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When Walls Crumble [RP Thread] [R] [Private Fantasy RP]

*Jean Grey*

Night Triumphant
Sylvia Edelstein
Khusha (Nightshade Manor, Subterranean Baths -> Changing Room)


“Er, you, soldier – Raleigh, I believe Sylvia called you? Is that your name?” the princess began, snapping Raleigh out of his daze. Instead of looking directly at the princess however, the soldier's eyes fell on Sylvia instead, seemingly giving her an appraising look - one which held more than a note of recognition.

Of course he does, she thought. She recognized him all the same. It was difficult to forget being interrogated for hours in the dim, dank underground dungeons, even after seven years. She had only been seventeen years old after all - barely an adult - and she didn't know any better. Of course she wasn't involved in any conspiracy, and of course, she hadn't been hired as an assassin by a member of the Lochesterian court. She was but a poor teenager from the streets, a sorry excuse of a thief disguised in stardust and glass, who was simply ordered to infiltrate King Siegfried's masquerade ball and eliminate a noble who failed to pay a debt of some sort.

Raleigh had been her interrogator, a magical human who looked to be rather new to the job himself, judging from the way he carried himself - as dignified as he could, but with a hint of uncertainty that the other guards did not possess. He was younger than the rest of them too, not much older than herself. Now, sexually abusive, he was not, but that didn't mean she was spared from his agonizing interrogation methods. He had magically probed into her mind and squeezed as much information as he could, trying to find something that wasn't there, and it hurt.

Oh, how she resisted, though her silver shackles burned and her wounds bled, even as her head painfully seared through the night and threatened to break after being questioned and probed. She wasn't going to give in to any guard, be it confessing to crimes that she wasn't responsible for - being a werewolf was hardly a crime after all - or surrendering herself to them. And that was what she did, which earned her three transfers over the thirteen days she was imprisoned, as well as crueler treatment from almost all the guards.

Get over your pride, you're going to be executed anyway. Might as well make your life less difficult before the time comes, beast. He had told her as he passed her by. Never once raising a hand, but never ridding his voice of its venom.

In the end, she had been released, and he had been the one to free her from her shackles as Josef spoke to her about why she was being released to begin with. This time, she didn't look into Raleigh's eyes. She had been in shock that she was being released to begin with. As far as she knew, nobody ever left Lochester's dungeons alive. Part of her perhaps, thought that it was a cruel joke and that Raleigh would've pulled at the strings of her mind to force her back in. But as Josef led her out the secret passageway that would bring her to freedom...there was no pain...no searing sensation.

"Yes, Your Highness. It is." Raleigh's attention shifted towards the princess after more than a few moments of silence, confirming his identity. Sylvia took the time to study him further. His eyes had not changed, even after all those years, cold, hard and belonging to someone who would've been much much older than his thirties. Yet, there was something else tucked deep within them...something more...melancholic, if that was the right word to describe them.

“Under what circumstances did you come to be lying half-dead in the middle of the Khusian desert, if what you say is true, and there are no other soldiers? You owe me – us – your life, so I suggest you speak honestly.” The princess pressed on. At this, Raleigh tensed for a moment, before replying.

"I let live a few...enemies I was told to kill. A grave offense, likened to treason. I fled to save my life," he spoke politely but curtly, the way he'd been taught to. "I lost the pursuers, but ended up lost myself."

Enemies. Sylvia knew what he meant. Werewolves. Vampires. Magical humans. He didn't have to sanitize his words. Everyone in Lochester was taught to shun and despise the "other" after all, for the most pointless reasons. After all, non-magical humans were just as capable of unnecessary killing as any other race. Those who were the "other" were taught to hate themselves...taught to believe they deserved to suffer and die in order to avoid tainting Lochester.

"It is as you say; I owe my life to you. Do with it as you will. Should you end it, worry not; no one will mourn me - nor come avenge me. Lochester holds no more love for me than it does for you." He addressed everyone.

"Lochestrian or not, I would not kill you for that. Besides, I helped keep you alive for this long, it would be a shame if that were to be for nought." Lyn spoke first, from where she was resting against the edge of the pool. Her voice was steady. Reassuring. Sylvia knew that Lyn was not one to take words lightly.

The princess took longer, before voicing her stand.

“No, we have no reason to bring your life to a premature conclusion. But I will not set you free. Your skills are useful to us, and I see no other way to prove that your words are true other than to allow you to assist us. If you flee, I would run the risk of you returning with an army, so you are all ordered to eliminate him should he attempt it. Am I understood?” She directed this statement to everyone. Sylvia put her glass down and gave a thumbs-up.

Gwen then mused about whether or not Lochester thought so low of her, to which Emerick asked if it really mattered, and if it would really change anything.

