To the Strange Tower
Before the Wanderer was content to leave the cavern that had been tragically ruined, he warned the three who traveled with him to be prepared on their departure, thinking to those bandits (or soldiers?) that they had seen on their way in. However, when they exited they found only an abandoned village in front of them, save for the corpses that had been left stuck and hanging above. Apparently, Alexai's departure had also meant the departure of all of those lower peons; the realization made Joachim relax some, but only slightly.
They did not travel far that day. Instead, Joachim turned his efforts to the dismantling of those grim sentinels all around the village, cutting and pulling them down and burying them with the pick and shovel he found. It was long, difficult work, but still the Wanderer took the time to give the dead a proper burial. Joachim's mind seemed to be elsewhere, and he did not wish to travel so far in such a state. And so, after finishing his work he led them a fair distance away from the village, before picking the first clearing they came across to settle down.
He didn't seem to sleep that night, instead keeping close to the fire with a blanket wrapped around him, keeping the flames from fading. Next to him, the bag that he had picked up at the start of the trip held close to him constantly.
To the east, a storm roared.
With the rising of the sun he did the same, finally snuffing out the fire and leading them once again. As they traveled the forest around them changed; the trees grew wide and tall, cluttering together thickly in an impossible sort of way. The path that the Wanderer led them through required them to squeeze in between those trees, the air around them darkened by the canopy up above and was sticky with dew.
Especially for the horse this path was especially difficult, and yet the Wanderer continued on. He did not quite have an answer for why he was so insistent on travelling through such a difficult patch, such an old area that seemed to be beyond any form of society...
But he couldn't help but feel like he was following soft, distant humming.
And then, suddenly, the tree line broke. Out they emerged into a clearing, where the sun gently shined down from up above. Filled with long grasses and flowers that drifted softly in the wind, animals of all kinds lingered; not just birds, rabbits, and deer, but foxes, wolves, and bears as well all lingered among one another. At the sudden intrusion of the travelers, the most they were given were lazy, uninterested glances.
And in the center of this all was a great tower. Made of black stone, it matched the height of the trees all around the clearing with ease, leaving a great shadow across the meadow behind it. There was just a single entrance, a simple doorway directly in front of them, and there were no windows to speak of across the entire structure; just smooth stone that seemed to eat up light greedily rather than reflecting it away.
It was a sight that the Wanderer had never seen before, and he slowly came to the stop a few steps into the meadow. For a moment everything was just completely silent, peaceful...
"Oh my stars, it's been awhile since I've been here!"
Joachim suddenly straightened all the way up, eyebrows rising in alarm. Instinctively, he prepared to throw himself to the side, but he wasn't nearly quick enough to outrun the arms of the Lady of the Abyss herself.
Of course, there was no way to tell just where she had come from, when all she had to do was slip out of a tear from the Void. There was no telling just how long she had been there, so quietly and subtly she had slipped herself into the party until the moment came for her to speak. What mattered though was that Ambrosia was there, positively suffocating Joachim as she swayed back and forth with her hug, happily humming to herself.
It almost seemed like the poor man was as close to dying as he had ever been.
It was a long, long few days. Distant to the group, Remy kept to himself, skittish, a little irritable. Whenever a body was near, he wanted nothing to do with it. Noble of you, he'd say with a sneer, flask in hand. Real' fucking neato. It was a piss-off, Kaishu thought, but nonetheless, she ignored him. She helped the Wanderer bury the dead with no complaint, wishing silently that she had incense on her person, or even some flowers not caked in blood or trampled upon. The prodigy had nothing but silent sentiment, and prayers said behind the backs of her reluctant companions.
After they moved on, though, there was nothing to be said. There was only silence while, in their travels, Remy would yammer on about this and that. She understood it - using mania to fill the silence. Sometimes, he could be a decent person, which is maybe why someone like him could ever hold such an esteemed position in such a massive militaristic force.
There was almost too much to think about. Like Joachim, Kaishu didn't sleep, kept awake by the glow of the moon above them and the thoughts bouncing around in her head and her heart.
Even thinking about the country made her every nerve jitter in anticipation for some long-forgotten reason. She couldn't stop thinking about it.
Their next destination's scenery wasn't exactly enough to break the anxious train running amok inside of Kaishu's head. She stepped past rabbits and faun, looking up at the tower as it came into view. Another distant memory.
"Ugh! Fucking rodents! Fuck off!"
Idiot. Huffing, Kaishu peeked back over her shoulder to watch Remy struggle with the animals that seemed to gravitate towards him with little avail. "Could you pipe down? Ne, ne, you're going to wake the fucking dead -"
Almost as if on cue, the familiar voice that rung out made Kaishu's entire body bristle, hand grabbing onto the hilt of the blade at her hip and drawing it. The black metal shone in the sunlight peeking through the trees, but upon turning and seeing the unfortunate smothering of Joachim, her stance loosened, body going cold all at once. Familiar.
Too much familiarity at once. With her fingers still gripping the hilt of that radiating blade, Kaishu stared at the Lady of the Abyss with a skittish, uncomfortable sort of stare. Owlish, like a newborn child seeing their parent for the first time.
" . . . "
Not knowing what to say, Kaishu let herself get lost in the swell, feeling both like crying and throwing up at the same time.
Nia, quick of wit and silver of tongue, made up for young woman's silence, elegantly summing up all of her thoughts on the mysterious woman ambushing the Wanderer by giving a shriek of surprise followed by a jump back, her hands held up as if she was about to box the Lady of the Abyss.
Her hand lowered once she realized that the stranger was just hugging, not choking, Joachim. Still, Nia couldn't help but be alarmed as she killed the conjured embers in her hand by smothering them against her legs. Nia was an excellent infiltrator, and therefore she was also excellent at realizing when someone or something was sneaking up on her. However, she had not detected anything until the moment the lady had spoken. It was as if the lady had materialized out of the air itself, which wasn't really an impossibility. Nia's eyes thinned as she looked over the woman, her brow knitting as she felt herself hit by an overwhelming feeling of familiarity. Had they met before? Nia felt as if she would not have forgotten someone who looked like this woman, yet she still couldn't shake the feeling.
Whatever. It didn't matter. What mattered was them getting to Kyora, and fast. They had already wasted enough time as it was with burying the bodies of the slaughtered villagers. Nia thought it would've been simpler just to ignore it all and leave them for the birds. She had even thought, once it had become clear that Joachim was going to cut down each and every single one, that perhaps she could just summon a great, raging inferno and burn the whole damn place down in one massive communal cremation. However, she decided against it. She did not know how the Wanderer, or their two new companions, would react to such a suggestion, and she rather not rub any of them the wrong way yet, but she did not go out of her way to volunteer in anyway with the burial (although she did not refuse to help either).
