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Birthstone Spirits: The Great Escape

Aires

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a part of Birthstone Spirits: The Great Escape, by birthstone_spirits.

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birthstone_spirits holds sovereignty over Aires, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Aires

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Aires is a part of Birthstone Spirits: The Great Escape.

38 Characters Here

Harper Calloway Fields [342] I heard this great joke from my sister. Ready? What did one ocean say to the other ocean? ..... Give up? Nothing. They just...WAVED! AHAHAHAHA*snorts*HAHAHAHA!
Tallyho Abel [316] Humans aren't that grand.
Haru Karokav [308] Listen and learn, you won't regret it.
Autumn Jones [245] "I wonder, what does fate have in store for me today?"
Kyle Keaton [243] "I got your back, dude."
Skylar Grayson [223] Just a little rough around the edges.
Falke der Herrscher [181] fei, Adventure?
Dorian Roberts [177] "No. No, I do not want to go on an adventure."
Xabier Sanchez [159] "There can always be warmth hidden in the shadows."

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“Please don’t do anything unfavorable.”
This was Haru’s response to Dorian—a sharp glint in the eye and a steel expression that essentially closed the warrior to any question of what exactly he meant.

Tallyho spent the rest of her day rather secluded. While Morgan offered to take the warriors out to the back gardens, Tallyho thought her time would be spent better just resting. Especially considering the events they were forced to partake in that weekend.

Trent hadn’t really been expecting much when it came to Dorian hunting with him. He hardly even remembered Dorian’s name. However, he did find that Dorian was exceptionally decent. He wasn’t a social idiot—spoke when he was spoken to, generally said the right things. He knew Dorian was doing a good job when he realized that at some point during the trip he became more annoyed with one of his regular hunting partners than the new warrior addition. Most of the conversations he struck up with the March warrior became a monologue for Trent which was, actually quite okay with him, but later in the trip he found himself wanting to get Dorian’s two cents. Keep in mind he didn’t treat the other young man as if he were a social equal or his best friend but he certainly showed some partial behavior towards the March warrior compared to the rest of his group and by the end of the day he was happy enough.
“You’re a good enough shot. We should do this again some time.” Those were the words Trent left with Dorian before retreating to his own chambers.

The parade began early in morning at the western entrance of Ve Marie’s walls. Tallyho had never walked in a parade before so she wasn’t sure about the preparations it took and where they actually started and how. Everything seemed unimpressive at first. They gathered each month warrior onto their own white horse and well-dressed stable boys steered them to walk in a specific formation. A variation of the fowl’s migration arrow with two warriors at the nose of it instead of one.

Tallyho tossed her cape this way and that. While Mildred worked fast in getting them the appropriate attire, Tallyho didn’t feel entirely comfortable. She was almost afraid that Mildred would scold her for shuffling her appearance like that but it seemd that she was too busy trying to figure out what to with the guardians.

“Okay, okay, how about we have all of you walk next to your respective warrior’s horses?”
Before she could get an answer she cancelled the idea out.
“No, no, no wait. There aren’t enough of you. All of the guardians are not present. That wouldn’t look quite right.”
“Could I stay toward the back?” Haru inquired. While he was happy to have things in place it wasn’t his intention to be in the spotlight at all.
“No, no, no! How about we have you all walk in a line shoulder to shoulder right behind the horses. Or maybe…”
Mildred droned on and on. And Haru, not intending to put up with anything extra went ahead and disappeared towards the back of the crowd with intentions of being hidden behind a few circus performers—somewhere on the periphery where he could slip onto the sidewalks unnoticed and not be a part of the spectacle.

When the parade first began Tallyho found that she really didn’t have to do anything but watch the crowd which was, in the beginning sparse, but became louder as they moved toward the heart of the city. The parade proceeded as follows: Five children in white (probably scooped up from the local orphanage) to throw fistfuls of rose petals on the ground. A host of cardinals bearing the seal of the Goddess (the Harbinger was not present), some of the King’s most valued knights, and then the warriors themselves followed by teams of acrobats, musicians and dancers.

Tallyho gently gripped the horse’s saddle, blinking every time a rose petal (which were also being thrown from the balconies by civilians) slapped her eyelashes. Many faces adorned the sidewalks, each red from screaming. Women fluttered their scarves at them and men bowed. Tallyho was reminded of the first time she saw the Harbinger and she cringed. And then a soft familiar song in the distance. It grew louder and louder and Tallyho looked around to see from which side of the street it came. The chords were strumming along with the words, a lyre and a lute. Tallyho’s face grew red and she looked about more frantically. And then she found the source of the music: A group of curly-haired blondes of different sizes and ages. They wore rustic clothing and flowers in their hair and on their wrists and ankles and the men wore them around their necks as leis. And without thinking Tallyho drew her small hands to her lips. This was a song of celebration—the kind of song they sang when a member of the community triumphed. And it was hardly a fight for them to overpower the musicians issued in the parade. Viewers who stood around them surveyed the ground with distaste. Women pulled their children away and the men obviously struggled over whether or not to chase them away because their eyes rested on Tallyho (who looked just like those people) and so there was an uncomfortable obligation to let them stay. And the sun people, loud and obnoxious and proud as they were watched Tallyho too. Years before she might have been embarrassed to see them again. But this time… she didn’t feel quite the same. Her lips played in an upward curve but she didn’t want to let them see. Them: the people she knew. The people who raised her with a village mentality. The children she played with years before, all adults now. The Yagi herself, who wore deep smile lines shamelessly. She looked Tallyho right in the eye and Tallyho was positive that her body might explode. And then before she knew it the singing was behind her. Tallyho turned to face them for as long as she could on a horse that would not move anywhere but forward and then the singing became faint and then there was nothing at all. And by then Tallyho was catching tears on her fingers and staring up at the many flags and tapestries hanging above her on laundry lines. She tried her best to make the tears fall back in her head.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Harper Calloway Fields Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Xabier Sanchez Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Ondine Azur
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By the time they reached earth-level ground, it seemed that Harper had quickly rebounded back to his usual self. Loud. Obnoxious. Cracking jokes inappropriately given the situation they just went through. Laughing. He seemed to be more like himself than he had been in a long time.

Yet he knew, as much as he tried to pretend he didn't, that everything was a little more hollow than before. A bit less soul-filled. Emptier. His personality had always been a front before, but now it felt even more like a mask. Thin plaster that hadn't quite dried yet.

He knew Ondine could see through it. He could see it in her eyes. A knowingness rested there...a "you're being an asshole, but I know why" look...was it pity?

He just hoped his friends wouldn't be as perceptive.

If he still even had friends.

Xabi had been whisked off for medical attention. Selfishly, Harper hadn't worried over him. There was himself he had to take care of. Walls and windows he needed to re-erect. Besides, those medics would be able to take care of him better than he could. Not to mention he remembered their promise to keep 'them' secret. It seemed in the heat of the battle, he had gotten careless.

For all the effort he put on during the day, night left him vulnerable. Dreams haunted him, kept him awake, worse than before. If they didn't feature the gargantuan cyclopean destroying New York City and eating him specifically, or the entire horde coming at him in the middle of a desert, then it was that moment when Xabi had nearly been offed. Except in his dreams, he always got there too late. And sometimes it was Sadie. Or Skylar. Or even Dorian. Once, it had been himself.

And when his brain tired of that, it was falling again. Falling and falling. Sometimes with the twist of falling into a Cyclopean's open mouth.

He woke up with shouts and screams from all of these. He would have apologized to his roommates, but to apologize would mean to acknowledge they had happened. By the second night, he was put in a room with just Ondine.

On tour, he lingered between Xabi and Skylar, making snide comments to whoever would listen. He groaned when he heard the plaza had four floors, and shook his head when the small woman who reminded him of a certain character from a certain Pixar animated film suggest that she could show them how to get to the top.

No sir. No sir indeed.

It wasn't until the music reached their ears that things started to take a turn for the worst.

At the first note of the soprano female voice, Harper's stomach dropped.

As they grew closer, his eyes widened.

And when he saw the singer in question, he nearly fainted on the spot.

Blond hair. Light eyes. High voice, singing operatically. Lilting above, singing something classical no doubt. And then that head tilt, that smile, the tonality of her voice...

He heard the name "Morgan" be said. But all he saw was Alice.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

Throughout the rest of the tour, small things stuck out. Differences. Alice's hair was lighter, and not as curly. Morgan's eyes were gray, not blue. Alice's face wasn't as round. Her lips fuller. Morgan's voice sounded just a little higher, and while Harper remembered Alice as playful and airy, she also had a sharpness to her that this princess was missing. There was difference between being footloose and fancy free and flat-out childish. And Alice had always been a bit more...collected of herself. Measured. A handful of hard candy mixed with two toffees. A leather jacket with a pink slip. A packet of strawberry pop rocks with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. One third reckless mixed with two thirds proper.

Morgan, it seemed like, was 100% pure sugar.

But then again, Harper used to think Alice was the spontaneous explosion of contradictions that just happened. This was before he realized just how precise of an equation she was.

He supposed her realizing vice versa about him was what had finally done it. That, and one other thing.

Still, he couldn't keep his eyes off her. Even when she left, his gaze followed, and she was all he could think about as he ate quietly. But now, while earlier Alice and Morgan seemed to blur together, he picked apart all the differences, and told himself that nothing would work out with Morgan because nothing had worked out with Alice. That made sense, didn't it?

Besides. Wasn't he happy with just Xabi?

Just Xabi...just Xabi...

uh oh.

That night he dreamed he was drowning. Seconds before he'd black out, Nella Fantasia would sing out in female soprano, muffled at first, but with each word growing clearer and clearer until it pierced through like a spear to the chest. Eyes open, he would try to reach back to the surface, a pale face surrounded by gold fluttering through the rippling waves, singing and singing, but just as he broke through, the face vanished while the voice continued.

On some iterations of the dream, he was sure it had been Alice singing. On others, Morgan. But for most, he was never quite sure who it was. And that, more than anything, was what made it so frightening.

For all the sleep he didn't get, Harper was back to his usual self the next morning. He spend most of his day split between avoiding the Princess while still trying to get a glance of her, and swimming. The bathtubs were basically swimming pools, and it had been a while since he'd been in freshwater. Swimming was blissful, and helped him clear his mind again.

The night passed without much incident.

The parade was the sort of frivolous spectacle Harper both hated and loved. As they suited him and the others up, he couldn't help but wonder how they could spend money on this when there were no doubt homeless and other issues to attend to. Such was the blessing of the rich. A blessing he himself had, as much as he might try to rid himself of it.

Up on the horses, it was a somewhat bland affair until melodies started to clash. Peering up from his steed, Harper spotted the crowd parting from a smaller group of blondes. It didn't take long for him to realize they were the source of the competing song. Not that he minded. He liked this melody better.

The group was loud, obnoxious, and joyous. And it suddenly hit him why they looked familiar. His eyes flitted to Tallyho, a few horses in front of him. Yep. Exact same hair. Was this her family? He smiled at the thought, but then his eyebrows furrowed. Her family seemed awesome. Why was she such a stick in the ass?

There's always one he thought with a small shrug.

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Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Kit Withers
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#, as written by Linnea
The following morning was not kind to Autumn. Her sleep was fitful at best. She rose from her bed with sore muscles and a headache that felt more like someone was stabbing her brain. Even today, she felt as if her eyes were being forced shut.

“How much longer?” She asked the spirits.

“A little while.” They replied.

“I mean how many days…”

“That depends on how much energy you use.”

Autumn sighed heavily and fell back on the bed. If only her room was the dining room. Then she could sleep and eat as much as she wanted and recover energy much faster. If only this was like paying rent and she could borrow some money.

Kit approached her room.

At least the spirits made sure to keep Autumn updated with the latest news. She was at the door before the guardian could even knock.

“Yeah?” She opened the door slightly, only enough so that she could peek out.

“Oh, you are awake. I just wanted to remind you that Mildred wants to see everyone.” Kit said, his brow furrowed. There was an odd smell coming from her room. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It was subtle, like fog.

“Is something wrong?” Autumn asked, noticing the curious look upon his face.

“No, nothing… You just need to start getting ready.” He dismissed it, knowing that Autumn had rather odd hobbies.

Autumn made it down to see Mildred and listened as carefully as she could with her headache bothering her. Though offered to see the gardens, Autumn turned the tour down in favor of sleeping more. Kit followed her, much to the blonde’s surprise. She was certain he would have loved to see the gardens.

“Are you still tired?” He asked as they neared her door.

“Yes.” Was Autumn’s mumbled reply.

Kit paused, unsure of what to do. There was one thing he was willing to try to ease Autumn’s agony, but he wasn’t sure of the impact or usefulness. “Autumn?”

“Yeah?”

“I can’t help but wonder if there’s a way for me to help you…”

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately.”

“Hm?”

“Trying to help me. Do you feel guilty? You don’t have to. It happened a long time ago.”

“What did?”

“You know, the thing. The spirits told me.”

Kit looked almost shocked, as if he had discovered a cavity while eating something cold. He never assumed that Autumn would be ignorant of his past crimes forever, but he always thought that she would at least ask him first.

“Because I don’t want you helping me if it’s just because you feel guilty being here. It wouldn’t feel right.” She mumbled, obviously half asleep and not noticing how sensitive the topic was.

Kit took a deep breath, trying not to be upset at his obviously exhausted charge for broaching such an issue. “I promised that I would do my best as a guardian ever since the incident in the prison. I try to keep my promises these days for reasons that are rather private. I should hope you won’t investigate them.”

“I don’t investigate. I just sorta hear stuff.”

“Just… alright. Look, I want to help and that’s all that you need to know.”

“How?”

“The spirits are draining your energy, right?”

“With interest. Payment for the last fight.”

“Perhaps I can loan you some currency? I am immortal, after all. If we split the cost it might make this week more endurable.” Kit winced at the thought, but he couldn’t stand to see the normally bright girl like this. Not to mention, a tired warrior wouldn’t look good in the eyes of the public.

“You’d really do that?”

