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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening

    COTY

    OCEANE -- Year 208

    QOTY

    "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


    Lepis;
    #1
    and underneath the layers, I find myself asking what's left
    a hollowed out form, the skeleton of a ghost, the pitiful echo of what once was
    Even as neighboring lands, it still takes hours until the openness of Loess closes and confines into the dense forestry of Taiga. Reia has been here, he notes with a deep inhalation, but he doesn’t search for his wild daughter or the reasons her scent is so potent. Instead, his reasons are more political, but with a hint of familial.
     
    He weaves through the intricate web of trees and occasionally takes pause to scratch himself against the scabbed tree trunks. Grounded, he cannot help to peer through the canopy and yearn for the skies again, for the heat of fire in his gut and soul. Heat doesn’t radiate from him as it once did. A chill races through him, his skin cool from the frigid gusts that kiss him even in the forest. Castile’s jaw clenches unhappily, but he forges on and pursues Lepis’ familiar scent.
     
    Only when he reaches her does he stop. Small snowflakes begin to fall and grip onto his coat (they do not melt like they had once, he muses unhappily). As winter uncomfortably embraces him, Castile’s eyes level onto those of his niece. ”Lepis,” he murmurs coolly, neither angry or happy. His thoughts reel feverishly before he is able to look briefly past her toward the north. Only then does a crooked smile tip his mouth and his eyes glimmer. ”I take it Heartfire didn’t like your idea. She came to Loess with Litotes and Vulgaris. It appeared she was perhaps too afraid to face me alone,” he wants to laugh, to reveal the amusement that blooms in his chest, but the urge is overwhelmed by the anger of having seen his friends so easily turn against him.


    castile



    it's his turn to visit! haha
    Lepis
    Reply
    #2
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    The rough bark of the redwood had pressed uncomfortably into her back, but had Lepis remained still, unwilling to disturb the child that sleeps beside her. He’d fallen asleep during a story, worn out by the game of tag the youngsters had been playing; his older sister sleeps a few yards away. The has been pulling away slowly so as not to wake him, a slow process that has taken the better part of ten minutes. When she finally extricates herself, it is to sore muscles she attempts to shake out and determines might only loosen with enough exertion of her own.

    Meandering through the woods is her main pastime these days, and the dun pegasus is not surprised to hear the crunching hooves of another horse as she moves beneath the ancient trees. She pauses, but the figure is white rather than red, and streaked with smoky black that she recognizes even at this distance. Castile, she thinks with what is very nearly a smile, and a race of her heart that she knows is usually accompanied by a warm flush of familial affection.

    Today there is nothing, even as she moves to stand before him, and it is odd to see the same coolness reflected in the dragon’s eyes.

    “Uncle,” she responds in greeting, a polite bob of her head that is respectful yet without deference. Her own expression remains still, the bright smile she had worn for her children having slipped away with the warmth of Elio’s side against her. The crooked grin on Castile’s face does not summon it. She does react to his new though, and a frown creases the space between her eyes, and thins the narrow line of her navy mouth. Her husband’s words echo in her ears: her way of doing things has failed. She and Castile share a delusion of grandeur. The North does not love her.

    Not platonic, she hears Starsin say.

    “I never wanted Taiga.” She says, her tone as abrupt as the seeming change of subject. In her mind they are connected of course; Heartfire and Taiga, fear and the threat of war, what she holds in her hands now versus what she had once dreamed of.

    “We came North because I could not take Loess from you, not and live with myself after.” We, she says, even though now she stands alone, and the day draws ever nearer when even her children will no longer remain. “And now it seems that because of that, Beqanna seems so determined to charge me with starting a war that it seems other would start one themselves to just head me off.” That aligns more obviously with what he has shared, that Pangea and Tephra have joined forces with Nerine to confront Castile. 

    “And let me guess: they, too, think I move at your beck and call?” At that her voice becomes bitter rather than icily calm, and yet the tone taints her voice, there is no change in her heart: just that same cold emptiness that never seems to leave.



    Castile
    Reply
    #3
    and underneath the layers, I find myself asking what's left
    a hollowed out form, the skeleton of a ghost, the pitiful echo of what once was
    As expected, Lepis comes to the sight of him. The acrid stench of smoke still clings to him, but it is fading with each day that he is not in possession of his fire. Underneath her scrutiny, he shifts, feeling practically naked in front of her although he has never had a need to flaunt to her. But the first word that slips from her mouth – Uncle – melts him and the stoicism that flattened his expression. A deep breath sighs from him and his eyes flash with comforting realization that even as friendships crumble away, he still has her. ”Niece,” he murmurs in return, quickly omitting formalities even as a distant haze coats her. Something broods beneath her calm surface, but he doesn’t yet dive into it. Instead, he closely listens to her while corralling his own thoughts to the forefront of his mind.

