flowers? Still better than riding in one of those dreadful parades, with all the eyes glued on her, but only marginally so. Regardless, this could have been worse. "I suppose, Your Highness. Do you, uh, require any assistance with that?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. You're going to help with the main event." The emperor sniffed at his wine, watched the liquid glint in the candlelight, and, finally, took a sip. (For some reason, it appeared as if he enjoyed taking his sweet time. Maybe she was just seeing things, though?) "You, Evrian, will get married."

For a moment, Sereia's brain refused to process the statement. Just, hahaha! Funny how easily the ears could deceive you, huh?

It took her another moment to realize that, no, she'd heard exactly right, and many more moments for her to come close to accepting it. (Marred. Married, married, married. The word echoed in her head, over and over, and trying to grasp all the implications was like catching water with her bare hands. Yeah, sure, why not! ...come to think of it, comparing it to drowning would have been more apt.)

"Married? Me? But why?"

"The princess of Yvania needs a husband loyal to the empire, and you have served faithfully enough to earn the privilege. You will know what to do with those heathens, I'm sure."


A wrong choice, perhaps the wrong choice, and Sereia knew it the second the fury reached his eyes. (It was just a tiny shard of it, inserted in his otherwise stony face, but even that was sharp enough to cut an artery. Ever wondered why he used a lion in his seal? Wake his anger, and you'd see.)

"But? I don't think you understood me, Evrian. I wasn't asking."

"...no, Your Highness. You were not. I, uh, am honored."

After all, you didn't say 'no' to an emperor. And, for the record? This could not have been worse.


After considerable effort, Sereia was at least able to convince the servants to leave her alone. She would dress herself on her own, she'd said; there had been protests, but a death glare or two was enough to shut those down before they could truly grow into a problem. And, hey, the general even managed to wrap herself into the terrible white-gold toga they'd chosen for her! The last of my grand victories, I suppose. At least I'll get to walk to the slaughterhouse on my own terms. (She was staring at herself in the mirror, but the man who stared back at her... no, she didn't recognize him. Somehow, he looked both ten years older and too young for this at the same time.) Maybe it won't be so bad? Maybe the princess will appreciate being married to... Yeah, the general didn't even bother finishing that thought. Truly, the man who had helped to bring her country to its knees must have been a dream match!

"General Evrian? The time has come."

Of course. Of course that it had! Steeling herself, Sereia took the first step into the temple... and into her future as well.


New Member
The Empire finally came to them.

Isobel had watched, with a helpless dread, the approach of its armies into Yvania’s neighbouring countries, conquering them one by one. The lion devouring his enemies. Of course she knew how this would end. When the Emperor declared war on them after winning Asteria, it was somehow still a shock.

Isobel’s parents had been powerless to stop him. She had been powerless to stop him - of course, what did she know of warfare? - but they had all shouldered the guilt of their people being slaughtered regardless.

The war seemed to have last a lifetime, while in reality it had merely been a few weeks. Yvania’s only real defence were its mages, and after the Emperor took them out of the equation, the rest of the Yvanian army had stood little chance against the Empire’s stronger, much better trained forces.

Their last line of defence fell on a mild spring morning, the warm breeze of the wind so deceptively peaceful. The Emperor marched into Eleusis Castle, where the King and Queen awaited him, ready to face their destiny.

Isobel feared for the worst, her heart in her throat when she watched the Empire’s troops march into the throne room. His soldiers’ bronze armours were polished while the royal family of Yvania looked haggard and worn down in comparison. Isobel grasped her hands before her as tightly as she could to keep them from shaking.

But the Emperor was in an unusually merciful mood. Her parents were not to be executed, he announced, but merely had to step down from their positions as rulers of Yvania. Isobel would be queen of Yvania now. She took the news like a slap to the face, her head spinning and the gravity of the situation making her feel faint. Her parents would stay in the Emperor’s custody for now, where, according to him, they would be well cared for and be granted the time to reflect on the war and their decisions in it. If Yvania moved on and left the grievances of the past behind them, the old king and queen could return to court the Emperor said. His eyes remained fixed on Isobel as he talked, his stare loaded, and she understood immediately what he didn’t outright say.

