The street was unnaturally empty for the morning. Stalls had yet to open, and the bustle had only been a trickle of uneasy town folk, who kept a brisk pace to their destinations. A stark difference from yesterday, as Desmond noted. He too strode down from the Lord Gulley’s keep. Another wave of snow had taken the region during the night. Along with it, dark tidings. Surprisingly, he was calm.
The city itself held its breath as the City Watch was clade in all the arms they could muster. Even the knights and nobility had been roused in the dead of the night. What was once patrols of two, was now bolstered into groups of five. As the sun peaked over the white horizon, it became more obvious how scared they were.
Quinn’s Wood had been destroyed.
The news had been a spark in the night. From the story told to Desmond by Lord Gulley, survivors had arrived in the night. They had ridden all-day to get here, and with it, news of the destruction. Of the dead. Of the horrors. Lord Gulley had been restless as he reported to the prince. While he showed little respect for the unwanted Third Prince; he still handed him an official report. One addressed to his father, Emperor DrakeFang.
Desmond watched as a patrol marched past him. Their eyes distrusting and tired. He nodded to them as he turned into the square. Unlike the previous days, it was empty as well. The lack of other people made the city fell colder. He crossed the vast empty space to the Ivory Pavillion, the large tavern that had occupied an entire corner of the square.
As he walked through the courtyard, he was greeted by a much warmer atmosphere; It reminded him of a late autumn night. What also greeted him, was the sight of his brother, sitting across from Cyril. Both of them were furiously chugging down drinks. Mai and Priscilla sat beside them, urging the young angel on as she was spilling the contents all over herself in panic.
A moment later, Randol slammed the mug down on the courtyard table.
“Ha!” He cheered.
Cyril was still chugging furiously, but she couldn’t contend with the Prince. He, who’d fought alongside knights and soldiers. He, who’d partook in festivities with them. He, who’d drink a drunk under the table. It was like a man racing a toddler – it just was unfair. A moment later, she brought the mug down on the table as she fought not to spill the drink. She only managed that for a moment, then; she spit it all out off to her left into the snow.
A waft of beer hit Desmond.
“This is horrible!” Cyril cried. “Why would you drink this?!”
“You didn’t say anything with the first three.” Randol laughed. “Why this one?”
“Becuase I was too focused on beating you!” Cyril said.
“You only drank three and a half out of six,” Randol pointed out. “You didn’t seem too focused.”
“T-This isn’t fair!” Cyril cried out as she slapped the table. “I demand you revoke this and we try something else!”
“A deal is a deal,” Randol smirked, pleased to have one-upped the goddess.
Cyril’s lips pursed as her nostrils flared. It was then that Desmond noticed a bucket of food refuse was on the ground next to the table. She brought it up and slammed it on the tabletop. Her clear honey eyes glared at him for a moment, then she raised the bucket to dump it over her snowy hair.
“Wait!” Randol cried out and gripped the bucket’s lip before the contents could spill out. “I was only joking! I wouldn’t make you do that!”
“But you didn’t revoke the deal!” Cyril said as she held the bucket still.
It never budged, no matter how much effort Prince Randol put into it. Desmond could see his muscular arm puff slightly.
“I only meant to teach you a lesson!” Randol said. “I would never sully a woman’s honor with such pettiness!”
“I gave my word,” Cyril said with conviction. ” ‘Whoever loses, dumps it over themselves. Cross our hearts, and hope to die’. We even did a pinky promise.”
“This is ridiculous!” Randol huffed. “You can’t be serio—”
He paused for a moment.
“You really are serious…” Randol said.
“My father always told me that a promise is a promise,” Cyril said. “If people are to trust your word, you must never break a promise. In that sense, never make a promise you never planned to keep. While we didn’t shake hands to seal that promise, we did a pinky shake. Its still the same thing.”
“… I agree.” Randol said, not quite believing it.
“What are you guys–” Desmond, along with everyone else, froze.
The prettiest girl they’ve ever seen – dumped the whole bucket load of food over herself.
— ⊥ —
Desmond’s room was tense as he and Mai sat on the bed; Randol sat across from them, at the desk.
Mai stared blankly at her feet, lost in thought. Desmond sat forward, with his elbows on his knees and his foot tapping the floorboards nervously. Randol folded the letter up and began to burn it against a lit candle by the window. He had no reason to keep it, and he would not leave it. It was a request, a rather forceful request. To assist him in combating the new threat in the north. The undead.
