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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening

    COTY

    GHAUL -- Year 209

    QOTY

    "(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


    [open quest]  a burning star - round 2
    #1

    my heart is a lit candle, a forest fire,
    a burning star


    They come, and their answers are...they are not what she wants, though they are perhaps what she expects. It is hard to understand her true meaning when you have never lived as she had, when you have never sought what she has sought. She understands the cost, and she will make sure they do as well. But first, she simply wants to know them.

    One by one, Beqanna fades around them and they are left alone, facing Straia.

    Leilan
    ”You misunderstand me. I do not desire that you give me anything. What could you possibly give me that I cannot already get for myself?” She pauses for a moment, letting that particular point settle in, though not telling him what she does mean. That is the test, after all. Around them, the world begins to shape itself into his home, thriving and alive. It is a little boost, though not much. ”You say you want to be a king, and yet you hold no crown now in the world where they are easy to come by. So show me then, how you intend to get it.” With that, Straia disappears, leaving him to his world of make believe.

    Tiasa
    ”So young,” she purrs. ”I was like you, once. But you do not yet understand. You will, though.” The world around them fades to nothing, waiting for Tiasa to shape it. She would only be able to shape something like Beqanna, but it was hers to do with as she willed. ”Show me, child, how you plan to be worshipped. How do you intend to turn yourself into a goddess? You have no home, no followers that I know of...so where do you begin?” With that, Straia disappears, leaving her to become what she dreams.

    Castile
    ”You say you want everything, and yet you gave up with your tail between your legs the moment life got hard. You say you will give everything, but only because you have already lost it all.” Her voice is not it’s usual alluring purr, but hard and unimpressed. He sought power and yet remained trapped by a faerie in his dragon form. He sought legacy and yet gave up what had been such an easy path toward it. Perhaps her interest in him had been misplaced, but she is willing to give second chances. ”Show me what you plan to do Castile. With no crown on your brow now, what does greatness look like for you?” Straia disappears, leaving him behind in an imaginary Loess, though in his illusion he is not trapped as a dragon.

    Ruthless
    ”A different sort of ambition. Honorable. Though I have never played by such honor, perhaps I can be convinced.” Her voice is kind, lulling, like a song or a lullaby. The girl is different than the others that have come to her. She offers only her mother, but unlike Lelian who offered a daughter, this girl is giving all that she has. How different to offer one small piece of yourself than it is to offer the only connection you have. Because in the end, you have to be willing to give up everything. ”Show me, child. How do you create your haven? How do you learn to protect?” Straia disappears, leaving Ruthless alone in her illusion, the redwoods of Taiga looming above her.

    Sochi
    She smiles at the mare, something like camaraderie in that grin. They were not the same, but there was something similar between them that Straia can appreciate. ”That is no small dream,” she says, voice a deep purr. ”I overthrew men and left Beqanna scared of my name. Even then, I could bend much of the world to my will.” Now, she could bend more. ”And yet I have never escaped all things. Not death. Not destruction. Not resurrection. So show me, tigress, how you would achieve your goal, how you would live above the law of this world.” Straia disappears, leaving the world blank around Sochi, letting her paint her own future.

    Lepis
    The smile that Straia offers the dun mare is pleased and calculating, amber eyes taking in the only one who seemed to understand the question. Straia too could have answered her own questions so simply. She sought power, and in return, she gave up her own power. ”Well well,” she begins, having little to say but so much she wants to see. ”Show me.” The world around Lepis shifts into an illusion of Loess, and Straia disappears.

    Oisin
    ”What brought you to me? I do not seek the lost, I seek the seekers.” The question hangs in the air for a moment, and around them the world twists itself into the familiar landscape of Nerine. ”I cannot give you your direction; that is not my role. So I will leave you here to find it.” And with that, Straia disappears.

    Beryl
    She considers the little lioness for a moment, appraising. ”A worthy dream, I suppose. Though how do you expect me to help you with it? In the end, that is a dream you must achieve on your own.” Though perhaps all of their dreams, in some way or another, must be achieved without her. Her aid would make it easier, but she would not fight their battles for them. After all, she had become what she was by working for it, and she expected no less of them. The world around them goes white, because there is no place the lioness claims as home, no place for her to begin. ”You have a blank slate. Show me how you become what you dream.” And with that, Straia disappears.

