Nicolai’s words did cause Augustine to at least try and think of the other side of things. And while it was true that many Astorian’s had come to that place, truth be told they were not the only ones. Once that small fishing town became a hub for trade, the boost in economy drew the native people in as well. If Astoria left the port, that boon would be lost and all those people would be left without jobs, not to mention forced to relocate once again. This was a two way street no matter how he looked at it. It was just unfortunate that the other country’s leader would not do anything to help the situation.
But he kept quiet with all this, it did not seem to be where the elf wanted to linger. And he was right to think so, as the topic shifted into something else, into thoughts of returning to their homeland. [+coral “No, thank you.] Augustine put little thought behind the rejection, he did not have to. [+coral “I have no reason to trust you. You already betrayed us once, and at what was probably the moment when we needed you the most.... If you could not hold of to your loyalties then, I doubt you will now.] There was something about that unusually wide smile that he did not trust either. But that would not be the continued reasoning he shared. [+coral “And, from what Augustus said, Mutti was furious to see you... That is not a dynamic I want to deal with on our trip south. It was bad enough the first time.”] He sighed just remembering it.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Closing his eyes as the once innocent boy berated him Nicolai took several deep breaths as he relaxed himself. It was difficult on the body to be tied up like this, though a dull throbbing had come to his skull since Florence had struck him. Yet now he was forced to play mental gymnastics with the youth before him. In a way he was proud that Augustine had such mental strength to keep his voice level and calm. On the other hand he sounded brainwashed and it took a little effort for the elf not to accuse him of such.
[+royalblue “Augustine,”] he lifted his head, eyes opening and meeting those of his opposite,[+royalblue “you sound a little like me back at the pass, focusing on the wrong point.”] His volume had decreased as he saw the boy he once knew in those grassy eyes. Like when he had looked into his mother’s mesmerising gaze he was quiet for a few seconds.[+royalblue “This is not about attacking civilians trying to live their lives. You are seeing it from only the Astorian viewpoint, secluded in this castle and on this island. And you, like me, came upon it many years after this all began.”] They could perhaps go back and forth for hours on this issue, as he had argued with many in his group back on the mainland on the very subject.
Nicolai had not easily given his experience to those rebellious forces, they had convinced him of their argument, that they were being forced from their homes and the town they had called home for many generations. Astorians moved into their homes, put up walls, brought soldiers across to keep their own safe whilst other Malidek citizens were left to fend for themselves – at least in the early days. The attacks on Vollenberg itself had stopped with Nicolai taking over, focusing their attacks on the soldiers instead. And yet not one Astorian citizen had been killed by his group in that time, only soldiers. But would the boy care if he mentioned all this? Likely not, and so he merely went quiet for a little time, letting their silence linger for a few seconds.
[+royalblue “Look, the war is what it is. Your uncle may have noble intentions but so did your mother and I and look where that got us with Wistina.”] His head shook at the thought of his homeland. It was not something he much liked to recall as often he only saw the moment Timothy was killed, Gerald thought dead and the like.[+royalblue “But forget all of that, all of this."] The shackles rattled though he paused from the discomfort in his wrists and shoulders.[+royalblue "Look, now that I am here we can go back. Me and you, we can take my group down to Wistina and take it all back. We can get our home back Augustine.”] His tone had shifted to more optimistic and warm and a large smile spread over his face.
It was almost insulting to be told to calm down by a man who had thrown such a tantrum as this. He was off leading a movement that pointed its sword directly at Astoria and Augustine could not see much of a reason for that other than to spite his mother. He glared at the man. Even as Nicolai stood to his full height, Augustine's green eyes shone in the face of opposition. He did not back down in the slightest. Though, he did nearly laugh in the man’s face as he compared Eugene to Vincent. [+coral “Really, my uncle? The one who has spent the last year trying to convince everyone else that they need to pull out of Malidek? I am afraid you have misread the situation.”] Anyone who had met the man would have known at least that much. And that was from a place of clarity. If there was any such nonsense going on, his uncle was not the root of it.
