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Alternate titles include:
  • certifiable mess
  • afraid of people
  • just doing my best
  • (but hey, at least there's pizza)

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[ Webers-Tappisserie, Town Square ] | [ Lark Weber @Wolfieh, Ehren Weber @Wolfieh, Lyra Weber @Wolfieh, Baudile Dubosque @YummyYummy ]

[ Ayla's Dorm ] | [ @Ti ]

Kaspar strolled down the street between dormitories, looking quite casual despite the turmoil inside of him.

Willa was likely already at his residence, no doubt frenzied by his absence. Hopefully Adala’s presence could keep her calm—but right now, he couldn’t be too concerned about it. He’d cut it close by leaving so late, but the boy didn’t want to disturb the flow of time. Well, no more than he already planned to.

He stopped outside the door, vague memories of a mid-night escapade bringing him—and a scaly companion—to this same building. This time he’d be using the door and actually speaking with the occupant, though.

And thus, softly rapped the knuckles of Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft upon the door of Ayla Arslan.

“Sqqqaaaaawwwrrr!”, a loud squeaky roar comes through the door as the boy rapped his knuckle upon it, accompanied by scratching at the bottom upon it. After a moment, the scratching stopped as the door gets unlocked to revealed Ayla carrying Asier within her arms as the Puff-lion was sniffing eagerly toward him.

“He is only dangerous if you show fear, So if you are scared, don’t get within biting distance.” She winked toward Kaspar, as she lowered Asier back upon the floor as she reached out to take upon Kaspar’s hand to bring him into the Lion’s den and well within biting distance of the puff-lion, and the lion cub of Varrahasta herself as she placed kiss upon his cheek.

As the pair walk through the door, she gestures for Kaspar to make himself comfortable as she moved to the kitchen area to bring out the welcoming set as she brought the boy coffee. a range of colourful macaroons to enjoy, and some dried-meat for treating the puff-lion too. “What brings you to see me, Kaspar?” The metal spoon clinking within the cup as she stirred the coffee as she smiled warmly toward him.

Kaspar sat down at the table, crimson eyes taking in the small spread before him. He took some dried meat in hand, holding it down to be happily devoured by the Lion Cub’s lion cub. Once his fingers were determined to be empty enough by Asier, he picked up a macaroon in a pale blue and nibbled on it, one hand wrapping around the coffee offered to him.

He looked up at the warm smile of Ayla, and felt that warmth slide into place in his chest. There was a sort of guilt, too, in knowing that she seemed so at peace and he was here on less happy business. He’d be nearly at a loss for words, in a different time. If it weren’t for… Well.

Kaspar was hyperventilating. From an objective standpoint, he understood that—but it didn’t change the burning in his chest, the panic in his mind. He’d kept it together in front of Willa and Adala, but he’d practically run the second the door had shut. No matter how fast he ran, he couldn’t outpace the coming change.

”I’m not—I’m not me, I’m… I can’t be him, I can’t, I don’t—” He sucked in a deep breath, nearly choking on it. Something, pained and desperate, wrenched itself from his throat. ”I don’t know who I am.”

If it weren’t for her. The glimpses of future he saw in her eyes.


He knew exactly where to start.

“In Torragon, you told me to be who I wanted to be,” he said, voice steady. “And to find you, once I knew what that meant.” His eyes flickered up towards her face, and he saw so many choices laid out before him. “I want to be who I am.” He felt like the floor had been pulled out from underneath him, like he was dropping into a great chasm. But rather than flail… He was going to let himself fall. And maybe the ground would never come.

“I am not Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft. And I never have been.”

Ayla raised an eyebrow at the final comment as she looked toward him. She is not exactly sure what to make of it, but there is a pause, “You’re not my Kaspar?”. She turned to look toward Asier who appeared calm in his presence, which rules out any kind of illusion magic.

There is silence for a moment as she thinks back to Torragon, the refuge, and how they found… “...Felix, Kaspar is your brother's name, isn’t it?”, she sighed in relief as she extended to take his hand, holding upon it.

He hesitated for only a moment before relaxing his own hand into hers. He took in her words, trying to think how best to redirect her.

“He’s not my brother. Not… by blood, at least,” he stated. “Kaspar Elstrøm… is an only child. I… was born the son of artisans, a few months after Kaspar. By the time we were eight, he was sickly and I…” He hesitated, fingers shaking in Ayla’s grasp. He looked down at the drink in front of him. “I hurt someone my mother loved.”

“Supposedly, Kaspar died. We looked strikingly similar, so… The Elstrøms took me in. Raised me as if I were Kaspar. They provided proper training so I wouldn’t… So I’d be able to help people. In exchange, I would be their heir. No one would ever know the truth.”

He gently tightened his grip on Ayla’s hand, finally looking back up to meet her eyes. A small and tired smile tugged at his features. “You were close. Kaspar—the real Kaspar—never died. He has the tethering. I didn’t know until I met Felix, and it was… difficult to understand. But I was never Felix, or Kaspar. I’m just…. Alaric.”

Ayla looked toward Kaspar, no, Alaric, with interest. The story certainly out there but it wasn’t unheard of for families to treat family members like pariahs due to suspected tethering. Even her own aunt was made to ‘disappear’, and there were rumours that due to her own more fragile stature, she was likewise afflicted and came to befriend Maura Mercador, a girl just like herself.

She stood up from the chair as she came alongside Alaric. Her arms stretched around him to give him a hug, pulling his head against her as her fingers caressed through his hair as she cradled him there against her for a heartfelt moment. She gently broke the embrace as she looked toward him, “Hola soy Ayla, it is nice to meet you, Alaric.”

It had been difficult to let down the shield. For half his life, it was what he depended on. Shielding the truth, at risk of dishonoring his family (at risk of endangering himself). Shielding his emotions, at risk of endangering those around him. When it finally came down… All of it came down.

He relaxed into Ayla’s embrace, breath stuttering but something so warm in his chest. It made it easier, to trust the decisions that brought him here, those he still had to act upon. As she pulled back, introducing herself, the boy laughed. Wet, through tear tracks on his cheeks, but genuine. He smiled, perhaps wider than he had since he was a boy, and whispered, “It is nice to know you, Ayla.”

She smiled as she moved to sit herself back upon her seat then began to pour herself another cup of coffee, using a teaspoon of honey and a dash of milk, and moved to refill Alaric’s cup likewise. “Is your intention to come out publicly and renounce your… adopted parents and titles?” she continued to gaze upon his features as she pondered his intentions, “What are Felix’s… Kaspar’s… thoughts on this, what would he like to do?”

Alaric wiped his eyes, taking a deep sip of his coffee as Ayla refilled it. Felix has told me he wishes to have nothing to do with the Elstrøm family,” he explained.

”As for what I want… I never wanted the titles or the inheritance, but that was my duty to uptake. Fortunately… this will change soon,” he said, voice rather even. ”The Marchioness Katka Elstrøm is with child. They plan to ask me to abdicate all ‘birthrights’ and join the Stresian Order.”

Kaspar lived alone.

The Stresian Order did not make for a terrible life. He adjusted, as he always had. He kept mostly to himself. The other monks left him to his own devices as often as they could. He projected solitude like a wall, and it was respected enough.

Kaspar wasn’t happy. Not that he had been, after he became Kaspar. There was a brief time, in his first year at Ersand’Enise, but… His studies kept him from dwelling too much.

His fingers drummed on the table as he sipped yet again from the warm cup. ”Even with an heir, revealing the truth could greatly dishonor them, and endanger me. I will gladly abdicate. But with my abdication, they will lose all rights over the course of my life. I will not cause them trouble, but neither will I take the path they have chosen.”

He sighed, silent for a moment. Glancing back toward Ayla, he smiled softly. ”The Stresian Order is… not what I want.”

Her eyes continued to focus upon his features as she leaned back in her chair. “Are you asking for my advice, my assistance, or simply my friendship?” She lent forward as she pinched one of the macarons between her fingers, popping it into her mouth as she bit into it, smiling as she savoured the taste. “You have the power to choose what you want, you have only to wish for it. What does Alaric wish for?”

Alaric watched her eat the macaron, that soft smile never leaving his face. ”Alaric simply wishes for a chance at life with the person he cares about,” he murmured. ”For the opportunity to choose. And, if he’s so lucky… To be chosen in return.”

He died alone, too. Not of old age, not of sickness. He was murdered.

