Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Phoe
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"Did you know, before Father brought us here it had been absolute aaaaages since I had any materials to work with other than snow and worn out leather? Oh yes darling, it was horrible! Well. Imagine my disappointment when I wind up as prince of the one country in this entire little menagerie you call a planet that doesn't understand how to work in anything other than silk! It's like, honey, haven't you ever heard of satin? Cotton, wool, fur, hmm? Velvet? Lamé? Do you have any of these words in that pretty little head of yours?"

Alina's head shakes 'no', thanks to Cassian's guiding hand that's squeezing her jaw. He chuckles at his own little game, then goes back to ruining her hair. Her eyes roll so hard it's a wonder they don't fall out. With her lips so tightly gagged, that's the only form of rebellion she's got left. Somehow, that isn't the worst part. Not the ropes pinning her arms in place and crushing her chest flat, not this stiff satin nightmare he's tossed on top of her bare skin without any in between layers, not even the pointy glass shoes he's stuffed her into that are a size too small for even her feet.

No, it's the talking. He won't. Shut. Up! He's like an insufferable daddy's boy who has to fill every second with inane chatter about how great he is because he's worried if he stops puffing himself up for one second everyone will forget his majesty and he'll melt into nothing on the spot. He's a pale, grating imitation of his father, and he's every bit as bad at keeping his hands to himself.

She might have bought the pretense of him fluffing the poofy white rose patterned shoulders on her dress, except that he's still doing it fifteen minutes later and keeps switching to stroking her arms until she starts to shudder. She wouldn't have minded him tying the black satin sash around her waist if he didn't keep pinching her while he did it.

"Frankly, I still can't believe how ghastly your people's sense of color is! Baby doll, just pick a palette! Goodness knows you're got enough rivers clotting up your little rat's nest to build a perfectly gorgeous identity around some nice soothing blues, maybe a splash of green here and there for contrast. But you Illuminans are all... eugh, warm on warm on warm on cold! Of course, for you I would have suggested a full ensemble of cherry-frosting pink, darling. You know, a nice vapid color to match your empty bubble ditz charms! But, alas, Father has needs and those must be met. So it's back to the Classics for now~"

Yeah sure, the classics. Alina feels like a Rider stereotype right now, which is funny because there aren't Riders anymore. Her dress is such a deep shade of blue it looks black in most lights, contrasted with the ceremonial white ropes tied thither and yon across her chest and arms like lines of frost growing on a lake. Or stars falling from the sky, depending on how you tilt your head. Her arms are tied very precisely so that her hands rest demurely together in front of her waist, secured by a length of powder blue ribbon around the wrists. It's forcing her hands closed around the centerpiece of the dress: a bouquet of ice flowers she's already being made to hold in her bare hands despite having no one to show them to. What's sad is that they are beautiful, despite all the pain they're causing her fingers. Alina would absolutely keep these in her house, if only she'd come by them in some happier way.

They could fit in here. This entire family and all the people they dragged with them. Every one of the sisters is proof of that. What made the rest of them so different? Alina grits her teeth and glances down at her skirt, before too much pity runs through her and washes away her fight. The blues get lighter as the dress opens up at her feet, dotting the (hmm, that must be damask) fabric with swirling snowflakes that freeze into harsh icicles at the hem. Her shoes are glass and, again, a size too small, with sharp high heels that lift her permanently onto her toes, and a line of diamond chain clasping two anklets together and forcing her to take only the absolute daintiest of steps. She can walk, it's just... only the way she's supposed to. This entire outfit is about forcing her into submission, making her exclusively into something to be looked at, and only in the exact way Oberon wants her to be. It's disgusting.

And then Cassian smirks and clicks a deep blue collar around her neck, with a length of that same diamond chain serving as a leash wrapped tightly around his hand. He holds up a mirror so she can see the black streaks specked with 'starry' jewels he's painted around her eyes, the frozen blue lipstick that shines overtop the cleft of her gag, and the way he's unstyled her hair and brushed down her curls until they've simply given up and died. He flashes her an over satisfied smirk, and caresses her cheek with a thumb.

"So what do you think? Perfect, right?" he nods her head for her, "Yes, I thought so too. Mm, I do have a gift for fashion, after all. Thank goodness Asteria's not still around to ruin my good work."

Cassian circles around her once. And then again. There's something awful in his eyes, and the way he smiles sends a shiver crawling down Alina's spine, especially when he licks his lips right after. His gloved hand cups her chin, and he leans in far too close for comfort. Despite all his perfumes, he's still covered in the stench of the Garthim. Possibly he will be for the rest of his life. She has to fight hard not to flinch.

"Hmmmm, you know honestly, not bad. Not at all bad, if I do say so myself. Yes darling, you were just the pick-me-up I needed. You know, I must say, I originally had designs on your little sister, but... now that I've finally gotten a closer look at you, you really are the more fetching prize, aren't you? Yes, I think you'll make a very fine wife. Something of an after party for the main event, I suppose, but you'll see just how good I am at showing ladies like yourself what pleasure really--"

Alina's headbutt connects hard enough this time to draw blood from his nose. She can't tell with him holding it and whimpering like he is, but she might have even broken it. Good. Cassian's eyes flash darkly, and he backhands her cheek hard enough to drop her from her chair. With no arms to catch herself with she tumbles all the way to the ground, only not cracking her head on the floor because she ran out of leash before she got there, and merely finds herself being choked instead.

"You little wh--" Cassian takes a deep breath and runs both hands through his slicked back hair. He tugs importantly on his jacket and straightens up importantly. The nastiest smile she's ever seen spreads across his face, "You know what? That's fine. I was going to save this as a surprise, but since you're such a... hmph. I can't wait to see what you turn into. Father needs a new set of daughters, you see, and you're first in line you savage little ditz. He's going, haha, he's going to rip all of your precious memories right out of that frilly little heart of yours until you can't even recognize your harlot kitty friend! I'm sure once we're finished filling you back up with ice you'll be even more useless than Ninian was, but, mmm haha, that's fine! It would please me to have a new doll to play with! Now get on your feet! We have places to be!"

He doesn't dare touch her himself. No, he makes the Garthim grab her by the armpits and drag her back up. She figures out where he wants her to follow by the tugging on her leash, and scrambles to keep pace with the ridiculous bindings around her ankles. This is how Alina Cascade faces the most important stage she's even been on in her entire life. Her heart pounds frantically in her chest. And, perhaps, Cassian Fleet would not have dared to bring her there if he had noticed she had no more tears in her eyes...
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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She is the only one to ever complete me. It really has been a long time. Oberon didn't marry on the previous world, the one with all the technology and lasers. Nobody there was right for him, he had said. It was a world to be pillaged, and even then not much. He was a man who preferred the inherent magic in things: his collection was full of the dagger of midnight whatever and the keening scythe of some river that he probably froze over. Things that were mass-produced, even if powerful, did not delight his fancy and the people who delved and tinkered were not people that caught his interest.

*****
Kazelia walks demurely behind her Father. He's taking her to get changed, she's trying not to think about the moment, biding her time. It's easier to be somewhere else, to let her body move on autopilot while she reflects back on some of the memories she's privileged to have. They're still distant-feeling, those memories. No longer lost to her, but like someone else's life viewed far a few feet away. Her heart was frozen for so long, she's so young and so old all at once.
*****

The last time Oberon had said that...hmm, it would have been three worlds ago, perhaps? The one before the world with all its advanced inventions had been mostly barren, scattered steppe peoples who rode horses. Something of a good extended fight for a while, but a disappointment to take. Oberon hadn't even intervened personally, he'd spent the whole time delving in dungeons, looking for the people who must have come before on that one. But the world before had been rich enough. That one had been mostly barren, but there were great rivers running from the heart of the world every which way in some kind of grand pattern. All the leylines of the place had been water, and around each twisting, flowing line that lead to the world's heart people had sprung up to live and thrive on the floods and their bounty. Little pockets of rich people with the strength and magic of water, but with travel from point to point long and dangerous. At the center, there had been a queen of rivers and rainbows, the magic of mist and spray. Ashisha, she had been called. It had been different from the crystal and rains of the Illuminans. Ashisha had perched on a throne of crocodiles in the center of a rushing rapid and sipped from a golden goblet when Oberon first came to her. She had not tried to cast him out as Ourania had. Water knew better than to face ice and she hadn't Ourania's power (nobody had, which had so often been the point). Instead, she had invited him to sit and eat with his family and her loyal guests, the representatives of the animals and spirits of each of the great rivers. Perhaps she thought he could be more agreeable, perhaps carve out a frozen river for himself and settle a boreal valley for his own.

