The Divine Game: An odyssey of adventure! (Closed/Started)

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"No, sorry, we don't have anything."

"Don't get so caught up in your duties that you forget to wash the gore off, it can do terrible things to the skin if left unchecked, and it would be most terrible to see such a lovely face marred."

Halting her turn, Lail titled her head slightly as she looked up at the older soldier, an amused glint in her eye. It was always the older ones who recognised her station. For a brief moment, she wondered if they had shared a battlefield in the past, it wouldn't have been the first time.

Being in the presence of death was an amusingly morbid trait to have in common with someone.

"Such an odd concern to have." Lail spoke softly, a tiny smile curling the corner of her mouth. Her eyes shifted to the younger of the two as the elder addressed him.

"You know why she stopped, don't you? Clearly you're so dead on your feet she thought you might be in need of her services."

'If only you knew.'

The younger soldier's expression was slightly ponderous as he gazed upon her, evidently he had never seen a Sister before.

"My apologies, madam. My companion has a habit of being overly familiar."

Lail returned the man's bow. "Kind words on a day such as this are welcome, sir." She glanced at the older man. "No apology is required." She cooed, turning her attention back to the youngest as he continued.

"Please be careful around the other soldiers, most are not in the mood to entertain foreigners I'm afraid."

Lail's expression hardened slightly. "Thank you for your concern, sir." She started, "However, I am very acquainted with such things." She smiled slightly. "Maybe moreso than yourself, dare I say sir, for one so young?" Deciding it best to clear up any confusion over her identity, she offered another bow as she introduced herself.

"I am the Tranquil Sister known as Lail." She glanced at the older man. "Although I'm sure your companion already knew this?" She tilted her head suggestively.

With the throng of soldiers swarming the trio Zoe soon found herself needing to slip out of reach of the drunkards. She thought she was in the clear when an unwelcome, rough hand snatched her by the wrist. Zoe held in a yelp as she found herself staring into the eyes of a beast, not a man at all.

"Well look what I've found. Aren't you a welcome sight in a place like this."

And then his hand found its way to her waist. Zoe froze and trembled, trying to slow herself.

'Oh Naien, Oh Naien help me.' She panicked and tried keep a straight face. She put up an awkward smile and rested her hand on the man's wrist that was holding her waist. She laughed softly, clearly forced before answering.

"Thank-thank you. I was just heading back to my [b]sister the Iron Eye of the Ascadian isles.[/i] Haaaave you heard what her record was today? Fifty three men! Wow isn't that incredible..."

"A man, my King. So long as I am here, fighting for your cause, I will remain as such. What does it matter, anyway? I imagine you value great warriors, regardless of sex."

Defensive, this one. How many others had questioned her like this before? Perhaps it frustrated her. Understandable. Offended her? Foolish, one could not go against the grain and not expect resistance. The way she held herself suggested it though. Shielding herself. How womanly.

'How reality loves our struggles.'

"How insightful of you." Iokanan took another sip of wine. "Are you one such great warrior?" He asked. Sounding quietly bored.
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The moment the woman in red opened her mouth solved everything for Cadric. She must have been of a religious calling, they all seemed to have that same air of self assurance. Either that or she was mad. There wasn't much difference most of the time in Cadric's opinion.

"Maybe more so than yourself, dare I say sir, for one so young?"

That earned a little snort of skepticism from Cadric. She didn't look any older than him, probably younger if anything.

"I am the Tranquil Sister known as Lail. Although I'm sure your companion already knew this?"

"Do you two know each other?" Cadric asked, glancing between the two.

'Oh gods, please don't let her be some long lost daughter of Darion's... or be pregnant with one. Cadric couldn't be sure which would be worse right now.
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"Thank-thank you. I was just heading back to my sister the Iron Eye of the Ascadian isles. Haaaave you heard what her record was today? Fifty three men! Wow isn't that incredible..."

"Fifty three, well she must be exhausted!" Laughed the reveler, raising Zoe's arm and spinning her on the spot like his own little dancing toy with ease. Each little turn went faster than the other as the fires and colours around her blurred together more than they should have and the air around her grew warmer.

He quickly brought her to a stop, bringing his arms over her and pressing himself against her back sending strange tingles through Zoe's skin. "Well we can go have fun with her too if y-" He was cut off sharply as shuddered and convulsed for a moment before coming back to the present. "If you want toooo..." He growled, laughing little tittering laughs through ragged breaths.

"Do you two know each other?"

"Sadly, I've not had the pleasure of knowing this one personally," replied Darion. "But I've met members of her order before. I recall there was once quite the hilarious misunderstanding... but that's a story for another time."

"So, Lail," he said, turning back to the Tranquil Sister. "My name is Darion Uriah. My disoriented friend here is Cadric, Son of Caradoc. If he has a last name, I don't remember what it is, but you might know him as the crowned Prince of Astrium." He bowed as graciously as his various bruises would allow.

And now she was spinning. He was so much stronger than her, unnaturally strong even, she couldn't move out of his grasp as he moved her like a puppet. His form pressing against her back and arms around her made her feel sick, goosebumps and disgusting tingles spreading across her skin. The idea of her being forced to be with her sister sickened her, made her feel cold in this man's clutches. She winced and tried to escape as he thrusted-wait he wasn't thrusting, he was convulsing. By Naien's name was wrong with this man?

"If you want toooo..."

Zoe shuddered and leaned her head away from him as much as she could. "I... have just been in the king's tent, I was with a powerful escort, now let go of me." She was scared, that was clear as day, but she'd fight him with all her strength if she needed to.

"My name is Darion Uriah. My disoriented friend here is Cadric, Son of Caradoc. If he has a last name, I don't remember what it is, but you might know him as the crowned Prince of Astrium."

"The Prince?" Lail's expression hardened slightly.

'So this is the stupid boy responsible for all that suffering, now it's all starting to make sense.'

Remembering her manners, Lail bowed deeply, a weak smile curling her lips. "It seems fortune graces my Lord this day." The woman noted the man's negligible injuries.

'Other's weren't so lucky.'

"We're rich! Rich, I say! I am so p-p-p-proud of you Lucia, uh... Lisa, er-ummm, Lugia? Whatever!"

Naien's gentle cradling grip was not the way to describe the drunk old man's grip on her cheeks. The ex-slave got a good whiff of his alcohol-laced breath and a good look at the most haggard person she had encountered, not counting beggars. Well, they practically were vagrants but at least they weren't just sitting there on the street waiting to die. Speaking of which, from what she could see, the celebrations showed no signs of slowing down. The night air coupled with the warm spirits was indeed a potent combination.

"It's Ligeia!" She roared, snatching the pendant back.

