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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.]
Well Rinley, Edelgard is enjoying your scritches and belly rubs. Yes he is! Yes he is! These aren't the best belly rubs he's ever had in his life, mind you (that honor belongs to one of your siblings, care to tell me which one is the best cat-speaker in your opinion?). But this is good, quality scritch scritch on a lovely day. So, Edelgard lets slip, in his meowing way, that where you need to be is near the downtown cafes. There's someone there that the cats can see, and that you can see, and while Edelgard doesn't really understand something like a glass dragon (being "not a cat" it can't really be that important) he understands shiny pretty glass being in unusual places. You kind of understand intrinsically that you should be there.

Now if you'll just let me...scooch you...a little bit...oh look you've made your way downtown despite the sun beating down on you! And look, there are two really notable things in front of you! One is Dulcinea, who appears to be engaged in some kind of...cafe relay race maybe? Wind sprints? She's zipping in and out of the same cafe at variable speeds as you enter the scene is what I'm saying.

The second is some kid about your age with her straw hair in two braids sitting on the steps near the cafe. She's not remarkable or anything. No romance going on, so Dulcinea wouldn't have particularly noticed her. I bet you think she's important though!

There's a lot to do here, this is what happens when cats are forthcoming with information, I guess. What are you going to do?

*****

Oh Dulcinea, look, it's Rinley coming down the road here. Also, pretty much the whole cafe is staring at you right now, what with popping up to manipulate an umbrella and then your little fall, your dramatic coffee+ice cream finish and your exit followed by reentry sprint. It's a little speedy for Fortitude, you're going at just above the typical pace of life and you now find yourself the center of attention. The host, who's a bit of an older fellow, maybe in his fifties and obviously doing this because he likes the chance to meet people coming into the restaurant leans over and asks in a casual way "everything all right, miss?"

What's your response to being the center of attention?

Also, how do you know Rinley? Is it only from requests to measure the precise amount of wuv in a kitty's tummy? Perhaps you've got some background. What emotions are sparked seeing her coming down the lane and being obviously spotted out?

*****
Jasper and Mila!

[Jasper, take two XP. One's an XP for wrestling with some nameless feeling of loss. The other one is for proposing a theory about your world.]
[Mila, take an XP for being suspicious about your other identity. I mean, I doubt Jasper noticed, but I think you're being a little suspicious.]

You're talking. But for your info, a normal person who is a Fortitude resident would be relatively nonchalant in this scene, even if she were to conclude that one or both of you were goddesses. Fortitude's got plenty a goddess in it. They deserve respect, don't get me wrong, but it's really nothing to get huffy over. I don't mean to interrupt though, carry on.

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?]
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.
Rinley, I will play coy with you whenever I please, don't tell me what to do! But anyway, Edelgard regards you with the noble disdain that is the birthright of all cats. Even your blep is not enough to melt his heart. However, it is hot and he appears to have a slight itch on his tummy. He gestures by rolling an imperceptible amount to expose this area. You are to understand that your obligation is to give this area appropriate rubs and scritchies. This will please Edelgard, which he may express by clawing the back of your hand less frequently than if you were to attempt to pet the wrong location.

It occurs to you that if you establish adequate rapport, you might learn why Edelgard is here. As a cat of standing, he ought to know the goings on of Fortitude. Perhaps with appropriate persuasion, he might be willing to open up to you about where you should be searching for this glass dragon mystery. Or this Catssiah mystery, though between you and me, I wouldn't trust a cat to be honest with you about their most sacred prophecies no matter how perfectly you give belly-rubs. Eduard, who is definitely not a rat that you know or have any sort of forbidden relationship with given your Yatskaya background, would agree with this stance.

[Would you like to spend some will on interacting with Edelgard particularly well?]

*****

Dulcinea,

The couple stare at you with a mixture of confusion and annoyance at your interruption. Though strawberry freckles flashes you juuuust a hint of gratefulness. The sun is starting to beat down even harder than ever. This is odd, you are confident the weather should not be behaving like this, the heat of the day had definitely reached its zenith approximately 23.7332 minutes prior to this moment. This does mean, though, that you've done quite the good deed, shielding this happy couple from the sun before it caused them any suffering!

