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Paige woke up in more comfort than usual. Instead of the dirt ground, she had slept quite nicely within the Hyperion family castle. Recently, Satsume, Shad, Cecily, Ellie, Lita, and Goldhardt had freed the castle and the surrounding village under the control of a band of brigands. It wasn’t exactly a clean rescue, but with the help of a squad of Bern’s wyvern knights, no casualties were suffered. Shad’s sister, Maria, allowed them to stay for a few days before heading back out. The knights were also at the castle, using it as a temporary base while they rested and resupplied.
 
The villagers gave their thanks by bringing food to the castle. The tavern gave drinks on the house. Bards began singing of these Lycian heroes, spreading tall tales of how their village was won. It was the most welcomed Paige had ever felt anywhere, though she didn’t feel she deserved it. Her sword skills failed her that day. Had it not been for Satsume’s quick thinking, she would have been among the dead. She would have to put aside her title of librarian for a while if she hoped to become a warrior.
 
Paige got dressed and entered the dining hall, which was lavishly decorated with pastries from town. Some of the wyvern knights were already picking at the display: one’s beard was peppered with powdered sugar. A maid offered Paige a seat and some breakfast, as well as a message.
 
“Please enjoy and stay here for a bit,” the maid said. “The captain of the wyvern squadron would like to speak to all of you.”
 
“Of course,” Paige replied, brushing her fingers through her hair to look a little nicer. Servants were running around the castle in search of her companions, urging them to the dining hall. If nothing else, at least breakfast was served.
Shad found himself where he had spent the last few nights, laying in his sister's bed. She had been having nightmares of her previous week and his presence was the only thing that put her nerves at ease. Neither really had much sleep though. Part of it was Shad spending too long telling Maria stories about their fallen men, but mostly it was him dwelling on the fact he didn't remember anything that happened from when he saw Maria in her cell and the following morning. At some point, someone had retrieved the corpses of his men and gave them proper burials, a task he put upon himself. He doesn't remember if he did that or not, but there was a collection of some of their personal effects in a storeroom. He spent half of his time writing to the families of his men, but the one that took the most time to write for was for Marcus. As Cassandra's brother, Marcus was not only intended to be his brother-in-law but was also one of his closest connections back to his father. He climbed out of bed and noticed that Maria had gotten up before him.

Maria was busy tying her red scarf under her collar, looking somewhat disappointingly at the mirror. Something else Shad doesn't remember was deciding that an easy way to deal with the congealed blood in her hair was to chop most of it off. Her hair which went down to the small of her back now rested at the back of her neck just below her ears. She finished tying it before turning in her chair at Shad, noticing him climbing out of bed. "Finally up, sleepy head?"

Shad just looked at her, not responding. She raised an eyebrow, confused. He suddenly went wide-eyed, weirding her out slightly. He squinted his eyes, as if he was trying to get a better look. Maria jumped out of the chair and grabbed a hat. She preceded to fling it at Shad, who began to laugh at her response. "No, I'm still sleeping," he chuckled as he tossed the hat back. He sniffed the air a bit, recognizing the smell. "Is that breakfast I smell?"

"Auntie Maisie got up the servants up early to help her make it," Maria replied as she put the hat back.

"'Auntie'?" Shad questioned with a laugh. "Anyway, what is there for her to make? The village has been pleading for forgiveness with food for the last few days. She shouldn't have had to make anything."

"Their 'thanks', remember. 'Most' of them did nothing wrong."

"...Sure," Shad said, dragging it out to emphasize his lack of belief.

"And I'm not sure what. Some Lycian breakfast, probably. Something you and your companions might be familiar with." Maria said as she ran up next to Shad, as they passed through the door. In front of them was Maria's shadow, Grey. "What are you doing here? Don't you usually like being where I can't see you?"

"Sorry, milord, milady. The captain of the those...winged beasts, wants to speak to all of you."

"And you are relaying this because?"

"After what happened, I can't in good faith trust anyone else to come to this floor but Miss Maisie and yourselves."

"Noted. Well, we are heading to the dining hall. Who else is there?"