It wasn't even her real name, that belonged to the Sulars. Ligeia closed her eyes and remembered the ebb and flow of the waves, the bobbing of the ships... All of the sounds of the sea. To call that sort of life a careful existence would be wrong and a dire insult to Eluvius and her tempers. It was a far cry from the port city, though even a Sularsi festival could create an equal amount of noise to the ruckus which was going on below the odd pair.

She held the pendant close to her, lest drunkards lose it.

***

"Tell me scribe, have you ever been kicked by an ass?"

'Is that a threat? How -- well of course he's going to be like that.' Alim mused.

"It will kill a man as surely as any sword."

Suddenly the scribe roared with laughter, it was almost drowned by the chaos going on near him. However, Alim made sure that he was heard. This was just too good, could the prince dig himself any deeper?

"Don't me tell that's how they train you 'knights'!" Alim chuckled.

What? It made sense. Asses being trained by asses, kick one in the head, see if he survives, then the man in question clearly had a skull thick enough and was stubborn enough to fight!

The scribe simply had to write that one down sometime.

"It seems fortune graces my Lord this day."

"In any case," Darion pressed on, ignoring Lail's evident disapproval of Cadric. "Someone as esteemed as yourself is welcome to take room in the palace. And while we may lack your closely guarded methods of storing Nirnroot, we have just about every other medicinal herb you could hope for. You're welcome to restock anything that may be of use to you."

"Are you one such great warrior?"

"I like to think I am." Thassa nodded, "That is, however, not for me to decide. History will have its own spin on what happens here and I can't say for certain that my deeds will be remembered. Though, my chances increase significantly if you are victorious, my King." She sipped her wine and tilted her head, inquisitively. Enough about her. She had grown tired of talking about herself. "Earlier, when the young Prince mentioned your son... you lashed out at him, yet..." Her struggle to find the right words was written in her pained expression. "You did not kill him. If harm were to come to my dear sister, in any capacity, those responsible would be met with a quick and decisive end. Forgive me if I sound like I am flattering you, but I must say it would take a considerable amount of willpower for any man to stay his sword in the wake of such an insult."

She chuckled, "Oh, I suppose the wine may be getting the better of me. I think I am just trying to say that, well, I understand why you are fighting this war. I would send a thousand men to their deaths in order to defend Zoe's honor, so I cannot begrudge a man for doing the same for his son."

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"It's Ligeia!

"Bah! Whatever! It's all the same!" Caius dismissed her. He took another long swig of his drink and watched her in the corner of his eye. She was holding the pendant close to her heart. The two sat in silence for a long time, watching the bustling street below. Everyone was of the same mind: get drunk and ignore the inevitable doom they all faced. Men would be killed, women would be raped and children enslaved. Such was the way of the world.

The will of the gods.

Selfish fools.

Eventually, Caius' eyes found his companion once more. Reaching out, he put his arm behind her back and patted her shoulder, "Have you ever had anything, Ligeia? Something you've truly been able to treasure?" Though his beard concealed it, he was frowning.

"Don't me tell that's how they train you 'knights'!"

Even with his recent blows to the head, Jaris could tell the man was mocking him from his tone alone, let alone his laughter. Well, two could play at that game.

"No, it's just common sense." Jaris said as he put on a (somewhat bloodied) grin, "Though I'm not surprised that there is a lack of it in the Fendarin forces."

Around them the commotion continued and the smell of wine and beer and drink grew as increasing quantities of it were spilt into the sand rather than being consumed. Taking a look at the chaos around him and his escort, Jaris continued,

"It's a shame really, all these drunken warriors will make for such a poor defence come the morning."

"Have you ever had anything, Ligeia? Something you've truly been able to treasure?"

Was the old man going through a sentimental spell or something? Of course, there was the different stages of drunkenness as well: rowdy, angry, sappy and sleepy. The ex-slave wasn't sure how to answer Caius's question, anything she had owned had been taken from her or she had taken it from someone else. Well, at least after the raid. Ligeia thought hard, the answer wouldn't be jewellery or anything like that. And of course, she didn't think that Caius meant treasure in the abstract sense.

"Well..." Ligeia began, "There was this flute my ma made for me out of seashell - my first instrument. Why?"

***

"It's a shame really, all these drunken warriors will make for such a poor defence come the morning."

"A little jealous are we?" Alim muttered. Now where was a gag so he could be spared from more of the ass's braying? He looked around and scratched his beard - weren't they missing somebody?

"I... have just been in the king's tent, I was with a powerful escort, now let go of me."

Her heart was fluttering like a frightened bird was caged in her chest. Ooooh how he could feel it. As if it were sending quakes through her whole body. Such courage through the fear. Maybe he'd savor it or devour it or sweep it away or shape it to his fancy or or - oh the choices!

"Heh... heh, heh, heh..." Tiny little laughs. Words had left him. All he did was lean over her even further. Everything was fantastic!
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"Someone as esteemed as yourself is welcome to take room in the palace. And while we may lack your closely guarded methods of storing Nirnroot, we have just about every other medicinal herb you could hope for. You're welcome to restock anything that may be of use to you."

'Oh not another one.' Cadric stifled a sigh. He was in no mood to put up with another one of Darion's strays but his throbbing headache and various other aches and pains were souring his mood enough as it was and he had more important things to think of than his trainer's latest tacky conquest.

"We should get moving." Cadric stated plainly, turning on his heel and striding down the street towards the closest bulwark of defense. "Counterattacks to plan and all that kind of nonsense, all very boring to a servant of the gods I'm sure." He called back over his shoulder sourly.

It wasn't long before they reached the 'camp' though that was a generous term for it. The highest ranking survivors of the morning were doing their best to keep order but it was clear some were in over their heads, ahving been given command by right of no one else wanting it.

"Where is Prince Jaris?" Cadric asked the nearest man carrying a phoenix emblazoned shield of Sitar.

"He... he hasn't returned with us sir. None have seen him since the beach." The solider told Cadric, crest fallen and nervous. "Last anyone saw of him he was fighting some bloody demon the red king had fighting for him."

"...Damn..." Was all Cadric could think to say. He ran his hands through his sweat matted hair and stretched his brow back as far as it would go with a hushed groan. He hadn't known the other prince well but he'd stood beside Astrium in their time of need and conducted himself with honour and dignity. As any true prince and warrior should. Cadric never had gotten round to asking him what a knight was exactly.

Perhaps he should have felt a greater blow at this news but among all the gore and mayhem he'd seen over the past few hours a single death seemed like numb news.

"Steel yourselves." Cadric grasped the hoplite by the shoulder, raising his voice so that the soldiers around him could hear. "Our fallen will be avenged!" There were few who seemed to have their spirits raised by that. "They wont be resting on their laurels for long." Cadric said at a more civilized volume to Darion. "We can't afford to give them any more time."
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"Oh, I suppose the wine may be getting the better of me. I think I am just trying to say that, well, I understand why you are fighting this war. I would send a thousand men to their deaths in order to defend Zoe's honor, so I cannot begrudge a man for doing the same for his son."

