[size18 [google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Sue+Ellen+Francisco] [sue+ellen+francisco [center The King of Cresal has finally reached the ripe age of twenty-one - meaning the kingdoms most adored tradition is about the begin: The Queenstrial. Thirty lucky woman between the ages of 17 - 20 are selected, one from each sector of the kingdom, to compete for the king's hand.]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center The Queenstrial is composed of two major competitions. The first being three months of intense combat where each young woman shows the king and their kingdom exactly how capable they are of protecting the people of Cresal should war break out. During this segment, twenty-five competitors are eliminated - leaving the remaining five to be tested in a far more subtle warfare: that of the King's court.]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center The second part of the trial takes place within the heart of the kingdom, the home of the royal family. The remaining five move into the castle where they will be expected to partake in studies of etiquette and history. Each week the girls will have to put on a banquet for visiting dignitaries to show how capable they are of hosting members from different cultures. This does however provide the young women with the opportunity to get to know the King.]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center However, there are is some history that won't be taught - like the real reason magic is outlawed in the kingdom of Cresal. A very well hidden secret of the royal family is a long line of powerful shape-shifters. However, the previous King had been romantically involved with a witch for several years outside of his union to the Queen. When the truth of their endeavors came out, the King promptly ended the affair to save face. This did not end well for the king though, for the witch then placed a curse on the king and all that are descended from him. A curse of an uncontrollable beast that craves blood shed, that takes control at night one week out of the month, to which the only cure is a married forged from reciprocated love. ]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center Having not believed the witch, the king continued on as though nothing happened. But upon the next full moon the king transformed into a monster of nightmares - slaughtering his beloved wife and several innocent servants of the castle. The devastation caused the king to go mad and take his own life.]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center The loss of both of his parents due to this curse caused the young king to outlaw the use of magic, an offense punishable by death, not knowing that magic is a genetic abnormality. Like his royal bloodline, magic is not something that people acquire - they are born with it, or have it inflicted upon them.]]]
[size18 [sue+ellen+francisco [center Years pass and the mandatory lottery is held for the lucky women selected to take the king's hand in marriage - yet somehow Mariana feels anything but lucky when she is announced as the Aspa Sector's chosen contester. If anything it begins to feel like a curse when she becomes a favorite of the people and makes it into the final round, for she has a secret of her own. And if the king finds out, she could lose her head.]]]
Identifying Marks: Bullet Wound Scar on the back of her left shoulder.
Likes: The feeling of cold rain on her skin, sunrises, honesty, the feeling of moist soil, food
Dislikes: total darkness, dishonesty, unnecessary violence, squishy food, wasting food
Identifying Marks: Triple Goddess Dream catcher tattoo on Left Hip.
Religious Affiliation: Secret Follower of the Moon, pretending Follower of the Sun
Powers: An Affinity for all animals, controlling them, healing them, altering them.
Identifying Marks: None.
Likes: Revealing Clothing, High Tempo Music. Gourmet Food
Identifying Marks: Thick Claw Marks covering her back.
Identifying Marks: Bullet Wound Scar on the back of her left shoulder.
Likes: The feeling of cold rain on her skin, sunrises, honesty, the feeling of moist soil, food
Dislikes: total darkness, dishonesty, unnecessary violence, squishy food, wasting food
Identifying Marks: Triple Goddess Dream catcher tattoo on Left Hip.
Religious Affiliation: Secret Follower of the Moon, pretending Follower of the Sun
Powers: An Affinity for all animals, controlling them, healing them, altering them.
Identifying Marks: None.
Likes: Revealing Clothing, High Tempo Music. Gourmet Food
Identifying Marks: Thick Claw Marks covering her back.
[center [i ~ * no need to post everyday, we all have lives, but try to post at least once or twice a week if possible, and message me if not * ~]]
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The following morning comes before the sun has even come up Adriana comes into the room and simply pulls the covers off of Michael and Mariana. Mariana curls up against Michael, finding his warmth to be more than enough to keep her content. She is vaguely aware of his fingers brushing hair from her face, but still she can’t fully grab consciousness. Exhaustion from the day priors events still cling to her bones, keeping her well within its grasp. Mariana could hardly believe everything that had occurred within a single day, aside from the first day of the competition she can scarcely recall a day so eventful.
Michael gently shakes her shoulder causing her to wake up [#6B8E23 “Good morning sleeping beauty, I believe Adriana is here to make us get out of bed and make us productive members of society.”] Michael tilts Mariana’s head up and gives a slight kiss on her forehead, Mariana sighs softly as she opens her eyes looking up at Michael. Even first thing in the morning Michael’s face is still flawless, no sign of sleep marring his face, no crust around his eyes, no bags, nothing. Mariana isn’t sure if the perfection of his features is simply because he’s king or as a side effect of the curse. [#DAA520 “If we have to I guess I’ll get up, but before I do I want to point out how backwards our relationship has been. First we were engaged, and then we shared a bed together, but there are some fundamental things we have not done yet.”] Mariana can’t help but giggle at her boldness, knowing that he’ll understand even if he pretends not to. A smirk covers Michael’s chiseled features, showing exactly what she had expected, that he understood exactly what she means. [#6B8E23 “What would that be?”]
Mariana tilts her head up and presses her lips softly against Michael’s. A surge of adrenalin rushes through Mariana, cutting off the finale tendrils of exhaustion. It’s exhilarating and before Mariana even fully understands what’s happening Michael’s hand is in her hair and she wants more of him, no needs more of him. Her fingers trail against his chest, feeling the definition of every muscle he has, allowing her hands to trail further down his chest, forgetting that Adriana is even in the room until she clears her throat and draws their attention from each other and to her. Heat rushes to her cheeks, and she is suddenly very aware how the heat of the moment may have caused some minor physical changes, like her exposed eye taking on a red shade.
Thankfully it doesn’t seem like Michael notices, and Adriana is ripping him off of the bed and shoving him out the door before he has the chance. Adriana gives Mariana a knowing look as she forces Michael out of the room. [#4169e1 “Michael, you have to get ready for the day, breakfast is already waiting for you in your room.”] Adriana says, ushering Michael off of the bed and out of the room, [#6B8E23 “But my clothes are-“] Adriana literally shoves Michael out of the room, Adriana turns her attention to Mariana and is clearly about to scold her when a tentative knock comes across the door. [#4169e1 “Michael if I open this door and you are still standing in the hallway I will ensure that there will be smiley faces embroidered on every single one of your under garments for the next two years.”] Adriana’s stern voice comes across loud, likely to make sure Michael hears her perfectly clear. There isn’t another knock for a few seconds, so Adriana opens her mouth once again to say something, but a more assured knock cuts her off once again. [#4169e1 “If I hear one more knock I will open this door, and if you are still there it will be nothing but smiley faces on your undergarments until the day you die. I will ensure every maid is aware of this and no matter how much you beg and plead it will not stop.”] Adriana says, leaning against the door, waiting to hear him walk away.
This does not happen; instead he knocks again, a little bit more hurriedly this time. Adriana doesn’t say anything, but instead pulls the door open with a lot of force. Instead of Michael on the other side of the door it’s Joffrey, looking amused. Mariana gets up and begins looking through her clothes to try and find her outfit for the day. In Titanos it’s supposed to be warm most of the year, including now when winter is creeping across the majority of the kingdom. [#2F4F4F “I do hope that threat wasn’t intended for me.”] Joffrey is clearly amused at the threat and the slightly surprised look on Adriana’s face. [#4169e1 “Of course not Joffrey, what can I help you with?”] Adriana chuckles, glancing over at Mariana, finding her looking between two outfits, she gestures to one of the outfits to help make the choice. [#2F4F4F “Well, as to be expected, the Sothal family has decided to throw a ball and not give proper notice. I imagine that Lady Alyssa will have a dress waiting for her at her family castle, but the others are expected to dress according to a specific gem stone for the event, which will be held tonight.]” Joffrey’s voice shows just the slightest amount of annoyance at the development. Mariana looks up to find a flicker of amusement flash in his eyes, as though he already knows the words to come from Adriana’s lips. [#4169e1 “Perhaps you could ensure that we are properly prepared then, you have always ensured we are prepared before”] Adriana smiles giving just a small nod to Joffrey, who is now actually smiling. The sight of Joffrey smiling sends a shiver through Mariana, something about it strikes a nerve she can’t quite explain. [#2F4F4F “Of course Adriana, I will see you later today with better things to say”] Joffrey’s imagine shimmers for a moment before vanishing before them. Adriana seems a bit more lost in thought now given the development, so she simply helps Mariana get ready for the day, revealing a handmade eye patch for Mariana.
Once she’s ready to go, she is lead down to a dining room to have breakfast with the other contestants, noticing that they are all staring at her, some with envy and others with concern, but Mariana doesn’t pay much attention to it. She eats her breakfast and keeps the happy bubble in her chest quiet and to herself. She could share it with Rebecca and Amberly rather easily, but it wouldn’t feel right. She couldn’t share this with them and not know that they could have moments like this of their own to share. She knows that all of the other girls could have a happy bubble that they live in, thinking that they have the king wrapped around their finger, but in reality until he makes his choice, they have no idea who he truly cares for.
The thought carries Mariana through most of the day, distracting her from the beauty of Titanos. She manages to keep her features perfectly composed, she realizes that some of the visits are either inspired by her trip in Aspa or they are meant to be candid shots to show the girls as motherly people who care for kids, because they are seen visiting the orphanage and playing with kids. Mariana is still in the haze of her thoughts when they are being brought back to the plane to change; it’s going through the motions. She hardly notices the beauty of the dress, or the obvious use of magic Joffrey used to ensure to make sure that this gown was ready for the night. She knows that people are talking around her, but isn’t sure what they are saying. She is stuck in thought throughout the day, only realizing what’s happening when trumpets are being sounded and some announcer is saying her name, grand double doors are opening before her and she’s being told to walk forward.
The graceful walk is easy enough at this point, as is the smile, but when she finally descends the stairs and takes her spot beside Michael, her face cracks revealing her annoyance on her face. It’s brief, but she knows that he caught it. She sees him staring at the doors as Amberly steps through them, she sees the wonder in his eyes and it tightens everything in her chest. She knows that this is the game she chose to play, that this pain is exactly what she signed up for. She looks away, watching Amberly descend the stairs with grace and beauty that Mariana could only hope to match. She knows that even with her mother’s magic healing her wound a scar will remain, something permanent will forever mar whatever form of beauty Mariana has.
If her chest tightened at the sight of Amberly, it shrivels and dies at the sight of Alyssa in her stark white gown that is fit for a Queen. She is regal in her movements, she is graceful and beautiful. She holds her head up high, knowing that she could have anything she wanted if only she ask for it. Mariana watches Michael approach her and take her out to the dance floor. They move like two people made for each other, and everyone watches with baited breath. They are beautiful and regal, two shinning stars in perfect sync with each other. She wonders if giving him her heart is something she should be doing. It’s practically a guarantee that he’ll choose someone far more qualified for the position than her, but if she doesn’t try that’ll seal it. She’ll have gotten close enough to him to allow him to claim her heart if he so chooses, but what if he doesn’t? What if she tells him her secret and he tosses her to the wolves? She could tell him only to find herself in the center of Titanos to get a lead bullet to her head. She runs her hand over her mother’s ring, thinking about her words, [b [i “He has a good soul; I’m certain that if you tell him the response will be a positive one.”]] As the words come to mind, Michael’s eyes find her through the crowd, holding them for just a second, but more than long enough to cause her heart to bang around her chest like a bird trying to break from its cage.
Once the song comes to an end, they walk over to her parents and begin talking, Mariana heads straight to the food, wanting to burry herself in the exquisite food to distract herself from the storm raging inside of her. She makes it to the table and is just about to grab a plate when a familiar voice causes her to stop [b “Ah, I see you are still a big fan of the food, good to see that the capital hasn’t changed too much about you.”] The voice is deep and thick, belonging to none other than the youngest son of house Lylie, Quidd. He leans against the table, a bit too close for comfort in a rather vibrant purple suit, clearly having been given amethyst as his gemstone as well, likely an intentional move on the Sothal’s part. From the moment Mariana had stepped into the Lylie manner after being chosen for the competition, Quidd had been expressing his interest in her, only as long as she got decently far in the competition so his parents would allow it, and wanting to know her thoughts on being courted and it was all very one-sided of him. [#DAA520 “Well, it’s definitely been interesting, but no I’m still same old Mariana. I’m surprised to see you hear Quidd, were you just in the area when the Sothal family decided to throw together this ball?”] Mariana asks, not bothering to look up from the food in front of her, trying to decide what all she could actually manage to eat without breaking the seam of the dress. How she had managed to be squeezed into this gown is beyond her, but she definitely wishes she hadn’t been so lost in thought, because she may have been able to convince Joffrey to go back and make something a bit easier to breathe in.
[b “Oh, yes, I was visiting the coast line when I heard of the get together and I figured what harm would it be to go and make a stop, and now I’m glad that I did.”] He says picking up her braid and twisting it in his fingers. [#DAA520 “Careful there Quidd, you wouldn’t want the King to think that you were trying to be too friendly with one of his fiancés would you?”] Mariana finally looks up at him, doing her best to remain calm and not crawl away from his gaze. He chuckles and looks out into the crowd, amused by whatever he sees [b “Of course not, I am only here to ask for a dance Lady Faye.”] And with that he bows before her and holds out his hand, clearly waiting for her hand to be in his. She can feel a few eyes on her, knowing that it would be rude to deny this request from a member of her sector’s head house. She places her hand in his and follows as he leads her out and onto the dance floor. His hand is firm and steady against her back, holding her body firmly against his. She can feel even more eyes on her now that they are on the dance floor. She’s thankful when Rebecca and Amberly appear on the dance floor with partners as well, Jocelynn even joins likely to fit in less so than to help her. The song is a fast pace one, a difficult one, but one Mariana has come to know very well. [b “I do hope you will be able to keep up, I am known for being a rather great dancer.”] Quidd’s breath tickles her ear as he leans in to say something to him. She wants to do poorly just for the sake of making Quidd look bad as well, but she thinks better of it, knowing that it would also make Joffrey look bad as well.
Mariana worries for a second that her impaired vision will make the dance much harder, but it doesn’t. Quidd seems genuinely surprised by this [b “I see you have at least learned a thing or two while in the castle. You are a true lady it seems, and as a true lady it is only fitting that you would be married to a gentleman, I do hope you have given my proposition some thought. You are truly a beauty, raw and genuine and I would be honored to have you on my arm. If you are eliminated that is.”] Quidd is bold, speaking of this here and now, but given the close proximity it’s likely no one besides her can even hear his words. [#DAA520 “Quidd, I have a lot of things to think about right now, so no I haven’t had a chance to think about your proposition, could you, I don’t know, asks me this after my potential elimination?”] Mariana keeps her tone calm and even, although she may want to shove him away and leave the ball all together. [b “Of course, how inconsiderate of me, I will speak no more of it. I would, instead like to speak of your beauty, it has come leaps and bounds from the work our handmaiden’s had been capable of accomplishing. You have been transformed into a beauty that rivals that of the gem you are intended to represent.”] Quidd continues his flurry of compliments and attempts of sweet talking her throughout the remainder of their dance, but Mariana tones it out, watching as Michael walks out of the festivities with Alyssa’s family. She notes the stiffness in his shoulders and the way his jaw is set, indicating that he is not at all pleased with the events that have happened. This allows her heart to soften slightly, making her a bit more ready to open the door to her heart and show him all the cards she has on the table.
When the dance has finally concluded, Mariana is more than ready to get away from Quidd, even if it means being escorted outside with the other contestants to a table prepared for only four people. She has to watch as servants scramble to prepare four more spots for them at the table. Once the table is prepared, everyone sits down, with Lord Sothal talking to Michael but everyone else remaining silent. The food is brought out to them, and while it may smell delicious, Mariana has no idea what the red tail on her plate belongs to, let alone how to eat it. Rebecca is sitting to her right and is nice enough to show her how to break into the tail, revealing the beautiful and fluffy white meat inside. Mariana hadn’t really paid much attention to the conversation between Michael and Lord Sothal, but when the Lady Sothal quietly chuckles to herself, this draws the attention of the entire table. [#6B8E23 “Is there something you find funny Lady Sothal?”] Michael asks, clearly annoyed by this outburst. [b “Oh, don’t mind me, I was just recalling a joke Alyssa had told me is all.”] The young lady says, hardly bothering to seem ashamed by her outburst, [#6B8E23 “And what would that be?”] Michael seems amused as he looks between Alyssa and the woman who has become her parent. [b “She told me that you had such a fascination for animals that it seemed to shadow your attention of the people around you.”] There clearly was no joke in this comment, and it is clearly directed at Mariana, referring to her as nothing more than an animal because of her peasant blood. Mariana could almost laugh herself, more so at the obviousness of the situation than at the comment itself. [#6B8E23 “Well, I do seem to enjoy being around creatures that are kind hearted, and I find that tends to happen more with creatures then it does with people. My favorite thing about kind hearted creatures is their loyalty, because when a creature is kind hearted it can tell if other creatures are kind hearted or not, which usually allows them to align themselves with creatures that are kind as they are. Whereas people tend to play games to gain favor of the strongest person, hoping to find some way to break down the strongest person to prove that they instead are the strongest person. People like that is the last kind of person I would want to surround myself with. I want those around me to be loyal because they think me a worthy person to be loyal to, not because they want something from me. I don’t think that desire is very amusing, do you?”] Michael’s tone is purely serious yet rather calm, clearly in control of the situation. Mariana hadn’t had a chance to see how in control Michael could be in a social situation, but here he sits, looking exactly like the king he is.
Lady Sothal is pale, clearly upset at not being in control of the conversation, [b “No, I suppose not, I meant no offense your majesty.”] She does her best to sound genuine in the apology, but it still comes out flat. [#6B8E23 “Of course not and none was taken, but be sure to think before you intend to subtly insult me next time, I won’t be as forgiving the next time. The food was absolutely lovely, and the company was mostly lovely as well, but there is a ball going on through those doors and I feel that your guests have waited long enough for us to return. Amberly will you join me on the dance floor?”] Michael asks, clearly expressing his displeasure with how Lady Sothal spoke by choosing to ignore Alyssa, no matter how temporary. The other girls get up and follow suit, heading back inside, leaving Mariana as the last one at the table, trying to enjoy the view and the semi quiet. Of course it doesn’t last very long, [b “Mariana, would you be so kind as to join me on the dance floor as well?”] Lord Sothal asks, he seems kind enough, and nothing like his power hungry wife, so she accepts.
She is severely wrong about Lord Sothal. He is exactly like his young wife is; only he has had many years to prefect the act of subtly insulting people. He refuses to allow her to take a break, asking for them to dance each time the song changes. For someone who is clearly well past his prime, he has more than enough stamina to keep dancing. Mariana’s feet are aching by the third song, but their conversation is going increasingly well. She feels like its magic in of itself at how she’s able to make those around her like her. First it had happened with Jocelynn’s father during her banquet, she had managed to get the always serious professor to actually laugh; something apparently Michael had been trying to do for years. Now the high born arrogant man that Lord Sothal is; is genuinely smiling and seems increasingly impressed with Mariana. They talk about several different topics, from politics and trade agreements to culture and religion. Mariana is easily able to keep her personal opinions to herself while still being able to add more than enough to the conversation thanks to the endless books Mariana has access to at the castle.
Before they know it, the sun has set and Alyssa is asking to dance with her father. [b “Not now Alyssa, I am dancing with Lady Faye right now, we are having the most incredible conversation about the democratic structure Beawold has and the benefits that come with that social structure.”] Lord Sothal says, and for a second Mariana can see genuine hurt flash across Alyssa’s face. She seems like she is about to concede when Mariana says [#DAA520 “Lord Sothal, as much as I’ve enjoyed our conversation and our dancing, I do believe I could use some water and a brief reprieve. I’m certain that there will be more opportunities for us to continue this conversation at a later date.”] While Mariana is speaking to Lord Sothal, her eyes remain on Alyssa, noting the flash of gratitude and something Mariana can’t place before the calm and collected mask returns.
Mariana looks around the room to find everyone dancing or talking to other people, including Rebecca, who has Quidd locked in a dance, despite his eyes being trained directly on her. Mariana makes her way outside, knowing that it’s the only chance she has for privacy. The smell of saltwater hits Mariana first and she realizes how breath taking the view is. She starts to walk towards the edge of the balcony, but the pressure of her heels shoots up her leg like lightening. She is practically forced to sit down from the pain, but with no one around she takes the chance to hoist up her dress in attempts to take her shoes off [#6B8E23 “That’s not very lady like Mariana, it seems like you are always trying to take some kind of clothes off in front of me.”] Michael’s voice is like honey in her ears, coating her insides with warmth. [#DAA520 “Ah, well that does leave us in a bit of a pickle, because I was trying to take clothes off prior to you being around me and you walked in on me, so am I unladylike or are you ungentlemanly? Either way I wouldn’t be opposed to you assisting me in removing my shoes if you would be so kind.”] Mariana holds her right foot out to him, giving him a fake seductive look. [#6B8E23 “Ah, a damsel in distress, who am I to deny your need?”] Michael takes a step towards Mariana but she quickly pulls her foot back [#DAA520 “I am not a damsel in distress, I could take it off all by myself.”] She proceeds to unhook the strap on the shoe, before Michael takes a seat as well and eases her feet into his lap. He easily removes her shoes from her feet rubbing them softly once they’ve been removed, making it so she could nearly melt. [#6B8E23 “So you seem to have won over Lord Sothal rather easily. You continue to surprise me more and more every day, you know that? First you tell me you don’t want to actually participate in this contest and then you proceed to ensure another competitor’s banquet goes well, so well in fact that you managed to impress several of the visiting lords. Now you manage to impress one of the most stubborn members of my council in just a few dances. I don’t know if there isn’t anything you couldn’t do at this point.”] Michael laughs a bit, clearly stunned by his admission.
