Story Posts from The Royalty For A Week Thread

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Welcheren

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Daniel the Bard stopped. He crossed his arms and grinned. A different species of knowledge gleamed in that grin.
"Well now, this is a surprise indeed, Alchemist. Surely you jest?" His eyes suddenly narrowed as if suspecting that had was being made the butt of some joke. "You really have yet to grasp the connection between stone and song?" Then all suspicion suddenly swept away, and he continued. "You found the music under the Castle, did you not? Don't look so surpised. The origins of the music was instantly revealed to me when you had me enchant its container. Now. Under the Castle. Think on that. The veins of red stone web under the Castle. The music bubbles up under the Castle. The Queen knows how to cut the red stone, when even your former teacher did not. Have you reached the conclusion yet? Really? Both music and red stones are residues of the magic the Queen exudes when she holds regency over the realm. For precisely that reason, Alchemist, they are a safe source of magic. For precisely that reason, the stones are now affixed over you heart. Her mark if you will - etched in flesh. But we waste time. All these points are academic now with monsters roaming the lands. We need to find a new monarch. Closing the rifts and keeping worse creatures out of the Caslte depends on it."

"I have a word," Welcheren supplied, as the truth fell into place. "The name of a place where a new monarch might be sought. But we need to find the right person to venture there."

"The place?"

"Neau Bee Forym. Our first task to locate this place and then elect the person, or persons, who will venture there to search for the new monarch."
 

Ambrosia

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Thank you, Prince Daniel. It's just what I need...more sun. lol!


---------------------------------------------------

"Steward, take this missive to Prince Welcheren immediately."

"At once, your Majesty."

When the steward bowed and left her presence, Queen Ambrosia rose from the throne, shed the robes of office and had her handmaiden fold the robes and place them on the throne's cushion. While her handmaiden was so occupied, she placed the scepter and crown in the casket and locked it, knowing those accouterments of office would be safe inside. She was dressed for the long ride ahead of her. Leaving the running of the castle in Prince Welcheren's hands during her absence was an easy decision. As a ruler he was second to none and she would be back before he likely even realized what she had done. Probably will be back, she thought, biting her lip with a worried frown crinkling her brow. But a new heir to the throne must be found. And although her decision to approach the mages in their stronghold was dangerous, it was a necessary danger to take.

She grabbed her matching hooded leather cloak on her way out the door, her white leathers gleaming in the sunbeam outlining her in the doorway as she stepped outside. She was dressed in purest white, even her sword's hilt and the sheath that held it glowed. They would know who she was from a great distance and the council would be warned of her approach. It was a risk, but one she was willing to take for the sake of the Realm. If it were true that the rifts could only be closed by the rise of a new monarch, she was willing to sacrifice everything to cause it to happen. Even her life if need be. She strode to the stables at a pace that begged no argument, though the captain of the Queen's Guard met her at the door.

"Your Majesty, you are leaving."

A smirk appeared on her lips. "A fine deduction, Garman. Since I am almost to my horse, it would appear you are correct. You, however are delaying my progress. If you would be so kind?" Ambrosia motioned with her hand for the man to step aside. She was somewhat perplexed when he didn't move.

"You are not leaving without an escort, Your Majesty."

Ambrosia's eyebrows shot up. "You are dictating to me now, Garman? Do you think that is wise?"

"Perhaps not, Your Majesty. However, it is my job to keep you safe. I can not keep you safe if you refuse to take your guard with you and travel off into the Realm alone. I'm choosing to do my job, the sacred duty of which you charged me with when you took the throne. I have failed in the past to catch you before you snuck out alone. Today, I am here. And so is your guard."

Ten soldiers stepped out from the shadows of the stable, all dressed in white as the queen was, but none shining as brightly as her. She appeared to have an inner glow that no one around her could master. Every person within her guard held the reins to a white destrier, and Garman bowed, turned to the door of the stables and motioned his hand in a come hither movement. The same stable lad that had helped her the last time she had ridden out was leading both Garman's horse and hers. Handing the reins to the captain, the stable lad bowed to Ambrosia and then departed. Garman handed the reins of her horse to her, and moved his horse back to mount. He waited until Ambrosia mounted.

"I'm not going to forget this, Captain."

"I hope not, Your Majesty. I sincerely hope not."

Ambrosia kicked her steed into a gallop and was followed by her guard. She might have to endure their presence, but she didn't have to wait for them.

#

The bard and Prince Welcheren were descending the stairs from the upper levels of the castle when the servant approached the alchemist and handed him a scroll. "What's this?" he asked as the servant bowed.

"It is a message from the queen, your Highness."

Welcheren glanced over at Daniel, whose surprise couldn't be hidden. The servant bowed once more, then turned and left. Welcheren stared at the scroll, secured with the queen's seal, making no move to open it. "What do you think this is about?"

Bard Daniel laughed. "I don't suppose we will ever know if you don't open it and read it."

Hesitant, yet knowing he couldn't delay longer, the prince broke the seal with his fingernail.

