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2 days ago
Current @Baphomini I think Augustine had something to say about that
14 days ago
Broke: valentine's day | Woke: Ash Wednesday
15 days ago
Hazbin Hotel is mid at best, you deserve the hate for having such terrible taste
17 days ago
what language is this, I do not know it
26 days ago
keep trying bro you'll get there


child of the storm

Current RPs:

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If you're interested in some short completed pieces of mine beyond my regular RP posts, feel free to rifle through my filing cabinet here.

About me:
  • Birth year 1998
  • Female
  • Canadian RIP
  • Time zone: Atlantic, GMT-4 (one hour ahead of EST)
  • Currently judging your grammar
  • Not usually looking for 1x1s but if you're really jonesing, my PMs are always open
  • Discord Obscene#1925

Most Recent Posts

The Scion of Earth continued bickering with the Prince, Princess Belle bickered with everyone, Dame Sara tried to make peace; while Jannick had never before been in a room with all the other Scions and Templars for anything beyond idle pleasantries, the charade was quickly growing old. If not for the cloud of dread looming ominously over the whole conversation, it would have sounded a lot like the half-interested arguing of siblings at the dinner table. But they weren’t arguing about sports teams or who to vote for as mayor, they were deciding the fate of the continent. As such, no matter how much Jannick would have liked to tune the conversation out completely, the uncomfortable stone in his stomach wouldn’t let him.

Of course, if Jannick had known what was coming next, he’d have preferred the bickering. Putting a decisive end to all talk of war, Prince Lucas stood, and with little ceremony, invoked a thousand-year-old prophecy before their very eyes. The first words were familiar; no Sunday School student in Veradis, let alone a Church Knight, could ever forget the Primordial Prophecy, and Jannick was sure he had it carved on the inside of his skull.

But where it was supposed to conclude, Lucas continued, chanting new revelation in a voice that was not his own.

Jannick’s faith was emaciated at best, but surely no one on earth could ever shake the deep-seated fear and awe that came from hearing the words of the Goddess with his own ears. This was no priest dourly reciting scripture; this was the living word of the Mother, breathed through one of Her Chosen right in front of him. Jannick’s eyes grew wide, and his breath caught; it wasn’t until his vision began to swim that he realized he wasn’t breathing. He stood as stiff as stone, struck with trepidation and wonder, afraid to move a muscle. Once more, he felt the eye of Incepta on him, scrutinizing his every move, watching his response to Her revelation.

Judging him and finding him wanting.

Jannick heard little of what the Prince said when he came out of his trance. His awe quickly grew to anger as the new words of the Prophecy echoed in his mind. He did not doubt their authenticity - nothing could fake the feeling of the Goddess’ presence - but he resented them. What cruel game was the Goddess playing? On the heels of such tragedy, to drop this bombshell on them - what sounded to Jannick like a warning of a world-ending threat. Would it have killed Her to reveal all that a little earlier? Why would a supposedly loving Mother keep such important information to herself until the eve of disaster?

Jannick set his jaw, looking coldly over the assembly. The same as he long suspected, the Goddess just liked to watch them squirm.

As if to confirm his suspicions, the first reply came from Allard, the snake’s words dripping with artificial honey in a shameless display of sycophancy. He sugar-coated insults for his fellow Scions - including Holly, which Jannick did not miss - in the guise of counsel, and recommended a course of action Jannick immediately opposed. As had always been the case, Jannick had no mind for politics or theology - he understood none of the prophecy beyond the incontrovertible truth that it was genuine, and had no idea how to respond to a national threat - but he was comfortable in the knowledge that if someone like Allard wanted to go one way, then he should go the other.

He had to resist rolling his eyes at Dame Sara’s fanatical outburst, but at least she was sincere - he could not say the same for Allard, who seemed to lie with every breath. But a gentle tap on his arm drew Jannick’s attention to Holly, stooping so she could whisper to him. She was theorizing that the “red moon” in the new Prophecy might refer to a lunar eclipse. Jannick nodded as he straightened, feeling pensive and overwhelmed. Holly betrayed no such trouble, at least on the outside. He was glad one of them had some idea what was going on.

That being said, while Holly’s theory sounded very plausible, he suddenly remembered a story told to him by a visiting Knight from the forests of Doumerc, who described how the sky would turn red for days, sometimes weeks in the midst of serious fires. That sounded end-times-y enough for a doomsday prophecy, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

For the moment, he kept that to himself, instead reaching for a second helping of Holly’s gift ham to encourage the others to take their share. But it felt out of place to say nothing, too.

“Princess Rosemary is a child,” he offered inoffensively, hoping to lighten up their otherwise bleak scenario. “But so was Prince Aaron when he ascended the throne, and look what he managed to accomplish. She’s his granddaughter; maybe she has that spark in her, too.” He offered the Princess an encouraging smile.

He wouldn’t speak for Holly, but if she allowed him, Jannick was willing to offer his strength to help Rosemary fulfil her part of the Prophecy, even if the Goddess short-changed her. An affection for her beyond mere patriotism, which he struggled to explain, spurred him to action. Fortunately, Holly seemed on board as well, if her icebreaker attempt was anything to go by.

The New Year was just as strange for Jannick as it was for any Templar. On top of the fallout from the attack, there were three funerals to attend, a coronation, and only days ago, the (hushed) announcement of a new Scion of Lightning - it was the fastest replacement since Princess Rosemary herself was blessed. The Federation seemed to shudder under their feet as it changed so fundamentally and so quickly, and everyone walking on the shifting surface was liable to lose their footing.

But aside from political and ecclesial changes, Jannick’s private life changed too. He had kept his promise to Holly much like he’d kept his promise to Sir Ulrich as a kid - with much regret and inner complaining at first, but ultimately with grace - and made somewhat of a pest of himself ensuring that he always had eyes on her. He had taken it upon himself to bulk up her estate’s security, and wasn’t neglecting himself either. Holly stayed home a lot more than usual, which he knew was a dark sail on the horizon that he wasn’t sure how to handle, but in the meantime, it gave them the chance to practice Wind magic together. Granted, it was more Holly practicing and insisting that Jannick “just feel the groove of it, y’know?” but somehow, he’d managed to pick up a couple of things. He was no force of nature yet, but he could do more than funnel smoke into vents, which in his mind was an improvement.

And he certainly wouldn’t complain about Holly’s new homebody tendencies. Beyond the usefulness for training, Jannick wasn’t in a hurry to get Holly back into the spotlight. The dossier Irina sent out chilled him to the core, and he scarcely trusted the halls of Holly’s own estate, let alone throngs of worshipers and city crowds in the foreign countries Holly often frequented.

He was similarly in no rush to answer Prince Lucas’ summons, but Holly insisted that her duties as a Scion couldn’t be denied. They both packed light, but Jannick’s get-up was a bit heavier than Holly’s. Clad in his Templar uniform, extra magazines and a new set of throwing knives lined his belt and holster, and a billy club - more versatile than a blade, he thought - hung at his hip.

Holly’s host gift went over about as well as Jannick expected, although he did insist before they left (and still maintained) that if his mother had been hosting, a nice ham would have been better received than any fancy wine. When the gesture was curtly (or perhaps mercifully) ignored, Jannick offered Holly an encouraging smirk before showing her to a seat.

War was already the topic before the two of them arrived, and continued with a rising fervor that Jannick found… uncomfortable. He simply stood stiffly behind Holly’s chair, looking around at each Scion as they spoke, but not daring to offer his own two cents. He didn’t really have any to give; he never had a mind for politics, and the intricacies of international relations were far over his head. But the prospect of an all-out war with Kaudus still filled him with deep dread. His reasons weren’t well-considered or even particularly principled: he just had brothers at home, and nephews too, many of whom were either of fighting age or approaching fast. If the Federation committed itself to a war, a real war, they would probably end up in the thick of it.

Someone new arrived, and barely put a blip in the conversation. But Jannick’s attention was diverted, and his gaze darkened significantly when it fell upon Renault Allard, the new Scion of Lightning. Immediately, Jannick kicked himself. Dammit, he knew that stupid name sounded familiar when he got High Cardinal Margaret’s notice, but he’d neglected to follow up on his hunch, and now he paid the price.