Isobel was crowned queen of the vassal state of Yvania a mere twelve hours later. It was a dreadful affair, with only a handful of her advisors and the Emperor’s new Yvanian ambassador present. When it was done, she talked to the ambassador about the future of Yvania under the Empire’s thumb. She knew she had to keep appeasing the Emperor, play the loyal subject, or her parents and more of Yvania’s people would die, but that didn’t make any of her concessions easier. She swore revenge while listening to the ambassador's bored voice announce the demands the Empire made of Yvania.

In time, the lion would pay.


The ambassador asked to speak to her in private a few weeks later. When her servant announced him, Isobel tensed, sure he was here to talk about more restrictions Yvania would face. She dropped everything she had been doing to receive him in her throne room. (Hers. It was still strange to think of it that way.) Her anger simmered lower now, the wounds of the war not healed, but scabbed over. It reignited when she came face to face with the Imperial ambassador again.

His news were ten times worse than another trade restriction. What he proposed on the Emperor’s behalf - demanded, really - was a marriage. Her marriage. To an Imperial. In order to strengthen the alliance between their countries, let trade flourish, combine their forces. A peace offering. Isobel wanted to spit in his face.

Her betrothed was to be General Evrian, the very man who had led the Empire’s armies against her country, who had killed her people. She felt sick when the ambassador told her. She wondered if he could tell, if he had anticipated her reaction, if it was intended as some final slight against her.

She accepted the betrothal, of course. There was nothing else she could have done.


The wedding was a month after the end of the war. Preparation for the festivities had started far in advance, to make the wedding a night to be remembered; the start of the prosperous relationship between the Empire and Yvania.

Isobel watched her reflection as her handmaiden adjusted the bridal flowers adorning her hair. There was a faint blush of make-up decorating her eyelids and cheeks, but Isobel’s face looked cold even to her, the set of her mouth harsh, her eyes stony. She tried a smile, practicing for her future groom. The Emperor would be present at the wedding, so she had to be on her best behaviour, if only for the few moments he would lay his eyes on her. She would not bow to Evrian behind closed doors. Her forced smile looked more like a grimace and didn’t reach her eyes.

Her closest friend Maria chose that moment to enter her chambers, bringing with her the scent of roses. She gasped when she glanced Isobel’s reflection in the mirror. “What is that face for! General Evrian will be terrified when he sees you like that.”

“Good,” Isobel replied venomously. She was terrified of him, so why shouldn’t it be the same vice versa?

“Isobel,” Maria sighed. A pained look crossed her features, as if she didn’t know what to say. The queen knew that her friend didn’t share her worries. Maria was far more adaptive than Isobel ever had been and had settled into their new life easily, as though nothing had changed. Isobel both envied and resented her that particular feature.

For both her friend’s sake and her own, Isobel relaxed her features and tried another smile. It looked marginally better. Now it only had the appearance of her thinking the general was a particularly vile stain on her dress and less like she wanted to rip his throat out where he stood. Progress.

Maria sat down on the chaise next to Isobel’s dressing table. “I think he’s quite handsome,” she said, fussing with her curls. “For a commoner, at least. They have a certain rough charm, if you know what I mean.”

Isobel turned towards her friend, a real smile starting to grow on her face. Leave it to Maria to care about looks at a time like this. “You couldn’t have possibly seen him up close.”

Maria shrugged. “I could have! At one of the celebration parties!"

“You little liar never went to any of them!” Isobel was fully smiling now and it bled some of the tension of the day out of her.

Maria sobered, her features falling. Isobel felt her own smile fade with it. “Of course I have not seen him. I only wanted to cheer you up a bit.” She grasped Isobel’s hand. “I wish things could be different for you.”

“It is fine,” Isobel said quietly, even though it was not. Far from it. She tried for another smile. “Come, let’s meet my future handsome murderer husband.”


The temple was decked in the Empire’s colours, transformed to make it as welcoming as possible for the Leverian guests. They were to be wed in the Imperial style, even though Isobel was a queen and outranked her groom, so it should technically be the other way round. But, she was not the one in charge here.