"Hmm." Iokanan's gaze slowly shifted downwards, looking into the dark crimson pooled in his cup. "You may leave now, Iron-Eye." He said quietly. Suddenly no longer in the mood for discussion. "No doubt your companions are waiting on you." The fire of the moment had left him and melancholy was setting in.
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"We can handle it from here, Master Scribe." One of the soldiers said as they commenced the handover of the unlucky Jaris to his Ascadian captors. "May as well get yourself some wine or something, 'fore the bloody sand drinks it all." He grumbled in a surprising display of passive aggression for a man at arms.

The borders of the revelry seemed to be fluctuating as it dragged more and more men into the throws of wild freedom. Some, more controlled, sorts seemed to be trying to keep order but it was a losing battle. It was almost like watching some disease spread from victim to victim.
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"Hey you! You bloody dogs! What are you doing here? Don't you know the prince wants t'see you!?" A Dark haired man in the royal household's uniform raged around the tavern, barking at the gathered pirates and shoving one of them from his seat. The crew moaned and grumbled as the captain grudgingly rose from his stool. The angry armored sod barged bodily past Fei as the young pirate made his way though the door, still nursing his fresh injury. Courtesy of his street urchin friend.

"We can't afford to give them any more time."

"No, we can't," Darion agreed. "And I've been thinking on that. When night falls, I think it would be best if I took some men out onto the beach to sow some chaos."

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"As I said before, love," the man drawled. "Cal Huttar's the biggest slaver in the area. And most of the others are subsidized or tied to him in some way. Though he don't bear his mark, that lad's from Huttar's stock, plain as any." He jerked his thumb at a scrawny boy in rags, sweeping the hall outside the office he and Anthousa were stood in.

"But you have no idea where he is," replied Anthousa. It wasn't a question.

"Nah. The sorts he sells are above my pay grade, you understand." The fat man smiled lecherously, although the cloak Anthousa was wearing gave him nothing to peer at. "He's a trader in flesh, if you catch my drift."

"I see." Anthousa's mouth was a grim line.

"So you see, there's nothing I can do to help you, though I'd like to," the fat man said, spreading his hands.

"You can start by telling me where to find the slaver you bought the boy off of."

"Can't do, love," he replied. "Wouldn't be professional of me to sell out someone with whom I conduct business to someone who, no offense, clearly don't mean him a world of good."

Anthousa kicked out, sending the man's desk tipping. It slammed into his gut, and the chair he was sitting in careened back. There was a deafening crash, and he lay sprawled on the floor, wheezing. Anthousa put a foot on the edge of the overturned desk, pressing it down harder on his ribs. Pushing back the folds of her cloak, she revealed one of her sword hilts.

"It's not what good I mean him that you should be concerned about," she replied.

"Guards... guards, fucking..." the man wheezed. Anthousa drew the exposed sword. "Go on," she said. "Call for help. It's just more men to keep you company on the ride to the underworld. And they certainly won't get here in time before I open your flabby, disgusting throat."

"Fucking... Aelin whore... bitch!"

Anthousa put the tip of her kopis to his throat. A bead of crimson popped up, shining in the light of the day. "You've got a lot to say for a man with the wind forced out of him. You may as well make it something helpful."

"Hellius," the fat man spluttered. "Hellius. He has a manor up in Feira. Keeps his stock in catacombs 'neath the house..." Anthousa let up and the man took huge, gasping breaths before being wracked by coughs.

"Thank you for the information," she said, sheathing her sword. "I'm sure it will be most helpful." With that, she turned and left, noting the uneasy glances the guards gave her as she left through the courtyard. Passing back out into the streets, she pulled up the hood of her travelling cloak and turned down the road towards the inn.

"We can handle it from here, Master Scribe."

Jaris cast his gaze around at his captors, and noticed that Zoe had seemingly vanished. "It seems you've lost someone scribe." He said as the Ascadian guards led him off, "For your sake I hope the young priestess has not wandered far, I've seen first hand how much the elder Curio cares for her sister."

A swift spear shaft to the stomach by one of the Ascadian guards flanking him knocked the breath from the captive prince, and by the time he regained it Iokanan's scribe had dissipated from view.

Sick, twisted laughs escaped the man's throat as he leered even more over her. This was just like what Thassa had said. This is just like what Thassa had said. This man wanted to take her, whether she wanted to or not, kicking and screaming he would take her.

Her heart pounded even faster and her skin went bright red as she knew there was only one option. She was not going to let some perverted soldier take her like this. No Curio would ever be raped! Their's was a family of dignity! Of honour! Of victory! But dignity and honour were something this man didn't have, so she wouldn't treat him as such. Then again she didn't really have an option.

Zoe stomped on his revealed toe with all her might, distracting him for a second so she could punch him in the important bits, before turning, grabbing them, and twisting them tightly before he had to relieve his hold of her. The man gasped and raised up on his feet and finally let go of her. She took her chance and bolted down the beach back to the King's tent, boiling hot from fear.

She looked around herself, she couldn't remember where the tent was. 'Naien protect me, please.' She ran in what she hoped was the right direction, she needed to find Thassa, she needed her now.

"There was this flute my ma made for me out of a seashell - my first instrument. Why?"

"Oh," Caius forced a grin. "Well, what happened to it?"

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"You may leave now, Iron-Eye.... No doubt your companions are waiting on you."

Thassa was taken aback, "Oh, forgive me, your Grace." Unsure of what else she could say, she stood up and offered a small bow. "Thank you for the wine, a-and the company. Sleep well." Though she had been dizzy from the wine, Thassa sobered up rather quickly. The Red King's sudden grief had unsettled her more than she'd have cared to admit.

Taking her leave, she swiftly exited the tent to be met by a cold breeze that threatened to steal her cloak. She got it under control, however, and went about searching for her sister and the so-called Prince. Though the sound of revelry had filled the beach, she could swear she heard the cries of her sister. Anxiously, she darted her eyes around the crowded beach. Darkness obscured the area, but after a short time she spotted a small figure scrambling around the nearby tents, "ZOE!" She shouted as she ran towards the young woman. She looked startled. Grabbing hold of her shoulders, she looked her sister in the eye. "Are you okay, Zoe? What happened!?"

"ZOE!"

'Oh thank you Naien thank you.'

Zoe ran had fastest towards her sister. "Are you okay, Zoe? What happened!?"