[#DAA520 “Well, I realized that you weren’t so bad after all and decided to give the whole queen thing a shot. That comes with a few requirements, such as impressing people I may or may not like. But I’m actually glad I was able to talk to you alone. A lot was talked about yesterday and I haven’t had the chance to ask you; do you really want to change the law on magic use?”] Mariana knows that bringing this up out of the blue is a bit dangerous, especially here of all places, but she knows that if she doesn’t do it now, she might never do it. [#6B8E23 “A bit random, but yes I really meant that. To be honest I haven’t always stuck to the rule up until this point. There have been a few cases when the use of magic had been used to save lives and the thought of killing someone who did nothing but help… it was just wrong. For instance my personal doctor is a witch; he had been caught by one of my guards. We were on the road and a cart accident had happened and someone was about to die from it, I watched him heel the young man before my very eyes, daring to do it right in front of me despite all the risks. After that I tested his magic and I found that his magic simply couldn’t harm another so I staged his execution and then appointed him as my doctor.”] Mariana could practically hear her heart pounding, hopeful and bursting with joy after hearing this.
[#DAA520 “So you protect people if they have magic but you believe that they couldn’t do any harm?”] Mariana asks, trying to work up the courage to simply say it. [#6B8E23 “Yes I would, I would do everything I could to make sure that they were safe.”] Michael is oblivious to Mariana’s racing thoughts [#DAA520 “So let’s say hypothetically one of the contestants was a witch, would you still be willing to protect them?”] Michael’s eyes snap to Mariana’s face at that, and she moves her feet from his lap [#6B8E23 “Yes, I would. Why is there a contestant that is a witch Mariana? Is it Rebecca? Or maybe it’s Jocelynn”] Michael acts as though they are two ordinary people gossiping about mundane things, he doesn’t even have the slightest idea what Mariana is about to say. [#DAA520 “Would you be willing to protect them if they knew about your curse and wanted to help you get rid of it?”] tears brim in Mariana’s eyes, terrified of what comes next.
Michael simply stares at Mariana, his mouth slightly agape, as though he is trying to process exactly what she just said. Then right before her eyes, she watches Michael’s mask slip onto his face. His eyes become distant and his jaw sets, he becomes ridged and unreachable. Mariana wants to say something anything to bring the warmth back to his gaze. Abruptly Michael stands up and walks away, leaving Mariana with the shattered pieces of her heart. She sucks in a deep breath and does her best to compose herself. She grabs her heels and heads back inside, spotting Michael in the midst of a lively conversation with Alyssa and Jocelynn, while Amberly and Rebecca sway together on the dance floor, giggling all the while. Mariana can’t join them, she can’t reach the level that they are at, she can’t touch what they have; she can’t ever be human.
Finally it’s time for them to return to the plane, and while Mariana puts on her best face, she is forced to pretend to be tired, so tired she [i “falls asleep”] on the way to the plane. When they finally arrive she has to excuse herself from the late night festivities the others want to continue, slinking back to her room. She just wants to put the night behind her, pick up the pieces of her shattered heart and tuck them away. She will play the part she has until Michael, no until the King decides what he will do with her. She will continue on like nothing happened, like she is a happy and doting potential at the King’s side. She manages to get out of her dress by herself, not wanting to show Adriana the distressed state she is in. Her emotions are flaring, and the fact that she hasn’t used magic in a few days, it makes things around her go a bit haywire. The lights on the plane flicker, going off for just a few moments before flickering back on. She looks down at her hands to see them glowing with the missing electricity. She takes a deep breath and centers herself, trying to ease the power back into the plane, thankful once it’s finally gone.
She puts on her gold and black pajamas, making a mental note to have Adriana return Michael’s shirt in the morning, and crawls into bed, knowing that sleep will not come for some time. She listens to the hum of the plane, to the sound of feet in the hall outside, to Rebecca and Amberly giggling as they finally come to bed. She hears Michael come down the hall, the heaviness of his footsteps easily identifiable, she hears him hesitate, unsure if he’s by her door or not, before she hears the faint sound of knocking. Given how faint it is, it’s most likely on Alyssa’s door. She can hear their muffled voices, before the soft click of a door being closed.
Good, she thinks, he deserves someone that is more suitable for him, aesthetically as well as capability wise. Alyssa is the most qualified in both departments, being the most traveled of all of the contestants she knows exactly how he might feel having to deal with so many different cultures and to accommodate to them. She already looks like a Queen, with her flawless skin and perfect figure.
Mariana cries herself to sleep, clinging to Michael’s shirt, unable to let the cotton material go.
The following morning comes before the sun has even come up Adriana comes into the room and simply pulls the covers off of Michael and Mariana. Mariana seems to curl up tightly against Michael, while he opens his eyes to realize that Mariana’s head is directly against his chest and that she’s wrapped perfectly in his arms. Even their legs have become perfectly entangled with each other throughout the night. Her breathing is still deep and steady, showing that she’s adapted to Adriana’s preferred method of waking someone up. Locks of her black hair obscure her face; Michael gently brushes the hair from her face feeling a flutter in his chest at the sight of her in pure peace.
Michael gently shakes her shoulder causing her to wake up [#6B8E23 “Good morning sleeping beauty, I believe Adriana is here to make us get out of bed and make us productive members of society.”] Michael tilts Mariana’s head up and gives a slight kiss on her forehead, Mariana sighs softly as she opens her eyes looking up at Michael. [#DAA520 “If we have to I guess I’ll get up, but before I do I want to point out how backwards our relationship has been. First we were engaged, and then we shared a bed together, but there are some fundamental things we have not done yet.”] She states with a giggle. Michael would take note of the glimmer in eyes understanding what she means, but asks anyhow. [#6B8E23 “What would that be?”]
Mariana tilts her head up and presses her lips softly against Michael’s. Michael is surprised by the action, but doesn’t pull away, pressing his lips against hers, finding that the kiss quickly deepens. The room around them fades away slightly, Michael’s attention fully being captured by the soft yet passionate push and pull of her lips on his. His hand is in her hair, holding her face gently against his, with chills spreading from her finger tips as they delicately trail against his chest.
The sound of Adriana clearing her throat is what pulls Michael and Mariana apart. [#4169e1 “Michael, you have to get ready for the day, breakfast is already waiting for you in your room.”] Adriana says, ushering Michael off of the bed and out of the room, [#6B8E23 “But my clothes are-“] Adriana literally shoves Michael out of the room, leaving him a bit bewildered, but out in the hall. He laughs a bit as he runs a hand through his hair; he turns around and knocks on the door, hoping to get his duffle bag back at the very least. [#4169e1 “Michael if I open this door and you are still standing in the hallway I will ensure that there will be smiley faces embroidered on every single one of your under garments for the next two years.”] Adriana’s stern voice is loud and clear on the other side of the door; Michael hesitates, trying to decide whether to knock again or not. Thinking back to a threat she had made about crowns on his boxers makes him simply walk away. He sees Joffrey approach the door and take his place in knocking on the door. Michael hastens his pace at the sight, rushing out of the hall so Adriana doesn’t see Michael when she inevitably opens up the door again.
He manages to get ready rather quickly, grabbing a simply breakfast, creating a sandwich with the food brought to him. He looks over some invoices from the requirements of the oncoming Boclen envoy, thinking it a little extreme for them to ask for a Draceran temple to be built in the capital for their use. He understands the desire to practice their religion this far from home, but there are most certainly limits to what they should be allowed to ask for. The tentative peace that exists between the empire and his kingdom is already something that he is concerned about, given that Mariana has such little experience with dignitaries of any kind. She couldn’t have picked a trickier group to host. She has shown that she’s able to hold her own in several situations he hadn’t expected her to be able to handle, but it would be too hopeful for him to expect her to handle the Boclen envoy with ease.
A knock on the door draws Michael back to the task at hand. Michael leaves his room and follows the guards out of the plane and down to the girls waiting to start their day. He can’t help but be taken back by their beauty once again, especially Jocelynn’s. The simple yet elegant gown she’s wearing is the perfect shade of purple to compliment her ivory skin, and the deep purple lipstick gives her an ethereal look in comparison to her usual simple look. She blushes under Michael’s gaze, indicating that he’s staring at her a bit more than intended. He gives a deep bow to the four girls that will be spending the day seeing the capital of Titanos, giving them a quick wink before extending his arm out to Alyssa [#6B8E23 “Shall we?”] She simply smiles and places her hand in the crook of his arm.
The car ride to her parents is a relatively quiet one, with nothing beyond small talk being shared. For all of her beauty, Alyssa isn’t the best conversationalist, which is by far the most surprising thing about her. Given her extensive traveling history, Michael assumed she would have more than enough to talk about, experiences and different cultural points to bring to conversations, but instead she limits herself, talking only about things that they would both know. It makes it hard to stay focused in the conversation, and at some point the conversation dies out.
Once they arrive at the castle, it is very much as he remembers it, the stone walls towering well above them, the smell of salt water thick in the air, their sigil hanging from several points on the walls surrounding the sand stone castle. Standing on the top of the sand stone stairs well above Michael and Alyssa are none other than Alyssa’s parents. Lord Johnathan Sothal stands tall, with his arm around the young Lady Sothal. Lord Johnathan is well into his late fifties, his hair completely gray and his pointed features being marred only by the age around his eyes. Lady Sothal, or rather the second Lady Sothal, is much younger, being around the same age as Alyssa. She is the youngest daughter of the Queen of Eswa, having been offered to Lord Sothal as a bride after some ornate being gifted to the Queen less than a year ago. She has obviously fallen into the role rather easily, likely made easier by Alyssa’s absence over the past several months.
The greetings are exactly what Michael had expected, followed by a walk through the grounds. Small talk seems to be what the Sothal family is good at, because that’s all they do, all day. They share minute pieces of information about how their lives have been since Alyssa had been chosen for the Queenstrial. They discuss the progress she’s made and the few times that they had been concerned with her not making it. They were impressed with how quickly she made it up the mountain and thought her survival skills proved to be the most beneficial things she studied while still at home. Everything is going exactly like Michael could have predicted, until they are about half way through the day when suddenly Lady Sothal states [b “Your grace, you will have to excuse us ladies, we have to get ready for tonight’s ball. Come now Alyssa, the seamstress needs to ensure your gown fits properly.”] A small crack in Alyssa’s mask shines through, revealing just the slightest bit of surprise, however it’s gone almost as quickly as it arrived. [#8b0000 “Of course mother,”] Alyssa stands and takes the woman’s arm. With the two standing side by side, Michael can tell that Alyssa is actually older than her new mother, but Lady Gwendolyn stands much taller beside her.
[#6B8E23 “There is a ball, Lord Sothal why wasn’t I notified that there is a ball tonight? The other contestant’s don’t have proper attire for a ball, their hand maidens were instructed to bring only semi-formal clothes for private meetings with the families.”] Michael can feel anger boiling just below the surface, wanting to break out. This is the worst part about balancing the curse; any time he gets angry he has to fight the urge to get violent. He knows that violence doesn’t solve everything, but the desire to rip through his problems rears its ugly head every chance it gets. [b “Your grace, I had sent word to the castle a month ago about tonight’s ball, I thought you had known. It would never be my intention to catch you unaware your grace. I’m certain that there are tailors in the capital that are more than capable of making a dress last minute for the girls. You must excuse me though; I must also prepare to welcome guests. A room has been prepared for you to change as well.”] Lord Sothal says, giving one last bow to Michael before leaving him alone in the garden.
Michael is upset and has a tight jaw for the rest of the afternoon, giving answers only as they are necessary. He changes into a vibrant orange suit with amber stoned cufflinks. He is introduced to the ball, finding that everyone is in very elegant and vibrant colored attire, indicating that this is one of the Sothal’s gemstone balls. The mere fact that it’s one of the Sothal’s fanciest ball’s indicates that this has been in the works much longer than he has lead on, meaning that he could have easily ensured that Michael was properly prepared. As he stops at the bottom of the stairs, Michael prays to the gods that the handmaidens were able to pull something incredible off on such short notice.
Rebecca is the first to be introduced, stepping out and into the line of sight in a beautiful golden yellow gown with yellow and black butterflies pinned to the gown and decorating her wrists. She doesn’t look horrible in the dress, but the color most certainly doesn’t compliment her either. She is graceful and stands beside Michael once she’s descended the stairs. [#4b0082 “Did you know that they were having a ball?”] Rebecca mutters, keeping her attention on the doors, waiting for the next contestant. [#6B8E23 “No I did not, trust me, I am not happy about this either.”] Michael says, just in time for Jocelynn to walk through the doors. Her look is soft and elegant, with a soft topaz blue dress and delicate jewelry. She looks regal and confident as she descends the stairs and silently takes her place beside Michael. Next Mariana walks through the doors in a soft purple gown that hugs her in a way that reveals an hour glass figure that had been hidden by her preferable baggy clothes. She is wearing raw amethyst jewelry, which seems rather appropriate for her unforgiving personality. Given that she even has an eyepatch that is perfect for the event, the handmaidens were in fact able to pull off a miracle. Mariana stands on the other side of Rebecca, giving Michael a brief but clearly annoyed look. He gives a slight nod, understanding exactly how annoying this sudden change of plans is. Amberly comes in after Mariana, dressed in a vibrant red gown clearly given the color ruby to wear. She holds her head up confidently, and very much unlike herself. Her shoulders are back and for the first time since she had entered the castle, Michael sees the potential she has for being his Queen. She takes her place beside Jocelynn giving Michael a proud smile as she does so.
Finally Alyssa walks through the double doors. She is the only one in the entire ball that is wearing pure white. With pearls adorning her wrists and neck, it’s obvious she is intended to represent the pearl of the kingdom. The notion causes Michael’s blood to boil, because it is far from the Sothal’s place to make that decision. Alyssa walks down the stairs and meets Michael at the bottom of the stairs, taking his arm as offered and joining him on the dance floor. They do the first dance alone, perfectly in motion with each other, sliding across the floor with ease and elegance. Once the song is over, they bow to each other and the rest of the festivities commence.
By the time everyone has actually eaten and the festivities are over with, the younger kids have already fallen asleep and the drunks have been carried off to their homes to sleep it off. Michael and the other girls have already left for the plane, granting Mariana some actual alone time with her mom. So there they sit, on the roof of their shack, under the stars, hand in hand. Mariana can feel the surge of her mother’s magic flowing from the slender tips of her finger and into her aching muscles, traveling all the way up to the damaged nerves in her eyes, likely repairing them enough that she’ll be able to see again once she’s truly healed.
[#000080 “Mariana, I just want you to know that I am beyond proud of you. You have managed to stay so strong throughout all you’ve been through.”] The usually steady and calm voice cracks with tears. Mariana can count on one hand the amount of times she has seen her mother cry, including now. Mariana turns towards her mom, not certain what words would act as a comfort to her, if any would. [#000080 “You don’t have to say anything my dove, at least not to me.”] The knowing look her mother gives is obvious, even with the tears staining her cheeks. Mariana flushes, wanting to deny her mother’s suspicions [#000080 “Don’t even try Mariana; I saw the way you looked at him and the way he looked at you. I could see it plain as day, and I imagine I’m not the only one. So I want you to know that it’s okay. I know you are afraid to open up to him, but he has a good soul. I’m certain that if you tell him the response will be a positive one. So I want you to know that it’s okay for you to tell him, I give you permission to tell him and for you to want him, because I know you won’t give yourself permission.”] Her mother always knows the right thing to say. Mariana hadn’t realized that she had been holding back for that one reason, that while on the surface she may have been trying, she hadn’t truly become hopeful, she hadn’t truly let go of the hurt she felt every time she had to watch one of her own die. She hadn’t truly allowed herself to be okay with everything she feels towards Michael because of what it would mean, being okay with all he had done in the past in hopes of a brighter future.
[b “Lady Faye, I’m terribly sorry, but we need to leave to stay on schedule.”] Despite Mariana’s insistence, Michael left a few guards behind with Mariana to escort her back to the plane. Mariana nods, accepting the guards help down, walking back to the car arm in arm with her mom, not wanting to have to say good bye just yet. The good bye hug comes all too soon [#000080 “make sure that boy of yours talks to his council so I can come to you”] her mom’s eyes are once again glossy with tears. [#DAA520 “Of course Mama, as soon as we get back to the capital I’ll make sure he talks to them, and thank you mom, for everything, for raising me to be strong and always having faith in me to do the right thing. I will always love you and I hope that I will always make you proud to be my mother.”] Mariana says, holding her mother tightly one last time before finally climbing into the car. She watches her mom through the blacked out window, noticing something she’s never seen in her gaze before, regret. Before Mariana even has a chance to unroll the window to inquire about it, the car is moving away, leaving her to her thoughts all the way back to the plane.
Once she’s back on the plane, Mariana is still lost deep in thought, wanting nothing more than to crash onto her bed and sleep. She makes it back to her room and is taking her shoes off when someone knocks on the door. She groans, pulling her last boot off before opening the door. Somehow the blue in Michael’s eyes seems brighter, less clouded then before [#DAA520 “Oh, hi, I wasn’t expecting it to be you, come on in.”] Mariana says, stepping aside for him to come in. [#6B8E23 “You were expecting someone? Should I leave?”] Mariana didn’t even know that Michael got nervous, but the man before her was unsure and genuinely nervous, and it made him seem so much younger or perhaps it just made him seem his age. [#DAA520 “No, stay, please, I wasn’t really expecting anyone, more like I figured one of the others would come to check in on me after everything that happened, which is likely what you are here for.”] Mariana leaves the door open, climbing onto the bed and allowing Michael to come in on his own. [#6B8E23 “You would be correct; I was actually hoping to see if you’d be comfortable with me staying in here with you tonight so I can keep an eye on you.”] Mariana realizes that Michael has a duffle bag hanging from his shoulder as he walks into the room.
However it’s his choice of words that draws her attention. A laugh bubbles to the surface as she says [#DAA520 “Oh sure, make fun of my pain. You want to keep an eye on me? You always know exactly what to say to make someone feel special.”] Mariana laughs, a genuine and belly aching laugh, but Michael doesn’t seem very amused [#6B8E23 “I didn’t mean it that way, as I’m sure you are aware.”] His tone might be stern, but a smile tugs at his lips giving his act away. [#DAA520 “Oh, I think you did. You came to my room thinking you’d be able to subtly make fun of me and then flash that charming smile of yours and I wouldn’t even notice.”] Mariana teases and this actually causes Michael to laugh. [#6B8E23 “Darn you, you have foiled my plans, how did you figure it out?”] Michael asks, his voice taking on an unusual accent.
Mariana gets off of the bed and heads over to her dresser [#DAA520 “I am just smarter than you anticipated your grace. So what side of the bed do you sleep on?”] Mariana begins pulling open random drawers, trying to find something comfortable to sleep in, only finding clothes in varying shades of black and gold. She groans internally and pulls out a pair of satin black shorts and a cotton gold shirt. [#6B8E23 “I sleep on the left side, but I was just going to take the couch, you don’t have to share your bed if you don’t want to.”] Michael says as he sets his duffle bag down on the couch, digging through it to find sleeping wear as well. [#DAA520 “I know that, but I’m not going to force you to sleep on a tiny couch when there is a bed that is more than big enough for us both to sleep on.”] Mariana says, taking the bandage off of her eye to clean the wound again. [#6B8E23 “Well thank you, I’m certain that my back will be grateful to you tomorrow as well. What side of the bed do you sleep on?”] [#DAA520 “I don’t really have a side, before I moved into the castle I only ever slept in the hammock and two weeks isn’t long enough to really have a ‘side’”] Mariana admits, bandaging her eye up. [#6B8E23 “Well at least it looked like a comfy hammock.”] Michael admits, finally picking out his pajamas [#DAA520 “Yeah typically at least, it’s not so comfortable when the screws come loose and I fall on top of my mom in the middle of the night.”] She winces at the memory alone, taking her shirt off to change into her pajamas. [#6B8E23 “I can imagine--- Woah, Mariana!”] Michael turns around to see Mariana without a shirt on, revealing the pale pink bra she has on. Mariana on the other hand seems more surprised by Michael’s reaction then him seeing her in her bra [#DAA520 “What? Have you never seen a woman change before?”] Mariana teases, pulling the shirt on the rest of the way, taking note of how the back of his neck is slightly pink. [#6B8E23 “That’s beside the point Mariana. The point is that it’s not decent for you to change in front of me right now.”] Michael’s voice betrays him, showing how startled he is. [#DAA520 “And why not, we are technically engaged.”] Mariana makes quick work of putting her shorts on. [#6B8E23 “Yes we are, but I’m also technically engaged to four other women. Also the first time I see you undress I would prefer for it to be a more intimate moment, preferably one where you have given me permission to touch you as you undress.”] Now it’s Mariana’s turn to blush deeply. [#DAA520 “Oh, well it’s safe to turn around now. I hadn’t meant to make you uncomfortable; I’m just used to changing in front of people. Between my pseudo-siblings and the handmaidens of the castle, changing in front of other people doesn’t really bother me I guess.”] Mariana crawls onto the bed, getting comfortable on the right side rather easily. [#6B8E23 “Well unless we are becoming intimate, I would prefer that you keep your clothes on in front of me”] Michael says with a soft chuckle before slipping into the bathroom to change.