Isobel wore her mother’s deep-blue, Yvanian-style wedding dress - she was allowed at least that. She imagined how her mother had entered this temple twenty-eight years ago when she had been forced to marry a man she did not love as well. Fitting, then, that Isobel would wear her dress today.

Isobel walked towards the altar, head held high. A priest representing the god of love awaited her at its stern, and next to him, her groom. A new wave of nausea overcame her when she saw him standing there, tall in his white and gold toga. This is real and happening. She came to a stop in front of Evrian.

“Sir.” She inclined her head, addressing the general. Pressed on through the dread rolling in her veins. Hoped that her face gave away none of the contempt she was feeling. “It is an honour to finally make your acquaintance.”


Baba Yaga
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The temple didn't like her. The general knew not how to explain it, nor did she dare to guess what might have been in the local gods' hearts, but she did know a thing or two about hatred. Kind of went with the territory, really. And this place... oh, this place was teeming with it. Enough to make a grown man shudder, and beg for whatever scraps of mercy it was willing to grant him.

Then again, it might not have been the temple itself at all. Did Yvanians not have more than enough reasons to resent Evrian? (As many of them of them as there were blades of grass. As many of them as there were corpses slumbering in the Yvanian soil, too. How many of those had she put to sleep personally? Not too many, in truth; after all, a general's worth was not in her sword, but in her mind. In order for that weapon to stay sharp, you had to keep it out of battle. Still, planning bloodshed didn't make you much better than the ones that had committed it. What was she, if not responsible? Who was she, if not a butcher?

I did a right thing, the general said to herself. (Somehow, her own voice sounded weak to her, as if she had been screaming for hours. Maybe she had.) And I did it for my home. Yes, except that her home was Leveria, and now-- now she was marrying the Yvanian princess. She, marrying her. Gods! It all sounded like a cruel jest, but Sereia wasn't laughing. There hadn't been too many things in her life to laugh about in general, but of all the not-funny matters, this was the least laugh-inducing one of them all. A wedding? More like my funeral. Always, she had sort of anticipated to be more dead for the occasion, but life had a funny way of subverting one's expectations. (Ha, ha, ha. See how well she was doing? Cracking jokes and everything!)

Sereia walked down the aisle, her head held high, and considered her options. There just... weren't too many of them. Her best bet had been to disappear in the dead of night, cast the role of Evrian aside, and maybe spend the rest of her life as an innkeep. For that, it was obviously kind of late. (Why exactly she hadn't done it, she couldn't tell. A misplaced sense of pride? An unjustified optimism, where she'd hoped against hope the Emperor would see the error of his ways? Both reasonable explanations, but more than that, Sereia... well, sort of suspected she just couldn't bear the idea of losing him. Evrian, that was. Not being herself was already painful enough, and losing the thing that was the closest to it, after building it for over ten years, felt close to torture. To another kind of death.)

Alright, so that was out. Couldn't she, uhhh, faint instead? And the Emperor, in his infinite wisdom, would finally grasp that she was far too weak to rule a country! Unfortunately, Sereia had trained very hard to not crumble under pressure for most of her life, and so she didn't feel even close to fainting. She did feel like vomiting, yes; like tearing her hair out; like kicking her own ass for being such an idiot, too. Losing her consciousness, though? Not too likely, seeing as she clung to it with all the vehemence of a soldier gripping his weapon. Curse you, instincts!

The guests, too, hardly seemed besides themselves with joy. Even so, Sereia noticed they couldn't help but stare; some of them quietly, some of them... less so. A lot of them whispered something to each other in Yvanian, and really, even if Sereia couldn't understand, she could very well imagine what they were saying.

(That Evrian was Evrian at all was the first problem, of course. The other issue? That Evrian probably wasn't what they expected. Nobody had ever expected her to... well, be like this. Instead of the hulking warrior, Evrian was short and fresh-faced, with piercing green eyes. 'Pretty,' they'd called her, far too often than she would have liked. Most of those instances had ended in a fist fight.)