Zoe had every sign of fear on her face, tears forming as she found her sister. "Thass-Thassa Thassa there was a man and he was drunk and grabbed me and he was strong and wanted sex and I hit him and I ran and I'm scared if he comes back and he sees me..." her words ran off on a fear filled tangent as she sniffed and looked up at her sister.

~ Lanius ~

"Sir, how much farther do we have to go?" the slight, starving man asked of the priest.

The evening was growing ever later as they walked, and Lanius couldn't believe his good fortune. In the same direction as strange young man from earlier had retreated, he could count several empty, abandoned buildings. They would only make his preparations easier.

"Not too much farther, my son. Soon there will be food aplenty." he reassured the man with a gentle pat on his shoulder as he continued to lead him down the nearly deserted city street.

He turned into the next derelict building he saw, and again counted the blessings Morgal was raining on him when he saw that it had a tiny courtyard just behind it. Striding inside with the man at his side, he could tell that the poor thing was confused as he looked around and took a few steps ahead of him.

"What's this? This looks like no one's been here in ages. I thought you said there'd be food." he said, turning to face Lanius.

What the man saw chilled the blood in his veins and he started to back away as Lanius slowly grinned at him, and his eyes grew mad.

"Oh, but there is food here my son. I just brought it in." he said slowly, reaching into his robe and pulling out the sacrificial dagger.

It was then that the man broke into a run, but before he could flee past his murderer, Lanius caught him around the neck with one arm, then brought the heel of his dagger harshly against the back of the mans head. Everything went dark for him then.


The man slowly stirred, and at first thought that he had already died and entered the afterlife due to how dark it had gotten. His eyes slowly focused on the first thing that was in front of him, and that was the face of the priest, smiling at him. As soon as he recognized Lanius, he immediately began to struggle and tried to scream, but found that his hands and feet were bound, and there was a gag shoved into his mouth.

As he looked around, he found something even more disturbing. He was lying atop a pile of wood kindling. Looking back up at Lanius, his eyes pleaded for mercy, and in reply Lanius' face transformed into a strange expression of kindness.

"Don't worry, my good man. I know you're afraid. But Morgal takes care of all her new subjects. You'll be entering into her kingdom and her loving embrace very soon." he said softly.

But I don't want to go to Morgal! I don't want to die! thought the man frantically as he renewed his struggles.

Lanius simply turned away and picked up the two pieces of flint that he kept with him for just such an occasion. While the man had been unconscious, he had gone around to various houses and asked for gracious donations to the Temple of Morgal: Firewood, buckets of water, rope, and basic seasonings. While some people were reluctant to oblige, others were all-too-eager to get rid of the strange priest by getting him what he needed.

When he turned back to the sacrifice for Morgal, he quickly struck the flint a few times before the kindling finally took, then stood back and listened to the muffled screams as the fire grew.

"There's something comforting, about ones death I think." he murmured to himself as he stared into the flames, "It's all that really matters at that moment, like nothing else exists. Things like social status, race, how you were born, sex. Even the name you were given. When your time comes, death is the only thing that's real, and it's the ultimate equalizer. Everyone faces their death, sooner or later. Be they rich, poor, from Astrum or a far-off land. Free or slave. Death comes to us all, in time. Your time just happens to be now."

"Someone as esteemed as yourself is welcome to take room in the palace. And while we may lack your closely guarded methods of storing Nirnroot, we have just about every other medicinal herb you could hope for. You're welcome to restock anything that may be of use to you."

Lail was slightly taken aback by the offer, although she didn't show it in her expression. The one known as Darion didn't waste any time, it seemed, and she did need more ingredients.

"You are too kind." She bowed gently, "I was planning on spending my evenings in the temple." She started, glancing at the Prince. "But I would be remiss in passing up such an offer, although I must make it abundantly clear that I must still adhere to the Orders ways." A strict dietary and exercise regime was the core of any Sister's training.

Although she'd never admit it, the opportunity for a hot bath was a most agreeable one.

"We should get moving."

Following after the pair, Lail felt this would be a good time to figure out exactly what was going on. In her line of work, the 'whys' of war rarely overshadowed the effects of them, but since she had been offered a place in the palace, she thought it would be polite to at least know what was happening on a ground level.

"Counterattacks to plan and all that kind of nonsense, all very boring to a servant of the gods I'm sure."

Lail brushed off the bitterness from his words, it had been long day for the Prince, for everyone, tempers were bound to flare.

As they continued through the camp, the Prince chasing after the whereabouts of one of his companions, Lail glanced around the camp. It was a sombre mood indeed, even for a war camp. Things must have been progressing poorly, although Lail would have been lying if she claimed she had a deep interest in politics, especially the politics of the nobility.

Her sleeves tucked into her hands, Lail overheard talk of late night raids, but really, she wasn't paying particular attention, her mind had wandered to the preparations she would have need to attend to before the war began again.

As they cleared the other side of the war camp, and the palace came into view, Darion said, "well, the more I think about it, the more I think this night attack will be our best option. I'll take half a dozen men. We'll have to go without armour, though. Disguise ourselves to blend in with the camp's followers. And I'll need a few things..."

Sticking out a hand, he stopped a young boy clad in servant's clothes sprinting past them. "You, boy. Know who I am?"

"Captain... Darius?"

"Darion," he replied, smiling.

"You're the Prince's guardian."

"That's right. So if I ask you to fetch some things for me, you can see them delivered to my quarters within the hour?"

"Yes, sir!"

Darion was silent for some time, thinking things over. Eventually, he said, "I'll need seven water skins, filled with lamp oil. I'll also need a bag of jalip leaves, a jar of powdered whore's vine and some king's foil. And a jar of hemlock." The boy gasped at this last request.

"The court physician won't let me have hemlock, sir," the boy protested.

Darion nodded and reached behind the bronze plate of his armour. There was a small pocket in the lining for personal valuables, from which he drew out a brass signet ring that marked his position as a direct servant of Astrian royalty. "Show him this. And make sure you give it back along with the ingredients."

"Y-yes, Captain Darion!"

"Hey you! You bloody dogs! What are you doing here? Don't you know the prince wants t'see you!?"

Fei ducked into the bar just as some kind of soldier barged into the tavern with all the rage of a bull in the process of being castrated, pushing people around and shouting obscenities. Who the hell was this guy?

One of Fei's crewmates stood up drunkenly from a table littered with an alarmingly large amount of ceramic shards, proof of the worrying amount of alcohol that had already been consumed. Looking around to see much the same scene (albeit more intact) on every other table, Fei could see that he might well have been the only sober person in the room.

The red-faced pirate, still clutching a mug of wine in his hand, bellowed at the imperial agent.

"The hell are you, mate? Bargin' in on our fun like tha'? We've done our bit of fighting, just as much as you dogs, so fuck off!" He seemed to grow more and more agitated as he went on. "We need to...ah..."