    It doesn’t come as a surprise that she never wanted Taiga. Loess has always been her home, her power. It is the source of her passion and the core reason she fled to overtake the forest. She wanted to expand its reach; she is a slave to her true home.

    A feeble, lopsided grin plays with the edges of his mouth. ”Thank you,” he offers in the quiet solace of the woods, nearly offering her a crown next to him in Loess. The only downfall is that his kingdom would have one less alliance. He almost elaborates, almost reiterates the reasons behind his gratitude and presents his offer, but there is really no need yet. Thank you for being loyal, thank you for being trusting, thank you for being family. The words drift like clouds in his consciousness as he looks at her, reading the mild disappointment painted on her face. He shrugs because she speaks the truth. The domino effect exploded at her expense, but he isn’t entirely sure why still. ”Heartfire would not give me a reason as to why Nerine should remain a kingdom when it is weaker and less populated than Taiga. I do not think she can bear the truth. I do not think she can accept that Nerine is struggling underneath her fist, so she recruited Litotes and Vulgaris to her side in attempt to intimidate me. They are quick to threaten war but blame it on us.” It could have been an easy transaction between kingdom and territory, but Heartfire is desperately clutching to what remains of her crown.

    Truthfully, Castile cannot entirely blame her.

    For some odd reason, there is a twinge in his heart when Lepis asks her final question. Her tone is bitter, like bile in her throat, and Castile quietly shakes his head. ”It does not matter. They know how loyal we are to each other,” he dares to reach toward her and endearingly press his lips to her poll. For a moment, there is a sweet, intimate moment of reassurance before he breathes and inches away. ”They want to see us as tyrants, as conquerors, though we’ve not given them great reason,” Loess has otherwise been quiet and rather content, not even stealing away foreigners. Yet, still they stomped and yelled at the edge of his home, threatening him in his own kingdom. A ravenous flash in his eyes reflects his disdain of the memory. ”I have half a mind to be what they fear. If they want to see me as a warmonger, then I may as well burn everything in my path…” he trails off, distantly peering through the shadows to see what would become of the world.

    And all he sees is ash, falling like snow. 


    castile



    Lepis
    Reply
    #4
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    Never for a moment does it occur to her that Castile might be without the magics that make him the dragon king. True, it is uncommon for him to remain purely equine for long, without even the wings or the tail. True, he does smell infinitesimally less of fire than he had before. But when a thing is burned into the flesh and into the soil year after year, some things remain. Lepis nearly reaches out (if she had, she might have begun to suspect a change) to brush her muzzle along his shoulder, but at the last moment refrains.

    It is one thing to hold her children to her. She is not sure she could stand anything else, even from a man she has known since childhood.

    Not now. Not anymore.

    But at his thanks Lepis does relax, a softening of her shoulders, a subtle resettling of her weight. The tobiano stallion continues, and the dun Comtesse nods. His interaction with the northern queen had been little different than her own, though it seems Castile was threatened with the breaking of friendship while the stick intended to keep Lepis in line was literal destruction. The dun mare huffs irritably, and her lack of addition t owhat he has to say all but indicates hre full agreement. No matter who makes the first move, they will be blamed. That is a mistake Lepis had learned during the events leading up to her son’s death. It is not a mistake she means to make again.

    “No,” she responds sharply. There is a command in her voice, command he had taught her. The pegasus’ tone would brook nothing less than obedience, yet is it softened as she reaches out and says more softly: “No.” and tugs playfully at his mane. Like a child to her father, not a woman to a man. That she can stand, it seems. It makes the admission that follows easier, almost. Surrounded by the simpler emotions of childhood, it is nearly painless to admit that “I want to come home.”

    She can’t bring herself to admit that she has failed, not yet. Not aloud. Not ever, most likely, but she can admit that she wants to come home. Admitting that she has failed means acknowledging why, and she has sworn to not think of him. “I want to come home, and prove that I am ready to lead Loess again.” Like she’d done as a girl, though the balance had been a little different. Then she had been a girl given a crown, and now she is a woman asking for one. She might have failed with Taiga, but she could never fail Loess.