"If the Lochesterian court think so low of you, then they're fucking wrong. If they had half a brain and had to choose anyone to look down on, they have to take a look at themselves first. Backwards, cowardly bastards, they are..." Sylvia snarled, though her tone was a little less harsh, as Gwen stepped out of the bath. She looked at Raleigh again, at the broken man who sat across her. She knew he was a magical human. An "other", just like herself. Someone who was certainly taught to look down on himself, as well as vampires and werewolves from a young age, and to not question the laws of the kingdom.

"Raleigh, are these...enemies you speak of....your enemies because they truly harmed you, or are they your enemies only because you were taught by some fucking bastards to believe that they are the monsters? Think for yourself, idiot! Are these bastards always right? Are they your gods? Who are the real monsters? Surely there's a brain in that skull of yours." She spoke, her voice not once wavering, and her tone stark. Oh, how she despised him for what he did to her years ago, yet she despised Lochesterian laws more, with a burning passion. How much of him was truly the cold-hearted interrogator, and how much of him was a product of his environment, that remained to be seen.

Minutes later, after Dimmy stepped out of the bath, Sylvia followed suit. She got up and stepped out of the bath, squeezing the excess water from her midnight hair and pulling it up, exposing her back, a pair of tattooed dragon wings accentuating her long-healed scars. She dried off, before proceeding to put on one of the silk robes set out for them to use. The fabric was softer than anything she ever wore. She tied it loosely, not being one who cared much for propriety, and retrieved her headpiece, sighing with relief that it hadn't disappeared.

“If you will all follow us, we have prepared a few options for each of you to wear to court.” A maid addressed the group. Dimmy thanked her, before leading everyone back upstairs to a pair of rooms along the same hall, the maid ushering the women into one room, and the butler guiding the men into another. Sylvia followed the maid.

Sylvia took in this new room. It was rather identical to the bedroom they'd initially gone to, but there was more open space. There were armoires and vanities along the side walls, and a pair of changing screens, as well as a small table stood along the back. The vanities each had an assortment of perfumes and colognes, hair care items, make-up, and jewellery. A fancy carpet was rolled out in the middle of the room, atop which stood a sextuplet of mannequins, paired off, with each pair displaying a couple outfits in the closest size of one of the room's occupants that could be found. None of the clothes were the clothes on their backs when they had arrived, and when Sylvia's eyes fell on the tallest pair of mannequins in the room, all she could say was fuck.

Both mannequins bore dresses in the Khushan style, one was gold, and the other was black. She immediately made her way towards the black one and appraised it. True to the Khushan style, it was made of lightweight silk, with a low neckline and a lower back. It had a split front, revealing a sheer black underskirt that would expose the wearer's legs.

Now, Sylvia had no problems showing skin. Quite the contrary. What bothered her though, was the fact that she had to wear a dress in particular. Memories of the masquerade ball once again came back. She had been clothed in a gown that was almost literally stardust, and in the present, she could not help but run her hand over the black dress over and over, to feel if the silk fabric was real. Wasn't there another alternative? Couldn't she wear a man's outfit instead?

"I really should've gone and changed in the lads' room...fuck propriety, they don't have to wear damn dresses..." she groaned, as she slipped the black dress off the mannequin and pulled it on reluctantly. Her large breasts threatened to spill out of the low neckline, but that was the least of her concerns. She would gladly go shirtless if it meant not wearing a dress.

Looking towards her assigned vanity, she noticed an array of gold and silver jewellery and accessories laid out for her to use. Being a werewolf, she didn't exactly have a choice. She put on a set of golden body chains over her dress, followed by a wide golden belt. She put on golden earrings, before fastening the crimson cloak that came with the dress over one shoulder.

"Excuse me...I'll have to take that off you. It isn't...presentable." The maid chirped and before Sylvia could react, the maid's hand flew towards her nose, and plucked off her iron nose ring.

"Arrghh...hey! What the hell?!" Sylvia exclaimed in protest as she briefly rubbed her sore nose. She reached out for her nose ring, growling as her lupine form threatened to surface. As her other arm swung backward, her headpiece, which she had set atop the vanity, was knocked down. As it touched the floor, the dark metal flashed silver for a brief moment, though she did not notice.
 

Minteh

It's so shiny!
Lyn Grier
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)


Unlike Lyn, who had been quite forthcoming with her opinion of Raleigh's fate, Gwen was a bit more hesitant with hers. Although, unlike Lyn, Gwen would have the weight of a whole kingdom on her shoulders one day and such decisions about what to do with her perceived "enemies" were not ones to be taken lightly. She wasn't really listening fully when Gwen addressed Raleigh but was alerted when she caught the princess stealing a glance at the group when she ordered them that if he did ever try and run they were to eliminate him. Lyn merely gave a sharp nod in response.

