Castle Korvosa, Rova 16 AR 4735
Princess Ecclesia paused for a moment as she looked out the nearby window. Fireworks of brilliant red and gold sparks streaked into the air, delighting all in attendance to the grand ball at the palace. The world-renowned minstrels played popular jigs and ballads, though with an ever-increasing complexity and strange instruments. The beats of the drums seemingly in time with the fireworks, the two melded in her mind as musical strings droned together in a crescendo.
Her thoughts edged back to the meteors crashing against her armor, metal clanging loud in her ears as she kept fixated on its source. The roar of the Blue Dragon right before it blasted her and the other Wardens with lightning, their painful screams as they reeled from the attack. The familiar pulse of her life force pulsing through the edge of her holy blade as it viciously cut into the chiseled gargantuan frame of a Rune Giant. Her vision darkening as she was pulled out of existence…
She felt a familiar hand on hers, caressing the engagement ring on her ring finger. Ecclesia drew her eyes away from the fireworks and back towards her fiancé.
“Are you enjoying yourself, darling?” Ameiko asked.
Ecclesia smiled, “Yes, of course, I was just-“
“In Xin-Shalast, no doubt, you’ve been visiting quite a bit lately,” Ameiko stood up from her chair and led Ecclesia toward the dance floor, “Come now, and let’s bring you back to your party.”
“Our party, my love.”
“Yes, but your birthday. I didn’t splurge on these dresses so you can sit behind a dining table all night. Dance with me.”
Ameiko lead her to the center of the hall and signaled to the minstrels to start up a cheerful jig. Ecclesia’s crimson and gold sequenced dress twisted and spun, the light catching on amethyst gemstones not unlike the streaks of fireworks earlier. It was complimented by Ameiko’s own dress, which was inspired by her own native Minkaian fashion but styled to her eclectic tastes. The silk print showcased a Ruby Dragon spewing forth golden threaded flame upon a black field. As they danced, the couple held bright smiles in their picturesque performance. A few words were exchanged, though between the continuing thunderous explosions of the fireworks and the spirited minstrels nothing could be discerned by those observing. They remained on the dance floor for a spell before retreating graciously towards an empty side hallway. The couple moved up a flight of stairs and further away from the party until at last they were alone on a balcony overlooking the fireworks.
Ecclesia once more looked out to those streaks of light, as they continued to burst in the night sky.
“You were wonderful out there, my love,” she said at last, “I can already tell my people will love you once we are married.”
“You’re sounding more and more like your father the longer we’re here,” Ameiko replied, playing with Ecclesia’s engagement ring as she held her hand, “To say nothing of that furrowed brow now that we’re alone.”
“I’m teasing,” Ameiko chuckled. “But seriously, what’s troubling you?”
“Did the party not meet your expectations, my love?”
“Yes, of course, everything came out just as you described it to me, Ameiko, I couldn’t be more pleased with it.”
“Then why the long face? Have I offended you?”
“No, of course not, it’s just—,” Ecclesia paused, straightening up as a dignitary rounded the corner and she gave a solemn nod as they passed, “Let us continue this in the parlor.”
“As you wish,” Ameiko said as Ecclesia took her arm and led down the hall. The smile and statuesque serenity returned to the princess’ face once more, as they passed more well wishers and esteemed guests around the first floor reception halls. They passed up a 2nd flight of stairs, retreating further into the castles more intimate spaces, and while the vibrant murmurs of the party downstairs could still be heard, there was a sense of solitude that occupied this floor. It wasn’t long before they found the parlor room, lit for privacy, and slipped inside.
Ecclesia went over to the small cabinet and fashioned a pair of drinks. She handed one to her fiancé before she curled up on the opposite couch. She took a long sip before setting it down. A silence hung over the pair, until at last Ecclesia spoke.
“It’s just the usual ‘Weight of the World’ worries. Father has seen fit to entrust me with additional responsibilities now that we’ve announced our engagement, on top of the usual hunt for any signs of the other Runelords stirring, organizing our efforts for expeditions into other Thassilonian sites, crusading against those Lamash—"
“Please don’t utter that vile name, you know how worked up you get when you say it,” Ameiko interrupted, setting down her own glass. “So, my soon to be father-in-law saddled you with this today? He does know it is your birthday, doesn’t he?”
“It is his way of expressing his love in lieu of a card or present,” Ecclesia replied, taking another long sip. “Ask my brother Telus if you don’t believe me.”