“I can try. We still have a bit of time to rest before the parade, so I don’t think there should be too many problems.”

“Thank you.”

Those were last words Kit heard before stumbling into the room and blacking out.

He awoke on Autumn’s bed a while later, his head pounding and his muscles weak. To think Autumn dealt with this frequently certainly made him respect her more. He could take punches, but this was something else.

Autumn had taken his coat off, revealing his undershirt and a rather ugly scar around his neck. He touched it lightly, wondering just how much Autumn knew about him and if she knew where it came from. The redhead supposed that the gesture was kind. His coat wasn’t exactly meant to be slept in.

He looked next to him, finding Autumn curled up under the sheets. She seemed to be sleeping heavily.

Relieved, Kit put on his coat and returned to his room.

The next day proceeded with the both of them being far more energetic. Autumn was delighted to wear her fall colored gown for the parade. She was practically grinning throughout the parade. The blonde didn’t even care about the festivities at that point. She was just happy to be awake.

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Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Bryce Edwards
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((apologizing in advance for this incredible half-assed post, i'm so sorry))

Skylar wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, the battle a blur in her mind. Her ears were ringing and her hands were shaking and she didn’t know why tears were streaming down her sooty cheeks, but none of that mattered. All that mattered was that they had won, they had actually proven themselves.

The cheers from the crowd were almost deafening, Skylar’s gaze snapping up to meet the exuberant faces of the audience. Her eyes widened and she suddenly felt exposed, like she was standing naked in front of them all.

Skylar wiped her face with the back of her hand, streaking blood across her cheeks as she cautiously stepped backwards.

-
One minute they were prisoners of the state and the next they were being praised. The sudden attention was a little too much for Skylar, who had been so used to drifting under the radar for most of her life.

In the days following their victory she merely followed the others around, barely registering what was really happening. She was just going through the motions, offering half smiles and weak laughter to mask the anxiety that felt like it was pulling her apart.
She’d been there before, and she’d pulled herself back out of it. She’d be okay. She had to be.

-

Skylar woke up early the day of the parade, ducking her head as she padded down the hallway to the bathroom. Once safely inside, she locked the door behind her before peeling off her nightclothes. Turning to face the mirror, she furrowed her brow at the reflection staring back at her.

Who was she anymore? So much had changed, she didn’t even recognize the girl in the mirror anymore.
Swallowing, she closed her eyes and scrubbed her skin until she felt raw.

-

The bright colors and loud music should have been the perfect distraction, but all the parade did was make Skylar wish that she hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning. She felt like she should have appreciated it, after all, this was for their victory. Yet the festivities only made her feel more insecure, like she was a fish in a glass bowl.

If she hadn’t recognized herself this morning, there was no chance that she would have recognized herself now. Face painted with makeup and wavy tresses pulled into an intricate braided style, she felt like a porcelain doll. And while she did think that the emerald green dress she’d been dressed in was gorgeous, she felt like she was suffocating.

Turning, she saw Autumn next to her looking happier than she had in days. At least someone was enjoying the parade. She offered the blonde a cheesy smile, the music and the cheers from the crowd too loud for her to say anything.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Ryou Zerinn Character Portrait: Haru Karokav Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Karma Chu Character Portrait: Trent Cress Character Portrait: Harbinger XII Character Portrait: King Rembrandt the Wholesome
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Note: This post is going to be a big skip briefly going over some of the weekend’s events leading to the ceremony thing. Hooray~~~

Tallyho was able to force tears back into her head. But this didn’t stop her mind from wandering in the night. They had found her. And under any circumstances she might have been upset about this, yet she felt happy to know that they found her in this state. Mounted on the kings horses, celebrated by the oppressors. Imagine that—a sun person—a month warrior.
The next couple of days had the same glamor and appeal that the parade day had. But it seemed that as each day zipped past the total luxury of the events and all of the work put into them became more obvious. Tallyho thought that the parade came across as a bit disorganized (and oh, when in Goddess’ name did she start critiquing organized celebration anyway?) but she came to realize the next day that getting the performers in line, their costumes, and the military men out of their drunken stupors from a night of debauchery really had Mildred running. Even though the month warriors did their final measurements for their custom made gowns and suits, Mildred still had to find clothes for them to wear at other events. Saturday before the mass, the king requested a sudden breakfast with the month warriors—a get to know you of sorts. Mildred seemed to come up with clothes for that and had them sent to each warrior and guardian’s door early in the morning.

King Rembrandt wasn’t what a naïve girl like Tallyho would imagine a king to be. To Tallyho, Kings were disgustingly pompous, self-serving, stoic figures of power whose life objectives were to squander and steal land from opposing kingdoms and bend the tax system in the favor of their gold pouches. Rembrandt was almost a horribly done parody of such a figure and Tallyho thought this in the nicest way possible. Every time he started to say something pompous—something that could also be accompanied by an upward pointing pinky—he did something ridiculous: A large crumb of bread hanging very obviously from his rusty beard or a ridiculous belch escaping him. And every time it happened, he recognized how stupid he seemed. And instead of getting mad about it, he laughed it off. Tallyho could certainly see where Morgan got her jolly disposition.

The way that Morgan interacted with her father was also an interesting sight. While most girls might be embarrassed of their father’s gas, Morgan laughed giddily with him. At some point during the breakfast she attempted to make herself burp only to be scolded by a very stressed Mildred. During the meal Morgan and the King spoke fondly of a missing family member. A brother—Tallyho couldn’t quite remember his name off the top of her head—who was the head of the military. The blonde’s thoughts instantly turned to Trent but her speculations were squashed when Morgan clarified.

Trent was the official head of the military while her brother was off on a military campaign. He was her cousin—the first born and only son of King Rembrandt’s younger brother.

Trent came in to eat with them a little bit later but he was unusually detached. It was almost as if he was bored with taunting the month warriors which, knowing him, wouldn’t be that far from the truth. He did however, to Tallyho’s surprise, greet Dorian by name upon sitting down. He didn’t sit next to the March warrior, or even continue a conversation with him, but the fact that he recognized Dorian in a respectful enough way baffled the blonde. She wasn’t sure if Dorian would catch her gaze, but after the fact she turned to him, green eyes full of confusion and interest.

Later they had to change again. For mass, Mildred made sure that everyone wore white. However, she didn’t bother to make that a requirement for party members like Dae, Liam, Mori, and Karma. Tallyho had never done anything like it before, but the mass was exactly what she would expect. It took place in the same great chapel where they tested themselves as month warriors. It was funny to Tallyho, being there again. And what killed her the most was that there was still a sizable amount of people hovering around the building, claiming to be month warriors!

Even though the event was supposed to be highly spiritual—a candle lit sermon and prayer with all the pews filled armrest to armrest with international royals and diplomats—Tallyho could feel nothing at all. Maybe it was because she wasn’t used to worshiping like this (or worshiping at all for that matter) but the entire display just went over her head. But there were some that seemed to genuinely immerse themselves in the experience. Haru—who was very noticeably not sitting next to Ryou—seemed like he would fall to pieces if his attention was taken away from anything the Harbinger had to say. And she couldn’t blame Haru for listening so closely to him. The Harbinger wasn’t a screamer or a preacher but he spoke with such an ethereal presence that it felt like he was telling you the meaning of life and that everything he was saying was indisputably true. It was just too bad that Tallyho couldn’t bring herself to become as involved as Haru. She only hoped that the goddess wouldn’t smite her.

Hours before the party, Tallyho decided that it would be a good idea to bathe before squeezing into yet another dress. She was a little surprised at herself for bathing so frequently considering the fact that the Month Warriors had done without regular bathing for quite some time since the academy was burned down. And even at the academy they only managed to get a bath every few days just because the lake would get a little too crowded or they had training or chores. After a servant woman warmed and filled the tub, she helped unlace Tallyho from her constraining dress. As this went on, Tallyho appraised her body. She wasn’t one to look in mirrors but she couldn’t help but notice a few changes since the last time she observed herself. She always had a more angular face than most children, but these days her jaw and cheekbones seemed to mold into straighter angles, her face more feline like, more womanly. She looked more like Lillian, not that Tallyho particularly minded, but it was…different. Where Tallyho had once developed a tan back in her days at the academy and on the ship, she was now fairly pale from being trapped underground in prison—probably paler than she was when the journey first began.

Her corset was undone and the servant left. With little effort, Tallyho shed the dress like a snake from its old scales, seething and hissing with mild disgust at the contours of her figure. How the outlines of ribs ran so close to the surface of her thin, cold skin. She stepped into the water. Never before had she noticed herself having body issues. So why was it now, after achieving a comfortable living condition and nothing to do but eat and be praised, that she was beginning to swallow these spoonfuls of self-loathing? She had only been living this way for what? A week and a half? So why was it that in the days of struggling in that goddess-forsaken prison, on the boat, at the academy, goddess, even in the days prior to the adventure, that Tallyho hadn’t thought twice about her own quality? She usually resigned to knowing that she was good enough. Period. And on the battlefield, while some quivered about what a liability they were for the team, she threw herself into the fray blindly. Not because she was more capable or more of a hero but because what else was she supposed to do? She felt that she was capable so she did it! And now that she’s here, taking a bath in an actual tub of all things (what a daisy she’s become) she has nothing better to do but suck her teeth at how the shadow of her ribs are superimposed on her much-too-pasty figure? And oh! She was doing it again.

Perhaps people were happier when they had something to work for…

As she pondered, a streak of blood wiggled down and pooled at her mouth’s cupid bow. With a disinterested movement, she swiped it from her face with her thumb.

/Not this again…/

She was tired of these things—whatever they were—that had been plaguing her body since the ship. These wretched, pointless seizures! It was embarrassing enough to have one in a prison bed. But did they really have to follow her everywhere she went? As she moved to step out of the tub, which she had not yet descended into, a gasp escaped her. Her muscles, all at once pulled tight and she lost control and thrust herself onto the floor—chin first—her wet feet slipping under her velocity as she tried to catch herself on hands and toes.

/Not this again. Not this again./

“Miss are you alright? I heard something fall.”
This was the servant through the door, not yet opened.

“I’m fine,” Tallyho hollered. By then she had regained control of her hands which were splayed below her, attempting to push upwards.

The knob turned.
“I SAID I’M FINE!”
“Are…Are you sure miss?”
It was all over now.
“I am… I am…”
“Yes miss…”


By no means was the small gathering a small gathering. The King wasted no time in bringing notable people from the western hemisphere, though a few people from Eastern Isle and Ira managed to make it. Tallyho, now over her instance in the bath, was just happy to find that there was unlimited alcohol being walked around by servers across the dancehall. And best of all, Haru didn’t seem like he was going to limit the amount they drank. They were in now, and they could be fools as long as they weren’t fools to the wrong people.

Haru begrudgingly came to this event. Having had his fair share of international relations when he was alive, he had no interest in the event at hand. He wasn’t even particularly keen on his face being publicly associated with the whole month warrior thing. Not that he was ashamed of the kids (okay maybe a little) but he was more content with being behind the scenes at this point.
Haru sat in the corner of the dancehall at one of the small, sparse tables available and drank idly. He watched as Tallyho downed drink after drink as she spoke to those who made conversation. He wondered if she knew that she was talking to the elderly Duke of Le Fay. Nonetheless, she held her alcohol well so he wasn’t so worried.

There were more pressing things for Haru Karokav to worry over and one of those was fairly obvious. Haru watched Ryou attentively, waiting for a moment when he wasn’t occupied by a diplomat, or his students, or Karma. Karma was probably the most trying obstacle. The young one, who had never heard the classical instruments live before, used all of her pent up energy to engage Ryou in a very intense dance completion. Well at least she considered it a competition. So as Ryou danced with her, Karma danced against him. And even though their motives for dancing were different, they seemed to enjoy themselves all the same.

When the time was right, Haru set his empty glass on the table, dusted his coat, and meandered over. He kept a distance, not sure how startled Ryou would be by his sudden approach from behind. And then he spoke.

“Sorry about the other night.” Well that was cliché. “I didn’t mean to come off so…so cold.”
One thing about Haru was that he rarely apologized.

Meanwhile on the dancefloor, Morgan scoped the crowd. She had no interest in sharing words with the diplomats as she found their company ordinary, tedious, and a little too boring for her attention span. She meandered towards a small group of month warriors (because let’s face it there are bound to be a few of them clustered up together somewhere) and offered a curl of the lips.

“Why, I do hope you lot are enjoying yourselves,” her neck cocked forward, “And if any of you are hungry, we can get them to circulate horsderves! My favorites are the little crab cakes!”

Without any room for silence she pitched in again.

“How about we all dance, huh?” She hummed as she did a little jig with her arms. Her optimism was…endearing.

Since the beginning of the cocktail, Trent gravitated to Dorian. Dorian, he decided, was the least annoying person he’d met thus far. And that was saying a lot considering Trent hated and considered most things extremely annoying.

He made his presence known, tossing Dorian casual conversation:

Attempting friendship through mutual disdain:

“The alcohol here is wretched!”

Attempting suggestive humor:

“The arms on that lady…” [Insert snooty chuckle here]

Attempting to be complimentary:
“I like your shoes… I have five pairs of them.”

And even trying to learn more about Dorian himself:

“So…Are you excited about the ceremony thing tomorrow?”

By the end of it Trent finally resigned to inviting Dorian to join him in what he knew best.
“Listen. Parties aren’t necessarily my thing. Me and a few of my men are going to ah… hit the town. I’d like it if you came. I mean, think of the fun we’d have with an actual month warrior in our crew.”
That was about as nice as Trent was getting. And with a curl of his brow he lifted his glass for a toast, waiting for Dorian’s reply.