You yourself are not in the umbrella's shade though, having made your recovery from your little tumble with a scramble backwards. How does it feel to be in direct sunlight that is definitely unnaturally hot and are you going to do anything about it?

*****

[Jasper, take an XP for doing sunny things! This isn't exactly sunny in disposition, but it is quite literally sunny and that's close enough!]

Unfortunately, the Lighthouse is truly unmoving, even in the face of your breakdown. There's not much to say here. It really doesn't seem either capable or willing to respond. Perhaps your fall has sent Sir Lighthouse into some kind of shock or coma state? Certainly it's not every day that the Lighthouse has to deal with craters so near to it. Perhaps you even gave him a fright, landing as close as you did. Why, a few more inches and you'd have sent cracks through the base of his cement and then where would he be? Perhaps it's something else? Do you have a theory as to why you're getting such a bad reception once your crying starts to abate?

Oh, and be quick about it, somebody seems to be coming!

*****

Mila, life can be so hard. You let the sunburned woman know her trouble, but all you get for your efforts are a glare for interrupting them, though as you pack up your paints before they run everywhere, you do see them adjusting their position, so you can be reassured that you did some good at least, even if you got no gratitude for it. As for the paints, some will be lost forever and you think that your indigo and your teal may have gooped into a rather unpleasant gray that will require new tubes of both the next time you paint. That will require a trip to the art store and the good indigo paint is the most expensive one! That's just how these things go though, you're sure to find some shade and some cool stone by the lighthouse at least.

[Take one XP for being a bit under siege here, unless you don't think it's that bad yet, in which case you're under no obligation take it.]

As you walk along the beach and pass the little extension in the cliff that comes just before the lighthouse, you see a young woman with long dark hair, about your age, standing against the lighthouse and crying. Despite her sadness, there's something positively radiant about her and you immediately have the sense that she might be an exhausting sort of person, though likely an optimist for all that. On the other hand, she's obviously in distress. What do you do when you see her?
Uuuuuuuugh! Cassian is the perfect target. If she could steal the amulet off the little brat, or just chase him out of the venue, the stupid lobsters would all follow and she'd free up the wedding. But...but, oh Ourania, she couldn't do it! Oberon's little brat was just too pathetic and gross! At least with Oberon himself, she could make an argument for the value of the conquest (even though she totally believed Kazie-wazzie that he was a spirit of corruption that couldn't remain in Hyperborea). And of course she was going to interrupt the wedding itself with a classic Konkon flash bomb that she'd use as cover to establish herself in a dominant position for marriage to Ourania in addition to Kazelia. Forcibly marrying Ourania (symbolically of course, she had to remain on Argossa) was the pinnacle of a Konkon wedding, but it hadn't been done since Kyouko's great-great grandmother Sayako. Sayako had managed to trick Ourania into traveling to Konkon with false reports of an Argossian crystal causing giant-sized plant growth and then used her (entirely hand-cultivated!) giant Axonian princess traps to ensare Ourania long enough for the ceremony. Konkon queens still told that story to their little princesses before bed as inspiration for their future weddings! Why, Kyouko's room back home still had her Ourania doll complete with rope set and miniature giant Axonian princess trap decorating one of the shelves.

But, back to the situation at hand, she just couldn't. Cassian was the worst and he was pathetic and she could not picture herself ever marrying him even in jest. At best he'd be the little ringbearer at her wedding with Kazelia and they could dress him in a fancy suit with lace neck ruffles and wrist ruffles. She had just the pattern for her fox seamstresses to put something like that together. But, again, not marrying him! Urgh. Maybe she could alert the others. Where was...ah Adila and Hornet. Perfect, they'd easily be able to dart in and snatch or destroy the amulet, there was no way Cassian could defend himself. She just had to...uh, huh, why were they just standing there, and with very unfocused eyes at that. Oh dear, oh dear, some kind of magic ritual? She didn't recognize this one, which meant it would be dangerous to snap them out of it. Oh bother. She'd have to hide herself nearby and direct them the second they snapped to, perhaps distract any Garthim wandering nearby. Kazelia would manage for a little while longer yet. She had every confidence in her blushing bride to be to know the perfect moment to act!
Do you know what would be easy? Giving herself to Mother. Taking Oberon by surprise in this moment of quiet conversation. Showing him how much more his daughter has become. It would be so simple to turn on her heel and reach her hand, her careful, thoughtful always tapping hand inside him, right through his chest and grasp the core of him. To tear apart all these lies. Pulling, pricking, testing, teasing, unwinding and unbending until there's nothing left of him but his petty little Truth. Pure, ha! What is Want when you have nothing? What is Want when your plans are shattered, your minions lost, your treasures broken? Nothing but a pathetic child whining into the night that it's cold and dark and scary. It would be so easy to join with Mother and fill those pricking fingers with just a little fire, to burn away the dross and scatter that scared little boy to the four winds. Not even so much ash. To let her fire burn away everything. To race through the roots of Argossa like a scouring, righteous flame and burn and burn and burn and burn and burn until there's nothing left of him and everything could go back to being as it was. As it is supposed to be.