He found it odd that the violet eyed man would try to call back to those times when he was still his tutor. There was little that he taught the boy that had not been reinforced here in Astoria under the guidance of his friends and family. Augustine sighed. [+coral “And even if there is some conspiracy,”] and he still was not convinced that there was. [+coral “Do you really believe that was the best way to handle the situation?”] Nicolai buckled before him, but Augustine kept his posture. [+coral “The way we parted may not have been in the most pleasant of circumstances, but if you came forth with such serious concerns there was a chance that someone would have listened. That I, at least, would have considered it. But no, you decided to play vigilante and stir up violence against innocent Astorian citizens who are just trying to live their lives at merchants.”] They had no military forces in Malidek until that vehemence started to worsen, which so happened to coincide with the appearance of the masked man.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The hit had been.. most impressive really. She did not hold back, did not use an open palm or hit him upside his head. No she had chosen the bruised cheek to hit with enough force to leave his head swimming and small black dots popped in his vision as he looked to the ground, blinking repeatedly so that he might see better. Her swearing was in parts comforting and not so. She had not killed him at least, but when she stormed from the room he had pulled against his bindings, wishing to follow after. It was the only time he had tried to move forward but he quickly relented and returned to his kneeling position as the guard from earlier resumed his spot in the room watching him.
Nicolai had known the revelation would not go smoothly. In a fantasy world of his own, after being hit of course, Florence would have knelt and embraced him, glad that he was alive. It may have been seven years later but he was still often living in this fantastical world of his own. For the elven man, it had become his coping mechanism against the hardships life had thrown at him in the intervening years since the pass. He only hoped she would return in time.
When the door had flung open, aside from having Augustus look in to merely confirm he was not a half-orc named Ulrich, it was Augustine who sent away the guard and took his mothers place in the room. He took a little time to inspect the mask, formulating his own argument rather than rush at the man. But it seemed he had his mothers fire.
[+royalblue “Oh come off it Augustine, you are not a boy ruled by his feelings so firstly calm yourself down.”] His tone hardened with the young man before, more so than it had ever been with Florence. His eyes met the green of his opposite and despite his desire to greet the fair haired child, he had to take this as it was and deal with it. With a grunt of effort he sat up a little more before rising up to his full height. He was tired and hungry, but he could still hold himself up and look down on the boy – he was not yet taller.
In truth he did not know how to approach any of them. He was dealing with them based on how they had been last he saw them. He could not hope to know how they had changed.[+royalblue “This is not a story built on revenge, although I would be lying to say I am not glad I gutted that bastard, but for reasons you do not need to know.”] He held something back as his violet eyes looked down at the other man.[+royalblue “Replace Malidek with Wistina and your uncle with Vincent, because that is what we are dealing with at its simplest form. Under the guise of instilling order, peace and civility, he has taken control of that which is not his. With lies and deceit he has taken a land from its rightful people.”] He leaned back flush to the wall, watching this bright boy he had once known stare back as if he was a fool of the highest regard.[+royalblue “Use the lessons I gave you to think about this sensibly.”] His head dropped a moment, struggling now as again he came down off his adrenaline high.
There was barely time for the man to speak before she punched him right on his pronounced cheekbone. It felt good, in a cathartic way, and doubly so knowing he was already bruised from his fight with Adrian. Honestly, she knew something was entirely too familiar about that banter, but she did not want to believe he would do something like this. That Nicolai, someone she had at one point considered a friend, would go such lengths for revenge over something that was so very, very petty. Letting out a growl of frustration, it was followed by a long string of swearing, some aimed at the elf, others more general. It continued even as she left the room and continued down the hall. Florence needed some time to process this.
By the time she made it up the stairs where Augustus was still waiting for her, the woman was still muttering under her breath. [+mediumseagreen "Good news, that!"] she motioned to the door she had come from. [+mediumseagreen "Is not Ulrich... No, he is much more insufferable by far."] That was all the information she gave him before continuing to storm off and to her room. No doubt her friend would go down and have a look to see what had happened, though that wouldn't really help as he had never met Nicolai. It was not until he described the elf to Augustine that he gave them a bit of an answer.