Either way, he grew wild at the glorious feast, the golden goblet, the beautiful drapes and dresses that the spirits wore at Ashisha's calling. He had said then She is the only one to ever complete me. The wedding had been glorious. He'd even permitted her local traditions and married beneath a waterfall. He hadn't frozen it immediately. But it did freeze, the heart of that world froze, and as Ashisha grew weaker and weaker, Oberon gave her less and less of his attention. He busied himself visiting the kingdoms and seeking tribute. Gathering people and tools as was his wont and giving the people to Mother Void when the time was right. Always the same story.

When he'd said it then, it had been several worlds. Before that one, there had been the queen of some well-settled world who lived in luxurious gardens each ordered exactly to her liking. He had appreciated that, but his vision was only for his own order and she had ultimately chafed and been imprisoned a month or two after the wedding with little ceremony.

Before that that had been two in a row, one sun queen (not near Ourania's stature) and one moon queen in two worlds that were together in the vast void, but separated, in a sort of spiraling magical orbit.

And of course, long ago, there had been Mother. Real Mother. He had said of her she is the only one to ever complete me. Once to his daughters when they lived together in simpler times that lacked great magics but were rich with honeyed bread and freshly-made butter. And then a second time after they had left, in the cold, alone, as they walked through the storm into a night that never ended because he wanted them to know that he was good and worthy of them, and speaking well of their mother might do something like that. Even if it was an obvious lie.

*****

She's getting changed now. What was she wearing? Something poofy, Oberon's image of the perfect little daughter for his wedding, the only one of his children left to attend now. She dreamily let herself be dressed, but she insisted on keeping her spear. It was a symbol of her station, after all and Oberon did always traffic in hierarchy if nothing else.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Alina!

Before you leave, Cassian takes the time to inspect his absolutely broken nose in the mirror. With very satisfying whimpers and squeaks, he pushes it back into place, and then a pale light plays at his fingertips. His face goes even paler, almost snowy white, as he runs one finger along his bridge. “Good as new,” he sighs, before sponging at the nosebleed and reapplying his blush.

Ah. That’s why Oberon keeps Cassian close. He’s a healer, a great big... a goblin battery, that’s what he is, to charge his father when he’s out of energy. The fight against Oberon will be a lot more dangerous if something doesn’t happen to Cassian beforehand.

Given the slightest opportunity, he’ll learn exactly what you think of his advances.

But you’re a little distracted by Ourania. She was holding it together for you, and now that she’s being called upon to be ready for the wedding, well... when Cassian started helping her into her wedding dress, you could see just how extensively the black-purple veins have spread across her back and shoulders. It’s possible that when she suggested you use Argossa, she was trying to make her own sacrifice in your stead.

Ourania...

She’s not having to hobble her way up the stairs onto the tea veranda, now a wedding stage. She’s limply being carried in the pincers of one of the Garthim, her wedding veil hiding the flawless black pearl set between her lips (to avoid inconvenient objections), her normally lustrous and shining hair bound into a dull, severe bun. If any half-respectable fox saw this, they’d call the whole thing off in horror and spend the rest of the day letting Ourania lie in the bath while preparing hot chicken noodles and tea, and then soundly spanking the would-be groom while dangling him upside down and lecturing him on how! you kidnap and marry! a queen!!

As for the wedding stage itself... the sky is slate grey, and snowflakes dance down, reminding you of Ilumina. Your home, freed. You have to keep it safe, no matter what. No matter the cost.

Garthim line the aisle. Of course, like any good invader, he has to set up a gaudy, lavish wedding. Hyperborea’s intimate, loving promises made before a few family and friends, and the exchange of clothing and jewelry, is so much better than this extravagance. It’s a display of Oberon’s power, his will to dominate, his army of magic sea parasites, and Cassian’s gaudy decorating sense.

You follow Cassian down the aisle with those ridiculous, mincing, hurried steps, waiting for the moment to make your move. Until... oh, no, Adila!

Cassian, no!!

***

Adila!

Hornet squeezes the badge, and follows that lifeline with you back to the present. To the time that is Now. To be with her friend, who is you, and you swell with pride as you come back to yourself, and stare into a nightmare.

Garthim feed on magic, and also on magical creatures. Magical creatures deep in the sea often object to being swallowed, and do their best to slip out of that awful mouth, which is why the mouth (surrounded by waving, barbed maxillipeds) is lined with bony teeth, all the way down the neck. And you’re staring down one right now.

The Garthim (plural) surrounding you and Hornet are trying to pry the two of you apart, but it was an uphill battle even before Hornet lifted her feet off the ground and wrapped you in a full-body hug. She’s little more than a snack for them, while you’re the main course they want to feast on, digesting you and your magic for... who knows how long it would take.

Why are they suddenly so active? You see the smug smile of Cassian Fleet as he glances over his shoulder at you, and know: they’re being directed. He told them to eat you.

And suddenly becoming huge might risk squishing Hornet, who’s standing between you and that nightmare mouth, forced down by walls of ersatz muscle into the dark furnace at its heart.

And, ridiculously, over the awful chittering you can hear the ominous, dirge-like wedding march. Things have already started. You saved your friend, but at what cost?

***

Kazelia!

You’re the ringbearer! Congratulations! These rings, he must have commissioned specially. On one of his journeys across Hyperborea, he doubtless stopped at Hobling Keep and slipped in as... someone. Not a peasant, not a shepherd, perhaps some rich Jedadi merchant or a dour Deep Hollow dandy, someone who could afford these interlocking serpent rings. Ouroboros, leashed.

You stand there in your stockings and squeaky-polished Mary Janes, and a dress the exact color of sunless ice, so ostentatiously precious and frilly and poofy that it is attempting to annex everything around you. There is a hair bow. It is enormous and easily gets caught on things. It is proving to be very difficult to hold both spear and ring cushion, and fighting in this is more likely to end with you face planting than anything.

Too bad Asteria’s wardrobe ended up being useful for your father one more time. And too bad that everything’s falling apart around you. They have Alina and Cassian’s trying to get Adila eaten and the dress has its own center of gravity, and you still don’t know how your father is poisoning Argossa or where it’s hidden...

But before you can think that it is hopeless, Mother Void takes the thought apart. Lies...

Then there must be hope. Somehow. Somewhere. Even in the dark...

Be a light.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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The procession is starting, but it's not time yet. Keep waiting. Keep holding on. The room is lined with Garthim and Adila, oh goodness, she needs to help Adila. Kazelia's thoughts swirl back to the present. To everything here. To...Cassian. Little Cassian who's wearing the amulet and controlling this horde of monsters. Not Oberon, but Cassian. The last child of a failed father, still clinging to him because...oh Cassian, do you have anybody else?

"Cassian." Her voice isn't loud. It's carried by magic, one of the simplest tricks but one of the oldest. The magic to talk even when it shouldn't be possible. To listen when she shouldn't be able to hear. He could ignore the voice in his ear. Of course he could. He's winning. But does he want to? "Cassian. Father's on his last legs. He's doing this out of spite. He's got something corrupting Argossa and when this is done, it's not going to be a victory and new Riders. It's going to be all of this ending. All of us."

She pauses, to let that sink in. They're both starting to march down the aisle. It's Cassian's ceremony, more than Oberon's. Twisted, but the design sense isn't bad. Her spear clicks as she uses it for balance while her other arm carries the rings. "You don't have to be like him, Cassian." She's using his full name, addressing him with a respect that he's rarely received from his sisters. That's always been the mistake. Everyone makes fun of him all the time and so he's scared and angry, isn't that right? "What do you want?" He doesn't have to answer her, but he could. Her attention is on him, he just has to mouth the words and she'll hear as though he's whispering right in her ear. What does he want?

[Speak softly 4+5+1=10.
What does Cassian want, and how can we help him get it?
What would he have us do, really?
What can he tell us about how he's really feeling?]
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The maid of honor's duty is to the bride. This is why Alina's still standing in the spot where she's been led, straight and dignified and looking directly at Ourania in spite of everything else that's happening. Even now at the very edge of total disaster, she doesn't pull out some fantastic trick or brave sacrifice play.

Of course she doesn't. How could she? Argossa is too sick to reward all of her other sacrifices with new magic. There are no more colors on her crown. Her arms and legs are bound and she's still being held on a leash by Cassian. She can't even say something brave or defiant or bring hope to her friends while she's gagged like this.

Oh, Adila. She's so sorry. Fly. Please, fly! While there's still time, spread your beautiful wings and fly! She thinks it over and over again, screaming it inside her head just in case that makes a difference. But of course, she can't project her thoughts even an inch in front of her face, so who knows if that's doing any good. She switches to wishing with her heart, instead.

This is the end of the journey. Alina feels so very tired. Oberon is so hopelessly strong. But do you see it, Ourania? Her beautiful green eyes are dazzling and bright. Her posture is tall and proud. There's not a hint of a shake or a shiver to her anywhere, even though she's standing so close to him! This is the shape of your latest miracle: a broken princess being strong for you. All for you! So that, just this once, you can let yourself be weak. Cry if you need to, it's ok.

