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


Raleigh Ferghus Eachainn
Khushian Royal Palace

The look of fear on Lyn's face had stung more than any blade ever could - and Raleigh had been stabbed by a fair share of blades in his time. Perhaps asking her not to hate him had been too unreasonable a request. And yet, if only he'd let his gaze linger a moment longer, he might've caught the worry on her face. But he'd turned and left in a hurry instead, too ashamed to look his saviour in the eye. A monster had no such right.

Raleigh had barely managed to reach Gwen and Dimmy, when more guards poured into the scene. These ones were Ylorian, but that did not mark them allies. What followed was a heated exchange between a father and a daughter, both desperate to convince the other. When the former ordered Emerick to seize the princess, Raleigh's body shifted as if in preparation to intervene - but it turned out there was no need. In the end, Emerick chose the princess. Like her, he chose Yloria.

The guards chose otherwise.

Before Raleigh could act, shadows leapt at the guards to restrain them as well. Startled, the Lochesterian looked to his hands as if unsure whether he'd been the cause - only for his attention to be stolen by a peculiar man floating near the ceiling. The figure cackled like a twisted hag, pointing a finger at him. He spoke out loud the words Raleigh hadn't dared to for years; dark magic, a power him and this fiend seemed to share. The words alone made his heart beat faster in shame and regret. Had he made a mistake displaying his powers so openly? Being revealed as an abomination had been but a matter of time, but he hadn't thought how it would reflect on the princess and her cause.

"She did not know," Raleigh insisted, anger seeping into his exhausted tone. "None of them did. It was through my lies that I--"

The sorcerer paid him no mind. Raleigh had assumed him an enemy, but he offered the princess a gift instead; all of their gear, returned to them in a flash of magic. Astonished, the Lochesterian held his lance as one would a long-lost friend. It had taken many a life, but it had also saved his more times than he could count. It was his blood-soaked brother in arms. But why did...? Wait, did the king call him Glikore? So that was---

Raleigh had no time to dwell on that thought further. Emerick walked up to him, entrusting the princess to him. Raleigh looked at him, incredulous. "Me? Surely you jest. You know what I a-"

“Hurry!” Gwen called.

Raleigh did as he was told and hoisted Dimmy over his shoulder. As expected, the vampire protested with words and fists alike, but to no avail. His desperate punches were little more than an annoyance against his armour.

"Behave," the soldier hissed to his captive, "Or this will be even more uncomfortable for you."

Gwen's approach was different, and arguably more effective. She managed to coax directions from the vampire, though he still didn't seem to agree with the situation. Raleigh was about to butt in, only for someone else to beat him to it. Someone unexpected.

The Lochesterian looked back at Lyn with startled awe. He had... he had yet to hear cuss, or truly show her irritation in a manner like that, and, well.

Whatever argument he'd meant to present, Raleigh swallowed back and bent his neck into a bow. "Yes, m'am."


Well-Known Member
Princess Gwendolyn
Khushian Royal Palace -> Dragon Keep

Dimmy still had the energy to snap back at her even whilst hanging off the back of Ral like one of the palace chefs bringing a large hare back from the market. Gwen frowned at him, the seriousness of his words and the heaviness of what they'd just been through overriding the humour of that simile. “Zlelmore has made it clear they don't wish to stop me, and the war will be over by the time the other two kingdoms can catch up.” Gwen's expression steeled. “Even so, let them try. I would rather they race me to Lochester than continue to fight each other.” Dimmy pointed the way with his arm, but made sure to clarify he wasn't helping because he had any belief in her cause. Gwen hesitated before taking off, feeling shameful as she met Dimmy's eyes. “I... I know it means nothing now, but I truly did not wish to involve Khusha. I expected Alarik would react this way and did not ever intend on trying negotiations... I, er, also did not anticipate Zlelmore to help so enthusiastically. I'm sorry you got caught up in the political drama, Dimmy. Truly.” She turned away, gesturing for Ral to follow her. “But whether you wish it or not, I can't risk leaving any of you here to deal with the fallout with Yloria on your own.” Lyn was very openly having her patience eroded as well, though she and Sylvia were at least cooperative enough to walk on their own, and Gwen was fairly sure Ral was going to choose death the next time he was offered help by random strangers.

The palace hallways eventually opened into a large outdoor training field adjacent to the royal gardens, and Gwen perked up as she finally recognized where she was. The dragon keep – a large stone enclosure on the far side of the field - was unsurprisingly unguarded, as the entirety of the Khushian guard was obviously engaged elsewhere. Gwen hoisted open the large metal latch that held together a tall steel door, and it slowly creaked open. Dozens of eyes blinked at her from the darkness. Gwen turned to the left, just as she remembered Prince Alarik showing off all those years ago, and grabbed a set of keys hidden among the stone.

Giant enclosures lined either side, secured with heavy iron bars on one side and stone on the other. As Gwen's eyes adjusted to the low light, impressive winged beasts of various sizes, shapes, and colours came into view. These dragons had been hand raised from eggs and were very used to humans, but they still sniffed and growled lowly at the unfamiliar scents. “Hold on,” Gwen warned the others quietly, then walked slowly past the line of dragons as the growling steadily grew in intensity.

At the very end of the line, a smaller pale red dragon sniffed curiously as Gwen approached, her golden eyes brightening as Gwen smiled and reached an arm out to rest on her nose. “Hey, Rosie...” Gwen muttered, relief flooding over her as the dragon purred and nuzzled into her hand like an oversized house cat. It was incredible how much she'd grown in seven years; she was significantly larger than a horse, her currently folded wings threatening to quadruple that estimate once unfurled.

“Roseblood likes you,” an eleven-year-old Prince Alarik chuckled as Gwen stroked the dragon hatchling out in the Ylorian palace fields. The young royals had snuck away from the royal proceedings after Alarik promised Gwen that the Khushian kingdom was hiding something much cooler outside. “Father says I can start to ride her in a few years when she gets bigger. I hatched her myself, you know.”

Alarik was such a braggart when he was a child. Gwen would have laughed at the memory if it didn't seem so distant given recent events. Since that day, the young heirs would slip away from the stuffy royal proceedings to play with the Khushian dragons whenever they found an opportunity. She doubted Alarik ever thought she would use this knowledge against his kingdom. It was for the greater good...

Gwen matched the key with the engraved ruby to the ruby on the lock, and Roseblood trotted out, looking curiously around as if wondering where her master was, but with the placidity of a housecat. The other dragons calmed after seeing Roseblood's reaction, and the growling quieted down.

Gwen tossed the keys to Lyn, but spoke to all four of them. “Pick one, or share one of the larger ones. These dragons only know how to fly to three places – each of the three kingdoms. Khusha hasn't seen war in eons. They are nothing more than showy horses in this day and age.” Gwen hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. She'd technically ridden on Roseblood before, but with Alarik, and more than a year ago.


Raleigh Ferghus Eachainn
Khushian Royal Palace

Emerging from the palace's winding hallways into open air, Raleigh breathed in as if they'd already made it. He received a very quick reminder that they had not: the air was hot and stuffy, with a mercilessly hot sun blaring down on the small stretch of field. They were still far, far away from Lochester, with no conceivable way to get there in time.

Raleigh turned to Gwen, but she was already halfway across the field by the time he managed to word his question. So instead of shouting after her, he followed.

The group entered a giant stone enclosure, and at the sight of a dozen eyes opening to stare at them, Raleigh's free hand practically flew to his lance. His grip on Dimmy tightened, and the words he managed to get out were punctuated by gasps. "What... are--"

Dragons, Raleigh realized almost as fast. He'd seen them before, though only from far away, and only against the backdrop of an open sky. Seeing them trapped in dark enclosures, snarling at the sight of strangers like scared dogs made his stomach turn. This was not how one was supposed to treat such majestic animals. But of course Khusha of all places would not care, the barbarians they were.