It would destroy her. Shiva's eyes would turn red and she would go mad amongst the Garthim and topple them from the tree. Oberon's cold would wrap itself all about this frail body she's inhabiting. She would give her everything. Sacrificing first her magic. Then her strength. Then her empathy, so dearly bought. And last of all her courage that held fast in a frozen heart for a thousand years. She would give it all up and become part of Argossa and beyond Argossa until she had burned through every inch of Hyperborea and wrapped it in her warmth. Maybe, forever afterward, people would remember her as that which turned away the last of the Riders, the last of the visitors from beyond the world so that all the princesses could be true and loving. Maybe nobody would ever know, save perhaps Ourania, if she were inexplicably to mist up a bit more than before at princess weddings.

She would never get a chance to say goodbye. Maybe it was that, of all things, that made it just a little less easy. A little less simple to let it all go. A bit tricky to give in to a thousand years of rage at this man who could not see ANYTHING outside of his own ego. It burned within her. But she wouldn't get to say goodbye. Not to her wonderful friends, so many of whom she still needed to know better, the way Alina and Adila knew them from a lifetime of games, contests, and joyous hugs. Not to Rita, who deserved all the happiness and warm sunbeams in the world. Not to Adila, who was just starting to flourish and embrace herself. Not to Alina, who couldn't see how beautiful and wise she had become. Not even to her favorite little fox princess who she was going to marry in a special little magical Konkon ceremony with a Rider princess twist.

So Kazelia did the hardest thing in the entire world right now. Maybe the hardest thing she had ever done. Even harder than when she went out into the snow and left her real mother, harder by far than facing Oberon in Feloria or at Hobling Keep. She nodded and said "Ah, love. Maybe this world really has gotten to you, Father" and she took his hand and let him lead her towards the ceremony. She did it all without trembling even, or maybe she trembled a little, but it was only right that a daughter be appropriately afraid of her father.
Damn him. Argossa itself, just damn him. The way Kazelia feels is that she wants to ram her spear into him and twist it, filling him so deeply with fire that there's nothing left of him. Rage burns in her heart that he would do this. Bereft of his daughters, his magic (she saw him change the subject), and his armies, he'd simply take everything with him. What would it gain him to turn Argossa to ice? Another vibrant world turned to cold and stillness. He wouldn't even have anyone left to boast about it to, it was doubtful Cassian would even survive the loss of Argossa if he were on it. Honestly, she's not even sure Oberon himself would survive it. If he can't shapeshift, there's a good chance that some of the essence of Argossa has influenced him and he'd be signing his own death warrant in the process of corrupting it.

Damn bitter, spiteful old man.

Kazelia doesn't fly at him in a rage though. She gathers herself, hands together behind her back, posture stiff and upright like she's inspecting a battalion instead of a horde of Garthim. If she wastes her chance now, with no friends around, no other princesses at all, and surrounded as she is by Garthim and Oberon's full attention, she'll simply squander the opportunity. She has to stall and gather information. Her friends will come, there will be a moment, she's confident. That's the blessing of Hyperborea, that they will come and she won't have to be alone.

"Why do you even want all this?" she asks him, trying to pass the time. "You can't stand the games they play here, you're cut off from Mother. Does it bring you such pleasure simply to wreck and ruin?"
Kazelia swallows. This hadn't been how she'd wanted to meet him. Surprise would have been...good maybe? Dropping in on the wedding. She hadn't expected this. And her song, she had felt his heart, that cold barren nothing, but it hadn't shaken him, not like before. She thought, she didn't know what she thought. It just, it just hurt. She knew what he was saying shouldn't be right, but with Alina struggling there and all of this, Oberon lording it over her, it felt like maybe nothing would change, like it was all a dream.