    Kildare
    ”It is not to me that you must give something. Besides, you come here seeking only a tiny thing. A thing the faeries of the mountain would grant you, for a small price. Why do you seek it from me, and not them? What has stopped you, until now?” She pauses, wondering why he asks only now for a gift he could earn, at least in part, from a source so readily available to him. Her call was for ambitions, not wishes. ”Show me then, how you get what you dream. And perhaps for you, more importantly, what you do with it.” Around him, the world changes back to his familiar Loess, and Straia disappears.


    straia



    You have been transported into your dream and asked to show Straia how you would take what it is you seek. Yes, this is SUPER broad, but basically Straia is looking to get to know your character and how they would act. You can manipulate Beqanna within reason here and powerplay as you like (if you use existing characters extensively, please get approval from the player, though I don’t think you should need to go that in depth). I am not looking for the nitty gritty details. If there’s a battle, just say there’s a battle. If you go to the mountain for a trait, assume you passed the quest and move on. Please do not write ridiculously long books. I will take away “points” for a bunch of stuff that is not relevant so be smart with your words.

    Posts are due Tuesday, March 10th at 9am EST.

    Use of mild power playing is allowed; no injuries without permission

    #2
    L E P I S
    i hear the voice of rage and ruin
    The world around her feels real, and yet she senses it is not. It is bright, multifaceted, and well-crafted, but there is just enough strangeness to know that it is manufactured. The pied Magician had made this world out of nothing, Lepis knows. Now it is the pegasus’ turn, her turn to make something of it. Lepis’ eagerness to finally enact all her well-crafted plans outweighs caution in the face of the arcane and unknown in this. Accepting the command is one of the fastest decisions she’s made in her life.

    Taking in a breath of the almost-real air, Lepis begins.

    She seeks peace, but it rarely comes without conflict. The desire to avoid physical violence in the past has limited her ambition, but the moral tradeoff had always been sufficient. That remains true even in this magical world, though she is undoubtedly liberal with the use of her own magic is this false place. Inspiring a deep sense of loyalty in her subjects is easy enough, and keeping her projection to a single emotion ensures her reserves are never drained. Caution when wielding her projections has been her default, but there is less to lose here. She sends a battle-hardened force to take the North once and for all; they will bend the knee or they will be banished. Avoid bloodshed, she tells them, knowing that it is a command unlikely to be followed.

    Lepis tried though, and rests easy with that knowledge.

    A foray is made into Pangea, to initiate contact with the aggressive place and to return the glittering black creature that had been hunting Loess for weeks. Those who object to her plans find themselves on the no-longer-frozen Isle, guarded and kept falsely content and unharmed by watchful eyes. Every world needs a place to send the degenerates and the dangerous, and the world Lepis would make is no different. It’s better than killing them, she reasons with herself.

    Pangea eventually fights back, untrustworthy at heart as she has always suspected. The battle to subdue them is hard-fought, with many casualties on either side. The evening when Lepis finally address all eight of her territories, she is favoring a hind leg, wearing a scar across her face, and one of her blue-grey eyes is clouded.

    But she needs only one good eye.

    One good eye to survey Beqanna, and to watch as the East submits without quarrel to the impossible force of her Empire. One good eye to see clearly, to met out justice and judgement. Lepis considers herself a benevolent, allowing the individual lands most of the same freedoms they’d had before her reign. The vows of fealty she makes them swear are binding but surely not uncomfortable. On a smaller scale, her family comes back together as well. She must keep their paternal cornerstone locked and raving on the northern Isle, but such are the sacrifices that must be made. They all understand with enough magical persuasion - even stubborn Celina! – and as Lepis’ empire grows so does her family, welcoming children and grandchildren to their fold, binding the formerly independent kingdoms and territories first by marriage and then by blood.

    Just as she’d always planned.