But, you know the funny thing about miracles? It's the tiny ones that always seem to make the biggest difference. A young girl sees a sunrise at just the right moment, and it makes her heart melt. A cat and a mermaid become friends at a party both were invited to by accident. All these tiny, trite moments cascade into each other until they're a force more powerful than the tallest waterfall. Like how a single snowflake can become part of a flurry. And that flurry can grow into a blizzard, and then the blizzard leads to a single perfect Solstice Morning where two little girls can bundle up and go shell hunting on the riverbank together which, although they don't realize it until many years afterwards, leads directly to them falling in love.

Those are the true miracles, the real magic of Hyperborea. And you know what? They're too small and too numerous for someone like Oberon Greymane to stamp them all out. Maybe that's what Alina's thinking when she turns to look at the snow falling down on you from the sky. Will you look too, Your Majesty? Can you hope the way that she hopes, for one more tiny miracle to turn the tide?
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Thanqol
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Princess Adila stands up as tall as she safely can. She's surrounded on all sides. Strength flows through her muscles and her eyes move smoothly from target to target. Assessing. Processing. Preparing.

Of course it's doomed. Of course she has no chance. She doesn't need a legendary work of military strategy engraved on her soul to know that. She's not powerful enough to win, of course not, not in the face of these numbers, this evil, his strength.

But... it's not always about winning. It's not about power either. She has enough strength and ferocity within her heart to fight, even now, even if it's futile. She can't stop this, but she can get Princess Hornet to safety - and maybe if she's very lucky, Princess Alina and Princess Kazelia as well. The proud little flame in her heart that one day dreamed of dragons can at the very least manage this.

+Princess Hornet,+ said Adila, spreading her wings causing the vibrant oranges of her dress to cascade, glittering with firedust in the colours of the rainbow sands of Jedad. +No matter what happens... I trust you to fix things. Okay?+
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Kazelia!

"Do you, Ourania, take High King Oberon of Hyperborea to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"She does."

("I've already got what I want," he says, tugging on Alina's leash. "He'll let me keep her after he changes her. I'm the only one left." His voice cracks. "He has to.")

"Do you, High King Oberon of Hyperborea, take Ourania to be your lawfully wedded bride?"

"I do."

(When he looks at your father, it's with envy and need and vulnerability. He wants that power. He wants a girl, so he can show off that power. If you don't object at the right moment, if something goes wrong, he'll treat Alina exactly the way he watches your father treat Ourania. Because he thinks that will make him safe, that will make him loved, that will finally make him feel respected.)

"The ringbearer will now present the rings." Cassian nudges you with his shoe, holding the impressive-looking book that's just for show, as he prepares to swear them in. Man and wife. And night over Hyperborea forever. He's not looking at you; he only has eyes for your father. One day, you can almost hear him thinking; one day, I'll be like him, and nobody will ever make fun of me again for sleeping with my plushies.

But then--

***

Alina!

"I OBJECT!"

Jessamine didn't get the timing right, but she's got the volume. Shiva swoops up into the sky above you all, and for a moment her wings are the only light. Oberon snarls, and shoves Kazelia aside as he uncoils Pearlion and throws--

And you will not let your sister be hurt, or Dandy behind her, or even Azora Howl rising elegantly off Shiva's rump, and most especially of all Rita von Catabas, clinging with grim determination to Jessamine's cavalry breastplate. Gold wraps around the ribbon-spear inches from Jess, and it slackens and floats uselessly down as Gold hangs in the air and glows brilliantly, suffusing the entire wedding party. Oberon draws some horrible whip-sword from his belt, and then drops it with a sharp hiss as the golden light plays around it.

Then everything happens all at the same time.

Azora Howl lifts up a dozen Garthim with her dark shadows, leaving them wriggling and roiling in her grasp, even as the rest begin boiling on top of each other in an attempt to reach Shiva and her tasty princess-sized magic treats. Dandy jumps, and even as she does, half of the flowers that Cassian used in the decorating -- the ones that aren't ice -- burst their pots, growing wild and dangerous and thorny around the host. They can't pierce those glossy black shells, but they can constrain and keep her free to rush over to Adila and Hornet.

Jessamine, meanwhile, swoops low on Shiva and then feints, makes him brace to stop the pegasus in her tracks, and he would have, he's strong enough with that gem glittering beneath his suit, but Shiva soars over his head and Jessamine drops down and plants her foot in his face, and Rita follows, diving for you with a heartfelt yowl, and you're going to be saved.

One more miracle. One more.

***

Adila!

This changes the calculus of tactics a lot, but what it can't change is the sincerity of what you just said. Hornet looks up at you through those goggles, those shields between her and the world, and she smiles a little bit. A fraction of a twitch at the corner of her mouth. But it's enough to tell you that she is listening, and trying her best to write this down in her heart as an important new data point.

Then Princess Dandelion swamps one of the Garthim holding onto you with a wave of moss and white lilies, you're able to wriggle out of its claws, and then you return to your proper self. The one that's sized properly for fighting these nasty parasites.

Your quick battlefield analysis: Azora's bowling Garthim through the biggest clumps, Dandelion has everything near the bouquets on lockdown, Jessamine's boxing Oberon, Rita's helping Alina out of her bondage, Kazelia's got her spear at the ready... if you can turn the tables and get a decisive victory here and now, you've got a fighting chance.

The longer that you draw this out, however, the worse things are going to get. The Garthim are unstoppable, even if they're easily confused and tend to get knocked about easily, and they're already starting to clip their way through Dandy's vines and flowers. Oberon's off balance, but if he connects with Jessamine even once, she's going to be out for the count.

For Hyperborea!
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Do you see?

Alina is crying again. Darn it all, she's crying again. And she's laughing too, through her gag and everything. What else is she supposed to do, when her heart is overflowing like this? She twists on the spot, all sniffley chokey sobby happy relieved, just enough to be facing Rita as she hurls through the air toward her. The yowls of a cat become her name. Her tiny kitten body shines with light that's never needed to sit on a crown as she grows larger and larger and gets closer and closer. You need arms for proper hugging, after all. All the power of cat and girl collides with Alina Cascade and bowls her clean over, jerking the leash out of Cassian Fleet's surprised hand as the pair of them go tumbling end over end across the floor.

Do you see?

The Gold of Queen Halcyon is riding a storm of magic. Everywhere it flits it whispers, "You are safe. I am here beside you, you are safe." With a crack like fresh thunder it raises up a glittering wall in the shape of a seven petaled flower that saves Dandy from a horrible black spear with wicked barbs that must surely steal the beauty from whatever they pierce forever. It scatters in a golden wave of freesia blossoms and sweeps up the sword that splits the skies to bury it harmlessly point down into the ground. It wraps around Jessamine just in time to melt the blade of the wonder knife that is called Yearning before it can carve her heart empty once again. She immediately follows up with a flip kick to Oberon's jaw that carries her somersaulting away from his retaliatory grasp.

Do you see?

Clever kitty claws have pulled Alina's gag free and cut the ropes and ribbons that bound her arms. The bouquet of ice flowers shatters into a hundred pieces beneath them. Where the light catches them, they glitter with a radiance unseen even in the likes of Hyperborea. There is such beauty in these fragments. Even wrapped in all this cold cruelty, there is so much beauty in everything that made it here across the endless Void and over the back of Ouroboros. Why should it not have a home here, if only it can learn to share of the endless bounty of this wonderful world instead of taking and taking and leaving none for those who came before. Every daughter has a home here. Every son, if they but learn to ask. Every weary traveler from across the starry skies may stay, and rest, and feast, and love here for all their days. Though perhaps...

Do you see?

Gold is making mockery of the treasury of Oberon Greymane, the supposed High King of Hyperborea. Everywhere it blazes it turns aside another stolen treasure from a lost and mournful world. And now when it does so, Gold twists itself into the shape of that whip, that bow, that sword, that staff, a perfect golden copy of the thing it crushes to the earth. Do not think yourself special, O King! You have no treasure so unique I cannot match it! And you, who prize the taking of things above all, will never wield any of your precious baubles with the kind of power that could match ME! How could you hope to? You have not put in the barest amount of practice or shown the meanest amount of love to any of your wonders compared with the effort my precious and beloved Alina has shared with hers. See where your path has led you? Even a silly tickle-fighter like her has the power to stand against you!

Do you see?

Alina has her arms wrapped tight around Rita. She is squeezing too hard for her girlfriend to be able to finish unchaining her ankles. Is now the time for this? With Garthim swarming all around her, she pulls her Rita tight against her until their chests kiss and their hearts beat against each other's. She rakes her hands across Rita's back, scratches up her neck, and runs them through her sweet smelling hair. She pulls her precious treasure's forehead close against her own and squeezes her eyes shut in mimicry of Rita's happy squint to block off her tears and let herself be filled in body and soul with the beautiful sound of purring.

