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Tristan and Constance

For the moment, you are undisturbed. Mort is given a smaller room next to yours and the rest of the inhabitants are about their business. Please continue to plan.

Robena

The task is an arduous one. From the forest trail, the dogs have to backtrack, which forces you into an embarrassing loop around the hunting party in which the knights and servants are all giving you side eye for keeping them still in the chill forest. But the dogs do pick up the scent, and when they do it is a moment of riotous joy. They have a direction! Bark bark bark! They're off like an arrow, straight and true, and you right behind them, and then the entire hunting party with a whoop of joy and the clatter of hooves and harness. It is as though the whole forest were lying in wait behind a bush until just this moment to pounce and now it's a new place, full of life and power. Your heart beats faster and the wind caresses your face with a cool touch as you urge Apricot onward.

The first trick is a simple double back, the dogs cut, turn, circle a series of trees and then come back on themselves, excited yelping as they go in a full circle and look poised to do it again. The trick there is easy enough though, you know the way the beast would go and this is just a short diversion. You find the dog that hesitates on the cutback and, with a sharp whistle, you call him to you and as soon as he gets ahead of the section, he's on the scent and the other dogs have perked up their heads and are again hot on the trail.

The second trick is a bit of a swim. The dogs don't hesitate when they hit the creek (though the frigid water that splashes your heels as you cross sends shivers up your spine). But when they come out the other side, they switch suddenly into confused whines and whimpers and the rest of the hunting party behind you pulls up behind the creek. You have to spend some time searching. The fox must have swum, and downriver is a good guess, but how long? You end up having to dismount and look for signs before finally finding a tuft of fur caught on some low holly leaves and a few trampled berries. You call the dogs again, and again the chase is on.

The last almost breaks you. The dogs, ever eager, lead themselves nearly head first into a wall at least ten feet high. It's not hard to realize what happened: the fox used a low tree to scamper upwards, then jumped to a higher branch, then scrambled it's way up the last bit of shale and was off. What surprises you is the fluffy red and white snout peaking downwards and the high barking laugh from the top of the ridge. "You can't catch me!" it seems to say with those eeee heeee heeee heees! And for a moment, you're really worried. The whole hunting party is going to have to divert around who knows how far to find a trail that the horses can climb and the fox will have enough lead to disappear again. It's cold, the dogs are sweating, and you start to wonder how many clever tricks can you really overcome before dusk?

But, then you remember, if the fox weren't just as exhausted, it would be long gone by now. That it's here, taunting you at all, means you've nearly done the task. You order the dogs to stay, make a gut decision, and sprint east where you find a more gentle incline within five minutes. You're back quickly, the dogs with you, and the hunting party behind. Once you've crested the ridge, the fox's trail is clear, and when you drive it to cliff face, this time it has no trees to climb. The hunters spread out so that there can be no escape, and you allow the dogs to complete their work as they bring the fox at bay. It's over in an instant, the villain defeated, and you find yourself surrounded by hounds clambering all about you.

How do you feel after the day's work? What do you look forward to most when you get to the Castle Sauvage?
Chen was falling. It happened so fast that it took her a couple seconds for everything to catch up. time, blessedly, did decide to slow down a moment, long enough for her to replay the scene in her head. A few times. She had drawn, kicked forward, and used all the magic she could muster to rush at Qiu and far from even being a worthwhile match, she had been grabbed, pulled right out of her fighting stance, and flung out. But...what stuck with her were Qiu's eyes. Normally they were so smug, so full of life and sparkle and that burning passion that Qiu emanated. But when Chen had been right there, that close to her, Qiu catching the crystal blade impossibly in her teeth, Qiu's eyes had looked away, that had been sadness and a little pain.

She came to a sliding stop with her feet against the side of the pyramid, still about ten feet off the ground. Sword still in hand. She had trained for thousands of hours by now, so the first two assault ribbons that tried to pull her down were split in two so casually that the sword swipe barely even registered. She certainly wasn't paying attention to it and her eyes were staring back up the pyramid as her sword came to a rest by her side.

Damn it! Wasn't Chen supposed to be causing Qiu pain? She was supposed to be kicking her butt and stealing her shards and crushing her dreams for the good of...of...oh no. No, she'd messed up. This wasn't for anybody's good. Not even her own. Not her family's, not the other princesses, not Yue's or Rose's, least of all Qiu's. Qiu wanted something different and Chen had thrown it all in her face for...for nothing! No wonder she was mad! What was even the point?

