Status

Recent Statuses

14 hrs ago
Current I scared the shit out of my husband once when I mumbled something in my sleep about keeping quiet because we were being watched. He also said I tell him 'no' when he tries to kick our dog off the bed.
3 likes
4 days ago
Netflix's new one-household policy is stupid. I travel a minimum of once a week, so I won't be keeping my subscription if they start charging me like I'm 5 different people.
8 likes
5 days ago
2023 is the year of hearing from people I haven't talked to in years, apparently. I was not expecting to get a text from an old friend from **high school** today.
2 likes
8 days ago
Welp, I accidentally scheduled 2 meetings in cities 2 hours apart and gave myself exactly 2 hours of break between the end of the first and start of the second. Why do I do these things to myself x-x
3 likes
30 days ago
All 3 highways going in or out of my city just closed indefinitely. This multi-day snowstorm has officially holed us all in.
1 like

Bio

Personal Profile

Name: Taylor
Pronouns: They/them
Age: Mid 20s
Relationship: Married (happily, I might add)
Time Zone: Arizona (we hate daylight savings, so it's MST year-round)
Writing History: I've been on a number of different roleplaying websites for over a decade and a half
Hobbies: Writing, fitness, driving/exploring, hiking, camping, traveling, tabletop games, anything NEW (I love trying things I've never done before)
Roleplayer Profile

Format: 1x1s only. Maybe I'll try a group RP again someday, but I've never had one last longer than a few months
Posting Speed: Depending on my schedule, I can usually post at least once per week
Favorite Genres: Historical, Romance, Action/Adventure, Horror/Dark, Fantasy, Slice of Life, Dystopian, can be convinced to write some Sci-Fi
Hard 'no's: Fandoms. Sorry, but I can't maintain interest in characters/worlds I didn't build with my partner
Template: Public threads or PMs. I prefer to keep all my RPs in one place, so no emails or G-docs or the like
Rating: Comfortable with 18+ content, but it's not a necessity and I prefer not to center a plot around explicit scenes
Level: Advanced. Will consistently provide around 400-700 words per post, but can occasionally leap to 2000+
Character preference: One main character, but large side casts are greatly enjoyed. Because I write long posts, I prefer not to double
Gender preference: Male. You'll be hard pressed to convince me to play a female that isn't a background character. It's just not my forte
Romantic Relationships: MxF or MxM (currently prefer MxM)
Character Images: Faceclaims or detailed descriptions only. I envision the characters like real people in my mind, so I can't take anime seriously
OOC chat: Yes please! I'm a total extrovert who loves to get to know the amazing minds behind my partners' characters
Ongoing Roleplays

Let Me Steal Your Heart - Medieval saga going on 8 years with @BuzzingBee
Amnesia - Modern dystopian romance with @sukikyoufu
Also shoutout to @Syrenrei @Angel Vicky @blindwoofer @mercenarius & @Hohum who are wonderful writers of the PM land

Most Recent Posts

Jacob is like 'Fuuuuuuck I'm busted' lmao

On another note, hooray for finally getting the mains back together xD It only took us a whole year
Two days had passed. Two long, painful days of hiding out in an above-ground bunker while the capital’s security team continued to report back that the missing rebels had yet to be apprehended. Cas spent most of his time in front of the TV, or at least near enough to catch a glimpse of the reports on the news, unhealthily fixated on the things his people were saying about him while he was stuck in the safe house. He hated feeling so helpless, and he wanted to yell back at the reporter on the screen that he would be doing something about the rebels if his guards would just let him out to confront them.

As the hours crawled by, what had started as shock and despair had morphed into anger. The Scourge had taken too much from him. They’d abducted him from the capital, attempted to have him killed multiple times, caused strife between him and his dying father, bombed the home he’d grown up in, and murdered the woman he loved. He was done letting them walk all over him. Aspiria was his kingdom, and the rebels needed to learn to accept him as its ruler or he was going to make them.

On his second day in hiding, he said as much to Jacob, who was glad to see a new fire in the king’s eyes but (wisely) advised him to draft his speech before he returned to face the public eye. Raine offered to help as well, mentioning that her father had hired a professional to train her in the art of diplomacy. Like the security head, she was supportive of a heavy-handed response to the terrorists after her father had nearly lost his life in the attack, and she insisted that she would be able to help him craft a response that would instill confidence in Aspiria’s allies while also sending a clear message to the Scourge that the monarchy would be ending its leniency toward their tantrums.