Prince Welcheren,

The situation in the Realm, as you know, is dire. The opening of the rifts have complicated things. I can no longer sit on the throne and hope the heir apparent returns. I must go find a successor. Do not worry for me. I will return as soon as I am able. Until my return I am leaving the running of the Realm in your capable hands.

Please make sure I have a castle to return to.

Ambrosia, Queen of the Realm, Grand Duchess, Princess of the Realm

The alchemist's hand drooped, the message falling from his fingers. Prince Daniel swooped down and snatched it before the paper hit the floor. After reading it, he let out a long, low whistle.

"What do we do now?" he asked, still studying the document.

"What indeed," responded Prince Welcheren.
 

Welcheren

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"What indeed," responded Prince Welcheren. He ground his teeth. "She's going out again. Probably without her guard. Again." He slammed a fist into the wall before regaining a measure of mastery over himself. Looking down at his dust and mud splattered clothes, still flecked with inky smears and stains from his old tattoo-armour, he mused, "I'd rather be out there with her. As I am sure you would too Bard. Do you think I could ascend the throne dressed like this? I would set an amusing precedent at least."
 

Ambrosia

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Ambrosia's party rode throughout the night. The morning appeared as a gray apparition, wraiths of fog slipping between the trees and hiding the surrounding landscape from mortal eyes. Sounds were muted. Even the clomp of horse hooves was deadened by the pine needles and leaves on the path the queen and her entourage traveled. The queen shivered violently. The dampness was seeping into her clothes and the chill morning air bit her vulnerable skin. She pulled her cloak tighter around her and signaled a stop.

"What is it, Your Majesty?" Garmin asked, reining his horse in close to hers.

She glanced at his hand with a death grip on his sword hilt and shook her head. Then she examined his face, turned and looked at the guard around her. Everyone of the guard was pinch-faced, with their jaws tight. Everyone one of them had panic in their eyes. Only the two female Elven archers held their fear carefully in check and continued to scan the trees, though there was nothing to see except misty white. She could tell by their posture what their faces would not reveal--even her Elven kin were unnerved and close to bolting.

"We stop here, Captain," she said, turning to him once again. "We need to rest. The horses are exhausted."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

Garmin issued orders and everyone dismounted. A fire-pit area was cleared of debris, though Ambrosia knew it would be for naught. There would be no fire today. But it gave the soldiers something to do and keeping them occupied was good for fighting their fear, and for her plans. She had been aware from the second she set foot in the mage's territory. She could feel their eyes on her, watching her progress. She didn't know what they would do at her intrusion. But whatever it was, she didn't want it to happen to the people under her protection. This was close enough to the citadel. It was time to send her guard home for their own safety.

Ambrosia led her horse around the perimeter of the camp site, making sure everyone was within the circle she created with her footsteps. She caught Garmin looking at her with a frown on his face and starting to rise. She smiled then, one of her most charming smiles that disarmed those who saw it. She knew her beauty beguiled and set men off balance. She wouldn't normally use it in such a fashion, but this was a matter of life and death. She would not be responsible for harm befalling her loyal guard. Though she was sure there would be much wrath once Garmin found out what she had done. He looked at her in awe, then returned to his task.

She continued walking the perimeter, dropping a petal here, murmuring a word there. She caught her archers watching her and knew they knew what she was doing. She only had to shake her head once, watch the droop of their shoulders as they acquiesced to her command, to know that her kinswomen would obey her and stay silent. Three circuits she completed, then released the spell. She touched her horse's forehead to calm it as a brilliant light exploded within the entirety of the circle she had created. Once the light dissipated there was neither guard nor horse within. Ambrosia sighed.

"Forgive me, Garmin."

She turned toward the citadel and mounted. Kicking Thunder into action, she galloped toward the citadel on the path she couldn't see through the fog, but which she knew was there beneath her horse's hooves. The mages awaited her. She would not keep them waiting.
 

Welcheren

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Of course, I have other issues within the Harry Potter books, things that make it difficult to suspend my state of disbelief and fully engage in the story. Harry's mental health after being abused the way he was by his relatives being the main one. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the series. Just that there were inherent problems with it.

I would love to learn what those problems are.

Your assertions about Voldemort are stimulating, my Queen. I shall ponder them some more.



Prince Ted! What a treat to have you back among the Royal ranks.


Now for a small contribution to our Queen's sparkling addition:

Welcheren dithered on the dilemma of his garb for a few minutes more. The fripperies of court finery did not appeal to him in the least, and yet questions of dress was not what distressed him now. The Alchemist had never possessed the effortless aura of command, or the gift for attracting enduring affection as the Duchess did, even when the regency did not lift her to the rank of Queen. His brow knitted with the knowledge that his own standing in the court mattered little now. Duty was duty. The Queen's attributes, as he had just enumerated them, did not brook delay. Brushing at the mud on his sleeves, his knucles slapped against his hilt, slamming the obvious solution into his mind like a bucket of water.

"I have been overlooking the most vital task, Daniel. If we cannot follow our Queen to whatever peril she has set her mind on facing, then we can at least secure the lands she left in our stewardship. And doing that might be challenge enough."