A few more words were spoken before the group began to exit the bath and change into the silk robes left out for them. Lyn was the second to last to leave the bath, exiting the water shortly after Sylvia did. She took care to quickly dry herself off before putting on the silk robe that was left for her. The fabric was softer than anything Lyn had worn before and smiled a little to herself at the sensation of it touching her skin. She made a mental note to herself to ask Dimmy whether it would be okay to keep this after they left Khusha.

“If you will all follow us, we have prepared a few options for each of you to wear to court.” A maid would address the group. Ah yes - court. Lyn had almost forgotten that was among the primary reasons they were in Khusha right now. Dimmy thanked her before striding forward, taking the lead amongst the group as they followed the servants back upstairs. The came across a pair of rooms along the same hall, the maid ushered all the girls into one, and her butler.

The room was around the same size as the bedrooms they had initially gone to but had different furniture and more open space. A couple of armoires and vanities stood along the side walls, and a pair of changing screens, as well as a small table stood along the back. The vanities each had an assortment of perfumes and colognes, hair care items, make-up, and jewellery. A fancy carpet was rolled out in the middle of the room, atop which stood a sextuplet of mannequins, paired off, with each pair displaying a couple of outfits in the closest size of one of the room's occupants that could be found. Hesitantly, Lyn moved over to one of the average-sized mannequins. It was hard to discern which was meant for her and which was for Gwen seeing as they were around the same height, but Lyn assumed that she had found the pair intended for her as the colours were more complimentary to her complexion.

"Ugh," Lyn grumbled, as she pulled the red and purple gown from the mannequin and slipped it on. She didn't hate the dress, it was a very beautiful and skillfully crafted garment made from the light silk typical of Khushan fashion. It was primarily a deep red in colour, with a plunging neckline, and exposed shoulders. The dress was split at the front, revealing a sheer purple underskirt that showed off Lyn's shapely legs. Again, the dress wasn't ugly and was certainly comfortable to wear, but what Lyn wasn't happy about was how revealing it was. She understood that in the hotter climate they needed such lighter and airier clothes to be able to stand the weather, but was it really necessary to show this much skin off? Her bare shoulders and exposed legs did not bother her so much as the plunging neckline. She felt as though if she bowed too deeply or crouched one of her breasts might have popped out and she would wind up flashing Sylvia and Gwen. The notion that such a thing could happen at court filled her with even more dread and panic.

Moving over to her assigned vanity, looking among the jewellery and accessories laid out for her to use. Among the first accessories she grabbed, were the purple bracers set with lighter purple and pink gems. She then turned her eye to the jewellery, looking over the array of gold and silver pieces on offer. In the end, she went for the golden jewellery, finding them to a be more suitable match for the colours of her outfit. She found a large and very ornate golden necklace, which seemed to offset her exposed chest a little, and coupled it with golden earrings, a simple golden headband, and a purple and gold belt.

"I wish Khushan clothing wasn't so...revealing," Lyn mumbled, looking at herself in the vanity. The accessories helped, but she was still aware of how exposed she felt in this whole getup. Her own worries were put to one side when she looked over in Sylvia's direction, upon hearing the other woman call out in protest. "What's going on over there?" She asked, raising a brow. "You sound like you're being put into a torture device, not a dress." Though given how much Lyn had been internally complaining about her own outfit, she wouldn't have been surprised if that was exactly how Sylvia felt about her dress.
 
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Tangeh

Well-Known Member
Princess Gwendolyn
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)

Gwen faced pointedly away as her companions exited the bath one by one. Ral's words were echoing across her memory, but so were Sylvia's. “Backwards cowardly bastards, they are...” It couldn't be that unpopular of an opinion, certainly by the werewolves, but even further than that. Even if the Khushian monarchy held similar views, that didn't necessarily mean this meeting would go smoothly.

One of the Nightshade's family maids lighthearted announced that they had prepared a few options for each of them to wear. ...Options? Gwen turned, figuring everyone was out of the bath now, and quietly followed the maid as she ushered Gwen away from Sir Emerick. He quirked a brow at her but she followed the other two women into a changing room. Gwen's eyes flicked between the Khushian-style options – where was her own dress?

After a bit of complaining over needing to wear a dress from Sylvia, she slipped into a black dress. It did not conceal her cleavage very well, and Gwen averted her eyes and pretended to be very interested in the other options. Lyn coaxed a red and purple gown off the hanger. ...There was not any green in these options. Usually her servants liked to cloak her in Yloria's colours for formal meetings.

“Princess?” Gwen blinked and turned as one of maids bowed, extending Emerick's travel pack toward her. Oh, thank goodness. She accepted the bag with a gracious nod and gently lifted her crown out of it. Truthfully, did whatever else she wore matter? These clothing options would certainly better than that dress that had been across the sea, through a forest, and across a desert – literally all within the last few days.