He died alone, in the dim light of a study. He didn’t see who—just felt the twisting of his chemicals, too fast and too powerful for him to fight against. The ground, as his hands found it, and then his arms—and he was curling in on himself. It was dark outside, and then it was dark inside… And then it was just dark.

He didn't know who, or why. He could guess—perhaps something to do with the strange manas in his blood. Lightbringer and Demoncaller might pose a threat to someone's ideal future. Maybe a fool, trying to weaken the Elstrøm family by killing a "beloved son". Or maybe the Elstrøms themselves.

He didn’t know what kind of funeral a monk of the Stresian Order earned. That wasn’t knowledge gifted to him—if the Elstrøm family provided for something. If those he knew at Ersand’Enise were even told of his death. If Ayla was.

Kaspar died alone, and he was sure he was buried alone, too.

He took a steadying breath, seeming nervous again for a moment, but his voice was gentle as he continued, ”Given the opportunity… I would choose you, Ayla. Your friendship, always, but… If it is what you want, I would choose something more.”

Ayla paused for a moment as she was caught off-guard by the boy's comments. She had been thinking about how she could rescue Alaric from his plight, how she could tell him that they had no power over him, and he had all the power over them. She was thinking of what she would do for him, bare her fangs toward the Elstrøm family and make them cower before her. Yet, when given the choices offered before him, it appeared Alaric had chosen a fourth, an unspoken choice that even she did not consider.

After a loud silent pause, she finally broke the silence, “Alaric Arslan does have a ring to it.” She moved to take one of the macarons from the plate as she chewed upon it slowly. She struggled to string her thoughts together coherently, as her mind was racing. There was a lot to consider, and it is far from simple. She is already betrothed to another, and whilst Alaric, a boy of no notable standing, title, and had no ties to consider, she could stand to lose everything with such a decision. Even if he had asked such as thing as Kaspar Elstrøm, it would have been a difficult decision, though the loss in prestige would be something she could at least recover from. “Do you… know what you ask of me?”

His soft smile saddened, though understanding sat upon his features. ”I do,” he admitted softly. ”Perhaps not by heart, but by mind.” Alaric sighed, eyes returning to his coffee.

”Your friendship, always. There is nothing more I need, and nothing more I would press you for. If it came to pass that there could be something more,” he paused, trying to find the words. ”Then I would be glad. But… I know what we wish may not always be possible. I lack noble blood, but that is a lesson this nobility taught me well.”

Ayla frowned as this situation forced her to appear shallow. She truly cherished Alaric, and more than a friend at that. Already that loss of their innocence was missed as she recalled the boy struggling to understand the concept of a sandwich, and has decided to now open up a stall which specialized in providing them.

She moved her hand upon Alaric’s, keeping it held there as she squeezed upon it. “We don’t want you gone.” She sat and waited with him, as she moved her fingers to intertwine with his. She was stuck, she was lost, and it felt like all she could do was physically hold upon his hand tightly, scared. “Perhaps there is a way for you to stay by my side. We could always hire a mage of your potential, then you don’t need to go anywhere, especially not to the Stresian Order.”

He was content to sit in the silence between Ayla’s words, her fingers wrapped in his. The feeling of flesh against his hand, after all these years, still brought a tremor—but it brought comfort, too, and so he did not let go. “Even if there was not a station for me, or should I need to spend some time away…I will not set myself upon the order. Their work is noble, but… It is not mine to perform.”

As he spoke, Alaric’s fingers plied the gentlest pressure into the back of her hand, back and forth like the plucking of some silent tune. ”No matter the circumstances, or what solution we find… I’ll be there when you need me. Even simply as a comfort, inept as I may be. You have been a support to me from the first moment. I could offer no less than the same in return.”

Ayla nodded and smiled warmly to him, giving the hand three squeezes. She sat with him for a silent moment before she let go and removed it. “You would need to excuse me for a moment, we need to freshen up.” She excused herself, waving as she moved toward the washroom as she left Alaric in the company of Asier. The puff-lion cub looked up toward Alaric as it tilted its head to the side, approaching as it pawed toward him, requesting more treats from him.

Alaric was easy to convince, palming a few treats and offering them to the cub with a soft smile. It was good practice for when Varmkorv finished hatching, though he wasn’t sure how well a puff-lion compared to a froabas. Slowly, so he didn’t startle Asier, Alaric slid himself off the chair and onto the ground, trying to convince the small beast into his lap with bribes of treats. Asier peered up toward Alaric as if he pondered the decision, before committing to the treats as he crawled upon the lap to sniff and bite upon the treats, accepting ear scratches from the boy.

After a while, Ayla returned, freshened up as she appeared to have washed her face, applied some make-up, and seemed more pleasantly fragrant than before. “Thank you for waiting, we would appreciate your support”, as she smiled warmly toward him, though pausing as she looked very confused at him laying upon the floor.

Alaric was still on the floor, though his position had changed. What greeted Ayla was the boy sprawled across it, his tongue half sticking out as he stared dead-eyed at the ceiling. Asier appeared to be gnawing on his arm, hampered only by the sleeve between him and the mage’s flesh.

Ayla walked toward him as she picked up Asier, the puff-lion with a treat in its mouth as she cuddled him within her arms, “Oh well, we liked that one Asier. Now we got to try to hide the body now.”. She smirked as moved over and sat beside him. Her hand stroked through his hair as she giggled, and then flicked his nose.

The faint red of a blush crawled up Alaric’s cheeks as Ayla wandered over, like he’d somehow not expected to be seen. He tried to play the part convincingly as the girl spoke with Asier, mouth twitching to avoid breaking into a smirk. The boy’s blush deepened as fingers moved gently through his hair, the flick of his nose earning Ayla a soft sound, half surprise and half amusement. He shifted his head, leaning against her leg as the mage pulled a treat from his dampened sleeve, offering it upwards to the puff-lion. “Perhaps you could chew on the body, that would help hide it,” he whispered to the pet, a smirk finally settling on his face as he glanced up towards the Arslan beside him.

Ayla lowered Asier upon the floor as she moved his head upon her lap, allowing him to use it like a pillow. “There are a good few years in front of us, Alaric. Your tuition is paid for, you are an accomplished gift user, the academy can offer you a stipend…” and she leaned down to whisper by his ear, The price for your silence doesn’t need to be cheap either. She pinched his ear playfully, “Perhaps we should approach Afraval, we can support you if you desire.”

Alaric’s eyes roamed over Ayla’s face, quiet interest as she talked. As she brought up the future, the struggles it may hold… And the solutions, as well. He felt like he could see the claws she was holding back, ready to sink into the Elstrøm family. He sighed softly—something peaceful at the simplicity of the moment, and something scared at all that lay before him.

“I’ll think about it,” Alaric whispered, eyes drifting shut.

As they spent time together, somewhere nearby… A snake, dastardly thing that it was, slithered through cracks towards the pair, looking to infiltrate their peaceful room. Its scaled body pushed into the improperly latched door, prying it from the frame. With a hiss, it darted forward—and was stopped in its tracks by the teeth of a fearsome puff-lion cub, biting into its neck. With several vigorous shakes of his head, the threat was put to an end. No snakes would bite on this evening.

[ Nox Arcanum ] | [ @Wolfieh ]

The festivities of Nox Arcanum marched on, others still celebrating in the early hours of Ipte. Despite that, she imagined Kaspar had returned to his dorm, likely even asleep—as she herself had been, less than an hour ago.

Her fist connected with the wood again, pounding heavier this time. He wasn’t a light sleeper, so perhaps it would take some effort to rouse the boy. Maybe one of his small dragons might wake him, if the knocking was loud enough.

Willa glanced back, to where Adala stood just a few feet away, fidgeting. The girl’s eyes were tired—she’d been sleeping less than she should of late. Though she would need to return hastily to Helbahn, Willa was going to make sure she rested before leaving.

They waited impatiently after the third set of knocks, until another minute or so passed. Finally, with a grunt of frustration, Willa reached a hand down to the knob. She’d break it if she had to, twisting harshly, but—

The door swung open. Kaspar stared blearily at the two figures on his stoop, barely having time to register the first face before Willa was stepping in, the second figure closing the door without so much as a glance behind her. She looked familiar—did she have a sister? He remembered a girl with a similar face who would watch him as often as she could, but she never did approach.

Willa looked sharply around the room, unoccupied save for the small blue and green dragons peaking up with interest by the large, partially cracked egg. “Kaspar?” she called out, trepidation in the word. She hadn’t broken the door… It had been unlocked.