He unintentionally leaves the door cracked at just the perfect angle for Mariana to see him clearly in the bathroom, and while she knows she shouldn’t, she can’t help but watch him pull his clothes off. With his shirt off she can see that his muscles are far more than his clothes would lead you to believe. Each of his muscles is practically chiseled into his body, elegantly molding from one to the other. However, as he is pulling up a pair of white satin pants, Mariana sees his rich blue satin boxers that have small crowns embroidered into the waist line.
Mariana can’t contain the round of laughter the bursts out of her at the sight, causing a slightly panicked Michael to yank his pants all the way out and burst back into the room. [#6B8E23 “What’s so funny?”] Michael asks staring at Mariana, clearly bewildered by her outburst [#DAA520 “You have little crowns on your boxers, that’s so adorable.”] Mariana says in-between burst of hysterical laughter. [#6B8E23 “So you find my undergarments amusing do you?”] Michael chuckles as he prepares to put his shirt on. [#DAA520 “Yes, yes I do. Oh and you don’t have to put that on if you don’t want to.”] Mariana says, blushing a deep red, but choosing to share her attraction to him openly. [#6B8E23 “As long as you are okay with it I am too.”] Michael tosses the shirt to the side and goes to crawl into the bed. Mariana seizes the opportunity to hop out of bed and steal his pure white shirt and slink into the bathroom to change into it. She opens the door once she’s changed and sighs in relief [#DAA520 “Finally something other than gold.”] Michael simply laughs and rolls his eyes.
Mariana crawls back into the bed and just stares at Michael, knowing that anything that happens between them would have to be initiated by her, because Michael would never want to make her uncomfortable. Just thinking about that makes her chest do flutters that she could never truly understand. Mariana shifts, to allow her head to rest on Michael’s chest, hesitating to get comfortable until Michael shows that he’s okay with her cuddling up to him. He settles rather easily, running his fingers through her hair. Before long they fall quickly asleep, clinging tightly to each other as they do so, intertwining more and more throughout the night.
It takes barely a second for Michael to pick up on the tone Shard uses. Michael takes shard in, seeing his set jaw and his squared shoulders, the ring strung on a chain just below his shirt and the defensive stance he has just beyond Mariana. It’s rather obvious that the feelings Shard has for Mariana are much more than mere friendship, and that Mariana is painfully unaware to them. Michael turns his attention to the surprisingly eager looking Mariana and smiles, while he may not know yet if she is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, she has certainly left an impression on him. From the confident way she holds herself to the selfless way she helps others, it would be hard for her not to have his attention.
[#6B8E23 “She’s most certain special, and has definitely taken a special place to me. I would never do anything to make her feel anything less than special.”] Michael says grabbing Mariana’s hand and bringing it to his lips to give just the slightest kiss. His heart constricts at the sight of Mariana’s cheeks turning bright red, it takes a lot of self-control for him not to mirror the action. Michael turns his attention back towards Shard, seeing that he grinds his teeth at the sight but says nothing more. [#000080 “Well, why don’t we head inside for a cup of tea and actually talk. Unfortunately I don’t think our home will be accommodating to all of our guests though.”] Mariana’s mother says giving a small nod in the direction of the camera crew. She is very polite in the matter but is clearly leaving the choice to be filmed up to Michael. It’s a small game that she is playing, but a game none-the-less. “Of course, we can resume filming later; I would like some privacy if you wouldn’t mind.”] Michael turns his attention towards the camera crew for a brief moment before following Ms. Josephina inside the patch work building.
Whether he imagined that the building to look better or worse on the inside, it certainly proves to look worse on the inside then the out. The mismatched appearance looks exactly the same on the inside, indicating that it’s nothing beyond the wood to keep the weather and its temperamental mood from the inside. There are only two full walls separating a room from the mainly open space they are standing in, likely the washroom given the twin size mattress that is pushed against a far wall. A half wall does separate what appears to be the bedroom from the kitchen, that has a very out dated fridge beside the three counter tops with one covered in a large bowl, likely intended to be a sink. In the sleeping area is the twin size mattress set against the far wall and a hammock hanging directly above it, with a coat rack holding what little clothes the Faye’s have. In the portion of the house that they are standing in are two couches of varying disarray on opposing walls with a coffee table sitting between them. Upon initial appearance it seems like a home that belongs to someone who has little to offer and has only what they can afford, but Michael can see the artistry carved into the feet of the couch and the tapestry converted into a pillow cases for down pillows on the bed.
This isn’t a home that belongs to someone who can’t afford better, but someone that wants others to believe that they can’t, and given the amount of destruction to the furniture, Ms. Josephina went to a lot of work to make it look like this. Michael stands for a moment, allowing the other’s to get comfortable first before taking a seat. Ms. Josephina has moved to the kitchen to prepare the tea on the outdated stove while the others sit down. Michael takes a seat beside Lynx and waits, unsure of where to start a conversation, but it appears that he is the one in charge of initiating conversation, given the way everyone has fallen silent and watches him. [#6B8E23 “So I noticed the carvings outside, I take it you are a follower of the Moon?”] This seems to set everyone more on edge, with no one really looking at another in the room. They clearly have something they all know about but do not want to risk giving it away. [#000080 “Yes I do, surrounded by all of this nature, it’s hard not to see the Gods in everything around me, and so it’s easy to commune with them out here.”] Josephina calls out, walking with a tray of tea, setting it down on the coffee table before handing a cup to everyone.
The moment the warm liquid touches his lips, Michael feels warmth take over him it’s soft and comfortable. The taste of the tea is better than any that he has ever had before in his life, which is a high bar to surpass. Besides a brief tingling sensation in his mouth, it is rich and smooth, coating his throat in velvet. [#6B8E23 “Ms. Faye, this is the best tea that I have ever had in my entire life, what is in this?”] Michael can’t help but inquire, but when he looks up to see her face, it’s obvious that this is one secret that he will not be finding the answer to.
[#000080 “It’s a family secret, I would be glad to share it with you if once you’ve made your choice it’s my daughter you’ve chosen.”] Mariana chuckles from her spot in the hammock, and it draws Michael’s eyes to her, which causes an unexplainable in-take of breath on her part. [#000080 “But, since you inquired about my religion, I feel that it’s only right if I were to do the same. So, Michael, what is it that you believe in?”] Ms. Josephina’s face is nearly unreadable, with a playful curiosity acting as a mask, but given the involuntary twitch of her lips she is actually concerned about his response. [#6B8E23 “While I do not talk about this much, I follow the moon as well. In public I am a devote follower of the Sun, but my parents raised me under that of the gods of the moon. Given the laws regarding magic, I give off the appearance of following the Sun because of the connotations it has around magic, and it provided a stronger appearance for my claims against it. But I feel safe enough to admit to you guys that I’m unsure of the laws I have around magic. My first experience with magic took my parents from me, but I’ve seen and met people who have done terrible things even without magic, so it would be logical to assume that magic could also be used for good.”] Michael admits, feeling secure enough to share his doubts with those around him, knowing that he can trust them, despite this being the first time he’s met them. It’s an odd source of comfort, something unwarranted and unlikely to occur with the other families.
Something about the steady gaze of Mariana’s mother reminds him of his own, the gentle but knowing look in her eyes willing the truth from him. He doesn’t know why, but he feels the urge to tell her more, to confide in her the truth about the beast and the fear he feels during each change. He has to look away and clear his throat to keep his lips shut from spilling his guts. [#000080 “Well, I definitely think that’s a train of thought you should think deeply on and perhaps in private too. If you are truly a follower of the moon, perhaps a private trip into the woods would be best. Something to clear your head and think on what it is you truly want to show the people of this country, and what you think your parents may have wanted as well, since they had openly followed the moon in this country that has always been filled more with followers of the sun. There is nothing wrong with doubt Michael.”] Josephina says reaching across the coffee table and grabbing Michael’s hand before giving it a soft squeeze.
[#6B8E23 “Thank you Ms. Faye, I greatly appreciate your council, perchance once the Queenstrial has concluded would I be able to seek your council again, perhaps even as a member of my small council?”] Michael can’t figure it out, but he can tell that whatever station she may have held previously it allows her to have the ability to speak on his council. A few people in the room gasp, but Josephina’s face remains perfectly intact. A small smile creeps on her lips [#000080 “I would be honored Michael, but I’m sure you see that I have many responsibilities here as well. I couldn’t exactly abandon those here who need me.”] The smile seems to spread bit by bit, whether in satisfaction or in joy, Michael can’t quite tell.
[#6B8E23 “Well, if you were to join my small council, I would certainly provide ample lodging to you and anyone you may need to bring with you, within reason of course.”] Michael adds, he can definitely understand not wanting to leave behind the orphans that have grown up alongside Mariana, but there is only so much that he himself would be able to allot to one person without showing obvious favoritism. [#000080 “Of course, I will definitely think about it, I’ll do my best to compile a list of those that I would not be able to leave behind before the end of the night and before your departure. If I were to agree to join your council, I see no reason I wouldn’t be able to join you in the capital before the competition is over, given that several of the other contestants parents sit on your council under different tittles already, if I’m not mistaken.”]
Michael smiles, understanding where this line of conversation will lead if he were to allow it, [#6B8E23 “As they had been members of the council prior to the competition, they were not to be taken off simply for their daughters involvement. I will make you a promise though, once we return to the capital at the end of the week I will hold a council meeting about you joining, and I will not enclose that you are Mariana’s mother to keep personal bias out of the decision. Once a choice has been made, I will send word to you, would that be adequate?”] A full smile has covered Josephina’s face and in response she gives merely a small nod.
Shortly after, Rusty begins sharing stories about growing up with Mariana, causing the other members of her make-shift family to join in and share story after embarrassing story about her, causing lots of boisterous laughter and genuine smiles on everyone’s face. It had been a very long time since Michael had been surrounded by a group of people in genuine ease with each other, and finds a strong surge of loneliness deep in his gut. As though she’s able to sense this, Mariana climbs out of the hammock and squeezes onto the couch beside him. Her fingers search for his, lacing together with his as though it’s the most natural thing to her, continuing the conversation while keeping attention off of him.
Given the conversation topic, Michael isn’t sure if the sudden affection is meant to comfort him or Mariana, but he most certainly isn’t going to pull away first. He holds onto her hand as though it is a life support system, taking cue from her as to the best way to respond to the conversation. She seems happy and it’s certainly comforting to see her in such a way.
The sound of trumpets can be heard from towards the village, indicating the arrival of the other contestants for dinner. This also indicates that the day had gotten away from them, and in that moment Michael realizes exactly how relaxed he had become, slouched on the couch with his arms over the back, in the midst of mocking the Griffinwald prime minister. Everyone is laughing so hard that there are tears in their eyes, excluding Josephina, who has managed to keep some kind of composure throughout the day. [#000080 “Oh, I didn’t realize how late it had gotten; it does appear that the other guests have arrived. Given the size of our home we decided to invite the entire village to our dinner. I know it may not be a private affair as originally intended, but the amount of money sent to prepare for the dinner was more than enough to feed the village a very nice meal. Why don’t we head in and you’ll see what I mean.”] Josephina says as the others simply stand and begin filing out of the house. Josephina gives a small nod to Mariana and follows them out. Mariana stands and holds her hand out to Michael [#DAA520 “Come on, we don’t want the food to get too cold.”] Mariana says while laughing, what at he isn’t quite sure, but he takes her hand and follows her out all the same.
Once back in the village it’s very apparent what Josephina means. It may not be a professionally prepared meal, but several long tables have been put together in the center of the village, long enough to easily sit its members. A separate set of tables holds food that was clearly homemade, likely a popular dish created per family. Even as certain members of the village are putting the final touches on setting up, others have already broken out homemade instruments and are playing for the entertainment of the children.
The group seems to separate to different groups, whether to aid in the set up or to simply enjoy themselves. Mariana pulls Michael behind her towards those playing music, easily falling into the joyful environment once again, dancing along to the music being played on her own briefly, before pulling Michael into the dance as well. It’s a crude dance, fast pace and with not a lot of organization, but certainly one of the most fun he’s had with learning a dance.
With the other contestant’s being present, it doesn’t take long for Rebecca or Amberly to join the group dancing, while Alyssa and Jocelynn flutter to other groups that seem to have a bit more structure then this one.
The security of the vehicle comes with Mariana quickly falling asleep once again. The medication induced sleep is interupted when they change terrain, but it's only briefly, it's not until Mariana sees familiar woods surrounding them on either side that she truly wakes up. Just the sight of the massive trees causes Mariana's heart to swell in excitement. As the car reaches the furthest point it can go, Mariana has to remain in the car for a few moments longer then she can bare. When the door finally is opened, She slowly walks over to the group of people she's known her whole life. Her mother's blue eyes stare at her in obvious concern, but Mariana can't help but realize how beautiful her mother truly is. She had never truly appreciated her mother until she was forced to be away from her for more then half a year. She soaks up every moment of her pale blue eyes scanning over her appearance, she takes in the small ticks of her jaw as her mom processes her anger faster then Mariana has seen anyone else ever able to do.
She can no longer contain herself and takes off in a quick sprint, closing the distance between herself and her mother. The rushing of calm that flows over Mariana is beyond welcome, She can't help but greedily hold her mother, knowing that once she leaves it may be several months before she'll have the chance to do this again. However, a different warmth pulls her away, one that smells of burnt wood draws her into the width of his chest. Mariana doesn't have to look up to know that it's Rusty holding her against him, especially not when he picks her up and swings her around for a moment. Mariana can't help the tears that spring to her eyes or the laugh that bursts from her chest. She may be worse for ware, but she is alive, and she is back home albeit temporary, things she never thought she'd have the chance to say again.
When her feet finally return to the ground and she turns to slip back into her mother's grasp, she's stopped and forced to explain what happened. Once Mariana has explained what happened, Rusty surprises her by going over to Michael and embracing him in a hug, but she takes the opportunity to tell her mom [#DAA520 "He's not what I thought he would be mom. He's actually a really nice guy, just highly misguided. I really think I could make a difference with him in this competition. I actually want to work towards being Queen Mom, I think I would make a good leader."] Mariana blushes deeply as the words leave her lips for the first time. Fear flickers in her mom's pale blue eyes, briefly, before being replaced with emence pride. Mariana wants to ask about the fear, but all she gets from her mother is a small nod of her head before she is moving towards Michael and talking to him. When Rusty takes her mom's spot beside her as her Mom loops her arm with Michael's, he nudges her [ b"I missed you Rainbow Snake"] he says in a hushed tone as they all begin to slowly walk towards town.
She nudges him back [#DAA520 "I missed you too Foxboy."] She chuckles before looking over at Mayor Ross. While she expects a disapproving gaze to fall apon her, Mariana is met with deep brown eyes filled with pride and a bright smile. Mariana can hear her mom going on about the batter system and the different skills people have, but her attention is on the hug she receives from the Mayor [b "You have faced so many odds to get to where you are today Mariana, and I am so proud of you. You have always been a great help around town or a massive thorn in my side, and nothing in between, but I have never been more proud to know you in my whole life then watching what you are trying to accomplish with the King."] Mariana can't help but tear up again and hugs her back [#DAA520 "Thank you so much."] Mariana can't bring herself to say anything else, knowing that if she says anything else she'll end up crying. So instead they simply follow her mother and Michael through the village and to the small hut she calls home. There are significantly more carvings then she remembers, the whole building is basically covered in carvings depictating the different deities from the following of the moon and runes that signify certain prayers to them. Mariana is in awe of Rusty's handiwork, but more then anything the sight of the rest of the orphans and Eli and Shard Ross standing in front of her house is nearly enough to cause her to break.
What does eventually cause her to break is when they all say in unison [b "Welcome Home Mariana"] Mariana starts crying as she simply stopsand stares, it's too much for her to handle, she's too happy. She feels Rusty's hand on her mid-back, motioning for her to move forward. She doesn't fight it, suddenly finding herself engulfed in hugs from every direction. She just holds onto whoever she can grab, she missed her family, blood and chosen, far more then she would allow herself to think about, but now that she's back in their grasp, she can't help but want to hold on tightly. There is a flurry of hugs and questions, about her eye, her hair, her clothes, why she smells so sweet, she tries to answer them as best as she can, but it's very overwhelming.
She searches the crowd of people until she finds Michael standing a bit away from the crowd, obviously giving her space. Mariana waves him over to the group and begins introducing him. [#DAA520 "Everyone, this is Michael, or rather King Michael. Michael this is Rusty as you should already have hear. Then we have Lynx and Cub, they are brother and sister, then we have Lady and Riss, they basically are sisters even though not by blood, and then we have Bunny, she's Rusty's younger sister and the baby of the group. These are the makeshift members of my family and some of my closest friends, then there is Eli and Shard, the Ross twins and Mayor Ross's kids, they make up the last bit of my closest friends. They are my family, all of them."] can't help the joy painted on her face, she's overflowing with joy, so much so that she doesn't even think about it when she slips her hand into Michaels. The familiar wave over comes her, but this time it's not followed by the twist of her stomach, just the strange warmth. The kids then turn on Michael, asking him a bunch of questions, some about how he feels about her, a few from Lady about what his castle is like, a lot about the different types of food he can eat. Shard asks a question that shocks Mariana, his face is plain and he has a sharp look in his eyes as he asks [b "So how do you feel about Mariana? Because she only deserves to be with someone who can see how special she is."] Mariana doesn't know what to think of that, so her eyes simply flicker to Michael, suddenly curious as to what his response would be.
As Marianna runs around the corner Michael can hear two women in a confrontation Michael quickens his step and as he turns the corner he sees Mariana in front of a young boy as the ashen women in black raises her hand with the whip in it Michael shouts [#2F4F4F “Stop!”] But he is too late with his words the whip is drawn back and violently whistles through the air striking Mariana across the eye. As the woman in black collects her whip Michael snatches it from her and yells [#2F4F4F “Do you have any idea who you have struck?”] With a puzzled look on her face, “My king I had no idea you were here.” [#2F4F4F “That doesn’t matter you should never treat children as men or my potential you shall be punished accordingly for your actions. Take her away now!”] Michael shouts his order and rushes to Mariana to check on her. Mariana has a thick slash across her left eye the eye looks as if a knife has a carved its way through the soft lens. Michael softly growls and looks back at her as she is escorted away he stops and realizes the boy is crying. Michael feels sorrow and empathy for the young boy Michael looks into the boys eyes [#2F4F4F “It’s going to be alright, what’s your name?”] The boy doesn’t respond Michael smiles at him and helps Mariana up on her feet she is still drained from the blow. [# DAA520 “We should go to the doctor’s.”] Mariana suggests Michael agrees and takes her there as they are in the hospital Michael finds out the boy is mute and Mariana will be ok but there’s a voice in the back of his head that he agrees with. Mariana may be ok but he shall face the wrath of her mother. As they pull up to the village at the entrance there is Mariana’s mother, the Mayor, and the Guard Captain of the patrol as well as a young man that towers over the rest of the company with red hair filled with wild curls. The car comes to a stop Michael looks at Mariana with a smile but with a uncomfortable look on his face [#2F4F4F “Are you ready, because I’m not.”] his words heavy knowing that he was supposed to keep all potentials safe at all costs, for what is a king that cannot protect his queen. Mariana grabs Michael’s hand and says with sweet soft words [#DAA520 “It’s going to be ok, if anything they’ll be more upset with me than you. They are used to me getting into trouble where I shouldn’t be, they are used to me having random cuts and bruises that seem worse than they are. But it’s probably safer for me to speak first.”] Michael smiles at Mariana and says [#2F4F4F “If that is what you desire my “Shooting Cypress” I shall get the door for you.”] Michael steps out the vehicle and walks around to the other side not making eye contact with anyone and hesitates as he opens the door, allowing Mariana to climb out of the car with an enormous smile on her face, seemingly unbothered by the fresh stitches holding her eye closed. Concern floods Mariana’s mother’s face, the towering young man only makes his emotion present for a split second before the joyous smile returns, shock covers the mayor’s face, and the Guard Captain is unfazed from her injury. The mayor begins to welcome them both until she is interrupted as Mariana rushes to her mother hugging her tightly. She then hugs the towering man, he hugs her back as he lifts her off the ground. Michael keeps his composure as he watches the reunion but raises an eyebrow and keeping watch where this man places his hands. Mariana then returns to her mom and attempts to hug her again but her mom softly catches her face “My dear what has happened to your eye?” Her words are full of concern. Michael can only imagine as her concern for her daughter will turn into a raging ball of fire of hate and anger for him. Mariana puts her hands on her mother’s [#DAA520 “Michael helped me save the children from the orphanage. We caught the Head Mistress whipping a mute boy, and I put myself between them. Of course because she is a hateful evil woman she hit me, assuming she was aiming for the back of my head but I turned my head at the worst possible moment and this happened.”] She says gesturing to the gauze covering her eye. As Mariana finishes telling her mother what happened the towering man walks towards Michael and hugs him sincerely, Michael surprised at the gesture returns the hug. “Thank, thank you for finally doing something about her my sister will be beyond happy that we do not have to return to her care.” Michael with a shocked look on his face says [#2F4F4F “I to will be happy knowing the young men and women of this fine district. I shall also personally choose the next Head Mistress. I will make sure that the guards are honest with their reports.”] Michael stands firm as they end there hug and looks at the Guard Captain with a stern fierce look. [#2F4F4F “And if they were to lie about anything the punishment will be chosen by the people they pledged to protect.”] He says as he walks towards the Captain. Before Michael comes close Mariana’s mother intervenes by stepping between Michael and the guard. She would have the kindest smile on her face and eyes that are beyond wise. She then takes both of his hands in hers and says “From what Mariana just told me this is supposed to be my opportunity to get to know the man my daughter wants to marry. Which means your business with the Guard Captain and the Head Mistress can wait. You are here to gain my approval and to prove that you are worthy of my daughters hand, so let me give you a tour of Forests Edge and get started on getting to know each other.” After that she pats Michael’s hands and holds his arm in lady like manner and begins to walk with him.