“Did he ask you personally to help?” Randol asked.
“No, he only briefed me on what happened when I went to inform him of our departure,” Desmond said. “Did he ask for our help?”
“He did,” Randol confirmed. “He wants me to help him defend the city. He believes the horde will be coming down the road within the day. He sent scouts north in the night, and they’d probably be here by now.”
“What are you going to do then?” Desmond asked.
“Not assist,” Randol stated and dropped the last piece of burning letter out the window into the snow.
“Shouldn’t we help, though?” Desmond asked.
“Of course, but we still have our own duties to attend to,” Randol looked to the two on the bed. “Such as reporting the destruction of our group.”
Mai’s hands gripped her pants tightly.
“We have no choice,” Randol said. “I’ll have Cyril stay here, and have her give us something of value to placate the nobility.”
“Are you forgetting she isn’t one of us?” Mai looked up.
“What do you mean?” Randol looked to her, his eye sharp. Eyes of a Prince who’d circled the political world. “She apart of our group.”
“That’s not it,” Mai said, meeting his eyes. “She isn’t any of our subjects, nor a slave. You can’t demand anything of her.”
“I am the leader of this–” Mai stood up and faced Randol.
“You were the leader of this group,” Mai said resolutely. ” Since Fable’s End, we’ve all just been a small band of stragglers, held together by Cyril. If anything, Cyril should be the one calling the shots.”
Not to mention, Cyril was the Creator!
However, she kept this comment to herself. The Empire was a patchwork of religions that, so long as they paid tribute to the Emperor, were nearly out of this world in their beliefs. Randol believed only in the power of the country. Desmond believed in… Nothing. Mai believed in the one true Goddess; the Goddess that had created her people. The Goddess born of darkness and Light.
She believed in Cyril.
She had too.
Randol and Mai stared each other down – neither willing to step back. It took Desmond having to pull Mai away from his older brother for the tension to come down a notch.
“Look, why don’t you both just ask her?” Desmond asked with care. “And brother, she is right. We cannot control Cyril, nor order her around. She killed a dragon, for the love of all that is good, set aside your pride – please…”
Randol looked to his little brother. Mai watched Randol’s jaw flex as he bit back his retort. And she felt horrible about what she said. She knew how prideful Randol was, the stark differences between the man she loved and his brother had even manifested itself physically. Randol was an entire head taller than both of them. Far larger, and broad of shoulder. Desmond was skinny and frail compared to Randol.
And he stood between them because even she was too prideful to let this go.
She was strong as well, maybe as strong as Randol on a bad day. She didn’t know, because she had never fought him. And in this room, she may find out.
“I’m sorry,” Mai said. “I crossed a line I shouldn’t have.”
There was a pause.
“I accept your apology.” Randol took a breath and stepped back before he sat back in his seat. “It’s been a rough few days.”
All of them were losing it in their own ways, Randol most of all. Even with the nightmares whisked away, the guilt of failing in his duty was still weighed on his shoulder. For once, he found something to top his failure to protect this little brother of his…
“I’ll ask her,” Randol said.
— ⊥ —
Mai led Randol into Cyril’s room, whereupon entering, though something… more naughty had been transpiring.
He heard Cyril moaning, and saying “That feels good…”. The things that’d lead one to believe that night time activities were being done during the day. Quite the bold move on her part he thought. That was until Mai rolled her eyes at him.
“Priscilla is just combing her hair.” Mai chuckled.
And when he turned the corner, it was indeed the case. Priscilla sat on the floor with Cyril laying on her back on the bed; dressed in a sapphire blue shoulderless dress. Cyril hung her head off the side of the bed, and Priscilla was there combing it with an elegantly carved bone comb. Cyril’s expression was one of complete bliss. Her snow-white hair cascaded down, and with it still wet from the bath, it shimmed like snow itself.
“Cyril,” Mai called out to her.
“Mmm.” Cyril acknowledged her without opening her eyes.
“Randol has something he’d like to ask you,” Mai said.
Priscilla shot them… What looked to be a territory glare. Though, Randol missed it entirely.
“Cyril, Lord Gulley – the man who governs this time – has requested we aid him with a certain problem,” Randol said.
He waited for her to ask about it, or just say anything. She remained silent though.
“I wanted to volunteer you to help him, however… ” Randol looked to Mai. “I’ve been told I had to ask you since you were not one of my subjects or men.”