Renault Allard was supposed to be serving a life sentence in Veradis Maximum Security Penitentiary. One of Jannick’s buddies had been on the team sent to apprehend him; they’d sent all the mages they had to confront Allard, suspected of stealing information related to banned curses. They stuck him with charges of high treason, apostasy, and about a million white collar crimes after the fact - everything they could find to bury him, not that it mattered all that much when the Church herself wanted to see him rot. He’d been the talk of the barracks for a month, and Jannick had seen his file in so many cautionary memos he could probably write it by hand.

And now he was a Scion.

Jannick shifted a little, subtly putting himself a little closer to Renault - between him and Holly. He didn’t trust that snake oil salesman grin as far as he could kick the teeth out of it, and he wouldn’t be letting him near Holly. It was a shame he was assigned Sir Chaudoir as his Templar; Jannick had been hoping to ask the mage for some real help with magic, but those plans would have to be scrapped now.

He had leveled Renault with a disapproving glare he’d perfected as a police officer when Edmund spoke up. His words were enough to bring Jannick out of his accusatory reverie - and they didn’t sit right with him. He frowned; he didn’t think Edmund was that type.

“Well, let’s not be hasty,” he insisted diplomatically, breaking his silence. He was a little surprised to see how much of a wreck the other Templar looked now that he was looking right at him. “I mean, ‘cowering’ is a little unfair, don’t you think? The first response in any situation like that is to run; trying to be a hero doesn’t help that much when it kills you.”

The tragedy-tinged New Year swept all normalcy away for Maya. Like some of her peers, she had been cutting back on her public appearances of late, and her social media was full of banal recycled content and closely-cropped selfies that were stripped almost entirely of any meaning: there were no more “Come with me to the Juniperus Gala!” mini-vlogs, no more elegant pictures in the Veradian snow or like-fishing selfies with fellow celebrities, and her presence at events was starting to go from “surprisingly absent” to “expectedly declined.” On top of that, Kaspar’s passing had affected her more than she expected it to, but it only stoked the fires of hate she harboured for the Kaudians - which had spurred an entirely unexpected and unholy alliance with Belle of all people, as they worked together via correspondence to gather support for a war.

Additionally, despite their (frequent) disagreements, Maya was stuck to Edmund like glue. Or perhaps, more aptly, she kept him stuck to her - she had never really gone anywhere without him before, but he often took a back seat, managing the whole of her security detail. Like at Giles’ manor, he would usually be in the venue, but maybe not in the room. But she would not make that mistake again: Now, Maya barely let him turn a corner out of her sight. His bedroom in Veradis Castle was adjoined hers by a door that was never locked, and he joined her no matter where she went; to the dining room, in the gardens, never more than a few hurried steps away and always in view. Maya very much preferred her Templar to be seen and not heard, which Edmund was usually happy to oblige, but their constant proximity had provoked more than a few tizzes in the past few months.

But not all changes were bad. Her new indefinite residence in Veradis Castle was proving very much to Maya’s liking. Royal accommodations were quite to her taste, especially since everyone from the scullery maids to the Prince himself bent over backwards at her every whim. Her rapport with the staff and the royal family was made even better by Maya’s magnanimous generosity with blessings; after blessing the castle and Prince Rowan’s infirmary (made even more meaningful by having received treatment there), she gave them out like candy to anyone who asked, and before long she regularly had a line forming at her apartment door full of staff members asking for blessings and intercessory prayers. Maya was happy to oblige; the staff adored her, and that translated into excellent service.

She even wooed Prince Rowan himself - chastely, of course. The two had developed a habit of taking afternoon tea together, the Prince initially eager to please his holy guest, and later joining with genuine interest. Sometimes, his daughter Rosemary would join them, wandering around the parlor and asking endless questions. Most recently, the two had been fascinated to hear Maya explain the movement of heavenly bodies and how their paths around the sun could be predicted over the course of thousands of years. If Maya was being perfectly honest (which was rare) she was half-pleased for the chance to delve into her old area of expertise again, even if it meant putting up with an irritatingly persisted six-year-old.

Needless to say, she was in no rush to depart from Veradis Castle, and certainly not for a summons from Prince Lucas. She had deliberately procrastinated her reply to his letter, but ultimately could not escape it. Functions with politicians and celebrities could be handwaved away without much fuss (although not, perhaps, for much longer) but skipping out on her duties as a Scion would threaten to chip her public image more than Maya could tolerate. So, with no small amount of complaining, Maya eventually packed her bags, Edmund, and a small army of security and made the trek to Lucas-Land.

Only to be barred from entry at the door.

Or, her security detail at least - all of them except Edmund. It was highly insulting, and Maya didn’t trust Lucas’ little magic tricks as far as she could spit to protect her, but she avoided throwing up too much of a fuss; she had no interest in appearing afraid, after all. So it was mostly just herself she grumbled to, under a flawless mask of appreciative smiles, until she finally made it into the interior of Lucas’ manor. She was lead to the dining room in a much fouler mood than she’d set out in - no small feat, considering her reluctance even to come - and to make matters worse, the first person her eyes fell on was Belle.

Despite their prolonged cooperation of late, it had all been through letters, and Maya still had a borderline instinctual reaction to seeing her in the flesh, not unlike looking upon a fly that had landed in her food. She almost had to swallow the feeling as she joined the other Scions, reminding herself inwardly that the enemy of her enemy was her friend - for now.

There was also the not-insignificant benefit that she walked in just as Sir Tyler was taking a dig at her.

Stepping around Scion Hollyhock - brandishing a pig’s leg, apparently - Maya made her way to the table and took her seat, taking a second to arrange her skirt. She was dressed for Estora’s warm climate in a midnight blue maxi dress, the dark chiffon layers contrasting starkly with the fairness of her skin and the brightness outside. She removed her matching wide-brimmed hat to reveal the subtle sparkle of dark gems cast through her hair.

A similar glimmer came upon her wine-coloured eyes, but darker; less beautiful, more dangerous. “Our casus belli was an open attack on the Goddess’ Chosen,” she added to Tyler’s remark, “and bloodshed has always been a perfectly acceptable price for defending Her honour. Preferably less of ours, and more of theirs.”

A pit grew in Jannick’s stomach as the seconds stretched on without an answer. Oh Mother, he cocked it all up, didn’t he? He had probably broken whatever fragile trust he’d built with Holly over the past months, left her feeling alone, unprotected, at probably the worst time in her life to abandon her--


Jannick’s eyes widened as the door slowly opened, panic briefly replacing his guilt; suddenly any plan he had went out the window, as if he didn’t expect to get even this far. Inside, he was relieved to find Holly looking clean and comfortable in everything fuzzy she could find - and was suddenly very aware that he was still in his uniform, his hands and face still smeared with sticky dried blood. Honestly, it was fitting; he felt like he belonged in the gutter, and he looked like it too.

Holly turned away before he could see her face, already chattering about coffee. Jannick’s gut twisted again at the sight. It was the same thing she always did when things were tense: divert attention, change the subject, whatever it took to avoid a real fight. That convicted him more than any insult she could throw at him; at least if she was giving it back, he’d know things weren’t so dire.

“No thank you, it’s fine--listen, we need to talk,” Jannick pursued Holly toward the dining area, scooping around in front of her to cut her off. Remorse tinted his words, although he tried to speak as delicately as he knew how. “Could you just listen for a moment, please?”

“I can listen.” Hollyhock still didn’t turn to face Jannick. Instead, she had been digging around for various items in cupboards–a satchel of tea leaves, a plastic tube of instant coffee powder, a mug, and a can of condensed milk.

Jannick frowned as Holly blew right past him, but he supposed he had no right to be surprised. When she agreed, however, he stood a moment dumbfounded, once again apparently forgetting everything he’d planned to say. He took a few breaths, opened and closed his mouth a few times, changed his mind a few times more, before deciding that the sound of Holly banging around the counter was counterproductive to his efforts and took a step forward, putting his hand on top of the can she was fiddling with to make her pause.

“Thank you,” came his delayed response, and he once again stepped back, hesitating for a second before coming up with what to say.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” came his initial confession, the thing that had been weighing foremost on his mind. He shook his head. “I don’t blame you for running, I had no right-- I-- You handled tonight perfectly. Really, you did,” he insisted, trying his best to catch Holly’s eye. “This is on me; I’m the fuckup here, seriously. I should have followed you, but…”

Growing frustrated with his own inability to articulate, Jannick suddenly huffed, pacing a small circle and rubbing the back of his neck. No, no, this still felt all wrong. Some lame apology didn’t feel adequate for the guilt he was feeling. It ran deeper than being mean to Holly or failing to keep track of her; he needed to do something serious.