    Lepis still visits Noah in the Brilliant Pampas every spring when the wildflowers are at their most beautiful, even in this false world. That is where she ends this showcase for the magician, with her back to the sun setting over the southern ocean. The continent of Beqanna spreads north of her, hills and then mountains gone hazy with distance. There is peace in every mind, as bright as the red light that bathes the world around her. A thousand floral scents mix with the tang of the sea, and Lepis breathes a contented sigh. There are lines around her eyes that were not there before, and a constant dull ache in the back of her mind from maintaining a constant projection, but more important: there is peace.

    Peace.

    n | l
    #3

    if you do not have shadows,
    you are not in the light

    She doesn’t have time to be lulled by the splashed mare with her supple tone, though she longs to. If she closes her eyes, she can almost imagine Lilliana before her. But, she isn’t that lucky. And, Lilliana isn’t a magician.

    The world goes blurry, but not before the dame’s final sentence rolled into her ears with weight and suspense.

    Show me, child. How do you create your haven? How do you learn to protect?

    Nerine is captivating—a fantasy like-glow glistening off the trees. It’s summer now, but the air doesn’t smell different. As if nothing but the vibrancy of colours and odd gloss sheen had changed since her ominous run in with the foreign mare.

    The smell of her wafts in, throwing Ruthless into turmoil. Her once pristine golden glimmer now covered in white sea foam-like sweat, watching to her left as the cautiously paced blue roan grows from the fog now settling across the forest floor.

    The silence is numbing, as if the quieter they are the more distant Brine feels. There are no words to share between the once inseparable pair, a mother of darkness and a child of light split between will to live and will to survive.

    A theatrical drama Ruth had been grateful to shed, even if it also meant shedding her own mother.

    “You don’t love me?” Her voice is not her own, in fact it’s a mixture of voices that Ruth struggles to pinpoint. They sound familiar… but, from where?

    “You cannot survive Ruth…”

    It hits her like the tentacle he wielded, his voice smothering her hope—air gone from her lungs.

    “We are safer in the shadows…”

    Confusion swarms her with a anxious glow that travels from the top of her throat into the pit of her stomach, the voice is changing and it has lost the ferocious masculine snarl and is replaced with the softness of Brine’s hum. A voice so soft and accustom to silence, the wide-eyed filly has to stretch to hear her.

    “We all succumb, Ruthless..”

    Lilliana, her words a barrelling smack to her heart that might as well knocked her to the floor. The once ignorant and brave roan turned into a cowering and quivering mess. The world had shook her, taken her and played with her like a mouse. It had hurt her, stolen everything happy about her. Taken everything from her.

    And now, she can hardly bear it.
    (wouldn’t it just be easier if you… I don’t know… went away?)

    The thoughts that sink into her brain are not of her own, but of the menace before her. The monster that has taken the form of her mother and left her in a trembling incoherent child.

    That’s what everyone calls her, isn’t it?

    Child

    Brat

    “Don’t act the hero…”

    “You’re a liar,” a whisper at first, and then a growl to finish. A tone she never knew she had, but it rises through the ashes and flares to the top with fury and vengeance. “You’re a fucking liar, and I am done with you.”

    She understands it now, all the way down to the mysterious mare in the mountain. She is giving up Brine. She is giving up the fear, the cowardness, the complacency. The surviving.

    Killing the era of suppression.

    Leaving the mindset to run.

    “I am done with you,” a hiss, and then suddenly she feels it. A stinging radiation in her mind, a boiling ache in her chest, but it rises from her and she can sense it leave. The unknown magic she had never found now obediently inhaling Brine in a cloud of fear.

    “Stop, stop Ruth.”

    Her mother’s desperation gripping to her daughter’s soul and ripping it from her safety. She wants to stop, but she can’t. Not if it means she can move forward. Not if it means she can protect the ones who need it, like Lilliana.

    God, she needs to save Lilliana.

    “I told you to stop!”

    While the forest remains silent and tranquil, the blue roan is shrieking. Unbeknownst to our growing warrior, Brine is locked in a weak hypnosis that confuses her while the feeling of fear settles from her back and sinks into her spine.

    “Leave, go!” A biting but desperate plea that breaks the loud shrill of Brine and silence bestows them once more. The tension dissipating into the air in similar fashion to how the fog begins to casually roll into the distance. The fog-made Brine now fading into the treeline.