But as Gwen reached toward a purple-sequinned dress that faded into yellow and black toward the bottom, she hesitated. “...This is see-through,” Gwen observed, holding the material at a few angles to test how the light reacted to it. “Er – is this – truly acceptable to wear to Khusian court?” Alarik had no sisters, so Gwen did not have much of a basis to go off. Lyn and Sylvia also had some qualms with the Khushian fashion – though not for the same reasons.

The maids ushered her into the dress, and Gwen blushed at her reflection once they were done. “Thank you,” Gwen said with as much poise as she could muster, and began slipping golden jewellery out of Emerick's travel pack. Earrings, bracelets, necklace – she felt like herself again once they were back in their rightful places on her body. She arranged her crown on her head as well, though she would need to fix it again once her hair dried properly. It was already starting to fluff up in the dry Khushian air.

A cry of pain from Sylvia caught Gwen's attention, and she turned in time to see Sylvia's headpiece – a mockery of the Lochesterian crown, as Gwen had pointed out earlier – hit the ground. She could have sworn it flashed silver for a brief moment. It must have just been a trick of the light, but for that moment, it almost looked like... no, nevermind. Gwen turned back to the mirror and resumed trying to coax the neckline of the dress into an acceptable position.

(meanwhile)

“Well gentlemen, what do you think?”

Emerick stared blankly. Twenty-five years of training with the Ylorian guard could not have prepared him for this. His truthful opinion – that anything outside of armor was unacceptable for protecting the princess – would probably be rude. This was the part where Gwen was supposed to swoop in and make the decision for him, but she was in another room – ah!

Emerick handed his travel pack to a waiting servant. “Kindly deliver this to Princess Gwendolyn.” She nodded and exited the room.

...Well, that occupied less than ten seconds, and now they were back to uncomfortable silence.

Emerick turned to Ral in confusion, hoping he had some semblance of fashion sense, but it didn't seem like it. So, Emerick gave the only response he could – a shrug and a dismissive grunt.
 
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GoldenHouou

antagoonist
Raleigh Ferghus Eachainn
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)


It might've just been his powers going awry, but the temperature in the baths seemed to drop by a dozen degrees the moment Raleigh was done speaking. He kept his gaze fixed on the princess, unflinching even in the face of Emerick's indirect threat. He'd already said his piece and was prepared to lose his head for it. Warnings meant nothing to him now.

Lyn was the first to break the silence. Her warm voice thawed some of the figurative frost that permeated the air around Raleigh, but he still refused to face her. Seeing her would only bring him hope. As a criminal about to be judged, he was to keep his eyes on the judge and the executioner, both still preoccupied with their thoughts.

“No, we have no reason to bring your life to a premature conclusion."

If Raleigh felt relief over Gwen's decision, he showed no sign of it. All he did was nod in acceptance - of both her decision and her terms. He had no intention of running, and no delusions of surviving if he did.

Then the princess' tone shifted, and Raleigh's diligent expression was muddled with a hint of concern. For a moment, he could have sworn she sounded almost pained over the prospect of being hated by Lochester. But why would she care about the opinions of her enemies?

He didn't get a chance to ask.

Sylvia's voice came like a bark, abrupt and loud. Raleigh almost jumped. For a moment, he'd forgotten she was there. He tried very hard to forget again, until he wolf turned her bark towards him. Raleigh turned to face her like a prey would a predator; apprehensive, suspicious, unsure of her intent. Even without seeing his reflection, he knew the look well. He'd seen it on the faces of dozens of captives.

Oh, how the tables had turned.

He expected Sylvia to finally reveal everything she knew about him and seal his fate once and for all. Regardless of the princess' stance, he doubted she would pardon a torturer - or a murderer.

The wolf revealed none of those things. Instead, she lectured him on the origin of his beliefs, calling to question who the true monsters were. At first, Raleigh tensed. He was taught not to tolerate insults towards his superiors, and was about to defend them with word and blade alike. But then he remembered the children in the woods. He remembered his superior officer's orders, and how a moment later his limp body had slid off a bloodied lance. Back then, hadn't he thought for himself?

...Why? Why did the wolf talk as if she knew him? As if after everything he'd done, there was hope for him yet.

The silence returned.

Raleigh left the bath after the others had already done so, wordlessly trailing after the servant that was to lead him and Emerick upstairs.


---​

“Well gentlemen, what do you think?”

Much like Emerick, all Raleigh could do was stare. He took in the outfits presented to them one baffling detail at a time, unable to utter a word. It was only when his mind started to try and conjure up images of what he might look like wearing such clothes that he found the strength to tear his gaze away.