Her feet carried her swiftly to the bedroom, eyes sweeping over each bundle of clothes and lingering on the bed, as if hoping he might still be resting there. She called his name again, bitterly expecting no reply, before returning to the main room.

“Maybe he’s still out? We could come back in the morning,” Adala suggested softly.

“He needs to know now,” Willa but back, face creasing into an apologetic look as her gaze hovered to the girl’s face.

”You need to tell him. As accurately as you can remember.”

And so she began. And soon, Kaspar had sat down heavily at the table, crimson eyes boring into the wood. Tomsøthet sat on his arm, staring blankly around the room while his master listened in shock.

“Why is it so important?” Adala asked softly, nothing but genuine concern in her tone.

”We need all the time we have to plan.”

Kaspar tried to shake himself into focus, but simply ended up—somehow, he didn’t remember—with his head buried in his hands.

“You don’t think they would…?”

He looked up, meeting Willa’s eyes. He could tell she shared the same thought—they already had, with Felix. Who knew what they might resort to, if he did not get out of the way so easily.

Willa sighed, distraught, and sat down at the table.

“Truth be told? They might.”

A small gasp escaped Adala, and subconciously the tutor was already reaching out a hand to grasp hers comfortingly. It was instinct, when she’d taken in the girl and her younger sister after they first began working at the estate—sharing her quarters, making sure to keep them safe.

”I… I’ll do it.”

The silence had stretched so long that Adala startled at his voice. Trying to steady it, he pressed on, “What choice do I have, anyway?”

“There must be something we can do.”

She put the words into the empty air, hoping it might somehow change things. That some answer may be revealed.

”Are you sure this is what you want?”

He knew the answer. He thought about Ayla. Her warm hands, and bright eyes. The way she made him feel safe, and comforted. He thought about freedom, to chart his own path—to choose what knowledge mattered to him.

None of it stemmed from this.

“It can be.”

Floorboards creaked as Adala stood, gently tugging Willa to her feet. “If he isn’t here, then we’ll just have to go looking for him,” she said softly, pulling the older woman out of despair.

”I… I need some time. To think. Thank you, for what you’ve done tonight.”

The door shut softly behind him. He wished it had been louder. He wished it were in pieces. He wished he were, too.

Willa nodded sharply, taking a breath and turning to the door.

For the first time, she saw the piece of parchment hung on the back of the door by a nail, his looping handwriting in the center.

[ Nox Arcanum ] | [ @Wolfieh ]

Kaspar’s months passed… quite tamely, all things considered. His time in the Forked Tower provided significant learning and practice on Dark Magic, but after that week, there wasn’t exactly opportunity to learn or practice. Instead, his studies were relegated to those overseen by the academy. In the wake of a new forbidden magic, even his research into Blood Magic fell by the wayside, remaining little more than theoretical.

Despite his keen knowledge that he’d developed feelings for Ayla, the boy did not admit them to anyone—least of all their subject. He would, someday. But it was a matter of timing, and their were other things he felt she deserved to know first. He’d picked out the right moment, though—in no small part thanks to Ahn-Dami. Now, he simply needed to wait.

He did, surprisingly, begin spending much more time with another student: Ingrid Penderson. After his purchase of a lifetime supply of barbecue sauce, she had approached him with an offer. Over several discussions, the two agreed to be business partners—Kaspar, with the idea and the sauce, and Ingrid with the funds and experience.

It had been itching at the back of his mind since Torragon—like some faded memory he couldn’t quite grasp. Sausages, served like sandwiches… He blamed it in part for the inspiration of Varmkorv’s name.

Varmkorv, who’s banded red shell had begun to crack. Who had not yet emerged, but was preparing to. Tomsøthet and Blåbærterte spent more time by the egg than ever, almost as if they fancied themselves its parents. Feit-og-Sint would watch it from underneath the cupboard, staying awake into the long hours of the night.

In the recent week, Kaspar had been much more focused on preparing his outfit for Nox Arcanum. Brilliant reds and golden accents, smatterings of black in the details. Something regal, deserving of his noble blood—he smirked a little, every time he thought of it. An intricate metal mask, in the shape of a wolf’s head. No one else would know its significance, but he remembered the tapestry that had hung over Alaric Weber’s bed.

Hand-woven by his father, the face of a wolf on a swirling, deep green background. One that his father would look at with a sense of pride, before he’d lean down to whisper its meaning to Alaric. “That’s our family crest. Not like nobles, who signify their name,” he would say, lips pressed against his son’s hair in a smile. “No, it’s what we stand for. We’re a pack. That means we stick together, always.”

He wondered what happened to that tapestry, after. If they had another child, and passed it on to them—or if his mother was too scared that it might turn out just the same. If they stuck together; did his father feel the same fear Lark had? Did he agree to send Alaric away, or did he only learn afterward? Did he forgive his wife for it?

At eight, when he still cried at the nightmares, he’d sometimes wonder—hope—that his father was out there, trying to find him. Because they were a pack. They stuck together.


Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft slid the mask over his face, departing into the early hours of Nox Arcanum.

Yet, as the night of Nox Arcanum drew closer, so did many other things…

Three shadows shifted in the soft, dancing firelight on the stable floor as gentle rain beat against the roof. One belonged to a girl of perhaps sixteen; the other, who bore some resemblance to her, was a few years older. The third was a horse, half-saddled.


The older figure stopped her movements around the horse and fixed the younger with a glare. Swallowing, the girl continued, “...You have everything you need?”

Securing the flap of a saddle bag, the intended rider nodded once, sharp and determined. “It’s not much. The journey won’t be long, if I ride as fast as I intend to,” she supplied, pulling a few small bundles out of the folds of her coat and slipping them into a second pouch on the saddle.

The younger girl was quiet for several long moments, biting her lip and twisting her fingers in nervousness. Finally, despite her quiet voice she all but blurted out, “Are you sure about this?”

Adala sighed, resting her forehead against the saddle as she paused for a moment. “Liese…” she whispered, hesitating for a moment. “It… It’s the right thing to do. I owe Willa this much.”

Liese’s face twisted in sympathy. “And the boy?”

Adala chuckled, smiling a little. “That’s up to Willa. But he deserves to know,” she added softly.

“You’ve got a soft spot for that boy,” Liese teased, blush barely noticeable in the soft torchlight.

Adala grinned, stepping closer. “Half the estate does. And how could I not, when my baby sister has been sweet on him since the first day she saw him?” she teased, wrapping Liese in a hug as the younger girl’s blush became suddenly much more visible. “But what they’re going to ask… It’s not right, that he doesn’t already know,” she added, voice sadder as she stepped away from her sister. “I’m glad you told me what you heard.”

She put a foot in the stirrup and pushed up, swinging a leg over as the horse shifted minutely beneath her, nickering softly. “Keep yourself out of trouble while I’m gone, you hear? If you need anything, you come down to the stable and talk to Emmeline, she’ll look after you like I would. I left her a note saying our aunt is sick and I’ve gone to take care of her. If anyone asks, that’s all you know, got it?” Her voice was stricter now, and Liese nodded sharply.

“Good,” Adala replied, taking the reigns in hand, hood of her coat drawn up over her head now. “I’ll be back soon, I promise.”

“You better be,” Liese whispered, voice thick with worry and nearly drowned out by the worsening rain. “Be safe, Addy. And... Gods’ speed.”

With one nudge of the heels, Adala’s horse was moving forward and out of shelter, hooves splashing up water on the paved stone as they trotted away, towards the Estate Entrance. Liese watched until she saw their shadows at the distant gate, stopping to speak with the guards before being waved through. She watched until their shapes disappeared into the darkness beyond, and then watched a while longer.

LOCATION: Noble Dormitories

Kaspar left the tavern while the party was still in full swing, other competitors joining in the drinking. His head was spinning with the effect of three shots, two primes that had been purged and one shot that still lingered in his system in full, boosting his manas. He walked down the darkened streets, more of a wobble in his step than the boy was capable of recognizing.

He got back to his dormitory, an ornery Raspberry Drake winding around his legs and nipping at his heels, waiting for the door to be opened. Kaspar pushed it open after a moment of clumsily undoing the lock, and Feit-og-sint slithered in, darting under one of the cupboards. The quiet sounds of him devouring fruits he’d stashed away echoed through the front room.

He filled a cup with water, ignoring the curious stares of his two smaller dragons nestled in beside the froabas egg. He chugged the liquid, realizing it was a mistake when it hit his stomach all at once, sending it roiling through his innards. He stood, stumbling towards the door and sinking to his knees to clutch the bucket there, dry heaving. Nothing came up, but it took several minutes for the noble to regain his composure, beads of sweat soaking into his collar.

