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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening


    GHAUL -- Year 209


    "(souls are not meant to live more than once — death was not meant to be temporary, and she is so sure that every time her heart starts to beat again that irreversible damage is further inflicted)" -- Anonya, written by Colby

    i hear hurricanes blowing; Lilliana
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    The morning after her journey to Ischia, the dun mare wakes late. Sunlight is already streaming into the hollow tree where she rests, and the divots in the pine needles where her children sleep are empty. Yawning, she stretches out her golden wings, followed by a roll of her neck and a toss of her head to wake herself. Lepis steps out into the sunlight, narrowing her blue-grey eyes against the brightness of the morning. Celina and Elio are bound to be off playing, she knows; her daughter regaling her younger brother with fantastic tales of her day spent on the tropical island.

    Thinking of the trip brings to mind her other companion on the trip – @[Lilliana]. The chestnut mare had done well on her first diplomatic adventure, and Lepis means to tell her that, as well as to ask Lilli’s impression of the two mares they had met and their home. The Comtesse knows from experience that their conversation with Eva and Aquaria had been a strikingly positive one, with polite greetings all about and a mutually beneficial decision to end the meeting. Strife had seemed unlikely on that quiet island, but Lepis like to hear an assessment from another set of eyes and ears before making a decision. For the most part, she has forgone that these past months, making trips and decisions entirely alone, reckless as that might be.

    Not today though. Today she has someone to talk with, and as she makes her way toward the clearing where most of the Taiga passes through at least a few times a day, she keeps an eye out for the other mare, calling once or twice.

    The pegasus reaches the meadow, having heard Elio’s shouts of pursuit and taken a swallow of water from a snowmelt stream. Recent snowmelt, too. Snow has already begun falling on Hyaline, even though fall has barely begun. A good portent of coming winter, she thinks, as is the thicker golden coat that she has been growing. On this bright day it is a little warm, but she finds a spot where the wind is just able to reach over the canopy and stir the long navy tresses of her mane. It is her one vanity, and is perhaps the most striking attribute of the dun mare. Short, sturdy, and indelicate, the Comtesse of Taiga is handsome rather than beautiful, and her cobwebbed brow often settles unconsciously into a frown when she is not paying attention. It does so now, though it lightens as she smiles at Lilliana’s arrival.


    Sometimes sleep is an easy thing.

    Sometimes Lilli can fall into it as easily as slipping into the embrace of an old friend, a black depth that lets her fall away from the rest of the world. But sometimes sleep evades her completely and Lilliana is left with only the silence of the woods: the shifting and groaning of the Redwoods as the wind whispers through the leaves above her. When she can no longer tolerate the silence, the chestnut mare moves to the northwestern part of the territory. The climate changes, the air becomes a wilder thing as it mingles with the brine of the ocean. 

    Lilli likes to listen to the waves in the distance, a soft lullaby that can eventually call her to rest when her mind would rather wander.

    It is a bitter chill that rolls off the Taigan coast that wakes her. It is brisk and piercing as it whips around the massive Redwoods. A sign of winter and as the chestnut rises, there is a sense of dread that comes with the realization. Another winter - another harsh, bitter season that will bury everything beneath a layer of ice and snow. There is a beauty to be found, perhaps, in the sparkling icicles and in the peace and stillness of a winter wood. Lilliana has looked for it before, searching for anything to admire in a season that otherwise leaves her feeling as bleak as winter itself.

    She has no intention of dwelling by the coast when the wind carries such an ominous warning as that.

    So the chestnut mare weaves through a hoof path in the northern forest that takes her to the heart of it. Her mind is in no particular place, floating between thoughts about the onset of winter and an overdue visit to her friends in neighboring Nerine that she keeps prolonging. An ear swivels as it catches the sound of rambunctious laughter of one of the many foals in these woods. Lilli slows and a faint smile etches on her dark mouth. That sound is one of the many reasons she has come to love the Taiga. 

    It is no quiet Murmuring Rivers or ancestral Paraiso but to Lilli, this place has become home.