Soon enough, the knight turned to him with a look of dread that mirrored his own. Raleigh couldn't help but feel a sense of camaraderie. They might have been mortal enemies, serving opposing kingdoms and ideologies since birth. But right here, right now, they were just two soldiers united by a common enemy.

Emerick didn't protest their fate, so Raleigh felt obliged to do so in his stead. For the sake of whatever dignity they had left after long years of service.

"Frankly," he finally found his voice, "I find all this highly unnecessary. A regular set of clean clothes would do. I wouldn't--"

He gestured towards the outfits, "Feel... appropriate walking in such, hm," Raleigh was struggling to find a balance between voicing his displeasure and maintaining a polite tone, a conundrum he'd yet to face in his adult life. Had the wolf's words gotten to him after all?

"Lack of... proper cover."

Revealing. The clothes were too revealing. How was he supposed to face nobility - much less royalty - with his abdomen fully exposed?!
 

VampirateMace

Internet Overlord
Lord Dimamire Nightshade
Khusha (Nightshade Manor, Changing Room)


Already knowing which outfit he preferred, the tighter cut, Dimmy didn't wait for their replies, but shed his bathrobe, dropping it aside. The maids would clean it up later. He tugged the tight cut pants free from the mannequin and started to slip them on.

Behind him he heard Emmrick instruct someone to take something to the princess, followed by a disgruntled grunt. While Dimmy himself wasn't sure exactly what this meant, the Lochesterian soldier seemed to derive some meaning from it, and started to voice his opinions on it. Ah yes, unnecessary and revealing. . . how very like an outsider and a commoner.

Dimmy laughed lightly as he slipped the vest off his mannequin, and admired the handiwork. He glanced back at Ral, suggesting, “You do better show up at court naked than in the clothes of commoners. Remember, we're trying to earn their favor. . . And don't even think about showing up in your armor. You're lucky I didn't kill you on sight.”

He turned back to the mannequin slipping on his vest, “But I am a civilized man. I recognize you didn't choose to be born in such a vile place. And may not even have really chosen to enter into their service.”

He glanced back again, as he tugged on the vest to ensure it was properly fitted. He probably didn't need to tell their prisoner that he didn't need a reply to that. Then he pulled down the shimmery cape without looking and slipped it on, heading for a mirror. After a moment of admiring himself, and straightening his clothes and talisman, he turned and headed for one the wardrobes. He selected some black stockings, a fine red leather belt and matching red and black boots to complete the look.
 

Tangeh

Well-Known Member
Sir Emerick
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)


Emerick's eyes widened as Raleigh began voicing a negative opinion toward Lord Dimamire's clothing options. Just moments ago they had been debating whether or not to end this man's life, and now he had the gall to oppose an order as simple as changing into a new outfit. It was an idiotic decision. But it was one Emerick agreed with.

He found himself respecting that, in a strange way.

And what was the young lord saying now? His armor – pleated with the scars of proud battles, his helmet bestowed upon him by King Leonius himself – the clothing of commoners?! He furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to join Raleigh in protest -

“- And don't even think about showing up in your armor. You're lucky I didn't kill you on sight.”

...Ah, yes, well, Emerick supposed that the Lochesterian guard being back in armor could be problematic. Was Khusha so fastidious that their clothing would influence their decisions? They were a bit eccentric, but maybe more important was stilling his tongue and letting the young vampire noble have it his way. Understandably, this was not nearly as pressing a priority for Raleigh.

...Hopefully Gwen would protest this the moment she laid eyes on him.

…​


Princess Gwendolyn
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)


The servants ushered the ladies out to reunite with the men, and Gwen blinked as she laid eyes on them.

Emerick was wearing a... a red toga? It covered only half of his chest – complete with loose silk violet bottoms, a silver cape, and black boots. Gwen's mouth twitched into a grin and she suppressed a laugh as Emerick glared at her expression. “Is... is that a circlet?” Gwen inquired at the silver headpiece adorned with rubies. Khushian colours – not the gold and emerald she wore on her own head. She was straining to keep amusement out of her tone.

“...I had no say in this outfit, Princess.”

“For the best,” Gwen quipped (Emerick's glare deepened), “Khushian fashion should please Alarik; Dimmy did well with you two.” (Emerick didn't look to check, but he swore he felt Dimmy smirk in satisfaction).

“You wouldn't prefer me in armor, Princess?” Emerick asked, a hint of hope in his tone.

“No need,” Gwen insisted. “We should be safe within the Khushian Capital.”

“...You are wearing your sword,” Emerick pointed out.

Gwen glanced at the sheath that she'd had one of Dimmy's servants retrieve. “It is just for show. You can bring yours if you wish. Father always wore one to the diplomacy meetings with Lochester.” Besides - the hilt matched her jewellery (and was even more expensive). “We can double back for the rest of our possessions after this is over. Night is starting to fall – is everyone prepared?”