Face her, she told herself, when her bride - oh, gods - arrived. You owe her that, at least. And so she did do just that, looking her straight in the eye. Perhaps that was a mistake. (Sereia was taller than the Queen, and for some inexplicable reason, it filled her with significant relief. You know what didn't do that, though? The cold contempt in her eyes, the fear beneath that, and also just how beautiful she was. ...Wait, what?)

"I... you may call me Evrian." Duh. Of course that the Queen was allowed to use her husband's name, for god's sake. "Glad to meet you as well. How are you?" Alright, so the part of Sereia's brain that switched to 'smalltalk' in the middle of her forced wedding ceremony deserved to be scooped out with a spoon. 'How are you?' Really? Might as well stab someone and ask how he was feeling, dammit!

Likely sensing the discomfort in the air, the priest coughed discreetly. "We have, ah, gathered here to celebrate the union of two great houses." Ah, two great houses. The Yvanian Queen, and her, a Leverian of uncertain birth. Someone lower even than the dust on her bride's shoes. That honestly went beyond the realm of parody, and once again, Sereia felt tempted to laugh. Even worse, she did laugh; the sound escaped her lips before she could really do anything about it, and in the deafening silence of the temple, it was louder than a thunderstorm.

(The Emperor was glaring. She could tell, even if she didn't know where he was sitting, and that should have made her more nervous than it did.)

"...General Evrian?" the priest raised his eyebrow.

"I swear I'm not drunk," Sereia defended herself, probably making everyone think that that was exactly what was going on. Oh well. "Just... forget it. Do go on."

The priest's stare grew acidic, and if looks could kill, she would have been at least mortally wounded by now. "Very well."

He went on a tirade about friendship and love, and the 'blessed fruit this union would result in' (ha, ha, ha), and Sereia did her best to tune it all out. Well, at least until...

"Queen Isobel," he turned to her bride, "the gods ask you: why do you love this man?" Oh. Oh no. Why were they doing that part?!


New Member
Isobel blinked, Evrian’s question surprising her. “I am well, thank you,” she answered, her voice flatter than she had ever heard it before.

Had he asked after her wellbeing to mock her? Truly he couldn’t have been sincere. Maybe it was drilled into all Imperials to remain polite, even in a situation like this. She studied him while the priest continued on beside them. Maria hadn’t been far off the mark: Evrian was handsome, in a soft, almost pretty way, the lines of his face slender. His features didn’t display the harshness she had expected to see. A silly thought, maybe, to have pictured him as the monster she knew him to be, but in her mind’s eye he had been intimidating and cruel-looking.

Isobel kept her face perfectly neutral while the priest started the ceremony with talk about their great houses, suppressing the urge to sneer. Evrian was far from great, both in birth and in spirit. But this was not the place for such pettiness. She would let this wedding play out in grace, in dignity, so that no one -

Suddenly, horribly, the general laughed. It sounded loud and clear in the near absolute quiet of the temple, and so very, very out of place. Isobel stared at him. Did that truly just happen? Humiliation burned at the base of her spine. She was sure her mask must have slipped in her shock and anger, but she felt too unmoored to even care. Maybe it was good, she thought, that her parents were locked away somewhere under Imperial control and not here to witness this farce.

The priest looked as startled as she felt. Isobel didn’t even dare to glance at the guests to see their reaction, too scared to find pity, or worse, there. “Well, I’m glad my groom finds this whole situation so amusing,” she said, mostly to the priest, but her gaze remained fixed on the general.

Evrian might not be drunk, but she was starting to wish she were. How else would she get through this night without screaming?

Her gaze roamed over her groom with a newfound irritation. This was General Evrian? Who had plagued her nightmares for weeks with his ingenious and brutal battle tactics, who had conquered kingdom after kingdom in the Emperor’s name? This bumbling, blundering mess of a man? She couldn’t quite believe it. Wondered, for a second, if the Emperor was making a joke at her expense and the person before her was someone else entirely.