Kazelia shook her head and tried to look at something else. There wasn't much, Cassian's idiotic smirk, a horde of garthim, Oberon. He'd been in this form on the ledge too, in fact, hadn't he broken that sling he was using? And he'd thrown the puzzle box. He had no want of artifacts, but it was odd that he hadn't intervened in a more aggressive way. The calculating part of Kazelia's mind is going full steam all of a sudden. Comparing how Oberon fought today with those years ago when they'd first entered Hyperborea and he had approached Argossa and fought Ourania in a shapeshifting duel. Was it possible that...

Kazelia looks at Oberon, not Alina, and instead of engaging in his conversation, she asks him a question. "Father. When was the last time you shapeshifted?"

[Evil's Bane means his shapeshifting stat is damaged. I'm also invoking my once per scene free Heart of Fire (comes with the "We are not the same" move). I'd like him to tell us something valuable here. Bond also struck off. Bastard.]
Rinley! There is a wasp in your nut. That's unusual, wasps don't typically fly into nuts, but you are pretty sure that you'd remember if your bag of nuts were buzzing earlier. There also appear to be a good number of water skaters on this river and the tiny fish aren't trying to eat them with their typical vigor. This could be because you're present and the fish don't want to risk getting too near a person, even a perfectly nice fox person like yourself. But it could be for some other reason! Maybe it's the cat lounging on a nearby river jetty a bit downstream from you. It may look like it's asleep, but you know that it is merely lying in wait for the right moment to strike, as all cats do from time to time.

[Oh and take 1 XP for invoking your Storytime quest right off the bat.]

*****

Jasper! A creature of this size and with such stern and stiff bearing likely holds some sort of knightly title. It may be very cross with your disrespectful entrance. Regardless, however, Sir Lighthouse (third of his name) does not deign to answer you and returns your comment with only stony silence.

You don't know this, but typically there would be a lighthouse keeper who would perhaps come to check on what's happened. Today, however, the lighthouse keeper, who is a young lady perhaps a year or two younger than you appear at the moment, decided that it was too nice a day to sit in a stuffy lighthouse when literally everything was light. So she's off in Fortitude near the beach having a milkshake in a cafe with a friend of hers. It is strawberry and she is using it cover her current blush because her friend said that her freckles make her look cute and she blushes easily.

But! You are met with stony silence for the moment. Perhaps you've got an idea of why that might be?

*****

Dulcinea! Just two tables over from where you are mulling the nature of reality and the nature of melted ice-cream, you see a young lady with freckles and a strawberry milkshake start to blush at something the other girl with her (who has lovely curly black hair that bounces to just below her shoulders) must have said. You have an uncanny sense (or possibly just a good dose of observational field experience) that the freckled girl is playing hookie with her friend and wasn't expecting to be complimented so. She's now using her milkshake as an impenetrable shield to hide her blush. It is failing.

How are you feeling?

[Oh and take 2 XP. One quest XP for proposing some interesting alchemical theory, the other for invoking speechlessness in the reader.]

*****

Mila! The sea is lovely. Well, the Lake, rather. This is Big Lake, all fresh water. There's a cool breeze coming off it it though, and it does have some waves. There's a fishing boat out there, the fishermen lazily dangling their lines as they rest near the their rods, attached to the side of the boat with some firm hooks. They'll be ready to catch something, but just now even Big Lake doesn't seem much up for disturbing the calm. A couple is sleeping on towels spread by the sand nearby, though the young lady appears to have been out longer and is starting to get a sunburn.

The only thing that seems to be off is a bit of dust from what sounded like something happening over by the lighthouse at the end of the beach. It's a little ways away, but you could walk there if you cared to check it out. It might be a little tiring though, but then again, it might pass the time. Your painting is also coming along nicely though. And you could let the young lady know about her developing sunburn. Really, the world is your oyster right now, to do with as you will! It's very refreshing and gives every sign that tonight will be very productive! (Is this too good to be true?)
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