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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening


    OCEANE -- Year 208


    "Because if she had not met him, she knew she would have been searching her whole life for the piece that he filled her heart with." -- Eva, written by Shelbi

    i hear hurricanes blowing; Lilliana
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right
    Lepis had once been optimistic. She had thought there might be easy answers, hoped that others might take her at her word, that the world might be as simple as in the stories her mother told her. Beautiful queens, noble kings, and brave warriors were always victorious, she had been told; good always conquered evil. It was a rosy lie: that there were simple answers, and a rosy reign accompanied it for those first years of her life.

    Yet a lie it was, one that finally assaulted a love-struck adolescent far from home, and ripped the happy ignorance away. Reality was beaten into her as surely as the will was beaten (and kicked and bitten and raped) out of her, and when she at last stumbled home – hazy eyed and newly wed to the man she thought her rescuer – she could see the world for what it is. The easy answer is that there are no easy answers, and strength is the winner: not goodness. Strength and power, those are what a victor has, and those are what she has pursued. Single-minded to the point of fixation, Lepis has honed what powers she has and the result of them now lie before her: a territory taken and a queen who refuses to bend.

    None of that meshes with what she believes, and when she scoffs at Lilliana’s query it is not at the mare herself she directs the frustration, but rather the sentiment itself. Why does this part of life refuse to yield the way it should? Why will it not fit into the narrow box which everything else has? It cannot be because Lepis is wrong – she is never wrong.

    (She is sometimes wrong, but there are two mouths she would tolerate hearing it from, and one would never say it and one is not here to do so.)

    “You would think,” she huffs irritably, digging at the soft needles with an unsettled hoof, “You would think that allowing Taiga to secede, to form our own kingdom or even bind ourselves to Loess would satisfy her.” But it does not, her pawing hoof says, making a furrow of pine and bark and earth as she digs deeper. Her emotion is apparent and when she realizes this she pauses her miniature excavation. Her eyes almost narrow at Lilliana, curious what the copper mare might have done, but Lepis knows the blame is on herself, on allowing this topic to so incense her that she forgets to wield her usually iron-clad control.

    Still, she does gather herself up, a visible thing that includes a shake of her head. The length of her navy mane settles to the far side, revealing the scars of her neck and withers, but she is perfectly composed once more. “Forgive me.” Lepis says, and though she asks forgiveness she makes no apology. “I’ve kept much of this to myself, of late.”  A wry smile, one that hides the reason for her recent habits. “I am accustomed to a sounding board, and in his absence I’m afraid I’ve taken it out on you.” The pegasus doubts that Lilliana has noticed the Commandant’s absence overmuch, and she does not intend to highlight it, not when his presence is Taiga’s last defense against Nerine. Not even though Heartfire has threatened that as well, that Lepis still lives only for her ties to Wolfbane.

    There are other possible solutions to the problem of Nerine: the capture of Heartfire, setting the kingdom ablaze and allowing Nerenians refuge only if they swear fealty, a heartfelt apology from Lepis. All equally distasteful, with the exception of the last, which is above and beyond the least plausible.

    “Tell me about your family?” Lepis says, and while the change of topic is abrupt, the Comtesse phrases it as a question, one that Lilliana might decline if she so wished. “I know you are not from Beqanna, and that your mother wished you to be a diplomat, but that is all. Do you have siblings?” An only child, Lepis has always been curious about siblings, both for her own interest as well as to know exactly what she might have inflicted on her own brood by not simply stopping at Pteron.


    What do you when the story runs so horribly off course that it careens off the pages? When do you realize that the ending you were searching for, if that was in fact what you were seeking, no longer exists?

    Lilliana has grown up with them too - for a little girl sheltered in a tightly guarded home, a place that had served as a testament to what was instead what might be - Lilli had adored those stories. Golden kings who were nothing but noble and good, who did nothing but bring justice and light to their homes and all the lives that intertwined with them. Beautiful queens who were as regal as they were graceful, who were poised as sharply as a sword when needed in defense of their homes and who could fall in love with their royal counterparts as softly as easing into a dream. There is the knight who comes just in time to save the day, the Champion who saves them in their greatest hour of need, when the cause falls dark and all hope is lost.

