Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol Insufferable Dragonwatcher

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The winds are broken. Howling frozen gales flow through the corridors of Argossa, the force of a hurricane squeezed into corridors and ball-rooms. Anything that can break does break. Splintered doors, toppled suits of armour, closets full of dresses and chests full of gemstones. They are spun and hurled like shot-puts, freezing even as they fly. Damp, icy mist pours out like smoke from a subterranean fire.

Step by step, Princess Adila advances.

Her wings are open wide and swept back, curving the wind around her body and the line of princesses that follow close behind in her shadow. She ducks her head and endures the blows of things blown loose by the breath of the World Seed where they slip through the magical and technological shields conjured by her friends. This is a battle of endurance, each step requires so much strength to make it's like she's climbing a sheer mountain.

But she has all the strength she needs, shielded here beneath her wings, warming and warmed by her heart.

Every night, the divine squirrel Ratatoskr gathers every star from the sky and hides them inside the Hollow of Argossa until the daylight comes. They were the first to freeze - crystal diamonds shining no light, little pin-pricks that form a small and shivering pile on the ground, perfect for picking up with eye-droppers and using as fashion accessories. Above them is the World Seed, and oh, how much it looks like the grandest of those diamonds - what a brilliant star it must have been, once.

But now it is dark and its light is cold.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"Y-you know what... I think?"

Alina lets go of Rita for the first time since they rescued Ourania. Immediately, she stumbles face first into the pile of cold stars. Her entire body is trembling, but is it with cold? Or with fear? She waves off the hands that reach out to help her, and drags herself a little bit further forward. She's so close, now. She's finally almost...

"It'd be... wrong, to focus on Castle Thessia so much... while Illumina is still hurting. So we'll, or well... I mean I'll talk to Mom and Jess about... delaying repairs. So there's more to help with the kingdom. And we'll do... the wedding in Aurora's Garden. It'll be easy to set up a big pavilion there! And, and you can see the castle, and..."

She laughs when she sees Diana glowering at her. No, that's right. She's not finally almost anything. After this comes the next thing, and after that comes something even bigger and harder than that. It's her fault. Her fault Diana suffered so much, her fault Illumina suffered so much. And Feloria and Jedad and... this would take her the rest of her life. But for an end of her adventures, this was a pretty decent first step. Alina reaches up with a trembling hand and grasps the World Seed between her fingers.

"We'll have... m-mi-mirror cake and, nnngh! Ah, AAAH, it's s-so!"

It's the coldest thing she's ever touched. So cold it makes her fingers blister just touching it. She can feel the echoes of the ice that sat in her heart pulsing through her veins. It's like touching him. How could something so beautiful be filled with so much hate? With a final surge of strength, she plucks it free from the trunk of Argossa before her arm goes too numb to be of any use. Is she still going to be able to use this arm after all this? She reaches for her crown and sets the horrible diamond into the empty facets adorning the top. It's so large that it eats up three slots, but even so it fits remarkably well.

"Oh! L-let's get Eupheria to plan the reception! With... with supervision, obviously. But it would be good for her to have a, a project. And maybe then she won't feel so much like she's still the wicked queen. Maybe people won't think of her that way."

All around Alina, the winds are howling. Bursts of horrible magical energy are still pouring through the cracks of the great tree. The floor is cracking and crumbling beneath everyone's feet. Strangely, the only person in the whole room that's reaching for her is Azora Howl. The look on her face is completely unreadable. Certainly it's not sympathy. Is she trying to steal the Seed and all its power? Even now? Alina shuts her eyes and winces as a lance of boiling magic almost takes her hand off. Should've known. Even after everything that happened in the Labyrinth, this is still the same person who tried to steal Rita's magic from her. Who stole Adila's skin. She's cast more corrupting spells across Hyperborea than the entire Hecatia Academy has even had to undo before. Evil is...

"Let's invite the former Riders too, right Rita? I mean, they're as much a part of this as anybody. If it wasn't for... all this, maybe I wouldn't have figured out how to tell you how I feel. And... come to think of it, this is really all Azora's fault, isn't it? Just imagine if she hadn't seeded the Slaugh in Summerveil? We'd have never had our first kiss, that's for sure. Yeah, haha, you're right. There's really no other choice, is there? Hey, Azora! Would you please be my maid of honor?"

Alina giggles carelessly while the winds almost imperceptibly begin to die down around her. Does it feel warmer in here to anybody else? Sitting atop her crown, a single crack forms along the surface of the great gem.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Princesses!

Rita takes Alina's hand in hers, and flashes a brave grin that shows off her sharp little teeth. "That's a wonderful idea, Lina!" And the irrepressible joy bubbling up in her laugh is another sharp crack in the Seed. Diana gives a careful look and yells over the tempest to keep going!