With time to spare and nothing else to do to kill it, Cas agreed and they sat down at the dining table to pen a draft while the guards on site milled about by the kitchen, occasionally communicating into their comm devices with the rest of the team that was out and about in the city as they attempted to track down the missing rebels. Supposedly the two were still somewhere in the capital, since the border patrol hadn’t found traces that anyone had tried to escape from inside.

While the search dragged on, the guards in the safe house had set up a pair of laptops on the island counter, connected to the security cameras in the immediate vicinity to monitor the area for any unauthorized activity. That afternoon, a few of them were watching the screens idly when the sound of shouting voices suddenly projected from the computer speakers and made nearly everyone in the room jump. It was the first time they’d gotten anything other than general background noise since they’d set up the system, and all the guards who hadn’t been standing beside the counter, Jacob included, circled up to see what was going on.

“Burglar?” one muttered the guess with a glance at the security head, who was staring at the screen with a pinched expression. Crime rates had been low in the capital for the last ten years, and the fact that this had happened so close to the safe house didn’t feel like a coincidence to him.

“What’s going on?” Cas called over from the dining room. He and Raine had heard the commotion too, and he’d slid his chair back to join the group in the kitchen. “Did they find the rebels?”

“We aren’t sure just yet, your majesty,” Jacob responded without looking away from the computer. On one of the cameras, three tiny figures had just come into view. He pressed a hand on the shoulder of the nearest guard. “There, Stevens. Zoom in on camera six.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let me see,” Cas ordered, pushing his way between two of the other men to get a view of the screen. After forty-eight hours of being pent up, he hoped the guards had found the guys they were after. Holding his breath, he watched as the camera that had caught the action was brought to full-screen and zoomed in on three people in a skirmish. He leaned in to get a better look and recognized two uniform that belonged to capital soldiers. They were wrestling to apprehend… a girl?

Wait.

Iris?” he breathed, his eyes widening as he stared at her familiar face, pinned to the ground beneath a guard. The details were slightly distorted by pixilation, but he recognized her anywhere. He pressed his palms flat against the counter, suddenly dizzy. How the hell was this happening? He’d watched Ethan kill her, and his own team had confirmed she was dead, yet now here she was, alive and kicking in the capital? He didn’t understand how it was possible, but as he listened to the soldier’s voice on the radio, phoning in his capture to Jacob, he whipped around to the security head without a second thought.

“That’s Iris,” he snapped. “Tell him to bring her here.”

Jacob blinked, snapping himself out of his stupor. Like Caspian, he had recognized Iris immediately and had sworn under his breath the moment her face had appeared in any clarity on the screen. Having been in the safe house to make sure his king didn’t leave for the last two days, he hadn’t checked in on her recently, but he was shocked to see her outside of his condo, committing petty theft. It was entirely foolish of her to slip out on her own—especially while every soldier in the vicinity was on high alert for intruders. He didn’t know how she could have been so stupid. And now Caspian knew she was still alive. He winced. This was not going to end well.

“Jacob!” Cas barked when the guard didn’t immediately respond.

“Yes, sir,” he acquiesced reluctantly, bringing his hand up to his ear. He knew the king was going to put the pieces together eventually—he wasn’t stupid—but at the moment, Caspian seemed too fixated on the fact that Iris was still alive to put any thought toward the fact that he had said she was dead and had even claimed to have buried her, himself. There was no hiding his lies now that the truth had come out, and he swallowed hard, not looking forward to what was going to come when the king realized what he’d done.

“I can see you both on the camera now,” he responded to the soldier outside. “Bring her to the safe house. The king would like to speak with her, personally.”
The safe house had a haunted feeling to it.

At least, that’s what Caspian thought when they turned on the lights in the windowless building he had been told to make his home until the rest of the rebels had been caught by capital security. On the south side of the city, it was hidden away near a condominium development and looked on the outside like a mundane storage unit. However, the interior was furnished surprisingly lavishly, dripping in his late father’s taste. The furniture looked just like that of the palace, the walls were decorated with framed photos of the royal family, and the kitchen was fully stocked with enough food to last at least a few months.