"We?" Daniel joked. "You're using the royal we already?"

"Save your whip-smart tongue for the stage, Bard Daniel, and heft your crossbow. We have rift-born creatures to repel."

Daniel raised an eyebrow at the last statement and seemed on the verge of commenting on its cliched words. Welcheren, however, had switched his attention to the servant, still hovering the stairs, and dispatched the man to the Sky Spire.

"Summon the trumpeters," he instructed. "Have them sound the trefoil now." The trefoil was a pattern of notes recalling all marshally trained inhabitants of the Castle to the arming yard.

A hasty detour to his shed saw the Alchemist burst out with a somewhat heavier coat, lined with practical little pockets. His sword was strapped to his belt and new layer of armour-ointment coated his arms. As for his chest and thighs, the ink-armour would rebuff most attackers, or at least those of the breeds he expected to encounter in the coming days.

The raven swooped down and flew circules around the Alchemist as he jogged for the arming yard.
"I have a task for you, if you'd consent."

"Let's hear it first," it cawed.

"Find our Queen. Find out where she's gone and report back if you can."

"I did see her leave with her guard if that assuages ya worryin."

"Did she indeed? Garman must have been quicker than usual. Well, that's one comfort at least."

"Do you think she knows where Nea Bee Forym is?" the raven inquired.

"You will discover that before I do, friend. Now go see if you can spot the spoor of her magic."

The arming yard was a space as utilitarian and unadorned as its inhabitants. Carpenters, smiths and other crafters laboured continuously to satisfy the training requirements and military experiments of the Castle's fighting caste. These were as varied in their demands as the dandies were of their tailors.

"Good," Welcheren muttered to himself. The trefoil must have sounded while he had been in his shed. Several of the Royals had already appeared, and many had clearly already encountered the Twisted, the Gremlins... and whatever else was roaming around. These people would not expect speeches. They would not expect the accoutrements of the throne. All they needed was a strategy for coordinating and systematising the hunting and slaying of the strange invaders.

Then, in a ring of white tents, pitched within the vast space of the arming yard, Welcheren spotted the injured. The first of the injured, he corrected himself. Witnessing the blood-stained stretches of cloth and the bustling apothecaries reignited his comfort at the thought that, this time, Ambrosia had allowed her guard to accompany her.

Something on the empty lawn beyond the white tents caught his eye. It was as if a circle of light had kindled on the grass. Drawing his sword, Welcheren was about to shout a warning to those already gathered and armed nearby. Then a smell filled the air. It was the smell of a spell already familiar to him. A dome of light shimmered into sight within the border of the ring burning into the lawn. Shapes could be seen inside the dome.

"Garman?"
 

DanielSTJ

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Out of the dome, Garman approached. He looked downtrodden—as if they had failed at some important task.

Welcheren stiffened as they approached, but he greeted them with the usual civilities. Daniel followed suit.

“Where is the Queen?” the alchemist asked.

Garman dropped his head. He opened his mouth, but words did not come out. He frowned and then looked up at both of them with intensity. “She has gone carried on alone.”

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“There are other things in the forest,” Garman said. “She knows what she is doing. If there is one thing the Queen is, it is not a fool. I trust her intuition and judgment.

“How many are injured?”

“More than I’d like,” Garman said. “We will proceed inside. Welcheren, we will need your talents to help mend those whose bodies have been scarred by our struggles.”

“Duly noted,” Welcheren said. “Daniel, we will speak soon.”

They nodded at each other.

Daniel hurried to his quarters and closed the door, quietly, as if it were made of glass. Sighing, he threw his robes off and then patted them when they were on his bed. Daniel went to his desk, where his quill was. He still had the last letter from her—but he had not responded.

Daniel lowered his gaze to its contents, reeling the words in with his eyes.

It read:

Daniel,

It has been a week since I have heard from you. Is everything okay? You were so caring when I last saw you and we held hands in the dark, looking up at the moon. You sang for me and your voice rang pure and true. You looked at me and when I leaned in for a kiss on the lips, instead you blessed one upon my cheek. Then, you drew your hand away and held it in your lap. What is happening? You seem distant and preoccupied. You have to tell me what is wrong, Daniel. I know that we have not been in contact for the longest of times, but I care about you deeply and I want to make you happy. What is wrong?

Is it me? Daniel. I…


There was a gap in the words. Daniel’s right hand, his good one, began to shake. He put his other hand over it and gave it and tightened his grip ever so slightly.

I care. I really do. You need to talk to me, in person. Write back to me and tell me where we will meet.

-Leila.


She was a princess from the near lands. They had met when Daniel had attended one of the court festivities and had requested a private performance. When she had led him to her private chambers, Daniel had begun to grow nervous. He had not had this type of attention bestowed on him before. Daniel believed that there was, potentially, the chance to make a good name for himself with the royalty there and impress his contacts back home at the same time.

It turned out that things were not quite as they appeared.

After he had sang for her, she patted the side of her bed, where she had been sitting.

Daniel paused.