    Lilli knows those stories. She knows those figures as closely as she would any friend. 
    They had been the companions of her youth; a hope, it seems much as it had been for Lepis, of what a future might look like.

    And Lilliana knows exactly the moment that reality painted those rosy stories into different shades entirely. The golden king, the conquering hero returns, haunted by the acts of war, returns as a ghost of a man who was never able to reclaim his place among the living. That beautiful, graceful queen remains as sharp as a sword, never softening and never relenting to give into a world that she deems cruel and hard - once a starry-eyed dreamer, much like her daughter, who only found suspicion in the shadows. And the Champion, their hero, he pays the highest price of all. 

    Wicked might not win. But the hero always falls the hardest. 
    That is an absolute truth that Lilliana will not shy from; it is something she believes to her very core.
    Lilli has no desire to see anybody fall.

    Lepis huffs and the chestnut diverts her gaze to the ground, watching where the Comtesse strikes the waiting ground with an imposing hoof. For a moment, Lilliana thinks to ask her question again. Why does it matter if they secede or bind themselves to Loess? To the copper mare, neither option seems like a reasonable one. Why not find some way to mollify Heartfire enough that Lepis can keep her home and crown and why not find a way that allows Taiga to have her own voice in the decisions that Nerine makes? There might not be any heroes to take the fall but perhaps it needn't come to that. There could - must be - some way to bridge the rift that has come between the Nerinian Queen and Taiga's Comtesse. Let Taiga's strength attest for itself and let Nerine keep her kingdom seat if there might be some common ground to be found.

    But Lilliana says nothing. 

    She stays silent. The blue-eyed mare feels Lepis narrow her eyes on her and Lilliana peers curiously back at her, her ears flicking forward in concern.

    Whatever irritation that Lepis has harbored, she regains control of it quickly. She does so with a shake of her head that causes her navy mane to dance, revealing scars that Lilliana has a hard time ignoring. "Think nothing of it," counters the crimson girl. The Comtesse gives a sardonic smile and Lilliana offers an apologetic one in return. After all, she had been the one asking all these questions. She's grateful for the patience and insight that Lepis has spared on her.

    It is her next words that cause her throat to tighten.
    It shouldn't but it does. 
    Like she can't breathe.

    And then Lepis, of all things, throws her the lifeline. 

    Lilliana swallows the lump in her throat and retreats into the folds of her memories. It's an easy place for her to go. There is a pause here as her smile stills, her eyes warm. "There isn't much to tell," she offers quietly with a shrug of her shoulders. But then the smile broadens, lighting her entire expression with love. "I have four siblings. Two older brothers who never allowed me to get away with anything, a sister who wished I had been a better sparring partner and a younger one who was the best of us." 

    "And cousins," here she laughs, unable to keep it to herself. She shares her laughter as much as her memories with the dun pegasus. "So many cousins. We used to joke that we were related to everybody, in some way." Lilli shakes her head then, remembering golden days that have long become her rose-colored dreams. Turning her attention back to Lepis with an inquisitive tilt of her head, before she can help herself, Lilliana asks, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

    Lepis i wrote you a novel, i'm sorry

    [Image: sTAi2f.png]
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right
    That Lilliana makes no effort to soothe her after the display of emotion endears her to the dun mare; Lepis has little patience for attempts to pacify her. The pegasus is not sorry for the emotions, after all, merely less-than-pleased with herself for having let them run so wild. She has them now though, tight in an intangible fist that she loosens only to let a thread of contentment to wind its way through her mind and distract her from the very thing that tightens Lilliana’s throat.

    Lepis would have shared, had she known her companions’ distress.
    Or perhaps she might have given some other emotion entirely if she knew the source.

    As it is, she thinks she might have seen something like discomfort on the younger woman’s face, but it is gone so quickly that she is not sure. It doesn’t matter, she thinks; if the fire-haired mare were truly upset that Lepis has let her emotion show (because why else might that admission off-center her?), the pegasus will simply do better in the future to not subject her to such displays. An easy enough thing to do, she decides, and smiles encouragingly at Lilliana as she waits for an answer to the question she has asked.