There were four bedrooms, providing plenty of space for the king, the visiting princess and their guards, and a TV was set up in the living room to provide them with an outlet to keep up with the world beyond the safe house walls. That was where Cas and Raine set up camp while the guards went about some of their other preparations with the temporary location. Over the news, they saw that Raine’s father, as well as all the other guests in the palace except for five people, had made it out of the attack in one piece. She was relieved beyond words to see that her family was safe, and while they sat on the couch in front of the newscaster on the screen, she eventually fell asleep against his shoulder while he continued to watch the reports flow through, speculating about the military’s competence to deal with the Scourge and about whether or not he was going to hurry the timeline for a marriage to protect the royal bloodline from getting snuffed out.

It was a lot to take in, especially after he’d just been attacked at what should have been a fun, peaceful banquet with Aspiria’s closest allies. Cas didn’t know how long he sat in front of the TV, drenching himself in the weight of his kingdom’s expectations, until the touch of a hand on his shoulder startled him out of his spiraling. At the feeling, he looked up to see Jacob standing behind him with a frown. “You should get some rest, Your Majesty,” the guard suggested gently. “Your bedroom is prepared for you.”

“Rest for what?” Cas muttered, curling his fingers as Raine lifted her cheek from his other arm, roused by the sound of their talking. His fingers had started to prickle from lack of blood flow while she’d been using him as a pillow. “I’m not doing anything to help this whole situation.” He shook his head. “Five people are dead because those rebels came for me… and now I’m hiding from them in an oversized box because I can’t do anything to defend myself.”

“You aren’t at fault for any of this,” Jacob furrowed his brows. “And your job isn’t to defend yourself. It is to lead this kingdom, which you can’t do effectively when there are men loose in the capital who would do anything to see your life end. This is a necessary measure to keep you safe until we can hunt them down and put them behind bars.”

“Right,” Cas sighed, unconvinced.

“Don’t torment yourself over what happened today, Your Majesty,” Jacob rested a hand on his shoulder again. “Our soldiers are working round the clock to find the men behind the attack and bring them to justice. For now, we just need you rested and ready to present yourself strongly when you return to face your people.”

Cas pressed his lips together, his eyes drifting back to the running news piece on the TV. He doubted he was going to get any sleep while he was still so wound up after the bombing, but before he could voice his dissent to Jacob, he stared as the screen suddenly blinked off, and Raine stood from the couch at his side. “He’s right, you know,” she said, extending a gloved hand toward him. “Come on. You need to show those terrorists who’s in charge, and you won’t do that worrying yourself to death in front of the TV.”

Caspian gaped at her, caught off guard by the forceful tone of her voice, while at his back, Jacob smirked. “Fine,” he caved, taking her hand to stand up as well. He still didn’t feel like trying to rest, but the others had a point that watching reruns of the same news updates over and over weren’t helping. Taking a breath, he turned toward the hallway that connected to the bedrooms. “If it’ll make you guys happy, I’ll lay down for a while.”

“It will,” Raine chirped, casting him a wink and a curtsey as she walked past him to be escorted by a female guard to her own room. “Goodnight, Your Majesty.”

“Goodnight, princess,” he said back.

On his way around the sofa, Jacob tapped his arm one more time, leaning over to whisper, “She would make a wonderful queen.”

“Yeah,” Cas shrugged, watching Raine disappear around the corner ahead of him. Logically, he agreed with Jacob. The Suphate princess had all the makings of a leader that his father had encouraged him to look for in a partner, but his head and heart were still fixed on Iris. Even though he had been flirting with the idea of discussing an engagement with Raine and her father just a couple hours earlier, the thought of doing anything with her suddenly felt wrong. He felt a frown etch itself into his features and dropped his gaze to the floor as he headed slowly for the corridor.

He knew he had to let go of her at some point, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not yet. With an attack from the rebels fresh in his mind, he tossed and turned for the rest of the night, haunted by the image of her motionless body on the drone camera when she’d died.
“Affirmative. It’s nonsense. Continue looking out for those missing rebels and find out how they got inside the perimeter.”

Jacob spoke softly into his comm device as the king and his men loaded into the escape vehicle. His voice was certain and unwavering, but as he responded to his subordinate, his brows pinched in concern. How in the hell had Iris’s name come up again when he’d kept her hidden away in his condo for over a month? The last the Scourge had seen of her, she’d looked like she had bled out in Ethan’s attic. He didn’t understand how they could have known she was still alive or why they would think she was being held against her will in the capital.