Isobel let the priest’s words wash over her, regaining her calm. No matter how Evrian chose to act, she could still handle this in a professional way.

It didn’t take much longer for the next shock to happen. The priest’s question took her by surprise; why do you love this man? She had no answer. Obviously. She regretted not having taken the time to look up Imperial wedding traditions beforehand, so she could have prepared a speech about her deep, deep love for Yvania's conquerer. Now, she’d have to improvise. Which she hated. Casting her eyes over the man before her, she tried to grasp for something, anything she could say. “He is very…handsome?” Maria’s earlier words, tumbling out of her mouth shaped like a question. She almost cringed at herself. Compose yourself. You are a Queen.

She turned to the guests and smiled shyly. “I hope I’m allowed to be so frank now that we are almost husband and wife.” A few people laughed politely at her feeble attempt, thank the gods. She could hear Maria’s loud, high-pitched laughter clearly at the forefront. It sounded far too forced. Still, the support of her friend made her feel more grounded, like she could still get out of this relatively unscathed.

“General Evrian is, above all, a man of great accomplishment. His recent victories speak to that.” She had found her footing now, and the next words came easier. “It is only through his aptitude and relentlessness that the Empire - our Empire - could count as many triumphs as it did. General Evrian is a man who will pursue victory to his last breath. An elegant, proud man. Well-spoken, too.” She realised belatedly how that could have been taken as mockery given his earlier mishap. Quickly, she continued on. “Principled and virtuous.” Anger surged in her at her own lie, making her next words sound unintentionally sharp. “Merciful too, I hear.” So many Yvanians slaughtered for the Empire’s greed. “An inspiration for us all.” She felt her cheeks getting flushed from the agitation boiling in her, and knew she had to stop. Any more and she might just start insulting her groom outright.

Isobel paused and took a deep breath before continuing on. “The gods truly honour me with such a match.”

She wondered if the Emperor was silently laughing where he sat in the middle of her guests.

When Isobel went silent, the priest carried on with his recital. “The gods have assessed your love and devotion for your husband and deemed it true.” The sentence almost made Isobel herself laugh, but unlike her darling groom she still had a modicum of control over herself. Even though it was slipping rapidly. “Let all who have joyfully gathered here in this temple know: a divine bond was forged between Her Majesty, Queen Isobel and General Evrian today. No person shall ever break it. For now, and for all eternity.”

The guests cheered, but it was subdued and tinged with hesitation. None of them had probably expected it to go this badly, least of all Isobel herself.

But, it was done. She was married. For all eternity. The words echoed in Isobel’s head, brutal in their finality; she didn’t even know how she would make it through the next week, let alone eternity.

But she couldn’t show weakness now. The Emperor wanted her bowed low, humiliated, defeated. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her waver, even in this.

With a smile she reached for Evrian, entwining their fingers together, then faced the guests. “Thank you kindly for your numerous attendance and for sharing this moment with us. My husband and I would now like to invite you to feast with us, to rejoice with us. Let us celebrate the beginning of a new era of friendship between Leveria and Yvania.”


Baba Yaga
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What she loved about Evrian. What she loved about Evrian!

It wasn’t that Sereia couldn't imagine all the things her bride could, and likely would, bring up. No, the problem was that she could. How swift her blade was, maybe; how good she’d been at massacring her kin; the way all that blood glistened on her armor, oh so prettily. Indeed, there were many things to love about Evrian! (Too bad that she couldn’t come up with a single one of them. And, no, being in his head did not make them any more apparent.)

Stop whining, Sereia told herself. It’s a wedding, not a battlefield. You’ve seen and heard and done things much worse than that. So what if she’s going to insult you? You deserve it, that and more, and--

“He is very… handsome?”