    It had been that reason that Lilliana had approached the Comtesse. She had stood idly by before as one home had been traded for another, as her family moved from one place to the next, trying to forge out a future. The longer Lilli has remained in Taiga, the firmer her own roots have become to this place and the stronger her desire grows to ensure that she (or any horse) never has to be unwillingly ripped from their home. 

    And then that dreamers' heart of hers can never be still. Lilli envisions this forest as a place of refuge, a place for those that might need sanctuary and haven from a world that can be entirely too hard and unforgiving. It had been a vision that seemed to be shared with the Ischians as well. It had been a learning experience that Lilliana had been grateful to be included in on and had sparked a further desire for diplomatic endeavors in the future on behalf of Taiga. It had been a moment where Lilli saw a glimpse of something she might accomplish for her home - a career in diplomacy might be her way forward.

    An alto voice calls out as the young mare rounds a corner and comes to an open meadow. The scent of freshwater, crisp and clean from Hyaline's mountains, fills her flaring nostrils as well as another familiar smell. The smile that tugs is a genuine one and Lilliana, while surprised to see Lepis so soon after their diplomatic trip, nods her head in greeting as she approaches the pegasus mare.

    "Comtesse," she calls out warmly, "How does this morning find you?"


    [Image: sTAi2f.png]
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    The sunlight has not burned away all the fog. Some lingers still, as high as the pegasus’ knees. It ripples almost like water as she turns toward the flash of chestnut motion, her grey-blue eyes identifying it as Lilliana. The other mare greets her with her title rather than her name, and Lepis is reminded that she had come here at Aten’s invitation. The champagne stallion also refers to her b her title. He often even adds Queen, which she finds flattering even if not actually true. Not true yet, she reminds herself. But soon.

    “Hello Lilliana,” Lepis replies with a bob of her head. She does not reach out – Lepis does not touch anyone but her family – but her smile is warm and genuine. The diplomat-in-training has called Taiga her home for long enough that Lepis thinks her trustworthy. In another year, Lepis might even consider her a friend. “I’m well, thank you. And yourself? Recovered from our exhausting trip?” Her eyes narrow a bit in amusement; the only strenuous part of the day for Lepis had been convincing Celina that they needed to leave the island now – not in five minutes – or they’d lose the tide that made crossing the sandbars an easy task.

    “You did very well in Ischia, by the way” Lepis praises, her bright eyes pleased, a smile lingering on her dark mouth. It has been some time since Lepis has felt this optimistic about a diplomat in training. Perhaps that has something to do with the rather sparse populations of such Taigans, but regardless of why, she wants to Lilliana to be sure that her skill and effort have not gone unnoticed. “Certainly better than my first attempts at diplomacy,” adds the dun mare, a more amused smile breaking out at the memory. Lepis had been not much older than Celina, and she’d stumbled across the newly crowned Hestia, come to Loess to discuss Nerine’s relationship with Loess. “You’d be surprised at how many young diplomats manage to put their hoof in their mouth.”

    She knows that their journey to the western island is not her first as a Beqanna diplomat, so Lepis asks: “Have you always wanted to be a diplomat?” She can’t place an age to the chestnut, especially in this world of immortals, but Lepis wonders what she might have done in whatever place it was that she came from. Something else to ask, Lepis thinks. It is still fairly early in the morning though, she reminds herself, not everyone is as awake as she.


    It would seem old habits die hard.

    Lilliana had grown up at her mother's side as she had been addressed as the Regent. Just as her brother and Marcelo had been their Lieutenants. When she addresses Lepis as the Comtesse, it is the result of that upbringing. And so even in the years that Murmuring Rivers is no longer and its Regent has foregone her title for something else, Lilliana can't quite shake the ability to call a leader or official by their title.

    The Comtesse bobs her head and Lilliana finds that warm smile unfolding into a dimple. "I think I'm recuperating," she teases back. The merriment of their adventure (both to and from Ischia) dances in her blue eyes. "I don't know how the Ischians manage with all that paradise." The white, sandy beaches. The lush, tropical jungle with so many vibrant creatures within it. And then there had been the ocean... that had certainly captivated her. 

    (Lilliana has always liked the way the ocean kept her small; it helped keep things in perspective when the problems got too big.)