When the thought dawned on him, Jannick took a deep breath and set his jaw, as if bracing against the very idea. “Okay…” he said, mostly to himself, taking another deep breath to steel himself for what was to come.

After a second of mental preparation, Jannick did what he hadn’t done for many months, and for many years before that: slowly, as if easing himself into it, he sunk down to one knee, elbow on his thigh in the perfect (if a little stiff) image of a Knight kneeling before his liege. He bowed his head.

“Scion Hollyhock, I took an oath to protect you, and tonight I failed.” His face burned with embarrassment, but he powered through; he needed to do this. “I have no excuse. I was inept and cowardly, and I’m sorry. I only pray you’ll forgive me, and believe me when I say it will not happen again.” Jannick kept his eyes on the floor, half afraid to look up, wallowing in his own guilt. He embraced the feeling; it felt just, the least he deserved for such a screw-up.

Hollyhock stood in silence as Jannick gave his apology. It was palpable–another moment like the one at the door. While Jannick didn’t see it, he could hear it–the clattering of items being placed on the countertop, the huff of Hollyhock wondering what she should do, the sound of fingers running through hair, and the shuffling of approaching slippers.

“Criminy,” her informal words broke the silence, “you were really dressed down.”

Her shadow waxed around him as she squatted in front of her kneeling templar.

“Six months together and this is what you think of me?”

She rubbed the back of her neck as she looked away once again. Her thinking caused her to exhale again. She wasn’t going to run away this time. Not when someone was in front of her vomiting his guilt out. She faced him with resolution.

The Hollyhock in front of him was one that had cried her heart out alone. One that had eyes swollen and red. One that had exhausted herself out of shaking.

“I’m not a baby that needs to be coddled with affirmation,” she began, “and if I’m being a gobshite, I won’t hate you if you throw me over your shoulder and treat me like a sack of potatoes.”

With more vigor, she addressed the apology that came with Jannick’s position.

“If you think I’d suddenly be fine if you were an action hero, I’ll cane you. Right now, I feel like I’ll wake up from a dream. But that dream isn’t that I’m alone and in danger. It’s that people ‘round me are being shot and that bloody hands are grasping at my dress–I think you’d be a fool if you want to accept all of that.”

She looked away once again, this time with an embarrassed flush.

“‘Sides. I could have communicated like a normal human earlier.” It was difficult to tell if she was talking about her nodding and running off in the ballroom, her making a smug expression and running off to try to reclaim a drop of normalcy, or both. “Instead you have to deal with me always acting before I think.”

Jannick suffered for a while - rightly, he thought - while Holly contemplated her answer, nearly jumping at every little sound. When at last the silence was broken, he very nearly laughed; quite the dressing-down indeed, although Irina couldn’t say anything worse to him than he could say to himself. But hearing Holly’s normal attitude return, bit by bit, was a balm on his nerves.

He nodded humbly as she spoke, more open than ever to her criticism, although when she finally stooped to meet him, his heart fell. Her eyes were red and puffy, and he knew she’d never look quite the same even after the swelling went down. The horrors she described would stick with her, in some capacity, forever; that he knew quite well.

Jannick shook his head, but didn’t stand. Honestly, his legs were a little shaky, and he wasn’t sure if he could. But his joints complained about the position, so instead, he just shifted into a sitting position, remaining at eye level with Holly. “In this case, acting without thinking might have saved your life.”

Before she could retort again about banal affirmations, he held up a hand. “I’m serious. I’m not here to inflate your ego; when you’re in danger, I want you to run as fast as you can.” He shook his head again, this time at himself. “I don’t need to be an action hero. But I do need to be able to keep up; I’m going to get better with my Blessing, I promise.”

There was silence for a moment. Jannick leaned his head on his arm, wondering what else there was to say. He didn’t usually have to deal with victims after the incident was said and done; usually the social workers picked that up while he was still picking through a crime scene. And he was too young when he left home to have much experience comforting his siblings - not that anything this catastrophic had ever happened to them, for a mercy.

“I’m sorry this happened,” he said finally, shaking his head. The images still lingered before his eyes, too, and he knew they’d never go away. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Holly.”

“Shaddup,” Hollyhock said as she shot up to her feet and kicked Jannick’s knee. Though, it was difficult to call it a kick. The lack of malice and her oversized plush slippers made it more like he was being assailed by a teddy bear.

Again, she turned away so Jannick couldn’t see the expression on her face and shuffled back to the counter.

“Now do you want some tea, coffee, cofftea, or are you really okay?”

Jannick cracked a tiny smile at the kick. He doubted Holly was really okay - he noticed her hiding her face - but he expected she wouldn't be for some time. He was shell shocked for a long time after his first disturbing call as a newly-minted knight, and that was without being shot at. But he wouldn't force that out of her now; truth be told, he didn't really know how.

Instead, he got to his feet, groaning like an old man. “Never had ‘cofftea’ before, let's try that.”

Three parts coffee made from instant mix. Six parts tea. One part condensed milk.

It was sweet–brutally so.

Collab with @OwO
Collab with @webboysurf

Maya had dunked her head under the water when she thought she heard thumping and clicking nearby. Heart in her throat, she surfaced quickly, holding her breath as she waited for the sloshing of the tub to quiet down so she could listen. She heard the door close, and someone plodding around in the apartment beyond the wall.

She willed herself to calm down, but it was futile; she knew, logically, that it could be the butler, another servant come to fulfill some order (although she didn’t remember any left to fulfill) or even Edmund, finally back from his long hiatus. But none of those very reasonable conclusions did anything to slow her heart, and she was stuck for a long while, fear gripping her as she listened to whoever was out there.

Two sharp knocks on the bathroom door made her jump, unable to hold in her gasp and the splashing that followed. “I'm back. I'll be in the other room if you need me, Maya.”

“Edmund!” Maya blurted out, heart fluttering as she swooned with the wash of relief his voice brought her. But she wasn’t disarmed long; soon renewed anger chased away her fear, and the whole host of grievances she’d spent the evening contemplating rushed back to the forefront of her mind. “Where have you been?! Get in here!”

Edmund sighed, taking a sip of his coffee. He questioned Maya’s judgement in letting him into the bathroom, but figured rather foolishly that she must be in some state of dress… certainly removing the makeup from the evening or going through her usual skincare routine. He tried the door, and was disappointed to see it open with ease. He instinctively took a step into the bathroom before his eyes adjusted to the scene in front of him. It took him a moment to register Maya was in the tub, and he froze upon that realization. His eyes screwed shut and he quickly turned around, facing the mirrored closet doors. By the time he registered that Maya’s reflection was still clear as day, he had been able to notice that she was clearly submerged in the water enough that he couldn’t see anything indecent. He shook his head as he turned back towards Maya, but refused to make eye contact as he looked off to the side. “Please show some modesty, Your Holiness.”

Maya rolled her eyes at Edmund’s discomfort. Didn’t he have better things to worry about right now? She certainly did. “Double the security team. If you go over budget, I don’t care,” she demanded, “and start making arrangements for a change of venue. We’re moving.”

She reclined back against the tub, settling back into the spot she’d been in before Edmund came back. Somehow, though, she managed to look no more relaxed. “First thing tomorrow I’m seeking an audience with the Prince. I am not going back to my penthouse anytime soon. Once I get his blessing, you’ll need to coordinate with the palace guard to bring in my security. Figure it out.”

“Oh, and if you get the chance, I also want Duke Giles’ head on a spike,” Maya added abruptly, her simmering anger suddenly and forcefully bubbling up in her voice. Her eyes burned into the opposite wall, and her fingers curled out before her, grasping an invisible neck. “And after that, I want an audience with every general who hates Kaudians so I can sponsor a war to exterminate their entire miserable kind.”

“Starting with that half-breed bitch, Sara,” she continued venomously, her searing glare turning on Edmund. Never leave me alone with that savage again.”

Edmund made a mental note of the tasks Maya had given him. He could make some calls, but would need thorough background checks on any additions to the security team. They could easily get most of her stuff packed in the interim. As for getting the security team in, that was certainly going to be a fun conversation. He would have to pull on some strings, and hope his station had more pull than he thought. Duke Giles’ head was unrealistic… but Edmund's blood ran cold when Maya’s nationalistic fervor took hold. He held his tongue, figuring he could wait for Maya to calm down before lightly guiding her expectations away from Kaudus.