Tallyho watched the Trent and Dorian exchange closely, meandering nearby so that she could hear just enough of their conversation to be a little embarrassed at Trent’s attempt at socialization. She wasn’t sure if she liked the idea of Dorian befriending Trent. Dorian was… well Dorian. A stone-faced sweetheart who gave Tallyho his banya just because he knew she liked it and showed her art on his cellular device. And Trent was… Trent. No explanation needed. Effectively tuning out the elderly Duke of Le Fay she too waited on his answer to Trent’s invitation.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Ryou Zerinn Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: King Rembrandt the Wholesome
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Kyle pulled at his collar probably for the fiftieth time in one day. Because of the very obviously foreign marking on his neck, no longer covered by his hair, he couldn't even loosen his tie. Most of the people working with him, or more like on him because he definitely had no say in all this frivolous exposure, were too polite to ask about it, but constantly breathing down his neck they had to be blind not to notice. The whole time he couldn't enjoy anything, because he was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. This all still felt wrong. They barely survived an army of cyclopean, including one ginormous thing, and now all the sudden everyone loves them?

Before even facing the army they were thrown in a dungeon. This couldn't be right. Nobody goes from a filthy prison to a palace. He shuddered violently, scaring his latest handler. "Are you well?" No, no he wasn't but this little boy couldn't do anything about it. "Just a little chill."
"I can stoke the fire, if you wish."
"Let it be. I'm going to be somewhere else soon anyway." he answered sharper than he intended but the boy finished his tasks in silence. For some reason, he found that annoying and frustrating too. No one in this palace challenged them. No one yelled at him for doing something stupid. No one told him to carry one more load of stupid useless rocks, or struggle through one more page or chapter for his homework. Actually he didn't have any homework, just tons of stupid useless parties and meetings.

They might not have all been completely useless, since somewhere behind all the stress involved (or compounded actually since the battle) he did realize that it would probably be a good thing to know who important people were (and know which ones he could avoid when necessary) but there were too many bloody people! Too many people and too much going on!

The only good thing about the parade was Tallyho's family cheering and singing for her. It was obvious those people decorated with flowers were her family, and in his opinion they were the most genuine people out there. He would have asked her about her family, but she tended to avoid everyone when they weren't stuck in some event. He started wanting to avoid people himself in these last crazy days.

The meal with the king was just plain uncomfortable, and he couldn't really concentrate on the church service. Despite the proper fit of his clothes, his collar still felt too tight and he felt too hot. He tried not to squirm though, because they were sitting in the front and everyone was watching them. By the time of this second-to-last party for the week, he was tired of people watching him.

Ironically, while training at the academy he wanted attention, the very honored attention of sitting at the high table with Ryou and his family. He wasn't good enough at any skill or strong enough for that attention. Now that he had the entire Rose Kingdom's attention at least, he didn't want any of it. "Dae, you were exactly right in every way. I didn't deserve it then and I don't deserve it now. Neither does it make me happy."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Ryou Zerinn Character Portrait: Haru Karokav Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Karma Chu Character Portrait: Trent Cress Character Portrait: Harbinger XII
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The entire hunting trip ordeal with General Cress or Trent (as Dorian would probably never call him) went far better than Dorian had ever imagined. This was mostly due to the fact that Dorian had only imagined scenarios that involved in bodily harm (for him) or some Airian, grown-man version of Mean Girls. His taciturn expressions and unique ability to keep anything unsavory to himself served him well throughout the trip as he focused on the hunting aspect as opposed to Trent and his troop of nameless faces (no one had bothered to introduce themselves to him, even if he did slowly begin to learn who was who from the occasional irritated remarks spat at them by Trent). All in all it was a… tolerable outing, even when Trent actually began to speak with him. It started off as long monologues, usually insulting something, but slowly began to morph into things resembling conversations where Dorian actually had to respond and give his opinion, no matter how careful he had to be about it. Honestly, by the end of the trip Dorian was entirely convinced that for all of his prestige and royal blood, Trent was just as painfully socially awkward as he was hateful. Which, of course, made Trent's parting message feel more like Trent had given him a medal (and Dorian totally deserved said medal after the awkwardness he'd dealt with today).

The parade the next day was an entirely different kind of tedious and awkward. Clad in garments far too heavy and flamboyant, he felt like he was attending a costume party. And then there were the crowds, howling and cheering in a way he thought he didn't deserve and knew he didn't desire. His face remained impassive, staring ever forward in the visage of a stern warrior, but the hand clenched in his horse's mane and the splash of color on his cheeks, an embarrassed blush that looked more like he'd seen too much sun recently, showed just how he felt being paraded around like this. Oh, God, should he be waving? Smiling? For a moment he made the mistake of searching the crowd for familiar faces- Ryou having gone "missing" before the parade began partially to spend it with his loved ones and partially, as Dorian was beginning to suspect, to stay out of the other Guardians' ways- and was met instead with a wall of screaming people. Cheeks flared a stronger read and he was staring even more intently ahead now.

He didn't dare look up again until the music began, softly at first before quickly growing in volume and overpowering even the most fervent hollers. When he looked, he didn't notice the source at first but the reaction, the disgust and fear that flickered across some faces. Then he noticed Tallyho, tears prickling stubbornly in her eyes as they attempted to escape. Then he saw the people, proud and raucous with blonde, curly hair and flowers adorning their persons. They were all singing, the words lost on him, but the meaning clear from the joy on their faces and the tears forcing their way down Tallyho's cheeks, even as she attempted to stall their progress. He'd never asked Tallyho about her family knowing full well that she would tell him when she wanted to and not a moment sooner, and here was another piece to the puzzle that was her past. It was one of those obnoxious middle pieces that you couldn't tell really what was on them, but it was a piece nevertheless.

The pageantry of the day before bled into the next day as another new set of clothes was thrust upon them by Mildred, who Dorian was beginning to suspect was the actual ruler of the Rose Kingdom(because, really, Mildred). Their first duty was breakfast with the king which quickly turned from him wondering if he could remember the proper use of a dessert spoon to him realizing where exactly Morgan got her joviality from. The King was big and booming, but so warm and, not that Dorian would ever say it aloud, almost silly that the atmosphere shifted from tense to more relaxed in a heartbeat. It was nice, he thought, to see Morgan and her father interact, all giggles and great beaming grins, the picture of a loving family as they spoke so warmly of the missing Prince.

Trent's arrival was hardly enough to disintegrate the atmosphere, but the mere fact that he greeted Dorian by name was enough to almost give him a heart attack and almost miss replying with his own polite good morning. A few curious eyes flickered in his direction, but he caught Tallyho's gaze first and shrugged. Apparently he'd given a better first impression than he'd first imagined.

After breakfast, it was time to change into another set of clothes, this time all white in what Dorian had to assume was a symbol of purity instead of a brave fashion statement. More fakes lingered outside, smaller in number but the very fact that they had the audacity to keep trying was a whole other level of depressing. The event took place in the same stifling room as before, but now they sat as honored guests instead of the nervous group waiting for their death sentence to be handed down to them. Dorian was not a particularly religious person, even back on Earth, but he allowed himself to be drawn into the ceremony with the Harbinger's words, spoken with the charisma and eloquence that befitted his situation. Still, on occasion his eyes wandered to others in the room. Ryou seemed politely interested, hands carding through Karma's hair constantly as if to keep her calm with the gesture. He was seated far from Haru, surrounded on all sides by his students. Liam made an effort to look politely interested, but the stillness in his body was hardly from being enraptured with the ceremony. Dae was faring far worse, fiddling with his hands constantly until Mori took hold of one, effectively stilling the knight.

He felt more like a fashion model now as they were guided back to their rooms, specially made clothing thrust into weary arms. He took the time to enjoy his solitude if only for a moment. He rolled over in his bed, pulling out his cellphone and began to scroll. This was easier sometimes, a small but powerful grounding device that reminded him who he really was. He wasn't just the March Warrior, he was Dorian Roberts. The cellist, he reminded himself as the strains of cello music hummed softly from his phone's speaker, the Earthling, he knew as he continued flicking through his pictures, the son of Avery Roberts he felt as the stabbing longing of homesickness twisted in his stomach when a picture of his father, grinning goofily at the screen finally appeared. But the moment was always only a moment as a knocking at the door encouraged him to finally get changed, combing his hair- he really needed to get a haircut- to some semblance of neatness.

The small gathering was predictably far larger than Dorian had been led to believe. The room was full of important looking people milling about, sipping idly at alcohol Dorian couldn't name and some chatting among themselves as others began to filter towards the middle of the room to dance. There was Ryou, twirling Karma and apparently unaware that his daughter had challenged him to a dance off. Then, twirling in the midst of the crowd was Liam, a tall woman in a long, dark green dress held tightly in his arms. Liam whispered something in her ear and the crooked grin could not be mistaken. It wasn't just any woman but Dae Grimm, the Academy knight, short hair finally tamed and hints of makeup painted onto his(her?) features.

"Don't look to surprised," It was Mori by his elbow, carrying his own fine outfit with more ease than a child ever should.

"He- She- But Dae's wearing a dress."

"Well, of course she is. Liam doesn't have the hips for it." And on that mysterious and bizarre note, Mori wandered away, relieving Ryou of his pink-haired dance partner, dragging the only other child off for whatever mischief he had planned (it more than likely involved Princess Morgan who always seemed thrilled when the youngest members of the party indulged her).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ryou watched Karma be guided away with a fond smile before taking a moment to find the rest of his responsibilities scattered across the dance floor. There were Liam and Dae, enjoying an odd moment with themselves as they twirled and sashayed with the best of them, eyes never once leaving each other. Then there was Dorian doing his best impression of a turtle as he hid himself alone at one of the tables. But that was bound to change with General Cress sidling over now to talk with (or at) the March Warrior. He found the General disconcerting and more than a little concerning, even if he knew that him taking an interest in any of the Month Warriors was a particularly good thing. It was just-

Whatever "it was just", Ryou would never know because his train of thought was effectively stopped in its tracks with an achingly familiar voice behind him. He whirled around, golden eyes wide and more than just a little disbelieving because, for one Haru was talking to him and two, of course, Haru was actually apologizing. Haru didn't apologize, it just wasn't his style, but here he was doing just that.

"I… I know you didn't, Haru," Ryou replied voice sincere if a bit sad. He really could never begrudge Haru anything, no matter how much he wanted to. "It was my fault, though. I shouldn't have… Well, no hard feelings, eh?" He reached out to clap Haru on the shoulder, thought better of it, and settled on attempting to smile at the shorter man.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Perhaps it wasn't Kyle's intention to be heard in the ballroom, much less by the person he was addressing, but Liam had always had impeccable timing in these situations and that timing spread to Dae simply because they hardly ever separated from one another. The two paused their seemingly endless dance- it was indeed only a pause, neither out of breath or prepared to permanently stop for the evening- to stand behind Kyle, casual despite everything right now being quite topsy-turvy.

"Don't be so gloomy," Dae's raspy voice replied, her- and it was indeed her- tone sympathetic. "Things like this never do. That's why we make the best of things and try to live up to what we're supposed to do." She glanced at Liam whose hand never strayed from hers. "Now, try to smile- have to make good impressions, now don't you?" Her eyes flickered over to Ryou for a moment, then to Dorian as both men tried to make the best of their own situations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yes, Trent was socially awkward. Dorian had called it during the hunting trip and now he knew for certain as Trent worked admirably hard at his version of casual conversation. It was endearing, the way he kept trying, in a depressing sort of way and he attempted to humor him, his own attempts at conversation steering it towards less… awful topics.

The offer itself surprised him- and somewhat relieved him because both of them were struggling at this moment- and he knew that he didn't really want to go. He didn't like doing the whole running around town sort of thing, especially with what he envisioned Trent and his… crew(because even he could recognize that they were hardly friends, more like lackies than anything) enjoyed doing on a night out. But Haru's words echoed in his head- saying so to royalty most certainly went under the unfavorable label- and something about Trent actually saying that he'd like Dorian to come along struck a chord, and he found himself meeting the toast with a clink of his untouched glass.

"Of course. I'd like that." It wasn't necessarily a lie, even if it did feel a tiny bit like be was whoring himself out for the sake of the group and not embarrassing himself or the other man. Besides, maybe this way he could keep at eye on the General. For the group's sake. That was right. The group's sake.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Harbinger XII Character Portrait: King Rembrandt the Wholesome Character Portrait: Kit Withers
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#, as written by Linnea
Autumn chuckled and smiled back to Skylar, an obvious sign of emotional improvement. She remained the same in the days to follow and happily went along with the events. It was not unusual to see her admiring the many dresses she was put into. It felt so nice to have energy again. She hadn’t felt this good in a long time. She had been useful, she had been strong, and she was so happy.

The breakfast was enjoyable and Autumn could finally eat without wondering how much energy the food would give her. To live without thinking of those numbers, it was almost intoxicating. She was more than happy to go to mass, even though her belief in the goddess was shaky at best. The blonde was still trying to accept it as fact, despite all of the evidence in front of her.

Kit, however, was obviously a firm believer. Despite his disdain for wearing all white, something Autumn had only recently grown to understand the reason for, he was incredibly serious during mass. He listened closely to the Harbinger. In a way, his obedience seemed wrong to Autumn. It just didn’t seem like him. Here was a sarcastic man who had trouble holding his tongue and the almost constant impulse to prove himself to be the best in the room, following along like a lamb. It seemed odd, but then again there were people far stranger and actions far more puzzling.

As much as she had tried before the gathering, Autumn couldn’t twirl in her party dress. The large ball gown was simply too heavy and stiff. This time it was mostly black, save the skirt underneath the large beaded bustle. The lace trimmed sleeves and beaded top gave it an elegant look, though Autumn hardly considered herself to be such. She wouldn’t complain, though. Just because the dress didn’t suit her personality didn’t mean she didn’t like it. It was far better than what her guardian was wearing, but Autumn found most mens fashion in the Rose Kingdom was questionable at best.

Despite his (and by extension most mens) fashion choice, Kit was doing well at the party. While Autumn had nothing else to do but sit on the side and wonder if she remembered how to fox trot, the redhead mingled with ease and even danced from time to time. Autumn wasn’t too surprised by this. After all, he had grown up in the Rose Kingdom. From what she had heard, he had actually been quite wealthy. Things like this were probably second nature to him now.