Raleigh looked at the vampire dangling on his shoulder with contempt.

"Princess, it's dangerous," he tried, taking a careful step after her, but she seemed to have the situation under control. She made quick friends with one she seemed to know by name, then instructed the rest of them to pick their own. Raleigh was taken aback, gaze sweeping over the dragons that now regarded them with curiosity rather than caution.

"Are we to... ride them?" He was equal parts appalled and fascinated by the suggestion. Was there a person alive who hadn't wondered what it'd feel like to fly? But to call them showy horses... He sighed. They had little choice. Tempest was dear to him, but there was no time to get him, and no way the gelding could take them to Lochester fast enough. He could only hope the Khushians didn't hurt him meanwhile. "... Understood."

"Lady Ly-- that is... Lyn," Raleigh coughed, approaching her with a polite nod, though he didn't dare meet her gaze. The memory of her fearful expression was still all too fresh in his mind. "If you would." He gestured towards a large black dragon nearby, its enclosure still locked. "We have cargo, so we should take one that can support all three of us. I would not have you ride alone."

At the word cargo, he adjusted his grip on the vampire, eager to offload him the second an enclosure was opened.


Internet Overlord
Lord Dimamire Nightshade
Khusha (Palace)

As the group continued towards the gardens with his directions, Dimmy could hear Lyn behind the rest of them complaining about Khusha. As if it was Khusha's fault the lot of them had brought trouble into their very palace.

Dimmy had given up on beating at Ral when Gwen asked him for directions, now little more than a rag doll over the soldier's shoulder. Sure he could assault him with magic, but aside from being unnecessarily cruel, the soldier would probably react with spooky magic of his own and Dimmy wanted no part in that. All he could really do now was wait until they reached their destination and hope to make his escape then.

Besides he was tried, very sore and so very tired. No. It was more than that, he wasn't simply tired. He was hungry. He was not in a good position to bite Ral, but the idea of doing so was becoming increasingly tempting. A big strong Lochesterian like that must have a lot of blood too.

They'd made it to the dragon paddocks now, and Gwen was letting one out, detracting Dimmy's attention from his hunger for a moment. Though a well trained dragon was gentle enough, it still wasn't a good idea for an untrained person to be handling them, and he was pretty sure they were all very much untrained. She instructed them to get out at least one more dragon, comparing them to horses. Well, in concept that was fair, but they were still dragons. He started to protest over Ral's conversation with her and Lyn, catching only some of it. “Princess! None of us are trained ride dragons! They may be well trained, but I assure you they are still - Did you just f-king call me cargo?”

Dimmy lost all interest in warning the princess of the danger she was potentially putting them in, nor was he any longer thinking about finding a means of escape, his attention full back on Ral. And he was certain he was going to enjoy preying on him as soon as he got a chance.


It's so shiny!
Lyn Grier
Khushian Royal Palace

After venting her frustrations to no one in particular, Lyn seemed to cool off a little bit, though she could feel the tinder still inside of her waiting for just a small spark to set her off again. She tailed the group silently, eyes focused on Gwen as she led them outside to a stone enclosure which turned out to be the dragon keep. Lyn had not known what they were walking into here, so seeing the dozens of pairs of eyes staring at them unsettled her greatly and she stepped behind Raleigh slightly. When she realised she was actually looking at dragons Lyn found herself oddly taken by them. She had never seen a dragon before though she knew they existed obviously through books or weary travellers with a few tales to share passing through her home. Caged they might have been, they were a marvel to look at.

"Princess, it's dangerous," Raleigh said, trying to get Gwen to back away. However, by the way in which Gwen approached one and then calmly let it out she clearly knew what she was doing. Or at least more than the three of them.

After leading the pink dragon out, Gwen tossed the keys to Lyn who caught them deftly. She looked down at them momentarily as though unsure what to do with them before Gwen spoke, “Pick one, or share one of the larger ones. These dragons only know how to fly to three places – each of the three kingdoms. Khusha hasn't seen war in eons. They are nothing more than showy horses in this day and age.”

"Lady Ly-- that is... Lyn," Raleigh coughed, grabbing her attention away from the keys. "If you would." He gestured towards a large black dragon nearby, one that had admittedly caught Lyn's attention too. "We have cargo, so we should take one that can support all three of us. I would not have you ride alone."

"Did you just f-king call me cargo?” Dimmy snapped.

With Raleigh's suggestion in mine, Lyn gripped the keys tightly in her hand for a moment. "I suppose now is a bad time to admit I've never ridden a horse before," She said hurriedly, hoping no one had really paid much attention to her words as she moved. Since Gwen's dragon had a similar key, Lyn assumed that the black dragon before her would have a similarly appropriate key. And sure enough she correct - selecting a dark wrought iron key that although it didn't look as neat or polished as some of the other keys had clearly been made by a professional. Unlocking the door to the dragon's enclosure, Lyn stepped into the doorway, earning a warning hiss for her troubles. She kept the door open and stepped further inside but did not stray too close to the beast. She had been around enough animals to know a caged animal could be just as - if not more - dangerous than a wild one.

Standing where she was and trying her best not to be dissuaded by the low grumbling coming from the dragon, Lyn lifted up her hand and kept it there for the dragon to approach. The dragon inched forward tentatively, sniffing the air as it moved as though trying to discern if Lyn was a friend or foe. "Easy now," Lyn said. "Easy. We won't hurt you." Well, I won't at least, Lyn added silently in her mind. I can't say the same for Raleigh and Dimmy who might yet kill each other before the night is over.

Although Lyn's encouragement had caused the dragon to retreat, it seemed to sense that Lyn was no immediate threat. It sniffed Lyn's hand cautiously, blowing hot breath against her palm before it cautiously bumped its snout against her hand. This seemed to establish some tentative bond between the two allowing Lyn to lead the beast out of its enclosure. Standing more in the open, Lyn could see it was a larger beast than Rosebud, with dark black scales that seemed to look blue in certain light. Most notably this dragon seemed more warn and hardened than Gwen's dragon, bearing a deep scar down its nose that had long since healed. The black dragon eyed the group cautiously, letting out a low rumble as though still unsure whether it could fully trust them or not.

"Well, I'm no expert but I think this dragon might be willing to help us," Lyn said a little nervously, wincing slightly when she caught the dragon looking at her as if to say "We'll see."

Lyn then looked over to Gwen. "So...how does one ride a dragon?"


Well-Known Member
Princess Gwendolyn
Khushian Royal Palace (Dragon Keep)

Four faces stared incredulously at Gwen, who kept her expression even. She clicked her tongue gently and Roseblood followed her over to a wall where various saddles, harnesses, and weapons were hung. She answered her comrades' questions and concerns without turning to face them.

"Are we to... ride them?"

“Yes, we are to ride them.”

“Princess! None of us are trained to ride dragons! They may be well trained, but I assure you they are still...”

“If you've survived the journey to this point, you will survive this too.”

"I suppose now is a bad time to admit I've never ridden a horse before...”

“Then I would agree with Ral's suggestion to ride with him.”

Honestly, she'd expected more pushback. As dismissive as she was to them, they were right to be concerned. Lyn even managed to persuade an older dragon out of its pen. Roseblood curiously turned her neck to sniff the other dragon, who blew smoke out its nose in response. “What's its name?” Gwen asked. “It should be written somewhere on the pen and the key, though I know it's hard to see in the low light. It'll help for directing it.” Sylvia seemed a touch more eager than the others, and released a small jet-black dragon with blood-red scales who seemed happy to be free of its pen. According to Sylvia, its name was Arrowhead. Arrowhead bounded over and both Roseblood and the older dragon growled lowly at it.

"So...how does one ride a dragon?" Lyn asked.