Do you see?

Though doom draws closer all around them, their eyes are shut to all the world outside of this tight embrace. Alina's lips part and brush against Rita's with a kiss softer than the dawning sun. They linger there a moment longer, then press together once again. Alina steals a breath from Rita, and parts with a delirious giggle. Rita sobs and steals it right back. They kiss again. And again. With hands exploring ears or necks or the contours of a perfect, lovely jaw. They kiss in that way that anyone should be embarrassed to do in front of others, made heedless by their love. The space where lips separate is filled with silly, teasing licks, and then they dive deep again and drown inside each other.

Do you see?

They pull apart at last, and it's hard to say who is crying harder than the other. Alina's hands are shaking as she sets her empty crown atop her head. She needs it there. She can't free her treasures without it. Her fingers are trembling so much she can barely tie the promise band around Rita's wrist. She almost drops the ring. Twice. Where did all her grace get to when she needed it the most? She can't even get it on Rita's finger; she has to hand it to her and press her palm closed around it instead.

"MARRY ME!" her two words sing out through the whole of Argossa. No one here can miss them.

"I... Lina?"

"Marry me!" she says again, "I never want to be apart from you! I want to do the Summer and Winter! Or the, the Winter and Summer! Spring and... oh, who cares! I'll live in a closet for the rest of my life if it means I can be with you!"

Do you see? Are you watching, do you see?

Rita gasps. She mews where there ought to be words, and then she laughs where there should be tears, and... oh! Oh! She's nodding! That means yes! She's nodding her head and saying yes! And none of this is how either of them dreamed that it would be. Nor is this the right time for any of it. But none of that matters. Perfect or imperfect, right time or wrong one, this is the only way it could ever have happened. It has to be now, because there might never be a later. There are princesses to thwart him and a shining light sending him into an impossible rage, but Oberon is mighty and his Garthim are unstoppable, and all around. And even should he lose that might still be the end of everything, if the tree is too far gone, if the heart of Hyperborea goes quiet, if, if, if...

That's why, do you see? Now is the time for lovers to love. Now is the time to say the words that need to be said and not hold back at all. Because now is the only time there is.

"I love you!"
"I love you!"

"I'm yours!"
"I'm yours!"
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Princess Adila breathes in.

Little cloth bags on each of her wingtips are torn open. The glittering sand cascades down them surrounding her in a storm of jewels. She tosses her head back, wings up, and the tiniest spark passes from her lips - like a kiss on the breeze for the world she loves.

The sand ignites, coursing down her neck and bursting through the air in flames that for a moment seem like a mane as wild as her heart. She steps forwards, claws clacking sparks from the stone floor, causing lines of fire to run up her legs in spiral patterns. Her eyes are closed and this one step, this first step, feels so much like dancing. All along her body the black burns orange and the fire of her heart is visible for all to see.

Then she snaps her wings in close and pivots about in a single devastating motion, spreading that fire with her pirouette. The flaming sand expands out in all directions and then the flames finally catch the partially filled bags and there's a detonation like a bad day at Hobling Keep.

As the smoke clears Adila shines. The sudden burst of dragonfire-heat has melted the prismatic sand that had delicately coated her scales into glittering stained glass. For a moment she's radiant, shining black gloss that reflects Alina's light of gold - a dark and crystal moon around that radiant sun.

She's freed from pride and fear both. She fights by expressing herself, and she fights only to buy time for her friends to express themselves. She's not striving for victory, she's striving so that Dandy has time to cast her magic - all the magic of love and life - so that Hornet has time to realize whatever inspiration takes her, that Alina has time to properly kiss her wife. There's no strategy that can be higher than this; to live your best life and help all of your friends to live theirs too. There are more wonders in each heart she fights for than she could imagine in all her days of dreaming.
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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Princess Kazelia Swiftlance smiles and there are tears in her eyes, full of stars and simmering fire. Cassian had been planning to skip the objections, so Jessamine's timing was perfect. Everything about this was perfect and beautiful and true to Hyperborea. You see, Mother. There is truth, and there is beauty, and they can come together and make something even greater.

But first, in the center of the chaos there is one heart that's still unsteady. One heart that hasn't made its final choice yet. Oh Cassian? What happened to you in all those ages where all their hearts were frozen over? When did you go from being a sweet child to feeling so out of control? To the need to pretend and act like Oberon because you couldn't see any other way to keep yourself safe? Everything had been like it was for such uncounted time, and yet she still saw him as a sweet boy to tease and have fun together. He didn't want that anymore and he deserved better. That was what made Hyperborea special: that people could do better, be better, feel better here.

Kazelia nodded to Alina, her gold vexing every one of Oberon's toys. And she waved to Adila, who filled the room with glorious light and fire in her majesty. But her stride was to Cassian who had a dumbstruck look on his face. And before there were words, there was a gentle touch. The softest hand on his shoulder. He still jumps like a rabbit, but he is not restrained. Kazeila's voice is clear, trained to be heard even over a battle, but here it is calming and gentle.

"Cassian. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for not seeing you, even after we were all free of Father's power. I'm sorry for not seeing the things you care about and teasing you. But you don't have to do this. You don't have to be like Father to earn respect. You don't need to hurt people to have power. Look at all this." She waves a hand as Shiva swoops past them and Jessamine comes in for another pass even as Alina's gold cuts the string on the bow of Midnight Shadows and renders it useless. "Nobody respects Oberon. What he does creates nothing but hate. I don't think you've ever wanted that. You've always liked making things beautiful. Even this ceremony, I know you designed it all and you made it in grand Hyperborean style even now."

Kazelia pauses. She's thinking about how to say it. That last little step. Does she tell him what she wants? Does she give him the freedom to choose? What does Cassian need to light the fire in his heart? "Cassian I...used to think that being strong meant being like Father too. Powerful magic, a deadly spear, and I'd jump straight away to crush anything that got in my way. I was always out front, the first and fastest to battle because I thought that if I destroyed everything before it could act, nothing could hurt me." She smiles, looks herself over herself with her poofy dress and her Mary Janes. "and now I let you dress me so that I could get here and be here for my friends. What I learned in Hyperborea is respect isn't something you get by trying to take it. It's something you get by giving it away. So, what do you want, Cassian? What kind of man do you want to be?"

[Wisdom Finish: 3+5+1=9. So he'll damage a stat. If I can roll with hope with all the aid of all these friends nearby, one of those dice is a 4 and that's a 10.]
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Kazelia!

Cassian deflates. He shudders with a guilty sob, and then wordlessly reaches up and lifts the thong of the Amulet off his neck, struggling, as if it is a heavy iron collar. Then, all at once, it's up and over his head, and he hands it over to you, closing your hands around it.

"I don't deserve to be here," he says. "Tell the Iluminan I'm... you know... I really am," he says, lamely. Then, he takes advantage of the sudden chaos as the Garthim go wild to duck away, trying to run away from the excruciating experience of having to look Alina in the eye after what he's said, what he's done. And maybe she'll forgive him, and maybe she won't; but what's important is that you have the means to control Oberon's last and final army.

***

Alina!

The moment should last forever. That's what you deserve. But Oberon ruins everything.

You pull Rita in close, and her surprised chirp fills your world, and so does the smell of Askaian perfume on her skin, as you roll out of the way of Oberon's boot. Where you were, there is a crater of splintered bark and crystal. He's not even following you! He just saw a chance to distract Jess by trying to kill you.

And it works! Jess makes a wrong move, trying to interpose herself between him and you, and he lunges out and grabs her by the throat--

***

Hornet!

You have only a few materials available to hand, but your best friend trusts you to fix things. And what's the first step in fixing things? That's right, analysis of the problem. So you construct (using a Garthim claw, your hairband, a napkin from the buffet table, Oberon's scarf that Alina dropped, and a floral bouquet) a Representational Weakness-Diagramming Automatic Writer Device, aligned towards Oberon.

It draws the head of a dragon, which makes a lot of sense. Of course Adila is his weakness! She's the strongest princess ever, you assume, although that reminds you that you should finish constructing your Strength Analytical Gauntlet, sized for both a dragon and a devil... wait, it's drawing another head on top of that one. One with what appears to be the representation of a crown. It's very spiky! And not connected to her head, weirdly. And then a third head, and this time it draws eyes, driving the claw deep into the napkin and scribbling the eyes as almost perfect black ovals, the white spots inside carefully avoided. A pattern?

"Adila!" You run over to her, and she politely sets only the Garthim around you on fire instead of breathing fire all over you. You hold up the Device. "Please assist me in interpreting this data!"
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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Kazelia nods and takes the amulet. She had hoped he would stay, but that was good enough. She places it over her own head and the magical command rings out across the garthim: be still!. They're a distraction and it's time to give the gathered princesses a chance to focus. They made a much better guest list than a bunch of giant crabs.