Autumn spoke to a few people, but soon found them too hard to follow. Unlike Kit, she had no idea how to respond to topics of great literature from Aires or which painting in the plaza struck her as the most magnificent. These were Kit topics, not Autumn topics. Try as she might, she just couldn’t find the conversation interesting. Then there was the minor problem of seeing Liam dance with who she assumed to be Dae. Autumn had known for a while that she wouldn’t be getting anywhere with Liam, but it still hurt. Adding the fact that Harper and Xabier were now dating, well that just made it even more difficult. Sometime during her conversation with so and so from such and such family, Autumn felt the weight in her heart.

She eventually drifted over to Skylar, happy to chat with her friend for a while. She might never be able to be with those she was fond of, but at least she had friends. It dulled the pain a little.

“… and then he just throws the turkey!” Autumn laughed, retelling a scene of some thanksgiving reality show she had seen to which ever warriors were near her.

“I mean, sure it’s a little burnt but that’s just overboard.” Now she was feeling better. There were probably other ways to go about heartbreak, but pushing it back and ignoring it seemed to be working just fine. As long as she didn’t look at them, ignorance was bliss.

She smiled at the princess as she approached.

“I’d love to, but to be honest I don’t really know how.” Autumn shrugged, though it was a comical gesture.

“And I can’t do the worm in this dress.” She chuckled.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Karma Chu Character Portrait: Trent Cress
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“The worm? What is the worm,” Morgan inquired as she looked at Autumn and offered a gesture of welcome towards Mori and Karma who were making their way towards her.
“I can teach you lot some classic RK dances if you’d like!”
She stepped back, palms open like some unaware, ethereal saint.
“Won’t one of you demonstrate with me? Anyone! Little ones are also welcome!”
---------
The clink of glass to glass was the only thing needed to set Tallyho’s brow in a confused furrow. Was he really going with him? With Trent? It wasn’t that Tallyho didn’t want Dorian to have other friends (and she hoped to goddess she didn’t feel that way deep down) but the idea of him befriending Trent set her stomach a few planes higher. She distanced herself even farther as Trent clasped Dorian on the shoulder in a manly fashion and led him out of the dance hall. Not a head turned. This was almost normal.
---------

Outside Trent grunted heavily. Fumbling fingers loosened his neck tie as he looked around to make sure no one was following. Most notably Mildred, who would cut her own arm off just to keep people right where they were supposed to be, and Morgan who probably would have just wanted to tag along for fun.

“Tonight we’re meeting the others at a bit of a hole-in-the-wall. Some old tavern where they make the best, strongest liquor I’ve ever tasted…You’re a drink guy right? I was just asking because some of the guys are avid poppy fans.”

As Trent spoke he walked with confidence towards what could be assumed to be the aforementioned tavern. He hardly surveyed his surroundings, suggesting that he was a frequent patron.

“So you never answered my question. About how you feel about this ceremony thing? This warrior business. I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous. Must feel good being so important?”

He made a sharp turn. The architecture became less formal as they ventured away from the affluent part of the city. It seemed that they farther they got away from the dance hall the more informal Trent became.

“I imagine that feeling isn’t too foreign to you. First time I met you in that cell I sort of felt that you were a guy like me! There was a certain… dignity about you. Intelligent, socially wise (yes Trent thinks he’s a social prodigy), generally well groomed if you have the choice. You’re like me just shy. Why don’t you ever talk? Stand up for yourself for once!”

Trent did not give Dorian time to answer before slapping him on the back.

“You’re nothing like those plebeians you’re on a team with… Are they always so base—the ones who thought it wise to verbally challenge me? The guys tried much too hard to make me bat an eye, and some of those girls—even though they technically didn’t say anything stupid—tried to get sarcastic. Which is honestly the basest, most uncreative way of getting back at me. I mean really? How passive… Oh! Over this way!”

Trent made another sharp turn down an alleyway.
“Are you ready my boy?”

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Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton
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A startled jump from younger blond proved he didn't expect anyone to hear him, but he found himself responding automatically. "I know this is supposed to be a good thing, but I just can't relax. It's... it's..." Then he turned to the comfortably familiar voice and was silent for a time. Troubled grey eyes danced between the two people holding hands behind him. He recognized Liam's violet eyes and proud demeanor well enough, but it took him a moment to register Dae. "You're wearing a dress." His eyes went wide and his breath caught just like when he first saw Nikita in a dress. Dae is wearing a dress. Dae is a woman. A woman who could kick his butt any day of the week. His face twisted in a self-mocking smirk. The first person to ever beat him in a fight is a woman. As a child, he always thought he needed to protect women. He may still have to because not every woman could beat the crap out of him.

He turned back to her and said, "It looks good on you." The smirk twisted into a small shy smile, and returned his attention to the crowd of fake people. Fake people who didn't know him, and he wasn't sure even wanted to. Fake people who thought he was a hero, when he knew he wasn't. Fake people who could change their minds on a whim... He swallowed and pulled his collar again. Even if he didn't know Dae was female before now, he did know she wasn't fake and Liam probably wasn't either. Genuine people could be trusted. "Make the best of it." he repeated the words of advice. Right now the fake people loved him. "You both know I'm an absolutely terrible actor... but they don't." Right now the fake people loved him. He needed to let them love him.

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Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Harper Calloway Fields Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: King Rembrandt the Wholesome Character Portrait: Bryce Edwards
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The days following the parade seemed to pass in a blur, the countless celebrations and extravagant dresses seeming to blend into one another. Skylar couldn’t quite wrap her head around the fact that they had made it this far- after the years of training and roughing it and living in secrecy, they were finally being accepted as the Month Warriors.

She knew that their victory should have come with a sense of accomplishment or pride, something at the very least, but all she felt was an odd sense of indifference as she waited for whatever they would ultimately be tasked with next.

No matter how much Mildred and the palace staff fussed over her, Skylar couldn’t bring herself to enjoy the attention. A self-proclaimed tomboy from age four, the constant pampering was almost as rough as their training. The gowns were beautiful, she would admit that much, but the all the frills and thick fabric were a little too much for her liking. Each day brought about a new set of dresses (usually in some variation of green or brown- all earthy colors, how original), and Skylar could only wonder where Mildred was getting them all from so quickly.

Skylar eventually fell into life at the palace, falling into a daily routine that mainly consisted of her aimlessly wandering the hallways in between their scheduled appearances. She knew there was so much more to the kingdom to explore, but for now she was perfectly content with exploring their home for the time being. She did her best to cast aside thoughts of their battle with the Cyclopeans, and she found herself spending more time than usual with Harper in hopes that his humor and good nature would rub off on her.

-

Skylar wasn’t particularly fond of the mass, the sermon going right over her head. It still felt odd, to be worshipping something completely different than what she had been used to at home. Then again, her family had never been especially religious either and her Church experiences were limited to the occasional mass on Christmas Eve or Easter.

Her attempts to at least try and look interested failed when her attention span ran out ten minutes into the service, her pale eyes scanning the room until her gaze landed on Bryce. She hadn’t seen much of her guardian since the initial battle, and she figured that he was off doing Bryce things and enjoying the luxuries the kingdom had to offer. From what she knew, he had grown up in a wealthy home, so all of this probably wasn’t new to him. Unlike Haru and Kit, who seemed obviously immersed, she couldn’t read her own guardian. He sat straight up, hands clasped in his lap as he looked ahead.

-

The one thing that got her the most was Princess Morgan’s interactions with King Rembrandt, and how well they seemed to get along. The man reminded her a lot of her own father, how he never seemed to take himself seriously and his personality essentially lit up the room. As the only girl in her family, she and her father had always been close and she held the title of “Daddy’s girl” very seriously. She nostalgically watched the two banter back and forth with each other, lips curved in an almost sad sort of smile. She didn’t think about her family as much as she used to, but certain things would stir up the feelings of homesickness all over again and make her wonder what had changed back at home in the years since she had left.

-

Skylar shouldn’t have been surprised that the “small gathering” turned out to be yet another lavish celebration, the elite from all of Aires milling around the great ballroom. After making her rounds with Bryce and managing to slip a few drinks by him, she resigned to a corner where a few of the other warriors were standing. She watched Bryce slide back into the crowd, the older male clearly in his prime. He seemed so used to this sort of lifestyle, easily falling into conversation with some diplomat from Ira.

With a short sigh (because the corset she had been tied into kept her from taking any deeper breaths), she let herself take in the scene before her. Her gaze screeched to a halt at the sight of Liam dancing with a tall woman dressed in green. She tilted her head, not quite believing what she saw. Was that Dae? Maybe she’d had more to drink than she’d realized.

She didn’t get to dwell on the thought too much though, the sound of Autumn telling a story about a Thanksgiving turkey distracting her.

“I’m not quite sure how you dance in these gowns, they’re so uncomfortable!” Skylar said with a laugh, turning to face Morgan. “You’d probably have to get another drink in me and then I might consider it.” She grinned, tucking a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Falke der Herrscher Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Alatáriël Oronrá Character Portrait: Trent Cress Character Portrait: Harbinger XII
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Falke had never been one to be overwrought with anxiety at the prospect of being touched. Enough family gatherings of pinched cheeks, cooing words of encouragement from any passerby that happened to notice his disability, and having one of the most protective mother's on planet Earth; should have given him an unconcerned and indifferent air regarding such matters. But still, even with the plausible excuse of his abilities now (seriously how many more people needed to be rattling around in his noggin, he was having enough issues as it was coping after the battle) being the cause of it, he was uneasy just listening to Miss Mildred's 'to do list' speech for them all over the following weekend. He did not like being touched much regardless of powers or not. Period.

The Tailors' were pretty much as bad as anyone could suspect. Poking and prodding, alongside, well, if you called that a measuring tape - Falke could share breathing space at times. Exchanging CO2 for additional CO2, with people who really needed a couple tooth-leaves or less alcohol before ten in the morning, was not what you'd call his highlight of the day. Upon being one of the last finishing with fitting, he was told he was going to be made a 'darling' of the city (whatever that meant) dressed in light, fair colors of blue, silver, and gold.

For the rest of what Falke had begun to deem as particularly lazy, maddeningly lazy days honestly, he surprisingly spent his time in the gardens. Even despite the occasional disruption of the Princess twittering away like an over-excited songbird and /needing/ to smell this new, positively delightful flower, or giving polite conversation until an errant thought took her away again; it was quiet, peaceful. He found an ability to relax, to meditate, and the shakes of his shoulders and hands that brought memories (and thoughts, and feelings) resurfacing did not happen to find their way to him for hours.

All to soon, the day was over and done with, and Falke attended the evening meal. He retired early to practice silently a few swings and imaginary hits with his weapon, exceedingly careful to not knock anything over; after a feeling he wouldn't be getting much time for doing it again between getting dressed between events, and the sheer mental and physical strain of heavy garments and public appearances to come.

---

The parade the following was one part embarrassment, and another terrifying. It was long, tedious, and awkward process getting into their, well, for lack of a better word, costumes. His own looked like a mixture of renaissance with a dash a Rome: A fine, powder blue brocade doublet, light brown leather riding pants and boots, hell even his splint had been decorated to complete the medieval requirement of his get-up; but the silver cape, er-cloak, or really blanket of sorts, that draped 'fashionably' across his arms and one shoulder and spilled across part of the rump of the fine, white horse he was astride, seemed quite frankly from a different era entirely.

Additionally the cheering, howling crowds lined the streets, created another hard pill to swallow. Yes, they had rotted in prison for two weeks, had still managed to defeat the flock and their leader monstrosity with lacking team work and abilities without anyone kicking the bucket thankfully, and the month warriors had 'returned' again, oh whoopie. He understood a little of their perspective somewhat, but... really... all this?

Falke struggled to remain a calm mask , in the onslaught of noise battering his ears and mind alike; biting the inside of his lip, mimicking the look of a thin, but confident line. His eyes wandered blearily in small snapping motions, observing the loudest, most fervent hollers and musicians behind and to the side for a small time, and to the other warriors in their group (all having some emotional rip-roar of one kind or another, to prick his attention now and again). And the blush that rose across his cheeks hardly showed, thanks to Mildred and tailors' insistence at covering his black eye and bruised temple (that had just started to turn a putrid yellow-green, it was not pretty by any means) with powdered make-up.

...

Lillian, like the other Guardians' had disappeared at the start of the parade; finding it to be a rare moment of luck to be free of feather as it were. Instead of being stuck in a jostling crowd, that could meet with unkind consequences should her shawl's hood fall (even with Tallyho's acceptance of being a warrior by TRK and Grand Harbinger); unnoticed, a lithe owl had flown into the soft breeze above the city streets, caressing softer feathers in short bursts from roof top to roof top.

She had kept along with the warriors progress throughout the parade watchfully, but hadn't been able to avoid to side street of the joyous Sun People. She lingered a moment longer there, listening to their singing and celebrations, a song of old of triumph for a village member, even though they'd forgotten much of the original words; it was still... Nice...

---

The 'excitement' of one day bled into the next. Another new set of clothes was thrust upon each of them by Mildred early into the morning, for a breakfast with jolly and warm King. It was clear where Morgan had exactly gotten her silliness from, and their interactions were as sincere as a family without any royal requirements or duties. The event was an odd moment of ease, in their tense and extremely busy schedule.

The all white mass was their next appearance, and despite the 'struggle' of being primped up again, this was something Falke could do, and do well. He had gone to enough church services with his mother, at the small Roman Catholic venue up the road from their family home in the outskirts of Hamburg. He was specialized in sitting still with head bent slightly down, wordlessly vigilant, and poised in thoughtful contemplation for hours on end. Much of the Grand Harbinger's sermon had gone over his head, due to his lack really of truly understanding the Goddess completely (schooling at the Academy had helped, but still he felt at a loss really), but it didn't mean he couldn't remain proper and play the part as needed.

...