“For our purposes... just don't fall off,” Gwen suggested, tossing a saddle over to Sylvia and bringing a second down for herself. It took her a second to locate a three-person saddle, but she eventually did and rolled it over to the other three. “Attach it as you would to a horse, but be mindful of the extra straps. Please ensure they are secured tightly,” Gwen instructed. “We won't need the harnesses; those are for training.” She was starting to wonder if Arrowhead was fully trained, but they didn't have much time. Gwen swung the saddle over Roseblood's back, just above her wings and before her neck, and talked while tightening the straps. “Ral, you take the front seat of that dragon. If needed, you can use your lance to direct it; just tap gently on either side of the beast's neck, and it will know to turn.”

Gwen hoisted herself onto Roseblood's back and tapped gently with her feet like she would a horse. Roseblood strode confidently out of the dragon keep, and Gwen waved for the others to follow. Now or never. “Alright, Rosie; to Lochester!”

Roseblood raised her neck at the command and tensed before leaping into the sky and pumping her powerful wings rhythmically. Gwen lurched forward and clung to Roseblood's neck as they rose steadily from the ground, the Khushian palace getting smaller and smaller with every wingbeat. The others followed shortly, and once they were a considerable distance in the air, Gwen could see several Khushian soldiers rush onto the scene. She was too far up to see their expressions but imagined they were gaping at them. She wondered if anybody had ever stolen the royal dragons before. She doubted it.

Roseblood emitted a pleasant hum as she led the way, clearly pleased to be outside. Gwen gripped both the saddle and the deeper red scales that pointed up on Roseblood's neck tightly. The last time she did this, her arms were clutched around Alarik's midsection the entire ride. Still, Gwen couldn't help but smile at the freedom and adrenaline the ride brought. Finally, they were free and headed in the right direction. Arrowhead shot past them and had to circle back (Gwen was pleased to see that Sylvia was still on it). Gwen glanced back; the older dragon was doing quite well considering it had three charges on its back. “Everyone doing okay back there?” Gwen yelled to the others.


It's so shiny!
Lyn Grier
Khushian Royal Palace (Dragon Keep)

As the group continued to gather its bearings, Gwen asked what the name of the dragon was that Lyn had retrieved. Lyn in turn raised a brow, half expecting to have to make a name up on the spot, until Gwen elaborated that the name should have been on the key Lyn possessed. As Lyn looked the key over, Sylvia fetched her own dragon, leading out a smaller jet black dragon with blood-red scales. If ever there were a more fitting dragon for a rider then they were certainly looking at it. According to Sylvia, its name was Arrowhead. Like the plant, Lyn thought with a hint of amusement. Arrowhead seemed to be quite pleased with being free from its cage but Rosebud and the elder dragon Lyn had led out seemed less enthused if their low growling was anything to go by.

Gwen set about finding saddles for the dragons, explaining how to attach them and that the best advice for riding a dragon (or at least riding a dragon in this situation) was to not fall off. Since Lyn had never ridden nor saddled a horse, she left that duty to either Dimmy or Raleigh. But before they did, she examined the key she held, searching for a name. As Gwen had said, there was indeed a name engraved on the key, small and faded but there nevertheless. "Hemlock," Lyn read aloud.

The dragon perked its head up slightly, and for a brief moment seemed a little less grumpy. "Hemlock," Lyn repeated, watching the dragon's reactions carefully. "That's your name isn't it?" She looked directly at the dragon who flared its nostrils in response. Lyn took that for a yes. "What a fine name," She complimented.

After the saddles had all been put on, Gwen told Raleigh to sit at the front of the saddle. Lyn was almost going to argue against that but decided it was probably wise since she had never ridden anything like that before. "I'll sit in the middle I think," Lyn said, looking between the two men. "Besides I'm not sure if you two would play nice the entire flight."

Once everyone was on their dragons, Gwen led them out. She guided Rosebud out of the dragon keep as one would a horse and with a single command the dragon took to the skies. Arrowhead followed first, and Hemlock took up the rear, launching up into the air with a set of large wings, that were in surprisingly good condition despite the rest of the dragon looking as though it had been through a few fights in its time. Lyn had initially kept an arm on both of the men currently riding Hemlock with her - one arm on Raleigh's waist and the other hooked around Dimmy's leg (or as best she could manage). However, as soon as they had taken flight and lurched in their saddle, Lyn had wrapped both arms around Raleigh, squeezing so tight for a moment it was a miracle he didn't snap in half on the ascent and had her head buried in his back too afraid to look down. Lyn could just about hear Gwen calling out to them from up ahead, but couldn't muster the strength to respond back that loud. So she had to suffice with a muffled "Just fine!" which would only have been heard by Raleigh and Dimmy.


Internet Overlord
Lord Dimamire Nightshade
Khusha (Palace) > Sky (Dragonback)

Dimmy continued to fume over his situation and fantasize about crunching into Ral's neck as Lyn went into the enclosure of a big old black dragon and coaxed it out. It was the kind of dragon that looked like it was either tamed from years of experience or the worst possible choice for the novice now asking them how one rides a dragon.

Gwen said they just need to hang on, which as long as the dragons were in fact acting like carrier pigeons, would be sufficient assuming they'd saddled them properly. Something none of them had done either. But given Gwen wasn't listening to any warnings so far, Dimmy didn't figure there was any point in issuing more. So he just waited for his chance to escape while the dragons were named and saddled. Afterward Lyn suggest a seating order, to which Dimmy objected, “We wouldn't, but I'm not coming.”

Yet somehow, he found himself on the dragon behind Lyn who was holding onto his leg to keep him from jumping off at the last moment. She grabbed onto Ral as soon as they took off, but Dimmy also reflexively braced (albeit awkwardly, because it was a choice of just using the saddle or also grabbing the young woman in front of him) before realizing this was the moment he was waiting for. Looking back at the ground he reconsidered his plan of jumping, even if he could survive the drop, it was going to be an awfully painful impact.

After flying a while Gwen called back at them, and Lyn made some sort of reply, though Dimmy was having trouble focusing on what was being said. He was not however having trouble focusing on Lyn's external jugular. He looked away, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes. He then set the other hand on Lyn's shoulder and leaned in to speak in her ear. He wanted to make sure she heard him clearly and understood, “Miss, there's something I should probably tell you. I'm doing my best, but I don't think I can control my bloodlust much longer.”


Raleigh Ferghus Eachainn
Khushian Royal Palace

With the vampire spewing vitriol and Lyn admitting to never riding a horse before, Raleigh was quickly realizing how unprepared they were to take to the skies. He'd seen grown men break arms, legs and skulls when uncooperative horses flung them off their backs, and that was without an open sky to plummet from. He could only imagine what would happen if they failed to control a dragon mid-ride.

Maybe bleeding out in a desert hadn't been such a bad way to go after all.

"Showy horses," Raleigh mumbled under his breath, hoping enough repetition would make it true. "Nothing more than showy horses."

A low rumble yanked the Lochesterian from his thoughts. Lyn had approached the dragon he'd pointed out to her, and it didn't seem thrilled. Reflexively, Raleigh moved closer, hand hovering near his lance - but not quite on it, so as not to startle the beast further. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be a need to intervene; luck or skill, Lyn managed to establish an understanding with the dragon quickly enough. And, as hey made their preparations for take off without further incident, Raleigh started to wonder whether there was hope for them yet.

Khushian Skies

There was no hope for them, none at all, and Raleigh had been a fool to ever think otherwise. He was going to die, here and now. If not from wind-induced asphyxiation, then from his rib cage shattering in Lyn's grasp and puncturing a lung. He couldn't decide which was worse, but he knew which one was more likely. Where did she get strength like that from?!