It was only then that Kazelia drew her spear and turned her attention to her father. Fire sprang to life up and down the haft of the spear, its glow reflecting the fire in her eyes that blazed fiercely. It swirled past her arm and skirting the edges of her poofy dress and stockings. She wasn't about to ruin a perfectly good wedding outfit! As she strode forwards, she saw Alina hold onto Rita then roll away from Oberon's boot as he slammed the floor hard enough to spread cracks away from the spot and gripped her spear tighter. She saw Jessamine swoop down and quickened her pace, Mary Janes scraping over the stone floor. She saw Oberon grab the princess from atop Shiva with all his strength, yanking Jess from the saddle, and that was when Kazelia struck.

[Keep Busy: 2+5+2=9. His attention is all on Kazelia, but he'll retaliate when time is up.]

She let out a loud snarl, hundreds of years of suppressed rage compacted into an instant. Her spear raked across his back and the flame left scorch marks along his wedding suit. It wasn't enough to truly injure him, but it was enough to make him forget Jessamine and turn away from her, Alina, and Rita for the moment. As he turns, she strikes again with a quick thrust straight for the stomach. It forces him to parry with his bare hands, getting them a little singed even as his strength lets him push the spear aside. Again, and again, and again, she circles him and strikes, feinting and pressing, constantly singing him and never letting him have the time to fully recover himself. Kazelia forces him to slowly give ground, a single step, then another. As she does, her breathing becomes more even and she regains her voice.

"A thousand years ago, you dragged our me from our home! You dragged my sisters away! A home that you ruined! You pulled us into the dark, you froze our hearts, you threw us to the void, and for what?! To make us your tools?!" There are tears in her eyes. In Feloria, she hadn't known yet. She had been just at the cusp of regaining herself, of remembering her mother and her family, her years of journeys. It had taken time to get even that far, and then more time to see what he had been doing, to understand Mother Void, to face her sisters and her brother. It had been so slow, first. Nearly a year from the tiny strain of distant song until the moment that it became too much for her heart and she had to leave. Recently, it had been like a whirlwind, new friends, new places, discovering the kindness and joy in her heart, the beauty and the song that she wanted to share.

As the dance continued, her breathing calmed, but her spear strikes grew faster. She settled into a rhythm, driven not by anger, but by a steady beat at the center of her soul. Mother spoke next, through her. "Your truth is Want, Oberon. You want everything to be yours. You want everything to be about you! You made our family depend on you. But want blinds you. You're so blind, you can't even see that I'm not the same daughter you lured here by promising I'd get to see the stars. I've grown. I've forgiven my family. I've taken Mother Void into my heart and offered her something you never could. That's...that's why you've lost the people you made." Yes, yes, yes Mother thinks, and she would like nothing more than a dissection of every lie, veneer, and facade that Oberon has ever worn. But this is not that time. This is the time to move past him after so long.

"I thought that I was just going to take revenge for everything that you did, Oberon. Tear away your people and your family, save this world, and be done with everything I ever needed to do. But what I've realized is that would have still made everything about you. I'm tired of that." The flames blaze as she twirls and twin strands of fire try to enwrap Oberon like a great snake, forcing him onto his heels and away from the heat as he tries and fails to grab the spear. "We are going to stop you together, save Ourania, Argossa and this whole world. Then when we're done, I'm going to build a life here with my sisters and my brother, with my friends, and without you in it."

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The world is moving in slow motion. Oberon tosses Jessamine like a ragdoll, and there's nobody there to catch her. Alina scrambles to her feet, feeling like the air is freezing around her as she goes. It's a solid thing with weight that she has to push through to make anything happen. Jessamine is flying so quickly, and she is so helpless. She screams, and she leaps. Her arms wrap around her youngest sister several feet above the ground and suddenly both of them are careening toward the ground together. She squeezes her eyes shut and tenses for impact.

But she's caught, too. Jessamine, Alina, and Rita collapse into a pile that still manages to skid across the ground for what feels like forever. And then... a horrible stillness settles over the trio. Alina's eyes are locked on Jessamine as she holds her, so afraid she can't even tremble. Jess' bright and beautiful eyes have gone all glassy, her normal fiery expression has fallen slack. And there's that stillness. Nothing moving when it's more important than ever that everything be.

Then she coughs, and time starts up again. All at once everybody bursts into tears. Jessamine sobs while she chokes for breath. Rita's soft sniffling mixes in with a deep and grateful purr as she squeezes herself between the pair of them. Alina pulls them both tight against her and watches Kazelia fight. Blazing as bright as Ourania normally does. Kazelia... even after everything, after the... she saved Jessamine's life.

It's a struggle to tear herself away from her family. But Alina's got a job to do; she can't waste the opening Kazelia is trusting her with. Trusting her! Her heart pounds with fresh determination, which is how she makes it all of a single step before an arm clamps itself across her ankle. She startles and turns, and finds Jessamine's miserable face staring straight at her.

"Where... do you think... you're going?"

"Let go, Jess! Let go! I have to get in there, I have to stop him! Kazelia's counting on me and I--!"

"Rrrraaagh!"

Suddenly she's on her back, with Jessamine pounced on top of her, arms tenser than steel holding her up off the floor by the straps of her dress. Jess' hot tears splash down on her face as she pulls one hand back to punch her big sister in the chest hard enough to drag a surprised 'oof' from her. She pounds her hand again and again, but each time it's shaking harder, landing softer.

"You dummy! Lina you stupid, selfish... you... I... I!"

"Look at her fighting, Jess! Look at Kazelia! She needs help, please! I'm the only one who can do it, so please let me go! I can't let her die! I can't let him kill her, so please!"

"STOP IT! Stop it, Lina, just... stop it! Do you think I'm stupid? Think I'm blind? Where'd your lights go, Lina? What did you do?!"

"I..!"

"You're always doing this! Why does it always have to be you, huh? Why don't you trust me? Why, why, why?"

"I do trust you Jesss, but I need--"

"You don't! You don't you don't you DON'T! You always leave me behind! Stop protecting me Lina, don't you get it? I have to fix this! I've gotta... if I don't help then I..."

"...Jess?"

"It's my fault, don't you understand? It's all my fault! I let him turn me into the Black Princess! I'm the reason Jedad almost collapsed! We got caught in Feloria because I was so weak! He hurt you so badly and I just... I just let it happen! I keep trying and trying and I can't do anything! I couldn't save Mom, or Free, or you, or... or... I have, I have to... if I can't! Why did I even come? Why am I so useless, Lina? How come I have to sit here and watch you die?"

It's too much for her to keep going. Jessamine cries like a child into her big sister's shoulders. But Alina doesn't have any of her usual soothing words or strokes of Jessamine's hair. She's too busy looking at her sister, maybe really looking for the first time. They're so similar and yet... how did she miss the shape of this beautiful girl? Look how sharp and hard her muscles are, not like Alina's utter softness at all. Look at how strong her shoulders are, look at those legs. Like iron. Or glass! She's worked so hard. Alina had been an idiot not to rely on her. Big sister, little sister... what did that part matter? Wasn't this what families were made for?

Her legs feel like jelly, but she stands up anyway. She pushes Jessamine away from her with all the strength she can find left in her exhausted body. And in the space that opens between them, she draws a naginata out of brilliant golden light. It pulses in the air between them, half again the size of Jessamine's normal favorite but so feather-light that even a child could swing it easily. Arcs of molten gold stream off of the edges of the blade, as if the magic of Gold was too potent to be contained in such a simple form. Alina grabs it by the pole and thrusts it into Jessamine's hands. She reaches up and brushes the tears off of her sister's cheeks with her thumbs.

"How about together, then?"

It's a moment that's been years in the making. Oberon, whose heart is cold and whose world is ice, has never stopped to notice all the fires he was stoking. Well they're all burning together now, and it's too late for him to do anything about it. Kazelia harries him from every side with her courageous spear dance. Jessamine turns her head one final time to see Alina smiling her while she leans on Rita. Her glass-sharp body tenses like a snake's.

And she leaps. Her form is flawless. After years of playing catch up, in this moment she surpasses her idol. Her beloved big sister could never land a blow like this. Her weapon curves as she swings it down, and a feral little grin spreads across her face when she sees that Oberon is too slow to block her. Her eyes are so much like her sister's, only they're made from fire.

It's the kind of hit that sends a person bouncing across the ground. The kind that leaves cracks in the floor from the sheer weight of impact. The arc of her swing carries her around in a great circle through the air as she spirals as gracefully as a dancer could ever hope to be. A Princess must always be beautiful. She lands as softly as a cat, hardly bobbling at all except to hop an extra three times to stop her momentum.

She turns and nods her head stiffly to Kazelia. 'Thank you', she says without the breath to say it out loud. 'Thank you for all of us.'