He sat back on his heels, and immediately a small body wrapped around his hand, sniffing at his skin. Looking up at him with eyes just a little too big for the head they were trapped in, Tomsøthet seemed almost concerned for his wellbeing. Gently scooping the reptile into his palm, Kaspar returned to his spot at the table, pushing away the now-empty mug.

Tiredness was beginning to pull at him, and for a moment the boy considered simply laying his head on his arms and giving in. But his crimson eyes trailed Tomsøthet’s curious expedition around the table to the other side, and for the first time since Willa had come to visit, his gaze landed on the portrait he’d created. Stretching his arm out, he caught the edge of the paper between his fingers and pulled it closer, finally taking in what he had drawn for the first time since creating it.

When he’d finished it, awed though he was by the skill in his art, the boy had dismissed it as the musings of a lovesick fool. He knew what this was, though he hadn’t at first… And none of it was productive. They were feelings he couldn’t allow to remain, at least not at the surface. So the boy had been pushing it down, restricting those emotions the same way he did all others. For days it had been like this, the noble staunchly ignoring the whole thing, yet never finding it in himself to simply burn the portrait like he thought he should.

Now, though, with the intoxication swimming in his blood and plying his mind, he truly drank in what he’d created. It was the only true portrait he’d ever done—a few sketches from a much younger and much less talented Kaspar seemed to imitate human faces, but they could not really be counted.

Something in his chest tugged, like it already knew that he would destroy the sketch come morning, resolve hardened by the softness of his altered state. He was already to his feet, sketch in hand, before his mind even fully caught up. Tomsøthet scurried to the edge of the table, reaching out front legs to grasp Kaspar’s sleeve and swing onto it, dangling before climbing the fabric and clinging to his forearm.

“I might need your help,” the boy whispered, lifting the dragon until it could slip into his vest. Snuggling in, it glanced up and chirped, the closest thing Kaspar supposed he could get to an agreement. He leaned down, snagging a stray quill, and steadied his hand to scrawl something on the corner of the page, doing his best to keep the words neat despite his drunkenness.

His fingers turned the knob of the dormitory door and he stepped out into the streets, darker and quieter than when he arrived.

There was only one place where the sketch could truly belong, and it wasn’t with him.

By the time he got to her street, Kaspar could only hope he’d been walking with something resembling dignity. He’d not noticed any other wanderers, but that was far from an assurance that they hadn’t noticed him. He counted the buildings as he strolled down the street, mustering as much as he could into looking like something other than a drunken student about to do some minor breaking and entering.

A small rush of relief coursed through him as the proper dormitory came into view. One of the windows was open, letting in the warm air of Ersand’Enise. Glancing from one end of the street to the other to be sure he wasn’t being watched, Kaspar approached the opened window. He was surprised to feel heat coming out of the room as well, but only for a moment before he remembered that she had two dragon eggs to keep warm.

It was now that he pulled the green dragon from his vest, holding the edge of the sketch up to his mouth. Tomsøthet grabbed it obligingly, though it was really more of an instinct than an intelligent response. He was set on the window ledge and blinked up at the Helbahnese boy, eyes bright but devoid of thought. Pulling a few treats out of his pocket, Kaspar tossed a grape through the window. It landed on the table, but bounced and rolled down onto the seat of one of the chairs.

Nevertheless, Tomsøthet was off, diving through the window and jumping onto the chair. The paper slid from his mouth and onto the surface as he devoured the grape. Kaspar cursed, and tossed another that landed and stayed on top this time. Tomsøthet was quick to scamper up the table and mow it down as well, but had no interest in bringing the sketch with him. The noble was trying to figure out how to get the dragon to do what he wanted when a few soft thuds and some shuffling came from the next dormitory over.

Panic laced like ice in his veins as Kaspar frantically pulled out another grape, getting the attention of his companion. The green creature dove back through the window, nearly taking off the tip of his master’s thumb as he chomped onto the treat, oblivious to the speed with which the boy had turned and begun walking hurriedly down the street. He glanced back only once he got to the end of the street, catching a figure in the distance who seemed to be at least as drunk as he was, wobbling into the distance with a single shoe in hand with what he guessed, from the bare skin of their back, was their shirt.

LOCATION: Noble Dormitories
INTERACTIONS: Willa @Wolfieh, Mentions of Ayla @Ti

Kaspar had journeyed back from the Manson de las Mil Ventanas the perfect picture of a stiff-backed noble, cool eyes concealing the turmoil within, rage at a situation that was not his to rage at. He closed the door to his dormitory with perfectly reasonable force, thank you very much, despite the way two draconic heads poked themselves up from the blankets surrounding the still-shelled Varmkorv. He paced to and fro, fingers itching, and took only a few minutes to realize what he desperately needed.

The boy ventured to his room and sat cross-legged upon his bed, still in all his finery, charcoal moving swiftly across the page as he sketched. His mind was barely registering what the noble was drawing, lines connecting and pulling from memory without hesitation. It wasn’t until a knock sounded at the door, some hour or more later, that he set aside the paper on the dining table as he passed it. Charcoal-coated fingers grasped the knob, pulling it open, and he looked coolly at his tutor before stepping aside and allowing her in.

“How did it go?” she asked, walking into the dormitory with a slight smirk. Eyes fell to the dining table and the drawing on top, and the smirk grew. “I suspect it went… quite well,” she remarked, holding up the paper.

Kaspar didn’t need to turn and look to remember the portrait. A finely-crafted rendition of Ayla, as she had looked the first time they spoke. White space like the sunlight in her hair, charcoal lines pulling at it like the gentle wind had, an essence to her features that spoke to a personality he had not yet known that day. He could almost hear her teasing voice, Draw me like one of your Perrench girls.

He’d never held interest in drawing a Perrench girl—nor a portrait of anyone. Not until today. And then, only one of a Torragonese girl.

Kaspar didn’t turn. Instead, he unclasped the cloak from around his neck, gold details dirtied by charcoal that would need washing, and hung it on a wall hook. “It was a dinner. Food was eaten, shoulders rubbed, families met. They announced Ayla’s betrothal, and I spoke with Augsuto about the derby,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Ayla? The one you had that date with? She is betrothed, and didn’t tell you?” Willa asked sharply, head tilting in indignation.

It was then that Kaspar turned, gently grabbing the portrait from Willa without even looking at it, and returning it to the table. “She did not know,” he replied, moving past his tutor to the fireplace, grabbing up the stone striker and attempting to kindle a blaze within. “I won’t ask how you knew about the picnic, but it wasn’t a date,” he added as the kindling caught and began to creep towards the logs already in place. He straightened, pacing towards the shelves containing his cookware, and pulled out a teapot.

“Did you want it to be?”

He didn’t stop scooping water into the pot, but stayed silent as he affixed it to a hook above the fire. Crouching, staring into the flames, Kaspar said softly, “What I want… Does not matter.”

The Melon Derby

He threw himself into practicing for the Derby harder than ever—most days now melons made for an egregious portion of his meals (and all of his dragons’) as the boy worked on creating them with Binding, better each time. They were used to train the small contingent of dragons Team You Could Never had obtained, and sent home with teammates afterward.

The day of the Derby, Kaspar was relocated to a more stagnant role, which was perfectly fine by his count. It was more… social than the boy was used to, dealing with Zeno Bucks customers and exchanging melons for specialized merchandise created by his own manas, but he hunkered down and dealt with it. He was not alone, as Olga remained in the building to grow melons, and the two chatted back and forth in Eskandish, initially discussing tactics but soon transitioning to more mundane topics. He asked for her opinion on the name Varmkorv and while she didn’t respond, he could hear the disgusted sigh over the chattering outside.

They went over the names of his other dragons too—The grape dragon, Tomsøthet1 made her laugh. Blåbærterte2 was suitably adorable for the small Blueberry. Finally, for the Raspberry Drake, she agreed that Feit-og-Sint3 was fitting, if not flattering.

Zarina’s anger partway through the Derby was met, at least on Kaspar’s part, with signature level-headedness. “You want revenge, yes. But why half-ass it?” He turned from the counter for a moment, shrugged, and added, “If we turn everyone against them, we may defeat them now. If we turn them against each other, their difficulties grow in every way.”