She was constantly in motion. Those first two assault ribbons had been followed by twelve more that required a flurry of slashes. She moved through it like she was practicing the forms, slash up, slice down, momentum into hips and turn for another slash fading away only to go into another combination. Guards came up from below, a few trying to meet her head on and tie up her sword while others tried to grab her from below and behind. That made her have to speed up, like showing off back when Mom and Mommy were together and she would show off. Parry, press into the thrust, follow the momentum and kick for a sudden turn, then force backwards through the air turning to meeting the oncoming guards with a wide sweep and push them away. Step downwards, gaining height in the easy style, flying like you're walking up invisible stairs, weight on the balls of the feet. Parry again and riposte decisively, thrust into the opponent and knock them out of the sky before the next can be upon you.

Chen was going to have to take Qiu up on the trip to Sky Castle. If Qiu thought that Jessic really could help, that was a strong recommendation. Come to think of it, Chen couldn't remember Qiu recommending anybody to her before. Like, besides herself. So Jessic was probably really good. Besides that wasn't even accounting that Chen had basically promised to go if Qiu threw her out and Qiu hadn't hesitated in the slightest. It made her mad though! This all sucked. She just wanted a hug from Qiu! And like, okay, she wanted her to stop taking over the world too, but in the moment she had just wanted a hug. Instead Qiu had looked at Chen like...like she wasn't even supposed to be a princess and then flung her out like she wasn't one and it just...It just urgh! It made Chen feel like she was a million billion miles away from Qiu and she was never going to get there. Seriously, Chen was barely making it through a handful of guards and animated ribbons!

She kicked another guard, using that momentum to launch into a proper flight, not just stair stepping but leading with the sword and that speed meant finally breaking some distance between herself and the pyramid. That was when she saw Yue and Hyra fleeing from a thick mass of the assault ribbons.

Chen had a little spark of hope when she saw her friends. It was almost like a fog lifting. Or coming up for air. Like...exactly that, actually? Chen felt like she hadn't been breathing. Hadn't she come here for Yue in the first place? Oh winds, Chen had been the one to say not to pick a fight and now she had gone and done it and it looked like everybody else was in just as bad straights. But that at least gave her something to focus on. With a little space, Chen noticed that some parts of the pyramid weren't half so stark as Qiu's initial presentation. There were little lights for the barracks, and people milling about (probably dismissed from Qiu's military parade maybe?) not to mention old tech with little towers and wires. And, most importantly, some cars! They had too many non-flying members to carry, so shoving down memories of Zatoichi with a gulp, Chen resolved to get her friends an escape route.

She was at the parking lot almost instantly, but it was full of surprised guards and more coming from behind along with the constant stream of assault ribbons. Qiu must have made hundreds of the things! Maybe this was even a shard thing? Didn't matter, she was already coming out of her flying stance with a charging thrust (the unlucky guard nearest the big van was, shockingly, not up to Qiu's level of deflecting swords with her mouth). She sliced upwards, the crystal light rising and released a burst of light at the apex of her slash, briefly blinding the guards as she leapt into the car. There wasn't really time to get it going properly, and less still to drive it, so she settled for throwing down the break, sending it hurtling forward with a blast of raw magical power, and then rolling out of the driver's seat to keep the rapidly approaching guards off the van and on her.

Chen glanced back at the pyramid again, shaking her head. Her thoughts kept wandering back to Qiu. She didn't want things like this. She wanted to be a Princess, for real. Chen just...couldn't figure out what that meant yet. Chen was sure it wasn't throwing everything Qiu cared about in her face just because Qiu didn't understand her. It wasn't just running off and training until her moms were satisfied either. And...and it wasn't just doing what Qiu wanted and letting Qiu take over for Chen's moms in telling her what to do. That was something at least. Chen didn't want any of those things. It definitely did involve some good hugs and a new costume like...like that one that Cyanis made for her maybe...but poofier.