At the moment, he didn’t have time to piece it together either. With the threat of terrorists on their heels, his top priority was relocating the last successor of the Aspirian royal line to safety. So, as soon as everyone was inside the armored van, he climbed into the front with the driver and eyed the shadows around them as they took off for the connecting hovercar further from the palace.

Meanwhile, in the back, Caspian was watching the closed rear door tensely, as if he expected rebels to rip it off its hinges and spring through at any second with guns blazing. At this point, he couldn’t put anything past them. They had already taken so much from him, and they seemed to have no interest in stopping until he was dead. Anxiously, he wrung his hands between his knees, sitting on the edge of his seat until the sudden touch of a hand on his wrist nearly made him jump out of his skin.

“Sorry,” Raine managed a half-smile at his side. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay,” Cas sighed, leaning back against the side of the van and closing his eyes. His heartbeat was still drumming in his ears, and he knew he needed to calm down. Even if the rebels did find them before they made it to the safe house, he’d learned from his experience in the outer districts that he needed to keep a level head if he wanted to survive. Of course, that was easier said than done, but the least he could do was keep from openly panicking.

For a moment, the only sound was the gravel turning beneath the van’s wheels and the hum of the engine, but Raine wasn’t finished speaking yet. “These people…” she went on quietly. “You made it sound like you’ve dealt with them before. Are they also the group behind the civil war in your country?”

Cas nodded without opening his eyes. “They’ve been fighting with us since my dad was still in power, and now that he’s gone, it just feels like they’re trying even harder to get rid of me… Since I’m an only child, there’s no one else in line for the throne right now.”

“Oh.” The Suphate princess frowned. “That is precarious.”

“Mhm,” he finally turned his head slightly to glance at her from the side. Though they had been getting along earlier, and this conversation felt like as good of an invitation as any, he didn’t make any moves toward her. She was fun and beautiful and he liked her company, but with everything that had just happened, his thoughts were fixated on Iris again. Facing the people who had killed her tore open afresh all the wounds he thought he’d healed, and suddenly, reaching out to another woman felt treacherous to her memory.

Raine was bold enough without his assertion though. The hand she’d rested on his arm slid downward to lace her fingers with his, and she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. He reciprocated halfheartedly and allowed her to stay there until they made it to the hovercar on the edge of the property, where the guards funneled them from the armored van into the aircraft that would carry them the rest of the distance to the southern safe house.
“There’s no way that happened. You’ve gotta be making it up!” Cas buckled forward as he laughed. He and Raine had wandered out to the garden behind the palace while the party continued in the ballroom without them. After walking leisurely through the hedges for a while, he’d brought her to a stone bench by the pond, so they could rest their feet as they continued getting to know each other.

Like he’d thought when they’d first started talking, she had a fun personality, and it didn’t take her long to pull him out of the funk he’d landed in when he’d seen the girl in pink who had reminded him of Iris. He still couldn’t completely remove his last girlfriend from his mind—he kept comparing Raine against her memory whether he liked it or not—but at least he’d relaxed again. It felt nice to be with someone whose company he genuinely enjoyed too. She was kind, funny, and supportive, and he felt like he could be himself as they hung out together.

He also liked spending time alone with her. Of course, being the king of Aspiria, he was never truly alone anymore. There were security cameras covering the entire property, and security guards patrolled the grounds on regular circuits, making sure nothing was amiss. The men and women they passed in the garden steered well clear of them though, giving the two royals privacy to speak without worry of being overheard. They knew better than to interrupt without a good reason.

“It’s true!” Raine insisted with a bright grin. “You should have seen the look on the man’s face when he realized I wasn’t a handmaiden. He’d traveled all this way to meet me, and yet he couldn’t have put in the effort to look up a photo of my face on his phone? Of course I had to embarrass him by playing along when he beckoned me over to make him lunch.”

“Wow,” Cas shook his head, running a hand incredulously over his mouth. “What an ass—er, a, um…” He cringed as he realized belatedly that he’d let his tongue slip. Most women of nobility didn’t love foul language, but to his surprise, Raine just giggled at his fumbling.

“He was a complete ass,” she nodded her agreement.

He blinked, a smile starting to tug his lips into a smile. However, just as he opened his mouth to say something back to her, his heart jumped into his throat as a sudden, loud bang shook the bench they were sitting on and sent ripples across the pond water. “What was that?!” He turned sharply around in his seat, wide eyed, and watched in horror as a part of the palace wall that flanked the ballroom caved in on itself, shortly followed by the upper level of the building that no longer had the support to hold itself up. Large chunks of stone and cement collapsed, and distant screams echoed through the garden.