Despite the advice, the noble boy left his team to do most of the aggressing. When envoys were sent out to other Zeno houses, he nearly asked to go to Zeno Zemana’s, simply for the chance to speak with Ayla. But, knowing it was neither the time nor the place, he instead followed Kol to speak with Marci’s team. On the way to the Zeno's house, Kaspar asked for his opinion on Varmkorv. Kol seemed to think it was a fantastic name, but laughed far harder than Kaspar thought it called for. After speaking with Marci, she was not fully amiable to the suggested plan, but helped in her own way—and that was enough for Kaspar.

In the end, Team Afraval and Team Pravda Æresvaktr came in third place—which, with the first place team holding the Melon Supreme, felt more like a second place. Not that their strategies were lacking, but given the near-guaranteed win the Supreme granted, no one had much chance of topping it. Zeno Mozaru’s students and Blaze of Glory were in a league all their own—for now, at least.

1— Empty Sweetness
2— Blueberry Tart
3— Fat-and-Angry

Assani 29

LOCATION: Noble Dormitories
INTERACTIONS: Mattia @Wolfieh, Jakob @Wolfieh

Mattia’s knuckles rapped on the wooden door for the third time, still hearing no response from inside. He checked the papers in his hand again, confirming the address for this “Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft” was correct. If I have to say that full thing more than once, he’s getting an extra citation, he grumbled mentally. Ten froabas eggs showing up in the hands of inexperienced students—he already had a feeling that Ersand’Enise was going to be a headache for the next five years. For more than just D.R.A.G.O.N., he could hope.

Glancing back, he watched his fresh-faced partner shift from foot to foot, unable to keep still. Jerking his head toward the door, Mattia took a step back. “Jakob, your turn to bruise your knuckles.”

The younger man nodded briskly, stepping up to the spot Mattia vacated in front of the door, and seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then, squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw, Jakob pounded on the door once… twice—

It swung inward, causing the agent to startle a little. Behind it, hand still on the knob, was an unimpressed looking boy in a surprisingly full state of dress, considering the early hour. As his crimson eyes wandered passively between Jakob and Mattia, the latter felt a keen prickle of irritation as he put two and two together.

Bastard wasted our time just so he could don his “full regalia”. Fucking nobles.

“We are…” Jakob cast a nervous glance back toward his partner, but the man didn’t take his eyes off of the boy in front of them. “We are with the Draconic Regulatory Association—”

“You are here about Varmkorv,” he stated matter-of-factly, Avincian words carrying the same peculiar lilt that Mattia recognized in Jakob’s Eskandish accent.

A different kind of confusion seemed to set into Jakob’s stance as he responded, “…Varm korv?”

Without a reply, the boy stepped back, gesturing them into his dormitory. As they passed through into the space, he gestured to a corner of the room overtaken by a heap of blankets and furs. Nestled inside, half-peeking over the top, was a banded froabas egg.

“The egg. Varmkorv,” the student offered, not seeming to notice the way Jakob stiffened uncomfortably.

The agent swallowed before asking, “And you are calling it… varm korv?”

“Yes. Varmkorv.”


“Am I missing something here?” Mattia asked in irritation, not feeling particularly guilty in the way his young partner jumped.

Jakob glanced to the boy, back to his mentor, and stammered, “It’s—well, varm korv is…” He hesitated, then stepped closer and whispered into Mattia’s ear, “It’s Eskandish for—”


Bringing a sharp eye to the youth who was still just watching their interaction, Mattia straightened himself up and dredged up his best authority voice. “Son, you’re not planning on eating this dragon, are you?”

The boy leveled them with a hard stare, eyes frosty though the rest of his demeanor remained stoic. “No. I will be raising it. Why would I eat this?”

Mattia barely resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Then why would you name it after—”

“Look at it!” The boy interrupted, gesturing to the red-orange egg with dark bands. “It looks like varm korv! Therefor, I name it Varmkorv! It makes perfect sense!”

Silence sat between the two inspectors and the student as they (or Mattia, at least) stared tiredly at the egg.

Finally, voice somewhat hushed, Jakob offered, “It…does kind of look like varm korv.”

This was going to be a long day.

LOCATION: Societies Fair
INTERACTIONS: Willa @Wolfieh

Kaspar had already narrowed down his list of options before the fair had a chance to begin. He and Willa had spent the past several lunches going over what information was available on each to determine what societies, if any, would be a good fit for the boy. He had selected several which seemed to be highly academic, but Willa had insisted he have an even balance of clubs selected for a practical nature and clubs selected for recreational interest. In the end, his list was... quite a bit fuller than either had expected at the start. He was going to need to do a serious amount of trimming over the course of the day.

To his benefit, the boy was good at turning an objective eye and working quickly.

One of the first organizations he visited was the Draconic Order—given his custody of Varmkorv and some of the requirements set out by D.R.A.G.O.N., it was an absolute must. He'd already read about it through the informative paper Ayla had given him with the egg, so the boy was quick to slip in, power through the process of signing up, and slip back out just as quickly. There would be plenty of time for socializing later—he had twenty-one more clubs to sort through, the sooner the better.

A few choices were made for him: he received no referral for the Strakhalists, something likely to do with his lack of social connections, and failed the entry test for the Valgardiers. He was at least told it was a close fail, but it offered no comfort to a boy who was not looking for it. They were simply two more stricken from the list.

Both the Carnation Accord and the Indigo Front were the sort of common, academic clubs he expected to join... But they were also among the clubs his parents had encouraged him to join. Old, prestigious... It was harder to put them out of mind as he turned and walked away from the booths, but he still managed.

One by one, his options were narrowed as Kaspar paced through the fair, spending a short amount of time at each of the concerned booths. By lunchtime, he had painstakingly whittled twenty-two down to seven.

“And you're sure these are the seven you want?”

Between bites of his lunch, Kaspar glanced to the tutor eyeing him harshly. “Yes. I think they are the right choices.”


He'd be lying if he said he wasn't expecting something like this. Willa was not questioning his judgement, but rather making sure he was confident in it—that he'd put actual thought into the choices and not simply picked for the sake of picking.

Draconic Order. Varmkorv needs the best of me, and it's the best manner of assuring I meet the standards set by the Regulatory Association. Egalite Fraternite—it provides a good opportunity to assist others and learn about the political climate we are shifting toward, while giving an insight into the lives of the kind of people I would be charged with, should I become Marquis. The Essence Club. They work a lot with plants, and the students running the booth seemed... Very friendly. Pragmatics. It is a... Well, a pragmatic choice. A good opportunity for learning in a hands-on environment, without the prestige of the Carnation Accord or Indigo Front. The...” He paused briefly, cheeks tinting slightly pink, and seemed to double down focus on the paper in his hands. Willa could read the list just fine, but she was going to make him say it.

“The... Sleuths. Working on the key critical thinking and logical deduction skills while furthering social contacts with acquaintances in the closely-associated Fingersteeplers.” Kaspar tried valiantly to ignore the way Willa chuckled under her breath, moving quickly onto the next club which was... Only marginally less embarrassing. Society of the Grapes. Good for increasing social influence among other members, while offering a chance to... Forgo typical societal requirements. And, lastly, Surveyors. A chance to help others while working on skills in binding and collaboration, among others.”

Willa was nodding, seemingly satisfied with his responses. After a moment of quiet reflection, she asked, “Why did you decide against joining the Aesthetics? You enjoy art quite a bit.”

The boy sighed, leaning back on his hands in the grass. “I don't know if I want to share or discuss my sketches. I do them simply because I enjoy doing so, and because it offers an opportunity to rebalance. Being part of a group may hamper that. If I do want to sketch with someone else, I can always ask Ayla.” It had been a difficult choice to make, in large part because his friend was planning to join the club. But he only had room for seven, and he felt confident in the choices he had made.

Kaspar was quick to spend the afternoon going from booth to booth, completing the application process for each and shuffling away from the crowds around each club. He'd spent all day stuck amongst hordes of students, and the noise was beginning to press against his mind. Satisfied with the efficiency of the day, he retreated back to his dormitory to compose some new sketches of Varmkorv to join the others scattered around his room.

Assani 30

LOCATION: Draconic Order Stall
INTERACTIONS: Silas @Tackytaff, Zarina @YummyYummy, Jocasta @Force and Fury

Kaspar had nearly considered not going to the second day of the fair, but ultimately pulled himself out to spend some time around the stalls for his new clubs. He was wandering away from the stall for Draconic Order, having spent quite a while listening to other members talk about their experiences with dragons and getting tired of the crowd. It was as he headed south that the noble spotted something unusual. Approaching, it looked familiar... Similar to what they had absorbed in the desert. An aberration, tiny compared to the beast in Torragon... But this one was white, and shaped like a girl. He almost felt he could identify the silhouette, but it danced on the edge of his mind.