A genuine smile tugs at Mariana's lips as her and Michael exchange quips, but it vanishes the moment she finds Alyssa standing in the doorway in a snow white jacket that seems to be doubling as a dress with red accents. The With her pale blonde hair she takes on an almost angelic look, but some how the shortness of the jacket/dress merely adds to the look. With her severe curves and sultry voice it's hard to imagine that she would be able to pull off anything besides the seductive beauty she tends to favor, but there she stands looking rather innocent as she asks Michael for alone time. When Michael agrees, Mariana feels a tightness begin to grow deep within her chest, but she forces the negative emotion from her mind and turns back to her paperwork. She busies herself with final checks, now that her budget has been approved, while Michael clears his items up.
However, the moment he leaves the room, Mariana tosses her head back and lets out a groan, hating the unusual feelings that have begun growing for the cursed king. When she opens her eyes she finds herself staring at an upside down Jocelynn walking towards her. Mariana quickly sits up and watches as Jocelynn rounds the table and sits across from her. She can't help but stare at Jocelynn in shock, knowing that this will only be the third time she has spoken to her during the entirety of the competition. [#DAA520 "Hi?"] Mariana feels a pulse of anxiety rush through her like an electrical charge, wondering what Jocelynn could possibly want to talk to her about. Given the previous nights hostility Mariana doubts that it's anything good. [#f08080 "Hello Lady Mariana"] She says giving a small nod to her, clearly uncomfortable as well. [#f08080 "I just wanted to thank you for your assistance with the banquet last night. My Father was rather impressed with how seamless the transition was, he was proud of my resourcefulness in getting your assistance in the festivities. Few things impress my father, but you certainly did. He requested that you come and stay with us after the contest has concluded, no matter the outcome. This also extends to your mother, who he has offered to host until proper accommodations could be made for her raised status as a lady now."] Her voice is very calm and polite, but their is something in her eyes that strikes Mariana as discomfort. She can relate.
[#DAA520 "I'll definitely talk to my mother about the offer later today, I'm sure she'll have an answer by dinner time. I honestly think they would get along, they are both pretty intelligent. And as far as last night goes, I had no problem helping, it was actually pretty fun. You seemed to enjoy the dancing at the very least, which might I add you are brilliant at."] She says, hoping that this proves a good opportunity to build a bridge with Jocelynn. Despite her efforts, the most Mariana gets in response is a small smile and [#f08080 "I will let my father know your response then. I hope you enjoy your time with your mother today."] And with that she stands and walks out of the room.
Once again Mariana is left alone in the room, she sighs and moves to the leather couch, wanting to stare out the window during her trip through the air. She takes out the music player and allows the soft music to keep her calm and relaxed as she feels the air around the metal vessel begin to move. The pulsing of power from within the vesal draws Mariana's attention just slightly, tugging at a sense that she can't quite read. She takes a deep breath and centers herself, focusing her attention on the moving scene beyond her window. The sight of the capital city growing smaller and smaller is breath taking, and slight nerve wracking. The higher in the air they get the more amazed Mariana is, not to mention terrified. But as they seem to level out, Mariana can't help but be in awe of the sun just atop of the clouds. She had spent many of days staring at the clouds above her, but to be above the clouds herself is a feeling she can't describe. She spends the rest of the flight staring out the window, watching the sky.
A warmth flows through Mariana, caressing the depth of Mariana's subconscious before suddenly twisting into a sharper sensation, more vibrant as it flows through her nerves like an electrical current. She jolts awake, finding Rebecca standing beside her, trying to shake her awake. [#4b0082 "Hey we've landed, it's time to get up."] She has a kind smile, but something clearly amuses her at the sight of Mariana being asleep. Mariana nods, still feeling the pull of exhaustion, as she rubs the side of her cheek, checking for slobber. She quickly wipes it from the sides of her lips, careful not to smudge her makeup more then she's certain is it before cleaning up the paperwork she had left unattended during her nap. She puts the paperwork into her satchel and quickly follows the others off of the plane. [#f08080 "As the senior castle employee on this trip, I will be conducting the tours around the capitals of each sector. Each night your families will be hosting us all for dinner. They have been provided the proper notice as well as any needed supplies to accommodate. For now it's time that we part ways, ladies we will be taking this vehicle and heading to greet Lady Lylie before our tour. Your Grace, Lady Mariana, your vehicle is over there, I believe you already have your day planned out, so I hope you enjoy your time together. The camera crew has already been given their assignments for the day so you are free to go."] Lady Baker says before ushering the girls into one of the long black vehicles that have matching black windows, likely for privacy.
Mariana gives a weak smile to Michael before climbing through the open door to the vehicle, muttering a thank you to their driver. She leans back against the leather seats, trying to keep her racing pulse down. The anticipation rushing through Mariana at confronting the Head mistress of the orphanage is almost enough to push Mariana over the edge, but the car ride is not long enough for her to have the opportunity to panic. Before long they are parked outside of the 3 story white house with large pillars on the front porch, something that would appear beautiful if Mariana didn't know the truth for the horrors behind it's walls.
With shaking knees, Mariana climbs out of the vehicle and stares at the building. Before long she's approached by the head of their camera crew. [#DAA520 "So we don't really need you to film this part, it's just a quick errand."] Mariana says, feeling the heat of Michael's body appearing just behind her as she turns towards the camera crew.
Before the crew member has a chance to say anything, Mariana hears an all too familiar crack split the silence. She doesn't think, she simply acts, sending gravel flying behind her as she bolts around the house, finding a horrific scene. At least 20 children stand with horrified gazes upon a young boy with golden brown skin chained to a large oak tree. While the children watching the scene vary in age, the young boy restrained to the tree couldn't be more then 8 yet his back is covered with new bloody scars, overlapping with ones that have never healed. Mariana runs as fast as her legs will carry her towards the boy, even though her eyes are locked on his assailant.
The elderly woman has chalky white skin and almost black brown eyes, with her white hair pulled into a tight bun, wearing a long black dress with a white lace collar and cuffs around her wrists. The look in her eyes is amusement as she pulls the thick black whip back once again to strike the boy. She falters only slightly as Mariana shouts [#DAA520 "What are you doing?"] Within seconds she finds herself at the young boys back. She does her best not to touch him, but still cover him with her body as she tries to pull the restraints off of his wrists. [b "I am dealing with one of my wards, a matter which you have no ground to interrupt, you are trespassing, and if you do not move, I will strike you as well."] The crude tone in her voice does not stop Mariana as she frantically tried to pull the restraints off of his wrists. She manages to get one of his arms free, before the sound of approaching people draws her attention, blocking the sound she truly needed to hear.
The sound of the whip breaking the sound barrier rings loudly in Mariana's head long before the pain even registers. With blurred vision, she stares off at Michael, finding a horrified look and pure rage cross his face in quick succession. She realizes that her sight of him is only in one eye, a realization that allows her to process the white hot pain of a strike from a whip. She falls to her knees, wanting to cradle her left eye, but knowing that touching it would only make the pain worse. She takes in a shaky breath and turns towards the child, freeing his other hand. The sound of begging and yelling seems father then it should as Mariana stares at the startling gold of the boys eyes. [#DAA520 "You'll be okay now, I'll make sure you are safe."] She says, even as her head wobbles, feeling the pull of sever blood loss. Mariana looks down at the boys rising hands, seeing the tips of his fingers go all but invisible [i [b "He's a monster, don't let him hurt me."]] Mariana is shocked as the boy touches her face and his voice rings loud and clear in her head. She follows his eyes to a shouting Michael and feels her chest tighten once again [#DAA520 "He's not that bad, but I'll make sure to keep you safe. Will you trust me?"] She asks, knowing that he'll hear her as well. He gives a small nod and she takes his hand in hers. She feels Michael standing behind her with a jolt of energy pulsing from him. She straightens herself up and grabs Michael with her free hand, doing her best to steady herself.
The strange buzzing in her head is suddenly all she can hear, and with blurred vision, Mariana watches Michael's lips move quickly. She feels a drop of panic build in her chest as she realizes that she can't hear him. She does her best to focus on his lips, gripping the young boys hand with severe intensity. [#000080 "Are you okay?"] Mariana finally makes out what Michael is saying before looking up and into his icy blue eyes. She feels slightly faint, but shakes her head no [#DAA520 "I think we should go to a doctor's before we go to my moms."] She feels her knees start to give out before Michael's arm slips around her waist and hold her up with ease.
In a flurry of moments Mariana can hardly hold onto, Michael manages to get her and the boy into a car and then to a doctor. When Mariana finally comes to, She's laying on a plush bed with a slight headache. The buzzing inside her head flares loudly as the lights grow bright before finally dimming again. The buzzing fades with each moment of the power surge. Mariana curses and puts a hand to her head, trying to will the pounding away. Michael is sitting beside the bed with the young boy on his side. While the young boy looks terrified, Michael is clearly filled with concern. Mariana sits up and looks around the room, knowing that the sight in her left eye is gone. [#DAA520 "I don't even want to talk about the pain or my eye, or anything. I just want to go home and see my mom, we can do the worrying thing after we see my mom. If possible, I would like the young man to accompany us to my home, I have some friends who I think could help him."] Mariana says, forcing herself to stand on weak legs and hold Michael's icy blue with her one good eye. He takes a deep breath and shakes his head, clearly filled with many emotions at once. [#000080 "Fine, but we will be talking about it later. A day at home is what I promised you so it is what you will get. I'll talk to the headmistress later. Once we get back to the castle I suppose. He doesn't seem to talk much, the young boy that is."] Michael says as he gets up and walks to Mariana's side and holds her up, helping her walk back to the car. The young boy rushes to her other side and clings to her hand. [#DAA520 "That's because he's a mute."] Mariana says, looking down at the young boy with a kind smile which he returns.
Michael and his Grimstone are the first to board the plane. Michael enters his study which is by the loading bay. He sits down and begins working on his enormous pile of paperwork that he missed during his week in the woods. Michael puts his earbuds in and begins his work as he works on the pile he notices the elevator emerging from below. He sees everyone but for a moment longer he keeps his eyes focused on Mariana, she turns and notices Michael she smiles softly and waves. He returns the gesture with a wave as well. He smiles softly as she joins him in his study even if she is at a different table. Out of all the rooms she chooses to her complete her documents it’s in the room he is in. Michael takes out an earbud [#000080 “So what’s your paperwork like?”] he asks Mariana with a smooth soft tone. [#DAA520 “Oh you know just dull party planning for Boclen you know, the most eclectic nation I’ve ever read about.] Michael laughs at her comment. [#000080 “Have you heard of Norda? It’s a small neighboring nation to the kingdom.”] Mariana looks at Michael confused. [#DAA520 “No, Ms. Baker hasn’t gone over any small nations yet in her lessons.”] Michael nods [#000080 “You should ask her about Norda then. They may be small but Boclen doesn’t hold a candle to them in comparison.”] He smiles [#DAA520 “You enjoy making me suffer don’t you? If I ask Ms. Baker about a small nation she will make me do an essay about them and I’ll have to do it in the small free time I already have.”] Michael chuckles [#000080 “Ok now that sounds terrible here try this instead.”] Michael stands up and pulls a book from one of the many shelves and brings it back to Mariana. The book cover is smooth leather and the writing and sigils on it are laid with white gold the book seems to be four inches tall and six inches wide. The title reads “The Complete History of Norda” Michael hands it to Mariana [#000080 “Every time a ruler dies these books are recalled for updates and every decision the ruler made is written in these pages. If you truly wish to know you may read it and once you’re done, we shall talk about what you think of Norda.”] Michael smiles at Mariana as he hands her the book. [#DAA520 “I will definitely look over this when I have more time, But for now I have this finished. This is my budget for the Boclen visit would you be able to look over it now so I can get the preparations started as quickly as possible?”] She asks as she lifts a file up to Michael to take. [#000080 “I can spare a moment on this.”] He says with a smile. As he sits down at his table he begins looking over her budget for the party. As Michael looks over her plans it comes up twenty gold pieces over her starting budget Michael smiles as he puts his signature at the bottom. [#000080 “I don’t see why you can’t have an additional 20 pieces. Though I must admit I am curious what you need sparkers for.”] He says setting the papers down in front of Mariana once again. [#DAA520 “Well if I told you it would take away from the surprise. Even you deserve to be surprised some times.”] She says giving him a wide smile. Before Michael has a chance to say anything else, Alyssa appears in a fur lined white coat cinched around her waist by a red belt with leather roses adorning it and matching red tights with white fur boots on. While the outfit itself comes off angelic, the shortness of her coat definitely stays within what Alyssa has previously worn. [#8b0000 “Michael, is there any chance we would be able to fly together in a more private chamber? I feel as though I am the only one to not get your undivided attention thus far.”] Alyssa says as she walks over with swaying hips, to most the look in her eyes would come off as sweet but Michael catches the subtle desire in her blue eyes. He contemplates for a moment, chewing the inside of his cheek [#000080 “Certainly, let me gather my work first and then I will join you. Have Alexis show you to the council room as we will enjoy the flight from there. I will be joining you shortly.”] Michael says giving a small nod to Alyssa’s hand maiden before returning to his documents. He begins to pile up the finalized documentations of the peace treaty with Eswa, placing them into the leather binding they belong in. He gives a short wave to Mariana before heading to his private chambers. He puts the leather binding on his bed before leaving to the council room, wanting to head there before the flight begins. It’s a quick walk for most, but Michael manages to take it with far greater speed, one of the few perks of the curse. In but a moment he crosses the long hall to the council room, giving the door a slight knock before entering. Upon entry he finds Alyssa sitting in the center of the leather couch, looking far more contemplative then he has seen her before. [#000080 “Is everything alright Alyssa?”] He says as he claims the seat to her left, placing his hand on her upper back, attempting to comfort her. Her face softens when his hand touches her back and he hears a small sigh come from her. [#8b0000 “I was just thinking that it’s a lot harder to get you alone then I had previously imagined. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t even going to get a chance to prove why I’d be a good choice.”] She admits turning to face him, while the lingering of desire remains in her eyes; he sees something in them he hasn’t before, dedication. He can’t help the smirk that comes to his lips as his caressing hand begins to trail his fingertips slightly lower on her back [#000080 “Well you have your chance now.”] A brief understanding crosses her gaze before she begins to lean in to him, as her lips are inches from his she says [#8b0000 “As wonderful as I’m sure you assume I am in this department, this isn’t what I meant.”] She leans back a bit, crossing her legs once again [#000080 “I saw that you were looking over the peace treaty recently signed with Eswa and I was hoping to be able to shed some guidance over the best way to proceed. I know my sector is on the border of Boclen, but I have spent many years in Queen Melissa’s court, I know some of her likes and dislikes. She is also rather fond of my family because of the trade network you had my father assist her create within Boclen.”] Michael’s cheeks flush a deep red as he clears his throat and leans back a bit, doing his best to recover quickly. [#000080 “And how would you proceed if you were Queen, with such a fragile and sacred task as signing a peace treaty with another country?”] He says moving his arm to the back of the couch. [#8b0000 “Well, I would find out exactly what the country needs the most, not what they want, but what they truly need, navigate the best way to provide that while still gaining what we need in return. Then once the treaty is signed, as a show of good faith I’d also provide a small fraction of what that kingdom wanted, or at the very least what their ruler wants. That way it shows as a sign of favor for them on a personal level so if the time came they would have a favor to return to you, not as the King you are, but as the person you are.”] She says, leaning back as well. [#000080 “Interesting, so what would the Queen of Eswa want?”] [#8b0000 “Well she has always been a fan of the famous Cresal Rose. As a personal gift you could send a gardener her way with 100 Cresal rose bushes, of course only after sending her a personal letter confirming that such a thing would be appropriate, and then allow that gardener to go and show the Queen’s gardeners the best way to care for such a fickle flower.”] She seems to be slowly leaning into Michael as she says this. [#000080 “I shall write her a letter myself to see if such a gift would be acceptable. Thank you for the recommendation”] He says tapping his chin a bit, contemplating what exactly he would say to her. His contemplation is cut short when Alyssa’s red painted lips are pressed against his own [#8b0000 “Of course Michael, now I believe there was something else you wished to do during our flight? Perhaps something a little more suited for your chambers?”] She says moving her lips to his ear before giving it a slight tug. He turns towards her, looking deeply into her blue eyes, feeling the monster swirling deep inside of him urging to break free. He clears his throat and stands, crossing the room to take a non-disclosure agreement form from a safe, before returning to her side. [#000080 “If we do this, then you will need to sign this, it’s a basic waiver saying that anything beyond kissing did not occur and that you will deny all allegations of such events.”] He says handing her the paper and a pen. She bites her lip and chuckles slightly [#8b0000 “Of course, because the king would never partake in such vulgar events before his wedding night.”] She says, signing her name to the paper without a second thought. He takes the paper and puts it back into the safe before walking over to her and picking her up, slipping her legs around him before he takes her back to his bed chambers, unconcerned of anyone walking by them, for the floor itself is guarded by Grimstone with no one on the floor.
Once Michael has finished distributing his [i "rewards"] for the girls hard work, he says his goodnights and leaves the council room. [#2F4F4F "Ladies, you all did a wonderful job with making the event a truly magical affair. Even if Jocelynn will not thank you for your efforts you should be proud of what you accomplished tonight. For now you should return to your bed chambers, you have a very early flight to catch so you should sleep as much as possible."] Joffery says giving a slight head nod to them as he opens the door.
As they exit the council room, Rebecca and Amberly take the lead with Mariana mindlessly following behind. After their first week in the castle, the girls are rather use to roaming the halls, most enjoying the art hanging from the walls. While the other girls talk in hushed whispers in front of her, Mariana spends the time looking at the mural. The amount of detail is honestly a bit incredible. The strength it would have taken to cast a curse that has lasted this long with such a fine eye for the smallest details truly does inspire Mariana a bit. Not in the destruction of the king or it's kingdom, the way this curse clearly intended, but in making it better, pulling the kingdom back from such horrors and gruesome unnecessary deaths.
Mariana sighs deeply, turning her attention to the girls in front of her as they finally reach the hall their rooms are on. She notices that they are standing together with arms laced, they've grown confident throughout the night. Previously they were pulling on their gowns, trying to cover themselves up, but now Amberly is walking with her hips swaying, and Rebecca's shoulders have relaxed. The tension made her defined muscles seem as if they were going to rip apart, now they are simply there. Her dress seems a little looser at the collar because of it, revealing a bit more of her back, including a very slowly fading pair of black wings that stick out just slightly from the dress.
[#DAA520 "Holy Shit."] Mariana can't stop the words as they come tumbling out of her mout [#DAA520 "Oh my gods, you're... You? The head of the capital city guard? Seriously?"] Mariana stutters a bit, watching as the two slowly turn around. Rebecca locks eyes with her while recognition and rage roll through her eyes. If it weren't for Amberly's hand on Rebecca's arm, Mariana is certain that she'd charge her and beat her into silence if need be. [#228b22 "Before anything else is said, why don't we get ready for bed. I'm certain there is something that can be worked out to make everyone happy. Mariana, this is your room right? Go ahead and get ready for bed, Rebecca and I will be in there soon and we can talk like the reasonable women we are. Please, give us a chance to talk before you do anything."] Amberly says, gesturing to her bedroom door. Amberly seems perfectly calm and collected, like she already knows that her close friend is a witch, and has experience in silencing those who find out with her kind smiles.
Mariana blinks a bit, not sure how exactly to respond, so she instead walks into her bed room and into the massive closet. She takes the gown off and pulls out some simple pajamas to put on. She's sitting down at her vanity, pulling jems out of her hair when the knock comes on her door. She gets up and lets them in, before returning to the vanity chair. While looking at the two girls sitting on her bed through the mirror she starts [#DAA520 "I don't know how I missed it. I mean I could have guessed that Jocelynn would be a witch before you. She's so uptight like when you hold it in for far too long, but I never would have guessed that you were a witch. I mean you are always so composed but not in a force myself not to look at the blood shed on the walls composed, more like a calm and collected I cant see the monster ripping people apart kind of collected."] Mariana says, doing her best to keep her hands busy in untangling the jewels from her hair.