    This is a far better topic, what with the way her companion opens up, even with the claim there is not much to tell. Not much, she says, and yet so much more than Lepis has ever known. The descriptions make her smile brighter, picturing the family Lilli describes. They are all chestnut, like Lilli herself, growing up in a faraway land. And cousin, Lilli adds with an infectious laugh, and the image of a large family multiplies, fields of copper colored horses that Lepis knows is impossible but finds amusing nonetheless. When Lilliana turns the question back to her, Lepis expects it, and even though her answer is far different, the amused smile only softens rather than disappears.

    “I do, but I’ve not met them. My mother raised me as an only child, and always told me my father was more of a…free spirit She pauses just before recalling the exact phrase her mother had used, and it brings back the image of Heda’s quiet face, and the weary sort of affection with which she always spoke of Lepis’ sire. She loved him, Lepis knew, but Ivar was not a creature made for such bonds. Heda had accepted that, taken what tenderness he gave her, and taught her daughter to do the same. And Lepis had learned well: she held her husband when he came to her and cast her eyes away when he sought pleasure elsewhere.

    That education has since been overturned, of course, and the joy she has found in her partner’s undivided attention has not dimmed in his absence, even if it has grown more distant. He will return, she knows, will meet their youngest son, and all the world will be as it should. Nerine be damned. Lepis smiles at the thought of Elio, likely off on a game of hunt and find with the other Taigan foals. “I always wanted siblings though; Loess was very quiet when I was growing up. Not like your home at all, it sounds like.” The chatter of Lilliana’s homeland was surely like that of Taiga, full of children’s laughter.

    “I’ve always longed for a big family of my own,” she adds at the thought of their faces, grown so quickly from the soft newborns she remembers. “And I am fortunate to have a husband who feels the same.” Lepis had hoped speaking of him in the present tense might be easier, as though he is just beyond sight of the meadow they stand in. Yet she finds the reminder less comforting than she anticipated, and the soft smile falters for just a moment at the thought of him far from home, far from her, far from the family they have built and kept together.

    Contentment, she gives herself, and is able to ask without much difficulty: “What about you? Did your family make you want the opposite of what you had?”

    Of all the things they talk about, they talk of fathers.

    It's because of Lilliana's father that she stands here now. First for the promises that he made - impossible promises and demands thrust upon him, that he accepted because he had so badly wanted to be viewed in the same illustrious light as his own sire. And secondly, the Guardian and his chestnut daughter share a common trait. While Lepis stands there and tells her of her own father, a man she deems as a 'free spirit' which alludes Lilliana to think that he was either absent from her own upbringing or perhaps freer with his affections than might be deemed acceptable. 

    If she could have found the words, Lilli would have shared with Lepis that the term could be applied to her own father as well.

    But Lilliana struggles and instead merely nods to what the Comtesse shares.

    The chestnut mare wraps herself around the memories of her family, withdraws within herself word by word because it is so much easier to dive into her past than it is to stand here. "Where I was born," she adds, "was very quiet. I was the youngest growing up there and we were a rather small realm." Lilli pauses her, trying to find a comparison between Beyond and Beqanna. "Like Icicle Isle. Just without the ice." There is a small smile as she tries to pull herself further away in the remembering. "Loess was perhaps a bit warmer as well?"

    For a moment, Lilliana thinks she can do this. 
    And then that moment ends.

    There is an awful, horrible void that fills her. 
    This is all horribly wrong.
    (How did she think she could ever do this?)

    It is her father's Achilles Heel that shines through at this moment - something else he has bestowed upon his daughter besides her blue eyes. There is something in the way that Lepis speaks to her, of families and politics and children and husbands, that sounds to Lilliana that she needs someone to listen. As sick as she feels, as much as her stomach has twisted and knotted, as much as she has tried to draw herself inward and then recoiled from that, she can't bring herself to walk away from Lepis. 

    The chestnut mare, much like her golden sire, has never been able to deny someone when needed.

    "No," Lilliana quietly says. There is honesty in her gaze as she looks to the Comtesse though these words are difficult, "I only ever wanted them."