    “I suspect my heir is more loyal to Taiga and to the North than he is to me.” Lepis tells him. “I fear that to leave leadership with him is to lose what little progress I have made.” For all her tone of command earlier, it is clear she leaves the decision of what to do with this up to the Loessian King. Heartfire consider herself the Queen of Taiga, but she leaves the appointment of its leader up to Castile. She has been an independent agent here, but if she intends to serve in Loess, she knows that means to serve under Castile.

    At least for now.
    Reply
    #5
    and underneath the layers, I find myself asking what's left
    a hollowed out form, the skeleton of a ghost, the pitiful echo of what once was
    Defeat is not in Lepis’ vocabulary, nor his own. There are hitches in their goals and dreams, small setbacks, but they always overcome and surpass them. They are strong; of this, he is well aware.

    In her eyes, he can clearly see the frustration and the undeniable conflict that burrows deep into her heart. It rises in the tone of her voice and in the need for contact – reassurance – as she reaches to toy with his metallic locks. Their blood skews in different directions and yet he treasures her as a sister. Perhaps, once it was easy to regard her as a niece because she was a child handed a throne while he was a floundering adult with no place in the world. Seeing her now, however, as a woman grown and a fierce Queen – because she will always be a matriarch in his eyes – it’s increasingly difficult to remember her as an ignorant and confused weanling. Yet he cannot utter the word sister without Isobell coming to mind.

    Drowning in his own thoughts, his own schemes, he at first does not hear her sharp ‘no.’ It passes over deaf ears, but when it softens the second time, it somehow trickles through him and lifts his eyes to her own. Suddenly, there is only them in the forest, only them against the world.

    And she can almost see it, too.

    She wants to come home, to be embraced by Loess’ familiarity. The thought – the offer – has been sitting on his tongue, impatiently waiting to seize the opportunity. It arises as if on cue, and Castile does not reel away in shock. He is steadfast and calm as a warm grin softens the harsh lines of his face. ”Then come home,” he croons, his neck handsomely arching to search her eyes. She openly expresses her concern, and it perfectly mirrors his own. Uncertainty furrows his brow. ”A poor heir,” he remarks coldly with a curl of his lip that immediately blacks out his previous grin. ”He is a fool to be the lamb of a—“ he stops himself because in truth, he has always respected Heartfire, even when their perceptions heavily oppose each other. ”He is a fool,” he reiterates, straightening himself with dignity, ”and I don’t want Taiga to fail as it had before you took it. It thrives with Loess backing it. It thrives with you.” It makes their situation precarious, her word to the heir teetering.

    In order to protect Lepis’ trustworthiness and promises to Aten, Castile sacrifices his own image and reputation.

    But she is worth it. Family is always worth it.

    With a strained breath, his decision arises and freezes in the cool space between them. ”As Taiga’s King,” a pause because he has never been one to flaunt the title, especially to her, ”As your King, I refuse to allow your current heir to take Taiga. As a territory of Loess, it needs someone loyal to the crown…” He trails off, searching for the right words, for the ideal situation that will give them a greater edge against a world that wants them caged and tamed. A contemplative stare rides the height of the surrounding trees, toward the curtains of sunlight slashing through the leaves. In his chest, his heart drums.

    Then he drops his gaze back to Lepis, a decision flirting with his curved, grinning lips.

    ”Lepis, rule Loess with me. Be its Queen again, and I its King. We will reign together,” he already knows how prosperous this will be, how the kingdom will continue to flourish with their combined efforts. ”Put your son on Taiga’s throne as a placeholder so that this land remains under Loess’ influence. Reia will live here with him to continue and build the alliance and to outnumber Aten,” he doesn’t realize how close their children already are, what acts they’ve performed within Taiga’s shadows. ”In due time, we will find a deserving Loessian to gift this territory to if Pteron no longer wants to rule.” It’s the best he can do for her, to preserve her efforts here while raise her to what she wants and needs.

    ”Come rule Loess with me.”


    castile



    Lepis
    Reply
    #6
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    ‘Then come home’ he says, like it is a simple thing.

    The redwoods have never felt like home the way that Loess does, but they have buried their roots deep since her arrival. Come summer, she will have spent three years in the northern forest. Three years of peace and budding friendships, three years of achingly slow progress, three years of memories. Some of those memories are sharper than others, and she allows the emotion to bleed into her expression as Castile reacts to her news of Taiga’s inheritance. He mentions all of the things that she knows, and Lepis nods.