Agitation met steadily thinning blood, and the mercenary toppled over onto the table, his no-more-sober friends struggling to hold him up. Hearing the commotion, the captain stood and quickly strode over from the back of the room. He didn't seem very drunk, so Fei had high hopes that this would be the end of the excitement. He had had enough "fun" occurrences in one day already.

"Apologies, sir. Ah be seeing that ye bear th' crest o' our, ah, employer. Anything I ken do fer ya?" The captain and the imperial fell into quiet conversation.

'This feels oddly familiar...have I seen this somewhere before?'

It took all of thirty seconds for Fei's high hopes to be crushed to a pulp. The captain, with a deepening scowl on his face, waved Fei and three other men over to a table cleared of debris, and addressed them with a quiet voice. The imperial tapped his foot impatiently near the door.

"Alright, mates, since our benefactors seem ta be unable to keep their swords in their sheaths, they be callin' for a few o' us mercs t' help ou' wi' Eluvius-knows-what schemes they've got in mind this night."

'Eluvius-damn-it.'

"We be the closest, an' since the landlubbers be absolutely worthless, just like tha' boy over there, its up t' us to earn our keep. You four are the only corsairs who be sober in this entire bar, so we'll be countin' on you."

'Is my virility and necklet not enough, gods? Now you have to take my wine away?"

"Now begone with ye! And make sure you bring yer waterlogged asses back here, because we won't be doing tha' for ya."

Fei and the others stood and saluted the captain. "Aye, sir!"

The imperial glared and snorted as they approached, before stomping out of the bar and into the silence of the city. The other pirates followed, and Fei headed out last. The warmth spilling from the tavern quickly faded into a stiff, chill breeze from the sea as the group headed down the street. Fei struggled to remember the map of the city he had memorized in his short time here. They were heading in the general direction of the primary war camp?

"The hell we going to the main camp for?"

"The prince wants ta see us, don'tcha know?" The pirate to his left supplied the answer. "Our kindly guide here shouted it into our faces no less than fifteen times, mate."

The pirate made a face at the angry soldier's back. "Guess Astrians are just hot-blooded."

'So Mr. Cadric's still alive, eh? Pity. If only we were so lucky.'

But it simply wouldn't do to think treasonous thoughts like that. After all, his loyalty was tied with the strongest of bonds: gold. Fei sighed as the main gate to the camp appeared in the distance. Being a hired killer could be so annoying at times.

"Well, what happened to it?"

The grin didn't help. Not at all. The memories came crashing down like a wave: a young girl awkwardly trying to copy her mother's more gracious trills, then the sure trail of notes weakened into a series of coughs. Afterwards, there was silence. Silence which was broken afterwards by battle cries and the whimpers of a scared girl.

So many smiles she'd gotten just because of her little tunes. It was her defence, and her solace.

The wine was quite tempting now, "drowning your sorrows" they called it. Daephul probably felt sorry for poor saps who did that sort of thing. Folks who were in a worst way chose to drown themselves in Eluvius's domain. There was no way of knowing whether the goddess felt anything for them.

"It was..." Ligeia paused as she searched for the right word, "Replaced. By my former master. By something 'better'."

***

"For your sake I hope the young priestess has not wandered far, I've seen first hand how much the elder Curio cares for her sister."

"That would start a war of its own, wouldn't it?" Alim muttered to himself as a hypothetical scenario formed in his head: the Dead Relative Revenge Wars. If revenge was declared every time a relative of somebody important was slain then Valcit would be quite pleased and the world would be a less happy place.

But enough about that, at least the whole business hadn't gotten to the levels of the Succession Wars of Larkon...[1]

"May as well get yourself some wine or something, 'fore the bloody sand drinks it all."

What was with the revelry? Sure, a toast or two was appropriate for the victory, but they had not won the war yet! The scribe snatched some from a passed out drunkard and drank, taking in the taste. He immediately spat it out and turned to the man-at arms, "You needn't worry about the wine, my good sir. 'Tis only fit for the sand."

He then made his way back to the Red King's camp. Of course, he kept an eye out for Zoe but, realistically, the chance of finding her in such a crowd was low.

If Thassa came a-callin', Alim could always say that she wasn't his responsibility, which was technically true.

[1] 'An ancient, extinct nation whose giant and convoluted royal family tree, scandals, ambition and plotting exploded into a series of succession wars for the crown when the main branch of the royal family was.... trimmed off the trunk. Let's just say a lot of shit was thrown and it ended with the nation being worth less then the bloody wars themselves. Naturally, it was soon conquered by a foreign power and assimilated.' -- Alim's Abridgement of the Ancient Histories by Faruq Badr Gawdat Zaman

"Thass-Thassa Thassa there was a man and he was drunk and grabbed me and he was strong and wanted sex and I hit him and I ran and I'm scared if he comes back and he sees me..."

The fear in Thassa's eyes quickly warped into that of rage. Who would dare touch her sister!? This man needed to be punished. She wouldn't rest until his head was on a spike.

The desperate look on Zoe's face helped calm Thassa's nerves, "I-it's okay, Zoe. You're safe now. You did good, really, you did." She pulled the smaller girl into a warm embrace.

After a tight squeeze, Thassa grabbed Zoe's shoulders and looked her in the eye, "Now, bring me back to the camp. Show me who attacked you. Justice will be served this night, sister."

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"It was... Replaced. By my former master. By something 'better'."

Caius's smile faded. The deflated way in which the girl spoke... it must have been a painful memory. That sense of loss, even for a girl who never really had anything, was something Cauis was all too familiar with.

Handing her the bottle of wine, Caius chuckled, "Cheer up, kid." He waved his hand in a gesture that encompassed the whole of the street beneath them. "Our fate is far more secure than most of those that dwell bellow. Where they have nothing but their assigned roles in this city, we have long since been uprooted. Our home is the world and our wits have been sharpened and honed to survive such trivial hardship." He patted her on the top of the head. His cheeks were quite rosy. "So long as you stick with me, I don't doubt we will find something new for you to treasure."

"I-it's okay, Zoe. You're safe now. You did good, really, you did."

Zoe shuddered as Thassa held her tightly. She squeezed her back for comfort.

"Now, bring me back to the camp. Show me who attacked you. Justice will be served this night, sister."

Zoe nodded with a chattering chin as she grabbed Thassa's hand and led her back to camp. It may have made her seem like a child and against her quest to seem otherwise, but she didn't care. She was terrified and needed her sister to protect her.

As the men continued their talk of war, the one known as Darion called up an errand boy.

"I'll need seven water skins, filled with lamp oil. I'll also need a bag of jalip leaves, a jar of powdered whore's vine and some king's foil. And a jar of hemlock."