She blushed but didn't slow down as she circled. She wasn't trying to move to a new spot now, so her form had changed. Sweeping strokes one after another. Not fast, but without leaving openings, a constant flow as she used a free hand to quickly shift and steady her aerial position and make sweeping crystal strikes with her blade. The goal was to force the guards into a half moon with her between them and the van and it was working. There was a bang and a clatter and a noise like a hundred vroom vrooming cars all growling at once, but no time to turn her head backwards to look what was going on. She needed to focus and keep enough space.

Chen did spare a glance through the crowd for Rose. Where was she? Between the two of them, they could get everyone else out of here. Had Qiu had a demon ready to ambush her? Or some special trick? She prayed that Rose was okay, going back towards that pyramid seemed like the most dreadful thing in the world to Chen right now, she couldn't bear to face Qiu after that.

[Chen is no longer smitten with Qiu. They're just too far apart right now.]
For a moment, Chen didn't say anything. More tears slid down her cheeks, and she just...looked away.

***

Li came and licked the tears from the sobbing girl's cheek. Her tongue was warm and when she bumped her head against Chen, her face was soft. She was only a little snow leopard, but she knew her friend needed her, so she settled herself in Chen's lap and wrapped her long fluffy tail around Chen's waist. She growled in her friendly way for Chen to give her scratches and the girl couldn't help but do it even through her tears.

"It's not fair" Chen said, wiping her face with the sleeve of her blue cotton training shirt. Li nuzzled closer and ensured that pets were maintained. "None of the handmaidens have to train like this and they do swords and flying and stuff. I wanna be better than them, Li, but, but...this sucks!"

Li didn't know that Chen was exhausted, that she had just spent a day inside a shard-created world of ice and snow battling some kind of storm demons conjured by both her mothers in consultation, or that Chen's arms felt like they were going to fall off and she could barely stand. But Li did know that Chen's fingers were very cold, and the little snow leopard helpfully licked her friend's fingers to help warm them up so the pets would feel nicer.

Princess Hestia did know what her daughter had been through, which perhaps made it all the more surprising when she quietly sat down next to Chen on her bed and pulling her into an embrace. It had been several years since they'd hugged like this. Hestia was often busy and Chen didn't need a hug and kiss goodnight anymore and hadn't for a while so it was rare for Hestia to visit her in her rooms.

"You don't have to do this" she said quietly. "I know your mother and I put a lot on you. Too much maybe. The Princessship of Sourcefall has been passed from mother to daughter historically, but nobody ever said it had to be, Chen. The wind could choose anyone as a dance partner and we don't have to put you up for it. There are other things to do."

Chen had hugged Li then and let her mother hold her, but she hadn't returned the embrace. "It's always all or nothing, Mom" she had said. "If I don't like the training, I can stop, but then I'm not the Princess anymore. Why can't I be the princess and learn to paint?! Or...or play the arhu, or, I dunno, whatever!"

Hestia sighed. She almost clucked her tongue, but held it back at the last moment. After a pause, she said "because you're gifted. You're naturally fast and perceptive, and if you built the right skills, you could be a once in a generation talent. Because you're the Princess Promised of Sourcefall and Ys until you say otherwise and people really are going to expect more from you honey. Ysel and I want you to be ready." She sighed again. This wasn't what her daughter wanted to hear, and she could tell. "That said...it, is arguable that improved fine dexterity would also improve your sword work. That is to say, a painting tutor isn't entirely out of the question. I'll...ask one of my handmaidens about it tomorrow. I recall she does landscapes sometimes. How does that sound?"

Chen didn't say anything, but when Hestia had left, Chen turned to Li, giving her big ear scritchies and said "I'm gonna be a Princess Li, and I'm gonna be a painter. And...and more stuff too, just you watch!"

***

As Chen's breathing steadied, she looked back at Qiu. "You don't get it" she said slowly, letting out a shuddering breath. "You just don't get it at all. I wasn't ready to be here yet, but I came to help Yue and now I'm here. I'm not...ugh, I'm not trying to get out of being the Princess, I'm trying to get out of it being impossible to do it! You're like, 'oof, that's a lot Chen, go talk to Jessic' and meanwhile you're going to go conquer another kingdom or two. And look, I appreciate the thought, I...ugh, I appreciate that you care about me, okay? It's not like that doesn't matter, but you also can't see why you're doing this whole thing in the dumbest way possible. So, fine, I'll go talk to Jessic. If, If! you can throw me out of here. Otherwise I'm taking your shards now and all your armies and demons won't matter one bit. I guess you do get your duel."