Then she went too far. Edmund's grip on the plastic coffee cup tightened, spilling hot coffee onto the tile floor. He hissed out in a loud, guttural tone, “Don't you ever speak about a Templar like that, you pompous punk. Especially when you do not know what in the Goddess’ name you are talking about. ”

Maya raised a judgmental eyebrow at Edmund’s spill, but didn’t get the chance to wonder about it before he insulted her. She gasped loudly, jolting upright in the tub. “How dare you!” she yelped reflexively, briefly caught between absolute shock and indignation that Edmund would say such a thing. But she wasn’t stuck for long.

“I don’t know what I’m talking about? I’m sorry, how long did you live side-by-side with those godless freaks?” Maya growled, the animus in her voice far outstripping Edmund’s. He had inadvertently tapped into a very deep well of hate. “When did your town install sirens so you could hide in your basement while they set shit on fire? How many armed Kaudians stormed your cargo ship? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were neighbours!”

She laughed cruelly, but it was cut short by a dark glare. “I know all about Kaudians,” she spat the word like a slur, “I know all the little tricks they pull, and I know what they’re after. I will not hide in basements anymore, Edmund. I will not cower under piers. And I will NOT be crawling around ceilings anymore to satisfy whatever bullshit affirmative action Fyodor is trying to pull.”

Unbeknownst to her, Maya was slowly rising in the tub as if to advance on Edmund, gripping the edge of the tub with white knuckles. “Do not tell me what I don’t know,” she spat, “I know quite enough.”

Edmund's eyes were rooted on Maya's, remaining unflinching despite her rising anger and rising form. All the emotion and shit over the years in service as her Templar simmered inside him. His tone and volume were pulled back into a calmer mood, though the sting of his words was filled with the same venom slung his way. “I never ran nor cowered, waiting for others to save me. I never had that luxury. And I am telling you now, the Kaudians did not attack you tonight. Blaming them only plays into the hands of others.” He kept his tone firm, holding his ground.

“Well, aren't you fucking special,” Maya snapped, finally realizing her position and sinking back into the tub. She really wasn't sure what Edmund expected a 22-year-old woman to do in the face of half a dozen armed thugs, but that was his problem.

“And what makes you think Kaudus wasn't behind tonight? Is that what your mutt friend told you?” She scoffed. “Who the hell else would be going after Scions?”

“I know who is responsible first-hand. But that information is classified.” His words were terse and simple, Edmund reverting back to his typical manner of speaking. He let go of the coffee cup, letting it splatter on the ground as he moved both hands behind his back in a sort of attentive stance. His left hand was balled into a tight fist, away from Maya's direct eyesight and only visible in the mirrored reflection of the closets behind him.

“Classified!” Maya almost laughed, throwing her head back as she settled back down into the water. Unfortunately, her bubbles were starting to pop. “I bet. Whatever; I don’t really care who it was. The Kaudians will be setting off fireworks when they get the news regardless. Make no mistake: they want to see all of us wiped off the face of the earth.”

She sighed, growing rapidly bored of this bickering. She was no less angry, but the heat of the moment was gone, and she had no interest in debating geopolitics; the tedious details only bogged her down. She wondered if Edmund shared the same outlook as that naive fool Theodore, who had more than once tried to dissuade her enmity toward Kaudus with insistences that “we mustn’t assume the worst in people,” and “the many shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a few,” but they never landed. Kaudians never seemed too concerned about individual blameworthiness when they came looking for a fight, and neither was she. It wasn’t worth discussing.

Ugh, and now she was more tired than anything. Her bath was starting to get cold, and she was ready for whatever semblance of sleep she could get tonight. The little glimpse she got of Edmund making a fist in the mirror was tempting, but not tempting enough; her mood for fighting was dwindling. He could fuck as many Kaudians as he wanted as long as he still did his job.

“Whatever,” she repeated, heaving a long, tired sigh. She waved dismissively. “Get out before you’re subjected to more indecency; I’m going to bed.” She didn’t wait for his response before pulling the plug on the tub and reaching for her bathrobe. “And get a maid in here to clean up your mess.”

Edmund took a deep breath, released the tension built up in his hand, and turned around to walk out of the bathroom. He stopped briefly in the doorway, his gaze turning towards the ground to avoid catching a sinful glance in the mirror’s reflection. He opened his mouth as if to speak, before simply shaking his head. “I’ll clean it myself, when you’re done here. No more servants unless I’m present.” His voice trembled for the briefest of moments at that, the most open sign of fear he had displayed all night. But he marched out of the bedroom, fetching himself another cup of coffee.

After her unwelcome brush with Belle, Maya made straight for her room, helped along in her lightheaded and somewhat unsteady state by an attendant who led her by the arm to the apartment the royal family had prepared for her. She found the accommodations acceptable, for the most part: there was a parlour, a dining room, and of course a generous bedroom, all of the quality as she would expect. But she was most excited about the ensuite, and in particular, the large and luxurious bathtub. After the night she’d had, a bath was the very least she deserved.

There was a butler placed at Maya’s disposal, and she made good use of him. Before long she had ordered dinner, wine, and a bath drawn with whatever fragrant and relaxing bubble bath they could find. A swarm of servants fell upon the suite to fulfill her requests, which expanded to include a wireless speaker and a smartphone to replace the one that presumably smashed on Giles’ floor, and soon Maya was fed and submerged in a hot oat and lily bath, the ensuite filled with warm, fragrant steam and soothing music.

Not that any of it helped at all with her foul mood, as much as she tried to soothe it. Normally this would be just the thing to calm her: buried chin-deep in sweet-smelling bubbles, opening her pores, sipping her second glass of very nice rosé - and all in the house of the Veradian Prince, no less. But all Maya could think about was the absolute vile audacity of those godforsaken bear-fucking heathens to dare put her through all this trouble.

Every attempt to turn her mind from the events of the night only reminded her of yet another infuriating detail about it. When she tried to turn her mind to her social media, she was reminded that she was robbed of all the pictures she got when she was forced to drop her phone and fall onto the fucking ceiling. When she tried to think of the high society elbows she got to rub tonight, her mind turned to how they all probably saw her crawling around the ceiling in a panic. When she tried to focus on her new lavish surrounds, she was forced to recall how her own penthouse was probably already on the heathens’ radar, and how she probably couldn’t go home.

She made about a million phone calls once her temporary phone arrived (and once she’d interrogated the servant about the security of the palace 5G) mostly to the effect of packing her belongings and having them sent to Veradis castle. She had no intention of leaving; first thing in the morning, it was her intent to call upon the Prince himself and beg hospitality, citing the relative insecurity of her home in Juniperus. She never even contemplated the possibility that he might refuse - the Prince of Veradis would never bear the ignominy of refusing hospitality, especially not to a Scion who was resident in his country - and was already making arrangements for a long-term stay. Among the things brought to her, aside from her copious luggage, had been an ugly black bag Maya immediately recognized as belonging to Edmund. No way her butler would have mistaken it for hers, so he must have called it in. She vaguely recalled him referring to a “go bag” in the past, and that must be what he meant. She didn’t know what was in it, and didn’t care to check, but she hoped it was an entire arsenal of weapons now that she was clearly being hunted. If he lacked anything for her protection, she planned to buy him three to spare.

Maya certainly wasn’t going to be taking any more chances. She barely felt safe in the castle, let alone at home. If they could get to her in Duke Giles’ ballroom - and she practically quaked at the thought of that spineless fool - then they could get her anywhere. And she was beyond angry at that prospect. She was beside herself with rage, her fingernails at times digging crescent-shaped holes into her palms as she contemplated her situation. She simply could not tolerate what was done to her tonight. Not just the threat to her physical safety, which was more than bad enough, but presumably rectified with more security, a safer lodging, and a renewed resolution not to let Edmund out of her sight ever again; but with everything. Those masked gunmen - to Sheol with them all, and a slow and painful journey there - had humiliated her, reduced her to crawling around in terror mewling for her Templar, they had dared to lay their dirty half-breed hands on her, and she couldn’t even bear to think of what might have happened if they actually caught her. Would they have killed her? Kidnapped her? Held her for ransom? Defiled her? She hoped she would never know.

But worst and most reprehensible of all, they made her feel just as small and helpless as she had on the Larme years ago, staring down Kaudian gunmen on her father’s barge. She had wondered the same things then, too, unsure what a gang of savages would do if they caught her and dispatched her father. And they had made her flee, as shamefully as she had tonight; back then it was jumping into the water and cowering under the pier instead of crawling on the ceiling, but it was just as degrading.