Anyway, this hug was going on for too long.
"Pardon me," said Nia, raising up a finger as she stepped forward. "Would you mind letting my friend come up for air? He's already purple enough as is."
It was the words of Nia that grabbed the attention of the Lady of the Abyss, not the hiss of a drawn blade. Blinking, she slowly looked over to the H'kelan woman, seemingly confused by what was said before she looked down to the man in her arms; indeed, from what little she could see of his forehead, the skin of his face was starting to turn purple and he had gone utterly limp, his struggles having weakened to just a simple palming of his hands against her side.
With a noise that could only be described as a sort of surprised squeak, she released the man, and the Wanderer crumpled to the ground. There he remained perfectly still for just a moment, before he sharply gasped, taking in sweet, sweet air that smelled of lavender. Satisfied with the depth of Joachim's breath, she turned to face Nia more fully, with a smile upon her face; her arm swung around, settling her parasol on her shoulder even as she opened it in the same movement.
"Oh, thank you for stopping me there, my dear Ms. Nia! Sometimes I just forget myself in my excitement, perhaps you know how it is...
Her voice trailed off as she looked over to the rest of the small party. At the sight of Remigia she perked up slightly, and it seemed like she very much wanted to say something- perhaps something deeply personal that was better left unsaid, but possibly for the good of everyone the Lady of the Abyss instead became distracted by the sight of Kaishu. However, her eyes remained on Kaishu for just a moment, before it went to the drawn blade, and then the Divine's lips popped into a little 'o' with a silent gasp, her purple eyes going big and round.
For a moment she stood like that, without a word, before she suddenly turned and hid her head from them with her parasol. Her foot tapped, agitated, her gaze instead on the structure in front of them all. Next to her, the Wanderer shakily got to his feet, both hands on his knees as he continued to gasp. That all came to a stop, though, when the Divine spoke.
"You've made some friends, haven't you my dear?"
"Uhhhh..." He drew out the syllable, taking the moment to straighten before he continued with, "Yes, he supposes he has."
"Good, good. You need plenty of friends." For another moment she stood there, completely silent as even her foot came to a stop... And, quite suddenly, she was all smiles again, looking over her shoulder as she beamed. "Well, what are we waiting for?! I haven't been here in so long, so let's explore!"
Without waiting for a response, down she suddenly went, disappearing through the tear that appeared beneath her feet and sealed up just as quickly. In front of them, at the entrance to the tower, she once again appeared, the split this time appearing higher up in the air; from it her upper half dropped down, her hanging upside down and beckoning them with both hands.
Slowly, Joachim looked to those who had chosen to travel with him. He seemed sheepish, and said, "If you wish to stay outside, for... whatever reason, he understands. But he..." He shrugged, and then began to make his way forwards.
"...is not leaving her behind," said Nia, finishing his sentence as she rushed forward so that she could stay abreast with Joachim. The teleporting woman had caught her interest after she had dropped Nia's name, her own personal curiosity overriding her obligations to Ennis. Besides, besides, sticking with Joachim was still the best way to get an audience with Cyril, and Remy and Kaishu also seemed to have a connection to the Barcean King as well. It would be a downright foolish act to head out to Kyora alone, or so she told herself. In reality, she was most likely just forgetting herself in her own excitement.
"What are you two waiting for, a personal invitation?" asked Nia, spinning around to wave Kaishu and Remy on without stopping. She managed to avoid tripping as she spun back around, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
There was a lot going on. Standing there with flask in hand, Remy guzzled down whatever contents were inside before pulling his lips away. He couldn't really place the sudden, ebbing discomfort he felt when Kaishu drew her weapon. He was right about prepared to pull the chain again, but... instead, he fixated on the scene with a little bit of a sneer. Especially when he met the gaze of the Lady of the Abyss, his lips pulled further into a displeased sort of expression.
Instead of replying with a witty line, though, he just took another drink, ignoring the look. It had been a wild couple of days - he wasn't feeling very peppy for a few reasons. The little purple fucker seemed to know this crazy chick, so there wasn't anything he could really complain about. On top of that, the kid seemed fixated on the woman like she was a long-lost friend, or something.
Bunch of fucking freaks, he thought, shaking his head and shoving on Kaishu's back. She stumbled forth, snapping out of her daze and fixating a glare on the soldier before sheathing her blade. "You heard the lady. Get." Finally grinning again, Remy started sauntering past Kaishu, going to fall into step beside Nia instead, pocketing his hands.
Behind them, Kaishu's hooded eyes looked exhausted and faraway, but she reluctantly followed them along, hands disappearing beneath her cloak once more.
With everyone set on coming along, the Divine waited until they were all reasonably close before she turned with the tear. Slipping into the open entrance, the group saw how there was no foyer or stairs upwards; instead, the stairs led down. Floating along with her tear that strange Divine suddenly turned sideways, parallel to the ground, and outstretched her hands-
Screaming with delight, her tear suddenly zipped off down the staircase, following the wall and quickly curving out of sight. Even as the noise of Ambrosia's amusement began to echo off the walls, the Wanderer stepped in and began to make his way down.
Down, down, down. Down they went, seconds soon stretching into minutes. At first they had descended into the deep dark, feeling their way along carefully, but just before they lost the last fragment of light a torch flared into existence, somewhere farther down the spiraling staircase. They soon passed by the fixture where it was welded into the wall with no visible mechanism for lighting it, and once more they proceeded past and nearly beyond the light before, once more, another torch burst into light farther down. This pattern continued, time and time again.
Deeper still they traveled. Around them the staircase was cold, yet dry. They passed no doors, no diversions from the staircase, only the continued movement down. Off the walls every so often the wavering echo of the Divine's delight would bounce past, but it was becoming more and more faint, possibly drowned out by the pressure building in their ears.
And then, suddenly, it all came to an end: the staircase, Ambrosia's cries of laughter, the darkness. Twin torches burst into flame in front of them at the bottom of the stair, revealing tall, deeply black doors the stretched high in front of them, two stories at the very least. Slowly they opened in front of the group, swinging inward and allowing them through.
The underground cathedral stretched higher than even the doors, with a vaulted ceiling. Despite the dozens of torches that obediently lit up along the walls, the true height of the place couldn't quite be seen. Several rows of pews stretched from doors to the opposite end, where the floor was raised up a level and seven pulpits were set at even distances across. Dust covered everything thickly.
Books were scattered everywhere, in some places coating the floor and others all piled on top of one another. Behind the pulpits was a shrine, covered in gold and purple cloth, and upon it something glowed deeply black tinged purple. As the Wanderer took a single step into the place, the Divine's giggle could be heard though it came from both nowhere and everywhere at once; it echoed all around, faint in one moment and close in the next, and with it the glow intensified briefly.