    But Ischia is no Taiga and Lilli is glad to be home. 

    When Lepis praises her part in the recent trip, Lilli smiles but she is tempted to avert her eyes. She doesn't think that she has done anything particularly worth praising. And Lilli has never been good with praise - she never knows what to do with a compliment. But her blue eyes don't look away from the blue-grey of Lepis, she doesn't grow bashful or shy under the weight of it. The expression on her face sobers a bit but replies in kind to the Taigan leader, "Thank you for allowing me to accompany you and Celina. I'm grateful for the experience, truly."

    As Lepis speaks of her first endeavors into diplomacy, Lilli tilts her head to the side with a smile that can't quite believe that the Comtesse has ever been the latter category. The amused smile that she wears makes Lilli give a playful shake of her head. "We all have to start somewhere," she adds good-naturedly and with a hint of laughter. "You clearly have improved."

    And then Lepis asks if she has always wanted to be a diplomat. The smile softens on her face and the chestnut recalls a memory, "No." Lilli gives another shake of her sculpted head and brings herself back to the present, "It was my mother who thought I'd make a good one." She hadn't wanted to be one. All those trips outside Murmuring Rivers and then Paraiso had been at Aletta's insistence. 

    She has never been overly fond of the politics or the grander schemes that come along with it.
    But for Taiga, she wants to try.

    There is a thoughtful pause and then she ventures, "I do have a question. About Ischia. If you don't mind me asking?"


    [Image: sTAi2f.png]
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    When Lilliana responds to Lepis’ good natured teasing in equal measure, the pale-eyed mare’s grin widens. The trip to Ischia, its success, and the prospect of a friend brings to the Comtesse a brightness she had not been aware was missing. She still isn’t, not really, but there is a subconscious lowering of the shield she so often carries with anyone that is not family. The memory of the white sands and the warm sun are at odds with their cool, damp home, but the knowledge that it is not so far away – and that they are free to visit – might be enough to get her through the winter. The tropical paradise had been almost – almost – as wonderful as a Loessian hot spring on a midwinter night.

    The copper mare’s sober face as she accepts Lepis’ thanks is followed by more amusement and a compliment paid in kind, and if Lepis’ smile had faded it returns. “That is good to hear,” she says lightly, a rueful shake of her head at the memory of her youthful naiveite is followed by: “I certainly spent enough time trying to get better” and an easy grin. It had taken the better part of two years to make Lepis into even a passable diplomat, with the weight of doing so falling on a doting but childish mother and an uncle as likely to set fires for her amusement as to teach her politics. Of course, teaching a girl is different than teaching a woman, and perhaps if Lepis had been given a childhood rather than a kingdom to rule she might have been a little quicker to learn the ropes.

    Regardless of speed or method though, Lepis had caught on to diplomacy eventually, and even after her adolescent fall had risen from consort to queen to empress once already. It does not seem so impossible that she might do so again.

    Lilliana answers that it had been her mother who had thought she would make a good one, and Lepis feels a parallel to her own experience, one that brings an expression that is almost wry. She has done her best to keep her children free of her own expectations, knowing all too well the weight it places on young shoulders. Their mothers are lucky Lilliana and Lepis did not rebel, the dun mare thinks with a lighter expression; who knows where they might be today if they had? The sense of comraderie grows at the thought, and though Lepis has never had a sibling, she wonders if perhaps she might have felt this ease around a younger sister.

    The pause the follows is not uncomfortable, and though Lepis gaze drifts to where a wren flits overhead, she looks back when the other mare begins to speak. “Of course not,” she replies with a curious raise of her striped brow. “Ask away.”


    Lilliana hesitates with her question. 

    She feels the full weight of her ignorance and she feels embarrassed by it. It flushes warm across her well-defined cheeks and she offers a reluctant smile to Lepis, an apology for the pause in her words. "I was wondering," she chooses her words carefully, not wanting to convey any disrespect to Taiga's leader. "Why just a treaty with Ischia? Why not offer them our full support?" 