…​

Khushian Capital (Royal Palace)

The dry air outside was surprisingly cool without the sun blazing down on them. The Khushian Capital was bustling now that the sun was gone, and their outfits seemed to allow them to blend in. Unlike in Zlelmore, nobody gave them a second glance. Gwen even had to politely decline a merchant who offered to give her an “incredible deal” on powdered dragon eggshell (“incredibly nutritious, wonderful for the hair and nails!”).

The city's charms weren't without its dark spots – groups of vampires were crowded around a so-called “blood bar”, pushing each other in anticipation of its opening. Beggars hassled them on every corner, a few human ones even offering their blood to Dimmy in exchange for a few coins.

When they approached the palace, the guards bowed and permitted them through without so much as a word exchanged. They were expecting her. Why were they expecting her? Gwen hesitated, but the Sage's artifact wasn't making any indication that her father was nearby. If she could even still trust him, that is...

They were guided deeper and deeper into the palace. Gwen stepped inside the royal chamber, and her hand immediately went to her left wrist. Atop the royal throne sat Prince Alarik himself, surrounded by his seven councilmen – both vampire and human. The royal throne – plated in brilliant silver and lined with rubies – sat underneath what would be a dark spot in the throne room, had it not been lined with two extravagant lit torches. Along the sides, several large palm trees adorned in polished silver snaked their way to ceiling tiles made of glass. The moonlight streamed through them, dancing off the cool floor. The walls themselves were composed of shards of multicoloured stained glass, displaying several important figures and events in Khusha's history – their first vampire king, the overthrowing of the human race, and the reconciliation. Prince Alarik's father was prominently displayed to the left of the throne. The intricacy of the glass must have taken a thousand hours. Tiny pieces made up the smallest details in the late king's glass portrait – his stern red eyes and long dark hair were mimicked in his son.

Gwen calmed herself with the knowledge that the Sage's gift did not react. It felt as if every eye in the room was staring at her. “I see you were expecting me,” Gwen said, trying her hardest to keep any suspicion out of her tone. “Have you been in contact with my father?”

Prince Alarik gave Gwen a pitying look, and she had to look away from him. One of the human councilmen cleared his throat. “Yes. He has been in contact with both the Khushian royal council and Sorcerer Glikore of Zlelmore. We were ordered to send you home with promise of a hefty reward, but as you already know, Zlelmore had other ideas...” his irritated tone trailed out, and Gwen tensed.

Another councilman, a vampire, spoke up. “Indeed, Zlelmore informed us they would be sending you to our palace,” Gwen felt a twinge of irritation at this light phrasing, “and that they recommended we assist you on your journey to Lochester.”

Gwen blinked, then dared to relax a little. “So you are planning on aiding us?” she asked, unable to keep the hope out of her tone. “You see how this would be good for Khusha, correct? We could avoid a full war, strengthen our inter-relationships on all fronts - ”

“Gwen.” Prince Alarik finally spoke, and Gwen stopped dead. His eyes were heavy with fear and sadness. “...What were you thinking?”

Stunned, Gwen frowned and looked away for the first time in shame. “I...” She shook her head, looking back up at him, her eyes pleading with him. “Surely... surely you understand my position, Prince? There are no downsides for Khusha, you would only see benefits - ”

Prince Alarik shook his head and rose from his throne. The councilmen bowed and stepped aside. “For Khusha? Gwen, I fear for Yloria! Are you even listening to yourself?!” His voice shook as he spoke, and he looked desperately to Sir Emerick. “You would allow her to do this?” Prince Alarik's tone was getting louder – more emotional – and Gwen shrunk back. Emerick looked away, and he stared instead at the rest of the party. “Lord Dimamire?! The rest of you – I – I understand Yloria isn't your home, but – is that why you recruited them in the first place, Gwen?!”

Gwen shook her head. “No, no, of course - ”

“Then why would none of them have stopped you?!”

Gwen stole a glance at Emerick, who was keeping his head bowed. Tears were pricking at Gwen's eyes, and she looked back at her party – her comrades who fought so bravely alongside her – who risked their lives on no reason aside from the fact that she'd conscripted them. Some did not even make it to this hall.

Gwen let the heavy silence hang in the hall for a few painful moments, then she watched Prince Alarik's eyes widen. “...You lied to them about your intentions?” he hissed.

“No, I would never - ”

“Then you omitted the truth?”

There was nothing Gwen could say to that. The tiara atop her head held such power that she was used to people obeying her every word without needing an explanation. Gwen turned again to look at her party. No – her comrades – whom she trusted more than she deserved to. “...I'm sorry,” she whispered, too low for the royal council to hear.