"I... accept," Azora says, obviously taken aback, and lets her feet touch the floor. She stands, taken aback by the invitation, by the lack of blame despite everything she's done. As if moving in a dream, she comes closer to Kazelia, their hands brushing together, and another crack rings out, this one shivering across the entire length.

"I'm so proud of you, darling," Dandy says, her voice clarion over the storm, as she wraps her arms around Adila's neck. "You were so amazing when you showed Oberon how we dance in Hyperborea!" She raises a fist, and starts chanting: Hyper-borea, Hyper-borea, Hyper-borea. And it's silly, and more than a little ridiculous, but it's infectious: Hyper-borea, Hyper-borea, Hyper-borea! And Ourania's eyes flutter open, and she smiles and joins in the chant, as the Seed shivers and splinters and seems to be held together only by the bleak, cold light inside.

Rita von Catabas nuzzles up her girlfriend's neck and silences her melodious chant with a kiss, and the World Seed burns as bright as the North Star before it shatters with a deafening roar.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Princess-Champions of Hyperborea!

Epilogue: Here We Are In The Future.




Princess Alina Cascade!

"Are you sure you don't want pigtails? They'd frame your face perfectly," Eupheria says, pouting. The morning rain trickles down the panes of the window, the soft sunlight dappling on your face as you stare at yourself in the mirror. Princess Alina Cascade, for the last time. "Well, if you insist," she says with an expressive shrug, and sets to your hair with a brush and pins, moving so fluidly and energetically that you could almost imagine she still had four arms and proportions set only by her whim.

Outside, you can hear the Royal Orchestra playing in the newly reopened throne room. They're playing a folk tune: "The Princess in the Reeds," a lively reel that makes you remember the first royal ball you ever attended. And when did these tears arrive? Be careful! Euphie worked so hard on the winged eyeliner, your majesty!

***

Princess Kazelia Swiftlance!

You help your fiancée off of Shiva's back with the poise of a lancer, letting her lean into you as the rain kisses you both. Today she's wearing her finest kimono, her hair kept in a bun by a pin in the shape of a glasseye salmon, and slippers embroidered with the riotous petals of a garden in full bloom.

"Kazelia!" You're given hardly any time at all to react before Jessamine wraps you in an enthusiastic hug. The new Captain of the Guard has her hair in a smart bob now, and medals gleam on the pastel-pink sash hanging over her glass breastplate. "It's so good to see you! How's Rideria?" Oooh, she's a few names out of date-- what's the current name for the kingdom of the Riders?

***

Adila!

"Look," Dandelion says, putting her foot down with so much confidence that not even the preeminent princess of the Devils can ignore her, "If Black Serpent attacks the ceremony, then she's the biggest fool in all of Hyperborea. So you and Adila don't need to go on another patrol of the castle. If we don't get to our seats now, we might miss the beginning of the ceremony." And she's right, but that doesn't stop Iron Star Crushes The Strong from getting huffy.

Black Serpent Scorns Heaven's Light isn't the only threat still at large, but Hyperborea's safer today than it's been in years. Asteria Spite's finally cooling her heels in custody, after all. And Dandy's right that if Black Serpent tried to show up and do something dastardly, here, it would be a huge mistake.

You can relax and enjoy having both your girlfriends in the same place and not arguing with each other. Nobody's going to come crash this coronation.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Thanqol Insufferable Dragonwatcher

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Some relationships are frictionless - perfect unions of hearts, balanced and whole.

That is not the case for Princess Adila.

Her eyes lock with Princess Iron Star's and there's challenge in each. Devil eyes are dark enough for mirrors, dark enough that any weakness in the dragon's eyes will be plain to both of them. Muscles tense, poetry in anatomy. Iron Star shifts her weight to her back foot and as she does Adila's tail coils around her ankle. They both breathe the same breath as their bodies tense against each other through that tiny point of contact. Within that breath lingers a half-fantastical conversation - the snap of muscles, the crack of stone, the whirl and slam and pounding wildness of hearts roused...

Through the telepathy of physicality their minds project the dance through step after step. Such a thing is possible because there's only one factor that changes the outcome - determination. Iron Star's challenge is made in pride, pride that defies reason and reality. Dandy's response has its own pride too, of course, but it's supported by a ferocious love. The two of them engage each other and Adila is their medium.

This is their way. Each of the three princesses has a will of iron and will not be smothered. There's always tension and power shifts from moment to moment. They interact and react through these tiny physical and vocal cues - in public at least - to sense whose heart is the strongest in that moment. In this moment, it's Dandy. So with a steady blink the Devil quietly falls into line alongside the dragon. Adila's tail lingers for a moment and then unwraps from Iron Star's leg. Dandy is the alpha for now, and they will obey until the situation changes.