Slowly, the Wanderer continued forwards, his gaze only briefly passing around before he focused on what was ahead. His pace eventually quickened, as the object came into clearer view: a curved, sheathed blade. It was surrounded by beautiful stones, gold, offerings of faded and yet not dead flowers; it was the only thing that wasn't covered with dust.
When he took the first step onto the raised floor, the glow, which at the point had reached almost terrifying heights, suddenly stopped. This gave him pause briefly, but he went forwards once again, stopping in front of the blade. His hand went out, briefly pausing, but soon he gently touched it-
And then, back at the entrance the doors shut heavily, a long, wide tear appearing in the ground as massive and twisted grey arm emerged from it suddenly, pews nearby sent to dash to pieces against the wall.
"What a freaky place..." Remy commented the further they traveled. Kaishu couldn't help but agree, but it wasn't creepy to her in the same way it may have been creepy to the warden.
The prodigy sort of figured it may be like that for the Wanderer, too. The dark around them felt like a warm embrace rather than a cold phantasm. It was a feeling unlike any other, for her. A comfort she's never quite known... ever. She walked with a vibrant awareness to the path, keeping her hands by her sides while her feet did the tracking. The sound of Ambrosia's laughter helped, she supposed, but it was a noise she wished she didn't have to hear. It was tauntingly familiar, a turning in her stomach she couldn't get rid of.
The cathedral brought a similar feeling. The overarching ceiling, the pews in ordered lines like soldiers settled in waiting. A somber air that churches always held - she heard Remy comment how much he hated cathedrals, how the ones at home wigged him out, too. She agreed with that much. The feeling of divine providence hanging over her shoulders made her spine tingle.
Kaishu's ill feelings melted into alertness the moment the arm burst from the ground. Wood chips bypassing her, she drew her blade, twirling it in her hand as it gleamed in the dark, the abyssally black metal humming in excitement.
"What the fuck?!" Remy shouted, stumbling back from where the tear had opened just by his feet. Kaishu scoffed.
Crazy old woman.
"Maybe you should put it back," said Nia, her voice lined with worry before arriving at a quick crescendo as she flinched as splinters of wood pelted against her. She knew that she should've hightailed it out of this place the moment it had turned into nothing but mad laughter and flickering lights. She didn't even bother drawing her dagger, doubting that if she even had an opportunity to defend herself that the small blade would be completely useless against the tumorous arm. A flicker came to life in her right hand as she cradled a fireball, not yet ready to start throwing flames all about quiet yet. There was plenty of kindling around if she needed it, but with the only entrance blocked starting a bonfire would be a good way to crisp up her new companions and, more importantly, asphyxiate herself.
"Really, any ideas now would be appreciated," she added, taking a few steps back.
Joachim remained perfectly silent, his spine slowly straightening as the thing continued to emerge. The arm lunged forwards, gripping into the ground, fingers clawing down through the spread books to slowly but surely lift; the creature that emerged from the hole certainly belonged to the arm. Twisted and grey, the skin hung from what seemed to be the twisted imitation of a man, though it had no eyelids and four extra eyes, with just the one arm.
On its shoulder sat the Lady of the Abyss, her hum somehow audible above the movements and grumblings of the creature as it gnashed its teeth. The foulness of the thing in comparison to her was almost absurd, and yet she seemed as pleased as could be sitting on its shoulder, her hand stretched out to rest on what seemed to be its warped cheekbone.
"What is the meaning of this, Lady Ambrosia?" Joachim spoke quite calmly, but there was an undeniable tension in his voice that was paralleled by the tension in his shoulders. Giggling, the Lady snapped her parasol open, setting it on her shoulder and giving it a spin-
"Oh, I just wanted to give you a partner to play with! A little... pick-me-up! You seem very, very down."
"He... appreciates the sentiment, but he doesn't think it is a good idea."
"Oh well! It's too late now, isn't it? So come on, play a little!"
Even as she spoke the thing was beginning to lean forwards, hand stretching out as its mouth opened with its yellow, split teeth and it began a low, drawn out groan that sent the walls about them trembling-
When the Wanderer moved, it was so quickly that it was difficult to say. Suddenly he whirled, and in that same movement he drew the blade, his eyes widened; in the next moment he was a blur and then across the space, standing up against the closed doors behind the creature. Suddenly, the room had become much colder, as if a chill wind had passed through.
The Phantasm glowed as if with a soft, purple fire; along the edges of his clothes and hair he seemed to be burning away into swirls of purple embers. Across the floor his footsteps could be seen, but not as imprints in the dirt; instead, the dust flared up with little curves of purple flames that danced in place with a vibrant speed. In either direction the dust was still flowing away from where his path had taken him, and his arm was stretched out with the blade held behind him; it was black and purple, its definition difficult to perceive, as if staring into a deep hole.
Even as Joachim began to fall from his position back towards the ground, the creature reeled back as its arm split from its hand all the way up to its shoulder. Thick, deeply blue blood splattered floor, walls and ceiling as it fell backwards, its low moan suddenly ascending to a shriek as, with a yelp of surprise, Ambrosia fell from its shoulder. Briefly it thrashed back and forth, the two halves of a limb flailing pathetically, before it quickly began to retract back down into the tear, disappearing.
Crawling to the edge of the tear, the Lady gripped it with both hands as she peered over the edge, down into the depths.
"Oh my Divinity- you completely butchered poor Gary!"
Where he was straightening, Joachim winced slightly to himself. "He... apologizes?"
"Oh, don't worry about it; he'll recover, and he was getting too big for his britches anyway- trying to take up all my time, not letting me take care of any of my other pets! Serves him right, really..."
"He wasn't worried about it!" shouted Nia, her arms out wide, wisps of smoke still streaming from her hands. The woman would not admit it, but she was impressed by how quickly Joachim had taken care of the Divine's creature. She had heard about him in hushed whispers among those in H'kela, but she had assumed that they had been embellished as all stories regarding feats of strength were. She made a mental note not to cross him, doubting that her fire was faster (and her fire was fast). Really, what she had seen, or rather what she hadn't seen, was hard to believe. It was almost as unbelievable as the strange woman being Ambrosia. Nia had always expected the Divines to be a little less, well, ridiculous. Being all powerful must've been dreadfully boring.
"It's fitting that this is Barcea's Patron. No wonder they're so successful," said Nia, calm enough to return to keeping her tongue firmly planted in cheek. She took a few tentative steps towards the closed door, taking some effort to avoid stepping in any of the gore. "Danmun always seemed so stuffy, but considering the alternative I think I lucked out," she muttered beneath her breath as she bypassed Ambrosia on her way to Joachim's side. It wouldn't do her any good if her guide had winded himself. She had already wasted enough time as it was by letting herself get distracted; she could almost kick herself for not having pulled the others away from this little sideshow. She leaned forward and craned her neck up at the Wanderer as if she was appraising him for sale.