“Well, he must really like me then, seeing as he agreed to foot 70% of today’s bill,” Ameiko said, her glass hiding her bemused smirk.
“What?” Ecclesia blurted, nearly dropping her drink, “That’s—I, mean—what?”
“You’re so cute when you’re flustered,” Ameiko chuckled, “you know he’s really not so bad—“
“Unless it’s me.”
“Yes, well, you can be rather difficult to deal with sometimes.”
“Ah, so that’s how he got to you then,” Ecclesia pouted, though a small smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You’re the one responsible for my additional duties then?”
“No more than you can handle, and it’ll keep your mind off of your visits to Thassilon.”
Her smirk vanished. A lump in her throat squeezed against her words, “I’ve told you they’re not an issue! My mind wanders in our idleness, that’s all.
“Your mind is replaying those moments, over and over again, you even do it in your sleep,” Ameiko rebutted. The words cut into Ecclesia like an ogre hook. She struggled with a response, moving from a half-hearted explanation to a reassurance, though none escaped her crimson stained lips. She felt Ameiko’s eyes on her, and had to say something, anything, to break the tension before—
“You have to learn to let me in; I can’t be the one to drag it out of you all the time. Trust me I know what it’s like to have those kinds of visits. Talk to me or at the very least talk with your Knight-Captain about—“
“I can’t. There’s still so much we need to do, so much I need to accomplish, so many—”
“You’re no good to any of us if you’re falling apart inside Lea.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” She said, her tone uneven and high, “I need to be fine, I need to be better than fine. I can’t for one moment have any doubts on my convictions!”
“Then talk to someone dammit! Surely there’s one person you’d listen to!”
Ecclesia rose suddenly from her chair, her gaze fixed on a dark corner of the room. She crept towards a barely visible purplish green shimmer, like a lioness waiting to pounce. In a flash she pulled out her hairpin, its form warping and extending into a familiar runic great sword. It slammed hard against the object, shattering the ethereal eye into purple and greenish bits. Ecclesia’s eyes darted around the room as she took a defensive stance. Her eyes and hands locked in unison as she slowly made her way back to her fiancé, who was also on alert. A moment passed before there was a small knock at the door.
“Elle, are you in there?” said a voice from the door.
“Vicky?” Ecclesia asked, her stern countenance softened as she shifted the blade back into a hairpin as she walked to the door, “is that you?”
“Do you know anyone else who can use an Arcane Eye within these walls? Anyways, open up already!”
Ecclesia opened the door and a young woman garbed in a silver and amethyst dress rushed in, shutting the door behind her. She had raven braided locks and deep oceanic eyes. Her frame was slight yet soft, and quite pretty even by the current company’s standards. She had an enchanting aura about her, one that was hard to pinpoint but was clearly felt. Perhaps it was her small, pouty lips, or the beauty mark just below her the corner of her left eye, or even the slight rosiness of her cheeks. Whatever it was, it had a pacifying effect on Ecclesia, a smile once again returning to her face.
A look of relief washed over the young woman’s face as she brushed few stray strands away from her face. She held a silver ring up to her eyes, her brow furrowed for a few moments before the emerald in it glowed. She clasped her free hand over it and looked up at the royal pair.
“Am I interrupting something important?”
“As usual,” Ecclesia said as she pulled in the uninvited guest into a hug, “come here you big nerd.”
“You’re one to talk, are you gonna introduce me to your lovely fiancé or should I?”
“Right,” Ecclesia said, turning back to Ameiko, her arm outstretched, as she motioned between the two ladies, “this is Vic—“
“—toria Thassil, of Absolom,” the woman said, extending a hand to Ameiko, “I’ve heard so much about you Lady Kaijitsu.”
“Vicky, she’s going to be my wife, you can tell her,” Ecclesia held a complaint back, though it wasn’t serious enough to break her grin.
“You can have the King tell her once she’s officially part of the family, until then, you know the rules,” Vicky replied, giving Ecclesia a knowing look.
“It’s… nice to meet you too Miss Thassil, it’s not often I get to meet friends of my fiancé that weren’t part of her band of heroes,” Ameiko said in a stilted tone, taking Victoria’s hand and giving it a light shake, “May I ask what brought you to this private parlor?”
Vicky felt Ameiko’s annoyance dripping from her words. “Oh, my apologies, just a rather unsavory suitor that was a bit too forward and needed to hide for a little while, Elle knows the drill,” Victoria said, as she looked upon her silver ring again, “he is a persistent little man.”