With that comment Rebecca immediately goes from a offensive posture to a sympathetic one. She walks over to Mariana and swats her hands away, assisting in removing the ornate jewelry from her hair [#4b0082 "While growing up I've spent a lot of time in the castle and by the king's side. When we were just children we were actually pretty close, so when his parents died I got to see first hand what damage the king's mistress had done. Michael likely doesn't remember this, but during his first change I actually helped him a lot. I've got the ability to suggest animals act in certain ways. If their wills are weak enough it works, and Michael was very very weak emotionally during his first change. I knew that if I wanted to be able to help him the best thing I could do is to stay by his side, no matter what would happen if he found out the truth. The murals are a twisted knife in Michael's back for a crime his father commited. I hate keeping it a secret, and I hate seeing what that witch did every day, but at the same time it makes me stronger. I may not love Michael or even find myself romantically drawn to him, but I want to protect him. Someone has to save him from himself."] She admits, getting the hair pin free from her hair and picking up a hair brush.
[#DAA520 "Have you tried telling him the truth? If you guys are so close do you really think that he'd have you exicuted for the use of magic?"] Mariana is shocked to the point of near speechlessness. She watches Rebecca in the mirror, trying to see any signs of decet that might exist. [#4b0082 "Michael is a very complicated man Mariana. I'm sure you've realized it by now, but he only does things that are either his idea or because of love. He's a foolish man, a great king, but a very foolish man."] Rebecca says chuckling a bit as she manages to brush Mariana's hair free of any tangles without tugging on her head once. [#DAA520 "What about you Amberly, what kind of abilities do you have?"] Mariana asks, knowing that while she might not be able to see her, she hasn't moved from her spot on the bed. [#228b22 "Me? Oh gosh no, I wasn't lucky enough to be born with a gift from the gods. I was always just a third wheel with Rebecca and Michael. They would always do a lot of running around and everything, and I'd get hurt if I tried to keep up with them, at least at first. So we started to do safer stuff together, like playing with animals. Rebecca would summon them to us, and then we'd all just play around, never hurting them. Michael was so distraught with greif when his parents died that I think he actually forgot how often the people in his life used magic, especially Joffery. I just tend to protect Rebecca's secret now. I may not have any abilities from the gods, but I sure can talk someone into a hole."] Amberly says, and Mariana catches the softness that comes over Rebecca's face at the mention of Amberly protecting her.
Mariana realizes that they weren't just walking together as friends, but a bit more romantically. Mariana blushes a bit at the thought and moves over to her bed, crawling into the safety of the sheets. [#DAA520 "So if you've got an affinity for animals, why was the magical sign still on your back? I mean I figured you controlled the birds at the ball when I saw it, but it should have gone away by now shouldn't it?"] Mariana can't help but continue to pepper her with questions, even thought she feels guilty for interupting whatever she had interupted. [#4b0082 "Well I am actually a half breed. I'm half witch half shape shifter. I can shift better then I can do magic, but when I do the markings last a while. I know it sucks, but all it means is that I've got to keep my back covered. I haven't been able to shift since the beginning of the competition and I'm itching to do so. I don't get the build up of magic too bad but instead I get this urge to shift that other shifters don't get. I'm more connected to the animals inside of me and when I shift I'm like the alpha of all the near by animals that I've shifted into. It's weird but cool. What can you do though, I should get some answers too."] Rebecca says grabbing a pillow and hitting Mariana with it before tucking it into her lap.
Mariana chuckles but simply shows her abilities rather than explaining. Simply by opening her hand, the barely budding flowers hanging above Mariana's bed begin to grow, flowing well beyond their pots and to the post on her bed, wrapping their vines around the posts and bloom large bleeding hearts. In her other hand she creates a small fire, letting it crackle and create smoke that she turns into a ball of air before that finally turns into a small rain cloud. [#DAA520 "I can control the elements. I'm stongest with plants but I can do stuff with the other elements too."] After that the girls go back and forth peppering each other with questions and just all around goofing off far later then they should. At some point Cheyenne comes in with refreshments for the girls and they talk her into staying and talking too.
In the morning the three contestants are awoken by the blinding sun coming from curtains Adriana draws without warning. [#4169e1 "Good Morning ladies. Did you enjoy your night together?"] Adriana says turning with her stern but polite smile painted perfectly accross her face. In response the girls simply groan and pull the blankets over their heads. Throughout the night they had ended up cuddled together with Amberly laying in the center [#4169e1 "I'm glad, now it's time for you to get up. It's a big day today, let's get started. No more time to lay around"] With a strength beyond what her slender arms should have, Adriana manages to rip the blankets off of the girls. Mariana sighs but climbs out of bed, taking a quick shower and getting dressed. She allows Adriana to do her hair, but gets to pick her own clothes, finally gaining some control over her appearance on a day to day. She dresses warm because Aspa typically gets the first of the seasons chill, even though Mariana has never needed to previously, she must put on a show for the camera's.
While Mariana is busy securing the buckles on her boots, Adriana is sweeping through the room packing up nearly all of her belonging that are left scattered around the room. Somehow she makes it so that the room doesn't look lived in and her things fit into two suit cases. Mariana chuckles a bit as they roll the bags behind them on their way out of the room [#DAA520 "You are going to have a cow when we get to my house."] Mariana admits as Adriana leads her through the castle and out into an asphalt field.
Even in a distance, Mariana is able to see the massive metal bird awaiting to take them off. She falters a bit, completely in awe of the construct that they are about to board. The closer they get, the more strain is put on Mariana's neck as she tilts her head back to take in every detail she can, from the massive bolts to the smooth black texture of the metal. It's not until she feels a familiar rule hitting her back that she stops gawking, [#f08080 "Miss Faye, a Lady does not gawk, she walks face forward and shoulders back. This is a televised visit, do not embarrass yourself."] Lady Baker says, falling into step beside her while doing exactly what she just described.
Now looking forward, Mariana finds that they are walking towards a metal box large enough for them to fit into that seems to go straight into the construct. She looks around to see if anyone else is surprised but only finds calm and collected faces. She does her best to compose herself, but she can't help but feel a bit panicked at the thought of being enclosed in a metal box. However before she can even say anything, they are already boarding it. [#f08080 "There are listening devices available to you in your room, preloaded with music you seem to like waiting for you in your chambers Mariana. Consider it a reward for all of your hard work since arriving. I find listening to music sooths me during trips like these."] Lady Baker says, keeping her eyes forward, but the slightest smile crosses her face when the metal box stops.
Stepping inside the metal construct is like stepping into a portable castle, with art hanging from the walls and grand stair cases leading to high levels. Adriana leads Mariana to a bed room that is only slightly smaller then her room in the actual castle, before the two quickly unpack her things. Mariana tucks the listening device into her pocket and grabs her paperwork for her banquet. [#DAA520 "You've made sure that the others were able to join our flight right? I'm going to need all the practice possible to get it down."] Adriana has a look of mock insult on her face at the notion that she hadn't done everything asked of her.
Mariana shakes her head a bit and follows her instructions to the sitting room they are supposed to be in for the main trip this morning. It's very much like a sitting room over the garden, and for the first time Mariana spots Michael sitting at a table over paper work, all business. The set of his jaw and intensity of his eyes make her heart skip a beat, something she immediately pushes away. She clears her throat and gives him a small wave before sitting at a different table to spread her documents across.
As Michael and a squad of eight Grimstone knights make their way to the vehicles Michael leans against the grill of his truck he knows that it is about to be a very rough week. He looks back at the kingdom and smiles [#000080 “I shall return to you.”] He says with a heavy smile. The guard looks at him and says with compassion “She shall be waiting for you sire.” [#000080 “Thank you Adam this is going to be a long week.”] Adam nods his head and opens Michael’s door “Sire we should get going if we are going to be at our position by midday.” Michael looks up and smiles “Alright men let’s move out, wheels up in five!” Douglas shouts. Michael climbs in his suv as Adam shuts his door. Adam circles the vehicle and reports to Douglas.
“Vehicles are prepped and ready to go sir.” ”Good Alright men there are eight of us. Four will ride with our king, the others will be in the Raptor. Now it’s our duty to make sure that the king gets back to his kingdom and behind the walls of his castle by 18:30. Alright now our king is showing us the way Duke you’re driving the Raptor I need you to keep up with the Rex. Move out!” Michael starts up his vehicle as he chuckles his engine roars like the beast that once was. As the men pile into Michael’s vehicle he looks at Adam [#000080 “Your personal opinions ... think Duke can keep up?”] “I believe he can Sire.” [#000080 “Please just Michael this is not a business negotiation, think of it as a vacation”] He says as he knows that for him it will be a week of hell. Adam smiles as the other two in the back are excited. Michael smiles and picks up the radio linked to the pick up truck.
[#000080 “Raptor this is Rex I’m ready when you are.] “Rex this is Raptor, I’m right behind you.” [#000080 “Duke do you think you can keep up dude?”] Duke goes to answer but then Douglas there leader takes the radio from him.“Sire I can assure Duke is capable of keeping up, I would not have him drive if his abilities were not suitable to our situation.” Michael smiles and chuckles [#000080 “Man Douglas is always business isn’t he?”] Adam nods his head has the two in the back say in sync “YES!” Michael laughs [#000080 “Alright Douglas I’m gonna need you to loosen up can you do that? No sire just Michael ok now I want you men to know that even though there is a full moon tonight we are going to a desolate location in the woods. I am proud to know I can share this burden with you men but from now on while were in the woods no sire understand?] “Yes sir I understand” [#000080 “Ok now put Duke back on”] “I’m back Michael and yeah I can keep up with you.” Michael smiles [#000080 “Seems someone is cocky”] Adam looks at Michael “Duke usually drives our off road expeditions, Him and ten others.”
Michael smiles [#000080 "Let’s see if he can keep up with me then.] Michael slams his foot on the gas and the tires spin throwing dirt behind him and the Rex takes off, Duke shortly after. As Michael races down the beaten path Michael takes a sharp left turn sliding in harmony throwing dirt everywhere duke takes the turn as well as the Raptor slides Duke straightens out the wheels later than he should have. The raptor spins out of control Michael continues to drive on. [#000080 “Woah that was close Raptor, here’s a nav-point to the cabin we’ll be at meet you there.] Douglas looking down on duke “Duke what happened?” “A miscalculation sir won’t happen again.” ”Good it better not.” Duke takes off throwing mud as Michael did before he keeps a sharp eye on the fresh tracks but then the tracks soften up. Duke looks at the monitor “We’re not even close why would he let up?” “That doesn’t matter keep going.” Duke looks around but is unable to see much due to the shrubs and the trees. Duke continues on and out of nowhere they are hit from behind. Duke looks back in a panic.
“Raptor to Rex, Rex come in!” Only static comes over the radio. After two minutes of complete silence and this mysterious truck ramming into the back of the Raptor. [#000080 “This is Rex what’s wrong?”] “We’ve got a unidentified truck ramming us, where are you sir?” [#000080 “Look up the hill Raptor, Adam says they’re bandits we’re nowhere near a district don’t know why they’d be this far out unless were close to the bases.”] “We need to get rid of these guys!” [#000080 “ I have an idea! Hold on Raptor!”] Michael puts down the radio and looks at Adam [#000080 “This is about to get rough, put the straps on guys and let me know when were good.”] The men buckle the two extra straps for extreme off road expeditions. “We’re good!” The men call out. Michael turns the wheel and they bolt down the steep on a collision course with the little pickup truck [#000080 “Hold on!”] The impact shakes the men and the little truck is now sliding do to the Rex hitting perfectly making it a T-bone incident. Adam yells out. “Michael there’s a cliff!” [#000080 “I know, hang on guys!”] The men in the truck are worried but have faith in Michael they have fought with him on the field and they know that he would not sacrifice everyone’s life for no reason. Michael slams on the brakes at last minute the truck continues to slide off the cliff and the Rex is right on the edge.
[#000080 “No one move.”] Michael reaches for the radio as he picks it up the truck angles down slightly sliding. [#000080 “Raptor this is Rex bandits are gone I need your help now!] “This is Raptor already behind you Rex.” Duke jumps out the truck and runs to Rex’s back tow cable and pulls on it extending the cable. He pulls it to a close tree and wraps it around the base, he gives a thumbs up to Douglas. Douglas gets on the radio “Rex you’re attached back it up nice and slow.” Michael puts the truck in neutral and they move forward an inch before the cable tightens, Michael puts flips the switch for the rear tow motor, and it slowly pulls them back away from the cliff. Duke detaches the cable from around the tree and Michael keeps the motor running and as the cable returns to the nest Michael turns it off.
Duke comes to window and smiles at Michael. Michael rolls the window down laughing [#000080 “Well that was fun.”] “Let’s not do that again please!” [#000080 “Well the cabin is just over the ridge we should get going.”] Duke nods and jogs back to the Raptor and hops in. Duke backs up and follows the path Michael follows duke keeping ten feet between the vehicles. They can spot the cabin at the top of the hill. The cabin is made of pure oak slightly covered in vines, but is clearly seen no one has been here for a while. The bushes are so far over grown that they have turned into shrubs. As they reach the cabin Douglas comes over the radio “We’re gonna have to hide these vehicles.” [#000080 “No need there’s a underground passage.”] Michael presses a button by his sun visor, and the ground opens up creating a narrow passage way big enough for their trucks to barely fit. As they continue to go down the hall it opens up into an enormous room they park the trucks beside each other. They all exit and grab their gear from the trucks, Michael presses the button again and the metal doors covered by earth start to close. Once the doors shut lights in the room turn on. [#000080 “Come on guys I’ll show you where we’ll be staying.”] Michael leads the men down a hallway where there are six foot metal doors.
Michael opens a door and demonstrates that the doors are three inches of pure Cresal Steel then he shows them the circular door at the end of the hall. [#000080 “This is my room I will only be in it during the nights. Let’s just say I won’t be getting out of here.”] The door stands eight feet tall, six feet wide, and a foot and a half thick of Cresal Steel. The door has two locks on the outside that have to trigger within five seconds of each other. [#000080 “Alright gentlemen make yourselves comfortable for the night I shall be in my room. Oh and gentlemen please to try to relax and enjoy yourselves.”] He says as he enters the room closing the massive door behind him. As the week went on every night the men heard screaming, the breaking of bones, and then silence only to be followed by the spine shattering howl.
“Men pack up get the vehicles ready we’re moving out in thirty.” The men nod their heads as they pack their gear in the vehicles. As Michael comes out of the room he whispers in Douglas’s ear. Douglas nods “We can do that lord.” Michael arrives at his castle with a light heart. Joffrey meets Michael at the door [#000080 “Am I late any?”] he asks Joffrey [#2F4F4F “No sire actually quite on time!”] [#000080 “Ah perfect, let us start this banquet.] [#2F4F4F “We shall as soon as you get changed.”] Michael smiles and rushes up the stairs to change. Michael changes into his attire matching Jocelynn’s fire element as he makes his way down to the banquet hall he notices how quite it is. He wonders to himself why is it so quite? As he opens the door he sees the room is hardly elementally decorated besides the centerpieces of each table. He looks at Jocelynn and smiles while a bit of disappointment covers his face. He walks towards Jocelynn and once he reaches her he asks [#000080 “Why are only the centerpieces and other small areas the only things with elements? Why are the house banners up as well this is a time for the elements to grab hold of the spot light…not us Jocelynn. I hope you have a trick up your sleeves.]
As Michael finishes his statement Jocelynn walks away and stops Marianna, Michael cannot tell what they are saying but he can see that everyone is starting to get bored. As Michael talks to the guests to try to lift their spirits. While he speaks with the group of people all of a sudden very upbeat music with a loud base begins to play throughout the room as the lights flicker from reds to blue hues before settling on a warm blue. As the lights flicker, the banners flap, as if adjusted by a very huge gust of wind coming seemingly out of nowhere, and change into banners that seem to be made from fire with the table clothes to match. Flocks of ravens fly into the room in perfect pattern as they carry draping garland, hanging them on the practically invisible hooks on the ceiling before exiting out of the windows. It changes the whole scene into that of a fairy-tale, with everyone in complete awe.
Everyone cheers and begins to dance to the beat that rumbles through the walls and floor . Michael sees a slight sigh of relief from Jocelynn. He wonders if she received any help from the other contestants. He enjoys his night with the guests and the time in the banquet hall. After four hours Michael and Jocelynn say farewell to their guests and once everyone has left Michael turns to Jocelynn and says [#000080 “Well it looks like you had some tricks Jocelynn, I had a good time goodnight dear.] Jocelynn smiles and curtsies as Michael walks away. [#000080 “Joffrey gather up the girls that helped Jocelynn please.”] [#2F4F4F “As you wish sire.”] Michael walks down the hall and enters a room where Marianna, Amberly, and Rebecca are sitting at a table with Joffrey behind them. [#000080 “Ladies I understand you helped Jocelynn, but why did you help her?”] Rebecca would be first to speak up [#4b0082 “Why what? Why did we help her?”] Michael nods his head as he takes a sit. Mariana then adds [#DAA520 “She needed our help. Sometimes our best of intentions still need assistance from others.”] Michael smiles [#000080 “Did she ask you for help before tonight?] Amberly asks [#228b22 “Why is that important?”]
Michael turns towards Amberly and looks into her eyes. [#000080 “Due to this being a Queenstrial no one is allowed to help the other with changing a social event they are only allowed to help if asked. So again did Jocelynn ask you for help and did she plan for the turn of events this evening?”] Marianna speaks up [#DAA520 “No she did not ask for help it was my idea I recruited Amberly and Rebecca to help so if there is any fault to be blamed or any punishment to be handed out I am the one to be blamed.”] As Amberly starts to protest Mariana's words Joffrey places his hand on her shoulder and she becomes quite and still. [#000080 “There is blame and there will be punishment.”] Michael says [#000080 “Blame that you three women have the kindest hearts to help those in need. Yes the rule is not to help but if a queen does not help her people then what kind of queen is she? So for helping Jocelynn Amberly what would you like?”] He asks with a light heart. Amberly’s eyes widen [#228b22 “What would I like?”] she says very hesitantly. [#000080 “Yes for a present my dear.”] She says softly [#228b22 “I didn’t do this for a reward your grace.. I mean Michael.”] Michael smiles [#000080 “ Good deeds should not go unrewarded.”] She looks at Rebecca and back to Michael
[#228b22 “There are rumors that you have automobiles is that true?”] Michael chuckles at her question [#000080 “As a matter of fact I do I have twenty in total why would you a ride in one around the Mudflats?”] Amberly smiles [#228b22 “I would actually like to learn to drive one.”] Michael smiles and nods his head [#000080 “I can defiantly arrange that. What about you Rebecca what would you like?”]Rebecca holds her head high. [#4b0082 “I request to be able to assist in the investigation on Devon.”] Michael nods his head [#000080 “It shall be done tomorrow Joffrey will give you access to the Security wing. What would you like Marianna? ”] Michael smiles as he can see her searching for what she would like for a gift. [#DAA520 “I would like to have my budget for my banquet extended.”] [#000080 “How big of an extension are you wanting?”] Marianna gives a cheeky smile [#DAA520 “I would like to plan everything out then show you the expenses.”] Michael ponders on her request [#000080 “Ok but I must approve the final stipulations on your banquet.”]
That night at dinner, rather than the girls having to wait for the King to arrive to begin eating, they are instead informed of the sudden business that has taken him from the castle for the week. They are informed that their schedules will be altered during this time frame to better prepare them for the events following his return. They will be able to eat away from the grand dining room if they so wish to do so, but beyond that their schedules remain pretty much the same. The following morning, Mariana gladly takes her breakfast on her balcony, enjoying the peace and quiet before their day begins.
The rest of the day is very unusual for her though, for every time she walks passed a guard alone, they stop her and begin to dance with her, it’s very alarming at first, but after a bit she finds humor in it. By the third day of this happening, Alex finally says something to her about it, alerting her to the fact that it was his idea to help her learn in a much more fun way. She is begrudgingly thankful for it, even if it does mean that she takes a lot longer to get from place to place.
Throughout her studies, Mariana ends up falling in love with the Bocelenie language and begins practicing it every chance she gets, which is more than she figured she’d get, given that her handmaidens also speak the language, Adriana more fluently than the others. She ends up finding out that Adriana is married to Caulder, that Alex comes from a small village from the sector Aspa as well, and she thinks almost half of the guard’s names. She ends up learning more about the staff than she thought she would during this first week, and is becoming more invested in their lives than she wants to admit.
Joffrey spends a lot of time with Mariana as well, discussing magic, her family, his family, the king’s law, how many people in the castle know the truth, the kings curse, as well as Mariana giving up so easily on being Queen. [#2F4F4F “Mariana I heard that you are not keen on becoming Queen of Cresal, why would you not want to become queen?”] Joffrey asks as they stroll through the garden one afternoon.