    He falls quiet to think, and she watches him. Not for the first time she wishes she had the ability to know what others felt. Not what they thought – she thinks Starsin’s ability must bring as much pain as it might joy – but just how they might be feeling, what way they might lean. Lepis knows each line of Castile’s face, though the shape of his purely equine face is not one she has seen often. To a woman who thinks her uncle something like a mythical creature, it is disconcerting to see him as mortal.

    He is a handsome stallion, she thinks; but she does not envy Sochi for holding his interest. Lepis has never had the slightest interest in fire or the hot tempers that seem so prevalent with her draconic family. Castile names himself Taiga’s King and issues a command, and for a long time Lepis is quiet.

    She is uncertain, but she cannot let it show. This is not a decision she had expected to make, not an offer she had expected to hear.

    Rule Loess; be its Queen.

    The words themselves seem almost golden, and Lepis almost nods without thinking. Her face certainly lights up, yet as he continues to speak the reality of her situation sinks in. Pteron is young for the position Castile names him to, and Aten is sure to object. Reia is also the last of her cousins she would have asked to represent Loess, though Pteron does seem fond of her. They spend a significant amount of time together anyway; perhaps if things go well she’ll nudge the two of them toward a more permanent union of Taiga and Loess in the form of heirs. There are barriers to the success of the plan that Castile proposes, but Lepis is sure she can carry it out. If she decides to, she reminds herself. Until she is back in Loess she is her own woman, able to make her own decisions.

    A pity she doesn’t have an inkling whether she should accept Castile’s offer or not.

    “Give me time,” she says, and it is neither an acceptance not a denial. “I need to speak to Pteron about this. Aten too, if I can find him.” The champagne protector has been more scarce of late, and given the faint scent of Heartfire she had caught month ago, and the faraway voice of her icy relative, perhaps he has good reason to suspect what might be coming. ”And to…and to Wolfbane.”

    It’s almost an afterthought, and yet she realizes even as she says it that it is true. After everything, she still wants to know what he thinks. The realization brings a scowl of conflicting emotions to her face, but she can hope that her uncle assumes she is thinking of exactly what to say to each of the three mentioned. She is quiet for a long time once more, and she breaks it at last with a quiet and heartfelt: “Thank you.”



    Castile
    Reply
    #7
    and underneath the layers, I find myself asking what's left
    a hollowed out form, the skeleton of a ghost, the pitiful echo of what once was
    Lepis’ response isn’t at all what he expected, but he respects it nonetheless. It’s admirable that she isn’t dropping everything on a whim, that she wants to mull it over and present it to the others it would affect. A feeble, understanding smile plays as an initial response until he cements it with a soft, amiable voice that doesn’t quite match his natural prowess. ”That is fine,” he knows she will not leave him without answers, constantly wondering. All the loose ends will be tied, the relationships either destroyed and fortified, and then she will make a decision.

    And then she will either rule Loess with him or continue her solitary rule of the forest.

    As sharply edged as his curiosity and eagerness is, Castile does not press her. An endearing expression levels on her as her conflictions become nearly tangible. It’s in the way that she lists them and in the way she adds Wolfbane’s name as though an afterthought. Although his forte has never been relationships – Lepis always had love on her heart while Castile groped in futile effort – he is at least capable of being a shoulder for her to lean on when there is no one else.

    ”Lepis,” he says her name sweetly, adoringly, in a manner that is solely reserved for her. It’s tempting to touch her again and to pull her into an embrace, but that would immediately reveal his lack of draconic shifting. There is a small ember kindling as his sentence approaches conclusion, but there is no sustainable flame that emanates from his core. In the midst of winter, he is just as cold as her; black smoke doesn’t rise from his nostrils. It wouldn’t either, not in this moment at least. There is no anger, no frustration, no coy arrogance. In a rare moment, Castile is somber as he traces the edges of her face and slowly breathes in the silence. ”Lepis,” he echoes before swallowing his hesitation to quietly ask, ”What is going on?” Not with the politics or the ominous storm brewing across Nerine and Tephra. Deciding to rephrase, he adds, ”What’s wrong between you and Bane?” He tries to keep himself subdued and his stance neutral, desperately trying to hide what level of hate would arise if Wolfbane ever did anything to her.


    castile



    Lepis
    Reply
    #8
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right
    Castile accepts her stipulation, and the pegasus’ dark mouth curls up in a smile. It fades though, fades and quite quickly, and his next query.