Lillian seemed to as intent as Haru, watching the Grand Harbinger with a quiet sort of ferocity most had never seen from her actively. While she had always been openly religious with anyone who had asked about or seen or heard her 'to the One' phrases, she had never been so devout. Or, being more politically correct, trying so hard to be devout. The One above, she was sorry but it still felt wrong, even after so many years of trying so hard, to be sitting here, still as they could be, all attention on the sermon - her cold, bitter heart was not in it.

...

Oh, what a darling! What a pretty young man! That little, blind and broken babe.

Fei. No matter how often the words we're repeat in his presence since the beginning of the "small" yet exceeding extravagant gathering of nobility from all over mostly western Aires (with a small group of Eastern Islanders and those hailing from Ira too as well), Falke did not find himself ever getting used to it.

It was unnerving how quickly news had traveled or had been told in second-person, but the young September warrior found himself known immediately by name or at the very least one of the above statements. Nor was it a surprise really, being the only warrior that happened to be blind and was seen limping occasionally in a decorated walking splint. The inability of being able to disappear to a corner for a brief moment of respite was frustrating as it was alarming.

Most encounters were quick, brutal things, that Falke managed relatively well. Which usually meant he could flash a small, reluctant smile, a soft rumbling chuckle (that was obviously decisively false to the extreme few that had been able to get a geniue, deep, rolling belly laugh out of him twice, he couldn't be soft if he tried), and idle, empty conversation. Thankfully no one discussed the palace's artwork or fine Airian literature, because accurately enough how would he have seen any of it.

He'd only recently escaped from a group from Hales. The men had called him tiny brother, or something about an icicle in terms of his slim figure maybe, he hadn't been quite sure. Especially given that half of the conversation was in-between drunken laughter and bashing his shoulders and arms good naturedly with meaty fists. The one woman in the party had been more subdued, and had only left him with a soft kiss of farewell as they parted - leaving him now standing in a corner, with Skylar and Autumn chatting nearby about a turkey tossing competition or reality show or something, as he gently rubbed the red lipstick stain from his cheek in quick, determined movements from a small cloth a passing servant had handed him.

He glanced up as the Princess approached, still bounding with energy even after the long day at large as she urged them all to join her, dance with her, she would teach them. Autumn and Skylar answered quickly enough, that Falke believed he was safe enough from answering verbally. He tilted his head gently in the negative in response.

It wasn't that he wouldn't enjoy it, because really he loved dancing - whether, well, years ago now, learning the waltz from his mother; or the times on the ship, Tallyho hauling him into an elegant but rather silly and wildly swinging display. Nor his leg's fault, while still sore, it was getting better he kept telling himself day to day. But in all honesty the swirling crowd around them was the main problem... He had enough people recognizing him, just walking out of the blue into him. He did not feel the need to go in the middle where everyone could go 'oh look, the darling, that pretty young man, the little, blind and broken babe - he can dance too!'

...

Lillian moved quickly, departing from a conversation gone sour. An older noblewoman had been admiring her delicate coiled up-do, but had accidentally bumped a clip in her inspection and caused a chunk to fall out long, it's golden hues coiling naturally down. Her husband had taken the offensive, and had assumed correctly 'what' she was - using a drunken, heavy-handed slap to send her on her way when she'd declined a song, or dance, or the implied threesome later on in the night. Luckily enough, the hand hadn't been remotely close, due to too many under his belt; and she had been on her way, before anything additional could occur.

A thin fingered hand escaped the confining folds of her long-sleeved flowing dress, reaching up to pull the hair back with sure motions to clip back the errant dark golden lock into place. Pausing at the edge of the gathering, weariness clear in the depths of her washed-out, gray-blue eyes. Her already lean and angular face seemed rather pinched as she scowled, as her eyes narrowed as they made an idle attempt of locating the exit. It would likely be wise for her to depart sooner rather than later.

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Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Nikita Machari Character Portrait: Falke der Herrscher Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Alatáriël Oronrá
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He knew what he had to do, the problem was actually doing it. He wasn't comfortable here and was an absolute failure at hiding how he felt about things, but he definitely grew up in the last few years. Even if he wasn't comfortable, he could still survive without having a screaming, kicking meltdown or trying to beat the crap out of someone else. That brought a little chuckle to himself. He can do this. The younger blond turned back around and gave both Liam and Dae a small bow. "As the lady commands."

To go even further with his silliness, he dipped his head to kiss the top of Dae's free hand and forced himself out of his frozen anxiety. Yes, Dae is a woman and Liam is her boyfriend. They knew who he was and knew he couldn't be competition for their relationship. Dae dressed up is beautiful, but he still knows and respects her as the knight she is.

Now to tackle the next challenge. Yes, a challenge. He remembered that he liked a challenge. Kyle pulled on his collar again, but drifted away from the knight and magician. These fake people love him, and expect him to like their attention. It was like that one more load of rocks, that one more page of homework. Just one more of these dumb things and then it should be over. He took a deep breath, and then a couple drinks from the nearest server and finished one in time to place it on the next tray taking others' empty glasses away. One drink; then two, and then he stopped. A clear head would probably be necessary for the last useless event tomorrow. Maybe then he would be free of his present gilded cage.

After the two drinks, he did manage to offer pleasant smiles and conversation to all the foreign dignitaries who wanted their piece of him. Most of the conversation was kept to well-placed compliments or small talk, but occasionally he pushed the conversation to the rich snobs talking about themselves. Those conversations he preferred, because he didn't want to tell anything about himself, and they gave him a chance to get a better view of Aires.

Finally he crossed the room to someone he actually DID want to see with a drink in each hand. "May I offer the ladies a drink?" He turned to Falke, a grin on his face that the September warrior couldn't see, but he could hear. "How about you, young sir?"

Diamond Traders made Nikita herself something of a public figure before she was connected to her month warrior. Some of these guests were her suppliers or customers, but she had never been invited to or involved in any of their parties. It was a new experience, but not as much as a strain for her than Kyle. She already knew names and basic personal information she needed for business. If she could find him, she could introduce him and at least give him something. They were separated in the crowd, and both were short making it difficult to be seen or see each other. She sighed as she nursed her first drink, and bumped into a frustrated Lillian. "What happened?" she asked, noting the scowl.

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Dorian followed behind Trent, eyes darting around as they left the crowded room with a mixture of guilt and apprehension. He knew that logically he shouldn't feel guilty about tagging along with Trent, especially when it meant staying on the General's good side, which, Dorian was very well aware, was a very small side indeed. Still, it didn't stop him from feeling like a student skipping school and he almost wished that someone would come stop them, insist that the March Warrior stay behind and keep schmoozing or, in Dorian's case, keep hiding in a corner and inadvertently run everyone off with his gaze. The apprehension, of course, came from the fact that he half expected Mildred to pop out from behind the bushes and attack (with words, of course, but Dorian was convinced that her tongue was sharp enough to cut any victim in two). But no one moved to stop them and Mildred remained firmly out of sight, so he continued to follow Trent away from the grand ball and towards the unknown.

He answered in affirmative when Trent took a moment to confirm that he was a drink guy. It was a lie, of course, a bald-faced one at that. He didn't drink, didn't enjoy it particularly, and knew very well that it didn't take more than a glass or two to make him tipsy, a fact that he'd learned quickly back at the Academy after Tallyho had invited him to go drinking with her. He'd woken up the next day with a splitting headache, a missing shirt, some unidentifiable substance that smelled vaguely of apples soaking his shoe, and Tallyho refusing to tell him what he'd done, even if she did start guffawing every time he tried to ask. Still, it would be better than poppies if he was was correct in assuming what that actually meant(and he usually was).

He managed to get out a vague reply that, yes, he was humbled and enjoyed feeling so important- another lie, of course- before letting Trent turn the conversation this way and that, each word revealing just who this man was. A bit deranged, certainly sociopathic, unaware of his social ineptitude, and quite obviously the Goddess' gift to humanity (in his own mind). Possibly the most disturbing thing was the revelation that Trent thought that they were actually similar and Dorian hoped to God that he didn't give that impression and it was just Trent's usual social ineptitude coming into play. Otherwise he might need to rethink the entirety of his life and make some big changes. And maybe try to smile more, although that usually didn't work out quite well when he was faking it.

He didn't speak up when Trent decided to make blithe remarks about the group because, quite honestly, he was still a bit pissed with all of those who'd spoken out of turn at the prison. Yes, he was actively irritated with them anymore, but just the thought was enough to make his stomach turn. They might all be technically adults now, but he was well aware that they occasionally regressed to the bundle of hormones and teenage fury that they'd all begun with.

They'd wandered into the less than financially reputable part of town, the building simpler, the streets dirties, the smells… Well, Dorian wasn't going to get into the smells. And with it, Trent became less stiff as well, his tongue loosening as if the further he was from his royal duties, the more informal he became. It didn't bode well for the night ahead.

"Of course," He replied finally, eying the tavern door before attempting to look actually prepared and blocking out any and all images of the Hangover movies in hopes that that wouldn't jinx his night out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If Dae was at all phased by Kyle's momentary look of shock, she had tact enough not to show it, bowing her head at the subsequent compliment. The dress itself was a conservative thing, sleeves falling over rough, calloused hands, the neck wrapped around her throat. It was not a fashion choice so much as it was to cover scars and blemishes too brutal for delicate eyes that wanted to gaze on beauty and power today, not marred skin and rough clothes.

"Thanks," she said, ruffling her own hair in mild embarrassment until Liam had to smooth it down again. There was silence, as much as any silence can exist in a crowded ballroom, until Kyle made his exit with a kiss on Dae's hand leaving a stunned Dae and a clearly amused Liam behind.

"What did he do that for?" She demanded, confused green eyes turning towards the blonde man. He laughed his unnerving, quiet laugh before leading her back to the dance floor.

"I believe that it's meant to be a sign of respect to a lady," He murmured in her ear. The knight fixed him with an unamused look.

"But that's weird. And I'm not a lady, Liam."

"Oh, I know that, pet. It just makes things easier for people to act as if you are when they're playing gentlemen."

"It's the dress, isn't it?"

"It's the dress."

"I don't like it."

"No," Liam conceded, resting his chin on her shoulder for a moment. "But it's so kind of you to play dress-up for me. I do appreciate it."

There was silence for a moment.

"You do realize that I'm wearing pants underneath this dress."

Liam's response was to bury his face in her neck, trembling as he kept the peels of laughter at bay. Dae simple looked smug as they continued to move in a rhythm all their own.

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Upon entering the hidden bar it hadn’t taken long for Trent to dive into his spirits and he avidly mixed them—the lights with the darks—each wince-worthy alcohol flushing down his throat like draining water—falling so fast that there was a gurgle. He did not, however neglect to offer Dorian a drink every time he forgot that he had already done so only moments before.
At some point he fell into a debate—well for Trent everything was a full-out argument—with one of the men he and Dorian ventured to meet in this place.

The young man was a typical knight—even going as far as to wear his emblems at such a wretched gathering place. He struggled under the heavy swing of Trent’s words and retorts which shot out of his mouth at such a speed that the poor knight could hardly get a word in.

“No, no General that’s not what I’m saying!”
“OOOOhhhhhhh no you pig-headed simpleton, I know exactly what you meant to say!”
Trent hiccupped.
“Sire! It’s not that I think that any domestic defense funds should be taken away from the army—“
“But you think those no-toothed, scurvy-infested, sea cakes deserve more support and funding than we do?!”
“Only relative to the support they have now. I just think—“
“AAHH! Who cares what you think you salmonetic peasant!!! This army—MY army—is the only reason why this prissy, harpsichord-playing, religiously whipped nation hasn’t been conquered by brutes from Hales or Ira!”

Another one of the knights weaseled his way between them with a red face and dreamy laughter.

“Now, now men. How about we change the subject?”
“I HOPE YOUR MOTHER FALLS WITH THE GOUT, CHARLES!” Trent slurred.
“General! The subject. Change it.”
“Oh, FINE! Well, then I choose! How about we discuss the fact that our nation has become nothing but some grand old puppet ever since my fat, jolly, plebian uncle opened the nation’s doors to the Harbinger!”
The knight who had once been the victim of Trent’s drunken verbal attacks chimed in.
“Now that’s something we can all agree on. Ever since the Harbinger took up residency in the RK, a knight’s salary is nearly a third less than what it would have been ten years ago!”

This was apparently a popular topic of conversation all around the kingdom because a scantily-clad woman with a thick layer of makeup approached the group with a few of her own words.
“I hear that the King doesn’t even approve new laws anymore. The Harbinger and his little red birds do it all in his place.”

Trent laughed. The fact that the woman said such a thing to him as if he had no personal intel on the situation—as if he weren’t Trenton Jerimiah Cress of the Rembrandt bloodline but a common knight—told him that she had no idea who he was. Nonetheless, he played along, taking the mask of a common knight.

“Well I wouldn’t be surprised! We knights are always being given the short end of the stick when it comes to the personal gain of the big fish.”

He looked over a winked at Dorian as if he were sharing some incredible secret.

“Isn’t that right,” the woman sighed, “and taxes have been rising too. It’s rough out there for someone like me. But I’m sure…” Her slender arm draped around Trent’s shoulder and played in his hair, “…things can be a little harder for a knight.”

What Trent did next would be both shocking and totally within character.

As her voice slowed and lowered and her eyelids drooped seductively, she shifted her frame to a seductive curve only to have it shaken by Trent’s shoulder jabbing her side. “Get your dirty hands off of me you vile wench! I’d die before I lay with a woman who rolls on the floor of a brothel every night!”

The woman drew back with a curl of the lip, her brows furrowed as she looked at Trent with disgust.

“Relax you brute!”

“Welax wu bwute~~~” Trent cooed back in mockery.

And the woman, thoroughly annoyed, tossed her drink in Trent’s face. And Trent, scooping the strong alcohol from his lashes with vigor, wasn’t going to hit her, but he wasn’t going to let her sit pretty after doing that and as soon as he could muster to open his eyes he returned the favor, throwing his drink in her face.

Her surprised screech caught the attention of the burly tavern owner who began to push through the crowd to get to the scuffle. He charged through the wall of confused knights to seize Trent whose collar he clenched with little effort. The woman ran away.