Chen gives Qiu a face that's half grin and half shrug and draws her sword back out, its crystal light gleaming. The instant it's fully unsheathed, Chen is already in motion. She steps and launches, her blade cuts the air before her and the crystal flashes. She's not fool enough to think that Qiu will be taken on the back foot, but she does think she's fast enough to press an immediate advantage and so she strikes for all she's worth.

[Fight with Grace: 4+3+2=9. I choose
-Create an opportunity for an ally through prowess or distraction
-Take an object from your opponent or seize a superior position
-Qiu gets to pick an option

Please interpret the results as limited as they need to be. This is not meant to short-circuit the story and I don't really think that Chen can get a shard here. But she is upset and she's going all out as best she can in this moment.

Edit: also I rolled high enough to get a string on someone present for this from Impressive Fighting.]
Robena

You've been fit into the role of the finder. The hunting party had already assembled and was in the endeavor of driving the cunning fox to exhaustion with noise and uproar. However, they've lost their prey and so the main goal now is to work with the dogs to pick up the scent. The fox is a cunning villain, though. It will likely have crossed over its own trail and perhaps even climbed a tree and reappeared elsewhere. It may even have found a creek or stream to cross in its flight. You'll need to work closely with the dogs and predict the beast's tricks so that when the scent is confused, you can put them back on it again. Once you've drawn near, the hunting party will take over and you can easily drive the fox into a corner and slay it at bay (foxes not being at all known for their fierceness once caught, you'd get a little nip at worst).

Constance and Tristan

Once you exit the grand hall, an air of oppressiveness lifts. Sir Harold offers you a bow, how ponytail bobbing, and then launches into an introduction as you make your way through candlelit stone corridors with fine tapestry to your rooms. "Sir Harold of Gaunnes, steward and castellan of Castle Sauvage at your service. You'll have to forgive our mistress, she knows herself not long for this world, and the Castle Sauvage is something of a special case if you take my meaning." He seems to think you're in on a secret and pats his coat knowingly as he speaks. "Those of us here, well, we're not the usual sort, to say the least. For my part, I'm not afraid to tell you that I took refuge here after the wars. I never did swear proper fealty to the High King, and if you want my guess, the others here all have some reason of their own why they're not at high court and tournaments. Our lady arrived back only recently, and she was not a frequent visitor before, so it fell to me to keep things in good order here. I couldn't rightly tell you as to the others though, we don't inquire, no not at all."

Presently, he shows you to a lovely suite, perhaps one of the finest in the castle. It opens into a hall that splits into two rooms. There is a central bedroom with its own door and lock, along with a fireplace, a sofa and chair, and a small writing desk. A washbasin and tub sit at the far corner of the room. Outside of that, there is a side bedroom, designed for a footman or servant. The latter is more modest, but still has a fine feather bed, a desk and chair, and its own washbasin, and both rooms have a window looking out over the snow-dappled forest. "I hope the rooms are adequate" Sir Harold adds, looking only a tinge nervous at the judgment as to his stewardship.
Chen almost staggers backwards when Qiu breaks the embrace. She just looks at Qiu for a moment with big eyes, her lips starting to tighten. Then it bursts out of her.

"Why the fuck would I be anything but miserable?!" She's shouting, and takes a deep breath. "This is impossible! It's all impossible. You're going to conquer the whole world and somehow I'm the only one that can stop you? Look at all this! But my parents and everyone in all the kingdoms expect me to be the chosen one and save them! If I go take time for myself, somebody will call me or come get me for slacking off and I'll be punished! Hell I'm already getting punished. You know I got Yue here by telling Yin to back off instead of teaming up with her because I actually like Yue, and I'm going to get destroyed for it. Mommy Ysel is going to chew me out about how I don't prioritize my own kingdoms, then I'm going to end up with some kind of penance to Yin for mistreating a vassal, and then I'm going to be sent right back out here until I manage to duel you for your shards. Even you want it, don't think I didn't notice that edge on the ship earlier, you wanted me to draw my sword and fight you right there and you used your shards to push for it. I still can't figure out why you aren't doing the same now!"