But after that, the young man was determined to see the one time general himself. He charged down into the depths of the dungeon where he had his confirmation. That in and of itself was a fairly heavy blow. After all this time, he still idolized the man to a certain extent. If not for his actions, for the idea of what he stood for when Augustine was still a boy.
Much like his mother, his anger flared, but he had the sense to keep his hands to himself. [+coral "What in the hell do you think you are doing?"] It was strange to be looking down at the dark haired man. By this time, the blond was just the tiniest bit taller than his mother, so with Nicolai knelt to the ground it was a considerable gap. [+coral "All this fit over a rejection? What are you, twelve?"] He could scarcely believe it. In fact, he wanted to believe that there was more to it than that, but nothing within his memory served to fill the space of a motive other than that.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat He had thought it a valid request to know why she had not killed him if she hated him so much. And yet she seemed to take umbrage with his question as if he had spat venom at her and cursed her for being too weak to kill him. Considering how things were, with him at her mercy, his questions were all that he had and so a huff came from his lips when she gave her answer. Loyalty and indecisiveness were all that stayed her hand. He had expected another answer.
Seeing her step forward, a very small and tentative step forward, he watched her closely as she demanded the means of removing the helmet from him. If he had had the dexterity, the energy, the resolve to fight back, he could have found a way of disarming her. She was fearful of him but like Augustus before her, had neglected to take note his feet were free to move. It was an odd oversight for two meticulous persons to miss but it matter not; he was tired, he had no desire to struggle, he was ready to remove the helmet as the air was becoming rather sweltering.
[+forestgreen “Twist the right ear clockwise, the left ear counter clockwise and lift toward yourself.”] He looked up at her as she approached closer, step by step, a shuffle more than any meaningful movement. His hands hand unclenched, light palms open to her as she eyed him with suspicion still.[+forestgreen “Truly.. it is that simple.”] Augustus and others had spun the ears atop the helmet in patterns, even and odd numbered times, one at a time and both together. But not in the manner he had told Florence.
Lowering his head to her, so that she could grasp the protrusions more easily, he did not struggle. No surprise attack, no lunge, nothing. She would turn the ears as instructed and there was a click as the part of the helmet that held it together and in place was unlocked. Lifting the large mask to herself she would find it lighter than expected. It was a helmet after all, to give it too much weight would injure his neck. But despite its lighter weight, it still had a mass to it.
As she brought it away she would note the lightening of the skin about the neck, moving away from the green of his hands and to a more ocre colour. The hair beneath was black, though a little longer than she remembered and cut into a decorative undercut down the left hand side showing the rather vivid three lines through his scalp. As she eased the mask further away, more details came into view. Pointed ears swept down a strong and muscular jawline. Prominent cheekbones were bruised a deep purple – likely from the impact of Adrians shield – yet the colour was not as intense or striking as the glowing violet eyes that turned up to gaze on Florence the moment the mask was dropped to the side, discarded. A faint but gentle smile pulled at the corners of the lips of the former General of Wistina, as he looked up into those vivid green eyes he knew oh so well, and spoke in that rich Wistinian accent;
[+royalblue “Long time no see Florence..”]
She raised a brow at him. It seemed he might oblige her, though once again he was making a dance of it. What a selfish creature. [+mediumseagreen "You are a fool to think that I've not considered it."] Taking his life like this might not have been so difficult here like this, and she was sure she could pass it off as an act of defense when she returned to the others. Rough herself up to make it a little more believable. There was a chance that Augustus might see through it, but she doubted the others would. That was enough to stop her for now.
[+mediumseagreen "Two reasons, really. The first being that there are those I do not wish to disappoint."] A somewhat sentimental explanation, but true. [+mediumseagreen "And the other, that I am not one to leap before I look. Until I see your face, I will not be entirely convinced of your identity."] There were still things that did not entirely add up. Florence was not going to behead him unless she was absolutely sure, and quite frankly, she was having her doubts.