Looking around, he spotted only one other individual—the blind boy, Silas, who he'd first met when more students arrived at the Refuge. He remembered briefly showing the boy to his room, but they hadn't interacted much outside of that. Still, he seemed to be making for the aberration even as Kaspar stood beside it, so he waited for the other student to get within range. “This one is... White,” he offered, unsure of what the other boy could sense with the Gift. Curious, he reached out a hand and... touched it.

It didn't feel like touching the one in the desert. There was no cloudiness overtaking his mind. In fact... It felt clearer. As the wisps of white seemed to curl along his fingers and wrist, absorbing into his skin, Kaspar felt energized. He wondered if Silas was feeling the same thing, noticing in his peripheral that he had also reached out to the aberration. As the refreshing energy flowed into him, though, it seemed to push just to the edge of discomfort, a faint prickling beneath his skin that seemed to crawl up his arm and through his body as though it were in his veins, swimming through the crimson blood within. It buzzed like electricity with a warmth like sunlight, something wholly unlike any other sensation he'd experienced—only in part because it seemed to press against him from the inside out.

Even as the last wisps vanished, the feeling persisted, and Kaspar took several steps back. He rolled up the ends of dark sleeves, inspecting his skin to look for any visual change to match what he was feeling. Nothing seemed to appear, though. He looked up to ask Silas if he felt something similar, but the boy had already vanished. Kaspar turned in a different direction, towards the Academy, searching for... something, though he wasn't sure what.

The feeling seemed to be gradually fading as he walked. The most unnerving part was that Kaspar was unsure if it was actually leaving, or if he was just getting used to the sensation like a faint ringing in his ears. For the briefest of moments, he entertained the thought of going to a Zeno and asking what they might know—but consumption of aberrations was against the rules of the Academy, and he didn’t feel the need for a harsh lecture or grueling punishment. Willa was even further out of consideration, then. Any punishment she doled out would make the Zenos look tame.

His wandering brought him towards the southeast corner of the Academy grounds, and long before he got there Kaspar could see some kind of commotion. By the time he arrived it seemed to be resolved, though the boy could tell it appeared to have been a brief altercation between Zarina and Jocasta.

The latter did not let him rest for long—a disturbance, it seemed, to the north. It was too far for the boy to sense, but Jocasta’s range was more than plenty for this—as were her temporal skills sufficient for getting them to the scene.

Unsure as to what exactly he saw on the other side of the portal, Kaspar nevertheless stepped through.

Collaboration with @dragonpiece

Ingrid struggled against the combined weight of Manfred and Dory pressing her down into the ground, restricting her joints to make sure she is unable to cast anything. The momentary strength she drew from her madness couldn’t pull anymore out of her untrained body as the mixture of lactic acid and Dory’s own internal chemical magic left Ingrid in a lull, only resisting in spasms when the chem magic loosened its hold of her. Her mind made had deteriorated to a feral beast, only craving wanton destruction and the power of the black aberration. Friendship no longer mattered as even Dory, someone she cares for, was nothing more than a punching bag for her.

Kaspar stepped through the portal Jocasta had offered, eyes immediately catching sight of the atomic mage seemingly driven mad. He was quick to kneel, trying to help Dory and Manfred subdue Ingrid while others filtered through the gateway. As his hands pressed into her shoulder and upper arm, something seemed to spark like an electric shock in the boy’s mind. He could feel something broken within her. Like she had been untethered from something, though he couldn’t tell yet the nature of it. He didn’t remember feeling such a thing when he’d gone mad in the desert, but this time he was unaffected. Curious prickling under his skin, he began to reach deeper into these connections.

Ingrid hadn’t become aware that other people had arrived to see her in this shameful state as she was chemically inhibited. But what she could feel was something pushing in her in a way that couldn’t be explained. It reached deep inside of her and she could feel the aberration madness was almost fighting this feeling. Her mind told her to run, a feeling she never felt under this madness. She spasmed more like fighting for dear life.

Kaspar retracted his hands for a moment, worried that he’d hurt Ingrid with the way she had spasmed, but it seemed to be the madness consuming her. Tentative, he placed his hands back and tried to examine further. It was strange to sense these disconnections—in many ways, it felt like sensing for injuries or obtrusions in the way taught to Binding mages, and carried some familiarity from his studies. But there was a metaphysical twist in the link, like what he was feeling was real, but it wasn’t really there. As he dug into what his Gift could feel, it came to him best like a bridge—or a series of bridges—that had collapsed in the middle and been swept away. There were two whole edges, but no way to get between them. Yet… something in him, perhaps the healer, tried to shore up the frayed ends on either side.

Ingrid sense of self left, any energy used for struggling turned inwards to fight against the intruder in her head. A scene like any other, a cosmic space filled with stars. These weird wiery bridges seemed to be hanging from to from what seems like 2 hemispheres. On Ingrid’s side was a place of comfort. She existed in multiple times on her side. Studying in her room as her servants bring her small snacks. A sleepover with her friends and her sisters. Her time in class when she was praised for her curiosity. Laughing with friends as they achieved their goals. Laying in bed barely covered watching her lover come in. Comfort was on her side.

The opposite of her side was dark: her fears. Awkwardness, inadequacies, failure. Countless nights of worry. Death of innocents, a long dreary life of fake smiles and false achievement. And whatever was trying to reach into her was trying to connect these white wiry bridges. The more the strings connected, she could see her comfort slowly fading. Ingrid lashed out in a panic trying to protect herself from the horrors across the bridge.

The abutments were crumbling. Something like panic flitted through Kaspar as the damage threatened to eat away the shore itself, so intense that he worried it was Ingrid’s madness seeping into him. “I think I can help her,” he uttered, voice soft as a breath at first. Then, solid—the confidence and the comfort those around him needed, “I can help her.” He wasn’t sure how. But he’d started, hadn’t he? If the boy had been able to support these intangible bridges, however little at first, surely he could do more than that. First, though, he needed to keep everything from crashing down. Speaking steadily with as much calm as he could muster, he tried to guide her. “Ingrid, I’m Kaspar. We have some classes together. I can help you—I can make it stop. But you need to let me.” He didn’t know if the words could reach her, through whatever hold the madness had, but he had to try.

Words echoed from the other side of the bridge, warping the astral space that separated the 2 sides until its waves collided with her side of the bridge. At first she feared it, as the wave only looked like it meant to harm her, but instead it only destroyed some of the scenes behind her. Her head stung as it felt that the side of comfort drew from Ingrid’s essence to repair itself. She screamed in pain as it felt like a hole bored into her memory to fix the damage. As she looked back at her supposed safety, she saw deeper wants. The bridges has started to rebuild and with it, the side of horrors seemed less terrifying, still much worse than what she had on her side of the bridge.

It felt like light was coalescing in his blood. Not the brightness, the visible aspect of it—but the energy, buzzing against his manas and perhaps even through them. The comfort of a lamp in a room swamped with shadow. It sank into his bones, seeming to seep into and from the very marrow, burning away the fear he felt at seeing someone like this.

“You’re going to be okay, Ingrid. We’re going to help you,” he encouraged, trying to reflect this light, to redirect it to the one who truly needed it. He felt like the gaps were beginning to fill, like the metaphorical and metaphysical bridges were being repaired and heading towards reconnection, but his confidence was shaky. They still needed to be linked, and part of him felt like Ingrid still needed to reach from the other side—a guide and a lighthouse, something to help him find the edges he needed to join.

The astral sky that acted as a gap between the 2 sides slowly began to light from the other side. It was warm as if the sun was on the other side and it belonged to the terrible scenes of the other side. But the warmth was odd. It made her feel at peace while the side she stood on continued to bore into her. Her flesh felt like it was pulling from her skeleton as the sun burned the scene behind her. She fell forward and touched the bridge. At first she worried that it was going to hurt even more than the anguish of staying where she was. But instead she was reminded of the headaches she would get from studying all night and Åsa bringing her some herbal tea to help her get through it. A moment that was slightly painful but real. The other side looked less horrifying for a second and instead seemed unnecessarily vicious. But It started to seem slightly better than where she was. She began to move.