[Alina is adding a new Bond with Kazelia: "She was there for me when I needed her most. She's as much a part of my family as any of my sisters." Grace Finish: 2d6+2 = 10. Damage one of his Overlord stats, while Alina damages her Grace as the price for acting against a Threat.]
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Thanqol
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It is not in any way that Hornet's pictures are bad - they're extraordinarily skilled, flowing lines and liquid curves that transcend their hasty origins. It's more that Adila is strength and motion and momentum like a broken dam containing a lake of fire and she cannot process what she is seeing in the slightest. Her mind is sparks and lightning and there's no way that she could do something as serene as contemplate art in this moment. So she stares at the picture for two eternal seconds before letting out a disoriented +hmm+ and whirling off to wrap a Garthim in ribbons of fire.

But this isn't like before where she'd just dismiss this as something irrelevant Hornet did, to be ignored amidst the drumming call of her heart. Instead she falls into step with Princess Dandy, the one mind calm enough to consider the abstract while slam-kicking overgrown crabs with hobnailed boots. For a moment they dance together, Adila casting aside her lines of fire like a cloak. It's not clear who is leading; perhaps they both are, and the rhythm of the moment is the flash-steam tension of burning haste and pacific calm cancelling each other out. Their minds touch as their lips do, a more direct link and line of secrets than what they've shared before.

And then Adila is away again, carrying that drop of white in the depths of the black. She looks at Princess Hornet to show that she understands, and then she flashes across the room as a storm to interpose herself between her friends and the vengeful Oberon. She will defend them; none of this will work if they're not together.

[Overcome: 2+2: 4]
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Ourania!

“Your radiance, I am appalled at the state of these bindings.” Underneath you, Argossa trembles. You remember when you came to this place, this beautiful jewel; the memories are a thin and welcome skim over a deep ocean of pain. Far away, you tremble, shake, slip for the first time in centuries. Water trickles away into the black from cracks in your wall, islands tilt and flood, and magic bleeds around you. If Hyperborea survives, it will be lesser in some small way because you failed, here at the very end. And it is the beauty of the world you protect that it will forgive you.

How your head towered over the mountains full of dragons and crystals! How the devils offered you gifts! Jewels and silks and bouquets and other silly things. All they needed to offer were the epic mushroom quatrains of the lachrymose poets of Deep Hollow, and the smiles on the faces of gardeners in lush Feloria; you were caught, as if bound, by the light shining through fountains in Ilumina, and the serpentine dances of the nomads of Jedad, and the lazy sunbathing of the cats of Askaia. You hold this world in your coils for love, the greatest invention of devilkind.

Around you, the Garthim go still, and the fox princess shifts you in her arms. You are limp, your head nestled in her shoulder, your train trailing behind her as your heels bob inches from the ground. Your nerves are alight with pain, but you don’t let yourself worry about that. You are being held by one of the foxes of Konkon, your old rivals, your fondest foes, and you know that she will do her best to treat your agony, and that your little princesses will save the day. They are so brave. You are so proud of them.

You feel Oberon coming before Kyouko does. You try to warn her, but your cry is garbled and weak. He grabs her by the scruff; her grip around you tightens by instinct, stopping her from using her clever tricks to escape. You wish you could tell her to leave you behind, please, just get to safety.

Oberon tears you out of her arms; you hit the ground, and the pain bursts through your thoughts. You scream, and only through tears see him fling the fox skywards, hurtling to her doom miles and miles away.

You’re so sorry, Kyouko.

Oberon drags you to the edge, fist knotted in your dress, and hauls you upright. You can see the princesses behind him, converging tightly, but hesitant to strike while he has you in such a dangerous position. (And if they knew that your death throes would crush and drown this world in blind agony...)

“You know,” he says, between rough kisses to your neck, your jaw, leaving bruises where he bites, “this will be the soonest I’ve ever lost a wife. I’m sorry, my love.” And while he doesn’t fool you...

You can tell that he’s managed to fool himself.

[HEART OF IRON: Jessamine’s attack automatically fails, and Alina must relive her pain and choose to pay a price, stand down, or attack him now.]
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Jessamine Cascade has never been the type of princess to hesitate when she's figured out where she's needed. Sometimes, there's things that only you can do, and when the time comes for them you can't waste a second on silly things like arguments or volunteering. She hit him as hard as she knew how. It'd be ok to leave the rest to Lina and her friends. A princess is not a glory hound.

She's off and running like a bolt of lightning. She doesn't have her sister's swift and effortless gait, but there's a raw power to her form that's special in it's own right. No one ever beat her in a sprint. Her feet pound across the cracked tile, right up to the edge and the drop down Argossa. The naginata still burns brightly in her hands. She waves it above her as she runs, then tosses it high into the air.

"Taking your horse, ok?!" she calls out over her shoulder.

She doesn't even waste the time to mount up. That's the kind of a thing a real princess would take care of on the way down. She jumps and twists in the air, bringing up two fingers to her mouth to blow a sharp whistle that cuts across the battlefield. After that, there's just enough time to grin.

"I believe in you three! So don't screw this up, got that?"

And then she's gone.

***

This was, quite possibly, the most beautiful night in the history of ever. The stars were brighter than usual, and the air was refreshingly crisp and cool after so many weeks of that stuffy Jedadi heat. Plus, best of all? The way the horse bounced beneath her filled her head with thoughts of Helyaaaaaaaaa~

Oh! She couldn't wait to tell this story! Maybe Hellie would finally, finally, finally be so impressed she'd slip up and admit she couldn't have done this one on her own! Ooh, a breeze! And was that a comet just now? What a lucky night! What a perfect night! She tossed a gleeful smile at every hill and each bend in the road, at the river she could hear but not yet see, at the caravan laden with hard won prizes following along behind her. And, of course, to Eliza and Elisa Riparian, her most loyalest of loyal knights! Her most cleverest of clever bandits! Her trusty bodyguards and singing companions! In faaaaaact:

"And where the winding river runs
through every twist and bend~
I'll let it lead me safely home
back to the rainbows end!"

She turned and looked expectantly to Elisa (or was it Eliza? They might have been loyal, but that never stopped them from being identical), looking for the next verse of the song. But her knight only looked ahead with a curious expression on her face. Like she couldn't see her precious Princess at all!

"Your Highness, do you see that?" Oh, it was Eliza after all, "Have you ever seen a man look so sad before?"

In truth, she hadn't. The way he sat there like he'd been knocked straight into that hillside and become part of it. The way he barely seemed to move. The way his head hung low and his clothes were in such shoddy condition. All of it made her heart hurt. What could have happened to this poor old man? And who would do something so horrible to somebody who already seemed so helpless? She rode up to him in silence, all thought of singing forgotten. Then she hopped down to the ground with a handstand and a flourish, with a smile that told him to be at ease and a pose that told him to laugh. He did neither. She frowned.

"Hi there, friend! Are you alright?"

"..."

Alina tried smiling at him, but he only turned his head and clenched his fist. She was an awkward sort of pretty, the kind with legs that had outpaced the rest of her so that she was more than a little gangly despite her tiny stature, but even so everyone always told her they could see exactly what sort of beauty she was destined to become and she was not at all used to having no effect on people. Especially sad people. Even the King spent a surprising amount of time inventing excuses to check out Elsaria's butt while they ran the rooftops together!

It vexed her, truly. And if she'd known what the uneasy stirring inside her heart really was, maybe she would have hopped back on her horse then and there, and listened to the chiding of her knights the whole way home while being safe and free and happy. But a princess was always beautiful, and generous, and helpful, so instead of that she stretched her arms up to the sky (which stretched her shirt above her bellybutton) and yawned.

"You know what I think, girls?"

"Yes, Your Highness?" they said, already nodding and unpacking supplies.

"I think... yes, I think this fine gentleman has the right of it. This is a perfect place to set up camp for the night! I know you were both looking forward to seeing home before the dawn, but what do you say? Will you indulge me? Just this oooonnnne time?" and you could tell she'd been hanging out around Rita a lot recently, because her smile was so falsely innocent it would have made a kitten blush.

"This one time." said Eliza.
"And every time thereafter, Your Highness." said Elisa.

"Excellent!" Alina clapped her hands and sat down cross-legged right where she'd been standing, "I am sorry for intruding, friend, it's just that the cool air has such an effect on my constitution. If you mind our presence, you need only say so."

He made a sound like a grunt. She lit up like summer fireworks (which incidentally, she'd be missing soon if she didn't get back home!).

"Thank you for your generosity, kind sir. In exchange, please, let us share our bounty with you tonight. I'm afraid it's only travel fare, hardly fitting such a night, but it's warm and filling and sure to remind you of home. Unless you are Jedadi, sir, in which case maybe for your own sake I suggest you go without?"