[#DAA520 “Well, it’s hard for me to look at the king and think about anything but the countless men and women he’s killed in this crazed witch hunt. Why would I want to marry someone who kills people just because of the fact that they have magic? He has said it himself that he’s heard that magic is a genetic thing, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing the law. If I married him I would not only be constantly putting myself at risk but condoning what he is doing. I couldn’t do that.”] Mariana says, letting magic flow from her hands and into the floral around her, following Joffrey’s idea and wearing gloves during her trips to the gardens.
[#2F4F4F “It is certainly understandable; the reason why he has not changed the law is because of his small council, they do advise him to keep the law active. I do believe that they put doubt in his mind that if he were to change the law it would show his people that he is weak and indecisive. Over the years I have been trying to tell Michael that his people would not view him as weak for changing his mind, that some of his people would even rejoice if he altered the law to prohibiting blood magic or the dark arts instead. Especially since using magic can allow things to prosper greatly if used for the right reason.”] Joffrey says as he watches Mariana bring life to the garden.
[#DAA520 “I totally get that Joffrey, and I greatly respect that, but I don’t have years to make a choice or to convince him. I have a few days over a month to change his mind before I would marry a man who would kill me the second he discovers the truth. Not to mention that I still don’t fit in with this whole noble thing. I don’t know how to dance, I don’t know the proper etiquette for dealing with people, heck I don’t even know which spoon to use and when. I would do nothing but make a fool out of myself if I were to become queen.”] Mariana says, looking over at Joffrey.
Joffrey smiles at her a bit before extending his hand out to her; she takes his hand, a bit wary. The moment her hand touches his, they are transported to a portion of the castle that Mariana vaguely recognizes. Joffrey leads her to the very end of the hall and gestures for her to glance around the corner. When she does, she finds herself staring at one of the times Alex stopped to dance with her. [#2F4F4F “You see, the guards have been stopping you to teach you how to dance, per my orders. I imagine if you were to be lead into any number of dances at this point you would know it far better than you think. I have also made sure that each of your meals is specifically catered around the different silverware so you will subconsciously grow accustomed to their weight. Learning the proper thing to become Queen does not have to completely alter who you are Mariana, it just means being more knowledgeable.”] Joffrey’s hand is warm on Mariana’s shoulder as they are transported back to the garden.
[#DAA520 “I had no idea you were doing that, why are you doing all of that for me? That doesn’t matter, even if I do learn all of that, it doesn’t change the fact that the king would kill me if he knew the truth.”] Mariana says turning away from Joffrey and walking over to a bench to sit down; hoping that staring at the ground will help calm her down. [#2F4F4F “The king would not kill you just because you have magic. Mariana, the sway you have over the king is far more than any of us could have expected the contestants would have at this point. In the many years that I have known him, he has only gifted three of his paintings to anyone. The first being his late mother, the next as a wedding gift to the Emperor of Boclen, and the third to you, if that doesn’t express how much you already mean to him then I don’t know what would. If you spent a bit more time with him, and tried to sway his opinion on magic, I truly believe that you would have a very easy time changing his mind.”] Joffrey takes a seat beside Mariana and places his hand on top of hers.
[#DAA520 “Truly, you think I have that much of a chance to change his mind? That I could not only change the law but become the Queen of Cresal?”] Mariana takes a deep breath, feeling her chest tighten slightly at the thought. [#2F4F4F “Indeed,”] he gestures to the vibrant flowers around them [#2F4F4F “But you need to remain strong, truly competing for his heart is no easy task. It’ll require true dedication Mariana, but I will assist you as much as I can because I truly believe that you would make the best Queen.”]
Mariana takes Joffrey’s words to heart, and spends the next few days really hitting the books, soaking in every ounce of detail that she possibly can. She requests to be in charge of the event when dignitaries from Boclen come to visit only to find out that they will be the one’s visiting the following week. This inspires Mariana to work harder, staying up late into the night to study their traditions and even recruit help for their visit.
Finally the time comes for Michael to return and for Jocelynn’s event to be held, throughout the week Joffrey had been informed of additional parameters being added to the event. Such as, being required to wear something that puts each girl slightly out of their comfort zone, not so much that they wouldn’t be able to attend, but just enough, as well as the fact that it much be in the theme of elements to represent that each visiting noble provides key elements to the kingdom of Cresal.
Given that he has been gone for the past week, the first time the girls see the king will be during the event that night. During breakfast Mariana, Amberly, and Rebecca decide to eat together and Mariana ends up finding out that the other girls families will be attending since they all come from the head of their sectors. Amberly expresses that she wishes Mariana’s mother would be able to come but is excited for their trip next week. The thought of being able to go home the following week is exactly what is going to get her through this whole event.
When the time finally comes for them to meet up, Mariana can’t help but feel highly uncomfortable by how much of her sides are exposed in her dress, but Adriana has assured her that it is very secure and will not suddenly expose her during the event, so she finds her way to the waiting room with the other girls. The moment she walks in she’s greeted by a collection of very nervous looking women dressed in very different attire. Amberly and Rebecca are sitting together on a couch talking in hushed whispers while Amberly tries to pull the bottom of her dress down and the top of her dress up. Rebecca is rubbing on her bare arms that are very defined and muscular. Jocelynn keeps pulling her dress down in the back and looking over a stack of note cards, muttering whatever they say over and over again to herself, while Alyssa simply looks annoyed and tugs at the high collar of her dress. Alyssa looks over at Mariana as she walks in and seemingly gives a nod of approval at what she’s wearing. They aren’t in the waiting room for long before Adriana appears to take them into the grand hall.
The moment that they step into the grand hall they are greeted with loud and very elegant music, to which Mariana believes is the national anthem. She looks around the room to find it decorated with banners of every house in the room. The décor seems oriented far more to those that are visiting and less to the elemental theme provided to her. Mariana looks a bit confused at Jocelynn who is simply smiling widely and confidently. Looking around the room, Mariana can see that there are several tables with ornate centerpieces that seem elementally oriented but beyond that it has a very similar set up to that of when the women arrived.
As the women walk in they walk towards their respected sector’s tables and instructed to remain there until the king walks in, with the exception of Jocelynn who stands and awaits his arrival. When the king arrives, Mariana catches the glimmer of disappointment that crosses his face before he walks through the room to Jocelynn’s side. When he is standing beside her, she turns her attention back to the crowd and begins speaking [#f08080 “Thank you for joining us tonight. We are here to celebrate the kingdom of Cresal and all the marvelous members that pull together each element of our kingdom. King Michael is a very gracious host and an even kinder king, we are lucky to have been blessed with such a kind man. During tonight’s event we will be celebrating what makes each sector its own. I hope you will join us in one of our kingdoms most treasured dances.”] Jocelynn says giving just the slightest nod before the orchestra begins to play.
As instructed, each contestant asks the head of their sector to dance with them, to which none disagree. Soon several of the guests are on the dance floor attempting to dance one of the most graceful and intricate dances in the kingdom. Mariana is a bit shocked at how easily she is able to keep up with the dance, and as she holds idle chatter with Lord Lylie, she notices the occasional distressed look on Jocelynn’s face, not to mention the comments coming out of those around her about this being tired and boring. When the dance finally ends, it appears that Mariana isn’t the only one concerned about how well tonight is going. Rebecca and Amberly are standing near each other talking about ways to help the night get better. Mariana quickly walks over to them [#228b22 “We could have some of the free servants grabs some wreaths and bring in some flowers, but that only covers one element. How are we supposed to make this fit all of the different elements after it’s already begun?”] Amberly asks, looking over at Mariana briefly.
[#4b0082 “Well I remember that the lights here have controls where we could alter them, give the room a watery look or even a fiery look if we so wished it. I imagine a guard could show me where those controls are. The food seems fine enough, but I still don’t think it’ll be enough. Look at her, Jocelynn seems to be panicking, and in front of her father too, he looks so disappointed.”] Rebecca says, still rubbing her arms.
[#DAA520 “I’ve got it, I’ll get Joffrey’s help on this, but if we could manage to use the ravens to lift vines of flowers up onto those hooks at the same time as the lights change and music turns on we can save this. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, trust me, Jocelynn will thank us. Go talk and I’ll give you a signal.”] Mariana says, spotting Joffrey across the room, who is already staring at her and he simply nods, somehow already knowing what she’s thinking.
As each of the girls slip into their separate directions Jocelynn stops Mariana, grabbing her by the elbow just as she’s about to reach the door. [#f08080 “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t leave now, the event has just begun.”] Jocelynn says, looking slightly bewildered. [#DAA520 “We aren’t leaving; we are trying to make sure everyone else doesn’t leave. I promise, it’s going to be a good thing, you’ve done a lot and this turned out amazing, so go relax and take credit for your work and the reactions everyone is going to have.”] Mariana says, giving Jocelynn’s hand a slight squeeze before slipping out of her grip and into the hall.
It doesn’t take long for her to find what she’s looking for and make it back to the room. She’s standing beside the servant’s entrance waiting until everybody has returned as well. The restlessness of the crowd grows with each passing second, but the moment Amberly’s head appears in the crack of the grand doorways, Mariana gives a small nod.
With just a few clicks on a viewing pad, very upbeat music with a loud base begins to play throughout the room as the lights flicker from reds to blue hues before settling on a warm blue. As the lights flicker, the banners flap, as if adjusted by a very huge gust of wind coming seemingly out of nowhere, and change into banners that seem to be made from fire with the table clothes to match. Flocks of ravens fly into the room in perfect pattern as they carry draping garland, hanging them on the practically invisible hooks on the ceiling before exiting out of the windows. It changes the whole scene into that of a fairy-tale, with everyone in complete awe. Mariana takes a deep breath and looks over at Jocelynn who is glaring at her for a moment before becoming the picture perfect of proud.
After having to put on the happy and graceful front, Michael is glad to be in the confined space of the viewing room. Just as he had promised Rebecca, he has come to watch the contestants train, to see just how well they fair against his Grimstones and under Caulder’s legendary training. He rests his arm against the window and stares down at the training room, watching as the guards walk in, hearing Joffrey enter at the same time. [#000080 “Hey Joffrey, who do you think is going to land the most hits today? I mean besides the obvious answer being Rebecca.”] Michael says, taking a swig of his ale, savoring the flavor. [#2F4F4F “It is hard to say your grace, after careful viewing of their starting trial I would have to choose Mariana. She had the surest footing out of those that made it thus far, as well as the most practical training in the group.”] He says, sitting down in one of the four plush chairs in his very pristine manor as usual. [#000080 “Well I guess we will have to wait and see, won’t we?”] Michael says turning around and joining him. [#000080 “Would you like a drink Joffrey? I can make you something.”] He says standing directly in front of a chair. [#2F4F4F “If you wouldn’t mind, I would prefer to make my own drink. Please sit and enjoy”] Joffrey says as he stands and walks over to the bar and mixing something up.
Michael can’t help but chuckle at the first pair, [#000080 “Well this is definitely not a fair fight.”] He says before taking another swig of ale. Joffrey merely makes a sound of agreement as he reclaims his position in the chair. As the fight between Alyssa and Anthony continues, Michael wonders aloud [#000080 “I wonder what Caulder was thinking putting her up against Anthony, because he is just like Caulder in that ring. I don’t think he even understands what it means to [i ‘go easy’] on someone.”] He takes another swig of ale.
When the match is finally over he simply shakes his head [#000080 “Well that was quick, hey how many hits do you think Mariana will get?”] He asks, looking over at Joffrey. [#2F4F4F “I don’t know, perhaps at the very least four. For now let’s watch Amberly and Meredith pair off.”] Michael nods before glancing back out to the training room. When he spots the weapon Amberly is carrying he stands up [#000080 “Is she welding a scythe? Joffrey have you ever seen anyone fight with a scythe? It’s nearly twice as tall as her!”] Michael says staring bewildered at the field below. Joffrey chuckles a bit at this [#2F4F4F “Yes I have, quite a few people, but I must say her skill with a Warhammer is far better. I’m rather curious why she didn’t choose it. Perhaps next week we will be lucky enough to see that instead.”] He shakes his head in disbelief [#000080 “This is going to be a rather interesting fight.”]
Once the fight concludes Michael returns to his chair [#000080 “It seems as if Amberly underestimated herself, for a weapon that’s almost twice her size she is definitely rather quick with it.”] He flops down into his chair and sets his empty glass on the table beside him. [#2F4F4F “Very true, perhaps we will get to see her true skill before too long. It would be a shame if she didn’t show her true strength before you make your choice.”] [#000080 “Very true”] Michael nods, watching as Jocelynn and Stefan take their positions in the sparring field. He watches as they swing their rapiers in nearly perfect synchronization, but she only manages to land one hit [#000080 “That’s a bit surprising, she only managed to score one point, but they seemed rather evenly matched. She also seems to be holding back a lot. What do they hope to gain by holding back?”] He takes the break to refill his glass [#2F4F4F “Perhaps they are worried about you seeing them break a sweat. Some nobles are taught that they must appear feminine at all times in front of their potential husband. Either that or they want to see the skill level of those that they are going up against before giving it their all.”] Michael fills his glass and retakes his seat. [#000080 “Both make sense, but I don’t understand why they would hold back, because if this was a real combat they wouldn’t be able to hold back. There is no point training differently than you would fight.”] Michael sighs and shakes his head, watching as Caulder and Rebecca step into the sparring ring. [#2F4F4F “I agree, but not much can be done about it right now, all we can do is watch.”]
Seeing that Caulder himself is taking on Rebecca, Michael stands once again [#000080 “Oh this is going to be an exciting match to see. I imagine Rebecca will give him a run for his money.”] And that she does, managing to nearly match his every hit up until the last few blows when he eventually wins. Which finally makes it Mariana’s turn and she’s up against Alexander. Once the fight is finally over Michael turns back to Joffrey [#000080 “Mariana has one skilled eye, I mean after just a couple of moments in the ring with him she was able to find his weakness and use it against him.”]
[#2F4F4F “Well I did tell you that she was likely to do very well.”] Joffrey says as Caulder walks into the room [#DC143C “Who are we talking about? If we are talking about Mariana I’m certainly not surprised, she became the people’s favorite during the combat trial for a reason, I would have expected nothing less from her.”] He says, grabbing a premade sandwich and plopping down in one of the chairs. [#000080 “How did you know who we were talking about Cal?”] Michael says as he takes a swig of his ale. [#DC143C “Well given that she’s the only commoner it would be safe to assume that you were surprised at how good she did, unlike those whose parents paid for them to learn every skill possible to be a good match for you. Which I might add did significantly worse than I was expecting them to.”] Cal says before taking a large bite of his sandwich.
Michael would nod [#000080 “I agree, especially Jocelynn, she needs to shed her formal training. She was withholding far too much during that match. If she wishes to join my side she’ll need to train as if she was in an actual fight, otherwise how am I supposed to know if she can defend our people.”] Michael says while taking his seat. [#DC143C “I’ll break her, just like I’ve broken them all. Don’t worry about it Mike, you’ll see her true colors before you choose who to marry.”] Cal says grabbing Michael’s ale from his hand and taking a swig. [#2F4F4F “Speaking of which, do you have a favorite yet?”] Joffrey asks while standing and pouring Michael another drink.
Michael sighs but accepts the new drink [#000080 “It’s currently a three way tie between Amberly, Jocelynn, and Mariana. If you guys were in my shoes, who would you choose?”] Michael asks taking a sip of his drink and realizing that Joffrey had given him something a lot stronger than ale. [#2F4F4F “Well, Michael we aren’t you so we couldn’t make that choice for you. This is something you must decide on your own”] Joffrey sits back down and states in a very matter of fact voice. [#000080 “I’m not asking you to make the choice for---“] [#DC143C “Mariana”] Cal interrupts Michael as he’s trying to explain the question to Joffrey. [#000080 “Geez Cal, could you not wait until Joffrey responded?”] Michael asks, turning towards him [#DC143C “Sorry your grace, I didn’t realize that I had to wait to respond. I’ll make sure to keep that in mind for next time.”] Cal says sitting up straight. [#000080 “Oh shut up Cal, don’t be a smart ass. However, now that you have said something about her, I’ll be honest, there is something unusual. Something about the way she talks or the look in her eyes that just draws me close to her.”] Michael says while staring at the bottom of his drink. [#DC143C “So you do have your favorite then! No need to act like your keeping your options open if you’ve already got your mind made up.”] Cal says patting him on the shoulder. He can’t help but smirk [#000080 “As I said before, I have my top three; there is just something about her that’s different. Plus Mariana doesn’t even think she will become Queen, she wants to make it to the final three but beyond that she doesn’t really want to be here.”] Michael says taking another drink. [#DC143C “Oh, so you’re saying that someone didn’t enjoy having their entire life flipped on its head while being forced to compete for your hand? I thought your witty charm would be enough to win any girls affection.”] Cal says while getting up and walking over to the table, grabbing another half sub.
[#2F4F4F “I must agree that so far Mariana has proven to be the best candidate, I am rather surprised that she doesn’t think she could become Queen. I will definitely try and find out why she doesn’t believe in her abilities and attempt to ease her desire to leave. For now I shall leave, I have gifts that I have been asked to prepare”] Joffrey stands and bows to Michael before quickly exiting.