    Lilli studies Lepis's expression, her head tilting slightly to the right and her ears pricking forward as a result. She hopes that the Comtesse finds no offense in the question - there is none intended. But it has been something that the chestnut has wondered as the trio had ventured back to their Redwood home. If Ischia intended to serve as a refuge from the outside world, what could it hurt if Taiga extended her hand in something more than friendship? More than a treaty that was easily cast aside?

    "I'm sorry if there is something I'm missing," she quickly adds. "I know the leadership on the island is new so perhaps it is best to broach it tentatively.." Lilliana says this more to herself than to Lepis, letting her mind think out loud. The places she knows of Beqanna are no more; the places that had been the scenes for epic romances and wars, of bloodshed and treason and betrayal are gone. There is no Forsaken Valley, no Chamber of Evil to tell her to be wary. Even Pangea, the place she has heard was one of Carnage's creations (yes, even she knows of that dark god), was home to the one soul that Lilliana has loved the most. So how bad could that place truly be?

    There is still so much she doesn't know - she tries to learn as much as she can. The Champion has been kind enough to share some of that knowledge with her - the fire that razed this forest. The unsettling fact that he had once been the leader of this proud forest has rested uneasily at the back of her mind. There are more questions than answers for the Lilliana but she finds herself enough at ease with Lepis to ask, to let these thoughts wander spoken between them.

    She keeps trying to paint a picture and as she looks to Lepis to guidance, she thinks that the Comtesse might be the key she needs to unlock it all.


    [Image: sTAi2f.png]
    That Lilli has questions is no surprise; Lepis had expected as much. Curiosity is as vital in diplomacy as politeness, after all. One must explore each option, consider the impact of every word. When the chestnut mare inquires about the offering of a weaker treaty when an alliance could have been forged, Lepis’ navy mouth twists into a smile, and it is as much for the careful way that Lilliana chooses her words as for the pointed question. She pauses for a moment to consider her own reply, and while her mouth does twist pensively, her blue-grey gaze upon Lilliana is not displeased, merely thoughtful.

    ”When Bane and I first came here, I promised that no Taigan would be asked to fight if they did not wish it.”It occurs to the Comtesse, even as she says it, that perhaps an alliance might carry different weight in different lands; might mean something else wherever it is that Lilliana has come to them from. ”And an alliance means pledging them to fight, so rather than ask each resident of the woods about each land” - she says this with enough wryness to convey that it is not a task she would enjoy, despite the amusement remaining in her tone - ”I’ve instead chosen to offer treaties and friendships, with no undue burden on Taiga.”

    That is one reason, and her mind flits across another that she does not consider speaking aloud. However fond the dun pegasus suspects she might become of Lilliana in the future, the chestnut mare is still very much an unknown, and it would be beyond foolish to share a glimpse into the vast depths of Lepis’ ambition. She does not share that these friendly relations which do not bind Taiga in any way are proof that Lepis means peace; that Taiga is strong but utterly unthreatening. They are seeds of evidence planted in the lands of Beqanna, seeds that will someday grow to a harvest ripe for her own hand.

    Still, thinking of that second reason brings to mind the third, and she adds just after Lilliana asks about the novelty of leadership: ”That is something,” she agrees with a nod, ”But they’ve wrested their new leadership from Tephra much the same way Taiga was taken from Nerine. The queen - our queen - would likely take any new alliances we built as further threats to her leadership.” Lepis thinks that perhaps she understands, that perhaps Heartfire clings to the title of Queen because she does not know what she is without it. It is not far from her own sentiment, after all. But, Lepis has told herself, surely in Heartfire’s position she could recognize strength and growth in a territory she ruled, surely she would be able to allow them the chance to spread their fledging wings even if she were not willing to turn over the nest to them. Surely she would.

    ”She’s already promised to destroy me,” Lepis adds with a smile that does not match the words she speaks. It is proud, almost, as though she finds the threat a compliment. And she does - that Heartfire resorted to threats had cemented the Comtesse’s resolutions. Someone so willing to shed blood, so quick to turn to violence? They have no place upon a throne. The removal of Aten from Taiga had been entirely different, of course; Lepis had been utterly sure what his choice would be before he’d even been given it.