Chen pulls out her sword then, sliding it up fluidly from its sheathe on her thin dress (still the one that Qiu had given her save the scarf) and turning her eyes to the sparkling crystal. The lights within danced and spun madly, reflecting her own agitation. "I like doing this, you know." Her voice gets quieter. "I like the teasing and the kidnapping and the, you know, the way we're all kind of friends, even the Princesses I haven't met in person yet. And I love flying and moving fast and dancing with the sword. Do you know, my parents gave me a little one, not very sharp, back when I was five, and I wouldn't let it go. I'd take it out and dance around my room at the Waterfall palace at night instead of going to bed. It had little crystal lights too. Ha, maybe it was a dagger for an older princess or something. When it was dark and I danced with it, the lights would leave faint lines like bright glowing ribbons as I twirled it around."

There's a few tears forming in Chen's eyes, but voice grows harder and angrier as she looks back up from the sword to Qiu. "But you're just like everybody else. Once I picked this thing up, all anybody sees is a blade with an adept hand. A sword makes me so special to everyone! Oh Chen, she's our champion! Oh she can be such a good rival. Oh please, work hard every day and be our savior! Nobody cares what I want because it would be such a fucking waste of my talent to do anything else!"

Chen wipes away hot tears with her silk sleeve, little dots of water darkening the fabric. She slips the sword back into its sheathe smoothly, the skill so worked into her muscle memory that even shaking with muffled sobs, the movement doesn't falter.
Tristan and Constance

The lady Sauvage grimaces noticeably in response to Tristan, a cold square expression of dismay. "That one is beyond the power we hold here. Ask your lady of her nature if you wish to know more. Certainly, we would welcome it if she received her just punishment, but it may be that such is not reserved for our time."

She turns then, to Constance, and for the first time there is compassion in her eyes. "As to you, lady Constance, we are honored by your presence and hold you blameless in the events of the summer that called us all hence. Your judgment was true, and if at the end your efforts are inadequate, we grant you the freedom to be at whatever place you deem most appropriate at the time."

She looks to the both of you. "I will take any questions that you may have for me at this audience, but know now that you have my gratitude for your aid, and that of my retainers as well. When you are ready, Sir Harold will show you to your rooms." She gestures to the stocky blond man, who offers you the most jovial smile of anyone you've seen in the castle thus far by a wide mile.

Robena

The young woman smiles when you greet the dogs fondly, though the taller woman scowls at the familiarity you've shown. Perhaps she keeps the dogs? At the least, the hounds themselves have determined that you, with a free hand for tummy rubs, are deserving of the highest honors, which they shower with through repeated licks and happy barks, quite nearly tumbling you over in their fervor. Lady Sauvage, for her part, awaits your finish with an air of calm patience, sitting upon her horse for all the world like a statue of a lordly knight.

When you do offer your answer and your introduction, she gives the faintest hint of a nod. "Very well then, Robena Coilleghille. Please take the lead. The villain has surely gone to ground, so we must drive it out and set the dogs upon the scent."
Robena

The rider, for her part, gives you an appraising look as you answer. There is the slightest flicker of her gray eyes when your gaze passes over the group wondering whether they themselves are in penitence, but her mouth twitches in the slightest sign of a smile when you politely ask for their will.

"I think you ought to join us" she says, gesturing to one of the squires, who walks his horse forward and offers you a spare wooden shield for bashing to help drive out the fox. "We cannot return home to the castle Sauvage today until the noxious beast is caught and killed. I require of you but two conditions. First, that any catch you make in the hunt shall belong to me, Lady Sauvage, who is lord of these lands, and you shall present it to me at my castle. Second, that you shall not depart your rooms once we have retired for the evening until sunrise, whatever may befall you."

The lady and her knights look to you, the only sound in the air the panting of dogs catching their breath as they await your decision.

Constance, Tristan

"I thank you" Lady Liana speaks quietly and, if you are not mistaken, there is the tiniest blush upon her cheeks at Tristan's praise.