Having only ridden a horse, the unfortunate soldier hadn't realized how harsh the wind would be during ascent, nor that sitting at the front would make him face the brunt of it. He'd been robbed of half his senses in an instant; eyes forced shut, skin whipped numb and ears filled with a howl louder than that of a dozen hungry wolves. He'd long since lost feeling in his hands, strained white from trying to hold on, and the only reason he knew his grip held was that they were still moving upwards.

And then, gradually, they slowed, finding their place in the sky. The wind fought against them less, and their horizontal orientation was more reminiscent of horseback.

Raleigh still couldn't breathe, though.

"L-Lyn, please, if you... would..." Raleigh gasped, glancing over his shoulder. While a part of him was glad Lyn had trusted him enough to hold on - and that he'd helped her stay on the damn dragon despite feeling like he'd fall any second - breathing took precedence over joy. He dared let go of the dragon's spikes with one hand to gently pat at Lyn's own, hoping to bring her attention to it. He didn't have the heart to forcibly tear her grip open, not even when dying, out of fear of hurting her. Besides, she didn't need to let go completely, as long as she-- hm?

With his gaze fixed behind him, Raleigh noticed the vampire lay a hand on Lyn's shoulder - and bring his cursed fangs all too close to her for comfort. He said something, but the words were stolen by the wind, and Raleigh had already decided it was nothing good anyhow.

He had to strain himself to shout, "What... do you think you're--- doing?!" Whether or not Lyn's death grip had loosened, Raleigh tried to reach backwards to move Lyn to his front for protection and impose himself between the two - all the while trying not to fall.

Perhaps it was good he hadn't caught Gwen's question.


Well-Known Member
Princess Gwendolyn
Khushian Royal Palace (Dragon Keep)

It wouldn't be long now; Lochester drew nearer with every wingbeat. Roseblood's head dipped curiously as the earth beneath them melded from fields of sand and rocks to rich soil and clusters of trees. Gwen wondered how often the royal dragons ventured to Lochester – she couldn't imagine it was frequent. The Southern Sea was visible on their right, which meant they were heading in the right direction.

Her party hadn't answered if they were all doing okay. Perhaps the wind had stolen her question. They all appeared to still be on the dragons, and that was about as well as she could ask of them. The dragon carrying the trio appeared older than Roseblood and Arrowhead, and Gwen was getting the sense that Roseblood was watching Hemlock to gauge if they were heading in the right direction.

Eventually, the stone walls of Lochester came into view. Gwen gently drew her sword and directed Roseblood toward an open clearing within the palace grounds. The Lochesterian royal castle towered the highest in the land, and for no other purpose than that title. From perches on the tower, several Lochesterian guards were gawking at them and, more alarmingly, raising nocked bows.

“Down, Rosie,” Gwen whispered as Rosie gracefully touched down and retracted her wings. Gwen sprung off her and withdrew her sword, instead holding her arms out to the armed guards. “Ceasefire! Stand down!” she commanded. The guards hesitantly obeyed, perhaps less because she'd ordered it, and more because she was close enough for them to recognize her.

The Ylorian princess!” “Alert the queen!” “Are those dragons?!” Lochester didn't seem nearly as prepared for her arrival as Khusha had. That was probably a good thing. Gwen turned and put a hand to her forehead to squint up at the sky. Arrowhead landed clumsily, but Sylvia jumped off unharmed and even offered the beast a chuckle and a pat on the nose.

Hemlock was a bit behind the others and landed unsteadily a bit too close to Roseblood, who hissed and scrambled out of the away. Gwen didn't immediately spot the others behind the dragon's large frame, but Hemlock was still slowing himself. “See?” she said as Hemlock came to an abrupt stop, “I told you dragon riding wasn't so - ”

A terrified screech cut Gwen off, though it only lasted about half a second before Dimmy and Raleigh hit the ground in a disorganized heap. Hemlock gave an annoyed huff, as if glad to be rid of them, but craned his neck back to check on Lyn, giving a happy hum that she at least had arrived safely. Gwen stared at them for a moment, the laughter of the Lochesterian guard quickly snapping her back to attention. “Up, now” she hissed, embarrassed. A flash of red on Raleigh caught her attention. “You're bleeding...” Gwen muttered, licking her thumb and rubbing it away as if she were his mother. “Please, we're finally here, just pull yourselves together for another hour and I will make it worth your while.”

“Er, Princess?” Gwen whirled around. A guard dressed in the same armor as Raleigh hastily bowed. “Queen Eleonora wishes to speak with you. Kindly gather your... party,” the word party was laced with judgment and contempt, “and follow me.”

Gwen sighed and glared backward before walking over to Roseblood. “Good girl, Rosie,” Gwen mumbled, and the dragon purred in response. “Rest here as long as you need, then take the other dragons back to Khusha for me. And tell Alarik I'm sorry for the trouble.” Roseblood dipped her neck as if she understood. Alarik always talked to her like that, so perhaps she did. “Back to Khusha,” Gwen repeated, just in case.

The group was paraded past a fleet of Lochesterian guards, some of whom were whispering not-so-secretively either about the presence of the Ylorian princess, a vampire, or Raleigh – most of them a combination of the three oddities. They were led to a large, ornate door that Gwen knew led into the entrance chamber of Lochester's palace.

To Gwen's surprise, the door was opened by a servant to reveal a tall woman adorned in a large blue dress decorated with gold and silver lace, extravagant silver jewellery, and a large pointed silver crown embroidered with large sapphires and diamonds on top of curled navy hair - Queen Eleonora. She held the stiff, serious expression Gwen was so used to seeing at political meetings for a moment, then her face relaxed into a warm smile as her icy blue eyes fell to their party. Gwen tensed as she took a few steps forward and cupped Gwen's face in her hands. From somewhere behind her, she heard Sylvia swear under her breath. “Ah,” the queen mused as Gwen resisted the urge to break away, “Princess – well, isn't this a pleasant surprise.” Indeed, Gwen had never seen Eleonora so happy in her entire life. She released a sigh she hadn't realized she'd been holding as Eleonora straightened and turned her attention to the rest of the party with a more familiar scowl. “And these... “people”... are...?”

“My guard,” Gwen started, “they - ”

Your guard?” Eleonora gave a pointed look at Raleigh. “Where is Sir Emerick?”

Gwen frowned. “He is otherwise occupied.” She forced herself to bow to Eleonora. “I thank Lochester for the service of Sir Raleigh. We would not have made it here without his assistance.”

Eleonora stared past Gwen with an odd expression. “Hm, well, very well. Come inside, then. We can discuss over tea.” She turned abruptly and disappeared past the doors. Two servants on either side opened the grand doors wider with a bow of their heads.

Gwen turned to check on her party, intending to offer them an apologetic look for Eleonora's rudeness, but found Sylvia fighting with a familiar golden bracelet which had a vice grip on her left wrist and was vibrating so forcefully her entire forearm was shaking. Oh. Perhaps that was the reason for the queen's reaction. “I can't get the f*cking thing off,” Sylvia whisper-yelled her complaint at Gwen, whose eyes flicked to the servants. They were pretending not to notice the conversation.

As the bracelet had with Gwen when her father was nearby, it had practically sealed itself to Sylvia's wrist. How it got there in the first place, Gwen had no idea. She supposed she shouldn't put theft past Sylvia, but to do it in the chaos of getting over here without Gwen noticing seemed impossible. Now wasn't the time for accusations. “Must be a blood relative nearby...” Gwen mumbled.

Sylvia rolled her eyes. “I don't have any. My parents are both dead.”

Gwen couldn't offer a further explanation, and the delay was getting awkward, so she gestured for the others to follow her inside the castle.