“I wanted to know if you’d be willing to help?” Randol asked.
“What’s the reward?” Cyril purred the words as the comb slid across her scalp.
It was such a wonderful feeling being pampered. At least, this is what she thought pampering was. Priscilla had offered to comb her hair on her own accord, and Cyril didn’t mind. Now, she wanted to know if she could keep this girl.
“There is no reward as of now,” Randol said.
“Pass,” Cyril said.
“Pass?” Randol repeated.
“Negative,” Cyril said. “Refused. Denied. Rejected. No way, Jose.”
“Why?” Randol asked, feeling awkward at being refused.
“Because requests from nobles mean trouble, and or a lot of work,” Cyril said. “Often than not, it’d be apart of the main quest. Thus, rewards should mandatory; at least in the sense that, with all that bullshit I’d have to deal with, it’d be worth it. Or at least, enough to make me not want to raze a country to the ground.”
“Have… You razed a country before?” Priscilla asked, her hand stilling.
“Mhm,” Cyril agreed. “Build it up, watch it group and gently guide it. When it starts to get boring, or it goes wrong, just get rid of it all and start again. Move it elsewhere or something.”
As they viewed it as an Angel, no one was particularly surprised by her words. Only, it was just jarring on how leisurely should utter that confess. Randol had just wanted to urge his case. Now though… He was a little scared too. Least he’d the reason this Angel play with his country like it was some pass-time.
“Surely a Prince wouldn’t skimp on finding you a reward,” Priscilla stepped in to help Randol. “Maybe a nice villa in the capital, or a bit of land with a cottage in a forest.”
“Ooh,” Cyril cooed at that thought, “I was thinking maybe a few gold coins, or maybe a fancy sword, or a bit of information – but I like this idea much more. Maybe a house on a cliff, overlooking the sea?”
“Maybe be lord of one of the port cities?” Priscilla’s eyes sparkled as her mind began to think up possibilities.
“Nah, way too much work,” Cyril hook her lovely finger in the air. “Maybe… A nice castle on a cliff?
“A nice castle out in a forest?” Priscilla jumped in again. “And there’ll be a lovely rose garden, and have a cute bear waiter!”
“Okay, okay!” Randol through up his hands in defeat. “I’ll build you a cottage on a cliff, and I’ll hand the land over to you, so you’ll own it; but please, don’t make me build a castle!”
“Deal!” Cyril agreed.
She flipped over onto her stomach with the agility of a cat, then clamored off the feather bed. She then stood before Randol and held out her pinky to him.
“Do we have to do that again?” Randol looked apprehensively to the pinky, feeling it was too childish for something so major.
“Yes.” Cyril beamed as her chest trembled with a repressed giggle.
“Fine…” Randol sighed. “I promise, cross my heart and hope to die.”
Like previously, shadowing Cyril, both of them ran their finger over their hearts in the shape of an “X”. To finish it off, each pointed to their eye. However, unlike before, he felt the skin over his heart sing – as if bitten by something.
— ⊥ —
At the behest of Randol, Cyril had changed back into more… appropriate clothing. She had drawn out the clothing selection, killing nearly two hours of the day; just to annoy him. While some may call it malicious, it was just her way of being playful. Rather, if she hated him, she wouldn’t have entertained him at all. Randol may have been hard-headed, stubborn in odd ways, but wasn’t everyone?
He hadn’t lied to her yet, and that was all she could ask in something. The truth.
Cyril strode down the up the Lord’s Way, dressed in an olive green oversized modern zip-up jacket that stopped mid-thigh. Its insides lined brown fur, with its hood over her head.
“You wouldn’t happen to have another one of those I could have, would you?” Priscilla asked, envy and cold in her eyes. While the article was quite… outlandish to her, it looked really warm.
“Nope,” Cyril asked. “I only ever bothered to keep one of every item I liked. Even then, I had given any a lot of my stuff before I ended up here.
The jacket had been zipped up, and Excalibur’s belt wrapped over her waist. Lucky for Cyril, it didn’t block none of the pockets, as they were real now. She took full advantage of by stuffing a few coins in each. Well, whatever coins the prudent Desmond would allow her to take. Beneath, she had her black dress and some “assassin” leather pants. All items from the premium shop.
In the end, Randol approved it – reluctantly – and they found themselves here.