The Lady Sauvage, however, offers the answer, beginning with a slight scoff. "I do not deal in hope. That is not my matter. Surely, Lady Constance, you at least can see the doom that hangs over this place and over me, and so it is time we got to our business properly." She folds her hands in her lap and speaks with a low, almost lyrical formality to the hall and to Constance.
"We are gathered for the cause of a knight, who you know well. She will arrive within a fortnight and stay in our castle. She will not be a prisoner per se, but her oaths and her honor are most liable to keep her here, where the doom that hangs over her will ultimately be delivered at the end of her stay, and so she will not depart. I and my retainers will see to her by day while she is our guest. You are to see to her by night. She will await you, whether or not she wills it."

She pauses, for a moment, and, with a little less formality and something that almost resembles a smile, she looks at Constance and then at Tristan in turn. "Sir Tristan speaks truly, at the least. If there is hope to be had, it is you who has the duty to provide it. Test her well, and perhaps we will, all of us, be surprised."

She looks to each of you then, for agreement.
"But why though?"

Chen's why is so many questions. Of course, it's the why of the hero who just doesn't understand the villain's motivation and is supposed to stop them. That's in there with a little tone of defiance. But it's petulant too. It's the why of a frustrated little girl. It's why can't we just hug and snuggle like this?, plus some why can't I just do what I want instead of being stuck having to deal with you?! And if Chen weren't still leaning into Qiu, the other Princess might almost have expected Chen to stamp her foot in frustration the way her body shivers as she asks it.

Qiu might think that this is her shards at work at first. After all, Chen's used to both her mothers, especially Ysel, so Qiu dropping herself as the single dominant point in Chen's world like this might be pushing her into frustrated daughter mode. But here's an insight that Qiu might have. The way that Chen responded so fast and so honestly, that's not just shards. Chen might be a superb sword duelist and top-tier when it comes to navigating magical puzzles, but she has no conception of being in charge of anything. She's lived a life of expectations and demands and she doesn't like it. So her reaction asking why you'd want to conquer everything, that's because she really, honestly doesn't share those desires at all to the point that she can't even get in the headspace of someone else that has them.

This probably is not the intended effect of the impressive army. Chen's impressed, sure, but...exasperated might be a better word? She just doesn't get why you're doing all this, and her body language is a bundle of tension. She doesn't stop leaning on Qiu because...well, she doesn't know either, it feels nice and she wants to live in a world where it's okay for her and Qiu to just hug each other and nothing bad will happen, but it's obvious she doesn't believe, in the slightest that's the world she's in now.
I am in a rapid river, the water threatens to drown me.
Chen smiles and suffers a slight blush. She can't decide if Qiu is being affectionate and this makes her feel special or if Qiu is treating her like a kid sister and she ought to get indignant. She settles for the smile and that pleasant sense of relaxing into Qiu's strength and the wonderful warmth of her body. Really, why even make a decision when the right choice is to let herself be led along either way?

The light twists when it strikes the water, I see only reflections
It was flattering that Qiu had actually done the painting. Of course she had, she was a Princess of her word, but Chen was excited to see it, excited to even get a chance to do some of her own work. She hadn't had much chance of course, she had been tied and bound much of the time and constantly in transit the rest, which did not make for a good opportunity to do an activity with a steady hand and careful mixtures.

The currents swirl and drag me deeper, I cannot swim against them
"Oh gosh, no I haven't had any chance. I can't wait either, would you believe I've never been more inspired? I even made a fox deal while I was out and it gave me so many ideas. I've got a perfect memory of a group tea as well. There's something about a relaxing tea, it's just this perfect way to express calm and that feeling, I don't even know what you call it, but when you realize that you've been holding your shoulders all tense and you didn't even know it and then you let them go and it's like a huge weight that you were carrying on your back just falls off you all at once. I want to paint that, the way everyone was smiling and at ease. I'd never have thought it, a princess and a village girl, a handmaiden, and an ancient huntress, and two different foxes to boot! It's really an odd one. Oh and I want to see your works too, then maybe we could do something together!"

To swim a river you must trust the water
The painting room is incredible. Chen ought to be taking in all of Qiu's works (and she's going to), but she's too busy ogling the selection of colors and the entire wall of brushes, picking up one and then another, imagining the combinations she could make. Oh, gosh, just look at this red, a little bit of this mixed into a pool of white would make the perfect color for the sunrise sky. And this amber color, where did she even get that, it's perfect for one Yue's little stones. She leans against Qiu, who hasn't stopped holding her close and lets herself rest against that body's strong support. Qiu could be someone's whole world, the earth, sea, and sky that's there for you whenever you look for it.