Prince Alarik's red eyes appeared filled with true fire. “Then shall I enlighten them on why they were being dragged across the entire realm on your bidding?” he asked scornfully, turning his attention on Gwen's makeshift army. Gwen looked at the floor. “Did you four not once wonder what exactly a Ylorian princess could offer the Lochesterian Queen that her father could not – or, more accurately, would never?”

“Alarik - ”

“Maybe a bit of a history lesson is in order here,” the prince huffed, glaring at Gwen. “I suppose this isn't exactly common knowledge, but a deal was struck between Yloria and Lochester many, many moons ago. Before Queen Eleonora took the throne, she requested King Leonius's second-born daughter – or firstborn, should the second be a son – to marry into the Lochesterian royalty. Despite doctor recommendations, King Leonius agreed in exchange for peace – which left Yloria without a queen, Princess Gwendolyn without a mother, and Prince Hendrick without a wife.”

Gwen turned fully around to her party, frowning, and continued where Prince Alarik had stopped. “...We did not rock the boat for many years – we felt we couldn't without a peace deal in place. And when we finally decided to amend our outdated laws and welcome all races within our borders, well, that brings us to present day.”

“So,” Prince Alarik continued, “you honestly thought that the best solution to this crisis – I cannot believe I'm actually saying this – was to abandon your homeland entirely – forfeit all royal power – and become nothing more than a – a housewife. A wet nurse, even – to pass on your genetics to Lochesterian royalty, and to leave the Ylorian royal family tree broken?!”

Gwen winced. “I – I see no other solution at this point – and I would not be powerless! Er, well, perhaps technically, but my voice will not fall on deaf ears. If Queen Eleonora and Prince Hendrick will not listen to me, then I can at the very least raise the next heir of Lochester to have a different viewpoint.”

Prince Alarik scoffed. “You truly believe they would listen to anything that came out of your mouth? Perhaps they would agree to this deal if only to weaken Yloria, but you would be silenced the moment you spoke anything out of line.” He hesitated, gritting his teeth. “...and all of that is assuming you didn't inherit your mother's constitution when it comes to childbearing, and let all this effort be nothing more than a footnote in the history books...”

Gwen reached automatically for her sword as blind anger controlled her arm. Every surrounding guard drew their weapon. Emerick stepped forward and muttered something into Gwen's ear. Gwen put her sword away and merely narrowed her eyes instead. “How dare you...! This is not about me – this is not about Yloria – this is about all of the realm. I desire far more than peace – I want equality!” She jabbed a finger backwards. “Do you see my comrades? Look at them, Alarik! Vampires, werewolves, magical humans – what should it matter?! And unless something changes in Lochester, it will ALWAYS matter!” She stepped forward, her gaze steely. “If you were in my position, what would you do?! Live the rest of your life with horrible guilt that you were the one person who could change the world, and instead you chose to sit in your comfortable palace and do nothing?!”

“Enough!” One of the councilmen shouted. The guards raised their weapons. Prince Alarik shook his head and turned around. “Princess, I'm sorry to say that the council disagrees with Zlelmore's position and thinks it best we send you back home. The repercussions from Yloria are more a danger to us than the possibility of any future benefit with Lochester could justify.”

Gwen bit her lip. “No – Alarik, please, you must see reason - !”

“Lord Dimamire,” the councilman continued, “I do not know how you got caught up in this mess, but you are pardoned. You have the Khushian council's utmost apologies for this hassle, and we will ensure Yloria is held accountable for this lapse in good judgment. As for the rest of you – guards!”

Three armored Khushian guards came toward each of them, save for Dimmy, and Gwen drew her sword. “Hey!” the guard shouted, parrying Gwen's desperate swings until the two others restrained her arms. Sir Emerick did not resist, and accepted his fate without further hassle.

“To the dungeons,” the councilman continued, “until the Ylorian guards come for the princess, and the others as well, I suppose. Council adjourned!”

There was a flurry of assent and Gwen squirmed helplessly against her captors briefly, but the difference in strength made it worthless.

They were led down a set of stairs that became increasingly darker and cooler. Gwen, Lyn, and Sylvia were led into one cell, while Ral and Emerick were led into one on the opposite side. Gwen couldn't even see Emerick.

Given Khusha's long history of peace, it was clear the dungeons were not used much. There was a steady stream of water leaking from the ceiling and cracks in the foundation. They were likely deep underground.

Gwen turned away from Lyn and Sylvia and smacked the stone wall in frustration, then sunk to the ground. Damn it – why would Zlelmore send them here?! Did they have no idea of the loyalty Khusha had to her father?! “I... I'm so sorry...” Gwen muttered, then looked shamefully back at Lyn and Sylvia. “This is all my fault. I should never have brought you here. I swear on my life, I will repay you.”
 