When the days training is finally over and Michael has finished all of his duties for the day, he decides to take a stroll through the garden, hoping that it’s as fully bloomed as the brief glimpse he caught in the morning. As he begins to walk into the spring flowers, he finds Mariana staring at him as if she was expecting him. [#000080 “Good evening Mariana”] He can’t help but be very alarmed at the look on her face. [#DAA520 “Good evening your grace. I was, ah, just leaving.”] She also seems a bit alarmed to see him, and shoves her hands into her pockets, almost as if she has something to hide. [#000080 “You don’t have to leave Mariana; if anything I’m glad I ran into you. I was hoping to take you up on your offer to seek your council.”] Michael can’t help but want her to stick around, if he could just talk to her a bit longer, maybe he can convince her to stay. He gestures further into the garden hoping she’ll at least walk with him. [#DAA520 “Um, of course, I did offer. What can I help you with? It’s a bit early to be confused about your potentials, don’t you think?”] She asks, stepping into line beside him, but still looking incredibly uncomfortable by his presence. [#000080 “So, just as a question, what do you think of the law on magic? Your honest opinion please,”] he knows that it’s a touchy subject with most people, but the thought of his law has been crossing his mind a bit more lately. Even still he keeps his eyes forward, trying to stay in control of his emotions [#DAA520 “My honest opinion?”] He nods, counting his breathing [#DAA520 “I think it’s stupid, I mean you’ve basically outlawed an entire people. From what I’ve heard, magic is a genetic thing, not something you can control, so you’re killing people for being born with a specific set of skills. You might as well outlaw people with blue eyes while you’re at it.”] He chuckles at the notion, daring to look at her [#000080 “Or I could outlaw everyone with green eyes.”] When she looks back at him, he has to force himself to look away or else she might be able to read the hope in his eyes. [#DAA520 “Ah, but then you’d only have Alyssa and Rebecca to choose from, it would be a shame to have to lock up Amberly, and you two seem so close.”] The sarcastic tone in her voice causes him to genuinely smile. [#000080 “I could pull some strings for Amberly.”] He looks over at her [#000080 “But I have also heard that magic is a genetic thing, it’s just that there is emptiness inside of me because of magic. It’s an emptiness that I will have for as long as I live. I understand that some people do not understand why I have outlawed magic while others do. You don’t need to know or understand why it’s outlawed, just that it is.”] He says, not entirely sure if he’s attempting to convince her or himself of this fact. [#DAA520 “Of course your grace, not like I have any reason to break that law. I imagine that’s not why you wanted my council though. So what can I advise you on?”] The sudden formality definitely goes noticed, but he keeps his tone light and even [#000080 “I was actually wondering where you trained to fight like that. I mean Rebecca is the guard captain of Illea, so it’s expected of her to hold her own in battle, but for you to do so well was very shocking.”] He asks, gesturing to a bench in a rose clove, watching as Mariana sits down and thinks before responding, her eyebrows crinkling as she does so. [#DAA520 “Train is a strong word. I just picked it up along the way I guess. There aren’t a lot of people in my village who are too terribly fond of my mom providing so much for the orphans. Especially the ones who have more than enough, they say it makes them look bad, and that it isn’t our job to take care of them it’s the orphanage in the major city. So when we don’t listen to them and take care of them anyway, some of them tend to get violent when they are drunk. My mom has this whole do not harm others thing, so if I don’t protect her I get to watch drunk idiots beat up my mom. I did that once, got me knocked around a couple of times after that, and then I got pretty handy with a spear. That and hunting requires some skill with a bow or a weapon of some kind. So just day to day life trained me I guess.”] [#000080 “You said you and your mother would help the orphans, why are they in your village and not in the city at the Orphanage?”] The bewildered look on Mariana’s face is alarming [#DAA520 “Well, the orphanage in Aspa is vastly over populated and its head mistress is basically a fire breathing dragon. She came to our village once and practically tore this girl Jill’s arm off when trying to force her to go back to the orphanage. It broke my heart to see it. She managed to get Calvin back, but he was only gone for about two months before coming back to the village. He was covered in bruises and his leg was broken. I can’t even imagine what happens at that orphanage. So we do what we can, I used a lot of the hide from my hunts to create them clothes and bedding, they live in these handmade huts in the forest, not far behind my house. It’s actually one of the things that I want to work on with the prize money I get from making it this far in the competition. I want to fix up our house and take over the orphanage. No one deserves to feel unloved and not worth a meal.”] It takes everything in Michael to not lose his cool [#000080 “That’s very admirable, thank for providing me this new information. I will definitely make sure to personally look into it, you have my word. Those children will be provided for as they should be.”] He says, keeping his face very firm while imagining all the ways he could tear that woman apart. [#DAA520 “If you are going to be personally looking into it, does that mean you will be going to Aspa?”] He looks over to find her staring very eagerly. [#000080 “It does. Does my confidant wish to visit as well?”] The sudden sensation of Mariana’s hands on his arm is followed by a cold chill rushing through him; he does his best to ignore it. [#DAA520 “Yes, I mean not the major city of it, but I would give anything to go home and see my mom again. I haven’t even had the chance to speak to her since this all started. I would love it, even if it was only for five minutes.”] He smiles gently down at her, finding that the longer he stares into her emerald green eyes the more he feels drawn to her. [#000080 “We will definitely be able to stop by your home for longer than five minutes. We can make a day of it. That can be one of our next events, being able to go and see each one of your families as well as do a tour of the Kingdom. Obviously it will only be me and the girl’s family we are seeing that will come with on the home visit but it’ll give you a chance to see some of the major cities. We can stop by Aspa first, that way they don’t have any warning to us coming by to put on a front for the king’s visit. How does next week sound?”] He asks, putting his hand on top of hers, as he finally becomes fully captivated by the beauty of her eyes, wishing in that moment that she would want to stay, that she would truly want to try and make a place at his side. [#DAA520 “That sounds absolutely wonderful. I think the other girls will love it as well. I imagine our tutors will not though. Lady Baker will probably insist on joining us to make sure I keep my shoulders back during the visit. I imagine we will have some kind of assignment at the end of it. I know we have one coming up for the end of this week, some kind of elemental ball that has the nobles of our kingdom coming by as well. It’s Jocelynn’s turn to prepare the event so I haven’t given much thought to the preparations, just that I need to talk directly to my seamstress so I can make sure she tones down how flashy she makes my dresses.”] She admits, suddenly pulling back again and letting go of his arm and staring at the pavement. He chuckles a bit at the thought of her in something super flashy [#000080 “So you don’t like it when you wear something that draws a lot of attention to you?”] He asks, standing and walking over to the rose bush wanting to create a small bouquet for her to take back to her room [#DAA520 “Not really, there isn’t much of a point for me to show off how I look since I’m not going to be the one to become queen. Plus I’d likely be able to sell the dresses I get easier if it’s something that could easily be worn and not something so overtly crafted that it’s a priceless piece. No point for me to hold onto clothing I will never wear again. I’ll probably keep some of the nice pants I’ve gotten though, they are surprisingly comfortable.”] Hearing how confident she is that she wouldn’t be Queen he can’t help but ask [#000080 “How are you so sure that you will not become Queen? I’m just starting to get to know everyone; I’m not even close to making my decision.”] He starts piling up the roses in his hand, pulling them so they have a slightly long stem [#DAA520 “Well, it’s the same thing as I told you earlier, I’m not graceful, terrible with people, and I don’t know the first thing about dealing with dignitaries. Heck my hand is likely going to be bruised tomorrow from Lady Baker’s ruler from not knowing which fork to pick up. Even if I did manage to learn all of that, I would never belong here.”] She says in a tone that makes it seem like it should be perfectly obvious why she shouldn’t be here. Michael spots a small rose that hasn’t bloomed yet and smiles at it, putting it in his hand and turning to where she could see it [#000080 “Imagine this flower as you; it’s small while the rest of the roses are fully bloomed. It seems like it doesn’t belong, but if you give it time and care it could bloom to be larger than the rest.”] He hopes that He might actually be able to break through and show her that she could stay, that they could actually have a chance. [#DAA520 “Or it could wilt and die.”] The morbid thought almost makes him laugh, but the pained look on her face stops him. [#000080 “Indeed, it could wilt and die, but due to our new gardener that wouldn’t happen. If you don’t fight the tutors too much, you could thrive here as well.”] He says walking back over to the bench and sits beside her. She sighs and puts the distance between them once again [#DAA520 “But then I wouldn’t be your Queen, I wouldn’t even be me. I would be the person the tutors turn me into. That’s the thing I hate the most about this stupid tradition. You force a bunch of women who are within a certain age range to try and fit into a life style that they were either trained for their entire lives or they have no idea what they are doing and get humiliated for not knowing what to do and when. To top it all the whole nation has to watch. Why on earth would I want to fit in to a world or a kingdom that loves its precious tradition of humiliating 29 young women just so that its king can find the perfect woman to push out babies for him, how wonderful?”] She says in a mocking tone, tearing the rose off the bush and turning on the kind, looking at him as if he were stupid for his suggestion.
He takes a deep breath to attempt to calm his rage, knowing that if she wasn’t taking out her anger on him he would agree with what she’s saying. However it’s the small rose in her hand that draws most of his attention [#000080 “That was totally uncalled for”] He says in a warning tone, slowly rising to his feet [#000080 “What did that poor rose ever do to you?”] He says with a completely serious face. Mariana stares at him for a moment, obviously taken back by his comment before looking down at the rose in her hand. Rather than continuing on or creating another joke, she simply looks a little sad [#DAA520 “You’re right, it was uncalled for, but so is this tradition. It’s got a great point, but a terrible execution.”] She sighs and practically begins to cradle the rose. [#000080 “I agree with you, but that doesn’t mean I get to go around ripping flowers out of the garden, I’d look like a mad man if I did that. A very rich madman, but a madman nonetheless”] He says smiling at her, hoping that the humor would give her even the slightest reprieve. The sound of her chuckling lightens his heart a bit [#DAA520 “Well, at home everyone thinks of me as a madwoman anyway, no one thought much of it if I slaughtered the poor innocent dandelions. Old habits die hard”] He chuckles a bit with her, before the familiar shiver runs through him, alerting him to the fate he already knew [#000080 “Well you may not kill my dandelions, quit your dandelion snipping spree, because I have business to attend to, so please, no more flower homicide.”] He stands and walks out of the garden at a politely quick pace, leaving the flowers for her.
With the full moon reaching its peak in the next few hours, Michael knows that he must be quick. However what he doesn’t expect to find is Joffrey waiting for him at the door to his wing with a bag already packed and ready for him to leave. [#2F4F4F “Your usual ride is waiting for you downstairs Michael. I have made sure that all the proper preparations for you stay in the cabin have been taken care of. The usual guards are in their positions and know their rotation. I already have this week’s schedule mesmerized and will make sure all of your duties are taken care of. The women will also be too busy this week to notice that you are gone. If you need anything from me you know how to reach me. Have a good week hunting my grace.”] Joffrey practically strong arms Michael out of the castle and into his private automobile. [#000080 “Thank you friend, if not for you I would not have made it to be this old, but I must go. I feel the change is coming on stronger this time, I do not know what has caused the change, but it has. I will call you in the morning to tell you how I fared the night.”] Michael says, turning the vehicle on and giving Joffrey’s hand a squeeze. Joffrey merely nods before taking a step away from the vehicle and watching him drive away.
Even though Mariana is happy to be able to sit by herself and actually enjoy every rich and savory bite of her lunch, she can’t shake the loneliness that fills her heart. She looks around at how happy the other girls seem to be about being here, and she can’t help the small seed of envy growing in her chest. Mariana is only here as a means to an end and also because of the stupid mandatory tradition, not because she wants to be Queen. She can’t even begin to imagine what that would mean, what kind of duties she would have. The only thing, and the most important thing, she knows that she would hardly get to see her mom and she can’t handle that.
She shakes the thought from her head, knowing that she only has to endure a bit more till she can go home. She is practically counting down the days till the end of the Queenstrial. Only a little less than five weeks till she can truly feel safe again.
Thinking about her mom and getting to go home carries her through until they are finally dismissed to change for training. [b “So you were taken to the King’s Wing? I hope that you acted like a potential Queen and behaved yourself.”] Adriana asks, helping Mariana step out of the gown. Mariana can’t help but laugh at the notion, causing Cheyanne to look at her stunned [#DAA520 “Sorry, it’s just that the whole idea that I’m the one that the king would is ludicrous. I basically told him as much and we agreed that it would be better for me to act as his confidant for the rest of the competition.”] She admits, grabbing the brush off the vanity and trying to brush out as much of the curls as possible before twisting it into a braid.
[b “I’m sorry what?”] [b “Cheyanne don’t”] Adriana warns [b “No, Mariana, how can you give up on being Queen so easily? Don’t you want to help make the kingdom a better place?”] [#DAA520 “Cheyanne, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t be the queen.”] [b “And why not? Sure you might not be as graceful as Jocelynn or as eloquent as Alyssa, but you actually know what it’s like to live like the people. You can make a kind of difference that the others can’t. How could you not want to seize that opportunity?”] She says, staring at Mariana with pure bewilderment. Mariana sighs and shakes her head, knowing Cheyanne won’t give up till she gives an actual answer. [#DAA520 “You two are sworn to secrecy right? Everything I tell you stays between us right?”] Mariana asks, looking between Cheyanne and Adriana, the both nod, while Adriana makes quick work of locking the door.
In a swift motion, Mariana clasps her hands together only to pull them apart and reveal a blazing fire between them. Cheyanne can’t seem to find any actual words to respond, and just stares, while Adriana simply sets a pile of clothing on the vanity [b “If you think your magical abilities prohibit you from being Queen then you are the only one who could change your mind. For now, you should focus on your training. Cheyanne come.”] Adriana states in her same even tone, before she guides Cheyanne out of the room.
Mariana quickly changes and gets as much of the makeup off as possible. She steps out into the hallway to find the other four girls in such elegant armor, that they might as well be wearing dresses in comparison to the plain leather Mariana is in. Based on the annoyed or discomforted looks on the other girl’s faces, Mariana doesn’t have to guess that they are wondering the same thing Adriana was wondering. Rather than meeting their eyes and letting the question get spoken allowed, Mariana simply leans against the wall and taps her worn leather boot against the ground, taking comfort in the familiar sound. If she closes her eyes she could almost convince herself that she’s inside the Mayor’s office getting in trouble for openly using her magic to entertain the orphan twins again. [#2F4F4F “Come Ladies, no time to waste.”] Joffrey’s voice breaks Mariana from the happy memory and back to her bleak reality. Once again Joffrey manages to appear seemingly out of nowhere but Mariana simply ignores the prickling sensation on the back of her neck and simply follows him through the halls.
They follow him all the way to a gymnasium on the same level as the dungeons. The room is vast, with an unnatural tiling covering nearly every inch of the room. A large circle is sectioned off in the center of the room, likely the sparring circle and weapons of every kind lines the far wall on a vast number of weapon racks. Towards the ceiling there is a viewing room, where the king and Joffrey now sit. The man who was speaking with the king earlier in the day is standing in the very center of the circle. Now that she’s able to actually see him, Mariana can’t help but stare. The man has an unnaturally fare complexion with hair that is pure white, despite his young appearance, most striking though is his blood red eyes. He seems completely unphased by Mariana’s staring and instead gestures in front of him. [#DC143C “Each of you has an opportunity to become the next Queen. I am not here to treat you like a Queen potential. I am not here to treat you like a noble lady you may or may not be. I do not care for your titles or your previous training. I am here to train you as I train the rest of my soldiers. In this room you will work harder than you have ever worked, you will learn the skills necessary to survive if the castle is under siege or you are attack on the road. You are no longer damsels in distress who spends your training time with instructors your father has paid to make you feel good about your skills. From what I have seen from the first portion of this competition none of you have any actual skill. That changes in this room.”] His voice is incredibly deep, and Mariana doesn’t think he blinked once during that speech, which strikes a fear in her she has never known. [#DC143C “Each of you will train with one of our Grimstone members, this is the sparring circle. I’m certain each of you has noticed that this isn’t a traditional training room; this tiling will simulate the different environments you may have to fight in so that is what you will train in. No one will blame you for not being able to keep up, but that doesn’t mean that the king won’t think less of you as a Queen if you can’t with stand the same training conditions he has endured his whole life. Now, each of you came with a weapon, the same one you used during the first trial. You will not be using that weapon, not during our training; you will instead be using one of the stock weapons on the wall behind me. Select one now, and take you seat, I will pair you up once you all are sitting.”] He steps outside of the circle and from out of the wall, four guards walk into the room dressed in what appears to be their preferred armor. They stand in a perfect line beside the instructor, watching as the women walk forward and select their preferred weapons. Jocelynn selects a very delicate rapier, tossing it between each hand for a moment before heading back to sit down. Rebecca picks up a sword that’s nearly as large as her, with complete ease and in one hand, filling the other with a shield. Amberly seems a bit conflicted, standing in front of what appear to be a scythe and a war hammer, both significantly larger than her, before selecting the scythe. Alyssa doesn’t even flinch before grabbing a net and a spear. Mariana takes a moment before grabbing a spear as well; she walks over to the bench and sits down beside Amberly. [#DC143C “Alright, First up will be Alyssa and Anthony, make sure you go easy on them for today, I want to see where they are in person.”] The trainer says nodding to one of the guards.
They both step into the circle, and while Alyssa has a cocky look on her face, the guard seems unphased, swinging his sword as if he’s bored. They circle each other before the guard takes one swift motion towards Alyssa, hitting her in the ribs but not cutting at all. Alyssa seems surprised that she was actually hit before taking a step back. They circle some more before they start attacking each other, Alyssa barely landing two blows on the guard where as he lands another nine. She is beat red and obviously furious when she sits back down. Amberly is up next with a guard named Meredith, both of them wielding massive weapon. Amberly has better luck than Alyssa, managing to land four hits to her partner’s ten, however she comes back looking very excited. Jocelynn and Stefan gracefully dance across the floor, Jocelynn landing only one hit to his ten, but still seeming perfectly composed the entire time. Rebecca is against the trainer himself, both seeming evenly matched, Rebecca even seems to be winning, matching blow for blow before the Trainer eventually wins the match, ending it at ten to eight.
Finally it’s Mariana’s turn, and she is going up against Alexander. The moment she steps onto the sparing match, she almost losses her balance as the stage raises up a couple of inches. [#BC8F8F “So you are a bad dancer and can’t keep your footing? Having me as your partner is almost going to be torture for you”] Alexander’s voice is immediately recognizable as the guard she danced with previously, only now he doesn’t have a helmet obscuring his face. [#DAA520 “Ah yes, well bad footing isn’t going to be what gives me away.”] She admits, chuckling a bit, gripping her spear tighter and watching his every movement. She catches that his left foot drags just slightly as he walks, indicating a weakness there. [#BC8F8F “Oh, I’m sure I’ll still be able to sweep you off your feet my lady.”] And with that he attempts to connect his sword to her back, but she manages to bend forward just in time, using the blunt end of her spear to lift up one of his legs and knock him to the ground. She spins the spear around and points it at his throat [#DAA520 “Or maybe I’ll sweep you off of yours.”]
She manages to land another six hits, but he still manages to beat her without breaking much of a sweat. She returns to the bench breathing heavy but definitely invigorated. [#DC143C “Alright, you all know how poorly you did; by the time this ends I want each of you to be able to hold your own enough to win against these guards. For the remainder of this training session you must do fifty laps around this room, a fifty pushups, sit ups, and pull ups. If you can’t, then do what you can and more to make it so you do 200 in total. Make sure to take plenty of breaks and stay hydrated. These four will remain with you during this and I will be up with the King watching your progress. Do not disappoint me.”] Caulder says before disappearing into the wall.
Being used to the physical exertion, Mariana and Rebecca both finish their two hundred assigned exercises rather quickly, and decide to train more. Rebecca provides Mariana with some tips, walking her through different footings and possible fighting styles. Mariana can’t help but be in awe at how easily she picks up a spear and fights with it after seeing her fight with the great sword.
When the training is finally done and over with, Mariana watches as the other girls hurry off to their rooms to freshen up and get changed, Mariana simply shakes her head and decides to go to the rose garden, hoping to release a little bit more pent up magic.
The fresh air is nice, and Mariana quickly finds herself deep into the floral garden. She smiles at the sight of the flowers, holding a slightly wilted rose in her hand and bringing it back to full bloom with nothing but a thought. [#2F4F4F “The smell of freshly bloomed roses is magnificent, aren’t they my lady?”] The sound of Joffrey’s voice behind Mariana causes her to freeze and go wide eyed. She bites the inside of her cheek and quickly turns around [#DAA520 “Yes, they definitely are. The king talked about how wonderful this place is. I thought I’d check it out for myself.”] She says folding her hands behind her back, knowing that her palm would currently have a green tint to it from the magic she just used. [#2F4F4F “Holding in your magic for too long is rather dangerous, wouldn’t you agree Mariana? Feel free; the garden could use the touch of a powerful woman again.”] He says gesturing to the bushes beside them, not blinking once at the mention of magic. [#DAA520 “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean Joffrey, magic is outlawed in this kingdom. It would be treasonous to use such a thing, on castle grounds nonetheless.”] She says, walking around Joffrey, saying what she thinks he wants to hear as she approaches a wall of Rhododendron looking at the small yellow flowers to hide her wide eyed expression and her pounding heart. [#2F4F4F “Yes, magic is outlawed but the king was young when he created such a law and it was done out of rage due to the passing of his parents being caused by magic. It’s rather understandable for such a young king to do, lash out at what he believes is the cause of his parents leaving.”] He comes to stand beside Mariana, [#2F4F4F “You may trust me with such a thing, I wish to convince the king that magic possess no danger to him. Perhaps you can assist me with such things.”] Mariana stares at the flowers, wondering what the catch is. [#DAA520 “Right, and hypothetically if I was a witch, this would be the part I openly do magic and then you run and tell the king. I’d have no head before dinner. Why should I trust the Chief advisor of the king with something like that?”] She says kneeling in front of the bush and running her hand through the mulch. The soft touch of Joffrey’s hand on her shoulder sends a rush of pure magic through her. Without meaning too, Mariana transfers that magic straight through to the mulch and causing the small yellow flowers to double in size and bloom brightly, releasing a small amount of magic themselves into the ground as they do so.
Mariana stands and turns around [#DAA520 “Okay, I trust you.”] She says noticing the black color of his hands [#DAA520 “You have time magic? I didn’t know that still existed.”] She says, watching as he quickly puts his glove back on. [#2F4F4F “As far as I am aware, it runs within my family. Sadly I am the last to have inherited this gift. Your secret is safe with me, all I ask is when you must expel your magic, come to me. I know the safest time and place to expel it; we wouldn’t want the King’s favorite to get caught before we can change his mind.”] And with that he vanishes from her side.
Mariana turns around to see if he simply moved, her mouth open to respond, but simply finds the king rounding the corner into this clove of the garden. [#000080 “Good evening Mariana”] he says looking at her a bit confused. [#DAA520 “Good evening your grace. I was, ah, just leaving.”] She says shoving her hands into her pockets. [#000080 “You don’t have to leave Mariana; if anything I’m glad I ran into you. I was hoping to take you up on your offer to seek your council.”] he admits, looking a bit sheepish at that moment but gestures down the path for them to walk together. [#DAA520 “Um, of course, I did offer. What can I help you with? It’s a bit early to be confused about your potentials, don’t you think?”] She asks, stepping into line beside him, but making sure her hands stay firmly in her pockets. [#000080 “So, just as a question, what do you think of the law on magic? Your honest opinion please,”] He says, keeping his eyes forward, not looking at her. He seems far too relaxed for someone who knows that he’s walking with a witch, so Mariana manages to stay breathing evenly. [#DAA520 “My honest opinion?”] she says watching him nod but not respond [#DAA520 “I think it’s stupid, I mean you’ve basically outlawed an entire people. From what I’ve heard, magic is a genetic thing, not something you can control, so you’re killing people for being born with a specific set of skills. You might as well outlaw people with blue eyes while you’re at it.”] She says with a shrug, staring at the flowers that they walk passed, hoping her nonchalant tone doesn’t reveal how invested she is in the topic. He’d chuckle a bit [#000080 “Or I could outlaw everyone with green eyes.”] She’d look over to find a smirk on his face [#DAA520 “Ah, but then you’d only have Alyssa and Rebecca to choose from, it would be a shame to have to lock up Amberly, and you two seem so close.”] [#000080 “I could pull some strings for Amberly.”] He’d look over at her [#000080 “but I have also heard that magic is a genetic thing, it’s just that there is emptiness inside of me because of magic. It’s an emptiness that I will have for as long as I live. I understand that some people do not understand why I have outlawed magic while others do. You don’t need to know or understand why it’s outlawed, just that it is.”] Mariana bites the inside of her cheek, drawing blood to keep herself calm.
[#DAA520 “Of course your grace, not like I have any reason to break that law. I imagine that’s not why you wanted my council though. So what can I advise you on?”] She says, keeping her tone even, but disconnecting emotionally from the conversation. [#000080 “I was actually wondering where you trained to fight like that. I mean Rebecca is the guard captain of Illea, so it’s expected of her to hold her own in battle, but for you to do so well was very shocking.”] He asks, gesturing to a bench in a rose clove.