    ”And I’d rather let Taiga’s reputation of strength and peace speak for me, even if it means we must tiptoe around Nerine for a while to build it.” That is something of her second reason, the pegasus realizes, and wonders if perhaps she has said to much. No, she decides, the proud pronouncement of Heartfire’s threat had been truthful, and that it has shaped her decisions regarding foreign policy is equally honest. Let them call her ‘warmonger’, Lepis thinks with a soft smile to herself, and let the lies turn to ash in their mouths. Bane will be proud of what she has accomplished when he returns, the Comtesse thinks, as sure of his eventual return as she is of her successes in his absence.

    i wrote this on my phone so please turn all the twigs to taiga if you read this before i can spell check in the morning haha
    Lepis is contemplative and Lilliana waits. As the Comtesse considers her, Lilli waits under the scrutiny of that blue-grey gaze. The first sentence elicits a nod from her; her family has been torn apart and ravaged by war. She has no desire to see its consequences inflicted on others here. Perhaps at the very heart of things, that is Lilliana's deepest wish for Taiga. A touch too idealistic, painted too much with a dreamers heart, she knows, but still a hope.

    But it is the memory of a little blonde girl dropped at their borders, robbed of her parents, amber eyes wild and defiant in the face of tragedy. It is the hallowed blue eyes - eyes her exact shade of blue - that never seemed to regain the vitality of life again no matter how hard her mother tried. It is for those who had stepped onto a battleground but not off of it that gives her a sense of resolve as she listens to the Comtesse.
    So Lilli nods, with full agreement to what Lepis says. 
    This is what she wants for Taiga and so the wisdom holds.

    An ear flicks towards Lepis and the tilt gives way to a full head turn as the chestnut listens attentively to what the pegasus tells her. "Why would Nerine perceive us as a threat? Surely Heartfire has better things to concern herself with than what friendships a subkingdom makes?" The chestnut turns the words over in her mind. Couldn't any affiliations that Taiga sought to be as equally beneficial to the land to the North? There are reasons that Lilliana could muse about (she isn't so woefully ignorant that she couldn't realize why Nerine would concern herself with Taiga and its blossoming friendships) but Lilliana wants to believe what Lepis tells her. 

    She wants to believe that war could never touch them here.
    The fear about such a thought tightens in her throat like a vice. 
    If it does come to that, she thinks, perhaps Lepis is the one to stay it. 
    "Heartfire threatened you?" It's a restrained question as her mind tries to grasp something she doesn't fully understand. Why would the Queen of Nerine threaten Taiga, threaten Lepis? Lilliana isn't so oblivious that she doesn't know of Wolfbane and Lepis's.. takeover but her time here has been peaceful. Aten, perhaps wronged at the start, has settled into the role of their Champion and for the sake of wanting to keep that peace, she doesn't say more.

    Lepis all the hail the twigs
    [Image: sTAi2f.png]
    Behind Lilliana, a branch groans in the wind, and Lepis glances at it for just a moment. The redwood giants do not lose limbs easily, and she cannot tell which tree it might have been. By the time she looks back at the taller mare, Lilliana has begun to speak, and Lepis listens attentively.

    She asks why the Northern kingdom perceives them as a threat, and Lepis lifts her winged shoulders in a shrug, a wordless answer as Lilliana adds another question. Why indeed?

    “The more friends we have, the more powerful we are.” It sounds obvious, the answer she might give if Elio asked the question, yet it is the only one that makes sense, and her tone is somber. The Comtesse has asked it of herself for months now, each time coming back to that one truth. “Nerine was once a great empire, but its strength has waned.” Her mother had told her the stories, tales of the Iron Queen Nayl, of the genie and the dragon who followed her command, of the united realm that once encompassed lands like Sylva and Hyaline, lands that have since been eaten up by other powers.

    Now Taiga is the more powerful land, yet Nerine will not acknowledge that, will not give our woods the title of Kingdom in the North. Nerine would use my people as their shield against the rest of Beqanna, but can not offer us greater protection for that service in turn, the way a kingdom should.” Lepis refuses to engage her people in a war without their consent, yet their existence as Nerine’s territory makes them little more than vassals, to be traded and used and sacrificed at another’s whim. The contradiction is blatantly clear; has kept her up more than one night, and yet her hands remain bound as tight as Taiga is to Nerine.