With that out of the way, she took her first step forward and prayed that it wasn't a mistake. [+mediumseagreen "Now tell me how to take this damn thing off."]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat She cut so deeply with such a barb at him, but he had found it quite humorous and a small chuckle shook the mask and his chest. He breathing took a little time to regulate once more as he looked at her, nodding for her to make her request. There was some curiosity on his part at what she would want. Their talk had been quite amicable and polite – to an extent – yet now the questions had stopped and she wanted something from him.
He should have guessed she wanted the helmet removed.[+forestgreen “Ah, you wish to look upon me with those vivid green eyes do you?”] He moved his hands as she suggested he could do so himself, but it was self evident – his hands were not going anywhere. They were tied to the wall as if he were crucified, and he only shook his head at her.[+forestgreen “I'm willing to oblige your request Florence. You will have to do the honours of course, as I cannot do so myself. However-”] His form shifted a little, moving his legs so that he may kneel a little easier, a little taller, his head now perhaps above her hip where before it had been near to her knee.
[+forestgreen “Before I tell you how to remove the helmet, you will tell me this; why am I still alive and why do you wish to see me? Considering how you ran off all those years ago to get away from me and considering the hatred and disgust I see in your eyes; why?”] He was quick to follow up his rather serious question however.[+forestgreen “I would prefer you give me your honest truth. I don't wish to hear the pliant 'it is not my decision' or some such nonsense. You have a knife. I am unable to defend myself. So… why not?”] He was truly curious about this. If she loathed him as such then why not walk in, slit his throat and be done. Peculiar.
When he mentioned a history, Florence thought there might have been something more to it, but the conversation immediately led to the time at the pass and she let the idea slip away from her mind entirely. If such a small thing could cause him to fixate on revenge, no wonder he was so determined to see she suffer. At least, she thought that was the case. For the time being, the atmosphere was different. The calculating woman did not think he was here to exact that comeuppance just yet.
Somehow, the idea that he had a want to see her, or felt bonded to her in any way, was disgusting. She felt no such longing in any sense of the word. If he could have just faded away it would have been just as well to her. Her qualms were with those who currently held the power in Wistina. Though, truthfully, this obsession of his was more than a little unnerving. Still, she steeled her nerves and pressed forward. [+mediumseagreen "I cannot say that I did. I have been far too busy to worry about the little things."] She spoke to belittle him, though that was probably not the wisest idea in the world.
[+mediumseagreen "Now, I would say that counts as an answered question for you. It is my turn to make a request again."] It was a not so subtle attempt to get this conversation back on track. [+mediumseagreen "You should have enough range of motion even with the chains. I want you to take that mask off."] There was still a plethora of information she needed to try and get out of him, but before that she still felt the need to confirm that she was speaking with the man she thought she was.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The shackles rattle a little as the prisoner adjusted himself, the discomfort in his limbs growing more painful as the shock of Augustus' assault began to subside and nerves began to spark anew. She may be right that her brother was a better leader in a political sense. But anyone who ruled by the love of the people, surely died by the same parameter. To rule was to lead, not to be friends with your subjects. But he suspected Florence knew this and simply did not wish to let the barb at her sibling pass by without retort.
He was a man of his word and as she finished informing him that Adrian was alive, for now, he nodded his head.[+forestgreen “Hanging of for life, how ironic given the circumstances and our history.”] He replied to her in a partially melancholic manner, the hands turning so as to highlight the shackles one more, but also reflected her cheekiness. This after all was a game between witty individuals.
[+forestgreen “In truth my goal changed the day I saw him on those battlements at Vollenberg. It changed from a fight for liberation to a chance at revenge. To get back at a man who got in the way of my plans those many years ago.”] It was evident he still remembered the pass and what transpired. The memory had not waned even a little.[+forestgreen “I wanted him dead so much that I was captured.”] By his inflection on the last word he was implying that his detaining was not born of their luck or their skill. He had allowed himself to be captured and he took a deep cleansing breath as he rolled his head, the weight of the helmet growing heavy but he would not complain.