It wasn’t the slap she had expected, but it very well might have been. In truth, a slap would have been better. You know, because it wouldn’t have been so out of place? At least Sereia knew what to do with those; how to dodge, how to not dodge, how to make it hurt less. There were times when you couldn’t take it, and then there were times when you had to. Knowing where that boundary was was everything, she’d learned. With this, though… with this, the general had no idea what she was even looking at. And so Sereia just kind of flinched, staring at Isobel with wide eyes. Handsome…? It wasn’t even the first time someone had spoken of her like that, but it certainly felt that way. (Of course, people refrained from saying it now. Few thought it wise to utter such comments to general Evrian's face, for a good reason. Evrian the general had been Evrian the soldier first, though, and that had been a very different experience. A much more unpleasant one, too. Was this unpleasant? She wasn't entirely sure, but the scarlet that flooded her cheeks burned like fire nonetheless.)

Isobel's speech then devolved into something much more predictable, and Sereia was almost thankful for the verbal sledgehammer to the face. (Almost, though not quite.) Don't you see I also don't want to be here? Perhaps she did, perhaps she didn't, but it was unfair to judge her based on that. After all, how Sereia felt about this fiasco changed remarkably little for Isobel. Still, she had agreed to marry her; still, she had claimed the crown. The queen could tiptoe around her precious ego, but all she would get from it would be blistered feet. Why not let her enjoy something, then? A small victory, just to make the ordeal taste sweeter? And it's not like she's even wrong. Bless my mercy, indeed. Bless me.

And just like that, they were married. Married! The word still made her head spin, and Sereia wasn’t sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. The only thing that was even more absurd was the idea of her as a king, which… yeah, not even going to touch that. Out of all the things she wasn’t remotely ready for, that had to be the first one on the list.

The feast itself was... interesting. Interesting, as in 'utter disaster.' To her sheer horror, Sereia discovered early on that Yvanians liked to use some strange cutlery that she had never seen before, and that buried any chances of her enjoying a single meal. Playing the guessing game of 'am I using the right fork' just wasn't fun, especially when you knew the answer was most likely 'no'. And, no, the fact that everyone was watching wasn’t helping, either! What do they even need so many of those for? To humiliate me? If so, then the general had to admit all went according to the plan. A great anti-Leverian rebellion, even if a bit unconventional.

It was hard to look at Isobel throughout all of this, and so she didn't. Well, mostly. The two exchanged maybe three words, most of which had been 'no's on Sereia's side. No, she didn't want to dance; no, she didn't know anything about their wedding customs; and no especially to trying to speak in Yvanian. Not yet! What she couldn’t say would take years to describe, and the vocabulary she did have would doubtlessly cause some of the noble ladies to faint.

In the end, Sereia resorted to wine. It was a horrifically bad idea, she knew, but some part of her had come to the conclusion that drinking herself to death would not be such a bad fate. Still better than being found out, eh? Than being exposed as the… the fraud that she was. The liar. (Such a shame that she hadn’t died as Evrian, back when she’d had the chance. His would have been a hero’s death; something the bards would sing about for centuries to come. Sereia, on the other hand? Sereia would die as a traitor. A dark stain on the Leverian history. There was no reason to think they wouldn’t erase her name from the records, because of course they would. What didn’t conform to the official narrative had to go, just like you didn’t allow weeds to grow in your beloved garden.)

The more she drank, the funnier it all seemed, and, without her noticing how exactly it happened, she ended up having her arm draped around her poor wife’s shoulders.

“Can you even believe it? Everything about this, I mean. Me, a king,” she giggled, teetering somewhere between genuine amusement and hysteria. (These days, it was hard to tell the difference. Maybe there had never been one in the first place.) “So sorry you’re stuck with me, though! I swear I didn’t come up with it. But, um, at least I’m handsome?” …What. What!!! Alright, no, scratch that: the wine was not just a bad idea, but a death sentence in itself. How would she ever--?

But already, the feast was reaching its end, and now they were expected to retreat to their chambers. Their chambers, not her chambers. Oh, gods. “This is far too sudden for my liking,” Sereia mumbled, once the door closed behind them. (Now it was just her and Isobel, and somehow, that made everything infinitely worse. How was she even supposed to look her in the eye? Her wife, for gods' sake!) “I, uh… want my own room.”


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The rest of the wedding continued to be a nightmare.