+Iron Star is right that we should be on guard, but not because of Princess Serpent,+ said Adila. Her thoughts are unhurried and unstressed - their secret rhythm is so ingrained to her now that these silent exchanges of power is as natural as posture. +I don't believe for a second that Princess Kyouko isn't plotting something - and she's been close to Shazari recently...+

She's kept her dress restrained; simple, flowing orange fabric curving into floral-patterned lace around the cuffs and hem - but with slashes of red lace bows along her left shoulder like claw-marks. Sleek and breezy and suited for sun and flight. Most notable, though, is her new badge. Embossed upon the empty plane of the former Watch's shield is a new symbol - a circle with arrows that could be a clock or a compass depending on how you looked at it. They were called the Guides now, and escorting travelers through the Labazaar was as good a reason as any to stay in contact with friends all over Hyperborea.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"Euphie we've been over this and over this," Alina's voice is very... strained, "I can't do pigtails. They're not... you know, Queenly enough. I'm already shorter than the entire rest of my court, I don't need silly hairstyles making it even harder for people to take me seriously."

Eupheria pouts from behind the Princess-Promised as she sets her clever fingers to work on the elaborate braids Alina actually requested. For her part, Alina glares at her great grandmother's reflection while she watches her work. Not a word passes between them until:

"...It's not a vanity thing, ok? I just want my people to be able to look at me and see a Queen they can actually trust to keep them safe and happy! I don't think that's a lot to ask for, after everything I've put them through."

She turns her head to try and catch Eupheria's eye and find that little nod or flash of approval, but the Wicked Queen is nothing but pouts this afternoon. She swats Alina's neck and forces her head back around so that she can continue working. She's already woven three fishtail braids from left to center, and she's working on the fourth. There's still another layer of untouched hair flowing freely underneath, but it only adds to the impression that she's carrying her own lavender waterfall behind her back. Alina's breath catches, and her fresh glare melts into a heavy sigh.

"Fine, ok? Fine! You can try the pigtails for tomorrow's banquet. But just trying. Trying, I said! If I don't like it, we're... oh, forget it."

She smiles what may very well be her final princessly smile at the giddy squeak that erupts behind her. The rain taps gently on the glass while patches of sunshine spot through the room just as they must be outside. This really could not be a more perfect day: there's just enough rain to feel it kissing you, but not so much that it might make the guests uncomfortable as they take their seats. At this rate they wouldn't even need to use any magic to get a rainbow overhead. She reaches up to brush a finger over top her braids while Eupheria starts fitting her neck for the body-length scarf that ties the rest of her coronation dress together. Her elbow bumps the dressing table in front of her, and all she can manage is a startled squeak as the hand mirror balanced precariously on the corner topples over and shatters with a loud crash.

"Your Majesty I heard a noise what happened is everything ok let me fix it I'll get you a... oh no, your favorite mirror! Do you need me to fix it I'll just fix it real quick let me fix it everything is going to be perfect today I promise!"

"It's fine Free, I can handle it. Don't you need to be changing into your robes to conduct the ceremony? Just hand me my lights and I'll take care of it."

"Lina no! We have to keep them sealed in the royal box until the presentation of your crown!" Freesia purses her lips as she nervously adjusts her sashes and worries at the severe bun she's tied her hair up into, "It's tradition not to wield the Queenslight until after the coronation!"

"Don't worry," Alina laughs, "I'm not going to use Diamond. Besides, I still need the practice. Nobody is going to respect a queen who can't even use her own magic properly!"

Freesia stands there pursing and unpursing her lips, looking for all the world like she's trying to think of some obscure rule or tradition that would forbid Alina from doing any actual work today, but she comes up short. With a huffy sigh, she takes the brightly painted sandalwood box down from the shelf and gingerly unhitches the latch. Before she can even finish opening the lid, a sparkling turquoise light shoots out and hovers with obvious glee over Alina's left shoulder. Before she can get the box closed again, Coral sneaks out and bounces giddily on Alina's right. Freesia huffs and slams the box shut before the star of the show can zip out and ruin things any further while Alina giggles herself half to death with a most un-Royal manner.

Turquoise sparkles proudly as she reaches out and gingerly rolls her fingers through the air just over the fragments of the mirror. Piece by piece they're wrapped up in the glow, and then piece by piece they start to wobble. They roll over each other with soft chimes as the frame flips itself over and hovers suspended in the air. Shards of glass slide into place one after the other and the cracks seal as the puzzle fits itself back together again, unbreaking in a perfect reversal of the pattern it shattered in the first place. The mirror floats in place for a moment before Alina delicately snatches it out of the air and holds it up to her face, smiling her most dazzling smile at her flawless reflection.

CRACK!

A jagged line splits her smiling face in half. Another smaller one grows at an angle up from there. A small sliver of the mirror dangles from the board again for a single agonizing second before crashing back down to the ground and exploding into dust. Alina slumps into her chair. Her smile collapses into an enormous pout.