[+forestgreen “Aside from his demise however I suppose a longing to see you played a part too.”] Through one amber eye he noticed a faltering in her smug smile, something she not keep up forever.[+forestgreen “Do not look so surprised! You were a part of my life for so long, it became rather odd not to have you still in it. For all our faults Florence, I always felt we had a certain.. connection.”] He could have been toying with her, as he had most this conversation, but Florence would sense there was some kind of truth to what he said. How far that stretched was up to her to dictate.
[+forestgreen “How about you, did you miss me terribly? Did you lay awake at night just mourning for me, praying I would sweep back into your life, save you from that crimson eyed twit like you always hoped?”] Again his tone tittered between humour, amateur dramatics, and a pinch of truth. It could have just been the mask, obscuring his voice enough to skew his words meanings.
She listened as he dismissed Eugene. It might have been true that she the driving force that got him where he was, but that did not automatically translate to her being good leader, at least not in a time of peace. She had the talent to rally others in times of crisis, or battle, but he could do that and more. He had a gift of words that united people no matter the circumstance. [+mediumseagreen "He may be painfully optimistic, but my brother is ten times the ruler I would have ever been. He cares about people... That is not a quality we share."] It was equal parts gibe at herself and threat. There were things in this world that she would sell out this entire island for, things she would kill for, but Eugene was different. He had a set of morals that would keep him on track.
Florence wondered if this whole exchange was going to be give and take like this. He gets something, she gets something. If it continued, the woman was sure it wouldn't be long until his requests became unwieldy. Still, to try and taunt her with such a simple question seemed childish. [+mediumseagreen "He is hanging on to life for now."] She shrugged. [+mediumseagreen "Whether he will live or die is yet to be seen, which has no striking resemblance from your own situation, I am sure."] She smirked at him, as if to say it did not bother her either way. That, of course, was not true, but after all those years faking a smile for others, she was pretty good at it. [+mediumseagreen "I believe it is your turn."]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat He enjoyed her playing along to his mock scenario. In another light, perhaps he could have seen her as an Empress to unite the continent. She was strong of will and fortitude and had shown the lengths she would go to to survive – even so far as to feign a royal pregnancy and pass the child off as a King’s. She was hardy, not even he would deny her that.
Listening to her further, enjoying the back and forth, he merely watched her as she denounced his reason for fighting as lies. He was here for something else and whilst his motive had morphed over time to such a position, he was rather honest with his initial goal. Many in Malidek did not like how Astorians were moving into the once humble fishing port. And those who disliked change were quite prone to fighting back against whatever it was that forced said change. He had just turned up at an opportune time to lead them, guide them, and mould them into a true fighting force.
Watching her quietly, savouring her question, he nodded slowly after a time.[+forestgreen “Frankly I’ve never given much credit or thought to your brother. A humble but foolish man who relies of his sister and an cripple to run his Kingdom. If I were indeed here only due to my allegiance to the people of Malidek, I still would not go to him. I would still seek you out; the brains behind it all.”] He was a flatterer but he reflected the view of many on the mainland. Right or wrong, the consensus was that Florence was the guiding hand behind the puppet King Eugene.[+forestgreen “As for what I really want, first I must ask a question to your question; how is Adrian?”] Again the head tilted, this time in mockery as the tone shifted to a taunting one.
He was clearly provoking her, just as Augustus had warned. Florence knew he wasn't stupid enough to think that was what she meant. And to try to point it out or even argue over it was not worth her time. Instead she would play along. [+mediumseagreen "Ah, Empress, that does not sound half bad. I may have turned down my first shot at being Queen and forsaken the second, but Empress is a title even someone like myself would not sneeze at."] The whole thing was deadpan as can be.