All four kingdoms had castles designed to impress and outshine the others. Yloria's halls were bright and filled with greenery, Zlelmore's were designed to unnerve and show its gritty history, and Khusha's were practically a work of art in their own right. Lochester's was clearly designed to show off its grand wealth. Large pieces of art and huge statues lined the walls, the ceilings were high and painted intricately. Unnervingly, the art included tall humans slicing the heads off werewolves and stabbing vampires with jewel-encrusted daggers.

The group was led into a large room that Gwen recognized as the dining hall, though the large tables that were normally present during royal gatherings were pushed to the side, leaving only a singular table lined with lace tablecloth and several china teacups. Prince Hendrick and Prince Aldrich, the queen's two sons, nodded respectfully at Gwen and walked over as they spotted the group enter. Gwen nodded back. Eleonora took the head of the table with her two sons on either side. Several paces back from the table stood a few men Gwen assumed were advisors, and further still were several guards clad in the same armor as Raleigh. Gwen sat beside Prince Hendrick, unable to meet his curious gaze. Sylvia sat across from Gwen, with an empty seat between her and Aldrich. Gwen preferred to look at her instead. Her navy hair and lavender eyes blended in oddly well with Lochester's royal family, and even the crown on her head... Gwen could have sworn it used to be a black metal, but now it was a gorgeous silver and encrusted with diamonds and sapphires. Gwen looked back and forth between Sylvia and the queen, an action that wasn't unnoticed by Eleonora, who cleared her throat to gain attention. “Princess Gwendolyn, I presume you will introduce your guard before we begin our discussion?” she asked with a curious glance at Sylvia and an irritated tone that Gwen knew was meant to unnerve her. It was working.

“O-of course,” Gwen stuttered, breaking her gaze away from Sylvia's glowing bracelet. She opted to start at the opposite end. “With me, I have Lady Lynneth of Zlelmore, a talented herbalist and fierce warrior.” Lyn did not look the part, but Gwen was not forgetting their fight with the Khushian guards so quickly. “Lord Dimamire of Khusha, a high-ranking noble.” And very much here against his will, though Gwen chose to omit that. “And of course, Sir Raleigh of Lochester, whom we assisted on our travels and he has repaid us in kind by joining my cause and accompanying me as a formal representative.” She tried to sway her tone into one of confident finality. In her peripheral vision, Sylvia had taken to trying to bite the Sage's artifact off. She needed to change the subject. “He has quite the... interesting skillset.”

Eleonora's eyes flashed. “Oh really?” She sat with a straight, practiced poise as she glared suspiciously over at Raleigh. “Does Yloria have so few soldiers left that you had to resort to conscripting those from other nations?”

Gwen slowly shook her head. “I had an army, which was intercepted in Seaside Village by Lochesterian forces. I told them I sought royal diplomacy and was met with violence in my own kingdom.”

“Yes, well,” Eleonora huffed, “they were given orders and they performed them, nothing more. We were not particularly expecting your presence, especially given how our most recent diplomacy talks with Leonius went. Speaking of... where is he?”

Gwen met the queen's eyes, and with as much confidence as she could muster, answered with “at the Ylorian Capital dealing with a war, I would imagine. Like I said, I was sent with an army - ”

“Oh, save it, girl,” Eleonora chided. Her advisors were smirking at her. “He has been in contact. I'm well aware of the situation. You come seeking peace?”


“And you offer...” Eleonora looked her up and down, “yourself?”

Gwen bowed her head. “I do. I will forfeit all royal power under the condition that I am to marry Lochester's next in line,” (Gwen tried really hard not to blush, given Hendrick was right beside her), “that you reward and safety escort the rest of my party home, and that the Lochesterian attack on Yloria ceases immediately.”

The men near the queen muttered lowly to themselves. “Princess?” one of them spoke. “You're eighteen years old now, correct?”

“Yes.” Just barely. “April 14th.”

More muttering. “My Queen, in the absence of King Leonius's presence, she is old enough to make decisions on behalf of the Ylorian kingdom. Such is their law.”

Gwen felt her heart pick up pace. She knew this is what Lochester wanted. To have the former Ylorian princess on the throne as the consort of their Prince would be one of the greatest trophies they could achieve. A proof of power, not just in the face of Yloria, but to all three kingdoms, of what their wars can accomplish. It would bring great shame to Yloria. Gwen didn't care. The lives of her people were worth it.

“But...” the advisor continued cautiously, “to go against King Leonius's wishes... I am not sure I can advise that.”

Of course he couldn't, but Gwen could see the greed in Eleonora's eyes. “My father will see reason,” Gwen reassured. “His advisors know that this is best for not just our kingdom, but for all the realm. His qualms with this deal are personal. He will come to an understanding.” Gwen felt numb; maybe later she'd feel the harsh reality of her own words, but her focus now was desperately directed to praying Eleonora would accept her offering of peace.

Queen Eleonora rose from her throne, immediately flanked by two guards. Gwen's heart leapt as she realized she was circling to the spare seat beside Sylvia. The only reason she would do that would be to shake her hand and formally accept the deal in front of both kingdom's guards. This journey hadn't been for nothing. All the lives that were lost, all the political drama, the terror in Yloria, it would all be -

Stay the f*ck away from me!” Sylvia growled at the queen, whose two guards leapt in front of her as Sylvia bared sharp werewolf teeth. The Sage's artifact shook violently from Sylvia's wrist and began to glow a dull red. The hall erupted in anxious chatter. A third member of the guard came to pull Prince Aldrich away, and Prince Hendrick beside Gwen stood up with a look somewhere between confusion and disgust.

Gwen stood as well, her eyes again darting between Sylvia and Eleonora. No... what were the chances of that...? But as the queen and prince were pulled away, the artifact quieted. An artifact that was given to Gwen to warn her of her father – but was that really the Sage's intention? Better question - was the reason Glikore sent them to Miredom really to deliver pesticides? Why else would he help her so enthusiastically – go against her father's wishes with none of the fear Khusha held? And to swap their clothing... maybe that was why -

“Sylvia!” Gwen called, and Sylvia spun to face her, her eyes narrowed and her lips still curled into a snarl. “Your – your mother, who was she?”

Sylvia scoffed. “Not that wench,” she nodded toward the queen, who was gripping the arms of her guard and glaring maliciously between Gwen and Sylvia, “if that's what you think this piece of sh*t is implying.” She shook her wrist with a frustrated huff. “Her name was Renate Edelstein. She died when I was four.”

“What?” Gwen heard Hendrick exclaim. Similar mutterings echoed around the chamber, and Gwen wracked her brain to figure out why that name was familiar to her.

“Renate...” Gwen said. The whisperings of the Lochesterians were helping jog her memory. Eleonora looked horrified. “Wait – King Siegfried's late wife?!”

“How do you know that?” Eleonora demanded, breaking free of her guard and stomping toward Gwen with a panicked fury that Gwen had never seen on a person's face before. “That was not public information.”

Gwen tried to stay stoic. “I'm hardly a member of the public - ”

“Besides!” Eleonora practically screamed, “Renate had no children! My brother died childless!”

Gwen rose a little taller, though she still hadn't fully processed what she was about to say. “The bracelet on her wrist is a Zlelmore artifact. It vibrates when it's in the presence of direct blood relatives!” The Lochesterian army was staring at her incredulously. “Atop Sylvia's head is a crown that belongs to your kingdom through her birthright – and atop Eleonora's head is the crown that belongs to Sylvia!”

“Shut your mouth!” Eleonora snapped as the advisors and guard shifted uncomfortably. “This whole deal – this was a setup!” she seethed.

Gwen was starting to have the same thoughts about this being a setup, albeit one by Zlelmore, but she grinned with a new, wild confidence and drew her sword. “She is your queen!” Gwen yelled, pointing it to Sylvia and nodding her head respectfully before swinging it around to gesture to the rest of the room. “Bow to her! And unless you wish to marry me, Eleonora, our deal is off!”