    Absent, mindless. A fraud. But she might as well have been the real thing, Ruthless had given her up.

    And while the journey to ruling a safe haven is beyond her reach, she knows the first step has been taken.

    The first step to living, and not surviving


    Ruthless

    #4


    When the attention of this bay and white mare is on her, Tiasa does not cower. Her pink and blue eyes slide from the mare to the hazy darkness that surrounds them. Once she realizes what it is - a blank canvas - she eyes it hungrily. “Not yet.” Tiasa replies simply, undeterred by this list of things she did not possess. Big things have small beginnings, after all, and the teal girl was only just on the brink of what she believed would be a very long life.

    She does not wish to be a queen so she needs no borders, no home - just water. She weaves the image around her, calling it forth from her heart. Not the crystalline coves and reefs of her family but murky ponds and swamps, deep within forests where only freckles of sunlight reach them in the middle of the day. There would be a healthy respect for the other predators living in such places, but Tiasa knew the wicked teeth she could summon if she needed to prove that she was one of them.

    It does not matter where the water is, and she could move between them as she wished. Her Beqanna has ponds and swamps and pools formed by rivers dappling across the landscape. Tiasa believes there is more to be gained than by holding a kingdom. What is a queen, after all? Just a subject to her subjects. Crucially, Tiasa’s dream does not exist in just one box. It is boundless, uncontainable. Even an empress who dominates over multiple lands must have faith in others to uphold the dream, it is not something that can be achieved single-handedly. Soldiers, politicians, bodies to fill the lands. A queen without a court is just a mare standing in a field she calls her kingdom.

    She slips into a murky pond, her raven-black hair fanning around her and she sees them come. It starts with the curious, those drawn to the bright juxtaposition of the tropical flower in a shadowy swamp.She would encourage the rumours to spread, a witch that could grant wishes. Whether or not she could would be something she could seek out at the mountain but the possibility might be enough to encourage visitors.

    None of them ever get to touch her, few will get to speak to her. She would be elusive in her shrine, slipping beneath the surface, and that is where she will grow into herself and all the possibilities at her hands. A nightmare, a goddess, haunting the waters of Beqanna - always a chance to see her, always the threat of death but the lure of more. She has years to cultivate this dream - growing more beautiful, more savage, with each passing year.

    There aren’t many legends in Beqanna, none that pass through the generations beyond certain families. She certainly knows of none. Queens and Kings are forgotten, replaced, out done practically every single day.

    But Tiasa could be the first. She could endure.

    tiasa

    art by dozymare
    #5
    He almost scoffs.

    Something in him had to be ambitious - he had heard the call. (And there is something of the prodigal son in him. It had been in there, once. The want to defend and to protect and to help. It's bred too strongly in his blood for him to completely ignore it. Perhaps that was the part of him that had stirred at Straia’s magic.)

    His brow furrows and for a moment, his green eyes glitter with all the things he wants to say.
    Her magic silences him before he has the chance to make a fool out of himself.

    Straia alters the world and the land and then he is back in Loess, no different than he left it. Her skill is so profound he almost believes her; it is only the unnatural sheen (like the perfection of a childhood memory) that tells him that this isn’t his Loess. This isn’t the home of his daughter.

    So he does as she told him too. Kildare goes to the Mountain to get back what Beqanna demanded from him - his price for a promise he perhaps had been too young to make. The Mountain does not bend or yield. Worse. It does nothing. It doesn't even acknowledge that he exists. So he comes back again and again until finally, the Fairies reveal themselves to an older Kildare, one that does not look so hopeful and that has frown lines. He scowls at the Fairies when they tell him to prove himself, to keep his promises and perhaps they will keep one to him.

    (When has magic ever been anything but fickle? But still - he heeds Straia's advice.)
    He goes to prove himself - to keep his word.

    He kisses his daughter goodbye and goes North. He discovers that Astana is truly gone (and Heartfire thankfully, going wherever creepy kidnapping mares vanish too). His Aunt finally emerges from the Taigan fog and though she is no longer the fleet-footed, copper girl who had laughed and danced across the moors, she smiles. ‘I am okay,’ she says. ‘I will be alright.’ He learns that his other Aunt is gone; Windskeep has made another demand of them.