After all that, his words came to nothing more than what she suspected he had been feeding the people in Malidek to get them on his side. Who knew, maybe that was what he actually believed himself to be doing, but she was too skeptical to believe it. [+mediumseagreen "If you consider taking station in a port to ease trade 'tyrannical expansion', then I would implore you to get to know the world a little better. If that is the case then nearly every country on this continent is continuously encroaching on the rights of the others..."] She stood tall as she looked down on him, perfectly in place and keeping careful not to display too much emotion on her features. That would only give him something else to try and prey on. [+mediumseagreen "No, that is not your motive. If it were, you would have called to see my brother, the one in power, as you so helpfully pointed out yourself. There would be little point in speaking to me, one with little to no title left to her name."] Even if she pointed that out, and used his own words no less, there was no telling if she was actually going to make any progress here, but she would try. [+mediumseagreen "So... what is it that you really want?"]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her prisoner was indeed pinned in place, pathetic and pitiful and more. He did not make a dart for her or try to break his chains as if he was strong enough to do so. No this man had a greater intelligence than to do something so feeble and simpleminded. Instead he seemed content to watch her closely, the snout of the mask dipping and rising as he inspected her entirely. This was a battle of wits yes, but her physical condition also interested him. Aside from her retaining a curving figure, she looked trimmer and svelte than last he saw her. It was commendable that she had kept this lavish and simple life from ruining her physique.
At her question however, his head tilted to the side like a true canine, a little confused by her words.[+forestgreen “My apologies, perhaps it is the blow I took to the head from that red-eyed loaf, or the several strikes from the one armed bandit, but are you referring to the people of Malidek and Vollenberg as your own?”] A chuckle erupted from the mask, chest reverberating with the humour. This continued for a little time, head bobbing along as each time he attempted to stop he could only fall back to laughter. After the third try, he calmed enough to speak.
[+forestgreen “Again, I apologise profusely, but it is quite funny that you think yourself a ruler even here, when you are a Queen no-where. First you lied in Wistina. Now you pretend to have power here in Astoria when your brother is the one who leads. And you go one step further to claim Malidek's people as your own. What next? Empress of Esteroak?”] He stifled any further laughs though it was a concerted effort to do so.
It was only a fit of coughing that stopped him going any further, body left trembling as his torso spasmed. Augustus had truly done a number on him. When he regained his breath, lifting his head to draw a shuddering breath, he settled back into his restraints against the wall.[+forestgreen “To answer you, I do not terrorise the people of Malidek rather I fight for them, with them, against Astoria’s tyrannical expansion. Is it not so simple to see?”] He had calmed now, looking up at her calmly - or as much as the mask showed his calmness.
[+mediumseagreen "I have dealt with worse..."] They both had, but she took the knife from his squeezing hands all the same. [+mediumseagreen "...do not worry too much."] While she heard his warning, she chose to make no comment back. She knew how dangerous he could be, better than anyone else, she knew it. After all, sabotaging guards was one thing, but taking part in a full blown coup was another entirely. Still, she saw his concern and nodded back. [+mediumseagreen "I will return."] Confident, she let that be the last thing she said before headed down below.
Florence took in every detail of the room as she entered where the man was shackled. Over all, it was unpleasant. She found it fitting. Once she was content with that, her eyes stayed on the masked figure. It was immensely difficult to read him with his face covered so. Nothing could be discerned by body language either, not with how he was forced back to the wall. It was almost pathetic, though she kept her guard high despite that, not allowing herself to come closer than twice what she estimated his reach to be.
He called out to her first. And while she was listening so carefully, that damn mask warped his voice so much she still couldn't get the answer to her most pertinent question. No doubt that was intended, just like everything else he'd done up till this point. [+mediumseagreen "I thought it likely we would reach stalemate if I did not."] That was only a fraction of the truth. [+mediumseagreen "So, what do you mean by terrorizing my people? I do not find it to be a very effective way of luring me out, though I suppose it got you here eventually."] Though she doubted it was in the way he intended.
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