After the horrible ceremony Isobel had hoped to turn the tides in her favour again by being the perfect host and providing their guests with a pleasant and entertaining end to the evening. Wipe out the earlier distaste of the ceremony and replace it with a good ending. Her efforts proved futile in the face of Evrian’s apparent determination to make this the single worst night of both their lives.

Isobel watched, helpless, as her husband mishandled the cutlery for every single meal. Had he been raised by wolves? Surely the Emperor had etiquette teachers who could have shown the general how it was done. Isobel tried to draw the attention away from her husband by announcing a toast, but the eyes of the guests remained fastened on Evrian, lapping up his evident discomfort. They were vultures like that.

After the ceremony Isobel had briefly talked to the Emperor; he had congratulated her on her marriage and emphasised the new bond in place between Leveria and Yvania, how the relationship between their countries would flourish from here on out. She had thanked him, feeling disinclined to comment on Yvania’s future any further.

Isobel spent the remainder of the night forcing her food down, speaking to all of the guests personally, and waiting for Evrian to cause another scene. Her gaze strayed to her husband time and time again. Sipping on her wine, she wondered whether she could get away with killing him in his sleep and then reviving him without anyone noticing. Surely a corpse could not have significantly worse table manners.

She and Evrian didn’t talk much, which suited Isobel just fine. After a few half-hearted attempts from her side that Evrian replied to just as half-heartedly, she simply dropped the issue, and engaged primarily with her guests.

By the end Isobel’s smile seemed cut into her face, so little did she let it slip over the course of the evening. She would continue to pretend that everything was fine until all the guests had left. Then she would allow herself a brief moment of sheer panic.

As the evening progressed, her husband drank glass after glass of wine. When Evrian laid his arm around her, she tensed, a sudden spike of fear deep in her belly. With the mortification she had felt all evening, she hadn’t yet fully considered what was bound to happen after the feast, but now the thought surfaced in her mind and seemed to stick there.

She listened to her husband’s drunken monologue with another forced smile, leaning closer to him for the sake of their guests. No, Isobel couldn’t believe that a Leverian was king of Yvania either. Yes, of course Evrian hadn’t come up with the idea of marrying her himself, he was nothing but the Emperor’s puppet. (As was she, now.) She wanted to say something true to him, but everyone was watching them even more closely now, zeroing in on the place he was touching her like hawks. Gauging her reaction. So she just laughed and ducked out from under Evrian’s arm. “Oh, but you are so funny! The way you talk is really quite endearing.”

When the feast was coming to a close, Isobel took special care to wish all of her guests a wonderful night. It was as much playing the perfect host as wanting to delay the inevitable. A short while later, she led Evrian through the halls of the castle, silent. She had no idea what to say. All her life she had been trained in polite conversation, but she feared that if she spoke now, the words coming out of her mouth would be the opposite of polite. Thankfully, Evrian stayed silent as well.

They reached her rooms and she opened the door for him, letting him in. She followed after, tense, grasping for a way to gently ease them into this. Evrian surprised her by speaking first.

His words weren’t in the least surprising though - of course he wanted his own room. Demanded his own room as if he had conquered this very castle himself. He might as well have, all things considered. “Please,” she said, the words cutting now, all her earlier frustration releasing. “Pick whatever room you’d like, my king. You own this castle after all. Any other demands you’d like to make of me?”

Unable to look at him standing in her room any longer - like he had any right to be here - she turned away, moving over to her vanity. She started dislodging the pale blue bridal flowers from her hair. “Tonight, you will stay here. Sleep in my receiving room if you’d prefer that. I will not have you walk out of these rooms on our wedding. It would be the talk of the whole castle and I think you have embarrassed me quite enough for one evening.”

She realised with a start that she had let her anger run a little too unleashed. That last part had probably crossed a line. She drew in a breath and turned, forcing herself to look at him. “By which I mean, of course, that you embarrassed me with how much I paled in comparison to you tonight. Sir. Evrian.”