Kaspar expected the edges to snap together sharply, like metals influenced by Magnetic Magic. Instead, it felt like threads weaving and pulling taut, knitting Ingrid back to reality. Like fiber sealing an open wound. Skin, pulling itself into one piece. Healing. It felt like… healing. Was this something fueled by Binding Magic, then? Some facilitation of her own ability to repair the damage, accelerating the rate at which she expelled the madness? Or was it something entirely different? It seemed unique, like nothing he’d ever managed before, but he couldn’t understand how to rationalize it—and he couldn’t spend time doing so now, as he was solidifying those connections, stabilizing Ingrid’s path back to reality.

As Ingrid tried to stand to start walking on the bridge but it felt as if the side that once gave comfort shot barbed hooks into her, trying to drag her back. It was hard as even with pain growing with every step, so was the unbelievable comfort it was providing. But she was scared. Scared that it was a lie, she needed to keep going. Every step brought back more memories, the struggles and satisfaction of actually doing could not be replicated. The barbed hooks broke as she went closer and closer to the other side and as she completed her crossing they snapped off and she was free to be who she was. The Light kept growing and the darkness was annihilated in overwhelming light, blinding Ingrid. When the light faded, she could see Kaspar looking over her, And she could only see that same light in him that freed her.

A wave of relief swept through Kaspar as Ingrid’s eyes turned to him, reflecting recognition and understanding. He could feel the energy beginning to pool in his veins, as though no more needed to be given away. The boy leaned back slightly, pulling his hands away, and held her gaze steadily. “You’re alright. We’ve got you,” he consoled, remembering how his tutor would comfort him after a bad dream. Head tilting slightly, the Lightbringer asked, “How do you feel?”

Collaboration with @Force and Fury

“You’re a Lightbringer,” said Jocasta simply. She’d brought herself over as a weapon of last resort for, even as powerful as Ingrid had become, the tethered doubled her. She folded her hands in her lap. With the group having dispersed somewhat and Ingrid having gone with two of the Centuries, she was close to alone with him. “At least… I think so,” she amended. “Did you take in one of the white aberrations?”

Kaspar clenched and flexed his hand, turning it in the daylight as though that might help him understand what had happened. Jocasta’s voice pulled him from the inspection and he looked to her, clear confusion bright in his crimson eyes. “I’m a… what?” he asked softly, almost a murmur as she continued. Slowly, he nodded his head. “I… yes. One, with Silas. What… what did it do?”

“I uh… may have tried to sound a bit too certain,” the blonde admitted, making a bit of a face, “but you could feel something happening when you touched her, right? You felt yourself rebuilding her connection with reality somehow?” She tilted her head to the side, “At least, that’s how it’s been described to me.”

Kaspar pursed his lips for a moment, considering. “It felt like a bridge, I think,” he admitted, “And like… warmth. Energy.” He turned to face Jocasta fully, remembering the way it had felt against the inside of his veins, and leveled his eyes on her, awaiting some sort of explanation.

In the event, the first thing that he received from her was the distinctive sensation of a sonic dampening bubble. “Walk with me?” she asked, setting hands to wheels, “Or you can do the walking.” She didn’t wait to see if he would. She started moving. “Take all and any of his with a grain of salt,” she began, “But it’s something I’ve heard of: there are mana types you can only get from aberrations. That is, unless a book I read a long time ago was wrong. I trusted my source…” She trailed off, glancing his way and smiling reassuringly.

Kaspar felt the bubble expand around them, and his face fell into something distinctly neutral as he recognized Jocasta’s consideration for subtlety. He kept up with her movements, listening to her words but not visibly reacting, eyes intermittently scanning their surroundings for anyone paying an unhealthy amount of attention to the pair. He couldn’t speak to the legitimacy of her source, but the boy believed Jocasta would not speak of this unless she believed it to be important. “And this… Lightbringer? It is one of these supposed mana types?”

She nodded somewhat solemnly, eyes scanning their surroundings. “You got it, bucko.” She shrugged. “At least if I’m remembering right and I wasn’t reading blather.” Despite their… sonically protected surroundings, her voice dropped anyhow, perhaps out of habit. “Don’t quote me on this but, if you wanna learn more, I don’t know how much help I’ll be. You should try the Seaside Exchange.” Jocasta wet her lips nervously and drifted to a stop. “It’s in Mudville. All sorts of goodies there.” She reached into a little pouch hanging off the back of her wheeled-chair and pulled out a little token. This, she pressed into his hand. “This’ll get you in. Policy is leave one, take one, alright?”

The more Jocasta spoke, the more a brick settled in Kaspar’s stomach. What she offered was no sort of official channel—but having healed Ingrid of aberration madness… He could understand why. If it was something he could do reliably, the implications were… complicated. It could rewrite the fundamental approach to aberrations. But if she could offer him anywhere to go, it meant he was not the first or the only. Though he’d never heard of a Lightbringer before, precedent would inform his next steps. His eyes scored down the token she handed him briefly before deft fingers slipped it into his vest, securing it in his wand pocket. “Thank you. Is there… anything else you can tell me?” the noble questioned, his own voice lowered.

Jocasta started moving again, slowly at first, as if thinking hard. Her brow furrowed and she worked her jaw back and forth for a moment. She turned to him and shook her head. “Wish I could, Sucker.” She grinned. “but I’m not even a hundred percent sure my source is one I should trust… not anymore.” Taking note of his ill-ease, she shook her head quickly. “Oh, don’t worry. There’s no real danger,” she assured him. “Even if you get caught, you’ll get a slap on the wrist at worst and people will dismiss it as quackery.” She coasted along beside him. “If it’s like I remember reading and if what you just did for Iingrid is any indication, you’ve got a gift that could help a lot of people.” The bubble began to lift. “Stay safe, friend. Don’t be a stranger, huh?”

He took her lack of further information in stride; it had been unlikely she would withhold anything else, so the result was unsurprising. This would require some deep research and personal testing, all of which seemed difficult to come by. There was the matter, too, of going to those who were far more experienced than himself. Willa would beat him like a rug if he admitted to going near an aberration, much less touching one. There were also the leadership of the Academy—though they knew too much of him and he too little of them to be comfortable revealing this information.

“If the opportunity is to help, I can only hope it will not be taken advantage of by those who do not deserve it,” Kaspar resolved with a nod towards the tethered girl. Trying to bring some levity to his voice as the sound dampening faded, he responded, “It would be hard to stay a stranger for long.”

LOCATION: Ersand'Enise
INTERACTIONS: Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft @Wolfieh, mentions of Ayla Arslan @Ti

She wasn’t sure why anxiety prickled against her breastbone, but the feeling was persistent.

The lake water was calm at midday, perhaps a bit swollen from the heavy rain of the previous night. A small pack of students near its shores appeared to be making a game of getting close to the ornery goose that prowled the arboretum. One in particular was tempting the gods as he got bolder with every attempt, waving his fingers in Mallow’s face and laughing at the outraged honks and wing flaps that followed in reaction. On his fifth try, the goose latched onto the fingers and the youth yowled in pain, shaking his hand rapidly to try and dislodge the beak firmly attached to his hand. Of course, it didn’t work until Mallow decided it would, and Willa chuckled as he retreated to his friends, cradling the hand once bitten.

He reminded her of a youth she’d once tutored, when she taught in groups before becoming the head tutor of the Elstrøm estate. Many children did, these days. But there was only one student of hers the older woman was concerned with today, as her silver eyes scanned the edges of the park, sighing to find no sign of the boy’s approach.

It was not unusual for Kaspar to stay away for several days; in truth, they only lunched together every two or three days, and this was only the second day in a row he’d been absent. But something coiled in the tutor’s chest, hair standing on end against a threat she couldn’t see or understand, like some sixth sense that knew this absence was different.

There was nothing to be done for it, she told herself as she gathered her belongings and began the short walk towards the Merchant’s Quarter. She was simply being paranoid, and the following day would almost certainly confirm it.

The confirmation was not what she expected.

No heavy-cloaked, charcoal-fingered teenager visited her that day, and the unease only continued to grow. By the time she snuffed out her candle to settle in for the night, it was a dull roar in her ears like blood. She stared through the darkness for some time, willing sleep to come and put her mind at ease. Tomorrow will be better, she coached herself, consciousness drifting away in an agonizingly slow current. Sleep found her, nonetheless.

And she dreamt of nights many years prior, when guards would bring a sobbing eight-year-old boy to her chambers in the early hours of Ipte because she was the only one who would console him.

She visited his dormitory on the third day of this sour paranoia, knocking lightly on the door well after classes had ended. No response ever came, and the thumping of her heart turned to fear and anger in equal parts.