    I offered to accept the position of kingdom on my last trip to Nerine, and if not that then permission to align ourselves instead as a territory of the stronger Loess.” There was more said, of course, but a verbatim recount of her journey north seems unimportant. “In return, she offered me a choice as well: give up Taiga, or be destroyed.”

    Heartfire would return the woods to Aten’s rule if she took the first option, Lepis supposes. She would give the helm of the forest back to a leader with minimal knowledge of Beqanna’s political machinations. The man couldn’t even offer a friendship to another kingdom without raising their hackles - he will never be strong enough to threaten the Queen of Nerine’s sense of absolute power. Heartfire would never destroy Taiga, Lepis is sure of that; any action against the innocent would flip the narrative she tried so hard to make Lepis believe at their last encounter.

    Lepis is the instigator, the warmonger, the bringer of violence. That is what Nerine would have the world believe. That is the story Beqanna must hear, lest they question why a coastal land that is as empty as it is grey retains a title it does not deserve. It is the story Lepis means to turn on its head before Heartfire has a chance to carry out her threat, the story that will seem ludicrous to a world full of Taigan friends.

    I would not wish Heartfire to take that anger out on the alliances we make,” Lepis finishes, and her cool grey eyes settle on Lilliana. The anger should remain pointed on Lepis herself, that calmness says: she will bear the brunt of it if ever Nerine attempts to make good on its threat. “So we make friendships instead, acceptable relationships for the arrogant child that Heartfire thinks me to be.”At that she smiles faintly again, for she knows she is arrogant as surely as she knows she is right (though she will never admit to one and forever claim the other).

    A melancholy autumn breeze passes by them, unsettling the curling tendrils of her copper mane before it disturbs the redwoods behind her. Her question is a simple one and Lilliana finds herself silently hoping for a simple answer. She hopes that whatever pieces of this puzzle she isn't able to fit together are because of her ignorance. She waits in silence as Lepis shrugs her wings and the crimson girl found herself wishing that she could escape the knot that formed at the back of her throat, that she could wash away the dread that was building like an August storm. 

    Lilliana gets her simple answer - Lepis states the most obvious thing first. A somber admission but there it was. 

    But as so many things are in this life, it wasn't a clear-cut statement, something that could be portrayed as black or white. What Lepis explains is so many shades of gray that Lilliana feels the color drain from the world around her. Nerine was once a great land, she says. They boasted strength from an era that has gone and what Lepis explains is a new chapter in Beqanna's history: Taiga now holds the strength and should wield the power of the North. The next statements that the Comtesse makes causes Lilliana to blink but otherwise, she listens closely and with a keen expression on her crimson face.

    There is much here that Lepis says that she agrees wholeheartedly with. She has no desire to see Taigans forced into conflict - even deeper than that, she has no wish to see any conflict at all. But even idealistic Lilli knows that with this life comes all kinds of struggles and turmoils, a price demanded a beating heart. 

    But the brutal ultimatum that Heartfire has given Lepis leaves Lilliana's mouth dry, gives it a metallic taste - like iron, like blood.

    "Is there any way to.. reason with Nerine?" After a threat like that, something that sounds like a final warning, is there really any going back? Still, Lilli tries. "To let Heartfire keep her title and to let Taiga have a less.. feudalistic relationship with the North?" She searches her mind for something else to say but she keeps coming back to these questions. If Taiga was given her own choices, her own say on what battles she did and did not want to fight, then let Heartfire keep the title of Queen. Was such a thing even possible?

    Perhaps these are too optimistic of aspirations. Lilliana might be asking questions to hands already long dealt and the game could be over before she even sat down at the table. Still, she desperately wants a solution. Lilliana keeps searching for a way through the maze of kingdom politics that Lepis has shared with her. For a way that leaves Lepis unharmed and at the helm of Taiga. For a way to appease Heartfire enough that she would even allow such a thing. 

    The dun pegasus offers a faint smile and despite the uncertainty she feels, Lilli offers a small one of her own.


    [Image: sTAi2f.png]

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