“Oh my god!” Raine gasped, smothering her mouth with both hands. All color had drained from her face, and she pressed into his side. “Oh my god… Are we being attacked? My father is in there!”

“Your Majesty!”

An urgent voice tore Caspian’s attention away from the ruined palace wall, and he turned to see Jacob heading a group of five other guards who were all sprinting toward the bench with weapons drawn. “We need to leave. Now,” the security head ordered. “Terrorists were seen just outside the palace. We’ve detained one, but the rest are still loose.”

“What?” Cas stood up, his heart still racing. “How did they get in?”

“We don’t have time to investigate,” Jacob replied brusquely, gesturing for the king to follow him. “Come with me, sir. The safe house isn’t far. We need to relocate before they realize you aren’t at the banquet.”

“Is my father alright?” Raine cut in, standing up as well.

Jacob clenched his jaw, and Caspian swallowed hard. He was also worried about Quincy, but if there really were terrorists running around, armed with bombs, they didn’t have time to go looking for him. Grasping her by the hand, he nodded decisively at the security head. “Let’s go… Raine, you should come too. These people are dangerous.”

“But—”

“Please,” he insisted, meeting her gaze imploringly. Again, Iris flashed through his mind, her lifeless body on the floor beside Ethan, and he tightened his grip on Raine’s hand. He’d already lost one person he cared about to the Scourge. He couldn’t lose the Suphate princess too.

The desperation in his eyes must have registered, because after a moment of hesitation, Raine pressed her lips together and nodded her head wordlessly.

“This way, Your Highnesses.”

With both royals on board, Jacob ushered them to the nearest road away from the palace, where an emergency vehicle was already waiting to carry them to the safe house. Cas jogged alongside Raine, surrounded on all sides by guards who kept a sharp lookout for the missing rebels on the property. His mind was still reeling from the explosion, but they had to keep moving. The palace wasn’t safe anymore.
Despite all of his father’s prodding over the years, this was the furthest Caspian had ever gotten in a political relationship before. Before the former king’s death, he had been adamant that he would never agree to an arranged marriage. They were outdated, suffocating, and honestly kind of dehumanizing, he felt. When he’d pictured himself proposing to a girl, he had always thought she would be someone he’d chosen for himself, someone he cared about and who cared about him in return. Maybe he was just a romantic, but he didn’t like the idea of exchanging vows with someone like a business transaction.

And yet, that was exactly where he found himself as Quincy prattled off the list of agreements and compromises between Aspiria and Suphate that he wanted to see take place if their kingdoms unified through marriage. Economic policies, trade deals, military alliance, and other terms that would have never made it onto the pages of a romance novel flowed through their conversation while Raine sipped quietly at her champagne. It was hard to tell what she thought about everything. Cas wondered if she genuinely didn’t care that her father was using her as a bargaining chip or if she was just a very good actress.

Either way, he didn’t love the fact that he was making plans with his potential future bride’s father—God, that still felt weird to think about—when she was standing right next to him. So, after Quincy finished making his pitch, the Aspirian king flashed a smile that looked warmer than it felt to him inside. “You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about… I’ll meet with my advisor and have an answer for you tomorrow. For now, if you don’t mind, could I have some time to talk with Raine? Alone?” the last word was tacked on after a shot pause, since he realized belatedly that her father might try to stick around if he wasn’t explicitly asked to leave.

Quincy didn’t seem to mind, fortunately. He just seemed excited that the younger ruler was giving his proposal genuine consideration. “Of course, Your Highness,” he agreed readily, his smile as broad as ever. “Take as much time together as you’d like. Eat, drink, enjoy each other’s company. I’m sure you’ll have a splendid evening.”

Turning to his daughter, the Suphate king touched an encouraging hand to her shoulder and then stepped away to mingle with another group, leaving the young royals alone at the champagne table. Cas watched him go until he was out of earshot before he turned back to Raine and smiled behind the rim of his flute. “So, your father is…”

“A lot?” She supplied with a smirk on her painted lips. Resting a hand on her waist with her forearm crossing her stomach, she leaned toward him and lowered her voice. “I love him dearly, but he doesn’t realize how overwhelming he can be when he rambles like that.”