    He returns to Loess - older, heavier and burdened by these promises but wiser. His gift is still gone. He feels its loss with every gust that he can’t control, with every gale that blows through the hilly kingdom (and they are vacant of all the words he has ever heard the wind sing). His daughter is there. She smiles at him, older with children of her own. Mary - political, motivated, goddess - Mary is still there and he smiles at her too. Kildare sees troubles rippling across his dream but they fight them together; he defends and protects them. He even comes to the aid of a kingdom he once claimed he felt no allegiance for - fighting its battles and defending its borders.

    Kildare, without his gift and without powers, becomes an accomplished fighter in their ranks. He goes North (and better yet, takes his daughter with him) to visit and two families merge together, become one, become reminiscent of the one they left behind and together the two strains forge and with time, heal.

    He learns that these are the things that matter - not power or prestige or gifts. 
    These are the things that have always mattered.

    (Perhaps it wasn’t Straia’s magic he needed as much as it was her call.)

    In the end, the wind passes by him and he hears it.
    He smiles.
    #6
    Nothing.

    It's what she wants to say, what she would say, if she had had time.

    No time.

    Beryl as soon thinks the word "nothing" as finds herself surrounded by it, the patchwork mare's words fading away into the dream. Blank, white, nothing extends in all directions into an indeterminable distance. Like in the realm of shadows, the young lion is uncertain of the ground underfoot, there is nothing to differentiate it from anything else, but unlike that place, there are no rotating tunnels of eyes, no dead-leaf whispers in her ears. For a moment, panic rises as it so often does and she flinches back into herself, frightened, confused, alone. She wants her mother, Leilan, Halcyon, she wants her friendly Shades, even the ones with the scowling, scolding, voices that tell her No. Beryl remembers them and knows she has never been alone before, truly, absolutely, alone, and she buries her face under wide paws, eyes shut tight against the unbeatable whiteness. What is she supposed to do with this?

    The darkness behind her eyelids is soothing, and there is some irony that she, bright, golden, child, finds comfort and friendship in that familiar dark place. She finds ideas, too. Dark eyes fly open, tail twitching with agitation and her whiskered mouth parts into a snarl, lips wrinkled and drawn back so that long canine teeth glint in the whiteness that surrounds. The lioness retches, abdomen heaving, vomiting shadows into the paper-white void, dark shadows that spill wetly and endlessly from the lightless cavern of her own body and give depth to the empty world. She retches until she no longer can, until she turns herself inside-out, and when she finally stops, there are no more claws, no more fangs, Beryl is equine again, long and lithe and cat-like, and the glittering galaxy on her shoulder throws shifting light into the darkness. Shadows and starlight extend to the sky above in waves, fill the blank world with darkness and stars and an undulating wave of light that resembles the aurora borealis rippling high above her burned Isle, but she does not fill the earth with snow. On grey hooves the youth begins to walk forward and as she does, a dark forest springs up around her, shadowy trees and dappled light that litters the ground like leaves.

    She is Night and she is Day, and she can build worlds.

    Even here, danger comes, and the shadows swirl thick around her like a second skin, like armor that presses against her cool as water pooling in the shade, keeping her safe even as fire blossoms in her forest like red creeper vines in autumn. When the dragon roars above her, she does not take herself to his back this time but gathers the darkness into his likeness, a giant beast with yellow eyes, and they wrestle in the sky, one roaring and flaming, one silent and opaque. When the light of flame threatens to lick at the shadow-beast it breaks apart into a thousand ravens that descend upon the Dragon King's eyes, that peck holes in his wings, until with a furious bellowing, the he spits fire across them all and they die in the light of his flame without a sound.

    Though there is blood on his wings and his face, he trumpets victoriously above her burning forest and Beryl tips her head slightly to one side as it follows his arc through the skies.

    Grow, she thinks, "Come to me," she says, "Isn't it terrible to be locked away in there with that fire?"