"Are you oka—you smell like sulfur," she said, screwing up her face as she flitted away.
Remy wasn't really one for all this Divine garbage. The pull of the Abyss was a little too disorienting, and he wasn't sure what kind of crazy bitch it took to unleash a massive Hell monster in an enclosed space just for funsies. "Oh, yeah," He commented at Nia with a sneer, jamming his blade back into its sheath. "Just so successful with a crazy witch at the helm of all belief. Right?"
Grinning, the Commander looked over at Kaishu as if for confirmation, but paused. "... Kid?"
In the height of all the excitement and the glow of Abyss and grandeur, he hadn't really been paying attention to his companion. Just to the heat in his chest, the anticipation of a long battle that actually seemed to be quite short - maybe he had been wrong to do so.
Kaishu's eyes were fixated on her hand, owlish, her browned cheeks a little more pale than normal. Her mouth was moving in silent words, a way Remy recognized with a sickening sort of feeling - like that time in the arena, when everything turned over on its head. He knew better than to try and touch someone going into psychotic catatonia, but still, he tried to reach out.
Before he could lay a hand on her, her body pitched into a hunch, starting to rack with coughing so bad the Commander was sure her esophagus would turn inside out. Her blade dug into the ground as she dropped to her knees, coughing harder with each breath before finally retching up a dark, blackish-purple substance that seeped through her fingers and onto the ground, burning little holes into the stone and faded carpet of the cathedral's aisle. And still, she coughed on, shoulders shaking as Remy knelt down with a hand on her back, trying to steady her.
"Lords above... Hey, hey, canteen. Water. Anyone got one?"
Joachim had seemed initially surprised at Nia's reaction; and then he realized that bits of him were lit with flame, and with a close-mouthed shriek he began to rapidly pat himself out, even as Ambrosia leaned over to pinch out one tuft of his hair between two of her fingers. Surprisingly, no damage was left behind on
In the moments before Kaishu fell, Ambrosia was as happy as could be. The sarcasm was palpable in both of those who spoke, and yet she seemed to take them as full-fledged compliments, bringing both of her hands up to squish both of her own cheeks together, swaying back and forth as she giggled away. However, Kaishu's coughing attack brought a change over the moment entirely.
The Wanderer moved, his hand going to pull for his water skin even as he moved; however, he soon found himself being sent off to the side slightly, his water skin gone. Like a ghost Ambrosia slipped past Nia and then swept Kaishu away from Remy, both the H'kelan and the Bellamy suddenly but softly forced back, as if the very world had turned them away.
Gently, Ambrosia brought Kaishu upright, one hand settled on her back while the one with the water skin did the raising at the level of the woman's collarbone. From there, she gently raised the water to Kaishu's lips, tilting it back only slightly, so the water would just slowly pass Kaishu's lips.
"Shhh, shhh, child, it's alright. Drink."
Remy watched (concerned, admittedly, not that he'd ever admit it) as the water flowed down Kaishu's throat. The coughing subsided, but by the time the water skin left her mouth, she still didn't look quite all there. Her eyes were lines with exhaustion, and even a hint of frustration. Remy could tell the latter very easy as she suddenly ripped away from Ambrosia's grasp, grabbing the hilt of her curved blade and ripping it from the ground as she began storming her way out of the cathedral and back up the twisting stairs.
Fucking brat...! A bead of sweat rolled down Remy's cheek and he bared his teeth a little before relaxing his mouth.
"Kids these days, huh?" He lifted his arms in a shrug, nudging the closest person to him - Nia - with his elbow with another grin.
"Can't blame her for not wanting to be smothered," said Nia playfully, rubbing her arm where Remy had elbowed her. "Or drowned, rather."
The woman in black sighed as she recalled how dark the stairwell was, and she took off swiftly after the younger lady, slowing only to shoot a deliberate look of disapproval towards the Divine. The air above her hand ignited like a torch as she reached the stair, bathing the black stairs with a soft, orange glow. Nia quickened her pace so that she would catch up with Kaishu, lest the girl stumble in the dark and fall upon her own sword. She had managed to only ruin a little bit of the carpet with whatever it was that she had coughed up; it'd be just dreadful is she wrecked even more. Nia smirked. How interesting Joachim's "guests" had turned out to be.
Ambrosia had simply beamed back at Nia, before looking back to Joachim. Her smile softened, her just looking upon him as he shifted uncomfortably, looking away. Finally, she reached forwards, giving him a light pat upon the head.
"Go on, my dear. You still have a way to go."
"He thanks you for this kindness." With that, he gave a nod towards the exit at Remy, before quickly making his way towards the stairs with the new blade at his side, sheathed next to his broken one.
They arrived with the setting sun, finally looking down upon the city that sparkled like a many-faceted jewel on the water line. Kyora was massive, easily even bigger than the Capitol was if the docks were included. With mountains just to the north of the city in less than a half days’ worth of travel away, Kyora was set on the inner curve of a crescent in the land, with the curved arms creating a lake of saltwater immediately next to the city before it suddenly gave way into the greater ocean. The docks were set on both sides of those arms, and boats and ships could be spotted both within the salt lake and the ocean beyond.
A great wall protected the city's western side (as the east gave way immediately to the docks and water), and all of the roads from the north, south, west, and east led to the single greatest gate, often passing with bridges of stone that allowed crossing over the web way of creeks and small rivers that carved through the land. Farms were stretched over the fertile ground surrounding the waterways, those closest dedicated to rice and those farther keeping to livestock and other forms of produce.
Despite the way the sun had already bled deeply into the sky, they were not the only ones eager to enter the city before nightfall. Merchants, other travelers, and those who worked outside the walls but lived within all clamored to squeeze their way through the gates. All around them, everyone was talking, a mixture of accents from seemingly all nations blurring together; snippets of the clear Barcean, gruff Guratan, and smooth H'kelan could all be caught at random intervals, but there were even more, less familiar as well: perfectly articulated Jasian accents (with the rare cases of Old Jasian speech) were spoken within feet of both the Kisokan and Cantian languages all at once.
No two people were dressed alike as well. Here and there bits of light Barcean clothing were spotted right next to thick Guratan fur, and H'kelan robes were not far behind. More likely than not it was some mixture of different pieces of attire brought together as necessary, unlike in any way that they had seen before.
It was amazing how, not so long ago, Barcea and H'kela had been at each other’s throats for lifetimes, and yet here both cultures thrived side by side. The power of relentlessly enforced neutrality, with the income to back it up, didn't seem like it should be underestimated.