"I'm... I'm getting better, though! R-right?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Anarion
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"We've decided on Cavaleria for now. Same idea, but we wanted something that sounded new. And besides, we didn't want to get confused for Rowan!" Kazelia helped Kyouko off Shiva and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before she turned to Jessamine with a warm smile that quickly became an even warmer hug. Kazelia returns it enthusiastically. Even Shiva neighs in appreciation, it's been a while since Jess got to ride her!

Kazelia's not dressed as she was before. She's kept the Argossian silver-birch for her cape, but she's clearly had a special one made for the occasion with embossed gold stitching in intertwining leaf patterns all along the back blooming upwards: almost a stylized image of the stone tree of Argossa that announces Kazelia's connection to her world.

Above that, her long hair is tied in a braided ponytail styled so it comes up and then falls over and past the left shoulder rather than straight down her back. The braid is woven with a fiery red thread, the brightest piece of color for the outfit along with the matching red swirls for the inner lining of her suit jacket. If she buttons it, you can't see the color, but she's got it open so that as it moves in the wind the inside flaps and makes effect almost like intertwined magatama stones in that same fiery red.

The rest of her suit is a more subtle black wool, not too thick but suitable for a damp Illumina. There's a single-breasted jacket with two gold buttons left open and a lower cut exposing some chest below the shoulders. She has matching pants in the same black wool, no pleat and slim fitting to reveal the contour of her legs. That ends with a pair of black rider's boots (shined for the day) to complete the effect and give it a practical air. Her blouse is a charcoal gray, notably lighter than the suit but still subtle to bring out the reds and the silver-birch of the cape. The blouse has wide cuffs at the wrists fastened with matching salmon pins to Kyouko's hairband. The blouse is low cut in line with the suit, and around her neck Kazelia is wearing a gold necklace with a single bright oval ruby hanging at its center, a gift of her fiancée for the occasion.

Jessamine might notice how comfortable Kazelia and Kyouko look with each other, the ease with which they manage the dismount even with Kyouko's voluminous kimono indicating no small amount of practice at the task. Not to mention that kiss, it's like they're already married, though surely Jess would have heard about it if there were a ceremony, so there must not have been one yet. Perhaps they could have been married back on Argossa when Kyouko had proposed, but Ourania had been in such a state that Kyouko wouldn't hear of kidnapping her (and Kyouko herself had been somewhat dazed after flying halfway to Axonia and back at high speeds). So they had decided to delay and now Kyouko was looking for the perfect opportunity to kidnap Ourania for the ceremony. Kazelia had insisted, out of politeness to Alina, that any moves wait until after the ceremony, but the many pockets of Kyouko's Kimono had a number of opportunities. All of this meant Kazelia couldn't quite hide her grin as Jessamine took the two of them in, and she hoped that Jess would simply attribute it to happiness for Alina's ceremony.

"You'll be happy to know that we've been to nearly all the queendoms and there's no sign of rot anywhere in Argossa's roots" she says before Jessamine exits with Shiva. "I'm confident in its strength...and ours." Then she lets the wise veneer slip and shifts into another grin, this one sincerely for Alina and their shared family. "I'm so excited! I can't believe we're all here already! This is going to be beautiful and Illumina looks ready for a celebration! Where do we sit?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Princess Adila of the Guides!

The throne room looks a lot better than it did the last time you were here, fighting the irrepressible Morgina Fang. Now it's a true masterpiece of Iluminan architecture once more, no longer warped and corroded by contact with the void. The delicate glass benches are specially designed for the occasion, and it's with a confident air that you become a cat-sized, cheerful child once more, the perfect size for sitting between your girlfriends and not accidentally crushing anything. You, of course, have the seats up at the front, next to the Royal Family.

There's the King, soon to be the Royal Mother, looking deliberately understated and humble; if you didn't recognize Isolde from the time you took down Eupheria together, you might have mistaken her for one of the attendants. Being in the spotlight was never Isolde's way, after all. She's here not just to celebrate her daughter's ascension, but to support her wife. Queen Halcyon looks stronger today than she has for a long time, but her hair is still silver before its time, and there is an air of fragility to her that makes her seem... almost like shining glass, a pane that refuses to yield to the storm.

When she yields the crown, it will be a great weight off her shoulders.

There's also several members of the Cavalerian royal family: Kaja, here as Jessamine's special someone, and Ninian, whose hair salon will get even more recognition as a result of doing Queen Halcyon's braids, and Azora, over in the corner speaking with the Royal Witch. Nobody needs to fear Alina going mad with power, because in the very unlikely event that were ever to happen, Diana would be there to stop her.

You have a moment before everyone takes their seats; who do you greet?

***

Princess Alina Cascade!

"Of course you are, your majesty," the most special cat in all of Hyperborea says. You swirl around and see her standing there in her Askaian best, her troubadour's jacket slung over one shoulder, a sprig of lavender in her hair. Her tail swishes excitedly as she looks you over, unable to hide a fond smile as she meets your eyes.