"As far as I know, the only one there is the red head. And the other riders." Shad just looked Grey in the eyes, hoping for her to elaborate more. When she refused to open up and explain more, he sighed and put his hand behind Maria urging her forward. Shad had to make a mental note. Grey is bad with names. Did she forget there were several redheads in their group?
They were all guilty, but most of them will get away without even a slap on the wrist. It weighed on Cecily's mind. The thought angered her, but there was even greater news that angered her even more. One of Leroy's men found, among the survivors of the village's trafficking ring, a former servant from Laus. Cecily had to speak with her then.

"Why are you here?" Cecily had asked her. "Surely the servants' jobs would simply change in accordance to my leave."

"We have all been dismissed from the castle after your father was executed," the servant replied.

Those words struck Cecily in her gut more than any weapon. Her mother died while she was still young, leaving her father to be the only parental figure she had while growing up. Part of her wanted to cry right there, but Cecily kept it in check. Her anger burned just as much as her sorrow and Cecily wanted to be alone for that night, obtaining a private chamber in the castle. She buried her face in her pillow, smothering all of her feelings and eventually drifting to sleep.

Cecily did not feel reinvigorated that morning. In fact, she felt about the same as when she went to sleep that night. She simply laid in her bed, dreary eyed, wishing that she could go back to sleep. It was simpler that way: to forget what she was told last night. But at the same time, Cecily cannot keep any of it out of her mind. Her fury started to return and Cecily responded by returning to her pillow. She had contemplated a thousand reasons for why her father would be executed, but they all boiled down to the notion that she managed to escape. A bold, daring escape that would not have been possible without the loyalty of her former retainer Theodore.

She wanted to blame him for this, but that was too easy to do. She could have stayed in that dungeon cell. She could have told him that she will not attempt to escape. She could have chosen to die. She chose her own life instead.

A series of knocks on the door shocked her from her self loathing. Cecily froze as she contemplated answering the visitor, but relented.

"Who is it?" she called out.
*knock knock knock*
 
"Nnnn...." Satsume grumbled in weary disgust and blindly fumbled for the quilt, pulling it over his head.  The beds in Burg Castle were probably the best he had ever slept in, and he wasn't about to pass up life's greatest luxury over the measly rapping of a servant's knuckles on the door.
 
*knock knock knock!*  "Mister Satsume?" came a muffled voice from outside.
 
Still clinging to his state of nirvana, Satsume could only mumble.  "Mmmf.  Goway."
 
“The captain of the guard wishes to have a word with you, Mister Satsume.”
 
A pause, then finally, with disgust, a dreary-eyed Satsume threw the covers off and grunted his displeasure.  “Alright, alright.  Give me a minute.”
 
He swiveled his legs around and placed his feet on the floor.  Throughout a series of yawns, stretches, and eye-rubbing, Satsume put on his pants and a shirt, slid his boots on, and trudged to the door.  The servant took a step back and curtseyed.
 
“So sorry to wake you, but the captain was very insistent.”
 
“I’ll bet,” said Satsume, stifling another yawn with the back of his hand.  “He just wants to see me?”
 
“Actually, he wanted to see all of you.  I’m making my way down the hall.  Only the Lady Cecily remains unroused.”
 
“Let me handle that,” he said, then lowered his voice.  “She can be… a little grouchy if she doesn’t get enough sleep.”
 
“Okay, but please hurry!  He will meet you at the dining hall!”  The maid bowed her head and turned back down the hallway.
 
Satsume went the other way, and stopped in front of the next room – Cecily’s.  He rubbed more sleep out of his eyes and gave his head a quick shake to help wake himself up.  Then he knocked.
 
Tap tap tappity tap!  Tap tap!
 
A brief pause, then finally: “Who is it?”
 
“Your brave and gallant Sir Knight,” Satsume replied sarcastically.  “You dressed?”
 
He turned the handle and entered Cecily’s room.  She looked incredibly weary, like she hadn’t gotten much sleep.  He had a pretty good inkling as to why: sometime last night, she had been informed by someone in the castle – a former Lausian vassal, probably – of her father’s death.  He remembered her being especially averse to conversation before they had turned in for the night.  And there was no way he was about to try talking to her about it to calm her down.
 
It’s probably not in the job description, Satsume thought.  Besides, I’m sure I’d just say something stupid or insensitive.
 
“We’ve been summoned to the dining hall by the wyvern captain.  I suspect there’s breakfast.  You hungry?”
Hungry? Cecily knew that she should be, but she felt no desire to eat. However, knowing her brave and gallant Sir Knight, he would insist she try to eat some victuals.