Lail raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. The hemlock was obvious enough, it was a potent poison, but the other ingredients? As she mentally checked all their possible uses, of which there were few, combined they made a rather effective...

'Oh my.'

Lail wasn't sure whether the laxative was for the old man, or a part of some scheme, but she commended his imaginative use of ingredients.

No matter how... distasteful.

Io slumped back in his chair, rubbing at his closed eyes with forefinger and thumb. The pain in his leg was totally unimportant now. Though the muggy heat of Astrium's nights was making his skin crawl and his mood sour even further. The mood outside was still maddeningly loud. How could the idiots stand so much noise?

He let out a long, guttural sigh. This whole thing had been a mistake, he'd known that going in, he knew it on the way here, he knew it now sat alone and nowhere near drunk. But what else was he supposed to have done. There was a certain way one was supposed to go about these things. This was what was expected of him. It was this or send wave after wave of envoys and Alim's demanding justice. That would have been easier, Io supposed, it would have given him more time to actually grieve and to simply be alone with his thoughts for JUST ONCE. But would have been a bitter and meaningless thing. Dasmos would have had no justice and every noble still living would say that The Red King had lost his edge, it would only be a matter of time before the scavengers moved in.

Would he even of cared at this point? Iokanan decided he needed some air.

Iron-Eye had apparently not traveled far, she was busy holding the little priestess that had followed her earlier.

"Is everything here alright, Master Iron-Eye?" He asked, regretting getting involved the moment he spoke. Still he stepped into line beside them.
============================================================================================

"Y-yes, Captain Darion!"

"Can't say I'm sure what you'd do with half of that but so long as we can take some oil to their camp then things might be looking up for us." Cadric croaked, lightly rubbing his head.

Cadric had to admit he didn't feel quite finished taking the fight to the enemy though, after this morning he was eager to take things onto the offensive. "Looks like I can find my helmet later. We're going to need some men who are up to a more stealthy mission." Hoplites were rarely subtle.

While they were busy prepping things Cadric wandered over to a water barrel and gave himself a cold splash in the face. His spirit was up for it but his body was screaming out to close his eyes and lie down. He wasn't even tired.

As if they were granting his wish a dark featured solider marched into the camp with a crew of ruffians in tow. "Got the men you needed for your mission m'liege! They shouldn't be giving you much trouble, with your leave I'll be sending them off?"

"Oh... yes of course."

"Very good m'lud. You're reporting to Captain Uriah, you dogs! Get in line damn you!" The solider barked, sending the pirates off in Darion's direction. "God's grace you m'sire." The solider bowed before marching off at a quick pace into the night, dark hair bouncing behind him in a waving warrior's tail.

'Seems Darion's been making his own plans.' Cadric's old mentor did always enjoy being a few steps ahead. Would it have killed him to share this plan earlier? Never mind, Cadric could take it up with him later. They had more important things to worry about now.

"So long as you stick with me, I don't doubt we will find something new for you to treasure."

Ligeia took a hearty swig of wine, the awful taste of cheap booze washing away old memories. There would be no bitter tears today. Instead, an almost luminescent bloom covered her face. Damn alcohol. Though, went she turned around to give Caius a glare for patting her head, she noticed the grumpy old man's face was the same.

"I was doing fine by myself." Ligeia pouted, not entirely recovered from that little reminder.

***

Alim found himself at a loss of something to do. Well, at least the little Curio was safe, thank Naien. That was one bit of weight off his mind, as for the rest... The damn partying had been going on for too long. Regardless of his ill manners, the oh-so-talkative 'knight' did have a point. Of course, the servant would have to wait until His Majesty was finished with the Curios.

"Is everything here alright, Master Iron-Eye?"

"My King!" Thassa blurted out in surprise as she set her eyes on the newcomer. "Forgive me, I did not see your approach. No, everything is okay. It appears Zoe wandered too close to the revelry. It is of no concern to a king."

Iokanan's brow furrowed as he squinted through the poor light past Thassa and towards Zoe. "Are you harmed, girl?"

Zoe quivered in the night as she looked at the King under her hood. "It is of no-n-no concern of you m'lord." Her grip on Thassa's hand tightened.

"I will be the judge of that." He said firmly. "This is my camp and what happens in it is all of my business. So I Ask again, has someone behaved improperly?"

Thassa looked to her sister in silence. She would let her speak.

Zoe looked to the side, staring into the white lining of her hood and wishing it would swallow her completely. But she couldn't be a coward, she was a Curio dammit (pardon the language).

"Y-Yes... a man was, very inappropriate." She then looked up to the King and her sister, her hood nearly falling back in her scared excitement. "B-But I fought him off! I hurt him when he wouldn't let go of me and said... inappropriate things about you..." she trailed off again, staring at Thassa with her last words.

Thassa furrowed her brow, "What did he say about me?!"

"He, he said about um, me and you," she shuddered, "at the same time, with him."

Thassa's eye twitched. She was fuming. But no, she had to keep her composure. She couldn't display such blatant emotion in front of a King, "Do you remember what this man looked like?" She grit her teeth.

Zoe nodded quickly, her figure shrinking. "He looked, horrible. He had the face of a man close to death, but he was so strong. His eyes bulged like they were going to explode, and veins popped out of his face and-AND I know you think I'm over exaggerating! But he did he really did! And he convulsed like he was having a spasm and... thrusted against me." Zoe looked down once more, before anyone could answer she realised how to identify him in the most clear way. "Oh and he was playing a harp and was with a bunch of men around a huge fire!"

"Sounds as if someone's been breathing siren fumes." Io scratched at the back of his head. "Well then, sisters Iron-Eye, it seems this camp is in need of some desperate discipline. Priestess, if you can lead us to where these men were, I can gather my own guard easily enough." It'd be nice to punch something before bed. Perhaps it would help Io sleep.

Zoe did a slight curtsy as she still held Thassa's hand. "Thank you m'lord. If you see a man clutching his manhood in pain it might be him." She spoke without any hint of laughter as she led them towards the camp.

"Excellent." Iokanan said flatly, ushering one of his men over and giving them a set of quiet orders. The hoplite quickly set about gathering some of his fellows and they fell into line on the move behind Io and the Curio sisters.

Io himself walked along slightly off of Thassa's side, throwing the occasional glance at Zoe. she looked so small among all these sights of war. Perhaps he should have said something, oh he was always bad at this sort of thing. She had her sister, that would have to suffice.

As they walked across the beach, Thassa looked to her sister, "How are you fairing, Zoe?"

"Fine, I suppose. I was scared, and I still am. But I stomped on his foot and twisted his balls at least!" She said, a little smile curling on her lips, despite the fear, she was with family now, she would always be safe with family.

"That's my girl." Thassa smiled, warmly. "We'll make this right. Don't you worry, sister."