This was off to a horrible, horrible start. Evrian’s earlier words floated back to her: this is far too sudden for my liking. That was better than she could have hoped for. Only now, she felt the relief the words warranted. Maybe they could still make this work and come to an arrangement that would suit them both. She couldn’t take her overly harsh words back now, no matter what she said, so she might as well just plunge ahead. “And I will be honest with you: I’d rather you pick your own room, too. I do not want you here. So, tomorrow we can have new quarters arranged for you. But tonight, you will absolutely not leave.”


Baba Yaga
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Sereia hadn’t thought it possible for so much poison to fit into so few words, but Isobel was quickly proving her wrong. The way she’d said ‘my king’, for example? It was a small miracle that she hadn’t keeled over from just that! Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Come on, it will be fine. It’s not like she will stab you. Why her heart was overreacting like that, Sereia couldn’t tell; it could have been the alcohol, being in a queen’s (!!!) bedroom, or the fact that the queen’s bedroom was also somehow her bedroom now. You know, because they were married? Ha, ha, ha! (It didn’t feel real, and some part of Sereia doubted it ever would. There was this distinctly dream-like quality to it, with the actions-consequences bond not being quite as tight as usual. How had her life even devolved to this, anyway? Still, real it all was. The bed, much too large for one person, was a chilling reminder of that. Of that, and also of what they were expected to do here.) “I… I suppose,” the general said. (Technically, she could also order for this castle to be razed. A king could order anything at all, and the subjects had little recourse from such whims. ‘Divine right,’ they called it. Wasn’t it funny, the way everything a ruler ever chose to do was divine? Sereia… did have her doubts, although she had never so much as entertained voicing them. Loose-tongued as she may have been, the general also preferred for her head to stay attached to her neck.)

“I guess I wanted to ask you first.” Because, hello, that was normal? As if you bothered to get a permission for that which truly matters, some mean voice in the back of her head whispered. Good job, asking her about lodgings of all things. Must be real thankful for that. Internally, Sereia winced. She winced externally, then, under the weight of… well, pretty much everything. Mainly Isobel’s words, though not just that; aside from those, there was also this immense helplessness, the likes of which she hadn’t experienced for years. (Picking up the sword had been the cure for that. At the same time, though? Finally, she understood why healers said that medicine could also be poison, and that too much of anything could kill you. What had freed her back then was also what had put the noose around her neck, in the end. Why? Why couldn’t the Emperor just let her do her own thing? Was she not useful enough? To think he’d make her leave her men, her home, just to put a crown on her head! To think he'd marry her to--)

“No, I don’t have any other demands to make. Look, Isobel…” Was she even allowed to call her by her name? It tasted sweet but sort of strange, like candy she’d stolen from a much-too-fancy store. Like something she had no right to. Isobel. “…I don’t know. I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.” The general didn’t look up at her, simply because she didn’t feel like it. The less time spent staring at her wife, the better. When Isobel said a lie so ostentatious the floor almost shook from it, though? Yeah, that was the moment Sereia’s piercing gaze finally met hers. “You paled in comparison to me,” she repeated blankly. “You mean before or after I laughed during the ceremony? Was everyone dazzled by my cluelessness, perhaps? If so, then I will be the star of this court! I manage to be incompetent at so many things at once, you have no idea. Next time you need to impress someone, just summon me and I will show them just how much I can’t dance.” Sereia took a step backwards, as if to emphasize that, no, she would not close the distance between them. (Despite her own bitterness, she did understand that that was likely a concern for the young queen. Her unwanted invader husband, in her bedroom… Oh, she could see how scary that could be.)

Please, Isobel. You can lie better than that. I know I have no right to your honesty, but I will ask you to at least put some effort into your lying. Hearing such nonsense hurts my ears.” Just, did Isobel think her to be utterly stupid? Not that she wouldn’t deserve that after everything she’d put her through, though it harmed the miniscule part of her pride that happened to be alive still. Regardless, sleeping in her wife’s receiving room for now wasn’t a bad deal. Not at all, all things considered.

“Good,” she nodded after a while. “I can do that. But while we are talking, I think we should speak of our expectations as well. My queen, will you… will you help?” The steel in her eyes softened, and all of a sudden, Sereia looked as lost as she felt. “I don’t know how to do any of this.”

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