    “We argued.” She admits. The words had been easier than she had anticipated. “I said things I should not have. Did things.” Those are much harder, and understandably bitten off. Her blue-grey gaze is far more iron than sky today, and the holes she might bore with them in the fallen trunk at which she glares would put termites to shame. Starsin had said to admit mistakes, and yet Lepis feels no better than a moment ago. Perhaps it matters with whom she shares them. The ears that had heard an adult Lepis admit flaws are inexplicably few; Castile would not have heard many even when she was a child. Heda never made her apologize for her words or actions, and treated her daughter as though she could do no wrong.

    To have admitted mistakes and not had it count is frustrating, and Lepis grinds one hoof into the loam beneath her. It gives too readily to truly ease her irritation, and remains in her words when she adds: “And now, now he’s listening to me and giving me the space I told him I wanted.” Her teeth grate with her voiced grievance, the tone of her voice utterly at odds with what she has to say. “How am I supposed to say I’m sorry if I can’t even find his stupid shifting self?!” Lepis isn’t shouting, but it is a close call. The earth beneath her pawing hoof resembles premium-grade finely-ground compost. Her immediate plan upon leaving Starsin had been to hunt down her husband and force him to admit what he had done. She has since reasoned that it would be better if she apologizes first. Once she does that, then they will see. They will see.

    Lepis has never sought relationship advice from either of the adults who raised her. Her mother had given plenty without asking of course, most of it directly responsible for the tangle of her youth. But Castile had never been attached, not permanently. Not until recently, at least, and asking about them now feels like prying.

    “I will find him,” she reassures them both. “I will find him, and speak with him about your offer, and I will come home to tell you my answer.” her voice grows more firm as she continues, more measured as she reigns in the frustration of moments earlier. Her displays of temper are rare, but they are equally short-lived. Thinking of other things, the dun mare is able to reach out and press her shoulder against his hug. A familial embrace, as is the removal of a bit of twig from his mane. She notices something different about him standing this close, but there are so many other somethings she thinks of that she brushes it away.

    Castile
    Reply
    #9
    and underneath the layers, I find myself asking what's left
    a hollowed out form, the skeleton of a ghost, the pitiful echo of what once was
    Castile tries to fathom the level of difficulty placed on Lepis’ shoulders when she confesses everything to him. Born and raised as a princess, ruled as a Queen. The life that has been laid out for her was prideful. He cannot help to wonder if she ever needed to apologize for anything up until these last couple of years, but of course, he doesn’t ask. Attentively – curiously – he listens and occasionally narrows his eyes in silent contemplation. Occasionally, a breath catches in his throat and floods him with a level of uncertainty that renews his brooding silence. Lepis needs not project her emotions on him to sense the tangible pain that radiates from her skin, and the frustration of their quarrel.

    There’s a fleeting consideration to brighten her mood with humor, but the idea dies before it can even reach his tongue. He swallows it down with another lungful of air and rolls his gaze briefly away from her to note the rustling trees overhead. Fire churns in his gut, wanting desperately to finally be uncaged. It wants release on those that have brought suffering to his niece, to those that stand in the way of her happiness.

    But it would do no good. It would spiral uncontrollably and they would all find themselves at a loss.

    A flash of his scales ripples across his body – another indication that slowly, agonizingly so, his magic is returning to his veins. It’s easy to miss, just a flicker of a second that leaves him once again bare.

    ”What did he do to make you yell, to argue?” Although Castile realizes the imperfections of his niece, his mind cannot help to imagine the greater contribution stemming from Wolfbane. It must have been him. Lepis has only wanted what’s best for her family, but their enemies see something different entirely. They see warmongers and conquerors in their path, while he and his niece see strength in family and friends.

    Except, now, Castile nearly laughs at the idea of friends. They do not truly exist, it seems.

    Shifting beneath the mounting strength of Lepis’ voice, he understands the dismissal inching closer to her lips. It’s not unkind, but a firm confirmation that she will bring her answer to Loess’ doorstep. Nodding his head, Castile acquiesces. ”Good luck, Lepis. I think you will need it,” a breath sighs slowly from his lungs just as he reaches forward to press his lips to her forehead. It isn’t a gesture of lovers, but still affection – a gesture that has lasted through the years above all others. ”I’ll always be here for you,” his skin is frigid where it had been touching her as he slowly withdraws and turns away, disappearing into the shadows back to Loess. 


    castile



    Lepis
    Reply




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