She reaches out with one hand, waiting for you to take it. To take her, and to let her escort you to the stage. (Eupheria sighs the delighted sigh of someone who is looking forward to grandkittens.) "The ceremony's about to start, my heart. I love you." She slips it in like it escaped from her heart before she could catch it, and her cheeks redden, but she doesn't look away.

***

Princess Kazelia Swiftlance!

Of course. There's only one person you could end up sitting next to.

Ourania!!!

"It's wonderful to see you, my faithful apprentice," she says, seemingly oblivious to the way that Kyouko is already sizing her up. The battle for Hyperborea proved to her that she needed to have a closer relationship with the many kingdoms, or at the very least, needed to have a herald and protege. Your mentor is radiant today; her dress only looks white at a distance, but like the opals burning on her breast, breaks into glorious rainbows when you draw closer. She is being given a healthy distance by most of the other guests, who see her (not unreasonably) as too cool to talk to. What if they stuck their foot in their mouth in front of the High Queen?

But you're glad that you were able to convince her to come. This is just another step in dispelling some of the grandeur that separates her from the subjects she adores from afar. What's your plan for helping her relax and break the ice in the afterparty (and, not coincidentally, get her to lower her defenses long enough for Kyouko to make her move)?
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Alina sets her mirror back down on the table as delicately as she can. Flawed as it is, at the very least it doesn't crack any further. The smile steals its way back onto her lips, and she stands.

As she rises her skirts ripple down her legs like rain in a dozen bright, shimmering colors. It was Freesia's idea to use untreated silks; when she took up her crown as Queen, the rains would wash away the excess dyes and carry them down to the crowd below where they'd pool and fill the glass benches with all manner of new colors and light. But Alina's not thinking about that right now. Even her own coronation is a distant spark of the back of her mind compared with the beautiful smile of Rita von Catabas.

Alina moves with effortless grace across the space between them. Her hand reaches out toward Rita's and, just when she sees her lover's hand move to close around hers, she lifts it up and touches Rita's chin instead. That blush is the most beautiful, perfect thing in the universe.

"And I love you, my light."

Her gloves are satin, so they feel extra nice as they stroke the underside of Rita's chin. Alina smiles, and her eyes become deep green pools of love for a certain special someone to drown in. She leans in close and her mouth is filled with the warm sensation of purring as Princess Alina Cascade shares her final kiss with the most beautiful, precious, perfect, handsome, brave, and loyal cat in the entirety of Hyperborea. The smell is warmer than sunshine. The feeling is softer than fresh down. The taste, sweeter than Askaian wine. It's a moment that stretches on into forever, unfolding past the pleasantries of the afternoon and into a night that neither of them will ever forget. It crosses between kingdoms and over years, summer and winter and winter and summer, from the banks of the mighty Whitherwend to the misty spray of the waterfall atop Big Hill. The laughter of children echoes out through memories and into the future, where everything is brighter and safer than she would have ever dared dream--

"Do you mind, Your Majesty?"

Alina opens her eyes again and follows the finger impatiently tap-tapping on her shoulder to Freesia's half-glaring, half-smiling face. She flashes her sister a guilty grin and lets her hand drop down to entwine her fingers with Rita's.

"Sorry, sorry. We got a little carried away."

"Uhuh," uh oh, there's a Roc's worth of storm in Freesia's eyes right now, "But you're done now. Right? Are you finally ready to stop messing around?"

"Are you kidding me?" Alina laughs, "Never! What did you think I was keeping you and Jess around for?"

"Lina!!"

"I'm kidding, Free! You know I'm kidding. I promise I'm taking this very seriously. And I'm... I'm ready. To be Queen."

She squeezes Rita's hand in hers and takes a deep, nervous breath. Her eyes go darting around the room, hunting for approval. Beating down years' worth of instinct to look for the signs that somebody was still secretly mad at her and always would be. But there's nothing in this room except love, and pride, and a sense of excitement for the future.

Princess Alina Cascade manages a weak smile as she dabs away the tears in her eyes. And with one last squeeze of Rita's hand, she takes the first of many steps toward her new life.
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Kazelia holds Kyouko's hand as they walk, while Kyouko steps carefully with her kimono between the chairs until they reach Ourania. Kazelia hesitates for a moment. In private, she might just call her Ourania, but she decides she should be a little more respectful in public, so she says "it's good to see you, Queen Ourania!" before giving her a formal bow that she quickly switches into a quick hug. This may or may not also permit Kyouko to gauge Ourania's reaction time to unexpected movement.

"This probably isn't the best time to give you my full report, but I'm happy to tell you that I didn't find any rot in any of the roots we visited. Some of the shrines around the world need cleaning and care, but I think none of the damage is permanent!" Kazelia beams, before blushing when she realizes Ourania almost certainly could tell that from her connection to Argossa's magic and just wanted Kazelia to make sure.