Cas laughed. “Okay, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

“You wouldn’t be the first suitor he’s scared off,” she rolled her eyes.

“Who said he scared me off?” Setting his empty glass aside on the table to be collected by the waitstaff, he picked up another and shot her a look with raised brows. “He didn’t let me get a word in, but I appreciate his enthusiasm. And besides, I’m not going to make any decisions based on what another king thinks… If we do this, you’re the one I’ll be marrying, so tell me about yourself. Is this marriage even something you want to be doing?”

Raine studied him for a moment, seeming surprised by the question. After a thoughtful pause though, the emotion passed, and she smiled up at him in a way he interpreted as flirtatious, her green eyes peering beneath hooded lashes. “I’ve always thought you were cute, Cas,” she crooned. “I guess you just didn’t notice when we were kids.”

This time, it was his turn to be surprised, and she laughed. The sound of it was less demure than he was expecting too. Most noble-born girls had melodic, chime-like chuckles that seemed to have been rehearsed from an early age, but hers was a louder, more boisterous laugh. More raw and real. He actually kind of liked it. “You’re blushing,” she teased, pointing at her own cheek with a gloved finger.

“Yeah, that happens,” he winced, glancing away from her and tipping his head to the side as he dragged a hand across his jawline. As he fumbled to recompose himself, he caught sight of another woman across the ballroom, decorated in a light pink dress and wearing her blonde hair down in a thick braid. Her back was turned toward him, and he knew she was one of the high ranking guests that had been invited to the banquet, but somehow, his heart still skipped a beat in his chest.

Iris.

As her name crossed his mind once again, he felt a fresh stab of pain. Maybe it showed on his face or maybe he had fallen quiet long enough that Raine noticed his thoughts were elsewhere, but either way, he nearly startled when she suddenly touched his arm and nodded at a side door. “Hey, do you want to get some fresh air with me?” she offered with a smile that anchored him back into the present moment.

He took a breath and managed to give her one in return. “Sure.”

Offering her his arm, he led the way to the door to the garden, where they could escape from the crowd for a bit. He really needed to keep it together, he told himself along the way. Iris was gone, and he needed to move on. Raine was even turning out to be a fun person, yet he couldn’t stop himself from fixating on the woman he couldn’t have anymore. Not wanting to sabotage himself, he pointedly put her out of his mind and slipped out the door with Quincy’s daughter. Hopefully, some time alone would help him clear his head.
Cool cool. The next day will probably take me more than one post to get through (min. 2), just so you know in advance! I have plans for more than just Crow's talk with the Younisian king.
The scare of being attacked by mercenaries had lit a fire under everyone in Crow’s party. The next day, they were all up and moving at the very first light of dawn, anxious to complete their ride to the Younisian castle before their enemies—whoever they were—could make a second attempt to stop them. Preston got ahead of the horses, feeding and watering them in preparation for the long ride ahead; Percival took care of the packing and loaded up all the belongings they’d taken to their room at the inn; and Rayner followed up with Naida’s treatment to make sure her open wound didn’t show any signs of infection since the physician had bound it the night before. Even Crow, who wasn’t fond of starting his mornings in a rush, climbed out of bed without prompting and dressed and ate right away, so he was ready to go when they finally made their way to the stable to catch up with his attendant.

The Younisian knights that had helped them the day before also made an appearance to escort them, as an added precaution. In their company, Crow and the rest of the Brerratic entourage settled their horses into a quicker gait than they had until that point in the hopes that the could make it to the palace by nightfall if they pushed the animals to their limits. It was difficult, with Naida barely fit to be carried in a sling between two mounts. There was no way she was going to be able to ride upright by herself, so they had set up the same makeshift cot to transport her as they had after they’d found her in the woods. However, it was rockier this time, as they left the flatlands of the last village and navigated through the more uneven terrain closer to the central part of the kingdom.

The former thief felt a little guilty for putting her through the pain of getting jostled by their fast-trotting horses, but unfortunately, it was their only choice if they didn’t want to end the day at another city outside the palace. He hoped that when they arrived, the security in and around the castle would be enough to keep the mercenaries at bay until he finished negotiating with the foreign king. Once he had a signed treaty—which he didn’t plan on leaving without—they would be one step closer to ending the war between their two countries. One step closer to bringing Penelope home from the front lines and saving the outer villages from further desolation. That was something he couldn’t risk losing, even for the sake of his wounded half-sister.