    His flight ends abruptly in an explosion of darkness. The shadows within his body mutiny against the tyranny of his flame, they split his skin and stream like ink from his mouth, his feet, his belly, to swarm at her feet, still warm. The Reptile is dead before he hits the ground - no shadow left with his great hulking heft cracked wide open to the world - and she barely blinks at the thunder of his collision with the earth. There will, some day, be forces greater than dragons but she does not know them, too callow, too protected. This, perhaps, is what she needs from the mysterious tobiano. Her grey muzzle brushes gently against the feathery shadows clinging to her legs, and then she lifts her head back to peer curiously into the flickering, burning forest.

    But where has she gone?

    Beryl
    Litotes x Mehendi
    #7
    SOCHI

    She is silent as the mare speaks although there is the hint of a smile at the edge of her firm mouth. The hint of something like understanding when she hears of Straia’s past life and a small nod as she takes in the lesson within the words. Sochi is still when the world begins to fade away and, for a moment, when she is left in the darkness—in this abyss that is hers for the making.

    She takes a deep breath, inhaling her thoughts, and then she lets it go.

    When she does, the world comes rushing into roaring color around her. It is dazzling in its kaleidoscope of sensations as everything comes into stark reality—and when she opens her eyes, she realizes that she is in the forest. She takes a step forward, testing her weight, and she reaches for the tigress within her before realizing that it is not there. She tries again and there is nothing. No ripple, no shadow of anything.

    It is a haunting feeling to be stripped so clean of her other self.

    But she remembers her words, remembers the weight of them, and she does not dwell for long on it. Not when there is so much to do. So she grits her teeth and turns into the forest and gets to work.

    She hunts the shifters. At first, the large cats because they are what she knows best (even though their very presence makes her ache). She finds the other tigers, the mountain lions, the jaguars. She even finds the panther of Hyaline who had ripped her to shreds in a war from another time. She draws them forth on a promise of a new world order; of a dream where the kingdoms were not ones with borders and ranks and the silly notions of this world but where power flowed from something deeper, something primal.

    When her pack has grown in size, she turns her attention to the other shifters. Those of the air, those of the sea, and others of the land. Sochi recruits Risk, a shifter of many skins and uses him to find others like him. She pulls them into the nucleus of her growing family and lets them settle into natural order.

    (She does not invite the dragons, does not entertain the notion of it.)

    Finally, when they are large enough, a roaming pack of them, she begins to direct them toward the kingdoms. The attacks are small, at first. Raids in the middle of the night. Some to steal away those who do not fight. Some to destroy the markers on borders, as if sending a message. Some simply to rankle the residents and remind them of their power. But the fights are not as effective as the whispers.

    The whispers of the pack who roams without law.

    The pack that does not abide by political notions or alliances. They are rogues. They are wild. They are led by the silver-eyed mare but she does not direct their every move or order them into things they do not wish. There is an understanding of the natural law. The strong survive. The weak do not. She does not ignore such truths and she does not pretend that they do not exist. It is the way of the world, after all.

    In time, the weakest kingdoms crumble.

    Some of the larger kingdoms hold on, but they recognize the strength of the pack and do not interfere. They do not press their ideologies into the wild animals and, in turn, Sochi leaves them alone.

    The ideas spread and other, small groups spring up. Some, like herds, are peaceful gatherings of prey—and although they are not immune to the hunting of the pack, they are not an immediate target. Others are packs of competition. In some cases, they cross paths and battles break out, but they are never more than a good, clean fight between predators over food and territory and other such primitive things. They are always solved with bloodshed, and there is never any dispute about which pack rises the strongest.

    Sochi often leads the charge in such fights.

    And, when she does not fight, she revels in the freedom afforded to her in this world.

    She mourns, sometimes, the loss of the tiger within her. She mourns the family that she had built on the bedrock of the old world. She mourns the woman that she had once become.

    But she wakes and shakes the dreadlocked mane across her neck. She looks at the silvery scars that spiderweb across her equine form and watches the pack as they hunt, as they feast, as they rest.