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

    The wren she had seen earlier trills quietly and another bird answers, deeper in the woods. Lilliana describes her home, and it does not sound at all Like Lepis had thought: boisterous and loud and loving. The siblings and cousins she mentioned earlier were perhaps not as near as Lepis might have thought, and her own slow nod echoes the way that Lilli’s voice softens a little as she recounts memories. Icicle Isle without the ice, she says, and Lepis smiles at the thought despite herself. Temperate, perhaps, somewhere between the two island extremes that Beqanna seems to hold. The pegasus nods agreeably to Lilliana’s question about Loess – it was warmer than Taiga at the least, and certainly more so than Icicle Isle.

    Once again Lepis, with her easily-wielded emotions, is in the dark regarding those that exist in her companion. There is something, maybe something that Lepis has said. But what – her longing for a family? She already knows that not everyone desires the same. That she has found a husband who feels the same?

    The realization is sudden.
    So Lilliana has noticed after all.

    The tobiano has done her best to keep Wolfbane’s absence from the residents of Taiga. She does not want them concerned, wondering where the Commandant has gone, wondering if they are safe with only a Protector. Yet Lilli has noticed, the same attributes that make her an observant politician making her equally aware of the suspicious emptiness in Taiga’s hieracrchy. Here Lepis has been speaking fondly of her husband, while Lilli politely does not bring up the fact that he is nowhere to be found

    It is not comfortable to be pitied, Lepis finds.

    She shifts uneasily for a moment before she settles herself, reaching for the perpetual brightness at the back of her mind, and for the lifeline that Lilliana offers by voicing her desire for a family.

    “They are my everything,” Lepis admits to Lilliana, and this time there is no struggle to hide emotion like she had the frustration, no effort to bury the tender affection that fills every bit of her at the thought of her family. Gold, if she had to name it: like the yellow of happiness yet superior in every way. It fills her without any effort at all, a warm glowing that replaces the worry and embarrassment of a moment ago.

    “You can still have them,” The Comtesse reassures the copper mare, now worried that the diplomat’s quiet voice suggests she might feel otherwise. Lilli is young (Lepis suspects this even with the many hues of immortality), and she is more classically beautiful than Lepis has ever been. She is clever and judging from her reluctance to accept Lepis’ judgment of relations with Nerine: determined as well. “You will find someone as wonderful as you, and you will have the family that you want.” Were they closer, Lepis might have reached out, offered a soft touch of affection. But for all the intimacy of their conversation, they are not yet much more than Comtesse and Diplomat who know the basic facts of each other’s childhoods.

    So instead the dun mare offers another warm smile, unaware how her own motivation might mirror Lilliana’s.


    Lepis can't know.

    The Comtesse can't possibly know how the very words she speaks strike terror into her heart. You can still have them, she tries to assure her. And that fear she has always felt shows in the whites of her eyes, in the way that her head retreats slightly back. If this conversation hadn't already turned her soul to lead then Lilli would have more visibly, forcibly, recoiled from the pegasus mare. 

    Instead, it shows itself in the fervent shake of her copper head that hides her face beneath her curly forelock, an answer that is given before Lilliana has to even utter the word with a determined, "No." From this conversation, Lilli has garnered enough about Lepis that she doesn't like to hear she is wrong. But in this, the Taigan diplomat is resolute in her will to tell her so.

    There is no bringing back what was lost; she has no desire to resurrect ghosts that she has only recently laid to rest. The life she had known, had wanted, is gone. There is no bringing that back. 

    "Taiga is my family," she swears. And she means it - she will fill her days with purpose and reason for this forest. She will pour what love she has, her hopes, into the northern Redwoods and she wants to see it thrive in a way that her parents could never summon for Paraiso. Lilliana looks to Lepis for guidance in that, that the Comtesse will be the one to lead them forward towards a future that the chestnut can help build.

    And with that, the younger mare tries to elaborate. "I'd like to help keep this forest safe.." and the memory of Aten telling her that once this forest was burned troubles her mind. "I know it has had its troubles in the past but I'd like to help to keep it on track for the future."


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

    Though Lepis has no ability to read minds, there is no need for such a gift. Something she has said upset Lilliana, or at the very least reminded her of something upsetting.