Within, even the architecture was just as blurred, buildings varying wildly in heights and design from place to place. The streets remained full of people, with peddlers shouting their wares from the side and innkeepers trying to draw those needing a place to stay to the warm beds up above. The more they went in, the more travelers and the like stepped aside out of the street in order to partake.
The Wanderer, however, did not glance to any of the inviting buildings built for food and rest, no matter how much any in his party may have wanted to finally stop walking at that point. Instead, he continued to lead them farther and farther into the city, which had the benefit of making it eventually easier to move; considering the nature of the city-state, they were not even stared at as outsiders, their makeshift party making it seem even more like that they belonged.
Eventually, the Wanderer suddenly picked a side road to turn onto, leading them a short distance down it. The building they stopped in front of them was surprisingly small, especially in comparison to some of the other inns they had passed; it was two stories in height and would barely fit all of the Sentinels and their company if rooms were shared, and the stable would barely fit three horses. Mercifully, it was empty.
A simple wooden sign above the door was painted with these words in black: The Hermit's Abode.
"This is it. We will be staying here." He opened the door, the entranceway just a tiny square that had a doorway to the left and stairs opposite the front door, Joachim turning to stay on that first floor. The common room was as small as expected, and quite dark; only a few candles were here and there, one of which was in front of a woman who sat in one of the booths, entertaining herself by blowing at the black lock of hair that fell from her part at her forehead.
Quite suddenly, however, she stood up upon seeing them. Her eyes widened, almost boggling, as it seemed like she at first didn't believe they were there and then had to convince herself that they were not ghosts. When the moment passed, however, she suddenly beamed, cheeks glowing red with her smile as she rapidly smoothed out her apron and made sure her hair, cut into a bob, was in order-
"Jeremy, get up! Up, we have guests!"
"Wuzzat?" A muffled voice came from somewhere behind the bar, followed by a sort of scuffling shift, but the woman was walking straight towards those that had just entered. Her excitement was filling the room, and she seemed to be almost vibrating as she bowed to each of them in turn.
"Welcome to the Hermit's Abode! Please, have a seat anywhere you like- oh, dear, wait a second!" She suddenly turned, and very quickly began to use one candle to light up all of the other candles throughout the common room, quickly spreading light with her. The last place she went to was the fireplace, where after a moment of struggle she suddenly got the fire going, pulling back just in time to keep from lighting herself on fire.
She rushed back towards the group, and as she did so an older looking man, perhaps fifty or so, with charcoal grey hair and tired eyes had risen from behind the bar, yawning as he did so. However, he nearly jumped out of his skin when the woman suddenly called:
"VI, HINERI! HURRY HERE, WE HAVE GUESTS! ACTUAL GUESTS!"
Slowly, the Wanderer began to tense.
The rest of the journey to Kyora had Kaishu a little more at ease from before. She was happy to be moving again, satiated by the sweet smell of the sea. Like home, she thoughts, before immediately regretting the decision. This place was familiar, bringing up waves of nausea and pleasant nostalgia again. She forced it down as best as she could, shaking herself a little to make the feeling scatter. It was a little easier with Remy rambling on as they hit the streets. He was excited about the change in scenery, but it made him jumpy. Mania-ridden and loud, he bounced from stall to stall, pining over all the food he never reached for.
"Just get something to eat... you're so annoying..." Kaishu muttered at one point, quickly dismissed by the Commander.
"Savin' my appetite for something more tasty, sugar." His snicker sealed the deal on the matter, and Kaishu didn't push it any further.
It was nice, Kaishu could at least admit. The deeper they walked, the more the nausea passed, drifting her into a gentle reverie instead. Though... there was an intense sort of pressure she could feel building on her shoulders. Her anxiety starting to spike, she stared up at the sign of the Hermit's Abode with a look of mild distress and almost regret. A terrible feeling... an omen... Lagging behind, she took her time to enter, keeping in the back of the pack and looking around, skittish and a little paranoid. She barely paid attention to the hostess as she greeted them, focusing instead on the sudden click-clacking of wooden sandals on the hard wood upstairs. Even before she announced the name, the source of the frantic running (and distant yelling) started getting closer.
It started as a din of an excited scream, followed by the sound of something breaking. "Joooo...."
Another crash could be heard, a woman coming tumbling down the stairs, a flurry of pinks and oranges. "AAAAAAAAACHIIIIIIIIM!!" With a strange sort of coordinated finesse at the end of her fall, the woman extended her arms as she hit the middle of the group, locking onto Joachim's neck with her arms and sending them crashing back to the entrance of the inn. The woman herself had soft brown hair, her robes very Kisokan in nature, a spattering of pink and orange, orange coming from the flowers embroidered upon the fabric. She was a smaller woman, but certainly a bit rounder. Kaishu gingerly picked up one of the chunky wooden sandals that flew off her feet, dangling it by the rope of the toes.
The rabbit hole just kept getting deeper.
Of course Hineri's loud voice and practical running across the Inn could be heard as they'd collided with the shorter man.
Vi came down the stairs at a slower pace and a pleasant smile upon her features as she remained quiet for the moment. She was a bit taller than her louder counterpart just a few inches shy of six foot. Her clothing was something of a hybrid of robes and a dress. Fitted at the top to flow out as it reached the floor. The high neck accentuating her elegant features. Black hair with light skin, almond shaped wicked blue eyes behind white framed glasses.
A twist of her lips could be seen as she approached the pair on the floor before flickering her eyes upwards to the rest of the party, "Pardon the noise, guests. Welcome to the Hermit's Abode. I am your hostess-Vi. THe young lady over there is Sam, the man behind the counter is Jeremy and this lovely lady is Hineri-though I do suspect at least some of the party already knows this?" She lightly mused with a thin arc of her brow. "I am here to answer any requests or questions you may have. How many rooms will this party need for their stay with us?" Her voice was smooth and unfazed with a plain as day Jasian accent.
"You have more than one?" asked Nia in a mix of disbelief and disenchantment, her eyes searching the common room for some elegance that was not there. It wasn't the worst place she had ever been in, truth be told, but after passing all of the other lavish and elegant places to stay it was rather disheartening to find herself in a place like this. It was odd how she didn't dislike roughing it in nature, there was something therapeutic about it, but once back in civilization she quickly recalled how much she missed comfort and luxury (and how desperate she was in need of a hot bath, a mirror, and some fresh clothes). She had a word for a place like this: antiquated, if she was being kind, or shabby, if she was being honest. She ran a gloved finger over the counter in inspection, wrinkling her nose as she rubbed the invisible grime back and forth between her forefinger and thumb, her head nodding in confirmation of the worst.