He wasn’t without compassion though. Whenever she was awake and he wasn’t occupied by guiding Baine through the winding parts of the road, he kept her distracted from her discomfort with stories from the last time he’d been through this part of Younis. He told her about how Penelope had taught him to use a bow, how they’d forced William to steal horses with them when they needed mounts on their way back to Brerra and, when the Younisian knights were out of earshot, about how they’d gotten away from the castle with the king’s staff.

Naida found the stories amusing, but they also helped the viceroy pass the time on the way to the palace. Since they were hurrying, the group didn’t stop for lunch or dinner, and he was famished as the sun began to sink lower in the sky. Talking to his sister took his mind off the hunger pangs until the castle walls finally came into view up ahead, and he could breathe easy knowing they had made it without any more threats to their lives.

“The royal guard will lead you from here,” one of the knights announced when they finally stopped just outside the main curtain wall. He and his comrades dismounted to help Percival and Rayner with Naida’s sling, while Crow and Preston dropped to the ground to stretch their legs. Once his half-sister was on her feet—leaning heavily against Percy’s side—the Younisian knights left them to wait for their next set of escorts, who appeared on the other side of the gate after just a few minutes of standing around. From there, they were led into a courtyard the former thief didn’t remember seeing before, since he and Penelope had broken in through a back portion of the wall the last time they’d been to the palace and it had been dark and stormy throughout the night.

He trailed after the royal guards toward the back of the group, letting his eyes wander over the sprawling gardens and water features under the dimming evening sky until they stepped through the main entrance, and the green was replaced with marble and gold.

“This place is amazing,” Preston breathed beside him, his wide eyes lifted high to the arched, coffered ceiling.

Crow nodded his agreement, though his gaze was fixed on something he’d just noticed directly ahead of them. At the base of a split, grand staircase, there was another water feature like the ones he’d spotted in the garden. It sat above the floor in a circular, gray stone pool, but it stood out from the rest because carved into the wall behind it was an oversized sculpture of a woman in long, flowing robes and her hands cupped just below her breast. It had been a long time, but he recognized her immediately.

“Emissaries from Brerra?”

The sound of an unfamiliar voice drew his attention away from the statue as he turned to see a man about twenty years his senior descending the right side of the staircase. He was dressed in purple with a band-like adornment around his head and was flanked on each side by two armed guards whose hands rested imposingly on the hilts of their swords. Judging by the grand entrance, he looked important, but Crow remembered an older man the last time he’d come across the king of Younis. This person was much younger than the one who lived in his memory.

“My, my, this is unexpected,” the man mused, studying the ragged group with a curious expression. “To what do I owe this… visit during the middle of a war? Has your kingdom finally decided to surrender?”

Crow pressed his lips together. There was a condescending note to his voice that made him think this man wasn’t going to be excited to accept a proposal for peace without one kingdom conquering the other. He wasn’t about to be turned away before he could even give his pitch to the king though. Not after everything he and the rest of his group had been through—and not when Penelope was relying on him to see through this next leg of their mission. She had put in the hard work of winning over their kingdom, so now it was his turn to fight for the Younisians’ support.

Stepping forward, he met the older man’s gaze evenly. “I come bearing a proposition for your king in regard to the war. Is he available for an audience?” Remembering the training his father had given him before he’d left, he spoke more formally than he would have if he’d been spent with instructions to use his own voice. The pomp made him cringe internally, but he needed to be taken seriously, so he suppressed his disgust with the charade and straightened his shoulders determinedly.

The man on the stairs eyed him for a moment and then smirked. “I am he.” Descending the rest of the way to the floor below, he introduced himself with a flourish of his hand, “King Jerold Vieuxpont.”

As he stated his name, ritual seemed to register in the minds of the rest of the group, because everyone who was physically able in Crow’s entourage responded with deep bows. Percival tipped slightly to support Naida, who even ducked her head, though she winced at the motion. Crow wasn’t as quick to the punch, but when he saw the others show the purple-clad man respect, he followed their lead with a bow of his own, rectifying his first question while his gaze was still lowered to the floor: “My apologies, Your Highness. I was under the impression the king of Younis was…older.”

Jerold chuckled. “Ah, you were probably expecting my father, weren’t you? Relations between our lands hasn’t been great lately, I suppose… Unfortunately, he passed away two summers ago. Reign of Younis has since fallen to me.”