Alina and her knights burst into fits of giggles as camp unpacked around them. The princess was, of course, quite useless, so she contented herself with telling jokes and singing silly songs about the lakes she swam in back home, and watching her honored guest for any signs that his heart was healing. Of course there were none, but she didn't let it trouble her. This old man was a tougher case than she thought, but she'd never met a person yet who didn't open up after a warm dinner on a beautiful night like this! Just look how bright the moon was!

And sure enough before she knew it, her knights were laying out lovely trays of baked fish still sitting in the fragrant leaves they'd been cooked in by the fire. Alina's mouth was watering, oh rivers, please excuse her! But as tempting as it was to dig in right then and there, a princess did not forget her manners. So she set down her fork and she pulled from her lights the most beautiful crystal decanter she owned, her favorite out of all the twenty-four she had for such occasions, and she swirled it about in the moonlight.

"Oh, of course! Guests first! Blessings be upon you, friend!" she tilted the decanter over his head, making sure to splash a little extra over his hair to account for how foul his mood seemed to be.

"Goodness, is this polite young woman really our princess?"
"Yes, you'd hardly suspect that she was really Elsaria the Dread!"

Once again the sound of girlish giggles filled the camp. This time, however, they were short lived. Alina and both of her knights startled to see the old man rise. Oh rivers, he was much taller than he seemed!

"Do..." he growled.

"Beg pardon, sir?"

"Not," Oberon Greymane swept his cloak aside and reached for his sword. It keened as it tasted the night air, "Mock me!"

She was so startled, she hadn't even considered what shape to twist her lights into. Red was halfway to a spear, and yellow one quarter of a shield when the saber came down and struck her! And... a-and, hahaha, w-wasn't it just the funniest thing? It felt like... it was almost as if, but that couldn't be true. She didn't understand. It was almost as if... it had actually pierced her?

Alina smiled as she looked down at herself, expecting maybe to see some new sort of funny joke. In fact she was halfway to laughing when it turned into a scream. Then her scream exploded, her scream, her scream! It exploded! It exploded and shattered just like the rest of her, because the only thing left in the world was pain!

The stars grew dim. The moon slipped behind blackened clouds. The air, her pleasantly cool kiss, got colder. And colder and colder and colder, passing winter. How it seared her! How it burned her! How it filled her! Her heart beat stupidly inside her chest, and with every beat her body felt deeper and deeper chills, so cold she stopped having words to describe it.

That's when things became truly horrible. No, then she had to watch Eliza and Elisa spring up to defend her, and she tried to scream out 'Don't!' but all the sound she had left in her was a whine and a hideous squeak that was not beautiful at all, but dark and selfish and fearful as anything. She watched them crumple as a pair to the ground on either side of her through tears that froze to burning frost on her cheeks. New agonies ripped through her insides, and how could this be, how could this be, how could this be allowed?

He sneered and snatched her half formed lights from her, and he... and he... a-a-a-a-a-and. He broke her. He broke her and shattered her and twisted her forever, because she was the rainbow and he said to her that she wasn't after all and that the rainbow was his now and he could think of a dozen better uses for these already, as he squeezed them in his palm and wore them to pin his cloak.

"P-please! I yield, pl-p-please!" she croaked, every syllable costing her her entire life, "T-take my treasures, they are yours! I-I'm the... the p-princess of Illumina! My Mo... Mommy will pay anything you want! Anything! Only please, please, don't hurt me anymore!"

Oberon wrenched the blade free of her chest and somehow its absence was worse than its presence. She curled inward on herself and was not pretty or brave or a beauty in the making in the least when she did nothing to stop him from wiping her own blood clean on her silks.

"You will go," he said with a voice a thousand times more terrible than his sword, "To your mother. You will tell her I am coming. Tell her the true King has come and you have dared disgrace him. Tell her you're a naughty little girl who's just cost her mother her pathetic little kingdom! Tell her!"

She had no idea how she did it, but Alina stood up. And she ran faster than she ever had in her life. She ran, and left her horses and her treasures and her precious knightly friends behind, because the only thing worse than the pain she felt inside her body was the wriggling, impossible terror that filled her up whenever she tried to look at his face.

She ran home to Mommy and she said everything she was told, and she did not fight to protect her home when she should have, but she ran again and was alone, was alone, was alone, she was a broken rainbow and alone...


***

She was supposed to be all done with the cold. The Caduceus had thawed her heart, hadn't it? Ourania had thawed her heart, hadn't she? She was healed and good and better now! But it was happening again, whiskers, rivers, no, it was happening again! She felt her heart freezing all over and she was a failure with no rainbow at all, and she was alone, alone, al--

"...na? Lina! LINA!"

Rita's screaming in her ear. Grasping her, licking her cheek, bonking her forehead against every part of her that she can reach, and squeezing her so tight. Alina gasps and blinks, and looks at disaster through her tears.

"I'm here, ok? I'm here. I'm here! Lina, it's me! I'm here!"

"Ri...ta?"

"Yes, yes, yes, Lina, oh Lina, come on, we have to do something or Ourania's gonna die!"

"Can't do... can't... save... c-can't..."

"Yes you can! Alina Cascade, don't you run from this!"

"But I... I let him win! I'm weak and I..."

"That's right, you let him win. Once upon a time, my love, you let this giant dirtbag win. Don't you think you've paid enough for it? You don't have to let him win again! It's different this time, don't you see? You're strong. You're brave and strong, my darling, and you've got me."

Alina turns her head. Her eyes are wide with wonder, and the biggest wonder of all is the way that her body feels warmer and warmer with every fresh detail of her perfect Rita that she takes in. But the time for kissing has come and gone, which is a shame because she could really use it again. She takes Rita's hand, instead. And with every ounce of energy, every tiny speck of courage she'd forgotten about inside of her, she nods.

There's no time to figure out a plan. She's wasted so much already. She's let him win so, so many times. She let him hurt her knights, and then her mother, then her people, and in Feloria she let him hurt Diana. But she didn't let him spread the Slaugh in Askaia. She didn't let him have the other Queens. She didn't let him have the Caduceus. She, she, she. Always, because she chose to be in his way, with her friends... they always made him lose.

There is no time, but she spares it anyway to turn and smile a quivering, unpretty little smile at Kazelia and Adila. She squeezes Rita's hand tighter than ever.

"D-don't worry about Ourania, yeah? I've got this. Just... make sure you handle the rest."

She swallows. This is it. This is it, this is it, this is it, this is... oh, she's already running. This is simpler than she'd thought. Her prancing water-deer stride carries her across the room with less than the pitter patter of raindrops on a windowsill, even quieter than Rita's soft padding beside her. Don't let him win, don't let him win, you don't have to let him win!

Her crown is empty, but it has tricks enough for this. There's a flash of golden light, and she curls her fingers around her elegant purple ribbon and the baton it's attached to. She lets go of Rita with a nod. From both sides, yes. There's another flash, and her frosted glass armor shines atop her bridesmaid's dress. This is the moment it's been saving itself for, all these years, and now...

Rita makes it first, and knees him in the stomach. Before he can retaliate she blurs into a haze and where his fist passes through the image of her face it finds nothing but the air and the laughter-like meows of a cat too far beneath it to care. He stomps, and though the floor shatters beneath him she's a girl again and above him, and Alina's there with her ribbon swirling beautifully and together with her heart she kicks him in the chest.

Even touching him is cold. She feels it running through her body, but she ignores it, lets her heart beat bravely on so that she can throw her entire weight into this one last thing. Her armor groans just to feel his touch, and when he lashes out and knocks her away it's like he's stolen all the air from inside of her. For a single second, she's suspended in time again. Maybe Adila can appreciate this moment for what it truly is.

Her armor cracks. And then it shatters. Alina Cascade goes careening off the edge of Argossa anyway, falling after the body of High Queen Ourania. There is time enough to scream, if somebody would like. Alina has no voice for it.

But Rita is standing defiantly at the edge. And wrapped around her wrist several times and clenched again in her shaking hand is a taut length of purple ribbon. And Rita? She's got lungs and breath and heart enough to scream for everybody there. She cries out, one third with fear, one third with effort, and a final third with love, and she pulls on that ribbon with everything she has. Did you know that cats were so very strong, after all? It takes agonizing seconds, but she pulls and...

There's an arm! A delicate, slender arm clinging desperately to the end of a baton! And after that a head of fluffy lavender hair, and after that the terrified green eyes of Alina Cascade! Up and up, further and further, her other arm straining like mad to stay clenched around Ourania's wrist. Rita pulls even as she scrambles closer, and then pulls some more when she can reach Alina's dress. It's impossible. But then again, perhaps it isn't.

Sobbing and shaking, Alina hugs the infected form of Ourania close against her. As if she were her own mother.

"It's ok, Your Majesty," she manages, even though it sounds like every word might be the last one she'll ever speak, "Don't worry. Don't worry. We're here."