"I suppose it is too late to find anywhere else," she said more to herself, brushing her hand off on Remy's shoulder. "I'd prefer to have one for myself, if I must be honest. I fear if I shared one with Joachim it would just end with me not being able to get a wink of sleep as an endless parade of girls throw themselves upon him." She smirked, her moment of snootiness subsiding as she stepped over to the Wanderer and bent over, the poor man still be smothered by Hineri. "This is...what, the third time this has happened since we've started? I've seen you move enough to know that you're getting tackled on purpose."
"More importantly," said Nia, straightening her back as she turned on her heel towards Vi and clapped her hands together, "do you have a bath? Also, after I freshen I wouldn't mind dining on something light, and I'd gladly take a fine bottle of wine to share with my friends. Oh, and none of you happen to be musicians, perhaps? Some entertainment with our dinner would be greatly appreciated." She paused, cocking her head to the side. "All of this is doable, yes?"
The moment before impact, Joachim reacted instinctively by loosening his own muscles, seemingly to deflate in preparation. He did not attempt to dodge or duck, simply waiting for what seemed to be his inevitable death; with the way his body just immediately gave away beneath the momentum of the woman he certainly seemed more like a rag doll than a human being.
The crash was loud, and shook the entire building briefly. Beneath the woman, the Wanderer could only be described as out of commission- his eyes were practically swirling as his head limply rolled back and forth, stunned beyond function. For the next several moments he remained like that, but just after Nia finished speaking he rapidly shook his head, eventually reaching down and patting Hineri's head gently, smiling a little.
From there, he began to stand, which was a difficult enough process with Hineri hanging from him, and yet somehow he managed it. Grunting, he rubbed the back of his head, before he said, "Rather than the rest of all that, or rather just before it, it is most important to him that he speaks to the Master of the establishment as soon as possible. It is extremely, extremely important, in fact."
At this request, in the background Jeremy paled and slowly slid down out of sight behind the bar, while Sam's smile took a sort of stunned note. When she spoke next, she managed to stammer out, "W-Well that's not necessary, you kn-know? We can h-handle whatever request you m-might have-"
Smiling gently, the Wanderer gave a shake of his head slightly. "Please, do not be worried. He already knows him, and how he can be."
As the atmosphere in the room changed, Remy had shifted interest (very rapidly) to Nia, snickering a little at the brush of his shoulder. "Whaaat, I'm not an option for ya, sweetcakes? I think I get it, though..." He hums, rocking back and forth on his boots. "I could go for a bath. A real bubbly one... With like, little bonbons." He wiggles his hand at Nia to indicate the size, looking already lost in the thought of chocolate.
Still distracted by the way Joachim was completely knocked out by Hineri almost, Kaishu finally snapped to around when Vi appeared on the stairs. All of a sudden, the flood of occupants in the vicinity was making her skin crawl. She dropped the sandal, shrinking back into the group a little and leaning back on the wall, bundled in her cloak as she made herself scarce. She was only glad Hineri hadn't noticed her off the bat. Instead, the woman scrambled to cling onto the man's back, curling her legs around him and rubbing her cheek against his head fondly. "Jo~a~chimmmm~ You're b~ack~"
Blissful, she continued her little song before the mention of the inn's Master. Eyes snapping open, an alarmed look came over her, signaled especially by the change of her pupils into little, lime-green exclamation points. ".... Kuuuuuuuu... Please... Have mercy, Joachim... Hineri is already wobbly enough..."
"I 'on't get the big deal." Remy said, scratching the inside of his ear with a gloved pinkie. "What's up with the fear factor racing up because of this 'Master' guy?"
Kaishu didn't say anything back, still keeping her presence scarce... but her presence just grew thinner at the mention, her eyes flicking to the side while she pressed her face into a grimace. Still time to regret all of this and escape...
Vi's face remained warm and pleasantly smiling as several requests were made. They may be a touch difficult to do but nothing she wouldn't be able to handle. She'd turned her attention fully away from Hineri seeming to backpack on the shorter man's bdy and focused, instead, on the rest of the party," Your requests are able to be fufilled I simply ask for just a small amount of time to get everything fully prepared." Her eyes closed behind her lids in another smile-only for it to disappear into a thin line a flash of a moment later. Her attention left the rest of the party to focus in on the other, much bigger, issue that has just arose.
Vi's eyes stared directly at the man called Joachim as she took a position before him, looking down at the shorter man with a neutral expression; though her voice remained pleasant enough. "The Inn Master is currently away and may not be back for quite some time. May I ask your relation to him so that we can better assist you?" Her words were kind but the hard look of her eyes was not.
This certainly was unexpected.
Nia shot Remy a sympathetic look. At least she wasn't the only one in the dark; she absolutely hated being excluded from secrets.
"Hi, yes, sorry, question," said Nia, standing on her tiptoes while simultaneously pushing down Joachim's head so she could peek over it from behind, her other hand raised like a child in class. "So since it seems like he's going to stand between me and my bath, could somebody at least fill in the peanut gallery on who the Master," she said the name with a tone mocking the gravitas it apparently warranted, "actually is?"
Nia stepped to the side, letting the Wanderer have a moment where he wasn't being physically abused by someone, and shrugged her shoulders. "Like, what's all the fuss about? He just owns an inn, right?"
Up above, a door slammed.
Joachim flinched ever slightly, even as the steps of whoever was on the second floor began slowly walking towards the stairs. "He does more than simply own an inn. He did not own it when he, as in this one, last spent time with him... Perhaps it was the best cover he was able to pick at the moment. But that's an aside."
The steps had reached the stairs, and they began to squeal in protest beneath the weight of what they carried. Slowly, the Wanderer began to turn, with his eyes shut. "The Master is the Master and always has been. But perhaps, most importantly at the moment..."
"I was this idiot's Master." Without opening his eyes, Joachim reached up and slowly pulled Hineri's arms from him, making the woman drop down and away from him. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and then looked up to the eyes of the man who stared down at him.
The man positively filled the space. Kisarin seemed normal in comparison; this man was gigantic. Despite his size he was properly proportioned, nothing seeming too big or too small, no awkwardness to the eye. In fact, the man could have easily been described as beautiful; there was an other-worldliness in the glow of his skin, and his hair was long enough to reach down his back, smooth as silk.
He positively radiated power, both in appearance and aura. He looked like he could have bent steel with ease, or simply tear through it with his bare hands. His very presence forced the air from the room, and the breath from their lungs. Each word spoken caused the wood around them to creak. In his hand he held a large cup, filled with some form of alcohol; it was so intense that they could easily smell it, even when he had just entered the room.
"So you're back."
For a moment, the two stood in silence, staring at one another. Suddenly the dish was raised high, faster than a blink-
The Wanderer simply shut his eyes.