    And she knows that she has carved out a place in this world free of laws once thought writ in stone.

    she said a war ain't a war before both sides bleed

    [Image: sochi.png]

    I was less than graceful, I was not kind
    be out watching other lovers lose their spine

    #8

    Leilan
    a dragon who couldn't be hurt on the outside
    could have so many ragged holes inside
    There is a moment of contemplation, though brief, when others answer: they are goals shrouded within goals. Magic for loyalty, peace by conquering those who do not ask for it, power of destruction, power to protect. He knows what it all translates into: to be feared, for it means not to be challenged, it means to be named and to be remembered. He is no different, except that he already has enough power - but the fruits of his labour still wait for him, because power alone is never enough. All the power in the world does not magically give out prizes, nor are dreams made real. It is slightly disappointing that she will not help, then; at least not in the way that he’d hoped. There will be no trades today. Maybe she just wanted to be entertained.

    Entertaining he can be. He said he would give up a loved one. To her if she asked, sure - but he would still lose them, one way or another, if they knew everything he ever did. Does she know what his daughters mean to him? How much they are his mirror, how much they keep him grounded after his wife gave up on him?

    But she leaves before he can answer her, and he is left to his own devices: in Nerine instead of the Isle. He does not waste time swimming to the place that he has laid claim to: he knows no-one will challenge him for it, not here. But claiming a Territory won’t make someone king, and he already knows exactly what’s waiting for him there, too - empty land ready to be reshaped.

    First, he makes frequent trips to the Field. There he finds the bodies he needs - not, per say, the lightest souls in the world, but the ones willing to work to create, to start something new, to leave behind the mistakes they made before. He can be impressive enough if he needs to; if not, there’s always the crazy ones that just want to adore the flaming tree. Worship it even. And perhaps he likes to make use of that fact.

    His second step still isn’t directly towards his goal - it’s to the west, where Ruinam rules the Resort. His fellow dragon rules his Territory quietly - too quietly perhaps for Leilan’s taste, but it makes the job easier. It doesn’t take much to convince him to leave Tephra, which has done nothing for the Resort just like Nerine these days does nothing much for the Isle. He knows it will take some persuasion for the magician-lady ruling the volcano to let go of the Resort, however. That’s where the dragon shape and army come in - an unspoken threat that he doesn’t actually mention as such. That, and the promise of a new kingdom, with a sanctuary for those who don't want to be caught in a battle. A noble enough goal in itself, on the surface.

    In the end it is Ruinam’s wish for separation that convinces her, but Leilan truly could care less, as long as it works. His mind is already on his way back to the north. Home.

    Neverwhere never wanted to be a queen, but that doesn’t mean she’ll give it up easily. And yet they have an odd sort of friendship, as the ice dragon dances his way around her insults with his own. He speaks freely, and she doesn’t have to hold her tongue. If he didn’t know any better he’d say she is his friend, but friends in power don’t give away that much, so he has to come up with something better than friendship.

    It’s an ultimatum. Either she gives up her position or she loses her Territory entirely; it will take time and bloodshed to free himself and his bunch from the cliffside kingdom, but he will do it. Does it remind them of Loess’ offer for Taiga? Of course. But as they joke and scowl and insult their way through the conversation, he knows the differences between himself and Lepis. He’s not leaving without an answer, and he came with an army and a new territory at his back: instead of being an outsider looking to claim, he is an insider looking to separate, or to protect her from her own position, whichever she prefers.

    It is, of course, not enough to separate from Nerine, although it is the only wise choice considering the rest of the world seems to dislike the gray cliffed kingdom. The southern kingdom for example, is ruled by a woman who would lay claim to the northern lands in the name of peace. The eastern kingdom has hungry eyes, waiting for weakness to devour whatever they can get. And so they can’t be trusted, and can’t be ignored. He won’t be able to rule for a long time if he doesn’t put work to it.

    With Lepis, he trades his daughter, and a promise. Beryl of course has long since left his side, as well as Eurwen who doesn’t speak to him since he separated the Isles from Nerine; it’s the little snow dragon who is willing to marry into a family for a future title, about as ambitious as her sire. Besides this, Leilan will take care of the Islands, keeping those that the dun mare does not want in her own lands separated from the others. Of course, she still has to deal with Pangea, but the ice king doesn’t come in between. After all, he spoke with them too. In a world where dragons rule, as long as there are sheep to feed on, there is no problem between an ice dragon in the north and a fire dragon in the south, after all.