“Enough of this nonsense!” Eleonora hissed. “Guards, seize the princess!” The corner of her mouth twitched into a twisted smile. “And kill the rest!”

Gwen spun around, about to tell her party to run, but the guards were hurriedly securing the doors to the room. It was them against an army – literally. “Call them off,” Gwen demanded, looking in panic at the others before turning back to Eleonora. “It's over, Princess – I know the truth, and unless you wish to kill me too, I will ensure the realm is well informed of it!”

“Nobody will believe you!” Eleonora screeched. “The realm thinks you've lost your head – even your own father wouldn't take you at nothing more than your word! Birthright be damned, I won't allow a werewolf to lead my people... guards!”

Gwen took a shaky breath as the Lochesterian soldiers advanced, then she looked back at her comrades with a nod. They were outnumbered, but they had strengths that the Lochesterian army simply wasn't prepared to deal with – so long as Raleigh was an odd exception and not a rule they'd kept buried deep under layers of prejudice. “Guards!” Gwen yelled, raising her sword. She sure as hell wasn't going to let them fight alone. “Attack!”


It's so shiny!
Lyn Grier
Khushian Royal Palace > Lochester

With the wind whipping all around them, Lyn almost did not hear Dimmy’s words to her. If not for the fact he had put a hand on her shoulder, leading to her turning her head more to him, his words would have likely gone unnoticed by her. Even with Lyn turning to listen, she still barely managed to make out what Dimmy had said.

“What –” Lyn went to ask, before Raleigh’s sudden shout cut her off.

"What... do you think you're--- doing?!" Raleigh shouted, before doing an incredibly risky manoeuvre in the air to try and put himself between Lyn and Dimmy. Luckily for him, his shout had caused her to loosen her grip on him, so by the time he did move back, he wouldn’t be straining to get out of her restraints. A little dazed by the current situation, Lyn suddenly found herself up front, more or less now steering the dragon. Or rather Hemlock was steering them. The old beast seemed to know what it was doing and was not in the slightest bothered by Raleigh or Dimmy’s movement. Given its age and scars, Lyn noted it had probably seen and dealt with worse in its lifetime.

“If you two could not try to kill us all again before we reach Lochester that would be great thank you,” Lyn said sarcastically as she leaned forward to hold onto one of Hemlock’s spikes. She swore she could have heard the dragon snort in agreement.

The rest of the journey to Lochester passed by fairly peacefully for Lyn (she could not say the same for her two companions). Soon the Lochester royal castle came into view and Lyn had to admit it was certainly an impressive castle. All those rumours she had heard about it being the tallest castle in the land certainly seemed true now that she could see it for herself. Ahead of Hemlock, Roseblood and Arrowhead landed within the palace grounds, and a few minutes later Hemlock followed suit. It was not a smooth landing though and as they touched down Lyn lurched forward, barely keeping herself on the dragon. At least she fared better than Raleigh and Dimmy though, given that they landed in a disorganised heap on the ground. The sight of the two men on the ground caused the nearby guards to laugh and Lyn dismounted she could hear Gwen urging them to stand an embarrassed flush on her features. When they did stand, Gwen was quick to fuss over Raleigh, making note of a smudge of blood on him which in turn drew Lyn’s attention.

“You really need to stop getting yourself hurt around me,” Lyn said to Raleigh once Gwen’s attention was caught by the guards. “It’s becoming a bit of a habit.” From what Lyn could overhear, it sounded as though the queen wished to speak with Gwen, which meant that by extension everyone would be meeting the queen today. As the party was gathered and Gwen urged the dragons to rest before returning home, Lyn took the chance to say one final thing to him as they were led inside, “Once this meeting is finished, speak with me and I can sort you out with a soothing salve.”

As they were led to the entrance chamber they soon met Queen Eleonora, who addressed Gwen in a rather formal if somewhat strange manner. She scarcely acknowledged the rest of the group, only turning to scowl at them when she asked Gwen who they were. Seemingly satisfied with Gwen’s answer, Eleonora invited them inside to discuss matters over tea. Gwen turned back to them but before she had a chance to say whatever it was she was about to say, their attention was caught by Sylvia’s struggles with a familiar bracelet that was vibrating so forcefully her entire arm was shaking. Gwen mumbled something about a blood relative nearby but Sylvia was adamant about her parents both being deceased. Still, she could have aunts and uncles or even cousins, Lyn noted. Maybe one of the guards…

After an awkward delay due to Sylvia’s struggles with the bracelet, the group eventually stepped inside and was led into a large dining room. Inside they met Eleonora’s two sons, her advisors, and a small contingent of guards wearing the same armour as Raleigh. Everyone took their seats and Lyn elected to sit between Raleigh and Dimmy again, or at the very least near to them, not wanting a repeat incident of what had happened on Hemlock. When sat down, Lyn was quick to help herself to a cup of tea, cautiously looking in the direction of the nobles when she picked up a teapot to pour herself a cup before going ahead. They did not seem too bothered by it at any rate, too busy discussing the terms of Gwen’s proposal, only acknowledging Lyn and the rest of the group when Gwen formally introduced them. Lyn sipped her tea quietly as Gwen and Eleonora spoke, keeping her face neutral but listening and observing everything that was being said. She still didn’t agree with this plan at all but they were here now and as she had said back in Khusha, she would be with them all to the end.

It appeared as though Gwen’s plans had all but been agreed upon. The queen rose and began to circle the spare seat next to Sylvia and moments later the tense peace they had all been enjoying was promptly shattered. Sylvia bared her teeth at the queen growling at her to get back causing the royal guards to step between them. What followed next was something Lyn certainly did not expect. After asking Sylvia about who her mother was, Gwen was quickly putting together the pieces that Sylvia was actually related to the royal family, and not just related but potentially a child of the late king as well. Lyn almost didn’t believe it herself but even she had to admit there was something of a shared look between Sylvian and the Lochestrian royals. The bracelet also worked in her favour too, given how it had worked to inform Gwen of her own father’s presence.

“She is your queen!” An emboldened Gwen yelled, pointing it to Sylvia and nodding her head respectfully before swinging it around to gesture to the rest of the room. “Bow to her! And unless you wish to marry me, Eleonora, our deal is off!”

“Enough of this nonsense!” Eleonora hissed. “Guards, seize the princess! And kill the rest!”

Lyn frowned a little at this. “For fu-”

“Call them off,” Gwen demanded, looking around at the rest of the group. “It's over, Princess – I know the truth, and unless you wish to kill me too, I will ensure the realm is well informed of it!”

“Nobody will believe you!” Eleonora screeched. “The realm thinks you've lost your head – even your own father wouldn't take you at nothing more than your word! Birthright be damned, I won't allow a werewolf to lead my people... guards!”

At her words, the Lochestrian guards began to advance and Lyn finally rose to her feet, her cup of tea still in hand. “Guards!” Gwen yelled as she raised her sword. “Attack!”

Lyn watched as two of the guards made a beeline for her, likely singling her out due to her unassuming appearance. Gwen had introduced her as a fierce warrior but they probably hadn’t taken that to heart. Lyn did look more like the herbalist she was rather than any sort of warrior. One of the guards took a step towards her and Lyn moved suddenly, swinging out her arm and flinging hot tea into the faces of the two guards. Both stumbled back as the liquid got into their eyes, which Lyn then used as an opportunity to approach the guard who came towards her and smash the teacup on his head. He huddled over as she did this, after which Lyn promptly drew her knee up into his chest, sending him sprawling onto the floor. He wasn’t knocked out but was certainly very winded at the very least. “It’ll take a lot more than the likes of you to kill me!” Lyn sneered.