The dish was brought crashing down on his head, shattering, shards flying every which direction. Limply Joachim went down, falling to his knees with his head bowed; the Master's hand went out to side with the continuation of the movement, sending the cloak around him fluttering almost angrily.
"So, after fifteen years, you decide to return. Return, mind you, after leaving like a fool. I warned you that you were not prepared, and that if you left you would only find misery for years. And what is it you're dealing with now? Some half dead thing from the past? You were not prepared there, and froze. Now, countless are dead because of your failures." The Master turned, and began to step back towards the stairs. "Get out of here, be gone. You have no friends here."
"That may be the case..." The Master paused, slowly looking back to Joachim as he began to stand, shakily. "But his Master certainly is. And if he does not gain the help of his Master, then even more will die."
"You made your bed, boy. Now lie in it."
"He will lie in the bed he made for himself. He will not make others lie in it."
The palpable shift of atmosphere had Hineri climbing off of Joachim's back before he even needed to move her. Her pupils twisted normally until the massive man reached the bottom of the stairs - nay, even the middle of the stairs seemed too much for the small woman to parse. Her pupils turned to spirals, and she wobbled off to the side, finding the nearest potted plant to pitch over and vomit into.
And while she suffered just a little, Remy seemed to be having the time of his life. His lips were stretched into a wide and toothy grin, one of his elbows resting on Nia's shoulder as he leaned there, fingers folded in delight. The rising fear and intense discomfort over the room was mind-numbing, and he was kind of loving it. The beating on Joachim seemed to only amp that excitement up. The Commander nudged Nia a little, giving her a bit of a rouse to the woman's shoulder. "Are you seein' this?" He muttered, snickering a little with a fist up to block his mouth a little. His snickering only grew a little, Remy having to hunch a little to try and calm the rising shake of his shoulders. For whatever reason 0 he thought this was hilarious.
By this point, Hineri was trying to recover enough to go to Joachim's side, but as soon as she put herself on a vertical axis, she was back over into the pot, throwing up again. Kaishu didn't seem to mind much, even being stood beside the woman. Instead, she seemed a little distracted, fixated on the scene. Her body shuddered, as though snapping out of some daze she was in. Lifting her arms, she crossed them over her chest, gloved fingers fidgeting and tip-tapping against her arms. Shutting her eyes, the princess shook her head, now.
"We don't have much time to be debating this. It's either help, or don't. It won't be long until we're racing into combat. This doesn't only affect us, no - rather, the destruction will spread here, too, if he fails. If we fail." Peeking open her eyes, hooded as always and keen on the Master. "Even if you were to put an end to Yaguar, there will be casualties. He'll be sure of that. Some Master you'll be if you allow that to happen."
With the scene happening before tham- Vi seemed to be one of the few who wasn't visibly shaking at the entrances of The Master. Aside from the twisted frown on her lips as she kept to the edges of the group and moved between the bar, grabbing a cloth and water, before going to Hineri's side with the items in offering.
She kept her mouth shut up until Kaishu began to speak. Vi spoke to the rest of Joachim's group with a level gaze, "I would advise you think your words a bit more before addressing The Master like that. He will not hesitate to do to you what he just did to him." Nodding towards Joachim on the floor.
Nia stood in silence, her hand over her open mouth as she watched the scene unfold in front of her. It would be wrong to say she was shocked or disgusted, but rather, like Remy, she was just soaking in the schadenfreude. However, she was more focused on the girl losing her lunch than the Wanderer getting beaned again. She took back every ill thing she had thought about this inn and tabled every demand she had made; being witness to this moment was more than enough. "I can't look away," she muttered back to Remy, barely succeeding at holding back her own chuckles. It'd be unbecoming to appear to take too much delight.
She bit down on her knuckle and looked away until everything was stifled, following the nod from Vi to Joachim. She grimaced. Perhaps she had grown fond of the Wanderer, or perhaps it was guilt for laughing at him—Remy's influence and nothing else, she told herself—but she felt obligated to help him. She brushed free of the Commander and took a confident stride over to Joachim, although she looked at no one else but the Master. She didn't really care about what Vi had said, even if it had been intended as a warning instead of a threat, since the woman had no doubt that she would be fine. It was nothing other than pure cockiness, but there was enough fuel around for Nia to make the Master instantly regret any actions he might take. He wasn't the only one who wouldn't hesitate.
"Now, now," said Nia to the Master, producing a handkerchief for Joachim to wipe the blood off of his face as he got up, "was that really necessary? If you want us to go, then we will go. It's your inn, after all, and it's in your right to pick and choose your guests. C'mon, Joachim. There's really no point in arguing, is there? Let's go."
Nia started to head to the door, but stopped in her tracks. She put a finger to her chin and cocked her head, as if she had suddenly realized something very important. "It's just really going to be a such damn shame," she said, the condescension thick in her voice. "When word gets out, I mean. I can hardly imagine the awful things they will say once this idiot fails," she jerked her thumb back towards Joachim and continued, "after all, the student's only as good as the teacher. Oh, although, I'm sure there would be some who would argue that the student was better this time, because while they might be an idiot at least they weren't a coward."
"Well! On the bright side, all of the rumors would at least finally put this quaint inn in the spotlight; absolutely everybody would know about it. Not a bad business move, I suppose, assuming there's anything left after all is said and done," she added, turning back towards the Master with a shit-eating grin on her face. She could only make it clearer that she was willing to expose the Master's location if she spelled it out for him. Now, she just had to hope that what Joachim said about him using the inn as cover meant that the Master did not want to be found. That, or that he was a man of pride and wouldn't be able to stand having his name tarnished.
"Unless..." she drew the word out, keeping her eyes peeled for any flying dishes.
The Wanderer was standing fully once again, but it was clearly he was barely holding on; there was a tremble in his legs as they wobbled and threatened to give away at any moment, so bad that he moved the sheath that held his old, broken blade from his side to in front of him, using it as a crutch for support with both hands. Though others were speaking around him, his gaze remained on the Master, unflinching.
In return, the Master's gaze matched his, even as Kaishu appealed to simple reason, and Nia resorted to a threat against his secrecy. Once again they stood there in silence, the Wanderer's gaze pleading and yet firm, while the Master's expression was one of borderline contempt-
When he looked to Kaishu finally, it became one of utter irritation. "You. One time around wasn't enough, was it? Still have more mistakes to make?" One hand went out then, empty, as he said, "Talbot, one of the newer bottles. The cheap stuff."
He then slowly looked over to Nia, and that was when utter contempt entered his gaze. "You're as stupid as you look if you think I'm frightened by your threats. I have lingered here since the Creation, have been a part of the cities that have risen and fallen here until, finally, Kyora was brought into being; some cocky little shit from H'kela who can toss a little fire won't be the reason why I'm finally revealed." His other hand went out, and once again he spoke to Vi, saying, "The biggest bottle, Talbot. I don't care what it is."
