Serena tilted her head before smiling. What an optimistic perspective this one had… Veronica frowned, perhaps processing Tirnea’s logic, or perhaps contemplating the way everyone was treating her cooking. She eventually shrugged, pulling some sort of book from her pack and studying its contents.
“I wish I shared your generosity,” Serena eventually responded. “Though this is a far larger land than Foji, to be sure.” She laughed half-heartedly.
“I remember exploring Nethergate back before it had earned that name,” Serena continued. “I thought there could not be much more of the land left to see…” she sighed. Veronica closed her book.
“May I excuse myself to study?” the knightess asked. Serena nodded.
“Just refrain from becoming too frustrated this time.” the teacher responded with an accusatory glance. Veronica went red in the face and for a moment considered a response before refraining and rising to her feet, leaving her hammer behind and taking her book behind the tent. Some chanting and a few blue and gold lights came from the other side of the tent before the sound of fizzling magic and some muttered curses. Serena sighed again.
“Such magic is beyond me.” she explained. She reached inside her dress and withdrew a flask. A good portion of its contents disappeared down her gullet until she offered it to Tirnea.
“Would you like any?” Serena asked. “It helps me sleep…” it certainly smelled stronger than any common ale or even the more famous Tour de Rouge wines, though it was difficult to see it by the light of the fire.
Rebecca laid the blanket over Chambala as she spoke, more concerned with her friend’s health than with listening to what she said, though she still tried her best.
“So what do you think?” Chambala asked.
“Uhhhm…” Rebecca said… Fuck, she spaced out… “It's… nice... not as creepy as it could be, I guess…” she yawned as she sat on the floor and opened her notebook. She jotted down a few notes before she promptly fell asleep on the spot. It was a somewhat often occurrence during her late-night studies, often falling asleep over whatever plans she was writing up at the time. It was a peculiar talent of hers to wake up with her face smudged with ink and piece together wherever it was she left off on the average morning. For now, though, it seemed that she wouldn't budge.
The sharp clack of heels against the floor rang out throughout the halls. He walked near the wall, with his partner walking on the purple carpets in the hall’s center, dulling the sound of her own footsteps. She still stumbled occasionally, not quite used to that sense of vertigo that occurred as one walked through them: All roads led to home, as they say, and those roads were being shortened considerably, time and space churning in protest of being so mangled and flattened within the sole confines of these halls. He steadied her, offered her his parasol to use as a makeshift cane. The sun had no hope of reaching him down here.
They came to a large, heavy-looking wooden door. He gingerly pushed it aside with his index finger as the sense of distortion and vertigo quickly faded.
Inside lay an extravagant cabaret, the kind famous among Tour de Rouge. A grand chamber featuring delicately arranged seating, a bar on the side of the room, and a large stage overlooking the whole room, its long violet curtains pulled open. The walls, ceiling, and even each individual table contained braziers, chandeliers, and candles that burned with a bizarre purple fire. She began to sweat and shake as she stared at them.
Suits of armor stood against the walls, though many of them were sitting at the tables and even standing at the stage, doing silent routines and playing soothing tunes with various instruments. None of them had bodies inside of them. The one manning the bar, with a distinct red plume, shot up with glee as he saw him, abandoning its post and rushing to salute and greet the two of them.
“Lord Ashley!” it cried gleefully, body still poised in a rigid salute.
“Hello Ermine.” he responded warmly, pulling the suit in for a quick embrace.
“May I offer the both of you a drink?!” it asked rigidly, “Mistress Magnolia seems… distressed, Lord Ashley!” he looked at her. He felt a twinge of regret as he snapped his fingers, the flames all vanishing as spotlights shone from above to take their place. He tilted his head at her, and she shook her head.
“Not right now,” He answered. “Thanks, though. How are the others doing?”
“Master Zero’s repairs to Mistress Hannah are almost finalized, Lord Ashley!” the suit answered. It walked at a brisk pace as it led the way to a series of tabled were laid out in sequence. A man sat hunched over a tall, spindly automaton of black steel, a blue visor illuminating a bent metal spike to its side and a glowing white-hot line across its chest. A protrusion from the tip of its blunt arm glowed a similar color as smoke emerged from it.
“How did your little scouting trip go, Ashley?” The man asked, not looking away from his task.
“Well enough…” Ashley said skittishly, leaving the girl’s side to look over his shoulder. “The heir could be read like a book… her Foji guard dog took me by surprise, though. No permanent damage. Maggie had fun, though.” The man sighed.“That heir is a strong and skilled warrior.”
the automaton said. ”None have managed to injure me in such a fashion.”
Ashley smiled and shrugged.
“Just tell her about her precious Aegea and she’ll forget everything she’s learned.” he said snidely. “I suppose it’s a little too complex for a soulless tin machine to understand, though.” The man shook his head.
“Scary how they condition them these days,” The man muttered. “What in the world does-””I was imbued with approximately twenty-five percent of a human soul, Ashley.”
the golem interrupted. ”I am incredibly interested in discerning if you possess even half as much, undead.”
The man shook his head as Ashley sighed.
“Annnyyywayyyys,” The vampire continued, “They hired some weird Pinuran girl. Definitely not a fighter, but she has all these weird bones on her. Weird staff? Kept hitting the ground? Ring any bells?” The man stopped working for a moment, dropping his tools and putting a hand to his chin.
“Sounds like a beast shaman,” he finally said. “Did you see any animals with her?”
“Just the horses.” Ashley answered, putting a hand to his chin as well. If she had something up her sleeve, why didn’t she play her hand? Not that any beast could be blamed for cowering from a hunter of his caliber.
“Maybe I’m wrong then,” The man responded. “But be on your guard. Can’t have you dying on us before we get our hands on those archives.” Ashley smiled.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” he said, running a hand through the man’s unkempt black mane as he gave him a peck on the cheek. He led Maggie along behind him as he considered taking Ermine up on that drink, even if it didn’t quite compare to blood any more. He thought back to his somewhat bitter defeat earlier that day, specifically the moment he was skewered and sent sailing through the air. That scent of the witch’s lock flower was so familiar… he sat next to Maggie as she lay down in a booth, draped a blanket over her and hummed an old hunter’s song as she drifted asleep, and the lights and music began to fade to a dim murmur.