[Rolling Finish with Grace (and Hope, thanks to her bonds and her friends being there for her): 3, 4, 5 = 11. Damage that stat, gosh darn it. She pays her armor as the price for attacking him again]
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Thanqol
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Princess Adila stretched her wings and the sudden explosion of wind snuffed all of the lanterns in the great hall. Darkness rushed in but was caught half-formed, for she alone here now burned as her own spotlight. Orange and crimson and violet flames slashed along her form. Two little lights touched down onto her brow and when her eyes snapped open one was of silver fire and the other was of gold.

Strong legs tensed underneath her. Breath filled her lungs and she could feel the catch as it ignited inside her. Her tail swayed once, twice, like a ribbon in a breeze, and then fell entirely still.

And she moved.

It felt like dragonfire burned in every muscle. The floor shattered underneath her feet. Blinding white sparks hovered in her wake like the after-trails of fireworks. There was a crash, and a pillar shattered as Oberon's body was put through it, barely illuminated by the strobing light of alchemy. Chaotic eruptions of colour filled the black, each one the detonation of impact as talons and tail and wings struck Oberon from all sides. It was a battle in stop motion, each burning moment of violence visible only in the after-trails of the light that poured from Adila. This was the power of devils. This is what it took to dance with no restraints. Oberon had taken the strength of the grandmothers and the ability to endure this dance, but he had not thought to take their grace - and so, left-footed, he missed every step and paid for it with ringing blows.

It was not a pretty dance. It couldn't be when only one partner knew the steps and the other was too stubborn and foolish to learn.

And then, finally, Adila spread her wings and let free her burning breath. The hurricane of her wings dispersed and directed the flame in a wave, and from her it soared loose to fill every guttered lantern. Light came back into the hall all at once, revealing the wreckage she had left in her wake. The altar is in splinters. The seats are shards of stone. The wedding decorations are ruined. Rider banners burn like candles. And yet not a single spark has brushed a hair on the heads of her friends - they stand protected, each in a low burning heart-shaped ring of fire.

A princess must be graceful, after all.

With a final, contemptuous flick of the tail Adila sends Oberon sprawling at Kazelia's feet.

[Damaging Blood to unleash Adila's true strength]
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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When Jessamine takes off with Shiva, Kazelia gives her a short nod of respect and gives Shiva a special whistle. Jessamine has flown on Shiva a few times now, they're a good pair, but Shiva is careful with a new rider. The Pegasus has to be careful with one who hasn't been carried by her through the void. But this whistle, it's the one to go fast. As fast as she can. Fast enough to race through the great darkness beyond the worlds and come out the other side. Fast enough to catch a princess thrown even with the strength of devils.

Hold on, Kyouko! And hold on tight, Jessamine! [Shiva is damaging her Flight to ensure a perfect catch happens.]

*****

Back atop Argossa, Kazelia pulls back as Jessamine goes for a decisive strike. She smiles at Alina with a pride that shines in her eyes.
[Adding a new bond with Alina: She overcame her fear and shone more brilliantly than any rainbow. I'll always believe in her.]

Kazelia's smile is cut short when Oberon makes a last, desperate effort and grabs Ourania, sending cracks through the corrupted Argossa. Kazelia is caught, unwilling to risk Ourania, knowing that if Oberon harms her to spite them all, it's still a victory for him. Only...there's Alina again, and Rita! Kazelia's breath catches in her throat and there are tears in her eyes as she watches Alina leap off the edge, the ribbon fluttering out and Rita making the perfect catch. And then they're enveloped in a supernatural darkness and surrounded by a blazing heart of flame as Adila strikes and Oberon hurtles through the pillars formed of Argossa's branches that reach towards the heavens. The sky lightens and a little bit of sunshine peeks through the clouds.

Kazelia takes a deep breath as she slings her spear across her back. She gathers her hands together at the base of her stomach, palms facing upwards, fingertips almost touching as she holds her strength at the center of the body where the weight of the breath gathers.

It's been a long time since anyone has seen Kazelia fully unleash her magic. Only Alina (and Eska) saw it back in Askaia, when shadows gathered and it seemed as though a tear opened in the world and the void reached out for Eska. The fear that Kazelia had seen that day had made her hesitate to ever use such powers again.

She's not the same person she was back then. Mother Void's power courses through her, but she is completely and fundamentally herself. Some of the power she channels is Mother's and there is a vague and menacing sense of becoming larger than herself that rolls off of her as she takes in her breath. But that sense of herself is why the magic that forms is not the magic of the dark. It's a flowing magic, like a great river of her heart, roaring and hissing, rising from her like steam and cascading down towards Oberon in a vast waterfall. In a little nod to her time with Eupheria and her friendship with Alina, it swirls with all the colors of the rainbow. Because of her friendship with Adila and influenced by that incredible, breathtaking display, at the head of the flow leaps the silhouette of a great dragon racing up and up and then rushing down towards Oberon.

It strikes him and lifts him as the dragon of water and rainbows surges forward, beyond even the strength of the devils to stop. Kazelia takes another breath and a step forward. Slowly, calmly, a rainbow wave cascades around her carrying Oberon at its crest. Kazelia walks up to Adila and puts a hand on her side, and walks the two of them over to take Alina's hand as she's finished gathering herself near the edge of Argossa.

There is a moment where it seems uncertain. He struggles at the edge of Argossa, trying with all his strength and fury to claw himself downwards, grab the princesses, and hurl them from their perch. It seems perhaps that the magic will run dry, that this hateful old man wielding the power of the great devils is unstoppable and immortal. Only then, there is a single perfect ringing crack that rebounds through Argossa and with a laugh and a finger wag, the grandmothers burst from the gemstone at his breast and scramble or fly away from the magical stream. Oberon tries to let out a final curse, some last pronouncement of his hatred, but his strength flies as quickly as the grandmothers fly from him. Before he can have his last word, he is engulfed and torn away, lifted up and off, fading into the stream of magic until there is nothing more of Oberon to be seen.

Only then does Kazelia let out her breath and sag into Adila's side with an exhausted smile.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Kazelia!

There is a moment where it feels that everything is over. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Your father, defeated for all time, never to hurt your world again. But it’s not enough to stop him from continuing harm; you have to mend what has been broken, too. And it is at this moment that Argossa begins to crack.

At your feet, polluted magic begins to leak through the cracking bark, ice-cold and fierce. Great wounds begin to open in its sides, threatening to pour this poison into the sea, to drown the world in his last act of foolish spite and arrogance.

What artifact has he placed deep in Argossa to pollute her heart?

***

Adila!

The smaller branches overhead begin to splinter and fall in great splinters of stone and crystal, still large enough to seriously hurt anyone caught underneath them; lanterns, smashed to the ground, start catching the wedding decorations alight.

You lead your friends back down into Argossa, where great gouts of wicked magic burst from walls and hang like a miasma in the air— but at least you’re less likely to be crushed to death. Ourania, freed by Alina and Rita, hangs on the shoulders of Dandy, who has her in a fireman’s carry.

As you delve through the palace, which is shaking itself apart, Azora Howl takes the magic swirling all around you and redirects it; she’s making everything around you more turbulent and dangerous in the name of clearing a small path for everyone. Kazelia, too, helps— but Azora is clearly very comfortable commanding and redirecting this kind of magic.

You remember anxiously patrolling through this palace, unable to trust Ourania. Where do you find the artifact?

***

Alina!

“We’ll have our wedding in your castle,” Rita says, half walking with you, half holding you. “But the reception at my family’s castle. And, and everyone is going to be invited! It’ll be a celebration, not just of us, but of Hyperborea!”

“Let’s focus on surviving, first.” You jump, startled and guilty, as Diana emerges from the storm of magic swirling all around. She’s had your lights for all of, what, an hour? At least some of that unconscious? And she’s already figured out how to make a hazmag coat and closed helmet out of them.

“The ramifications of losing Argossa alone,” she says, her voice clipped and angry. “Not to mention the attacks in Feloria, Jedad, Ilumina...”

She might be being bitter, but also... she has a point. Happily ever after may have to wait until you’ve worked even more, even harder, to fix things.

What price needs to be paid to stop the artifact from hurting Argossa any more?
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Anarion
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The World Seed. It's a misnomer, it doesn't sprout into new worlds. Instead it's a huge, perfect diamond that Oberon infused with his essence ages ago that it holds forever (at least so long as the diamond is perfect). It's a source of corruption. Place it somewhere and the area around it becomes cold and dark, like Oberon at his core. Place it somewhere like a central place in Argossa, itself infusing the whole world with magic and you get...well, you get what's happening with Ourania and Argossa right now.

It's been a long time since Oberon used this. It was rarely needed on most worlds and it vastly accelerates the process of the world becoming cold and barren, meaning in the past it was something like a failsafe for him: if he couldn't take what he wanted and properly loot a world, he'd use his World Seed to ruin it. If Oberon couldn't have something, then nobody could.
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