"Of course, you probably could already tell that, you just sent me around to double check! I bet you'll want to tell all the princesses during the party. Maybe get them in the right mindset to go home and finish cleaning things up. I bet if you mingle with everyone and get them to tell you a story of the shrines they loved when they were younger, it will help us learn more about the kingdoms and get them thinking about how to help fix things when they go back home. You'll get to learn new stories all about their fond memories and I can stay nearby and take some notes for songs. I think the princesses will really open up sharing happy stories like that."

Who wouldn't find stories of happy princess childhoods engrossing? Kazelia's idea was very good and would give Ourania a great way to mingle. And if she just happened to get really focused on a good story and stopped paying attention to her surroundings it wouldn't be anyone's fault if Kyouko took that moment to strike! Kazelia couldn't remember the last time she had been this excited! She was going to get to see Alina and Adila, and prepare for her own wedding!
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Princess Adila didn't know why she was crying. The ceremony hadn't even started yet, all she had to do was wait another few minutes and then nobody would notice because then everyone would be tearing up, but something inside her had collapsed. Every time she'd thought she'd grown, thought that she was strong, thought that she had figured things out this just happened again! Nonsense thoughts crashed through her head like boulders, trying to impose a pattern on this upwelling of feeling. Maybe it was because of the light, or the memories of having been here before. Maybe it was because she was jealous and wished that today was her day. Maybe it was because she missed her friends, the constant immediate presence of them rather than these occasional meetings and formal events. Maybe it was because there were all these people she knew by reputation, knew of rather than knew personally, hints at lives that she'd only touched in the most fleeting way.

It was a feeling that had been following her for weeks. A vague, unsteady pressure that wasn't so much a sense that things were wrong as much as they were different. Every stage of her life had been marked by a feeling like this - every time she'd had to move on from one part of herself to the next the feeling had haunted her and buried her in a similar melancholy. For a while she'd made her peace with it... she'd learned that the past and the present were always entangled, and through determination she could stitch those times together. Moving forwards didn't mean losing what you'd left behind. Each stage of her life was better than the one before. All those rational thoughts and patterns tried to apply order on her emotions, like an ice-cube tray trying to organize the ocean.

In her mind's failure to understand itself it began casting increasingly desperately around for the secret source of her emotions. Maybe this was because she'd gotten turned around twice while walking the Labyrinth to get here. Maybe it was because she'd forgotten to pack her toothbrush. Maybe it was someone's fault. Something like this couldn't come from nowhere, it was too big for that. She just needed to figure out what dumb thing was tripping up her dumb brain and making her unable to process this moment. It had to be something simple because these problems always seemed simple in retrospect.

Maybe she'd just been carrying these feelings inside her for so long and she had nowhere else to put them. Maybe she just had to cram them all in right here. Maybe she didn't know how to express how important everyone here was to her other than shattering into pieces in front of them.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. She might never hit upon the answer for this feeling, or she might have correctly identified it and then discarded it because the truth was no help at all in dealing with it. This wasn't a matter of being right or saying the right words, because no words could stop the tears. This wasn't a matter of strength, because even the softest of touches could hold her up and stop her from falling.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Tatterdemalion Veiled Fox

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Halcyon Cascade!

By all accounts, you should be feeling nervous, given that Ourania herself is attending this coronation. But you don't. Maybe it's because you've always known today was coming; or, to be more truthful, you've always hoped today was coming. When Oberon was leering at you and demanding your submission, you honestly didn't know that your little Lina would rise to the occasion, but you hoped with all of your heart. And the power of a princess's heart is incredible, even when that princess has grown up and become a queen and taken responsibility.

She's incredible. Twice the princess you were at her age (though you could still teach her a thing or two about stealing the Crown Jewels). When she enters the room to the sound of glass flutes and strings and the great glass organ, flanked by Jess and her darling Rita, there's a murmur of delight that runs through the crowd. Rita accompanies her down to her seat at the front, then scoots in next to Adila (who looks so handsome, for all that she fought Oberon Greymane to a standstill). Jess, now Captain of the Royal Guard, takes her position between you and the audience, a ceremonial guard just in case anyone decided to try to launch an attack to take you or Lina prisoner (which has happened before, thus the precautions).

The words come naturally: important, dignified words, ones that shine like glass. On your right, the crown; on your left, the pitcher, with lucky raindrops falling into the water. This really is the perfect day for a coronation. You lift the crown of Ilumina in your hands, which (thank Ourania) are steady today; you place it on your daughter's head, and blink back tears which mingle with the rain. "I pass this honor onto you, Princess-Promised. Ilumina is in your hands; cherish it, safeguard it, lead with grace and lead with love." Her lights swirl around her as her Seneschal, Free, opens the box holding them. There is an awed gasp from the crowd as the three lights swirl and find their places in the crown. Some people would wonder aloud why she only has three; you are proud of her, knowing why she does not have seven.