"Very well," she sighed.

Cecily slid off her bed and headed over to the door. Rather than join him, she pushed him out of her room.

"After I get dressed," Cecily added, with a tinge of annoyance, before shutting the door behind him. She was still in her night gown, after all.

In better spirits, she would have added a tease to Satsume's odd choice of opening the door after asking whether Cecily was properly dressed or not, but she was not in the mood for her usual light banter. Now, more than ever, she wished that she could return to those simpler, more carefree times.

Once she was ready, Cecily rejoined Satsume in the hall to head to the dining room. Their journey was quiet, leading Cecily to conclude that Satsume was trying to be considerate of her feelings. Gallant indeed. But she had no intention of making their journey quiet for much longer.

"Do you have regrets?" she asked.
After all was said and done, Lita left the aftermath of the fight to the others. Besides not really wanting to handle clean up, her and her strong, silent companion weren't really invested in the goings on. They were chance allies that happened upon the group in a time of need, and the time was no longer needy. The duo excused themselves off to a room, Goldhardt obviously staying with Lita, as they rested from the ordeal that followed their late evening travel.


Once assured that the room was secure, Lita fell back onto the bed. ”Ahhhhh... Comfort.” Looking over at Goldhardt who was just standing there she added, ”Are you just going to stand there? If it's just the two of us then you don't need to stay in that stuffy armor.”


Goldhardt looked over to her, silent as always.


”Oh, don't be like that. ...Unless there's something on your mind...?” Lita smirked as she sat up and crossed her legs, placing a finger under her chin as she thought about it. Let... me... guess... You recognized someone?”


Once again Goldhardt was silent.


”I'll take that as a yes...”

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

The next morning Lita and Goldhardt were awake before the knock on their door. Goldhardt was safely armored again and Lita was making sure she was as stunning as she could be. After opening the door and learning that the whole group was being summoned she shrugged. It wasn't as if she was really part of the group yet, but it seemed interesting enough to join in.


The duo stepped out of the room and began making their way down to the dining hall.
While Paige waited for the others, all of the Bern soldiers suddenly stood at attention. A man in red armor entered the dining hall. His short brown hair was quite well-groomed for a soldier. He nodded to all his soldiers.

"Gentlemen," the man addressed his underlings. "At ease. And eat up! We ride to Lord Faren today!"

As his brown eyes gazed upon the glazed donuts, they stopped on Paige. Yes, he no longer hungered for sugar. What luck that among the Lycian refugees blossomed a red rose such as her. Without even checking if anyone else had entered the room, he immediately began his wooing.

"Oh, I didn't realize these Lycian warriors brought such a beauty along," Alan remarked. He extended his hand, palm upright, to take hers.

"Allow me to introduce myself. Sir Alan Mortecai of Bern, captain of the 701st Wyvern Squadron."

"Um, Paige Piedmont of Pherae," she replied. Bewildered by his attitude, she still put her hand into his.

"Ah, we shall keep in eye on you. Red heads from Pherae tend to leave their marks on our country."

Alan took Paige's hand and pressed it to his lips. Paige indulged him, forward as he was. She was no stranger to men trying to court her. They meant well enough. And after the events in the village, she appreciated the positive attention.

"Well, Lady Paige," the captain said as he sat down adjacent to her, "you'll be the first to know the news. Word of you and your companions' heroic deeds has reached the ears of Lord Faren, Count of the Summer Wine. He would like to extend an invitation to his summer mansion, where a grand Bernese ball will be held. Nobles from all over our country will be in attendance. It is a rare opportunity for those outside the country to attend. To refuse would personally break my heart."

"We could use a break from our travels..." Paige said, seriously considering the offer. It wasn't just an opportunity to wine and dine with Bern's finest. It was a chance to see their side in this story. Not only that, but perhaps someone would know of the tome of Ostia's lineage. It was a long shot, but it was possible.
Shad and Maria had begun their descent down the stairs. Shad had begun to internalize the morning routine, but knew that was unwise. This castle was a temporary stay. A home away from home, sorta speak. Getting comfortable here could mean giving up on freeing Etruria and acclimating to life as a well-to-do Bern citizen. This place is to hold them over a ideally short occupation. This wasn't 'home'.