“What’s going on here?”

One of the knights stepped in.

“We apologize. Our friend spilled his drink on—“
“Oh noooo you plebian don’t tell lies on my behalf! WE were just minding our own business when this brothel-made wench decided it would be a good idea to violate MY space! I told her to get lost and she got all emotional (boohoo) and threw her drink in MY face! So I threw it back at her! I must say though, I’m disappointed in your establishment. The people here used to be a lot… cleaner.”

Trent, pent up against the table couldn’t help but notice the brown stains all over the tavern owner’s shirt and with a curl of the brow he said:

“I guess the style clientele reflects the style of mastermind behind the business…”

The burly man wasn’t an idiot and caught Trent’s insult fully. Without any warning, he picked Trent up by the collar and tossed him onto the floor at Dorian’s feet. By the time their leader hit the ground the knights were upon the tavern owner, and then his men jumped into the scuffle too. Trent got up immediately. He might have been royal blood but he wasn’t a “dandy” as he might have put it.

“Dorian my boy. We’re in a state of fight or die!”

And with a spry leap he rejoined the mob, taking down one of the new comers expertly.

As the mob grew and people began to irrationally attack others, it certainly did seem like a fight or die situation.

The fight didn’t last long before the point of it was completely lost. And Trent became bored. He was no longer fighting anyone from the original scuffle but some random sap with was just looking for something interesting to do. For Trent this was completely unacceptable. So just as he did in any other bar fight he’d jumped into in the past few years, he planned his leave. He and the knights had an unspoken protocol. When you’re done with a brawl don’t bother gathering the others or you’ll never get out. Just go ahead and leave and see each other the next day. And Trent was going to do as he had normally done had he not remembered Dorian. With little effort he weaseled his way through the mess until he came across the March warrior. After assaulting anyone the young man might have been in the middle of a scuffle with, Trent led him to what he assumed Dorian found to be the much needed exit and they ran until they were at least a block away.

Trent stopped running when he came across a fountain.

“Hey, hey, hey let’s rest,” he huffed as he jogged toward it and leaned over the ledge to appraise the damage. A potentially swollen jaw and a scrape on the forehead—not bad. And with a pleased look on his face he rolled from his knees and onto his bottom, his back pressed against the fountain wall and he urged Dorian to sit.

“Wasn’t that brawl great!? Why…I haven’t felt that way in a long, long time!” He laughed. Considering Dorian’s personality as he understood it thus far, he went back to revise his exclamation.
“I take it this wasn’t your brand of fun though, eh? Did you like the hunting trip better then?” Trent, still smirking closed his eyes and let out a breath. For the first time he looked content.

“I apologize for dragging you into such a thing. Really, I do,” he hummed. He had to be massively drunk. “I’m always going out and getting in trouble I suppose… Trying to find something to… I guess make me feel something. Life gets boing for me. I’m so young, about 25 springs and I’m a General and… Well… It gets boring.”

Trent opened his eyes again and squinted at a crude bakery across the way. The lights were still on.

“You hungry? I bet they’re about to close. Let’s get something before they close!”
And without a warning the young General sprinted over, knocking on the window to catch the attention of the baker who opened it unenthusiastically.

“Look,” the baker sighed, “if you want anything we have a very limited supply on the shelves and there won’t be new stuff till tomorrow.”
“What have you got?”
“Rose cake.”
“I’ll take two slices.”
The baker ducked back into the window to retrieve the pieces as Trent fumbled for his gold sack.
“That’ll be—“ Trent chucked his whole bag into the hands of the baker which, for the record, contained more than enough to cover the price of two stale pieces of cake and a full grown horse. He took the cake and ran back to the fountain, tossing a slice in Dorian’s lap before plopping back onto the ground to consume his own. After nearly swallowing it whole, he let out a contented grunt.
“That was disgusting,” he said with a sleepy grin, “grade F, peasant-quality, yummy, yummy cake.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Kit Withers
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#, as written by Linnea
Autumn chuckled. “It’s just a joke, just a joke.”

She was fairly certain that if she did describe the worm, the fair princess would have no reservations in imitating it.

“Oh, don’t be a fuddy-duddy! Dancing sounds wonderful!” Autumn laughed again, cheerfully placing her hands in Morgan’s palms.

“I’d love to dance! Thank you for the offer, Kyle, but I’ve got to get my boogie on!” It had been a long time since the November warrior had been so energetic. She didn’t even need to have any drinks to be so gleeful. The mere fact that she wasn’t dragging her heels was enough to make her ecstatic.

“You know, if you want to dance with someone who’s really good, I think Kit probably knows all the moves.”

Kit, too, kept himself rather sober. It was an interesting development, as Autumn would have expected him to be drinking rather heavily considering the recent events. His calm state only further enforced her suspicion of his guilt. The smallest glance at someone’s necklace was enough to make him turn his head the other way and try to focus on something else.

His head swiveling and his eyes darting were common traits of his, as he had a tendency to observe anything and everything, but Autumn knew well enough to know that him not focusing on art of any kind was rather uncharacteristic of him. However, it wasn’t her business to try and solve his internal conflicts.

“He never taught me, though. Always fighting this, fighting that. Good thing you’re around to show me how!”

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Ryou Zerinn Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Haru Karokav Character Portrait: Nikita Machari Character Portrait: Falke der Herrscher Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Alatáriël Oronrá Character Portrait: Karma Chu Character Portrait: Ondine Azur Character Portrait: Kit Withers Character Portrait: Bryce Edwards
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"May I offer the ladies a drink? How about you young sir?"

Young sir? Falke tilted his head to regard evenly in Kyle's general direction, an eyebrow raising in curiosity. The curiosity was not deemed to be the fact that he was technically 6 months at least older than the other younger man. But because of the smile he could hear in his words as he spoke. Genuine as it was in greeting and offering a drink to fellow associates of the month warrior party, it still sounded stained like he was trying awfully hard to enjoy himself - honestly, a little over doing it in his opinion. He could accurately assume that the party obviously was not Kyle's cup of tea either. "No, thank you." Falke returned, politely. As his gaze wandered back to Morgan, asking one of the warrior's to demonstrate with her - Autumn cheerfully stepping forward to, well er, as she put it 'get her boogie on'.

Falke flicked a hand upwards and to the side, in a gesture to where Morgan was gathering those to learn to dance, and for Kyle's benefit explained idly as he spoke up again. "I can hold those for you, if you want to go and learn traditional RK dances with them." He offered. Well aware that his company, even being a vague 'friend' of Kyle's, wouldn't be as appreciated as someone elses'. He wasn't born yesterday, even with his own limited (or lacking really, other than his family) experience with such sort of emotions; and with his abilities, Goddess above, hesh... He knew more than he really wanted to know. More than enough to put two and two together between crushes and relationships that were more than simply good friendships. Hell, sometimes it was a bloody war zone.

...

"What happened?"

Lillian blinked. The scowl fading from her fair face, and replaced with a gentle, sly smile, as she recognized the voice speaking up from beside her. "Nothing more than what I expected," Lillian paused, her accented tone sweet and sad, but gracefully shrugging off whatever had happened. During her exceedingly long lifetime, immortal occurrences of disgrace and disgust was something she would always deal with - especially being at a party where she did not belong. She glanced back to Nikita, with a distant warmness in their depths, as she complimented her on the other woman's assembly, "Lovely. You look lovely m'dear." Truly admiring the dress and other Guardian's thing of beauty, was an ease she had long since accomplished as an art form. The more you had, the more you could use it as an advantage, speaking simple. "Enjoying yourself?"

As she spoke pleasantly, keeping the conversation afloat, her mind silently worked into overdrive as she noted where other Guardian's and the warriors where in the large ballroom. It was a more likely that another Guardian would be better suited than a hot-headed warrior that did not understand Lillian's social and class situation and would take the dreadfully wrong assumption if anything where to happened again; to help her weave out of the crowd and reach the exit on the far side. However, her two preferred companions, Haru and Ryou had finally begun talking again after days that a rift had come between them. She was proper enough not to bug them during this time. Kit was, oh bless his heart, much too scrawny for words. And would not achieve the desired effect of not being noticed as she was escorted away, she could only figure. Ondine was bluntly to close to the warrior's in mindset that even on a good, exceeding good, day she would not trust her in this task. Nikita too had her faults lying on being too closely connected with these people through her business, they would want to come and talk to her. Bryce it seemed then to be the best choice she had, his manipulative persona had a powerful pull but given the right circumstances it keep people away and weary in his presence. However, she'd yet to spot him through the crowd. Oh, what a bother...


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Dorian was not drunk. No, at this point he was so far past drunk that, he wagered mentally (or out loud if the way the bartender smirked at him meant anything), he was utterly and completely sober. Drink after drink had been pressed into his hand, vile connections that burned as they ran down his throat. He didn't refuse even one at first out of sheer politeness and then because he'd quickly realized that he had nothing left to lose.

The atmosphere was intoxicating, warm bodies pressed all around reeking of alcohol and something Dorian didn't care to identify, and the drinks even more so. He was leaning heavily on the bar top, almost the entirety of his upper body spread across the sticky surface with very little care. Gray eyes were uncharacteristically soft and particularly doe-like and a bemused almost dopey smile strained unfamiliar facial muscles as he watched the Trent Show. And it was indeed the Trent show as General Cress argued drunkenly with whoever dared to disagree with hime. Or agree with him. Or, really, said even nothing. It was hilarious in an entertaining but terribly awkward sort of way, each insult and comment more ridiculous than the next and Dorian found himself collapsing into a fit of honest-to-God giggles.

"He said 'gout' again," Dorian tittered, poking at the bartender's arm. "Means I need another, puh-lease." It appeared that making a drinking game of taking a shot every time Trent said plebeian, peasant, or gout was going to give Dorian alcohol poisoning.

The bartender, a middle-aged man who was far more amused by his newest customer than whatever it was General Cress was rambling about, patted Dorian's hand before setting down a shot. This time, as it had been for the past fifteen shots, was water, but Dorian, taste-buds numbed quickly after his fourth drink, couldn't tell the difference as he downed it all the same.

His mind was full of warm bubbles that threatened to drown any rational thought in soapy suds, but he could still cling to bits of information as the conversation shifted from hating… somebody that had to do with water(mermaids, he thought sagely, before bursting into another peel of laughter) to the Harbinger and the King. He furrowed his brows, concentrating for all that he was worth as accusations of a puppet ruler rang loud and clear. He hoarded the information away before tipping his empty glass towards Trent when he turned to him with a wink before making grabby hands at the bartender who obligingly slid him another little glass of water.

It was only when the woman tossed a drink in Trent's face and the General retaliated with a splash of his own that Dorian's doe-y eyed expression morphed into one of horror, mouth opening and closing like a particularly desperate oxygen-starved fish. This constant motion didn't stop until Trent was thrown bodily by the tavern owner, falling at Dorian's feet. He staggered to a stand, eyes darting around as more and more men joined the fight, confused and woozy. He barely dodged a wayward fist that quickly turned into more intentional punches that Dorian had to duck and stagger out of the way of, wobbling about like a newborn foal. This wasn't funny anymore and the warm, bubbly cloud over his mind was popping one by one leaving him feeling nauseous. Which was why, of course, when Trent laid out his latest attacked and ushered him towards the exit, Dorian followed instantaneously, graceless and uncoordinated.

When they finally stopped, Dorian collapsed on the pavement surrounding the fountain, gasping for breath and trying to stop the world from spinning by placing both hands firmly on the fountain. The cool night air was like a slap in the face and the last of the good feeling dissipated leaving him feeling dizzy and ill. Still, he stared up at Trent as the man spoke, aware somewhere in the back of his mind of the honesty of his words. It struck a chord somewhere in Dorian's heart and he found himself shaking his head, patting Trent's shoulder awkwardly.

"S'okay," he slurred with sincerity shining through the drunken drawl. "I didn't- it was fun. You- you shouldn't be bored. Sucks to not have some whatsit, some excitement. Keeps life interesting. Makes you feel alive."

When Trent suddenly bolted to the bakery, Dorian tipped over and met the pavement. He didn't move there, just letting the cool stone press against his too-hot cheek as he blinked blearily at the bakery, wondering idly if it was even open. A dull haze had replaced the soapy bubbles and he only sat up in time to catch the piece of cake tossed to him. He picked at it, nibbling it into nonexistence bit by bit, even as Trent warmly insulted it. It was delicious and he couldn't quite figure out if it was making his stomach feel worse or better to have something on it.

"Absolutely," Dorian mumbled in agreement, bobbing his head lethargically. There was silence for a moment.

"Thanks. For bringing me," Dorian finally hummed, deciding not to move lest he vomit in the nice, clean fountain. "If you didn't, I'd-" Be sitting in the background in a stuffy room, surrounded by teammates he felt more distant from day after day, playing nice with people who didn't know him and didn't care to. It was a far cry from the years on Aires prior to this, to training, to fighting, to even the day before. This wasn't a peaceful existence right now but a stifled one, too prim and too proper to the point where it was suffocating.

"I'd be bored too."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Others to be added within the day- this applies to my last post as well

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Time seemed to flow a little easier after his little chat (if that's what you'd call it) with Kyle. Lumbering about, his shoulder ached with whatever medication the palace medical team had given him wearing off.
As soon as it worn off he would be able to move his arm properly again. Whatever the palace medics had given him was weird, yet fascinating. Xabier was deeply curious as to the science behind it all.