Maya burned with hatred at the memory, wishing death and despair on her enemies in the surest and most vicious of terms, and wished she had her gun again - but maybe it was better she didn’t have it. In this mood, she could have put the bullets in them by hand.

But in the meantime, she had no bullets. Only the heady scent of lilies and a bottle of rosé to tide her over until she could throw every single one of her enemies into the sun.

Jannick walked the halls of Veradis castle after his smoke with more purpose than he expected. His chat with Bianca had been surprisingly fruitful, in a roundabout way; he couldn’t claim to remember much of anything she said, but it got him thinking about Holly, being a Templar, and the true weight of the responsibility he bore.

He’d admit - only inwardly - that he had always thought of Templars as the desk jockeys of the Church Knights. Their job always seemed to be “follow your Scion around, look pretty, try not to be late to any interviews” and then to reap lavish praise from all of Gaia when they were done. They lived in plush apartments and did what could be generously called escort work, never needing to face any real danger or difficulty. And, in Jannick's experience, his prior judgement was largely accurate.

Or rather, it used to be, until tonight. For the past six months, Jannick’s biggest challenge was reining Holly in and staying awake during meetings, but tonight shook the very foundations of his understanding of his role - and probably of the Ordo Templi itself. He was no scholar, but it must have been hundreds of years since any material threat to the Scions at large had manifested itself in Gaia, and now they were under all-out assault in the very heart of Veradis. Jannick was no small amount incensed that they would dare set foot upon his homeland, especially considering that just a year ago, he would have been part of the VPD response team sent to the scene, rather than stuck in the thick of it.

And stuck he had been. Irina was right - as Templars went, he was pathetic. It was one of many wake-up calls the New Year seemed to have in store for him: he needed to brush way up on his skill with magic, which essentially meant learning it from the ground up. Funnelling cigarette smoke into the nearest vent wouldn’t cut it anymore. Holly was hopeless in a fight, if she couldn’t run away from it; he was her only hope.

Doubly so, if his other wake-up call was correct. If Irina was to be taken at her word, and Jannick wouldn’t risk any other approach, then if he fell, he could not expect anyone else to come to Holly’s aid. He was, quite literally, her only hope. The only thing separating that scared little girl from the clutches of the enemy.

Jannick had resented his role ever since the day he got it; he ideologically opposed the idea of prioritizing a single person over the interests of all others simply because that person was somehow “special.” He thought the Church’s focus on the Scions was as much a joke as the supposed mercy of the Mother was - that their interest began and ended with the preservation of their crown jewels, their spectacle pieces, their pawns for use in dazzling and subduing a faithful audience, all while the Goddess watched on with little more than mild interest. But even if that was true - and Jannick had no evidence it wasn’t - it didn’t really seem to matter anymore. Because Holly was special; not because she was holy or magic or whatever else, but because she was in danger. And she needed him.

All she had was him, and if he had to forsake others to do it, then so be it. At least the rest of society had someone else coming for them if he fell.

The realization brought with it a deep and abiding shame. Shame that quickened Jannick’s feet to a run on his way back to Holly’s room, that urged him to make things right before they could no longer be righted. He was painfully reminded of every eye-roll, every exasperated sigh, every dismissive comment he’d ever made in the course of his employment - no his vow - to Scion Hollyhock. Suddenly he wanted to clobber that stubborn, petulant, self-absorbed Templar who spent his days wishing he was back at a police precinct instead of doing his job. He especially wanted to get a hold of the one who yelled at Holly in her most vulnerable moment and beat him senseless before he had the chance to open his mouth.

Instead, he stopped with a huff at Holly’s door, waving off the servant he’d contracted to lead the way (and uncharitably forced to run with him at a policeman’s pace all the way there). His bruises and sprains complained at him, but he paid them no mind; rather, he stared at the door for a moment as he caught his breath, flagging a little as the reality of what he’d resolved to do stared him in the face.

After a moment, he steeled himself, with a few colourful inward remarks about being a coward, and knocked twice on the door. “...Holly?” he called hesitantly, surprised at the hoarseness of his voice. He cleared his throat and continued more resolutely. “Holly, we need to talk.”

Collab with @Hero; took place before Bianca’s chat with Justinian

Whatever measure of remorse Jannick had felt from his encounter with Hollyhock was smothered as he withstood Dame Irina’s assault. Anger wasn’t the right word for it - it didn’t feel complete enough to describe the deep-seated rancor simmering conspicuously beneath Jannick’s practiced neutral stare. With each word uttered in his direction, Jannick slipped further and further down into a chasm of bitterness, resentment, and (worst of all) humiliation that seemed to always have lurked somewhere in the back of his mind, but now yawned indignantly before him. What he would usually have pushed aside or buried under a new layer of cigarette butts, he was now forced to face head-on.

Dame Irina paced before him like the living embodiment of every little wound that had slowly killed his faith. Espousing an uncompromising philosophy of putting the Scions’ lives before all others, Jannick was almost astounded at her callousness; bit by bit, his suspicion that the Goddess, whose existence could (regrettably) not be denied, was revealed in Irina’s lecture as every bit the cold, heartless spectator to humanity’s suffering that Jannick had long suspected Her to be.

He had to wonder how the Ordo Templi got things so perfectly backwards. Every one of them was once a knight, tasked with the protection of the innocent and the pursuit of justice. Hell, the motto of the VPD was “Scutum Inopi” - “the shield of the helpless,” ostensibly named for the Goddess’ special tenderness toward the poor. But Templars, supposedly the best of the best of the Federation’s knights, were meant to put blinders on and focus only on one person in the whole world, no matter how the bodies stacked around them. Jannick couldn’t wrap his head around it.

And Irina’s heartless prattling was made even more intolerable by the fact that she was right. At least when it came to his performance review, Jannick couldn’t fairly deny anything she said: he did feel helpless in the midst of the attack, he did abandon Holly (as much as he wanted to argue the inverse, he knew it ultimately wasn’t reasonable), and he probably wasn’t nearly as capable as he should be by now. If even Ulysse, renowned for his skill, could be taken out by their attackers, Jannick (and by extension, Holly) didn’t stand a chance.

Jannick left his debriefing with a huff, sweeping rudely past the attendant at the door with only the merest glance to pick up his armour crystal. He squeezed the stupid thing angrily as he stormed through the halls, tempted to throw it at the nearest wall and smash it right there on the spot. Instead, he managed to control himself enough to pocket it, immediately replacing it with the next best thing: his box of cigarettes.

Fuming, he managed to find an exit on the first try, but was stopped by a pair of palace guards.

Jannick huffed. “I’m just going for a smoke.”

“The palace is locked down for the night,” one guard replied, “I’m afraid I can’t let you out.”

“Dude, I’m a Templar,” Jannick complained, indignantly producing his crystal for identification.

“I’m sorry, we’re under orders not to let anyone pass.”

Jannick gave the man a look that could curdle milk. “Fine,” he gave a haughty shrug, putting a cigarette in his mouth and pulling out his lighter. “I’ll smoke right here.”

The guards looked conflicted for a moment as Jannick lit up, but as the first puff of smoke curled up toward the finely decorated ceiling, the quiet one caved. “Okay, okay,” he surrendered, earning an annoyed look from his chattier companion, “just be quick, and don’t wander far.”

Jannick stuffed his lighter back in his pocket, cigarette still defiantly in his teeth. “Damn right, ‘okay’,” he growled as he passed, shoving past the first guard on his way into the dark.

The cold night air was bracing, but Jannick welcomed it; at this point, his face had reddened with anger, and the cold gave him some small mite of comfort as he paced the snow-covered ground, mercifully invisible to the swarm of security staged on the driveway some distance below. This appeared to be a side entrance; Jannick hoped he wouldn’t be disturbed.

The door behind Jannick opened and out stepped a weary looking Bianca. She shuddered slightly against the cold, pulling her shawl over her bare arms but not making any further attempt at covering herself. Her eyes were much more focused on Jannick’s cigarette, though she did give him a small smile.

“Mind sharing one?” She ended up asking, arms crossed to help her brace against the night’s chill. “I’ve lost all of mine.”