Of course, Crow thought with a blink. Aeklora had said something about that to him last time, hadn’t she? In the years that had passed, he’d completely forgotten about the goddess’s prophesy that the former Younisian king didn’t have much time left. Apparently he’d already expired, and his son was in charge now. He wasn’t sure if that was a benefit or a hinderance to his agenda. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he replied, righting his posture again to meet the other man at eye-level.

“I’ve had more than enough time to grieve,” Jerold waved a hand dismissively. “Anyway. I am interested in hearing more about this proposition of yours…”

“Collin,” Crow supplied, guessing the king was fishing for a name when he trailed off.

“Collin,” Jerold echoed with a smile that only just touched his eyes. It was then that he finally turned toward Naida, who looked like she barely had the strength to keep clinging to Percival’s shoulder, and gestured at one of his men. “Why don’t we plan to speak tomorrow morning, after you and your guards have had time to rest? There are plenty of rooms available in the palace, so you’re more than welcome to stay here. Emory can show you to your accommodations.”

One of the guards on Jerold’s left bowed curtly and stepped out of position. “Right this way.”

Crow felt slightly hesitant to take him up on the offer immediately after he’d started to get the feeling that they weren’t as welcome as Jerold wanted them to believe. There was no way the king hadn’t heard about the mercenary attack by now, so it was apparent that he didn’t care Naida had been wounded by the paid attackers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a choice in the matter when his half-sister was going to keel over at any second though, so, swallowing his pride, he nodded and moved to follow Emory. “Thank you. We’ll speak in the morning.”

Leaving Jerold to ascend the stairs again, the former thief led his party down one of the side halls after the Younisian guard. With a set of ears present that were guaranteed to feed information back to the king, none of them bothered to talk amongst each other until they were shown to the three rooms where they would be staying—one for Naida, one for Crow and one for the other three men to share. Percy thanked Emory for escorting them, and once they were alone and had laid the princess down to sleep in peace and quiet, everyone who was still well enough to get around gathered together in the knights’ room.

“King Vieuxpont is an… interesting man,” Preston frowned, sitting on one of the beds with a sigh. “I can’t tell if he’s actually interested in hearing what you have to say or if he’s already scheduling our execution in the back of his head.”

“His kindness does seem tactical,” Rayner agreed quietly, reclining on his own bed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Crow shrugged. While the knights and his attendant readied themselves to sleep for the night, he stood with his shoulders against the door and his arms folded loosely across his chest. “Even if he’s against us now, it doesn’t change the fact that I won’t be leaving here without his signature on that peace treaty. We might just be here longer than we first thought.”

“I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to convince him,” Preston wrinkled his nose.

“I’m sure Collin will do fine,” Percival said supportively, turning to the viceroy. “That’s what all the training with King Albin was for, right?”

“Technically, most of that was for negotiating with Gorm,” Crow pointed out. “But I’m sure I can get him to come around. The treaty Albin came up with is a fair trade for both kingdoms, so he doesn’t have anything to lose by agreeing.”

“Except for the total control of an enemy kingdom,” Rayner muttered.

“But he isn’t guaranteed that by continuing with the war either,” Percy objected.

“And that’s what I’m leaning on to win him over before we leave,” Crow nodded. Taking a step away from the door panel, he reached for its ornate, gold handle and gave it a pull. “And on that note, I should get some rest, so I’ve got the mental clarity to speak with him tomorrow… Keep an eye on Naida for me, Preston.”

“I will,” the attendant promised.

They said a few parting words, and the viceroy traipsed to his own room to dress down for the night. He tossed his surcoat and other regalia over the footboard and collapsed on the mattress in his underclothes with an exhausted exhale. As long of a day as it had been, he had a feeling tomorrow would be even longer. He’d been serious when he had told the others that he wasn’t leaving without King Jerold’s signature though. No matter how much effort it took, he was going to make sure the war ended when he left Younis. It was what Penelope and Hazel and Rikki and Alistair and everyone else on the border deserved, and he wasn’t going to let them down.
Guess who's back, back again
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Sorry that took an eternity and a half, but I hope the plot progression is worth it. Maybe? Hopefully? xD Now that I've read up on some of the older posts, I'll try to get replies up faster! Also, I don't have much planned for the rest of Crow's trip to the castle, so you can pace your next one however, and I'll make it work in mine.
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