He was told that he had to keep his arm still as much as possible and that he should refrain from alcoholic beverages for a short while. He wasn't going to be rude and just tell them that it was just a mere flesh wound and that all of this was unnecessary seeing as they were all so kind to him.
The parade went by in a flash of faces and sound. The other warriors didn't seem to enjoy the spotlight much while Xabi had found some enjoyment out off it. In nice clothes and with a washed face he was presentable enough and the team was alive and mostly well. Both things were enough to make him appreciate what he has. Thinking about it, he was pretty lucky. Not everyone was as blessed as he was in life with food and shelter.
He made more of an effort to be friendly to the others, especially Kyle. God knows he avoided him long enough. Xabi also made sure to thank Ryou and to apologise to Nikita about him nodding off like that straight after the flock. It was appreciated and it made him feel just a little bit less resentful. It wasn't anyone else's problem that he was feeling bad. He had to take responsibility of himself. For too long he had waited on his Guardian to come and take responsibility for him. To look after him and to pat him on the head and tell him he was going to be alright. It wasn't any of the others' faults that they had that and he didn't. It was childish that he felt resentful and even more childish that he couldn't seem to get past it.
He was an adult now even if he was treated like a child.
This realisation was enough to make him try just a little bit harder to change himself.

The parade seemed to drag on and on until finally something interesting happened.
A group of blonde people were cheering and playing music loudly. They looked strangely like Tallyho. Perhaps they were her family?
Family. What a warm word. Xabier averted his gaze with sudden shyness. An aching feeling hit his chest and he could barely stand it. His own family was god knows where, doing god knows what. Aitzan, the eldest of his siblings would be 19 by now. Inigo, the youngest would be 10 years old. God knows how his parents were or if everyone was still well.
He had dealt with their absence by comforting himself that he wasn't alone in this. There was 11 other warriors who were also without their families. They were all in this together. The Spanish lad was pleased for Tallyho but he couldn't watch any longer so he kept walking with his gaze firmly ahead. Each spectator became a bubble in a series of perfectly identical bubbles. Their cheers and screams, a distant hum.
The religious service went past slowly with the group dressed in "holier-than-thou" white outfits that reminded him of a wedding of some sort. The Harbinger was mesmerising in his sermon and if Xabier hadn't spent most of his life sceptical of a higher power he probably would've succumbed to the sheer intensity of the holy man's presence.
The warriors were dragged along to event after luxurious event which was fine by him. He enjoyed being around people and all the positivity surrounding the team had raised his spirits dramatically. Occasionally he could feel a familiar little thrum of energy underneath his fingertips and a shadow would move slightly.
Once or twice he felt someone's gaze on him only for there to be no one in the room with him.
He had a recurring dream ever since the Flock. It was nothing serious just a little bit strange. It was just him lying asleep in his bed only to sit up and open his lids to see a figure sitting at the end of the bed. A dark and brilliant version of himself. Just him sitting there, nothing more. And the other Xabier would stare with his cold, pitiless eyes and wait. Wait until the tired Xabier lies back down. And when he opens up his eyes again there would be no one there. Not even a flicker in the shadows. And then he would promptly go back to sleep.
It was always very dark in the room and cold, cold as death.
The nights were cold because he insisted of not having a fire on in his chamber at night.
It was too scary to imagine what would happen if he left it alone. Even with the fire guard he found himself getting restless. That and there was a little mirror beside his bed.
A little itch in the back of his head. Every night he felt it and he would go over and turn around the mirror so it faced the wall instead. Every morning before the servants came in to wake him, he'd move it back again. It was the same with all reflections. He never wanted to see his own face in the dark again.
(Which was fabulous seeing as he needed to visualise it to try to bring his dopplëgangers back.)
Perhaps that was where some of the palace staff got the idea that he was some sort of diva, because they never went against him. Not once. Whenever he sneezed there were several maids holding out handkerchiefs, they never questioned his antics to his face at least and whenever he wanted to go anywhere he had a small ensemble chasing him around. He wouldn't be surprised if one of the maids miraculously appeared in the bathroom and passed him toilet paper when he was finished doing his business.

All joking aside, Xabier was truly bewildered by the sudden change in attitude.
One moment they were all in a jail cell, the next they were eating fancy food and sleeping in fancy beds. And it was the same group of people who put them in each situation making it very difficult to trust them.
He often had to hold back the urge to sniff his food for poison.
Princess Morgan and King Rembrandt on the other hand seemed to be trustworthy. Well the Princess more than the King because he only really met him once. The Princess seemed to be a genuinely sweet person and was beautiful enough to break many hearts. Not Xabier's though. His mind was elsewhere.
The Princess and her father seemed very close and their light hearted banter was a pleasant sight to witness. Yet again there was a nice big dollop of family-time for everyone to watch.
Which Xabier reluctantly had to admit wasn't so bad.

----------------------------------------------
The ball thing was a lot more fun than he had expected. He was finally allowed to drink even though he had vowed to keep it to the minimum. He was to be talking with officials and the elite. Drink always made his accent stronger and he would most likely say something very embarrassing, very loudly. Still, Xabier couldn't be expected to go cold turkey, now could he? After his second drink, the name of which he was told and subsequently forgot, he found himself surrounded in a sea of strangers. Well dressed ladies with their daughters lingering near the food, enquired about everything from his family life to his current relationship status. Every so often he looked around for Harper to no avail.
Official looking men praised his supposed valour and wished him well in the times ahead.
He thanked each one humbly and in turn mentioned that he was very lucky to have such a good team and such gracious hosts. Each word was said as sincerely as possible. Never mind he that he couldn't trust his hosts not to plop him in a prison cell without notice. It was like a minefield waiting to blow up at any moment.
Everyone was slowly getting in better spirits. Even Autumn. Frankly Xabier had forgotten what she looked like happy. It was spectacular. In recent times she had appeared so drained constantly and it was becoming a little worrying, however she had Kit so Xabi had never got himself involved. It was refreshing to see her happier. He shrugged off his false admirers with an excuse about duty and whatnot and headed over to where a group of month warriors was concentrated. Trust them to cling to familiarity, he thought as he hypocritically went to join them. His eyes subconsciously searched the crowd for Harper's face. He had to stop doing that. If he kept clinging to him like a baby he'd just run away.
Instead he watched as the Princess gathered around some of them to teach them some dance moves.
A genuine smile spread across his face.
"Looks like fun, mind if I join you?"

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Morgan was more than a little pleased to see that many of the other warriors were excited about learning to dance. She wasn’t even really that sure where to begin. A basic two step or elaborate choreography unique to the region? Nonetheless, she jumped right into it, offering advice with firm guidance. It was a pleasure to take leadership, even if it was over something as petty as a dance. This was the rest of Morgan’s night and she couldn’t be more pleased.
The next day went faster than most. Tallyho hardly had time to grab a bite to eat between being tossed from tailor to tailor to dress rehearsal. From what she could tell this was going to be the most serious event. By evening the warriors were all pinned into their gowns and suits and servants were decorating the grand hall with haste. Large armed men lifted and placed grand pots of clay with tops that burst vibrantly with exotic greenery. Women meandered around with golden drapes and pinned them from pillar to pillar, doorway to doorway. Mildred took charge wherever she found inadequacy.
“Wait, wait, wait don’t put the candles on those tables. No, those tables!”
“Block this section off. So-in-so should be standing here.”
“I don’t like these flowers—I wouldn’t care even if they were imported from another planet! Get me something different.”
Mildred had the month warriors gathered at the front of the room on the platform where the king’s throne sat uplifted over anyone who stood below. She had them arranged in a line, shoulder to shoulder in the order of their months.
“Now when the trumpets sound January through June will enter from stage left and July through December stage right. Meet in the middle and try to move in unison. Don’t move too fast. If you have stage fright direct your attention to the very back of the room. Stand there for a while as the Harbinger makes his speech. When he comes to you with a chalice of wine sip gracefully from the cup, don’t gulp. When he makes his final declaration hold hands, lift them up in the air, bow, pause, take in the applause, then you are free to GRACEFULLY descend the stairs to dance among the party goers. Because this is the big event no sneaking off either. Is that understood?”
Her synopsis of the whole ordeal was a lot less fabulous than it was really going to be but the warriors’ jobs seemed simple enough.
“People should be coming in for the ceremony in one hour. Until then you twelve should part off into your groups of six and follow my assistants to your respective waiting rooms. There will be a few snacks back there to hold you over. But please, oh please don’t soil your outfits. Now go!”
The young assistants split and swept the group away and as soon as the January through June group arrived at their waiting space Tallyho collapsed onto a small velvet loveseat perched next to the door. She held her breath as she hit the cushion, fearing that a jewel might pop off the back of her dress. Goddess knows Mildred would notice such a small flaw and murder her.
Tallyho’s dress wasn’t like anything she might have imagined putting on her body, not just because it was fancy but because it was something that wasn’t a traditional design for anyone. Mildred, in her own colorful language insisted that the designer make her dress sleek to “refer to the way lightning splits the sky with a crisp white line” and to accentuate her “waifish, cat-like and sneaky physique,” whatever that meant. The dress was…different yet still charming with a high neckline that rested just below her collar bone and a scoop in the back that fell just above her elbows when her arms are resting at her side. The sleeves of her dress followed the contours of her arms and tapered at her hands, each sleeve bound by a ring to the middle finger. The skirt of the dress followed her form religiously until a slight flare billowed out as the fabric fell closer to the floor. The dress itself was a lovely and subtle color, a host of white fabric sheathed under a sheer lavender fabric. The amethyst was also incorporated in the dress’ design, roughly cut and irregular gems were bound to the fabric all about the collar and scoop of the back. A few smaller gems were sprinkled at the elbows and hands of the sleeves. Tallyho couldn’t lie and say that she didn’t at least feel a little elegant. But all of that went away as she looked up to see the food left in the room for them.
“A few snacks to hold us over she said…” Tallyho mumbled as she eyed the table adorned with a full turkey, grapes and finger desserts. She ate idly as she scanned the room. Considering the five other people she was stuck in the room with (save for Dorian) she wasn’t looking forward to the next hour. She almost wished that she and Dorian, or perhaps just Falke was of a different month. Just so that Tallyho could atleast be together with what she considered to be her two friends. Aside from Gwen she didn’t think very much of the other month warrior girls, Kyle could be quite overbearing, she’d developed a particular distaste for Xabier and she never even liked Harper to begin with.
Unsure of how she could survive the next hour she turned to Dorian.
“So how was last night?” She was a little smug as she asked but not particularly unpleasant. She didn’t really mean to ask that question to begin with but the idea of Dorian hanging out with Trent of all people worried her.

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It was with a large effort and an powerful determination that Dorian made it back to his rooms at all that night. He managed to stagger his way back and even stop himself from vomiting partially-digested rose cake on Trent's shoes, truly a great accomplishment for the achingly drunk month warrior. He barely remembered the walk back, except for the fact that his stomach was churning and his legs felt an awful lot like jelly, but he certainly recalled collapsing in bed and burrowing under the covers. It probably wasn't the best position to lie in when one feels as if they will keel over and die if they move too suddenly, but it held a certain comfort in being surrounded by soft blankets on an overly cushy mattress. It was almost like home if almost meant only vaguely so.

Well and truly hung over, Dorian's morning was absolute Hell on Earth. His head was throbbing, his throat burned, and he'd only just made it to the toilets (after hurtling through several stunned tailors) before completely losing his late night snack. And dinner. And maybe a bit of yesterday's lunch. He remained on the floor, hugging the toilet for dear life for what felt like an eternity. Sickeningly, it still smelled vaguely like roses. Only after a small breakfast of very plain and very dry toast paired with honey and a scalding lemon tea did Dorian even feel fit to stand, let alone allow himself to be made up like a particularly unhappy doll.

He didn't feel particularly March-y in his own outfit, but, he supposed, Mildred's goal had been to make them look good and he was well aware that anyone wandering around in an aquamarine suit didn't exactly give off an awe-inspiring impression. Mildred, after a shrewd gaze that had lasted a beat too long, had insisted that the designer swathe Dorian in dark colors to really play up his "dangerous" "mysterious" and "darkly alluring" looks (comments that had surprised Dorian who'd felt rather like she was describing Batman and not him). The outfit was as dark as Mildred had demanded, almost all in black with silver embroidery darting through the fitted jacket in a curling pattern that reminded Dorian rather discreetly and ingeniously of the wind without slapping any viewers over the head with the idea. The trousers were black and certainly fitted, a little too snug here and, really, did it have to cling there? Maybe it was all part of the big picture and maybe it didn't look as bad as it felt, but really. Really. His undershirt, obscured by the jacket by all but the collar, was the same silver as the embroidery. He'd been given a pair of boots that stopped just below the knees, shined to perfection. The only thing that openly indicated what month he was meant to represent was a large aquamarine jewel settled in the middle of a silver chain wrapped around his neck as a decorative necklace while the real jewel remained obscured by his sleeves.

By the time they'd all been ushered into dress rehearsal, Dorian no longer felt like crying and/or killing himself. He even looked better or at least as pleasant and not-angry as his usual resting bitch face would allow. The nausea had quieted down, his throat no longer felt like he'd swallowed several sheets of sandpaper, and his headache was less maddening, but not enough so that Mildred's orders didn't occasionally pierce through his brain like so many sharpened blades. The demand that none of them sneak off was particularly painful, but he couldn't decide if that was the fear coursing through his veins that he'd be called out like a naughty child or just the final remnants of his headache giving a last hurrah before dissipating.

There were ushered away quickly into their respective waiting rooms and seated himself, rather uncomfortably because this was why he never wore skinny jeans, on a particularly well-cushioned and overly ornate chair. He didn't fancy being stuck in this room for an hour, and that wasn't just because he could see boredom setting in rather quickly. No, it was his own issues with the others- he didn't hate anyone or at least he didn't hate anyone much, but he'd noticed his own relationship with most of the others had begun to disintegrate some time after the Academy's burning. Still, he couldn't complain- it could always be worse. He crossed his legs, realized that was a bad idea, and hurriedly uncrossed them.

Everyone was dressed to the nines, finally looking in place in this palace of royal splendor. Mildred and her crack team of designers and tailors had served them well. He hadn't really noticed that fact until Tallyho made her way back from the "snack" table (if those were actual snacks, he'd hate to see what they considered a meal). Her dress was simply stunning in that it did her natural beauty justice, tight and loose in all the right places, the color of the dress making her simply glow even in the room's rather dim lighting. He would say that she looked like a princess only far more worldly, elegant, and mature for that. Although, he supposed, it wasn't all that great of a transformation- she always looked that lovely.