    Battles ensue on the mainland - as they always would where one has the ambition to take over the rest of the world. Loess starts it on the grounds that Pangea and Nerine conspire against her - and the Isles are silent. He tells his subjects to wait, just a little longer; soon the earth will be scorned and scorched as much as the Broken Isle once was - and when everybody gets swiped from the surface of Beqanna, Beqanna is ripe for the taking.

    And he lets them take, even though he doesn’t really participate. Even Empires will fall, when Winter is coming.
    Two things I know I can make: pretty kids, and people mad.
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    #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
    ”Have I though? What need do I have any more for a heart? My soul? They’ve given me grief. They’ve distracted me. They’ve weakened me.” His original lessons for the previous quest is how he needs such things as remorse, love, and understanding if he wants to mend what he has cracked. Much to his dismay, however, Sochi’s steely resolve and statement confirms that she has no interest. ”Six years as Loess’ King. It was time for a change, but surely you cannot think that is where my life ends.” An arrogant grin lopsidedly stretches across his lips. Where his mother went into hiding after her resignation, Castile continues to thrive.

    Straia plants him back into Loess, pushing him as she always has. The image of her fades into oblivion, stranding him in a place he knows far too well. Lepis is Queen here, even in this faux dream of his. That is fine, he realizes, as he looks down to see hooves instead of claws, hair instead of scales. It’s almost wrong to be like this again after more than half a year living as his own monster. This physical change outweighs the importance of whomever sits on the throne – he elected Oceane for a reason, but the world is fickle. A shiver of distaste splits through him like lightning hitting a tree. A single breath and he is once more draconic – this is him, this is what he is first and foremost.

    He flies to an island to begin this process. One, he has destroyed. Another, he seized fleetingly. There is one left, and it’s a start.

    There’s a battle of elements – fire and water – as he fights to overtake the realm of women, unseating their idle comfort, but it isn’t at all permanent. No, his loyalties remain with Loess because it has provided for him time and again. Even as the kingdom’s Lord and Guardian – for that is what he is in his mind – he can still unite lands under them. He can still have a legacy, because he will be the core reason forging an empire, even without a crown tipped on his brow. He will be the first – perhaps the only – one so ambitious.

    He will take Ischia, only to challenge its kingdom’s leader for independence. He gains that, pulling the island into Loess’ grip. The ringlet of a crown is returned to the Queen because he doesn’t want it to hold, but any change in hierarchy promotes activity. He belongs in Loess.

    Power courses through his veins – everything draconic, but there is more alongside it. He manipulates his own fire, bends it to his whims and uses it as a shield. Magic courses in his veins, a greater strength than he currently has. It feeds into him in his quest, molding him into something more fearsome, more respectable, and more powerful in his fights. He is among the powerful magicians in Beqanna, a player of chaos and unrest.

    He takes another territory, only to repeat the process once more, doubling the amount of lands beneath Loess’ reign. Uniting them (owning them).

    Since adolescence, he has been a soldier; forever a fighter. It’s in his blood, and yet the potential has sat idle in recent years. When was the last time he fought, he briefly wonders as he casts his eyes to the endless sky (The Alliance?). Back in Loess, still as its primary soldier and guardian, Castile breathes in the arid air. Scars lace across his skin, healed over in the months that flickered by within seconds inside this dream. Admiringly, he looks at them.

    No women curl against his side, no genuine love to press kisses to his throat as he returns home, war beaten and tired.

    Children, yes. There is Alcinder and Reia, Nikolaus and Valdis. Even Santana. Their faces stand from the crowd, watching him in his triumphant return. ”Loess’ influence grows,” he says to them all as Loessians, including Lepis, greet him not far into the kingdom’s embrace. An exhausted smile traces across his lips, savoring these moments as he receives recognition for spreading Loess’ grip across Beqanna.

    I don’t need a crown to be great, he tells himself as his eyes drift across those that have gathered.

    He expanded their kingdom’s reach. The only kingdom to do so.

    A great warrior, a guardian, and a father. ”Now to get some sleep,” he mumbles, shifting into his draconic body to retreat into the mountains where he watches his world unfold, and his influence bleed through generations – his legacy.

    castile




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