“Come and sit, Daniel. Sit and talk to me,” she smiled—shy.

Daniel cleared his throat and put his harp in the corner of the room. Uneasily, he sat and kept his gaze away from the princess. Royal sensibilities were not something that he was overly familiar with. He did not want to offend any sense of propriety that might occur between them. He reminded himself: You are a bard, an entertainer: Just a slight above a court jester—nothing more.

That was when she brought her hand, gently, on top of Daniel’s. He looked at her and she was smiling with ruddy cheeks.

She looked at him for several moments and then ran her hand, gently, on top of his. “Would you care for some wine, Daniel?”

Daniel nodded and bit his lip. When he did, she rose and went over to her cabinet. Leila had prepared a chilled bucket. The wine was inside and she assembled two glasses, ornate, for them to drink out of.

“Tell me more about yourself,” Leila said. “Speak freely.”

“I was born in a faraway land. Times were tough. I was never royalty. I spent my nights alone, playing my harp and looking up at the stars and hoped that one day, through my efforts, I would be able to change something, even if it were minuscule, about it for the better.”

She looked into her eyes and slowly drank her wine. Daniel downed his glass before continuing. “My life has been hard, dear Princess.”

“Leila,” she smiled, widely. “Call me Leila.”

“Leila,” Daniel began. “I have tried so hard not to fall into the fates of my parents. They were destroyed by the struggles that the outside world imposed on them, but even more by the darkness inside of them that consumed their hearts and their souls.”

She poured him another glass of wine. He drank more than he had intended and began to feel tipsy. Daniel had never been able to handle his alcohol very well.

“I have turned down every offer of marriage ever offered to me. I used to think,” she began. “—growing up that some fantastic prince, like they write of in The Song of Roland or Le Morte D’Arthur, would come and rescue me from this spell of loneliness that the long days and longest nights have imposed on me. They were not what I was looking for. A woman should be able to choose a man according to her heart, regardless of anything else. That is my dream.”

She filled Daniel’s glass again and was studying him closely while he drank it. Daniel felt like he was a fool.

“I must part,” he said. “I will see you another day.”

Daniel rose from the bed and nearly stumbled to his knees.

“You can’t,” she said simply.

“Why?”

“Your horse is ill and we do not have a replacement. You could send our messenger to request another one, but that would be expensive and there is no telling how long it would take. Come and sit back down.”

“But where will I sleep?” Daniel asked.

The princess smiled at him and the gentlest look appeared on her face. “My parents have finally understood that my wishes are mine to keep. You will sleep here, with me.”

Daniel blushed. “I…”

“This is not the first time I have ever seen you, or spoken of you, Daniel. You are welcome here. Stay.”

After he had bathed and changed, they were lying in bed next to each other.

“I assure you,” he said, nearly slurring his words. “I assure you I will be nothing but a gentleman.”

She nodded, shifting closer to him.

He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek and she went for his lips. They missed and Daniel felt foolish.

“Let me try that again.”

This time their lips met.

They cuddled for the rest of the evening until he fell asleep.

In the morning, they kissed again before he departed.

Now, he was here and she was there. She was so close, yet so far away.

He wrote:

Leila,

Come to the castle. If I am not there—wait. You are right; we must see each other again. You are worth that.

-Your Daniel


With that, he went to see Welcheren.
 

Ambrosia

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Ambrosia rode into the citadel's courtyard. Guards surrounded her, but did not draw their weapons. They held her horse steady as she dismounted, then two guards escorted her inside the building.

"Your Majesty, your sword, if you will," said the guard to her right.

Ambrosia nodded and undid her sword belt, handing belt, scabbard and sword to the guard.

"Now extend your hands, locking your fingers together, out in front of you."

She did as she was instructed and watched as a thin silver cord was wrapped around one wrist, then the other, and finally around both wrists to secure them together. "Is this necessary?" she asked.

"The Council knows you hold powerful magic. They will take no chances of an 'incident'."

"I see. I will of course abide by the ruling of the Council."

The guard led her to a door, knocked, and when the command to enter was given she was lead into the circular room. She had been here before, once in her youth when her parents introduced her to the Council. The Council had wished to keep her, sensing her potential. Her parents had refused their request. Things hadn't ended peacefully that day. Not a member of her race had breached the Mage realm since. If her need were not so great, she would not be here now.

Keep it together, thought Ambrosia, feeling the tremor in her muscles she knew was fear. Without her magic she was powerless. Giving up the sword was easy. Surrendering her magic was an act of suicide. She was dead if they declared it to be so and there was nothing she could do about it. Remember, you do this for the Realm. Ambrosia slipped into the proper posture and held her head high, one hundred percent the queen again.

The mages were silent for long minutes, then one of them spoke.

"What do you want here, child. Your need must be great to come before us. Speak."

Ambrosia took a moment to look each mage in the eyes, before turning to the mage who had addressed her.