They found the fire pit soon enough and Iokanan's armed escort set about scattering the revellers with bronze plated efficiency. Most started backing away to their tents the moment they arrived on the scene, simply soldiers looking for a good time and failing to find it. It was those at the core that received the firmest hand as several were brought to their knees and battered with sharp strikes.

"Do you recognise any of these many, Lady Priestess?" Io asked Zoe, calmly sending a man onto his face in the sand with a powerful backhanded swing.

A broken harp lay shattered in the sand and among those taken was a young man with curly golden hair not unlike that of Zoe's attacker. He was almost naked, his clothes were in such disarray and his eyes were certainly bloodshot.

Zoe hesitated, the amount of people being pushed about because of her, she wasn't comfortable with it but she wanted to find the sick man more than anybody. She knelt down to look at the man's face. She looked clearly guilty for a moment and shook her head. "N-no." She turned to the man. "I'm sorry."

Thassa furrowed her brow. Her sister had lied... to a king, no less. She would be silent, however.

This would be addressed at a later date. Between the two of them. In private.

"I see..." Io nodded his head and seemed to take longer than needed to blink as he breathed deep and exhaled loudly through his nose. "Take them away, you know what to do."

"As your command sir!" Barked the commanding officer as the hoplites heaved the collected miscreants to their feet and marching them off post haste. None of it seemed too gentle.

"My apologies for this injustice, Lady Priestess. Rest assured that the entire camp will be sure to think twice before allowing themselves to act in such a way in the future."

"Wait wait wait, but if those men are innocent then why are they-" Zoe was now right in front of the King.

"They allowed themselves to act in ways unbecoming of those of the Fendarian army and partook in substances that impaired both their ability to serve and the ability of their fellows. This lapse in discipline will be punished by flogging and public display. As is the law of these things."

Iokanan rattled off the sentence as if he was reciting it from parchment. The girl did not need to understand. He had his duties to attend to and order to keep. "Will either of you require further escort back to your tents?"

Zoe was silent and fell in beside Thassa, looking down once more.

'Weakling'

And now there were soldiers who had a reason to hate her, now they were provoked to act like that man had.

"That won't be necessary, thank you my King." Thassa bowed to Iokanan before looking to her sister. "Are you ready to return to our tent?"

"Very good m'lud. You're reporting to Captain Uriah, you dogs! Get in line damn you!"

The angry little envoy screamed, eyes bulging one last time before dashing off, with a quick salute to a certain grizzled-looking man.

So that's the legendary Darion, but up close, huh? He's a bit shorter than I expected, Fei mused silently to himself. His eyes traced the scars on the muscles, the dents in the armor, and the scratches in the blade. This was a man in war, of war, and by war. Fei unconsciously nodded in admiration. It took a certain skill to live through so many battles.

In the corner of Fei's eye was a blonde-haired young man, not much older than himself, standing off to the side. His undoubtedly-expensive vestments, however muddied and bloodied, gave him away as the prince.

Another surprise. Fei shifted his gaze completely to Cadric. Princey-boy looks much more regal from afar.

Appearances aside, both of the pair exuded an aura of enthusiasm for war, for action. Fei, guessing that a night raid was in the works, grinned widely. Royal though they might be, it seemed that the crown prince and his bodyguard wouldn't hesitate to step down from their high horses and play dirty.

Noticing that his crewmates had comprehensively failed to assemble themselves into any kind of coherent formation, instead milling about aimlessly or drinking from some bottle they had picked up off the ground, Fei decided to take charge. Ignoring the disorganization of his three comrades, he strode up to Darion.

"You the Captain, cap'n? Pleased to meet ya. Name's Fei." Fei stretched out a hand. "I'm from the crew of the Sunken Hydra, now part of the merc outfit Submerged Hydra, along with me mates there. Bunch of blasted idiots they are, beggin' yer pardon. You'll forgive the commotion. I'm spokesmate, so you won't be needing to worry about that lot."

Fei always got a kick out of seeing officers' reactions to his speech.

"So I heard from your little demon just now that we'll be part o' some kind of mission of sorts? A night raid, per'aps? We're in, of course, but I'll need to know a bit 'bout what we'll be gettin' into, savvy?"

"So I heard from your little demon just now that we'll be part o' some kind of mission of sorts? A night raid, per'aps? We're in, of course, but I'll need to know a bit 'bout what we'll be gettin' into, savvy?"

"Yes," said Darion, shaking Fei's hand. "A night raid, more or less. Although if it goes well, there won't be any actual fighting. This needs to run smoothly, so, 'spokesperson' or not, I think it best if your men..."

He turned to the boisterous crowd, now. "SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN!" he bellowed. Silence fell immediately. He nodded, taking a far more polite tone.

"That's better. So... the plan. The name of tonight's game is infiltration and sabotage. We'll be dressing as civilians, exiting through the city's East Gate, and swinging around to the beach. Our aim is to get past the guards and into the camp itself, undisturbed. That way, we can blend in with the camp's non-combatant followers. That means no armor, and no swords. Daggers are all we'll have tonight, boys. Now, we have three objectives. First, we douse their siege engines with lamp oil and form a trail over ground to a single point. That way, as we leave, we can light it all up in one go. Secondly, spike as many cook pots, water casks and wine casks as possible. The cook pots will be filled with a very potent laxative. Come dawn, a good many of their soldiers will be hunched in the latrines, shitting out everything they've had in the last six years. In the wine and water, though... I'll be putting hemlock. Now, I don't expect we'll get all of their men with this. Not even most of them. But still, we can kill or otherwise hobble a large amount tonight. And we can definitely destroy their war engines. Their ballistae, their catapults, their battering rams. Could be, the fire will even spread to the tents."

He nodded to himself. "But now, you're probably wondering what our third objective is. Well, it's search and rescue. Regretfully, it has to take backseat to the former two, but if you see any prisoners, mark them in your mind. When the fire starts, we're going to try to lift as many as we can in the chaos and bring them to safety behind these walls. Then in the morning, we'll put spears and swords back in their hands and march them back out onto the beach. Any questions?"

"I was doing fine by myself."

"Maybe you're right," Caius shrugged. "I am getting older by the day. Soon, I'll be dust. Maybe it's better you aren't around when I take my last breath. Maybe it's better you learn to live alone again before that day comes." He looked out towards the beach. "Death surrounds us. There is no escape."

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Thassa and Zoe returned to their tent without a single word spoken between them. The warrior was happy to see her prisoner had been returned to her. It looked as if he'd been knocked unconscious. The woman secretly pitied him as she went about removing her armor. In nothing but a tunic now, Thassa let down her hair and laid down on her sheets. She wasn't sure what to say to her sister. Hopefully Zoe would start the conversation.