A river cuts the world in two, the able swimmer crests and dives
Qiu could be everything, but Chen didn't want everything like that. She's with Qiu, but she's alone, all her traveling companions each separated. No comfort from Rose like their ride with Zatoichi, no friendly smile and eager offer of help from Yue. She looked up and there was only Qiu, herself and her paintings. Chen took a deep breath and looked back at the paintings. "Tell me about what you've made, I do want to see. You must have had all sorts of interesting subject matter. You didn't just paint all the places you were going to conquer once I got back, right?" Chen giggles because that would just be silly.

[Trying to figure out Qiu: 2+2+0=4]

Robena

You hear the hunting party long before you see them. A horn sounded in the distance halts you amidst the snowy forest trail, evoking long-past memories of the thrill of the chase. Then there is the low thundering of hoofbeats, the clapping of swords on shields to chase the beast, and the merry jingling of saddle and harness in the crisp winter air.

The party is not large. The lead knight, obviously the lady of the castle, rides a white courser, wearing a tabard bearing a green tree upon a snowy white background with gold thread woven in around the border, the symbol of the forest in which you now find yourself. She is accompanied by a three other knights wearing similar tabards without the gold: one tall and dour lady with long raven hair, one short and stocky man with a jovial smile and blond hair pulled into a ponytail, and one earnest young woman with tousled brown hair and blue eyes that mirror the sky. They in turn each have a page and a footman accompanying them, the footmen carrying drums and bells, and the pages banging on their wooden shields. a handful of hounds are panting alongside the horses, held on leashes, steam coming off them.

The party rounds a bend in the trail and comes upon you all at once, drawing up short, reigning in their horses, and ceasing, for the moment, their noise-making, save for the panting dogs.

"Ho, mendicant knight" calls the leader, recognizing your attire. "Have you seen a fox pass you by in these woods?"

Constance and Tristan

The Lady nods at Constance, and then barks out a surprised laugh at Tristan's addition, a sound she's clearly unaccustomed to making. It reminds you vaguely of King Pellinore, though you never heard her laugh during your hunt. "Yes, we have musicians, though little call for them. Still, we will not be said here at Castle Sauvage to deny our guests hospitality." She looks to one of the retainers below her dais, a stocky man with a blond ponytail and gives a single clap. He nods and steps from the room, returning a moment later with a young woman with unkempt brown hair and sky blue eyes. She's carrying a lute, though she looks rather hesitant.

The Lady Sauvage speaks: "Sir Liana, a song for our guests, if you please."

Then the young knight strikes a chord on her lyre. Though you might have hoped for joyous entertainment, Tristan, what you hear is a minor key, and she launches into a poem of times long past.

In olden times, there once stood Rome, who held our land in sway.
And over all an emperor, who ruled from far away.
In golden times, the city shone, a bright and shining gem,
her hills and rivers sparkling, her holy temples solemn.
But mortal was her emperor, who passed beyond the veil,
and mortal still the next in line, until the line did fail.

Her soldiers once were once pious men, loyal, strong and true.
They came to great Britannia, up from the seas of blue.
They came among the forests, and cleared the land to stay.
They built among the giants and bargained with the fae.
But bargains from a distant lord could never hope to last,
Gone as the line imperial, her knights could not hold fast.

Her promises were filled with hope, a golden age's vision.
They offered us a greater place, a land without division.
The ladies loved her offer, the knights they loved her dream
the druids heard her singing, and the priests her song did sing.
But soon there was disharmony, and quickly then decay,
As empty forts and barren keeps each turned to fade away.

Her power was of many gods, some greater and some small,
this too was her failure, and cause of her great fall.
For never pleased are many gods, demanding each their due,
Until at last their offers end, protections turn untrue.
Here we act more kindly, sharing with our neighbors,
Not gods are they, but fairer folk, who do their share of labors.

Her lands were rich and wealthy, her farmers hale and strong.
But as her days were waning, their strength too was not long.
Her throne beset by warfare, her generals lost to greed,
Her people fought amongst themselves, and no one stood to lead.
Thus do we remember, a kingdom that once was,
imperial its vision, but mortal still its cause.
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