Her question, however, was decidedly less praise worthy. As if on cue, his headache throbbed once more, now in its death throes and eager to get one last stab in there.

"It was..." He struggled for words. Stupid of him to do? Enlightening about General Cress? Really quite the bizarre adventure?

"It was interesting," He finally breathed, pinching the bridge of his nose briefly. "I've, uh, seen a new part of the Rose Kingdom. And I think I remember everything that happened this time." The last part was more of a joke, a playful nudge of 'remember my last drinking fiasco' that very few apart from Tallyho would get.

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Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Harper Calloway Fields Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Xabier Sanchez Character Portrait: Falke der Herrscher Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful
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#, as written by Linnea
Autumn was less than pleased that Xabier had decided to join them. She was dancing to forget him, and here he was. Though, it was strange. Before, all she had wanted was to be close to him. Now, she couldn’t stand the sight of him. Was it heartbreak? Disdain? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that him being near made her upset.

She wanted to leave right then and there. How delightful it would be to turn up her nose and glare at him. How wonderful it would be to let him know he was unwanted. However, those actions were petty and childish. Despite many of her actions, Autumn was still a grown woman. She knew well enough that doing such things, especially in public, would only cause a scene in front of important people. So, for the sake of dignity, she smiled. “Go ahead, the more the merrier!” Autumn spent the rest of the night learning from Morgan and taking what delight she could in dancing. At least Morgan was having fun.

Autumn felt a bit like a doll the next day. She was pinned and poked as she was prepared for the big day. As always, Mildred took charge of the event fearlessly. If there was anyone to be respected in the Rose Kingdom, it was her. From decorations to the way they moved, she had thought everything out.

Autumn entered the July-December room with some hesitation. She had never really befriended anyone in that group and it left her with awkward silence. Then there was Xabier, who she knew she would have to stand next to earlier. Falke, too, was someone she would rather not associate with. Though, that was due to the fact that they had never really connected on a personal level. Falke was an alright person and Autumn had nothing against him. Even though Mildred had told them not to, Autumn really wanted to leave.

She wished she were in the other room, talking to Dorian or Skylar. Well, mostly Dorian. The moment she stepped into the room a spirit had informed her of him hanging out with General Cress. She had been too preoccupied with her exhaustion and frustration to notice it before, but now that she knew it was rather alarming. Was he alright? Were they actually friends? Was General Cress secretly a really wonderful person? These were questions she had to ask Dorian in person, as only he could describe how he felt. Unfortunately, she had no time to do so.

Careful not to get anything on her dress, Autumn ate a few snacks to quell her rumbling stomach and pass the time.

Autumn had never worn a mermaid style dress before. She had always been too afraid it would make her look fat. This dress, however, was stunning. It was a beautiful black color, make perhaps of silk or satin or some other expensive material. What struck Autumn the most was how intense it was. Never before had she seen a black dress that commanded so much power. It hugged her body, making every curve stand out. Unfortunately, this also meant that upon close inspection one might see her ribcage.
Starting from the queen anne style neckline and down to the top of her hips, a thin layer of sheer white fabric on top of the black created a bodice. It was embroidered with silver thread. Tiny rhinestones and citrines were sown in, shining if the light hit them right. It swooped and swirled this way and that, the border ending in an asymmetrical v shape. In the center was a large diamond shaped citrine. This only proved to accentuate Autumn’s gemstone, which was now part of a fancy golden necklace with other smaller citrines in its intricate swirling pattern. Beads and rhinestones sown together made the delicate looking off of the shoulder straps. No doubt it was all for decoration.

Autumn was rather surprised at the sleeves. She had expected something long, like her previous dresses, to cover her muscles and scars. Instead, they were out in the open. There was a time when this would have embarrassed her, but she was now proud. Her pale skin shone from her bath last night (and perhaps in contrast to the dress) and in her mind she was beautiful.
The train of the skirt was long, flowing behind like a river. The same swirling pattern from the necklace and bodice was put onto the hem. Silver embroidery was embellished with small rhinestones and citrines which shone like the stars at night. Though it mostly kept itself to the base of the skirt and train, it would rise up from time to time for just a touch of elegance.

The back of the dress commanded just as much attention as the front. The fabric was cut out in the back, creating a v shaped opening that ended at the middle of her back. It was laced together tightly enough to keep the dress up but not enough to make the fabric touch. Citrines hung from the thin golden colored cord in a similar style to the necklace. The decorated embroidery continued around the back, this time the v shape going upwards and the lace ending at her hips.

Walking in the dress, Autumn almost felt as if she were gliding. It certainly looked ethereal, yet it kept that sense of power. Somehow, she looked beautiful yet fearsome. There was no need for softly flowing fabric. Death was not soft and neither was the dress.

Autumn wondered just how Mildred was able to get such a detailed dress so soon. Perhaps there was no task too big or her? It even had a warm charcoal colored cloak with elegant embroidery, which along with braids might as well have been her trademark.
Autumn blinked, wondering how her makeup didn’t get in her eyes. Somehow, everything was perfect. Her blonde hair fell down her shoulders in soft curls, the bangs braided and tied together in the back. Simple golden ribbons were braided in, creating a rather elegant look.

No doubt this was the biggest day of all. With everything that happened, it had to be something extreme.

What to do now? She couldn’t stand there eating snacks all day. And what if someone she didn’t want to talk to decided to make small talk? It came down to a decision.

Autumn approached Falke with a soft smile and a hello, hoping he didn’t mind her presence.

I’m so sorry to bother you, she thought in hopes that he would pick up on it. She never really communicated with him in that way other than the battle, so she wasn’t sure how it worked.

It’s just that I really don’t want to be forced into an uncomfortable situation with Xabier. I know it’s a bit of a burden, but please. I had to dance with Xabier last night and I do not want that to happen again. Save me?

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Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Harper Calloway Fields Character Portrait: Autumn Jones Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Xabier Sanchez Character Portrait: Nikita Machari Character Portrait: Falke der Herrscher Character Portrait: Gwenneth Yuan Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful Character Portrait: Alatáriël Oronrá
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Nothing more than expected, she said and didn't elaborate before changing the subject. Something involving fear, anger, disgust and disrespect most likely. Nikita sighed. She also had her share of those experiences before, but Lillian didn't want to talk about it obviously, just like Haru and Ryou didn't want to talk about why they weren't talking to each other. Was it really nosy to want to know why people she liked were upset? Of course, she never told any of them why she was upset before arriving in Rose Kingdom or why she couldn't sleep the weeks they spent in jail. She turned her face away and squeezed her eyes shut to force the memories back. Eventually she submitted to Lillian's subject change and accepted the compliments on her light green dress. She smiled lightly and finished her drink, passing it off to a server. Nikita shrugged a little in response to Lillian asking if she enjoyed herself. "It's nice but I think I would enjoy it more in a previous life."

Falke offered to take the drinks off his hands and let him dance, and Kyle flushed a little. Of course the guy who could read minds would know more than anyone else. At the same time, he knew he hadn't been paying much attention to Falke lately and they were supposed to be friends. Falke probably wasn't enjoying himself much either. Attention was never something he seemed to want.

The younger blond turned back to Skylar. He flushed slightly more pink and met her light blue eyes with a soft, cherishing smile. In that moment he caved, passing off the glasses of alcohol to either Falke or a passing server. Once his hands freed, he reached out to stroke her face just under her ear. Uncertainly he curled his fingers back at the last minute. Then he bent slightly and grasped her hand instead, lifting it to kiss the top. All the while, he never turned from her face. When would he have another chance like this?

The moment didn't last long enough. Xabier's voice broke through his mind and he gripped Skylar's hand tighter, looking up to the Spaniard with a glare. The interruption was not appreciated.

In some ways he was still angry with his prior friend, but he did open the door for him to act like a friend again and talk. Efforts had been made to restore the relationship, but Kyle still didn't think he could trust him, because he still avoided the subject of why they separated in the first place. That was the most important step forward. Only by knowing the why can he understand what to do in the future.

Still, his anger didn't linger as he watched Xabier and Autumn drift away with Morgan for an impromptu dance class. He gave a chuckle. Morgan's absolute joy in being around people infected him too. Despite the Spaniard's awkward presence, he really wanted to join them, but he couldn't force Skylar into something she wouldn't enjoy. His flush deepened a little more and he swallowed, but managed to say, "Are you sure you don't want to dance? Will you dance with me?"

If she wanted to dance, Kyle would be an eager dance partner, but if not, they could take a walk in the gardens outside and Falke would also be invited, if he wanted to get away. Either way, at the end of the night, he could honestly say he enjoyed himself. He had a chance to spend time with Skylar he didn't before.

Unfortunately, the next day left his brief happy memories of the party in the dust. It felt like the day they were locked up, but worse. Instead of just Haru and Nikita poking at him, a host of strangers were doing it. This time he couldn't hide or shrug off the panic. Trembling and sweating, he shook off the latest set of prodding hands. "Need air," he gasped and fled to the gardens. Once outside he nearly collapsed against one of the fountains, clinging for dear life. "Safe. not prison." There he remained, trying to get himself back together.

He had to change his shirt before submitting to the final touches on his ceremonial uniform. Because of that, he arrived a little late to the rehearsal, getting a glare from Mildred. He flushed and pulled his collar, but made extra effort in paying attention to the frenetic little woman's directions. His tasks seemed easy enough, but he also flinched at the order not to sneak away. A gilded cage. Could he really keep from freaking out? He didn't have pleasant memories of this Harbringer either. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It's almost over. Almost over.

After that trial, they dispersed to two separate rooms. That went by fairly well, even though Kyle ended up stuck in a room with Harper for an hour. He hadn't been acting the fool as much lately, but he still was a selfish bastard who can't be trusted. Skylar, Tallyho, and Dorian were pleasanter company. Because of the selfish bastard's earlier snubbing of Skylar,-He would never forgive Harper for that- Kyle remained protectively close and offered her anything she asked for from the table. He personally was disappointed in the lack of fish, which seemed ridiculous considering it was more like a buffet than the snack table Mildred called it.

While things were calm, he looked over to Tallyho and Dorian and caught part of the conversation. He unfortunately wasn't paying enough attention to know that Dorian went anywhere last night, but Tallyho did and asked the March Warrior about it. Dorian answered that he saw a new part of the Rose Kingdom. When and how did he do that? Kyle wished he could find a way to get out of this gilded cage and look around. "Where did you go?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Skylar Grayson Character Portrait: Kyle Keaton Character Portrait: Dorian Roberts Character Portrait: Harper Calloway Fields Character Portrait: Tallyho Abel Character Portrait: Xabier Sanchez Character Portrait: Gwenneth Yuan Character Portrait: Princess Morgan the Graceful
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The dance was probably the most fun he'd had in a long time.

Gregarious setting where he could still flit from person to person and get his own space if need be? No politics to worry about? Drinks all around?

Harper reveled in it.

At some point he sauntered over to Xabi and the others, (the fact that Morgan was with them certainly not playing into his reasoning) and danced first with Skylar, very briefly with Morgan, and then not long enough with Xabi.

And he got drunk. Oh so drunk. It took every ounce of will-power not to make-out with every person present.

Flirting, however, was a free for all, and he did so with everyone in his drunken, blurry sight.

The next day brought a hangover like a hammer. The kind only coffee could control. Or the closest thing they had to it. A bitter drink that was more tea than anything, but Harper downed it and drank water like a fish as people ferreted around him, sticking him with pins other sharp things as they fitted his suit.

It was a nice suit. A tailcoat. Greens and blues like the ocean, a gradient from top to bottom growing darker and darker with a shiny, pearl-ish fabric for the foam on the waves that sprayed up against his shoulders, which greatly resembled a certain Japanese woodblock print. The buttons were of actual pearl, and smaller grains of them dotted the shirt underneath in vertical columns. His hair was parted and tamed with a sap stronger than any hair-gel he'd ever used back home. Each curl and wave perfectly situated.

He felt like an art piece. He wanted to walk right into the MoMA and present himself for gallery viewing. Even his shoes were snappy, so dark a blue they were almost black, with even smaller pearls across the tongue. After the outfit had been complete, he'd immediately bee-lined for Xabi, showing off the coat, and dropping compliments with not so subtle innuendos to the younger boy.

Edna Mode ruined the mood with instructions. Sip don't gulp. Raise your hands in the air like you just don't care. But actually care this time. Don't run away and don't ruin your clothes.

And then they were divided. And whatever euphoria Harper had felt at the snappy clothes and Xabi were immediately dashed as he was shuffled off into a room with the kid who's only wish seemed to be for his demise.

I don't like you but since we're stuck with each other we have to work together Harper thought in his head sarcastically, Kyle's voice distorted into an exaggerated mimic, My name's Kyle and I hate your guts and would kill you but I won't. Try to be more like me.

Skylar and Dorian should have made this better, but Dorian was off with Tallyho and his diamond majesty was hovering around his other friend for whatever reason, which only left Gwen, who through all these years he still hardly knew. He was surprised he remembered her name. For the longest time she was just The Asian Girl with the Knife.

If he could switch her out for Xabi this would be perfect.

But perfection rarely comes to those who ask for it, and right now Harper was painfully aware of how excluded he was. He wasn't sure if it was because he'd been spending so much time with Xabi, or if maybe this was how it always was.

But then his eyes focused on Kyle and Skylar. No. This hadn't always been this way. It used to be Harper and Skylar. For three goddamn years it had been Harper and Skylar. And he'd be damned if he let this blond kid with anger problems butt his way in between.

Besides, Kyle probably wouldn't punch him or anything now. That would ruin his clothes. The kid wouldn't want people yelling at him. Or so Harper hoped.

Grin starting on his face, he made up his mind and walked over to Skylar. "I don't want to alarm you," he said, hand on his hip, "But you happen to be in the presence of a great masterpiece. Behold!" He struck a pose, flaunting the jacket, "The Great Wave off Canandaigua! By the brilliant artist Hawkseye!"