You take the pitcher in your hands and pour out the fountain's water over the head of the new queen, and as you do, because today is a very special day, a rainbow arcs across the sky. The water pours out, just like it did over your head all those years ago, and you can hear the queen sniffling and laughing in that way you remember, too. "I'm so proud of you," you whisper, just for her, as the last trickle splashes on her head.

***

Queen Alina Cascade!

All of the congratulations are a whirlwind. The afterparty, of course, is a festival for all of Ilumina, but it is the queens and princesses who stay close by you, even as your subjects flit in and out as they dare. Jess keeps a careful eye on everyone who approaches you; it's tradition that the first kidnapping of the new queen is lucky. You are almost certain that she has been suborned by Rita, though. Thank goodness. That means you won't have to order her to go get you a glass of punch when you see Rita give you the signal.

You will have your first queenly kidnapping at the hands of the Askaian princess, so help you!

But now, you find yourself face to face with your best friends. Adila, strong and loyal and beautiful; Kazelia, dapper and clever and joyful. For a moment, a special moment, it's just the three of you; everyone else is distracted by the smoke bomb going off around Ourania over by the refreshments. The rain lingers on your lashes, Diamond hums a joyful song, and the world, for a moment, turns around the three of you instead of around Argossa. The love you share is the axis of all Hyperborea, right here, right now.

What do you say to each other?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"I accept this honor with all the grace and humility the crown demands. I will be the beacon for all of Illumina, the light that shines through the storm and the night. I will be the rain that washes clean the land and spread my love to every corner and every smiling face. I promise to be the treasure at the end of the rainbow for all who seek me."

The crown sits almost weightlessly on her head. She's practiced this speech a hundred times before today, just to make sure, just... because today of all days nothing can go wrong. Her mother deserves nothing less. Even so, her voice is so high and clear that it surprises her. Alina has to blink back a tear so that she can finish as strong as she started.

"Thank you for all you have given to your kingdom. I now take from you your duties and your burdens, and charge you only with being happy for the rest of your days. I will honor the legacy of your reign. Fear not, for you shall always and forever be my Queen."

The water goes splashing on her head, and the dyes on her dress run down the altar and into the crowd just the way that Free planned. Overhead, the sun pokes through the clouds and a massive rainbow blossoms across the sky like a field of flowers from Ourania's own garden. Alina laughs and she cries at the same time, and her mother whispers something that's just for her, and just like that she is the Queen of Illumina.

Her first official act is to hug her Mommy.

"I love you. I love you forever," she chokes out, burying her face in Halcyon's neck, "Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you..."

Diamond casts its ethereal light across the entire assembly, and for a moment nobody questions if the dreams in their heart are too bold or ask too much of the world. With such a strong light to guide this land, the promise of the rainbow is everything. And it is everywhere. And it is for everybody. And it is all of these things and more.

***

It could be your imagination, you know.

It probably is.

You shouldn't say a word, just in case.

It's definitely just your imagination.

But you could swear that Queen Alina stands a little bit taller than you remember her as a Princess. Just the tiniest bit. Maybe. Perhaps it's because she's learned to stand a little straighter now that her head and her heart have shed the weight of all her guilt. Or maybe it really is the magic of her Diamond demanding that she be flawless. Maybe those shoes just make her stand more on the points of her feet than usual. It's probably just your imagination.

Alina flops dramatically into a chair and sips at the remainder of her punch. Then she kicks off a shoe and stretches her bare toes in the cool, wet air. She's been mingling all day; regal and poised and perfect as can be. But the promise of friendship is that you get to be something less than your best self and they'll want your company anyway. Or better yet they'll take your imperfections and lift them up to make you a better best than you could ever be on your--

Don't cry, you silly Queen! What is wrong with you? She tilts her head up and laughs, and when she brings it back up her smile is as dazzling as it is wet. Come on, Alina, come on! Hold it together! This is not goodbye!

"Congratulations, Kazelia. And thanks for waiting until after the ceremony. Although, I couldn't have promised Jess wouldn't have killed your fiancée if you hadn't. You know? I... can't believe today is real. I can't believe..."

She trails off, lost for a moment in her best friends' incredible, special eyes. Adila's luminous golden orbs are especially beautiful tonight. And she's never grown tired of watching the stars for new constellations in Kazelia's. Above their heads, Alina's Coral play fights with Adila's Silver.

"Oh, did you guys see? The repairs have really come along in the last couple of months or so. You almost can't tell anymore! It's almost like we..."

Stop it stop it stop it Alina, you are a queen now. Queens don't cry because their friends are busy and moving on and...

Oh. Yes they do.