Internet Overlord
Lord Dimamire Nightshade
Sky (Dragonback) > Lochester (Palace)

Dimmy didn't have to worry about biting Lyn for long, as Raleigh shouted, “What. . . do you think you're--- doing?!” and imposed a dangerous shuffle on her to get himself into the middle position. This was both better and worse for Dimmy, as he didn't mind trying to bite Ral, but Ral also fought back. Thus the two found themselves in a bit of a struggle, in which Dimmy didn't get much more than a nip in, and got a bit of frostbite for his trouble.

He didn't even register the dragon coming in for a landing until him and Ral were tumbling off it. Gwen hissed at them to get up, before fussing over Ral. Dimmy got to his feet, clenching his fist to the his side of his leg to try and help keep himself in control of his faculties. The discomfort and irritation probably still showed on his face though. Lyn had joined in on the fussing, offering to get Ral some healing salve after this was over. Dimmy growled in a whisper, “If you'd let me finish, that'd also have stopped the bleeding.”

The guards were quick to lead them in to meet with Queen Eleonora, who invited them to tea, and led them deeper into the castle. Dimmy felt a growing discomfort, not only was he ravenous, but he was unsettled by the grotesque artwork depicting murder of his kind. He shrank back a bit, pulling his hood up and stuck close to the group. Even Ral seemed companionable compared to the rest of his barbaric countrymen.

In the dinning room, he reluctantly took his seat, trying to maintain his fragile composure. Lyn helped by making sure she was between him and Ral. He glanced at her while Gwen and Eleonora bantered, and Sylvia struggled with her bracelet. When his own name came up, he shot a glance Eleonora's way, but said nothing for himself. It was hard to think straight and he didn't really need this murderous woman seeing his fangs anyways. Honestly it was hard to focus on anything they were saying as they rehashed Gwen's foolish plan to offer herself as tribute. He did catch that she asked that they be given safe passage home, but he seriously doubted they'd follow through on that even if they agreed on paper. She was signing a lot of death warrant right now, in his opinion.

At some point during that he notice Lyn had helped herself to some tea. . . yes, that was probably something he should do. Stiffly he poured himself a cup, adding a bit of cream and stirring it. Bringing it to his mouth he found his fangs clinking against the inside. He'd really rather have a bite right now, but at least the tea was close to body temperature.

He was able to focus his attention on that for a bit. Just long enough for **** to hit the fan. He suddenly became aware the royals were yelling, and what really made no sense was Gwen yelling, “She is your Queen,” while pointing to Sylvia

“What?” asked Dimmy suddenly, but orders were already being given. For Eleonora's guards to seize them, and then for them to attack.

Dimmy sighed heavily and set his teacup back down on it's saucer. He started to push his chair out when a rough hand landed on his shoulder. Dimmy looked at it, then at it's owner, with an expression of malice. He reached up and grabbed the guard's wrist in his own hand. He unleashed a pulse of decay magic into the guard's wrist, while announcing loudly, “I did not give you permission to touch me!”

The hand came loose from the lower arm, while the guard screamed in pain and horror. He stumbled backward and a second guard moved in, pointing a spear at Dimmy as he stood up, but looking afraid to touch him. Calmly Dimmy reached out and grabbed the spear shaft, asking, “You know how I know all the artwork out in your halls is fictional?” he sent out another weaker decay pulse, rotting the already dead wood easily, “because you're clearly not the threat you all think you are.”

He twisted his fist, the rotten spear splintering into dust, and lunged forward grabbing the guard and sinking his fangs into his neck.


Raleigh Ferghus Eachainn

Entering Lochesterian airspace should have felt like coming home, but curiously, it did not. Raleigh told himself it was just a matter of perspective. After all, he'd never seen his homeland like this before; from hundreds of feet up in the sky, eyes squinted half-shut, fighting for his life against a hungry vampire.

"Untamed beast," he snarled, trying to keep the creature at bay. Far from his neck, further yet from Lyn's.

As they started their descent into a more familiar part of Lochester, the emptiness inside Raleigh started to fill with dread and shame alike. It was as if only now, about to touch down on the very soil he'd been raised to protect, he fully understood why he was here. He didn't return home victorious, lance slick with the blood of his enemies — he came as the guard of a foreign Princess. A traitor.

A vampire had bit his neck not a few minutes prior, and yet the monster was still alive to tell the tale, for Queen's sake. If that alone wasn't proof of how much he'd changed, how far he'd veered from his purpose in life, he didn't know what was.

Frustrated, Raleigh shoved Dimmy a little harder in their tussle. Then they touched down — or, as far as him and the vampire went, crashed down. They fell from the dragon's back into a heap of limbs and spite, only separating and standing up when ordered to do so. Raleigh practically sprung to his feet, suddenly aware of every single pair of eyes fixed on them. Lochesterians. His countrymen.

Slowly, carefully, Raleigh scanned the faces for ones he recognized. For his face, above all. Raleigh knew it was unlikely he'd find Alastair there — the man preferred to operate from the shadows, far from the revealing light of day, and would hardly be caught amongst the common guard — but his mind would not be at rest before he'd made sure of it.

Gwen made her way over and Raleigh's focus shifted to her, confused. She was fussing over the blood on his neck.

"Your Highness," he hissed through gritted teeth, throwing wary glances at the people within eyeshot. "It's nothing. You shouldn't—" he cut himself off as she spoke, not wanting to interrupt.

“Please, we're finally here, just pull yourselves together for another hour and I will make it worth your while.”

Another hour. The brevity of it struck him like a fist. Was that truly all it would take? The hope he'd felt earlier threatened to falter, snuffed out by the familiar walls that would soon seal them in. The Princess didn't know Lochester like he did. It wouldn't be as easy as she assumed. The Queen would not let it be so.

But he'd chosen to believe, and believe he would.

“If you'd let me finish, that'd also have stopped the bleeding," he heard the vampire mouth off as a guard stole Gwen's attention.

Raleigh scoffed, eyes narrowing. "If you had tried to finish, you would be the one bleeding."

“You really need to stop getting yourself hurt around me." At that voice — at her voice — Raleigh quickly spun around, a desperate explanation already forming. “It’s becoming a bit of a habit.”

"I swear to you, this time it was not my fault," he said, almost pleading, as he levelled a glare in the vampire's direction. "But I..." his argument fizzled out on its way to his lips, no match for the intensity of Lyn's gaze. "... Understood. I promise to be more careful."

They fell into step behind Gwen, but before they could enter the castle proper, Lyn addressed him once more. “Once this meeting is finished, speak with me and I can sort you out with a soothing salve.”

Raleigh wanted to protest, to tell Lyn she was too kind, that her precious resources would be wasted on what amounted to little more than a scratch, but he feared he might've come across as ungrateful, when he was anything but. So, instead, he gave her a curt nod, not even noticing his lips curl into a smile. "Thank you."


Every whisper felt like a whip against Raleigh's back, and he couldn't fathom why. Being born a magical human in a land that despised his kind, he was more than used to whispers, knew they were his lot in life for what he was — yet these ones stung regardless. Maybe his time beyond Lochester's borders had done something to him. Changed him. For better or for worse, he could not yet tell.

"Vampires, werewolves, magical humans – what should it matter?!"

A change in Lochester seemed much more difficult a task now that he was here. By the time the Queen stood in front of them and Raleigh fell to one knee out of reflex he didn't remember he had, it felt entirely like a fool's errand. A marriage would change nothing. He felt numb, powerless, barely stiffening at the word 'Sir' attached to his name. It did not belong there. He was no knight.

He stood once the Queen was gone, about to turn to Gwen, when the werewolf started snarling about a bracelet she couldn't remove. Raleigh had half a mind to cut her hand off along with the cursed thing, but then he caught the mumbled conversation between her and the Princess.

A blood relative, nearby.