"Indeed my need is great. There are rifts that have formed within my realm. These rifts were opened in vengeance for a broken covenant that should never have been made, was indeed made by a long dead alchemist in direct disobedience to me. He was banished from the realm for that disobedience and for trafficking with serpents. I was unaware he had left the covenant in place, so well he hid it. And now that it is broken by his previous student, it may well destroy the realm."

"What care do we have if your realm falls?"

"You care because if my realm falls, so goes all the realms. They are interlinked. Do not think that I am ignorant of what the gods set in motion all those centuries ago. I know. I bear the heartstone."

Murmurs filled the room. Ambrosia stood straight, proud and defiant before them even disarmed and with her wrists bound.

"Silence." The command from the mage boomed and yet was quiet as a whisper. "What would you have me do?"

Ambrosia was quick to pick up on the change from plural to singular. This was what she had hoped for and was unsure would happen. Here was the realm's hope.

"I ask, great one, that you return with me to the castle you left so many years ago and set to rights that which I can not set to rights. Return and save all the realms from destruction."

Heartbeats. Ambrosia heard everyone's heartbeat loudly in her ears. When she next awoke she was on her horse, her hands unbound and sword belt in place, travelling beside the mage she had been speaking with in the citadel.

"I take it the answer is yes?" she asked the mage.

"Oh definitely yes. It is good to return."

As the two entered the Castle courtyard, Ambrosia took in the preparations Prince Welcheren had made in her absence. Yes, her Castle was well defended and ready for the new monarch.
 

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As I enter the castle, I look around. Much has changed since I last reined. How many lifetimes ago was that? Honestly, more than I care to admit. Many of those who dwelled in the castle, have long since moved on or sought their fortunes in distant lands. It matters little. I have Duchess Ambrosia by my side and once again rule my Kingdom.

"Thank you for my introduction, my dear, Duchess. You have served the realm well. You always have."

"Tell the Alchemist and Bard, their Queen wishes their company. We have much to do in light of the former alchemist's machinations. I'm almost disappointed he is no more. He would have made an intriguing prey."
 

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"I believe they are in the field, your Majesty, killing creatures that have come through the rifts. I will see if I can locate them and bring them before your august Presence.

"By your leave, your Majesty." Ambrosia tilted her head to the new monarch. If anyone had been paying attention they would have seen that she lowered her head ever so slightly more than she would to any other monarch who took the throne. After all, she knew her place. She turned and left the audience chamber to find the Prince and the Bard.
 

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"Very good, my Duchess."

Creatures through the rifts. An alchemist's schemes. Much has transpired since my leaving the Kingdom.
 

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Prince Welcheren's hands trembled, partly from exhaustion, and partly from spikes of fear pressing into his spine. Dust and sand - the only kind of blood the Twisted creatures ever bled - covered his robes as though he were a chimney sweep. Balancing the hilt of his sword over his should, keeping the tip down, he bowed before the new Monarch of the Realm.

Her aura crackled with power unseen and authority radiated from her brow.

"My Queen... um Queen Regdog," despite his intentions Welcheren was mumbling. "We rejoice at your arrival. I am the alchemist whose master instigated this dilemma. I severed the Accord with the serpents and inadvertently opened the rifts. I submit myself to your justice."






:Hail:
All hail Queen Regdog. When last we exchanged words, I had only just crossed the border into AW. Your reign is cause for jubilation.
 

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Greetings Prince Welcheren, my loyal Duchess informs me, you have been battling creatures who entered through the rift. I thank you for your service and loyalty to the Crown. We must put an end to the ill-doings caused by your late mentor. This Kingdom has stood for too long to allow it to fall.
 

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I pledge every letter of my knowledge and ounce of my fealty to you, my Queen.

This Realm owes much of its survival to Duchess Ambrosia's steadfast devotion.
 

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It is early morning, as I walk through the empty halls of the castle. I have no concerns about the Alchemist breaking with the Accord. Let them send serpents through the rift. They will be dispatched without hesitation. Should the Accord be foolish enough to waste their resources on such useless endeavors, it will only strengthen us.


I enter the Throne Room and take my place on the throne. Even after all these lifetimes, it still feels right.


“Ravage, my loyal kitten deploy.” From a hidden compartment in my armor, a mechanimal panther emerges.


“So you are once again Queen of the Kingdom,” she says with a light chuckle.


“I am, and I find it a good time to be back. It seems the Accord needs to be taught a lesson, and I am in the mood for mayhem. Be a good girl and find this rift, or any other that appears. Give the serpents a welcome worthy of your Queen. Send what remains back through the rift.”


“It would be both my pleasure and honor, my Queen.” A vicious grin from the mechpanther compliments her reply. “By the way. The crown looks good on you.” With that, the beastformer disappears into the shadows of the castle.






With Ravage on the hunt, I put the Accord out of my mind. My sweet kitten has never failed me, and wrought destruction on all those she hunts. There is much I need to learn about the late alchemist and his machinations. What did he have to do with the disappearance of the king? Did he turn his back on the Crown for his own objectives or was he working with others?


I tap a fingernail in contemplation.


A servant approaches and bows low.


“Summon Prince Welcheren to me.”


“Right away, my Queen.” The servant scurries away.