On the fourth day a letter was sent instead, a short message inquiring to the boy’s wellbeing. It took all of Willa’s strength not to accompany it with admonishments, but by now the fear had overtaken the anger. She had not raised him to be this inconsiderate, to ignore common company to such an extent. Yes, that he might forget her teachings brought a gentle sort of rage, but there was nothing gentle to the bone-deep terror that accompanied the other possibility: that he was simply gone.

She prowled the city now, and spent a considerable time in Mudville searching for any signs that something unsavory had happened to her boy. She returned to her room to sleep for a few hours—and had not been able to sleep more than three at a time for the past two days—and it was a little past the second hour of Eshiran when she decided to visit the Arboretum again.

The second her feet hit the grass, something felt different. Soothing, almost. Like she knew already what she would find, and it took only moments of scanning the opposite side of the lake before her eyes came to rest on the picnic. Even from across the water she could tell he looked tired—the kind that would take days to scrub from his skin. But he sat with a girl—the painter he had mentioned, perhaps?—and they seemed to be eating. As much as Willa wanted to march over and grab him by the shoulders to ask where in the Gods he had been, her terror was calmed enough simply by seeing him in the distance.

Instead she sat down, cross-legged, to observe the youths. She couldn’t garner much detail from this far, but realized quickly that he seemed to be on a date. The boy didn’t move away when his companion grabbed his hand, as he had so often done for as long as Willa had known him, and she smiled. They seemed to be feeding each other, though even from here the tutor could read the awkwardness and uncertainty in his posture.

The event culminated in what appeared to be a gift, though—a rock, perhaps, painted in strange colors? Had the girl decorated it herself? Kaspar held it in his lap, seeming to curl around the present, and Willa expected him to offer something in return, but as the minutes continued on, he never did.

That would itself require a talking to. But not tonight, not when he was spending time with a “friend” and would likely need whatever rest he might get.

Willa returned to her quarters lighter, and slept easily that night.

She sat with a simple meal on the grass, enjoying the midday hour and the sunlight on the lake. It was not a surprise at all when she spied the form of her student approaching, and the woman stood to meet him. When he was within speaking distance, her hands found her hips and the woman called, “Could you not even answer my letter instead of leaving me to worry?”

He did not respond, and something in the boy seemed to slip as he got within a few steps of her, weariness settling onto his frame. He stuck his arms out and Willa enveloped him instinctively, his forehead pressing into her shoulder as he shook.

He hugged her the same way he had as a child, desperate and clinging as though she might abandon him at any moment. He hadn’t sought physical comfort from her—or from anyone, best the tutor knew—in more than half a decade. But he hugged her now, as though freshly woken from a nightmare. She did not let him go until he pulled his own arms away.

His cheeks were uncharacteristically ruddy and those crimson eyes watery as the boy glanced away, stiffening. “Sorry, I—”

“You don’t need to be.”

He looked to her, brows furrowed as though he didn’t understand. Gently, Willa put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him to sit on the ground. She moved her own basket of food closer to him and said softly, “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I… I hate sand.”

She quirked an eyebrow, but let the boy continue at his own pace. He spoke of a refuge in the sands for those with the Tethering, of the heat and the creatures of the desert. His words were vague, glazing over details on the exact dangers or how many were there to help, and it sat poorly in Willa’s stomach. But she could tell it had been hard on him, and didn’t want to push for more than he was capable of giving.

She hadn’t seen him so emotional in a long time, and felt a pang of pride. He’d always taken the lessons on control to heart, and seemed to think it needed to be a constant state of being. But he was growing now—whether it was his choice or not—and it gave the tutor hope.

He was quiet for a long time after he finished talking, and Willa could tell he was still chewing something over in his mind. Softly, she placed a hand on his shoulder and offered, “I’m proud of you, Kaspar. Whatever you’ve been through, you dealt with it. That is the best I could ask for.”

He seemed to stiffen, though, and closed his eyes. She could see the way his hands trembled, and the boy finally turned to her. Tears made their way down his cheeks now, and he shook his head slowly.

“I’m not the real Kaspar.” His whisper cracked, sticking in his throat. “I… I never have been.”

The boy might have learned well how to control his emotions, but Willa was the master who taught him. Whatever emotions bit at the surface of her being, it didn’t show. He needed her to be the calm one now, and she’d never dream of disappointing him.

As he described the real events that had led to his placement at the Elstrøm estate, he seemed pained and guilty. He talked of replacing the supposedly dead heir, of being told he could never talk about the truth, and peeled back years of information that explained so much about the boy she knew. The guilt seemed to deepen tenfold as he revealed the truth that had been hidden from even him, and of meeting the boy who had been cast aside because of his disease.

This was something Willa couldn’t fix. There was closure and redemption he felt he needed, and she knew only time and the first Kaspar could ease it. Truly, he didn’t need to be redeemed, and from the way he spoke, this other boy didn’t blame him either, but it was a feeling that Kaspar seemed to hold steady in his soul. All Willa could do was try to ease the burden he’d given himself.

“Adults made decisions that you had no control over. It wasn’t your choice, and it’s not your fault. I know it’s hard to accept that now, but at least try to remember that this wasn’t something that you did alone,” she soothed, knowing the words could not dig deeper right now but hoping desperately that he could at least remember them.

She spent much of the afternoon walking through the city, digesting the things Kaspar had told her. By the time she returned to her room the sky was beginning to darken, and she sat wearily at her desk.

An open letter was still laid out, and she remembered it had arrived yesterday. She’d only scanned the contents, looking for news of Kaspar, before casting it aside. Tiredly, she picked it up and began to reread the contents.


You are to return immediately to the Elstrøm Estate in Wentoft. Your duties remain to the Marquis, and I hope I need not remind you that Arvid Elstrøm von Wentoft is still quite alive, and his son has not yet inherited the position. Therefore, despite your misguided belief that Kaspar needs to be watched over, you have duties to fulfill at the Estate. Your expertise is required and others remain to be taught.

Send word immediately when you have left Ersand’Enise, and travel promptly to Helbahn by whatever means fastest.

You have ignored our previous summons. Allow me to assure you it would be most unwise to ignore this one.

Katka Estrøm
Marchioness of Wentoft

The Marchioness’s swooping signature seemed to sour on the page, and Willa felt barely-contained rage at the woman who had so thoroughly devastated two young children. Her and her husband both. Whatever Kaspar might choose about his future and his status, he would need the support of those who knew him well.

Pulling out a piece of parchment and dipping her quill into its inkwell, Willa’s writing was quick and sharp.

Marchioness Katka Eltrøm von Wentoft,

I am leaving the service of you and your husband, Marquis Arvid Elstrøm von Wentoft. I will not be returning to Helbahn, as I have found more pressing duties than those present at your estate.


Sealed simply in wax, the letter would find its way to the Elstrøm Estate in time. There were two other Elstrøms who needed to be cared for, their parents be damned.

L O C A T I O N | Road to Rigevand
I N T E R A C T I O N | Ulf @Force and Fury

Ulf was quite correct to assume Vali would hold little interest in overturning his decisions. The ranger was well-blooded and held little interest in the politics of power and status; he yearned for respect and admiration, not armies. His mind was drifting to the memories of what he had seen while scouting, plotting already the best manners of approach; men were but beasts, and he knew the minds of beasts well.

While those in Rigevand were unlikely to be as prepared for assault as Relouse had been, the company was being sent to look for pirates or smugglers. Both would be cautious, and near-assuredly expecting trouble of some kind. Some of them might run if escape seems viable, but Vali felt a number would fight. Bloodier than many of the villages he’d raided over the years, but wholly different than his most recent battle.

He stayed near Ulf as they journeyed, though the ranger was within his own thoughts for quite some time. “A subtle approach with thirty men would be difficult,” he spoke quite suddenly, green-blue eyes turned to focus on the youth who was leading them. “Any outlaws who notice our approach may try to run and avoid us altogether. If we cut off the main roads out of Rigevand, we’ll be able to snare our fleeing prey.” His tone was cool, and the way Vali spoke truly seemed to evoke the image of a hunter preparing their trap outside a warren of rabbits.

The Twice-Born did not bother to soften his words, though the suggestions were merely that. He’d been sent with Hrothgar’s eldest son because of the information he held, and because of his experience. It would be useless to dull any of that, and the boy would have to learn how to take advice if he hadn’t already. This was likely a test for the heir, a trial to overcome on the journey of proving himself, but it held some stock for Vali too. Success or failure alike would sit themselves upon his shoulders, and he much preferred the weight of victory.
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