The siblings didn't take long to get to dining hall. The doors were set open and standing by the door was Maisie, having just let the man in red armor into the hall. She looked back towards Shad and Maria and beckoned them over. "Listen to this." Maisie resisted the urge to laugh as she watched the wooing commence.

Shad just walked in, Maria close behind. Shad sat himself at the head of the table with Maria just to his right. He rested his elbow on the table and his head in his palm listening to the rider's news. A Bernese ball? Shad looked to his left, expecting to see Wolfram refresh/inform him on the Lord Faren. But of course, he was not here. He turned his head towards Maria and noticed her fidgeting in her seat, staring at the rider with a sparkle in her eye. He turned back towards Sir Alan, ready to interject. "Our group isn't wholly Lycian, Sir Alan."

"I'm afraid we haven't met. I am Shadrach Hyperion, technically Lord of Arretium-"

"Baron." Shad stopped speaking and looked at Maria, who had interrupted him. He looked confused at her words. "You and fath-Lord Tyber are Barons, in rank. Did Uncle Wolfram never inform you?" She said under her breath at a bewildered Shad.

He quickly collected himself and resumed. "Baron of Arretium," upon correcting himself and thinking on it, he suddenly realized why his family had an inflated sense of self worth. They never acknowledged the title and just accented what it qualified them as. No wonder his whole conflict with his 'uncle' was permitted, it was just over a barony and didn't amount to much  in the grand scheme of things. "I'd like to thank you and your men for manning the castle while a new garrison of men is still a week away. It is fortunate that one was already on it's way, despite the recent incident."

"I wanna go to the ball!" Shad turned to Maria who was back to staring at Sir Alan. She suddenly turned towards Shad, almost bouncing in her seat. "I have just the dress I can wear! Let's go, let's go! I haven't gone to one before!" Shad resisted the urge to ask, but he knew why. Tyber had more connections, but he didn't want Maria to be shown off too much, as she wasn't actually his daughter at the time. As for after, well Shad had no prior interest in such matters, so he wouldn't have looked into it. "I think father left behind a formal outfit that you can fit into!" She said excitedly before looking towards Paige. "I can get a dress made for you if you want, Miss Paige!"

"Maria, calm down. We can't make a decision for everyone. Let's wait for the others to decide," Shad said, trying to calm down the young girl.

"But-"

"No buts. Just calm down and let us talk about it." Shad said, looking back towards Alan, "Please forgive my sister's manners. She's usually all prim and proper like you'd expect out of an Eturian noble."
“Regrets…?” Satsume asked as he and Cecily made their way to the dining hall. He thought about it for a moment. “Maybe I regret not showing you how to use a spear all this time,” he joked. Her lack of a response was all he needed to know that his joke had gone over like molasses off a tree. She had hoped for a serious answer, clearly.

Satsume sighed. “No, milady. No regrets.” Also I have no idea what you’re referring to, he added mentally.

They continued in silence to the dining hall. Once there, they were reconciled with the rest of their roving band. Paige seemed to be fending off the pleasantries of a brown-haired, red-armored man who looked to be of some importance. Shad and Maisie were milling about. Lita and her silent companion were a few steps ahead of them – presumably having just arrived. Satsume met the looks of the unfamiliar soldiers in the room with blank courtesy; they were all suited up and had somewhere to go, whereas Satsume looked rather… unkempt by comparison. As if to subconsciously draw his attention to the matter, Satsume yawned and scratched his head.

“I could use some tea,” he said to Cecily upon seeing Paige take a seat at a table, followed shortly after by a butler placing cups for her and the soldier she was chatting with. He pulled out a chair next to Paige, offering a quick “mornin!” as she glanced up at him. Then he caught himself, cleared his throat, and pulled the chair out a little further, offering the spot to Cecily.

“Ah! More of your companions, I presume?” He stood from his chair and extended courtesies to Cecily. “Sir Alan, of the 701st Wyvern Squadron. And… if I may be so bold, milady…” he lowered his head to kiss Cecily’s hand. “…you too, shall make for a wonderful sight at Lord Faren’s ball!”