"You have to keep visiting, ok? I won't forgive you if you don't! I'm Queen of Illumina now, you have to listen to me! I'll throw you in my dungeon if you d... I'll build a dungeon and then throw you in it! A-and there's only going to be a few pillows down there! Ten, maybe! I won't use my good sheets, either! ...Ok fine, some of my good sheets! That'll... I..."

She hasn't reached the point where she's making A Scene, but it's only because she's leaning hard against Adila's warm neck, and pulling Kazelia into an ultimate group hug.

"They keep... giving me credit for everything. But I don't deserve half, no, any of it. I was just a scared little crybaby begging for my home back, and you were the only ones, the only ones who listened. I wouldn't have made it seven steps past the beginning without you! You made me stronger. You opened my eyes and my heart. You even helped my find Rita! That's why I... to me, you're..."

Alina sniffles away her last tears. All that's left on her face is a quiet and radiant happiness, and a soft pride that's warmer than the fireplace on Solstice Eve.

"You two are my family. And you will always have a place in my Illumina."
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Anarion
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Anarion School Fox

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As the smoke bomb goes off, Kazelia leans over just a bit and makes a quick gesture. The punch bowl, already a little precarious, slips off the side of the refreshment table and the guardswomen who come running in to protect Ourania take a slip on the ground. Not that Kazelia had anything to do with that, somebody setting the table up just hadn't placed it centrally enough. But it did mean that nobody interfered with Kyouko. It was going to be such a lovely wedding.

And then all of a sudden, Kazelia was in a hug. The best hug. The coolness of Alina's tears and the warmth of her heart all mixed together with Adila's strong scales holding them all up. It was...it was perfect. It was perfect and Kazelia felt herself crying, the tears pooling softly and slowly running down her cheeks, leaving darker stains as the water pooled at her chin and then dripped off. She holds onto Alina and Adila tighter.

Kazelia sniffles. "Of course I'll visit! You can even lock me in the dungeon! Kyouko might complain if the sheets aren't good though, she's very sensitive" Kazelia says in a stage whisper. There is a distinct harumph from within the rapidly expanding smoke cloud, which Kazelia ignores, looking instead at Alina's beautiful green eyes and Adila's deep golden ones in turn.

"You helped me find a home when I never thought I had one. When I didn't think that I could ever belong anywhere. Even when I started and I still thought that all I could do for something I loved was to be fierce and powerful and I didn't have any idea how to be a princess, you let me join you. You were both so patient and wise, even when I screwed up. Even, even when you were afraid of me and I was messing things up, you still let me stay. I...everything I've done here, I couldn't have done it without both of you. Every one of my sisters, my brother, I'd never have been able to reach them without the little fire of hope that you helped me start. Wherever you are will always be home to me."

Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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+You're under arrest,+ said Princess Adila as the handcuffs finally snapped into place.

You didn't think she forgot, did you?

+Queen Cascade, you are considered a flight risk so additional precautions have been taken,+ thought Adila, clicking the other end of the cuff around her own wrist. The chain linking the two glowed bright pink and vanished, leaving two matching bracelets around their wrists. +This is the Friendship Maintenance Bracelet, courtesy of Princess Hornet. Not only will it allow us to track each other down wherever we go but it will allow the instant transmission of messages across any distance. I will be checking in on you regularly and expect you to do the same. Your community service will -+

Adila wasn't able to hold the straight face any further and stuttered off into a damp giggle-sob noise. She buried her head under her wing for a moment, and little glowing words appeared above Alina's cuff: I love you both, so very much.

+Princess Kazelia, you're considered an accomplice to the notorious Princess Kyouko, so...+ she offered a second set of cuffs, the same as the first. +I mean...+ she had to take another moment to wipe her eyes. +Things won't be the same. I'll miss you. I already do. But... whatever the new normal looks like, I know that all of us will fight to make sure that we're all a part of it.+
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Princesses.

“Let me speak for the Queen when I say that you’re always welcome here,” Rita von Catabas says with a cheerful smile, wrapping a ribbon around the queen. “Nod if you agree, your majesty!” Alina hardly needs the help nodding!

“Just hold there so Jess can’t see me,” she adds, to Adila, who was warm for her when all else was cold. “The Queen and I need to talk about my marriage demands.” She winks, and... is it your imagination, or the incense she’s dabbed on, but did a heart float behind her for a moment? “And I have a feeling I’ll have good luck.”

She pulls the knot tied in her scarf between the new queen’s lips and then hoists her up on a shoulder, looking every inch the Askaian rascal of song. “And I’ll be in touch, Kazelia,” she adds, pulling out a goblin grappling hook. “I’d love to arrange a double wedding date!”

With a muffled squeak of joy and a satisfied kitten chirp, Alina and her soon-to-be-fiancée zip away. Jessamine yells at Rita to come back, but seems surprisingly slow to act. After all, when you think about it, it stands to reason that finding the High Queen’s more important. And besides, there’s cake. Very important for everyone to investigate while the Queen is spirited away.

THE END.
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