New servants and still the old fear of me. I must confess I do so enjoy that fear. It’s delicious.


Prince Welcheren approaches the Throne and bows.


“First, fear not about severing from the Accord. Duchess Ambrosia apprised me of the situation on the journey here. I am more interested in your time with your late master. Tell me Prince, how was it you came to serve the late Alchemist?”
 

Welcheren

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Glorious Queen

We might send a few burly ogres help with the negotiations. With adequate disguises, no one in this place called the real world will notice.

Now for an addition.





Prince Welcheren entered the Throne Room. All seemed well once again. Light landed on the marble floors and cast the colours of the lush carpets in sharp relief. The tapestries hanging heavy and silent from the walls felt no sunlight, but still seemed to blaze with colour. Was it his own mind that performed this trick, or was the room rejoicing at the occupant on the throne. Whatever the case, he felt like a fleck of grey in this kaleidoscope of colour.

Duchess Ambrosia held the new Queen in high regard. No, high regard was a poor choice. It was something else. Reverence? Not quite. For himself, Welcheren had witnessed enough of the Queen's grace and justice to feel his service was well bestowed on her. And yet as he kneeled by the dias, sword stretched across his open palms, he wondered about how much honesty to offer.

What need have I to lie? Not a finger of guilt remained about the Accord. He had not struck the deal. Yet events, if not told properly, could be misconstrued. He listened to the Queen's question.

"My Master, Glorious Queen, was one Voldo. When I first took a term as regent of this realm, he was not among its esteemed inhabitants. After my term ended, I travelled far afield, honing my craft and seeking to earn the title of Royal Alchemist. My sojourn brought me into contact with Voldo, who adopted me as his apprentice. Upon our return, he was instated as the Alchemist of the Realm, with me as his Second. In secret he shared with me the details of an agreement - a contract of sorts, which he termed the Accord. By its principles, we crafted some of the most innovative feats of alchemy. Lead, copper, gold, silver, mercury and a host of other substances yielded its secrets to us. The stipulations of the agreement, however, decreed that in order to activate some of the magical properties of our work, serpentine creatures without name would die. That was the agreement. As far as I know, these serpents live on some distant island, unexplored by anyone here. Upon their death, each creature is reborn stronger and older. The ultimate designs and purposes of the serpents were never shared with me. My Master vanished years ago. Since then, I have but needed the magic of the Accord once. That was to defend my life and that of Duchess Ambrosia against multiple attackers after the last king disappeared. The Matriarch of the serpents answered my call somewhat excessively. Thus I ended the agreement known as the Accord permanently. The rifts were opened in spite. I postulate that your righteous presence on the throne will weaken the abominations that have spilled through. Perhaps, your taking the crown will even close the rifts for ever. If all of that fails, we have one alternative. A verse - three lines at least - must be brought fourth from every member of the Royal court. This combination is sure to seal all rifts. Each Royal will know what verse they must add, if they look deep enough into their own hearts."
 

DanielSTJ

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Daniel looked up at the fading sun in the sky through his open window. There was a new Queen, and she was going to be greeted with all that she deserved.

He remembered hearing of beatific Regdog from long ago. They said that she used to ride the open field and pastures when her thoughts were full of uncertainty and that, whenever she was unsure of the place that fate leaned upon time. When it was time to return, there was always the hint of knowledge spread upon her face and a wondrous and enchanting smile to match. Regdog had a few horses that she took with her, in accordance with her mood, and took care of them so well. It showed in their eyes when they looked upon her that they cared for her deeply.

Daniel went over to his corner. He had been saving the painting for a special occasion such as this. He had bought it at a market. No one seemed to know the true value of it. Daniel was not the absolute connoisseur on art, but he recognized a masterful piece when he saw one. His own efforts at art had been meager and unfruitful, but he always imagined that—in some life, he had been a painter. That would have been one of his ultimate dreams: fame and fortune be damned.

He smiled at the painting and hoped that the fine Queen would enjoy it. Words were powerful—he had no doubt about that—but sometimes the power of visual art held certain majesty over the mind and the heart. That was something that he knew well and he knew, deep inside, that the new Queen would understand it as well.

The notebook that Welcheren had taken still made him worry. What had happened? Dark tidings were brewing underneath the surface of the kingdom. Outside, the flowers were in in bloom and the birds sang. It was such a juxtaposition of the dark storm that seemed to be gathering. Things were going to be arduous and difficult, he knew, he just hoped that everyone—himself included, had what it took to handle the situation when it would rear its ugly head before them.

He gathered the painting and made his way to the Queen’s Hall, where he knew Regdog would be. Daniel was late upon greeting her and hoped that his gift would appease her sensibilities. The last thing that he wanted to do was offend her and he would avoid it at all costs.

When he entered, he knew that something intense had transpired. Welcheren was speaking to Regdog and the Duchess was there to. Daniel noticed that eyes did not fall upon him as he entered and he walked, silently, over to where they were flanking the Queen.

“Daniel,” Regdog said. “A pleasure you could make it.”