Jannick turned toward the sound of the opening door angrily, ready with a profanity-strewn retort for whichever guard thought it was a good idea to jump up his ass before he even finished his first cigarette - only to see a woman in his place. Jannick was ready to turn right back around and pretend nothing happened, concerned about insulting whichever noble apparently used this as their smoking spot, before he realized that the woman was kinda familiar. He didn’t really know her, but he recognized her from the debriefing - or rather, he recognized the dress, which also surprised him until he remembered that female knights probably don’t consider their Templar uniform “party attire.”

He looked the woman up and down suspiciously, not sure whether he should be angry or embarrassed, and all around annoyed at his own confusion. He came out here to smoke and take his anger out on the snow, not to chat with random women. But, he supposed, she might be gone faster if he just gave her a cigarette and got it over with.

“Sure,” he eventually grunted in reply, digging out his pack of cigarettes and tossing it to her. He gave her another questioning sidelong look as he did so. “Better be quick before you freeze to death.”

Bianca didn’t make a show of hiding how relieved she was that Jannick had given her a cigarette; Her eyes brightened considerably and she shuffled closer, ignoring the cold biting at her arms as she caught the pack. She plucked one with an unsurprising speed, offering the pack back as Jannick had his lighter waiting. That first smoke warmed her better than any heat could, and she made sure to turn her head away to avoid exhaling in his direction.

“I will. I didn’t mean to intrude, but…I needed this,” She sighed, poking her lower lip with her thumb. “It’s been a night.”

She was content to remain silent and smoke in peace, but she couldn’t help herself. The pair didn’t interact often, but she wasn’t looking forward to returning to her room. “How do you do it? I mean, with Scion Hollyhock,” She clarified. “You’ve been her Templar for less time than I have with mine, but you seem more…composed.”

Jannick raised his eyebrow when the woman - Bianca, he thought - decided to make small talk. He had to suppress a groan; this was truthfully the last thing he wanted right now. So much for fending her off with a cigarette.

Her comment, however, almost solicited a cold laugh. Almost. “Yeah, I’m doing great, he replied sardonically, flicking the butt of his cigarette into the snow and readying a fresh one. “Even bagged myself a private audience with Irina. Next she’ll give me a medal.”

Bianca tried not to smile too much, not wanting to insult him. It sounded odd, but she was sincere. “I meant more your relationship with your Scion,” She continued. “The few times we’ve seen one another, I’ve noticed your relationship with one another. She can be a handful sometimes–Elizabeth was constantly keeping us in the loop of her woes in the group chat–but you’ve handled things with grace.”

She frowned, staring at her cigarette. “It’s been five years and I can’t get my Scion to listen to me. And now everyone knows it,” She sighed, perching the cigarette back between her lips.

Jannick frowned. The image of Holly, bloody and on the verge of tears, came back to him as Bianca sung his praises, along with the creeping root of guilt that had taken the backburner during his ordeal with Irina. Her praise fell upon him like blows, each word beating him down a little deeper.

“Yeah…” he mumbled noncommittally, staring down at the snow as his cigarette rapidly shrunk. He was silent for a moment, unsure of what to say. But he felt just as guilty saying nothing.

“She’s a good kid,” he eventually blurted out, surprising even himself. But he felt a strange need to come to his Scion’s defence; Holly seemed to have an iffy reputation as a Justinian-tier escape artist, but even in their few months together, he knew she was more than that. “I mean, you know, she really isn’t that bad. Can’t blame her, really. I mean, I already wanna kill myself anytime I have to take her to an interview, and she’s been doing it since she was a little kid.”

That much got a genuine laugh out of Bianca. “It takes a while to get used to. Better than drills but worse than any actual training,” She replied cheerfully. “It’s so different from being a knight or even a regular Templar. It’s a lot harder with a lot more complex rules and duties, more power with more responsibility…it’s a dream many won’t see within their lifetime.”

Jannick found himself nodding along with Bianca until she got to that last bit. Ah, there it is. That little barb of guilt, older and more insistent than the one he got from being an ass to Holly, stuck into his side once again. And again, just like earlier, he felt the Mother’s eyes on him, knowing his heart and finding it lacking.

He glared up at the stars, willing Her to go scrutinize someone else already.

“We certainly are lucky…” he replied, although it was probably clear his heart wasn’t in it. Suddenly, the fear of being found out - and subsequently ejected from service for apostasy - struck him, and hot on its heels were Irina’s harsh words to the other two lady Templars.

“I don’t care if every other Templar on earth is dead - your responsibility is to your charge. Everyone else in the world is ancillary.”

“Big responsibility,” he mused darkly. He thought once more of Hollyhock, alone and scared in the ballroom, with only one person in the world tasked with her rescue - and now doing the same in her room inside the palace - and felt that responsibility heavy on his shoulders.

Bianca finally looked at Jannick, taking the cigarette away from her mouth and contemplating. After a few seconds, she took another smoke and decided she was brave enough. “I don’t know if you remember the kerfuffle that arose when Dame Sara was chosen. Many argued that she wasn’t qualified or didn’t have sufficient background. Ultimately, Commander Fyodor himself put the dissenters to rest by informing them that he was no fool and had considered her flaws. He sees things in people and uses his experience to pluck out the capable. He can tell who can do what just from a glance and can read people like a book. It’s why he’s the one choosing Templars and assigning them.”

She almost stopped to smoke again, but hesitated. “It’s a shift, going from protecting the many to protecting only one. It almost seems selfish,” She told him. “But ultimately, we’re the ones that can.”

Jannick glanced at Bianca, raising an eyebrow. Was she trying to give him a pep talk? She wasn’t wrong, but he didn’t really think the platitudes of an after school special could really grasp the situation he was in. For the better, maybe - she was probably shooting in the dark.

But she still got a little lucky. Not that he’d admit it. “I suppose there’s no other choice,” he commented gruffly, taking one last drag of his second cigarette. “We’re deep in the shit now, and they don’t have anybody better.”

Jannick flicked his cigarette butt away once more, the glowing end making it an impressive distance into the darkness before it was snuffed out in the snow. “Don’t stay out too long,” he said by way of parting pleasantries, sauntering back inside.

The Snuggery

Rosemary was enthused to hear everyone's response, her golden eyes wide with curiosity. She seemed to enjoy Dominika indulging her greatly, all to happy to have people that would actually listen. Her cup sat in front of her untouched as the little princess sat properly on her chair, legs swinging as she watched each person talk. She paused briefly after Justinian's response, but didn't understand his hesitation. She was temporarily distracted as she glanced down at her books and made sure to close them respectfully.

The doors to the snuggery opened and in stepped Duchess Patricia. Rosemary perked up at the sound of the doors opening, but she immediately drooped her shoulders in disappointment. The older woman curtsied respectfully to the Scions around.

"I thank you for accompanying our princess, Holy Ones, but I fear keeping her up too late would cause more harm than good," She stated. "If you find yourself weary, you'll find that your rooms are ready with servants patiently waiting to fulfill any need you may have. We will be serving breakfast in the morning and afterwards the archbishop will speak with you."

Rosemary sank into her seat and crossed her arms, her face furrowing with displeasure. "I'm not sleepy," She declared.

"It is prudent to rest well, Princess," The duchess stressed gently as she approached the table. She briefly glanced at Lucas, a slight frown gracing her lips, but she turned her attention back to Rosemary.

"I don't want to," She muttered, sinking further into her seat.

"Dame Sonia wants you to sleep where she will join you once she has finished attending to her duties."

The mention of Sonia was enough to catch Rosemary's attention. She reluctantly climbed down from her seat, shuffling to the duchess. She paused, turning around to curtsey again to her fellow Scions. "I'll see you all tomorrow for breakfast," She said quietly.

The duchess curtsied as well and took Rosemary's hand, and together the pair exited the room. The doors remained open and a pair of knights were revealed to be waiting, their backs to the wall.

The Commander's Office

Once Sara was gone, Irina took her leave as well, back through the hidden door whence she came. She took the servants’ corridors to the office of the Palace Commander, head of all the royal family’s security forces. He was away, which would prove to be a terrible coincidence, but it worked well enough in Irina’s favour as she’d been offered the use of his office to coordinate the response to the night’s attack.

The room was a relic of its period; with dark paneled walls and walnut furniture to match, it looked rather like a dark cave lit only by the fire blazing brightly in the centerpiece stone fireplace. A few shaded sconces on the walls provided a little more light, revealing an oil portrait on each wall (presumably former commanders or people of note), but the main source of light was an antique green lamp on the desk. Previously clean, the desk was already piled high with reports and other papers relating to the attack. It had hardly been two hours.