Minteh

It's so shiny!
Lyn Grier
Khusha (Nightshade Manor)

Lyn spent several minutes at the vanity, continuing to stare at herself and the Khushan outfit. Although there wasn't much to do to it, she tried her best to try and smooth it out, or try and adjust it so she didn't feel so exposed. But alas, nothing she did seemed to make it any better, nor her any more comfortable. By the time she had relented in trying to fix the outfit for herself, servants returned to the room and ushered the ladies out to reunite with their male companions. Much like Gwen, upon seeing them all, Lyn found herself blinking in disbelief at them. They too had been dressed in similar Khushan garments. Dimmy, a native to this kingdom, looked more natural and at ease in the clothing. Emerick and Ral looked as out of sorts and uncomfortable as she and Sylvia felt.

"My don't you all look handsome,"Lyn commented, a small smile accompanying her words as she tried to lighten the mood a little. She then listened as Gwen and Emerick talked among themselves, with the latter asking Gwen if she would prefer him in his armour, in an attempt to clearly change into something more comfortable for himself. Gwen was quick to assure him that there would be no need as they would be quite safe in the capital. After Gwen responded to a comment made about her carrying a sword, she turned to the others to ask whether they were prepared, to which Lyn gave a curt nod.

**

Khushian Capital (Royal Palace)

Without the sunning beating down upon them, the air was refreshingly cool. Lyn was glad for it - the heat had been oppressively hot earlier in the day. As well as being cooler, the capital was notably more active now, but with a high vampire population, it made sense that their residents would avoid the sunlight in the day. As they walked, Lyn noted that nobody really seemed to pay them any mind, and that the few people who did interact with them - mostly merchants looking to sell their wares - did not seem to treat them unusually. Although there was one odd moment when one man rather confidently approached her and referred to her as "Lady Bea". When she gave him a confused expression in return, he seemed to look at more closely, before admitting he was mistaken and hurrying off into the dark. She watched him go with a curious expression, but thought little else of the encounter as they made their way through the capital.

Eventually, they made their way to the palace. As they approached, the guards bowed and permitted them entrance without so much as a word exchanged between them. They were deeper and deeper inside the castle, until eventually making it to the throne room, where Lyn finally got to lay eyes on Prince Alarik of Khusha. Sat on silver throne, flanked on both sides by his councilmen - both vampires and humans - the prince cut an impressive figure. Although she did not know much of the history of Khusha, if she had to make an educated guess, she would have guessed that the man portrayed in the stained glass portrait to the left of the prince was his father or another immediate relative such as an uncle or cousin.

As Gwen and Alarik began to talk, Lyn was initially not listening much to the start of the conversation, much more interested in the architecture of the throne room and the other people inhabiting it. But when she heard Alarik accuse Gwen of lying to the group, she snapped to attention as if this had been said personally to her. From then on she listened intently, her face a mask of cool indifference, hiding the true feelings of hurt, confusion, and annoyance swirling around inside her mind. On one hand she could understand Gwen's reasoning for what she did, even with her loose grasp of the politics of other kingdoms. But on another hand she was deeply hurt by the fact that even after all this time they had not been told the entire truth.

A sharp word from Gwen did not go down well, and a councilman yelled at her to stop what she was saying, with Alarik quick to inform her that council had disagreed with Zlelmore's position, and believed it best to send her home. Although Gwen tried to beg for the prince to see reason, her pleas fell on deaf ears. The councilman from before cut in and pardoned Dimmy for his involvement in the schemes, before the rest of the group were ordered to be taken to the dungeons. Gwen resisted the guard coming to restrain her, attempting to fight back, until two more came and restrained her arms. Like, Emerick, Lyn did not put up much of a fight when the guards approached her, though she suspected both she and the knight had slightly different reasons for not resisting.

The five of them were lead away from the throne room and down a set of stairs that became darker and cooler. The three ladies were led into one cell, and Ral and Emerick into one on the opposite side. Once again they had been split.

Once in the cell, Lyn stood where she was for a moment, trying to get her bearings in this cell. Meanwhile Gwen smacked the wall in frustration and sunk to the floor. “I... I'm so sorry...” Gwen muttered, looking shamefully between Lyn and Sylvia. “This is all my fault. I should never have brought you here. I swear on my life, I will repay you.”

Lyn merely looked away, choosing to sit cross legged on the floor and lean back against the stony wall opposite Gwen without a word. She dipped a finger in a small puddle of water that had formed from the water leaking in from the ceiling. "You should have told us sooner," Lyn finally said, not bothering to lift her head up to look at the princess. "It was wrong of you to keep your secret from us for so long. Especially after what happened outside of Miredom."
 
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