    The sympathy lances through her in an instant, the sharp pain of an empath, and Lepis apologizes without needing to even think about it. “I’m sorry. We won’t talk about that.” There exist emotions capable of far more damage than pride, Lepis knows this from experience. 

    This is perhaps the first time Lepis has weighed her own pride as less than the comfort of a near-stranger, and surely the quickest. 

    The apology feels strange on her tongue, and once more Lepis pins the other mare with an unreadable blue-grey gaze. It lasts just for a moment, just long enough for Lepis to confirm there is something that doesn’t quite fit in their conversation. Knowing what that might would be all put impossible for her to suss out, even if she had not just given her work to change the topic.

    Lilliana means to make Taiga her home, Lepis reasons. They will have years to get to know each other.

    “I would like to promote you,” the Comtesse tells the copper mare, “You have a bright future in diplomacy, I think.” Her smile is warm, even maternal, and there is a bit of good humor in voice when she chuckle that: “There’s always the Guards to join, if you want to defend our home with your teeth and hooves as well.”
    What had been sharp a heartbeat before immediately retracts.

    Lilliana swallows the heartbeat in her throat and looks to Lepis with an expression that slowly surfaces away from the fear. Lepis can't know that it has been a conversation she has had before - with her own mother, with Elaina, with Malachi. Lilliana has said nothing of them and she won't; she can't. So Lepis can't know the pain that laces through her at the words, at the memories that charge at her from the barricades of her mind.

    And immediately Lilliana pushes it all away. 
    Buries it down in that never-ending well of emotion that she innocently assumes can never end.

    She shakes her head again though this time it is a muted version of the one before. Her throat remains closed and then guilt rings true. It's a slip like she has done before with Neverwhere, with Brazen but Lilliana closes the walls around herself here. "It-it's alright," comes wavering out into the air between them when Lilli can find her words again. "I didn't mean.." she says searchingly, wondering how to amend or explain. 

    But Lepis says they won't speak of it and the chestnut mare feels grateful to her for that.
    The tightness in her chest alleviates momentarily.

    There is a feeling of fresh winter air that fills her lungs, it brightens her expression at the Comtesse's next words. Hope lights up her face and the last of her worries recede away like Taigan fog in the noon sun. "Truly?" she asks with a youthful expression that gives way to a lopsided smile. And with the humor that inspires in the moment, Lilliana adds with a playful toss of her head, "I've always been told my bark is worse than my bite."

    She'd always been a poor fighter. 
    But this.. this could be a future for her. 
    A future for Taiga. 

    "Thank you."

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

    A gentle shake of her head meets Lilliana’s protests, a wordless affirmation that she’d meant what she said, that there is no need to delve into whatever it is that has agitated the copper mare. Lepis has her own set of triggers, scars that have left no mark, and she is well aware others have them too. The thought of her own sends a shiver down her spine, one that ends with a flick of her long navy tail. Most of them are healed over, time and contemplation soothing the once raw wounds, learning through trial and error how best to handle the unexpected. Yet there are some that she knows will never heal; there are some nights she still wakes in a sweat, terrified she has been captured.

    The white-ombred ends of her tail brush across her ribs, carried by the same fresh breeze that accompanies Lilli’s shift toward brightness, and Lepis is eager to put the discomfort behind them.

    “Truly,” Lepis answers, grinning at her companion’s antics. “If I’d known you’d be so keen on the idea, I’d have proposed it sooner,” Lepis adds. Politics is the first line of defense, and it is Lepis’ favorite. Her skill in battle is negligible, but she places high value on physical strength. It is the power behind politics, after all, a looming presence when words might fail.

    Hers is absent now, the iridescent half of the power that had taken Taiga in the first place. There is a hole where he had been, a hole she keeps empty, as sure that it will not remain so forever as she is sure that she has two wings.

    Another warrior would be good then, at least while he is gone. The training of warriors has always been Wolfbane’s job, but Lepis – knowing that Lilliana is aware of his absence – cannot bring herself to mention it again. She does not think she could bear to see pity in Lilliana’s gaze, or hear it in her voice.

    “Pteron has been promising to teach Celina,” she says instead, suddenly grateful for her youngest daughter’s insistence. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind another pupil”


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