“Was it the balding fat bloke from Taldor?” Ecclesia asked.
“No, it was the impish devil-worshipper from Westcrown; said he could smell magic on me, among other things,” replied Victoria. Without prompting she walked over towards the cabinet to pour herself a drink, “Figured it was best to hide with you seeing as your aura is blindingly bright.”
“I see,” Ameiko said, resigned to the interruption as she took a long sip from her drink, “Sounds like you two go way back. As long back as her and that Endrin girl?”
“Oh! Nononono that’s not what — ,” Victoria stammered between chuckles, “— Gods no! I love Elle like a sister. Her whole ‘Queenie’ phase was without my knowledge as well Lady Kaijitsu; that I can assure you. We practically grew up together, here in the castle.”
“It wasn’t a phase,” Ecclesia protested, “You make it sound like I’m a spoiled child or something.”
“You are a spoiled child,” Vicky and Ameiko said in unison, catching them both off guard, followed by a tension breaking laugh.
“Especially considering this is your third stay in the city since your first disappearance and yet this is the first time I’m seeing you,” Vicky said, her eyes fixated on her drink.
“ Right ,” Ecclesia said with a somber tone, “Listen, Vicky, I didn’t mean to—“
“Its fine Elle, I know the whole story. Heck, I’ve been following your adventures since that business in Sandpoint with the goblin attack. It’ll be a bard’s tale soon enough, if it isn’t already one. Part of me regrets not going with you, but I wasn’t ready yet. I’m still not ready, but I don’t have much of a choice now.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Ecclesia said, taking a seat next to her fiancé. Victoria took the seat opposite of them.
“Geez you really don’t think before you do anything do you. I’m being sent to stay with my father up north, something you’re responsible for, in case you’ve forgotten. Not my first choice of locales to see, but those are the cards I’ve been dealt. Tonight’s my last night in the city.”
“Oh, that business with your mother, right. I’m sorry I should have—“
“I said it was fine, Elle. Besides, I’m sick of this cramped old castle. Getting some fresh air, no matter how frigid, will be good for me. And thanks to you and yours, it’s safe for me to travel now.”
“It’s a shame you have to leave so soon,” Ameiko chimed in, “I would’ve loved to hear stories about Lea when she was little.”
“Pretty much the same as she is now, just with less plate mail. She had a habit of saving every stray animal she came across, heck I think her stray cat in Harse is still kicking around.”
“Mr. Frumpterkin’s still alive?” Ecclesia asked, her grin started to slide.
“Yeah, no thanks to you. I’ve had your aunt look after him for you as well after you left the first time. Still as blind and mean as you left him, it’s like he’s getting stronger with each passing year.”
“Sounds like I really owe you a lot,” Ecclesia said, her eyes fell toward her lap and the corners of her mouth dipped, “I’ve been a terrible friend.”
“You do and you have been. Par for the course, seeing as you never let anyone in nor are you capable of asking for help when you’re in over your head,” Vicky said, her eyes grew cold and stern as they intensely focused on Ecclesia, who was still staring into her lap, “you’re stubborn and prideful too, and by all accounts damn lucky Ameiko is long suffering and patient with you.”
“How long were you watching us?” Ecclesia said, still not meeting her gaze.
“Long enough,” Victoria said flatly, “though I didn’t need to see what I saw to know there was trouble: You’re drinking the 13 year your father drinks when he’s upset. You hate the stuff, but not as much as you hate yourself right now. Something messed you up really good out there, and you’re unsure on how to deal with it, so you’re not dealing with it. It’s not working out well.”
She took a moment to let the words sink in, a tip of her glass upon her lips before she spoke again, “How am I doing so far?”
Ecclesia’s face contorted, her mind raced for a response, a rebuttal, anything. Everything Vicky said was true, as usual, a lump in her throat burned and her lip quivered. I hate this so much is all her eyes managed to convey as tears slid down her cheeks. Ameiko held her hand, pulling it close to her, and bowed her head along with her.
“This feeling you’re feeling, remember it well. Anytime you’re not facing things head on, like you should, like you’re good at, this is where it’ll lead,” Victoria said, her eyes still fixed on Ecclesia as she took another sip. Her gaze shifted briefly in the silence toward Ameiko, who was still providing a comforting hand and who’s head was also still bowed.