Daniel bowed low and swept his cloak aside to reveal his attire in a single motion. “I am sorry for my tardiness, dear Queen. I have brought a gift.”

He brought out the painting from where he had strapped it to his side. It was not large and had not been cumbersome to carry.

the-saddest-goodbye-daniel-sanchez.jpg


The Queen, Duchess and Prince Welcheren stared at it.

There were no words.
 

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Good morning, my Loyal Royals. In real life, I loved the apartment. so my application is in and I wrote a letter to the landlord. I'll find out this weekend. The trolls may help with the competition.






“I bid you safe travels, Dear Duchess.”


“I thank you for your honestly, Prince Welcheren, as well as your service to Duchess Ambrosia. Your service to the Corwn is invaluable. Voldo made the pact with the Accord and while you used the magic of the Accord only once, I am curious as to how many times, Voldo made use of their power.


“Making a pact with serpents is a tricky at best. They posses powerful magic and are cunning, and posses a wealth of knowledge of truly ancient magic. Either Voldo knew of their skill and he could match it, or he was a fool and the Accord took advantage.”


_____________


A visit to this mysterious serpentine island may hold much needed answers.


“Lasberbeak, deploy.”


From another compartment in my armor, a mechanical bird emerges and perches on my arm.


“Find Ravage, tell her what Prince Welcheren has said. Tell her to keep two serpents alive. One will tell us the location of this island. The other will ensure the truth. When you know, go there.”


With a title of her head in acknowledgement, the mechanical bird takes flight.


_____________




“And you, Bard Daniel. You do me a great honor with your gift. The painting is beautiful and I am truly grateful. It will hang in a place of honor in the Great Hall. You have my profound thanks.”
 

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"Your Majesty, a moment please if I may. I would like a closer look at the painting our good bard delivered into your hands," Ambrosia said, awaiting the queen's decision.

"Of course, Duchess. Is there a problem?" Queen Regdog placed the painting in Ambrosia's hands and took a judicious step back.

"Your Majesty, do you see this mark here?" Ambrosia tilted the painting in the light to get a better angle and held it out to the queen.

"The squiggly mark in the lower right hand side? Yes, it looks rather like a snake."

"That was my appraisal as well." Ambrosia turned to Daniel. "Bard, where did you get this painting?"

"I found it in the marketplace of Vision, south of our realm, your Grace."

"Vision, you say? A day's ride from our borders. Well, isn't that interesting."

Ambrosia returned her attention to the painting, then turned to the queen. "Your Majesty, I believe this has been painted by a Hand of the Snake. The cult is very loyal to the idea that snakes should rule the planet and have long gone out of their way to make that idea into reality. It would, in my opinion, be wise to assume the snakes have a hand in these rifts well beyond just opening them. This painting is of a secluded courtyard in Hollister. I know of it because I was there once upon a time, quite clandestinely meeting with an ambassador of one of the neighboring countries, trying to stop destabilization as their king's mind deteriorated. That a picture of the courtyard should be drawn by just any artist stretches the realm of feasibility. It is quite a secret location."
 

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Goodday Loyal Royals,

Welcome back to the castle, Princess Snitchcat.

"You have a keen eye, Duchess. We need to investigate this further. Perhaps a visit to our neighbors is in order, or something a little more subtle. It would seem the Accord have e been sinking their fangs in far too many places, and doing so unchecked. it is a very good thing that Prince Welcheren broke with them.

"I do not believe the disappearance of this Realm's King and the threat to our neighbor as their King's mind waned to be coincidence."

"You have a plan, my Queen?"

"Indeed."

Activating a communication device, I contact Laserbeak, and Ravage.

::Our Queen,:: Ravage replies.

::Have you encountered any unwanted visitors?::

::Of course. They were dispatched. The next group I encounter, will follow expeditiously, save two.::

::Excellent.::

::Laserbeak, I need you to travel to Hollister. Observe and report anything or anyone out of place.::

An affirmative chirp is returned.

::She can talk, you know.:: Ravage huffs.

::I do, but she has her quirks, as do we all. Need I remind someone of her fascination with all things stringy.::

::I've never and even if I have, you have no proof.::

::Run along, my kitten, and find more snakes in our garden.::

::My Queen.::
 

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*gets in line for a tackle hug; scrapes heels on the floor in preparation for the run*

Welcome back Princess Tiddlywinks!

Salutations fellow Royals, and a deep bow to our Queen.






Welcheren remains down on one knee, with his sword balanced over his open palms. Being trained in breathing techniques enable him to endure the rigid posture for an otherwise exacting duration.

"In my presence, Glorious Queen, Voldo relied upon our agreement with serpents well over a hundred times." Welcheren considers his next words carefully. "In my presence, none of those encounters produced foul magic."
 

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Good Morning, Loyal Royals.

"Make sure you tackle hug Princess Tiddlywinks before she runs into a wall."

"Rise, Prince Welcheren. You are a valuable asset to the Crown and Kingdom."
 

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*rises with stately grace, perfectly concealing the effects of pins and needles*
 

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A message comes through from Laserbeak in Hollister.