A squire, the same one who had collected the armour crystals, arrived only shortly after Irina did. She had a knack for showing up places; Irina had only been supervising her for a few months, but already she was beginning to wonder if the girl was secretly a mage, teleporting all over the place. Whatever her method, it was certainly convenient for Irina.

The girl stowed the now-empty crystal case in a duffel bag (one of several that accompanied Irina tonight) as Irina sat down, eyes still trained on the tablet she’d been carrying. It took a moment for Irina to tear her attention away and notice the girl.

“Oh, thank you,” she greeted curtly, only glancing up for a second. “Go get Sir Edmund for me, please.”

“Yes ma’am!” the squire replied eagerly, saluting before she left.

~ /// ~

“Sir Edmund?” The squire girl appeared as if from nowhere in front of Edmund, her footsteps somehow inaudible until she called his name. She looked about eighteen years old, a little tall for a woman, of average build, and sporting a plain brown bob of hair and brown eyes to match. Despite the earlier tension between them, she was perfectly cordial - and perhaps even a little eager - as she greeted him. She saluted Edmund before speaking again. “Dame Irina asked to speak with you. Please follow me.”

Edmund nodded politely, his usual scowl on full display as he had stood down the hall from the ballroom. He was lost in thought, events of the night circling in his head like vultures. The squire didn't seem to phase him much, a roughly familiar voice. Though he did feel a hand gravitate towards his belt instinctively, towards the hilt of a sword that would usually be resting there. The paranoia seemed to be reaching a fever pitch in the quiet of his mind. But he kept it hidden underneath his grumpy demeanor, and followed without so much as a word. He reached into his suit pocket, making sure he still had the crystal in his possession.

The squire led Edmund quietly through the main halls of the palace, navigating surprisingly well for someone who had presumably never been there. A few times she took a breath to speak, but held back; she looked like she had a something to say, but was ultimately too nervous to say it.

She held her peace, bringing Edmund to the door of the Commander’s office and knocking sharply. “Sir Edmund for you, ma’am,” she called courteously.

“Come in.”

The squire pushed through the door, beckoning Edmund in behind her. Irina was sitting at the desk, back straight as a rod, but her focus was still on her tablet.

“Thank you, Sylvia.” Irina dismissed the squire, who saluted and departed, closing the door behind her.

Irina tapped a few more times on her tablet before closing it and returning it to a drawer. She locked it before finally turning her attention to Edmund.

“Sir Edmund, thank you for coming,” she commented flatly, holding out her hand. “I’ll take your crystal now, while you explain why you refused to hand it over earlier.”

Edmund's posture was more relaxed. He didn't bother with the usual formalities, his nerves and the bruising ever-present reminders of the day's events. He took a moment, taking a deep breath, before pulling the crystal out of his pocket and setting it in her hand. He wasn't in the mood to be treated like a squire again, not by her. “I expected more from the Ordo Templi. I had thought the loss of a Scion would have been a wakeup call… I wasn't expecting the response to be complacency.” His voice was cold, but delivered in the same even tone he always used. His hands rested at his sides, his arms tense.

Irina didn’t miss the foreign firearm slung over Edmund’s back, but she said nothing, appearing entirely untouched by his comment as she stood with his crystal. From one of several duffel bags lining one wall, she produced a clunky handheld device and inserted the crystal into a slot at the top. The crystal sank into the device, lighting up a small screen, and a few seconds passed before the device beeped and ejected the crystal once more.

“I wasn’t expecting a Blessed Templar to get into a pissing contest with a squire over a routine procedure,” Irina eventually replied in kind, although her tone was utterly disinterested as she retook her seat and offered the crystal back to Edmund. It looked like she had bigger things on her mind.

“That was all I summoned you for,” she stated, although she gestured to Edmund’s new rifle. “But if you have some information that can’t be gleaned from your armour log, now is the time.”

Edmund's expression was steady as he pocketed the crystal and turned to the door. As he stepped towards it, he showed the first signs of open hesitation as his hand hovered over the door handle for a moment. He took a breath, and listened to the voice in his gut. He lifted his hand up to lock the deadbolt to the office, before turning back to face Irina. “I had a brief conversation with a member of the terrorist organization responsible for the attack when things began. She identified herself as Salome, daughter of Termina. She had been posing as a member of the waitstaff… and she seemed to be orchestrating the attack.”

Irina’s expression, formerly unreadable, suddenly shifted. For the first time, a look of intense interest crossed her face, and she folded her hands under her chin, staring intently at Edmund. She looked like she wanted to jump all over the information, but she restrained herself. “What makes you think she was orchestrating the attack?”

Edmund's expression relaxed, if only slightly. Irina's interest helped ease his paranoid suspicions for the moment. “Her control of mana was… unusual. Her transformation kicked off the assault, and she seemed to be responsible for the disruption of the Scion's abilities… she also had particular insight in the optics of what would take place.” He paused, playing back the conversation in his mind again, trying to piece together the specific words. Recalling them felt like poison in his mouth. “Her exact words… she claimed a new king would be crowned when the year was done, due to his royal highness’ failing health… but that the public at large would blame Kaudus due to this attack and we would go to war.”

Irina listened with rapt attention, pausing when Edmund was done to process his words. She tapped her fingers on the desk in silence, deep in thought.

“Her… transformation?” she finally asked, still visibly pensive. She seemed almost hesitant, as if she had to choose her questions carefully. “What do you mean by that?”

Edmund paused, considering the question for a moment. “A blue light enveloped her, and her appearance changed. The lights were out, so I wasn’t able to get a good look. Her shape just looked… different… and I think it all came from the gloves. Whenever she snapped… that’s when things went sideways. First with the soldiers, then again with the magic disruption… from my point of view, it looked like they managed to plant things all over the ballroom to make that happen. A preliminary sweep by the Templars should have caught that.” With the final line, Edmund’s tone changed slightly. There was a slight edge to it, the hint of anger or frustration.

Irina continued tapping the desk as she listened, eyes unfocused as she appeared to concentrate entirely on her thoughts. But, much like Edmund, the last comment brought about a change in her demeanour.

“It would have, if the devices had been present,” Irina replied in a warning tone. But she did not linger on it; instead, she stood up from the desk and began pacing in front of the hearth. “What else? Was she part of a known terrorist cell? Did she mention anything about her group’s aims? Any information that could be used to identify the organization responsible?”

Edmund’s eyes widened only slightly at Irina’s first remark. He had misjudged the situation, at least partially. Though, the revelation that the devices had been planted potentially during the party only raised more questions than answers. But as he played through the events in his mind, he answered, “The guns they used read as foreign make to me… wealthy benefactors for something on this scale. The only thing she said about her aims… she claimed she was going to ‘liberate Gaia from the false Goddess.’” His tone shifted slightly, mimicking Salome’s grandiose delivery as much as he could. He felt a little sick saying it, but just shook it off. “The best lead I can think of as to the organization just comes from that thing she said… she claimed to be a daughter of Termina, the same way we call ourselves children of Incepta. That sounds like a starting point to me.”

A rapt knocking interrupted their conversation, accompanied by the muffled nagging of a squire from beyond the door. “I need a meeting. Urgently. You can’t pass me over twice,” one Tyler Morris called into the room. He even tried the door handle, masterful in manners as he was, though it didn’t budge.

Irina paced as Edmund spoke, looking more perturbed by the minute. “The only group by that name is a wandering band of lunatic street preachers harassing the Doumerc borderlands as of late,” she mused, “but they haven’t been known to be violent…”

The insistent knocking interrupted her, and her attention snapped up to the door, looking like she’d been rudely disturbed from slumber. At first, she chose to ignore it, but when it did not stop, she tsked and strode past Edmund to open the door.

“Sir Tyler,” she greeted him coldly, “if this is not a lead on tonight’s events, it can wait.”

“Wonderful, I was just thinking the same thing,” Tyler chirped with a fake mirth in his voice, “I have information on what I assume was one of their officers.” His impressively feigned smile fell off his face as he leveled a more serious gaze at Irina. “And I believe I know why they might be aiming to kidnap the Scions.”

Irina quirked her head in wilful concession, stepping aside to bid Tyler to enter. “Sir Edmund, you’ve been upstaged,” she quipped over her shoulder in her closest facsimile of a joke, locking the door behind Tyler. “From the beginning, then. What makes you think you encountered one of their officers?”