Ecclesia’s tears streamed in silence, and silence hung over the room like a pall. Victoria poured herself another drink and sat across the pair. A distant sound of applause at the conclusion of the fireworks eventually broke the silence.
“You’re such a bitch sometimes you know that right?”
“Yeah, I know Elle,” Victoria said. A weak smirk tugged at the side of her mouth as she spoke. “Talking to your Knight-Captain will be good for you. She seems to know quite a bit about what you’re going through. Failing that, I’m sure someone within the Pharasmin Temple can help.”
“You both are right, of course,” Ecclesia said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “ Gods I hate that you’re right. I’ll set an appointment first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Would you be angry with me if I said I already set one for you?” Ameiko asked.
“Normally, yes but after what I’ve been putting you through, I’m more grateful that you did so I can’t back out of it tomorrow.”
“It’s good to see I’m leaving you in capable hands, just promise me you’ll listen to her,” Victoria chimed.
“It’s in my vows for when we do get married.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” Ameiko said ribbing her softly.
“Well then, can you get me a glass of something more palatable, or are you going to make me drink this and ruin my birthday?” Ecclesia said to Victoria with a small smile.
“You did that to yourself but since I’ve already made you cry once this evening I suppose I’ll let you off easy,” Victoria said as she took the glass and replaced it with another.
Victoria took a final swig of her own cup before setting it down. She had a wry smile on her face, as she pulled out two identical boxes from a silk pouch. One was wrapped in a red and gold bow, the other silver and black.
“Now then, before I go I have something special for you both; an engagement gift.”
The pair looked at each other and smiled. “‘You shouldn’t have’ is something I would have said but honestly I’m hoping this makes up for earlier.”
“I think it will Elle; in more ways than one.”
“Can we?” Ameiko asked, sheepishly eyeing the red and gold box.
“I’d be offended if you didn’t.”
Simultaneously, they opened their gifts. Inside held strange, though nearly identical golden contraptions. At the front was a golden cylinder encased in a piano-like frame, with the lid secured by a golden swan with a single jewel at its breast; one held a ruby and the other a sapphire. A small, wind up winch attached at the rear is the only clue on its operation.
“It’s a prototype of sorts, the very first of its kind from the Enchantment Department at the Academae: an Orchestrion. I simply call it a “music box”. If you wind the winch there, it’ll start to play a ballad I’ve heard you both enjoy. The two…well, it’s probably best if I show you.”
After some instruction the two boxes stirred to life, playing harmonic chiming tune. The pair, initially discordant with one another, soon found their harmony and was in fact two halves of the same song. The gems glowed a soft scarlet and azure as the boxes played. As the song ended, Victoria continued.
“They’re attuned to each other now, so long as they are in your possession, if you play them, it’ll allow you to know the status of the other one. You can send a short message through the box as well, so long as the connection is maintained.”
“This is amazing Vicky, how did you manage this?” Ecclesia asked.
“Oh I didn’t do anything; just pulled the right people together to have this little trinket conjured up.”
She either stole it or had someone steal it… Ecclesia thought to herself. Ecclesia pushed the disappointed thought out of her mind as she gave Victoria a hug. “Thank you, I love it.”
“This is quite the interesting curiosity,” Ameiko said with a puzzled look on her face, “won’t these anger performers if anyone can conjure up music in this way?”
“Perhaps, but I doubt we’ll be seeing them out in open market very soon, dreadfully expensive to make and takes skilled craftsmanship in both the goldsmithing and enchantments involved. But don’t worry about that; enjoy the gifts for what they are: my sincere hope that you’ll have a long and happy marriage.”
“Thank you,” Ameiko said with a small smile, “for your gift and intervention earlier.”
“It’s the least I could do. As I said, we’re family in all but name, and I hope in time you’ll see me as a sister as well. As much as I would like to spend the rest of the evening here, I must return to my dreary part of the castle. I still need to pack up my things before my father comes in the morning for me. Take care of her for me, Lady Ameiko, and keep each other safe,” Victoria said as she stood up and made way for the door.
“We’ll be fine, Vicky. May the Gods watch over you on your way North. Make sure to bring extra warm clothing,” Ecclesia said, once more bringing her into a hug.
“Don’t worry, I’ll have it all covered by tomorrow. I’ll only be a way for a little while, I’m sure. I’ll be back here before you know it.”
“I’ll still miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too Elle. Have a good night.”
The parlor door swung open once more, letting Victoria slip out into the hall, leaving the royal couple alone to enjoy their new gifts.