::I think and Ravage you need to come here. You can come through the tunnels hidden by the tides::


::Well done, Laserbeak.::
::Ravage, meet me at the border::


::On my way::


It obvious by her refusal to say anything else, Laserbeak is concerned, which in turn, makes me concerned for my Royals. I won’t let any harm come to them. Time to depart and leave another to rule.


Fortunately, I have the perfect person. She is still sleeping, so I place her on the throne and the crown upon her head.


I mount my horse and ride off.



*********************

ALL HAIL QUEEN TIDDLYWINKS
 

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Surreptitiously plants a tracking device on Duchess Ambrosia. “That should keep her from getting lost down rabbitholes. And if she does, one of us can go get her.”


***************************




I meet Ravage at the border of the forest.


::Has the birdy said anything else?:: she asks.


::No. She will if anything arises.:: I answer as we delve into the forest. The path is overgrown, but the snagging vines and bramble do not slow us.


The mechpanther freezes and tilts her ears. I stop and activate my null ray. From out the nearby underbrush a snake emerges.


“You will not find what you seek. And we will find your new monarch.”


Before the serpent can turn to slither away, Ravage pounces and traps the reptile under deadly claws. I fire one shot from my null ray and the snake falls into a catatonic state. Removing a stasis box from my armor, I scan the snake and place it inside, where it will remain in its deathless slumber.


::At least we know the Accord doesn’t know I’ve bestowed the Crown on Queen Tiddlywinks. She should be safe from any snake visitors. Let’s get to Hollister as quickly as possible. Keep your sensors and ears primed.::


::I always do.:: Ravage replied as we hurry our pace.
 

tiddlywinks

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Greetings, fairest Royals! Apologies but ARoRL kept your Queen away for longer than she was expecting this eve and it's now, erm, late, but I'll try to make up for my absence :greenie

*ahem*

Queen tiddlywinks lounged carefully on the throne, still feeling the effects of running up walls and banging into portcullises, yet feeling quite a bit better than she had at her crowning. For she had presents! She admired the Duchess' wonderful gift of shineyyyy before her departure from the castle. A fine setting. Duchess Ambrosia always did have impeccable taste.

Ah, to be queen again! It had been a while, but surely it would be a piece of cake. Mm, cake. Though, Princess regdog HAD mentioned something about snakes. Only the Queen had stopped listening at the mention of snakes and focused on all of the shineyyyy and coffee and oh the masquerade balls --

A mechanical squeaking noise disturbed her majestic thoughts.

She looked down, and spied a small pink robot mouse glaring at her. "Erm, yes?"

The robot squeaked something else under its breath, then handed her a scroll bearing Princess regdog' mark. She smiled politely.

The mechanical messenger continued to glare at her.

Her smile grew strained.

It squeaked something else.

"She did NOT threaten to turn me into something pink. She wouldn't dare. Not this week."

The robot just gave her a LOOK.

"Fine," the Queen muttered. With a long sigh, she set aside the Duchess' beautiful gift, next to Bard Daniel's equally sparkly tea crown, then broke the seal on the scroll.

Dear Queen Sparkles,

Did you read the recent entries in the Castle Codex like I instructed? Our second highest Mage in the realm spent a long time putting that together. I haven't seen any signs that the rifts are closing yet. Which tells me you might have gotten distracted by all the shineyyyy. Remember, you have a job to do, sparkle pants.

Your ever faithful Royal who will schmoo you if you don't uphold the honor of the realm,

Princess Mage regdog



Queen tiddlywinks scowled at the missive. "Party-pooper," she muttered as she carefully stomped over to the Castle Codex in its ornate glass encasement. She stared up at the encasement. Sighed. Rang for a servant to bring her a stepladder. Then spent the next several hours slurping on an extra large frou frou coffee while catching up on all that she had missed during her extended seclusion making plot bunny magic.

------------

The sun had long since disappeared from the regal glass and stonework when her Majesty cracked her back and peered up from the Codex. Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she scanned the shadows, now more ominous seeming than the ordinary Castle shadows of old.

Her predecessor clearly thought the Castle was still safe, but...there had been that dead snake under her bed the other day.

And the Castle had grown awful quiet.

Queen tiddlywinks withdrew a wetting stone from the folds of her sparkly robe. With a practiced motion, she began the rote task of sharpening her extremely sparkly, extremely LONG scythe as she eyed the growing shadows.

"Just so you know," she said casually to the thin air, "spying can be really hazardous on one's health." Her hand flicked down the length of her scythe again. "Especially if you happen to have a connection to snakes. See, I really don't like snakes. And I own a lot of shineyyyy things." An evil smile crossed the Queen's face. "Like this here blade. Only, it's not an ordinary scythe. Oh, dearie me, no!"

Queen tiddlywinks hopped down from the stepladder and casually walked toward the deepest, most silent shadow in the corner near the Bard's painting.

"Why do you think Princess regdog picked me as her successor, hmm?" she said sweetly.

Her blade flashed quick as lightning through the air.
 
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