She sighed heavily.

Zoe hobbled back to their tent, rather Thassa's tent and since Zoe thought she'd stay on the ship she was now squatting with her. Thinking back she didn't know why she'd sleep on the ship after they had docked. Thankfully it seemed someone had been nice enough to bring her oversized robe to Thassa's tent. Perhaps it was one of the other priestesses? Perhaps they weren't so mean spirited as they appeared.

Zoe slipped out of her normal sized robe which hugged her skin in favour of the massive robe maybe even too big for Thassa. The hood hung low over Zoe's face, completely covering it and blinding her as the tip of the hood reached down to her chest. The sleeves much too big for her, she extended her arms as they dangled. It had been an awful day, she was happy to see Thassa and that man ruined it. It may have been inappropriate, but if she could, she would lighten the mood. She was safe and she had family, and thats all she ever wanted.

"OOOOOOOooooooOOOOOOoooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Zoe stepped up on a crate and leered over Thassa as she lay down the sheets, acting like a ghost. It was silly, and not particularly funny, but it was all she knew to brighten the mood in her not very bright mind.

"Any questions?"

As Darion went on about the plans for the night raid, Fei found himself liking the scheme more and more. The man himself wasn't too boring, either. Efficient and deadly, if his mission spoke anything of his character.

"None whatsoever, cap'n." Fei picked up his discarded sword belt, weighing it in his hand before tossing it into the pile of armor at his feet. His three daggers remained strapped to his chest, underneath the silk shirt. "Now, where d'we throw our ballast, and where shall we start?"

~ Lanius ~

Less than an hour later, the abandoned courtyard was filled with the smell of charred meat and the sound of rending flesh. The priest of Morgal was bent over the smoking remains of the poor man he had sacrificed and was eating his fill, knowing it was unlikely he would be able to do so again for some time. But there was something about the taste, the fact that it made him feel ever-closer to his beloved Goddess of Death, that made him revel in what would be considered profane.

When he finished, he stood and wiped off his mouth and hands with a spare rag then simply tossed it onto the husk before him. Then he smiled sweetly at the remains of his 'meal'.

"Thank you, that was very filling. I hope that you go into Morgals loving embrace in peace." he said.

He bowed, then turned and simply strode out onto the street. He made his way back to the Temple with a belly almost full-to-bursting, a mostly-sated hunger, and a feeling of joy that he had given yet another soul to the deity he devoted his life to.

Stepping into the Temple proper, he made sure to look appropriately somber as he went to the small, sparse dormitory that was meant for the priests. When he laid down on one of the few vacant bedrolls, it didn't take long for him to drift off, sleeping soundly with a small smile on his lips.

"Now, where d'we throw our ballast, and where shall we start?"

'Those are technically questions but alright.' Now wasn't the time for Cadric to be snarky, besides, it wouldn't be proper for a prince to act so childish in front of the men. Even if it would have felt satisfying as anything.

"Anyway, this wont do." Cadric went on, absentmindedly sorting through the ragged pile of commoner clothes. His armour had seen better days, he'd have to get it seen to when it was convenient. 'Or is this a brilliant day for my armour? Gods know it hasn't seen this much proper use in... ever.'

"Your grace, I really must advise against this." Chimed in a worried camp healer. "You've suffered a bad wound... and blows to the head can sneak up on a man."

"Don't be ridiculous, I'm fine." Cadric shrugged them off and started pawing at the clasps of his armour.

"Fine for what, exactly, Cadric?" asked Darion, folding his arms and turning to look at the prince going through the pile of clothes.

"For the raid of course. You can't expect me to sit around while we actually get the chance to take the fight to Io and his dogs."

Darion raised an eyebrow at this. "That's exactly what I expect you to do. You don't seriously think I'm taking you with me in your condition, do you?"

"What condition? I'm fine." Cadric snapped a little, catching himself and remembering to keep his voice down. "I think I would know if I could fight or not, Darion. Aren't you the one always telling me to be more forward and - and - and do something unexpected?"

"There's a difference between surprising the enemy, and walking into their midst with a concussion," replied Darion. "And in any case, this isn't about 'taking the fight to Io and his dogs', or whatever fool notion you've taken into your head. This is about evening the odds so that tomorrow, we don't all get killed, and so a year from now, Astrium still has a royal family and its independence. And that is not something that will happen if you go and get yourself killed over a misplaced sense of pride!"

"But...I..." Years of dozing off and not paying attention to his political tutors came crashing down to put Cadric in his place. That must have been it. It was easier than accepting that he was being a swine headed fool. What could he say to that? Part of him knew that he could pull rank, as prince and heir to the island they stood on he could do it. Command his servant to do as he said and grab his second chance at glory.

And prove he wasn't worth the advice Darion was giving him.

"Understood, Captain Uriah." He said like a boy truly put in his place. "I have other duties to attend to anyway. Do not let me keep you from yours any further." Cadric's tone became more formal as he went and the mantle of his station fell around him like a mental cloak.

Cadric almost bumped into the red robed woman as he gathered his things and made to leave. 'Lail, that was her name wasn't it?'

"I assume you still wish to take up rooms at the lord's palace? If nothing else I can serve as a fine guide if you need help finding the place." Cadric offered out, again not really understanding why. "Dornium can be quite the maze once the light starts to fade." Cadric didn't imagine Darion would wait at the walls all night, but he was feeling far too awkward about their exchange to go back by the main paths his mentor would choose. Yet still feeling a need for company.

=============================================================================

Darion let out his breath and turned back to Fei. "The servants will keep your weapons and armour stored for you. It's a while yet before we'll be setting out, so until then, try to sober this lot up. We need clear heads for work like this. If you'll excuse me, I've some things that need attending to before the raid. Send a servant to my quarters if you need anything."

He turned and left without waiting for a response. When he got back to his room, he slid the bolt across the door and closed his eyes. He didn't like any of what had happened. Tearing out a prince wasn't his place, but he couldn't let Cadric go and get himself killed. The boy had been his ward since infancy, and though he was a man grown, all Darion saw was the grinning little boy with hair in his eyes and scrapes on his knees.

==============================================================================

"What a bloody day it's been." Iokanan grumbled to himself, totally unaware of any wordplay that might have been going on. "You could have taken all this in stride, couldn't you, Dasmos? Bet you would have kicked that little cunt's arse this morning as well, wouldn't you?"

Io felt like he should have let out a mighty sigh and just deflated all over the shore but recent events had gotten him tense all over again. He wasn't going to get any sleep tonight it seemed. Especially not with the sound of lapping waves calling to the wine in his bladder.

A quick fumble with his clothes later and...noooow Io could let out a mighty sigh as he took one of the greatest pleasures a solider could in times of war. Pissing on your enemy's land.

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