The Wanderer took one shaky step forwards, and immediately the Master's piercing, purple-black gaze snapped back to the much smaller man. Joachim slowly straightened, his shoulders no longer slouching and him using the sheath less as he struggled to stand on his own two feet.
"Tomorrow, the King of Barcea will be arriving with his companions. He wished to be finished with this affair before then, but he has been delayed so much that, inevitably, they too will become a part of this. He does not ask for himself, but for the King; finish his training, so that he might better help the King."
Slowly, the Master's gaze narrowed, a look coming over his face as if he had smelled something foul. "The King of Barcea, eh? The one currently wielding the Gift in a proper way? Of course he would be getting involved." Where he held his hands out still, the Master's fingers slowly curled into fists. For a moment, it looked like he was preparing to bludgeon Joachim to death.
And then, quite suddenly he crossed his arms, the movement so swift that it caused his cloak to billow outwards, before it settled around his arms once again. "Very well then, this is what's going to happen: You lot will stay here for the night quietly. Tomorrow, when the King and his little entourage arrive, we're going to chat," Here the Master shuddered, as if disgusted with his own idea, "and I'm going to see if your words hold any weight. If they don't, then I'll put you down like the mistake you tried so hard to prove yourself to be."
Slowly, the Wanderer nodded. He did not ask what would happen if things went in his own favor, and only said, "Thank you, Master."
The Master was already turning on his heel, but had enough time to make the roll of his eyes quite apparent. "Don't thank me yet. Your fate hinges on mortals, of all things; you're probably as good as dead."
About halfway up the stair, they heard him call, "If I hear any damned music I'm bringing this place down on all of your heads."
Vi had to literally bite her bottom lip to prevent herself from sighing disapprovingly at the antics that The Master was progressing towards. As she had turned her back to go behind the bar she couldn't help but roll her eyes at his order to bring him a new bottle. She had been reaching for some of the dustier bottles that no one touched before pausing and watching the scene unfold further-still quiet. Even as The Master told her to bring him an even bigger bottle she watched-trying her hardest to avoid the oncoming smile on her face as she looked from The Wanderer to The Master and back to The Wanderer once more. The day was just getting more and more interesting by the word.
She took this time to look back over the group as part of her mind wondered if they were going to have enough rooms to accommodate everyone. She was sure with a bit of creative cooking and time management she could get everything ready in time.
As her mind wandered she was already making her way towards Joachim with a cloth and a small container of medical supplies. "I've never seen someone survive a hit that hard." She passively said as she began organizing the supplies. "Since you are staying with us tonight, how many will be arriving tomorrow? I'd like to have everything stocked in the event The Master relents and aids you." Vi was speaking as though the man she called her boss hadn't just threatened bodily harm to the man she was about to give first-aid to.
Meanwhile, Nia was busy trying to cool her head, telling herself things like, 'only an idiot would call me stupid' while simultaneously visualizing just what a little bit of fire chucked behind the bar would do. Nia knew that even if the Master was too cheap to stock the strong stuff and too lazy to replace the likely wet and molded wood she could still prove him wrong. All it would take was a flick of the wrist and this place would go up like an oil-soaked rag, lighting up the night for all of those around to join. Of course, she knew she couldn't do that; no need to upset Joachim yet, especially after he mentioned that they were to rendezvous with the King here. Still, it was a therapeutic thought, even if it didn't stop her from opening her mouth.
"That guy's a total jerk! Just because your old doesn't mean you have the right to be a total sourpuss," said Nia, flopping on a bench near Joachim. Her voice shifted once again into a nasally, mocking tone as her face scrunched up. "Nyah, I'm older than cities, look at me, blah, make your bed, you cocky little shit," her voice fell into her normal tone, "I'll cocky little shit you." She folded her arms over her chest and slouched. "What a prick."
"But you're fine," she hurriedly said with a wave of her hand once she noticed that Vi was still around, before quietly adding, "so, uh, that bath situation? How's that looking?"
With all this commotion, Remy couldn't help but nearly laugh himself into a coma. His hands rubbed at his cheeks, pulled at his bottom eyelids, tried to massage the smile from his visage as best as he could. He tried to no avail, and ended up biting into his fist while stifling what laughter he could. The Commander's muffled snickers and nasally chortling died off as the Master retreated upstairs, shoulders still shaking with delight. Through the verbal beating laid out in front of him, he remained relaxed and leaned on the wall with arms crossed. Carefree. The only time he moved was to stop Kaishu from moving. After the comment from the Master, the only thing that could be used to describe the prodigy in that moment was... enraged, perhaps. Maybe even visceral. Quickly, she'd begun to step forward to follow the man up the stairs, but Remy was quick to slap his hands onto her cloaked shoulders, giving her a tug back even as she tried to wiggle away.
"Pick your fights, mausebär. This isn't one you're going to want to fight, huh?"
Begrudgingly, Kaishu let up, wrenching away from Remy with a huff. With a mutter under her breath in Cantian, she very quickly turned heel to storm into the dining hall, away from the group and instead to find a table to do what Remy could only assume, with his knowledge of the teenage mind, was brood.
Hineri, in the meantime, was happy to finally stop vomiting enough to wipe off her mouth and rinse it with the water Vi provided her. Leaning on the taller woman, she still looked a bit ill, her pupils wide and seeming to turn in little rotations, albeit slowly. "Hineri feels... as though she is dying..." Which... maybe wasn't too far off the mark. When she finally recovered, she straightened up, finally not needing to use Vi as a post for her balance. Her face was knit into a deep frown, watching the Master ascend back into the rooms above, before it finally lit up in a smile. Addressing Nia this time, she tucked her hands back into her sleeves.
"Hineri will draw you a bath right away, Miss. You still have time, Hineri thinks, before you... are once more stuffed into a close space with that man..." The thought made her spine tingle with pure, unadulterated terror. Her face very briefly turned terrified again before she perked up once more. "She can show you to a room... with the nicest bathroom, too." She added this final part with a playful whisper and a wink. As much as she wanted to go to Joachim, work sadly came first.
Meanwhile, the Wanderer had given a light shake of his head, looking over to Vi and what she carried. He relaxed a little, before beginning to count to himself, soon resorting to his fingers as his eyes seemed to glaze over briefly. When he finally spoke, he said uncertainly, "He believes... nearly twenty will be coming. He cannot be certain, simply because his comrades are the type to... recruit, as they go along. It will be quite crowded."
And, with that, he drew the small packaged he had been carrying with him closer to himself, giving just one glance outside.