Edmund took a step back at this, folding his arms as he listened close, jaw clenched slightly.

Tyler stepped inside and nodded, once to Irina and then to Edmund. “It’s okay, I have that effect on people,” he said playfully in Edmund’s direction before he refocused on Irina. “Right. Prince Lucas froze time at one point to stop a group of them from advancing on us, except one of them kept moving. He had a strange… mana veil waving from his neck, which is where I assume the ability stemmed from. Lots of cybernetics, from what I could tell.”

He furrowed his brow as he continued, visibly agitated by the thought of the man. “From what he said, it seemed like he’d been sent specifically after me, but he underestimated the strength of Lucas’ blessing. His sword seemed designed to neutralize mine, and the thing around his neck either neutralized time magic or mimicked it perfectly.”

Edmund sighed, looking towards Irina briefly before looking back at Tyler. “You're saying someone other than a Scion could manipulate time? Slow it down and stop it?” For the first time in a long time, Edmund's scowl dropped into a confused frown. He wiped his face with his hand. “That could explain how they installed the devices so quickly… whatever it was that disrupted the Scions’ magic.”

Tyler met Edmund’s gaze briefly, then averted his eyes downward. “It appears that way, yes. His scarf thing glowed red while time was stopped, sorta like oversaturated environmental mana, then turned blue after everything started moving again. It has to be the source.” A frustrated huff escaped his mouth at that. “But personally? I don’t think it’s someone other than a Scion at all - not really. I think they stole it from Theodore. And I think they want to do the same thing to Nadine.”

A slight gasp erupted from Edmund's mouth, first at the mention of the color change… and then again at the mere notion that a Scion could be stolen. Through gritted teeth, he muttered, “Salome's gloves… they were blue as well. The mana…”

Tyler snapped his head up at the mention of the strange salami woman and her mysterious gloves. “They sent one after you too?”

Edmund paused for a moment, weighing his options. He still wasn't exactly sold on who to trust at this moment. After all, Tyler lost one Scion already, and another was kidnapped the day he was blessed again. But the mention of the blue mana was enough to push him over the edge. “No… not quite. I encountered another officer… if not the one leading the assault. She made the call kicking things off. She called herself Salome, and a daughter of Termina. She had been posing as waitstaff, managed to get close to the royals… but she didn't attack anyone directly. Just… snapped her fingers and everything went dark.”

Irina listened silently as the two templars spoke, expression growing graver by the minute. At some point during the dialogue, she sat back down at her desk, pulling her tablet out once more and producing a stylus to make marks on something on the screen. After Edmund finished, she tapped a few times more before stowing it away once again, propping her chin on her folded hands.

She was quiet for a moment. “Scion Lucas is very new to his power,” she said cautiously, looking at Tyler. “Are you absolutely sure that this combatant defied his power? Is it at all possible that His Holiness somehow faltered?”

Now, Tyler had absolutely no confidence in his Scion’s ability either, but did she really think he wouldn’t have noticed if something odd was happening? “Even I had trouble when His Highness did it, you expect me to believe that metal bastard spontaneously got lucky? No, the room was entirely frozen except for the three of us. And, from what I could tell, the enemy broke the time stop spell before Lucas could release it himself, after I beat his ass too hard.”

Despite maintaining her typical stone-faced expression, Irina was starting to look pale. “If the enemy had the power to manipulate time like a Scion, they could have captured every Scion in the blink of an eye,” she reasoned. “So why the assault?”

“Fear.” Edmund's response came quicker than he expected, leaving an awkward pause before he continued. “Salome hinted she wanted the Federation to go to war against Kaudus… it doesn't explain why they didn't take all the Scions, but maybe there are bigger goals at play than just abducting them all..”

Tyler opened his mouth to respond, though Edmund beat him to it. As good an explanation as any, he supposed. “Maybe that was the intent, but he went for Lucas first as the only one that could potentially stop him. Or maybe, if it is a stolen Scion ability,” even saying it left a bitter taste in his mouth, “he needs proximity to the real thing to activate it- no, that wouldn’t stop him from targeting the other Scions.” At best it would explain their decision to attack specifically after the blessing ceremony, but Edmund’s idea would explain that just as well, if not better.

Irina frowned. She had the look of someone who was desperately hoping to be wrong, but probably wasn’t. “It would take far less to trigger war with Kaudus,” she reasoned futily, “Rodion never stops skirmishing with them, and even though Doumerc seems to have misplaced its backbone, any more intrusion on their eastern border would necessitate a Federation response. The whole continent has been foaming at the mouth for war ever since Scion Theodore’s disappearance; if the goal was simply to start a war, it could have been accomplished at far less expense.”

She shook her head, staring at the lamp on the desk for a moment. “Is there anything else the two of you noticed? Anything at all?”

“Yeah, actually,” Tyler piped up, “In the middle of his insane ramblings, he mentioned wanting to summon the Goddess in the name of his own false deity. I can only assume this attack was meant to glorify it in some way that wouldn’t be accomplished by a mere strike at the border.”

Edmund turned his gaze back to Tyler again, waves of paranoia subsiding for but a brief moment. “He mentioned summoning the Goddess? Did he… did he call Incepta a false goddess?”

“Not that I can recall,” Tyler responded with a shake of his head, “He seemed quite assured of Her existence, but claimed it was detrimental to humanity. He mentioned that word you used too, Termina. I think his recruitment spiel needs work.”

Irina looked as if she’d eaten something rotten, her face momentarily screwed up in disgust. “We will look into this… idol of theirs,” she spat, “and communicate everything we know to each Templar once we have a more complete picture of tonight’s events. Until then, if there’s nothing else, then the two of you are dismissed.”

She stood from her desk, folding her hands behind her back as if she were giving another assembly. She looked gravely at each Templar. “For now, say none of this to anyone. What you’ve told me tonight will cause widespread panic; that’s just what they want. If this is true, then it is all the more important that you stay at your charge’s side. A power even approaching what you’ve described will give no quarter; stay alert, stay vigilant, and do not let your charges out of your sight. I’ll relay the same to the others.”

She nodded to Edmund. “Leave that rifle with me. If either of you remember anything else, come to me or the Commander immediately. Do not trust the phone lines, or anything of the sort. Do not trust the palace Knights, do not trust the Church Knights. This information cannot fall into the wrong hands. Understood?”

Edmund paused for a moment, mulling the orders over in his head, before simply nodding. He slipped the strap of the rifle off his shoulder and grabbed it, setting it down on the desk as he turned to leave without so much as a word.

“Yes, ma’am.” Tyler saluted dutifully. He did have a sense of decorum, if only to one-up Edmund. Though, he wasn’t quite in the mood to pick a fight after the night they’d all had, and the unattended prince still nagged worryingly in the back of his mind for some inexplicable reason. Taking Edmund’s departure as a dismissal, he similarly turned and made his way outside the office.

Irina returned her attention to her tablet the moment Jannick left, entirely engrossed in its contents until the sound of the door opening alerted her to Sara’s presence. Mild surprise turned to irritated disappointment when she saw who it was. She listened quietly as Sara said her piece, her eyebrow raising when Sara held out her hands.

She was quiet for a moment, looking the other Templar up and down as if waiting for a punchline that never came.

“Wow,” Irina finally commented, her former intensity somewhat dimmed behind genuine surprise. “Who needs persecutors when you do their work for free?”

Before Sara would get the chance to wonder if she’d just been party to Dame Irina’s first-ever joke, Irina grew serious again, if not a touch exasperated. “You think too highly of yourself, Dame Sara,” she droned, stowing her tablet under her arm. “Half the Church’s Knights and the entire Ordo Templi are combing the wreckage of Giles’ ballroom for evidence as we speak; if we thought it was that simple, I would already be home and you would already be executed.”

What little levity Irina had left fled from her as she approached Sara, folding her hands behind her back. “I am not interested in questioning you. In my opinion, your abandonment of your Scion was incompetence and cowardice, but nothing more. But you're right: we are in a crisis. Right now, I need you standing guard over your Scion. These are some of the most dangerous times you’ll likely face in your career; you can’t get out of it that easy.”

Irina came to a stop just steps before Sara, looking down at her. “Whether you think you’re capable of protecting Scion Theobald is irrelevant; right now, you are his only option. You hold the Blessing of Fire, no one else. Now,” she pointed to the door, almost overtaking the other woman, “reclaim your crystal, and go do your duty.

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