“Your highness,” One of the castle guards greeted Randol as they approached the castle’s entrance.
“I’ve come to see Lord Gulley,” Randol announced.
“He was expecting you a few hours ago,” The guard reported. “He left not but twenty minutes ago for the Cathedral – over there.”
The guard pointed to the large cathedral that broke the sea of snow-topped roofs just several blocks south of them.
“I was predisposed when your lord asked for me,” Randol said. “Send a runner to bring him back, and I’ll meet with him in his audience chamber.”
The guard looked to the two girls behind him. Priscilla glared at the man with that insinuating look. Cyril hadn’t noticed as she was still in awe over the view from the gate. The guard quickly looked away, then summoned another guard to lead them into the castle. They crossed the outer bailey, swarming with activity from officers trying to plan the defense of the city, to the servants trying to store rations away for an expected siege.
Cyril watched it all with great interest. Priscilla felt more nervous and stayed close to Cyril for comfort. She was like a mountain, powerful and unmoving. She need only to come closer to escape the waves of chaos that lapped at her feet, and it’d bring peace of mind. Though, this mountain had to repeatedly be pulled along by her to keep up.
They passed through another gate and into the inner bailey. Finally, they reached the audience chamber, which was Lord Gulley’s solar. Illuminated by the winter mid-day sun, Randol and Priscilla were led to a large table with tea placed in front of them. Cyril declined it and instead walked around the room. Admiring the paintings on the wall as she lowered her hood down. Her hair seemed to brighten the room as the light hit it.
“Cyril, why don’t you have a seat?” Randol asked.
“I rather stand,” Cyril replied. “These paintings, are there anything like this in your home?”
It was a lovely painting of the sea, marked with a single ship as it sailed into the sunset. She had seen hundreds of digital photos of paintings. Digitally done, hand-done, robotically done. Done this way, or that way. She’d seen it done many ways. Despite that, there was a certain allure to seeing it in person. Though, Cyril found that many things were better in person.
“Yes, and much better done,” Randol said. “If you’d like, I could show you around the Royal Palace whenever you care to visit.”
“I don’t mean better,” Cyril said. “Just… I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a painting in person. Well… My father had one family portrait painted and huge in the living room. That was a long time ago… I don’t think I even remember how it looked.”
“You don’t remember how… You look?” Priscilla asked.
The two nobles looked at the Goddess with uncertainty. There was a feeling of loss around the girl right now. Randol had never known painting to bring out such an emotion, not a genuine one at least. The girl seemed to have quite the mood swings though, so he wasn’t sure if it was the painting.
“Mm, no,” Cyril said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my face.”
“If you’d like, my fair lady, I could gift you a mirror?” A voice called out as an older man walked into the room.
He was trailed by a man who dressed like a Bishop. On his white hat, a sun had been displayed. And he walked with leisure. He also looked out of breath.
“I’m fine,” Cyril said, turning to face them.
The two men paused when her golden-feline eyes turned to them. Their subtle glow and pureness caught them off guard. The Bishop stood his ground afterword, but the older man approached.
“I am Viscount Herald Gulley, at your service,” Lord Gulley bowed politely to Cyril, who in turned nodded her head to him. “I rule over quite the port here, a mirror would never be troublesome to acquire. An exquisite gift for an exquisite woman.”
Lord Gulley was stood a quarter of a head taller than Cyril. He had sharp sky eyes, and graying blonde hair. He was also fit for a man his age. Wearing a fancy leather coat, it did well to show he was a fit man. He had a short beard and mustache that protruded from his wolfish features.
“Lord Gulley, it’s a pleasure,” Randol stood from his chair and walked over to greet him. ” I apologize for the delay.”
“I was told you were predisposed,” Lord Gulley looked over the two girls. “I hope I did not ruin your fun, but we’re currently facing quite the threat at the moment.”
“I believe you have it wrong,” Randol frowned. “Lady Cyril… Let us just say she is not one to offend, and neither is Lady Priscilla, the only daughter of the Hammel Family.”
It was then that Lord Gulley saw the sword at Cyril’s hip.
“I see,” Lord Gulley said. “Forgive me, I misspoke. I was consulting with the Alistairian Church to see if they’d be willing to provide aid. This is Bishop Luis, he agreed to muster up mages for the defense.”
“I see, as to your request,” Randol stepped over to Cyril with a smile. “Lady Cyril has agreed to stay behind and assist you in your defense.”