Raleigh bristled, mind cluttering and clearing all at once, the way one's did just before they found an answer to a riddle. An answer Raleigh had tried so hard to deny, a puzzle he'd purposefully taken apart every time it threatened completion, so as to not tarnish the late King's name. For to not only pardon a wolf, but to lie with one, was...

They were walking before Raleigh could decide what to make of it all, whether to consider the possibility a blessing or a curse. A marriage would not change Lochester. The appearance of a rightful heir, an immediate change of monarchs, just might.

The mere thought felt like treason.


Raleigh sat to Gwen's immediate right, gaze downcast. A poor choice of seats, considering how much he wanted to avoid the Queen's notice. Though Raleigh was aware she neither knew nor cared who he was or what was normal of him, he was irrationally afraid she might be able to read something from his face. A glint of defiance in the eye of a soldier supposed to have none remaining; a spark of hope, where only compliance should dwell.

Even Raleigh himself was doing his best to douse that hope, lest it burn him to death. They had come here to gamble on Gwen's marriage proposal, nothing more. And besides, once this was over, even if peace could be achieved through Gwen's sacrifice, that hardly meant salvation for him. He was, before anything else, a soldier. Perhaps in another world, he could have accompanied Lyn wherever she went after this, repaid his debt to her, kept her safe for all their days to come — not that she seemed to need any help in that regard.

But in this life, he only knew how to serve a cause. As of now, it was Gwen's; once everything was over, he would find another, appointed to him by the crown. It could not be at Lyn's side. It couldn't even be at Gwen's; there, he'd be little more than a constant source of rumour and doubt, more trouble than he was worth for the new consort.

That was, of course, in the very unlikely scenario he was allowed to keep his head in the first place. The Queen would not pardon him that easily. He'd committed many a crime he would need to accept punishment for; fragging, desertion, defection... heads had rolled for less in Lochester, even when attached to humans. And so, though Raleigh couldn't imagine it was her intent, every time Gwen mentioned him by name, every time she drew attention to him or spoke of what he'd done for her, she dug his grave deeper.

He held his tongue and prepared to be buried.

But when the Queen approached, ready to seal her deal with Gwen and by doing so, seal the fates of not only everyone present, but the world at large, Raleigh found himself almost fidgeting in his seat. Dread had turned into a headache, pounding at his temples. If he did not speak now, he would need to forever hold his peace, living with the burden of having known and said nothing. His gaze flickered to Gwen, but hers did not falter.

He hadn't been given leave to speak, yet he had to.

The werewolf's shout rattled Raleigh from his dilemma — and from there, things escalated in the blink of an eye. In an instant the promise of budding peace was shattered by the scene Sylvia created — by the truth she revealed. Raleigh felt a weight roll off his chest. There it was, the whole, ugly truth of it all. It would set them free.

But not without a fight. Raleigh knew as much before the Queen called for her guards, knew she would not give up a shred of power without spilling blood. So when the first wave of guards descended upon them, Raleigh was more than ready, his weapon already drawn. To fight his countrymen felt like the final nail in his coffin, the final affront to his homeland. But they were so close to doing the impossible, so close to changing the world, that it was a cross he was willing to bear.

Besides, he had promised Gwen not to kill.

He leapt forth, spear in both hands, and clashed against the men and women he'd once called comrades. In an instant, the room was filled with the sounds of battle, and every time Raleigh turned, he found one of his new comrades fighting tooth and nail. Literally, as the case was with a few of them. They were outnumbered, but by no means outmatched.

Then, through the shouts and clatter of metal, Raleigh heard — no, felt — it. The hum of magic, a static in the air as one prepared to break the very laws of nature. A magical human, one so powerful it made Raleigh shiver on instinct. He thrust his lance backwards — catching an approaching guard in the stomach with its hilt — and looked around, wild as an animal trying to spot a hunter. There, at the back, prowling, looking for an angle to get them all at once. A woman in a dark hood, her hands aglow. Behind her, slightly hunched, an older man was whispering directions in her ear.

A man Raleigh recognized. A man that made every drop of blood in his veins freeze. It was Alistair, instructing what must've been another one of his experiments — a kindred soul, who Raleigh had no time to feel sympathy for. His eyes trailed along the mage's planned trajectory to where Lyn and the vampire fought, wildly, for their common cause. Lyn, his glowing saviour he'd sworn to protect; Dimmy, his ward and prey alike, whose punishments were not someone else's to dole. Raleigh's heart raced, panic a whirlwind in his chest. They were unaware, backs turned, wearing no proper armour. They wouldn't see it coming.

"Watch out!" he shouted, but his words were drowned out by the crack of thunder. Too late. It was all too late. They wouldn't even know which way to turn, which way to duck, what was coming for them and why.

But he did.

Alistair and the mage were too far for his powers to reach, for him to stir the darkness at their feet. Magic would not help now. But what was a magical human without the magic?

Raleigh hesitated, the word so foreign he hardly dared think it: a human.

He moved before he realized he'd done so. From birth, he'd been behind his human peers in sheer physical prowess, and he'd had to train much harder than them all to reach the summit forced upon him. But he'd done it; he'd trained, twice, thrice as hard, and so when he threw himself forth in the magic's trajectory, it was with speed that wouldn't lose to any human.

It all happened in an instant. The magic collided with his chest, reverberating through his armour, tearing a scream from his throat as it sought to burrow through the metal like a physical thing. Lightning made tangible, like a spear, not that unlike his own. Raleigh felt every one of his nerves fighting against the magic that surged through him, felt the remains of his powers trying to shield him for the few seconds it took until everything was over. He couldn't let that happen, needed his powers for something else. Blocking the lightning spear wouldn't be enough if the mage could simply fire another.

With a hand that barely moved from the spasms that broke through, Raleigh reached to touch that spear of lightning, a conduit, to use the one power he was most attuned to. So much so that it required little but an indirect touch and a thought. Wordlessly, with no visible cues, his dark magic surged the opposite direction of the lightning's current, burrowing into the minds of the mage and Alistair, whose hand had rested on her shoulder.

What struck them was pain. Only pain, nothing more, nothing less, as Alistair had once taught him. Excruciating, maddening, the kind that made you tear at your own skin to break free of it, but hardly lethal on its own. In a few seconds the mage, and more importantly, the man behind her, collapsed.

Not that Raleigh could see it.

The lightning fizzled out. His powers had shielded him, but they hadn't been enough; the spear hadn't reached its intended targets, but it had pierced right through him. Him, who was already a dead man walking. Him, who owed a debt to the ones that had saved him, able to be repaid only with his life.

How fortunate, then, that nothing of value would be lost.

"I will change the world, or I will die trying."

Though those had been Gwen's words, Raleigh couldn't help but remember them now. Could he say he'd tried? He wanted to. If he died without truly having tried, he couldn't imagine how angry Lyn would be with him. He'd made a promise to her less than an hour ago too, and already, he'd broken it. He truly was a traitor, all the way to the end.

Magic erupted from him in one final burst, darkness and ice blasting the guards around him, left and right. To Raleigh, it felt as if the entire world had frozen, pain and blood and shock and fear alike. He didn't feel himself hitting the floor, didn't notice the spasm of his muscles from the electricity that had ravaged them, didn't smell the blood from the wound in his chest. The pain that had made him howl on initial impact was but a distant memory now.

As the cold subsided, the last drops of Raleigh's magic dissipating, he found himself visited by an almost comforting darkness. He'd forced so many into its embrace through his powers, and now it had come for him in turn. A tired numbness overtook him, the same kind he’d felt in the desert, back when he could have — should have breathed his last. The world around him was vanishing, darkness taking away all thought. Once he was gone, one less magical human, one less murderer roaming the lands, would the world change for the better, even if a little? By dying, would he make up for the sin of being born?

Raleigh closed his eyes, and died trying.