Mariana would sit down and think about it for a moment [#DAA520 “Train is a strong word. I just picked it up along the way I guess. There aren’t a lot of people in my village who are too terribly fond of my mom providing so much for the orphans. Especially the ones who have more than enough, they say it makes them look bad, and that it isn’t our job to take care of them it’s the orphanage in the major city. So when we don’t listen to them and take care of them anyway, some of them tend to get violent when they are drunk. My mom has this whole do not harm others thing, so if I don’t protect her I get to watch drunk idiots beat up my mom. I did that once, got myself knocked around a couple of times after that, and then I got pretty handy with a spear. That and hunting requires some skill with a bow or a weapon of some kind. So just day to day life trained me I guess.”]
[#000080 “You said you and your mother would help the orphans, why are they in your village and not in the city at the Orphanage?”] Mariana would look over at him a bit shocked [#DAA520 “Well, the orphanage in Aspa is vastly over populated and its head mistress is basically a fire breathing dragon. She came to our village once and practically tore this girl Jill’s arm off when trying to force her to go back to the orphanage. It broke my heart to see it. She managed to get Calvin back, but he was only gone for about two months before coming back to the village. He was covered in bruises and his leg was broken. I can’t even imagine what happens at that orphanage. So we do what we can, I used a lot of the hide from my hunts to create them clothes and bedding, they live in these handmade huts in the forest, not far behind my house. It’s actually one of the things that I want to work on with the prize money I get from making it this far in the competition. I want to fix up our house and take over the orphanage. No one deserves to feel unloved and not worth a meal.”] [#000080 “That’s very admirable, thank for providing me this new information. I will definitely make sure to personally look into it, you have my word. Those children will be provided for as they should be.”] He says, his face going as firm as a marble carving. [#DAA520 “If you are going to be personally looking into it, does that mean you will be going to Aspa?”] [#000080 “It does. Does my confidant wish to visit as well?”] Mariana brightens up and look over at him, grabbing his arm. [#DAA520 “Yes, I mean not the major city of it, but I would give anything to go home and see my mom again. I haven’t even had the chance to speak to her since this all started. I would love it, even if it was only for five minutes.”] He smiles gently down at her [#000080 “We will definitely be able to stop by your home for longer than five minutes. We can make a day of it. That can be one of our next events, being able to go and see each one of your families as well as do a tour of the Kingdom. Obviously it will only be me and the girl’s family we are seeing that will come with on the home visit but it’ll give you a chance to see some of the major cities. We can stop by Aspa first, that way they don’t have any warning to us coming by to put on a front for the king’s visit. How does next week sound?”] He asks, putting his hand on top of hers, as his icy blue eyes melt into her, threatening the guard around her once again. [#DAA520 “That sounds absolutely wonderful. I think the other girls will love it as well. I imagine our tutors will not though. Lady Baker will probably insist on joining us to make sure I keep my shoulders back during the visit. I imagine we will have some kind of assignment at the end of it. I know we have one coming up for the end of this week, some kind of elemental ball that has the nobles of our kingdom coming by as well. It’s Jocelynn’s turn to prepare the event so I haven’t given much thought to the preparations, just that I need to talk directly to my seamstress so I can make sure she tones down how flashy she makes my dresses.”] She admits, looking down at the ground thinking back to his earlier statement about magic. He chuckles a bit [#000080 “So you don’t like it when you wear something that draws a lot of attention to you?”] He asks, standing and walking over to the rose bush [#DAA520 “Not really, there isn’t much of a point for me to show off how I look since I’m not going to be the one to become queen. Plus I’d likely be able to sell the dresses I get easier if it’s something that could easily be worn and not something so overtly crafted that it’s a priceless piece. No point for me to hold onto clothing I will never wear again. I’ll probably keep some of the nice pants I’ve gotten though, they are surprisingly comfortable.”] [#000080 “How are you so sure that you will not become Queen? I’m just starting to get to know everyone; I’m not even close to making my decision.”] He would pluck a couple of roses, creating a small bouquet in his hand [#DAA520 “Well, it’s the same thing as I told you earlier, I’m not graceful, terrible with people, and I don’t know the first thing about dealing with dignitaries. Heck my hand is likely going to be bruised tomorrow from Lady Baker’s ruler from not knowing which fork to pick up. Even if I did manage to learn all of that, I would never belong here.”] She says, watching him delicately pull off the flowers. The king would stop moving and look over at Mariana, [#000080 “Imagine this flower as you; it’s small while the rest of the roses are fully bloomed. It seems like it doesn’t belong, but if you give it time and care it could bloom to be larger than the rest.”] He says smiling at her gently once again. Mariana can’t help the ice melting a little bit, but chooses instead to look at the rose [#DAA520 “Or it could wilt and die.”] [#000080 “Indeed, it could wilt and die, but due to our new gardener that wouldn’t happen. If you don’t fight the tutors too much, you could thrive here as well.”] He says walking back over to the bench and sits beside her. She sighs and moves over to where he was standing and looks down at the rose [#DAA520 “But then I wouldn’t be your Queen, I wouldn’t even be me. I would be the person the tutors turn me into. That’s the thing I hate the most about this stupid tradition. You force a bunch of women who are within a certain age range to try and fit into a life style that they were either trained for their entire lives or they have no idea what they are doing and get humiliated for not knowing what to do and when. To top it all the whole nation has to watch. Why on earth would I want to fit in to a world or a kingdom that loves its precious tradition of humiliating 29 young women just so that its king can find the perfect woman to push out babies for him, how wonderful?”] She says in a mocking tone, tearing the rose off the bush and turning on the kind, looking at him as if he were stupid for his suggestion. [#000080 “That was totally uncalled for”] the King says in a warning tone, slowly rising to his feet [#000080 “What did that poor rose ever do to you?”] He says with a completely serious face. Mariana blinks for a moment, looking down at the rose in her hand. It’s slightly wilted from her aggression and it takes her a moment to calm down. [#DAA520 “Your right, it was uncalled for, but so is this tradition. It’s got a great point, but a terrible execution.”] She sighs and holds the rose more delicately. [#000080 “I agree with you, but that doesn’t mean I get to go around ripping flowers out of the garden, I’d look like a mad man if I did that. A very rich madman, but a madman nonetheless”] He says smiling a bit at her. Mariana can’t help but chuckle at his comment, slumping down onto the bench beside him [#DAA520 “well, at home everyone thinks of me as a madwoman anyway, no one thought much of it if I slaughtered the poor innocent dandelions. Old habits die hard”] [#000080 “Well you may not kill my dandelions, quit your dandelion snipping spree, because I have business to attend to, so please, no more flower homicide.”] And with that the king stands and walks away, leaving the bouquet of roses bound with a strip of leather. Mariana can’t help but smile, and when he is a good distance away she returns the rose to life, not causing it to grow any larger than it already was. She takes it and tucks it in her hair, grabbing the bouquet and making her way back to her chambers; wanting to spend some time alone with the books she got from her tutoring this morning.
[#000080 “What of you Rebecca were you getting jealous?”] He asks softly holding her close after twirling her. [#460082 “Well truthfully it is a bit unfair that Mariana got invited to what I can only assume the kings quarters, but I’m more interested in seeing what you’ll do to make up for such unfairness.”] She says with a smile and a playful tone. [#000080 “Well what interests you Rebecca? What shall we do?”] He says looking into her warm brown eyes. [#460082 “Let me see… I do love a good fight and to test my wits against strategists.”] [#000080 “Ah yes, how could I forget? You’re always the first to volunteer for a sparring match…looks like I have some competition.”] Michael says with a smirk. [#460082 “Competition? You do remember what happened last time right?”] Her words cut at Michael. [#460082 “I remember three bruised ribs on someone and the only thing that happened to me was my shield was knocked from my hands.”] She says reminding the king of the match.
Michael smiles and twirls Rebecca. [#000080 “I mean you no offense, but I was pulling my punches my lady,”] He says staring deeply into her eyes with a serious intensity. [#460082 “Well then, I would gladly enjoy a real match then”] She says confidently as she grips his hands firmly in a show of strength. Michael smiles [#000080 “It seems as if I have stroked your fire Rebecca, and I look forward to scheduling our rematch soon.”] The music stops as Michael bows and Rebecca curtsies in kind. [#460082 “Thank you for the wonderful dance your grace.”] Rebecca says with a smile. [#000080 “Thank you for the wonderful company my lady Rebecca, I will have Joffrey come to you later on to schedule our rematch.”] [#460082 “I look forward to it Michael.”]
As Michael and Rebecca finish their dance the girls sit down at their tables. Michael smiles and looks around the room before approaching Amberly. [#000080 “My lady Foster, may I have this dance?”] He asks, bowing slightly in front of her but keeping his eyes locked on her vivid green. [#228b22 “Yes…oh yes I would very much like that your grace.”] She states, originally overtly excited before managing to calm herself down and regain her composer, before standing and taking his out stretched hand. As Amberly and Michael reach the floor, Michael twirls her around while she involuntarily releases a girlish giggle.
The orchestra begins playing another beautiful song, this time softer and slower than before with far more emphasis on the violin. Amberly sighs and rests her head on Michael’s chest, not bothered by the sudden intimacy created in this action. [#228b22 “This is my mother’s favorite song…she loves to play it on the violin.”] She says soft enough that only Michael could hear. Michael holds her softly against him and whispers [#000080 “She’s a very talented woman, playing this song is no easy feat.”]
[#228b22 “My mother would be happy to know you speak so highly of her.”] Michael smiles and runs his hand through Amberly’s hair, clearly having a soft spot for her already. [#000080 “What about you Amberly what do you enjoy doing? What do you like, dislike? Tell me about yourself.”] [#228b22 “Well I greatly enjoy horseback riding.”] Michael smirks, [#000080 “What is your favorite breed of horse?”] [#228b22 “The Cresal Draft is my favorite breed.”] Michael pulls away and looks down at her shocked by her response. [#000080 “The Cresal Draft is for moving heavy objects, and you ride them for pure enjoyment?”] [#228b22 “We unfortunately don’t have enough money to own horses just for personal enjoyment, so I tend to take the older horses we have and I ride on them when they are too weak to pull things. They are such gentle and loyal creatures when you treat them well.”] She says as she lays her head back on Michael’s chest, chuckling at his bewilderment. They dance for the remainder of the song in silence, merely enjoying the sensation of being in each other’s arms. Michael makes a mental note for getting Amberly her own horse as her first gift; he plans to tell Joffrey about it once the event is over. As the music stops Amberly curtsies as Michael bows, not a word was spoken but their eyes speak for them, until Michael has to look away and finds Jocelynn.
He notices Jocelynn sipping on tea and taking abnormally small bites out of her sandwich as if she’s had too much eat. Michael can’t help but wonder why she is eating like that, could it be that she ate prior to coming to the event or if it’s simply a learned habit. It oddly enough reminds him of his mother, but even with her, he couldn’t understand eating like that. He approaches her table, and once again bows before her, keeping his eyes locked with her olive green eyes [#000080 “Jocelynn may I have this dance?”] he says as he extends his hand out to her. She takes his hand while standing gracefully [#f08080 “Of course”] she says as they walk to the dance floor, she curtsies before the music starts to play. Michael immediately recognizes the song and knows that it’s one that is mainly played during royal banquettes. He takes Jocelynn’s hands and notices that she is waiting for him to lead. Instead of sticking with the traditional dance Michael decides to change things up to see just how graceful she truly is. [#000080 “I am terribly sorry for this my lady”] he chuckles, looking down at her with a mischievous smile. [#f08080 “And why might that be?”] she asks, her tone filled with curiosity and a hint of concern.
Rather than giving an actual response, Michael begins to lead her into a completely different dance than the one traditionally meant for this song. [#000080 “How have the Queenstrials been to you thus far?”] he couldn’t help but to be impressed at how quickly she picks up the commoner dance he’s lead her into. [#f08080 “It has been better to me than others; it has honestly been rather exciting.”] [#000080 “Exciting you say?”] He chuckles, curious as to how she could possibly be excited to part of such an antiquated event. [#f08080 “Well, I have had a chance to learn so much from the other young women who were apart of the first portion of this competition. It’s also provided me an opportunity to spend some actual alone time with you, something beyond the required social interactions of the King and a Lady of the court.”] She says, not seeming to notice or at the very least be phases by Michael’s reaction. [#000080 “Fair enough, I also look forward to us spending some proper alone time together. What would you like to do in this alone time?”] He asks, mimicking her polite tone.
Jocelynn would take a moment, with a very thoughtful look on her face before actually responding [#f08080 “Well, I am rather interested in the garden you spoke so highly of, perhaps we could start with a private tour of the castle grounds. I think it would be interesting to see what all the heart of Cresal has to offer.”] She has a slightly sneaky smile on her face as she finishes her proposal. [#000080 “The heart of Cresal, what do you mean by that my lady?”] He asks, keeping his face and tone even. [#f08080 “The castle, obviously, it is of course the home of the King, and in the center of Cresal itself, making it the bright and powerful heart of the kingdom. I must admit though, I certainly wouldn’t mind a chance to take a peek at your personal library. It’s rumored to contain secrets of the world of old, from a time before our glorious home. Unless of course you thought I meant your heart in that of an object to be obtained?”] She asks, clearly concerned at such suggestion.
Michael couldn’t help but laugh at her response [#000080 “My sweet Jocelynn, I was not talking of my heart, just curious what it was you wanted to see. But of course, we can make plans for a trip to my wing for you to view my personal library and between you and me there are in fact books of the old world in my library. They are delicate and quite old, they are typically kept in sealed boxes, but I think I could arrange for you to look at one or two.”] He winks at her and gives her a very charming smile. This causes the first crack in her perfectly crafted mask, as she blushes brightly and goes wide eyed at the thought. [#f08080 “Truly? I could touch one? That would be amazing beyond words Michael.”] She says as the music comes to a stop. She seems to have been lost in the moment and surprised at the end of the song, fumbling a bit to curtsy before him. He would merely smile and bow in response, glad to see even a glimpse beyond her ingrained grace.
Hearing the tenderness in his voice, Mariana forces herself to remember the amount of witches he’s killed to stop herself from feeling bad for him. She suddenly realizes how close she is to him and quickly moves to the window seat, putting as much space as she can between them. She stares outside, hoping that the sight of flowers will steady her a bit.
Even with the flowers working their own magic, Mariana can’t help but crack a joke at the king’s expense. [#DAA520 “That’s a lot more ordinary than I expected. I don’t know why but I always figured that your mother [i was some great and perfect person who was always put on show but at home, kept in some kind of gilded cage. Whereas your father was this larger than life man who never had time for anything but ruling the country, leaving you and your brother to be raised the highest paid nannies in the world and taught by the best in each field.”]] Mariana even puts on her most ridiculous and snobbish voice to play it off as if it’s nothing but a harmless joke.
However, her comment is met with nothing but silence, which eventually causes Mariana to turn around. She is surprised at how similar the confused look on the King’s face is to that of a curious puppy. [#DAA520 “That was a joke, mostly. I know we aren’t supposed to talk about your family, and joking about the dead is in poor taste.”] She quickly adds, feeling the need to explain herself. [#000080 “It’s perfectly fine, no one has ever really joked with me about my family, but now that I know that’s how you joke, you may do so more freely.”] He says walking over to the bench and sitting beside her.
As he looks around the room, Mariana looks back out the window, wishing she could be outside or literally anywhere else in that moment. Yet as the silence stretches on, Mariana finds herself needing the fill it. [#DAA520 “so how was your day?”] [#000080 “It’s been pleasant, but certainly going slower than usual. Do you like the studio?”] He asks, looking back to Mariana. [#DAA520 “It’s incredible, it’s larger than my entire home, but amazing all the same. The fact that you are able to capture the world in such a beautiful way is really impressive.”] She admits honestly, while also mentally counting how many witches killed in this year alone.
The King simply nods [#000080 “We should probably return to the ballroom”] He says with a sigh as he stands and holds his hand out to Mariana. [#000080 “Shall we?”] Begrudgingly Mariana takes his hand and stands [#DAA520 “Sure might as well.”] Even though Mariana wants nothing more than to drop the king’s hand, she doesn’t. As the rushing of magic flows through Mariana, she has to bite the inside of her cheek hard enough that she tastes the copper of her blood causing the rush of magic to dull to a manageable sensation.
It’s always hard to touch something that is cursed for very long, yet Mariana has to endure his touch for the next several minutes. [#000080 “So what is your family like Mariana?”] Even if it is personal, Mariana welcomes any distraction possible. [#DAA520 “Well I don’t know anything about my father, mom never talks about him, but my mom is awesome. She’s the village medicine woman.”] The memory of her mother’s violet eyes works its own kind of healing magic, even from this vast of a distance. [#000080 “Your district doesn’t have doctors?”] The King seems a bit confused. [#DAA520 “I imagine our district has many doctors, my village only has the one though, and he charges money for his services. Only a few of our people have any kind of steady income though, so those who can’t afford his medicine come to my mom and I for more easily obtained healing.”] She smiles a bit bigger at the flashes of memory of kinds coming into their hut to have their bumps and bruises healed and the look of pure amazement at the magic used to heal them.
[#000080 “Ah, so you help your mother with the medicine and the facility?”] He asks, clearly so removed from what her reality looks like that. Facility? Her home hardly has enough room for the both of them to sleep, and the most Mariana can do is enhance the herbs used in healing poultices. [#DAA520 “I guess you could say that.”] Mariana says, clearly confused what kind of like he thinks she lives.
Obviously oblivious, the King abruptly changes the subject [#000080 “I noticed that the painting of the stag caught your eye. If you’d like… you could have it.”] He says smiling down at her. Very bewildered by the abrupt change of subject, Mariana blurts out [#DAA520 “What?”] before taking a deep breath and composing herself [#DAA520 “Very random, but I guess so. I mean it’s a beautiful painting and I do really like it, plus it would be ruse to say no.”] As Mariana stares up at the King she notices that his eyes have taken on a very glossy look, as if he isn’t truly there in this moment. [#000080 “Very well, it shall be yours. I shall have Joffrey hang it in your room before night comes.”] He says as they finally reach the ballroom. He finally lets go of her hand and turns towards her again. [#000080 “I had a wonderful time with you Mariana.”]
As the King reaches for the door, Mariana realizes that this might be her last chance [#DAA520 “Wait, Michael.”] She says his name, hoping it’ll soften him up a bit. [#DAA520 “Let’s be honest, I’m not Queen material, I don’t belong here like the other girls do. It’s obvious that I’m not going to be the one you choose so rather than pretending that this is going somewhere it’s not, let’s make this a beneficial relationship. You can talk to me about the other girls, get any kind of advice or tips I may be able to provide, and you keep me here long enough that I could afford to help those in my village as much as possible. I could act as your confidant of sorts, what do you think?”] She says, knowing that inserting herself as his trusted advisor during this competition gives her the best chance she’ll ever get in changing his mind and saving future witches.
The startling handsome look he gets when he laughs catches Mariana off guard, but when his icy blue eyes pour into hers it’s hard to put it back up. [#000080 “That would be nice, I’m sure I’ve talked Joffrey’s ear off 20 times over by now. So, shall we join the others?”] He says, lowering his voice into a playful whisper. Still unable to compose herself under the gaze of his wolfish grin, Mariana simply nods.
Inside the great hall, the orchestra is playing such a wonderful melody, that it would seem insulting if the other four girls weren’t dancing to it. The other contestants gracefully sway across the floor in perfect time with their ceremonially dressed partners, dancing something Mariana has never even seen before. It seems that the camera crew is taking filler shots while the King was absent. Now that they are back, Mariana is quickly paired off with the guard that Rebecca was dancing with, and the King sweeps Rebecca off in an elegant swirl of girlish giggles.
[#4b0082 “You were gone for quite some time Michael; I dare say some of the girls are already jealous of all the attention Mariana is getting.”] Rebecca says, picking up the very flourishing dance with complete ease.
Mariana is trying very hard to learn the steps quickly, but her gaze finds itself to their feet far more than it should, and as the guard eventually winces as the heel of her shoe steps onto his toes. [#DAA520 “I’m so sorry, I don’t know how to do this dance.”] She admits, cringing at his pain. [#BC8F8F “It’s perfectly fine, the first time I tried to do this dance; I actually ended up breaking my partner’s big toe. Since then, the rest of the Grimstone calls me lefty now.”] The guard admits, giving such a joyous smile that it’s infectious. Between his dimpled cheeks and his deep brown eyes with the slightest golden flakes around his pupil, Mariana can’t help that her guard is down and she is genuinely laughing along with him.
[#DAA520 “Well, I think I’d prefer to be called Lefty over Pug. When I was a kind, I got into this fight with some other kid in my village, and I ended up breaking my nose. So for a good 6 or 7 months I had that weird bandage of my face that apparently made me look like a dog.”] She says laughing a bit at the memory itself.
The guard shares in her laughter before twirling Mariana so delicately it’s as if he’s turned her into a feather sweeping across the floor. [#BC8F8F “Well, I’d have to say, you’ve come a far way from looking like a dog.”] He says as the dance is finally comes to an end. Mariana can’t help but blush a bit, especially when he bows to kiss her hand. [#BC8F8F “Until we meet again”] he says as he straightens up. Mariana clears her throat and nods before walking over to her table, grateful for the first moment of being alone since this whole competition began, even if it is surrounded by people and cameras.
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