Satsume quietly took his seat, trying not to bristle as Alan’s lips touched Cecily’s hand.
Azel had been eating with the other wyvern knights within the dining hall, though he was a little less picky than most when it came to what he got for himself. He didn't eat in such a hurry however, eating slowly so he could focus on processing what their visitors were saying, and otherwise thinking about his dear wyvern. His hands shook every so often as he took glances all around the room, from the visitors to the other fellow knights, and even to his general sometimes. He knew some of the commotion was mainly because of the ball that was upcoming and he was equally, if not moreso anticipating it. However, he inspected each of the visitors from a distance and one at a time, whispering "So they're the ones that freed this place? They seem like good enough people," between a few bites of not so sugary foods and a sip of water. "Though I must see their skill in battle... soon enough."
Cecily held herself back from slapping Satsume when his response was a lighthearted one. Perhaps he meant it? But he corrected himself.

"No, milady. No regrets," he said.

Whether he intended to or not, his words gave Cecily some relief. Ever since she fled from Laus, Cecily had been doing whatever she could to fight back against her relatives. Satsume was not alongside her the whole journey; he happened to be in the right place at the right time (or possibly the worst of both) to help her. But he joined her on his own volition, accepting the pains and triumphs that accompanied it. If he truly was not bothered by what has happened all the way up to this point, then Cecily knew that she played her hand as well as she could.

In the dining hall, she busied herself with the display of treats set out for everyone so that she did not have to look at any of the wyvern knights. Cecily was not in the mood to do much socializing given her state of mind. In fact, she drowned out all of the chatter rather than listen closely as she normally would. But it seemed that her social preferences were not to be held. Cecily silently cursed to herself as she saw Sir Alan approach her from the corner of her eye. Her last few seconds of freedom were spent quickly building composure before the knight butted himself into her life.

Of course, Sir Alan dispensed the standard pleasantries, until Cecily's lips froze at his final words.

"... Lord Faren's ball."

She had been to Bern on Lausian business before. Back then, Lord Faren went beyond simply wooing her: he had a full blown crush on her. By contrast, Cecily found Faren abhorrent to be around and simply hated his tendencies to throw parties at every opportunity and felt that every gift he had presented her to be hollow, soulless, and unrepresentative of her personality. If there was one person Cecily despised having to deal with, it was Lord Faren of Geneva.

"Your words are too kind," Cecily forced herself to say, cutting short her moment's hesitation. She added a smile for good measure before taking her seat. Sir Alan kept her hand in his and kneeled to match her seat instead of retreating to his own seat.

"May I, perchance, know the name of this beauty?" Sir Alan inquired further.

Her instinct told her not to oblige him. The last thing she wanted was another flurry of Faren's fawning around the clock, perhaps even ahead of the ball if he (often) had nothing else to do. No matter the pampering he provides or the special attention to comforts, the two's personalities could not be any less compatible. At the same time, there were benefits to getting close to Lord Faren. He is inclined to woo her at every turn and make an extraordinary effort to impress her, making him easy to manipulate. If they were to wed, to Cecily's own chagrin, it would provide her with access to wealth and material that would otherwise be held entirely at Faren's whim. In the meantime, it would be better if she was prepared and Faren was not.

"Cirina," Cecily told him.

"I pray you enjoy your time here and at the ball, Cirina," Sir Alan said with a smile. He touched his lips to her hand again and turned his attention back to his fellow knights.

It seems he took the lie.

Cecily turned her attention to Satsume, who seemed tense for some reason. "What?"
Apparently, Satsume was very bad at hiding his expression.

"What?" asked Cecily.

"Nothing... it's nothing," he said. He gave an exaggerated shiver. "Still waking up, that's all."

A servant walked past, carrying a tray of tea and cups. Without saying a word, he set it down on the table. Satsume flashed an appreciative smile. "Hey, thanks!" he said. He reached out to grab one of the saucers.

The butler seemed almost put off. "Oh no, sir - allow me." He picked up the teapot and poured a greenish brew into several of the cups. "Would you care for some honey or lemon?"

"Uh... sure," Satsume said awkwardly. This was like learning a new language for him. He had never been served in a castle before; he grew up with the understanding that everything had to be earned. Is this the kind of lifestyle that Cecily is used to?, he wondered. No wonder she hates being on the road so much.

As he received his tea, Satsume heard a clattering sound behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw Lita's bodyguard, Goldhardt, standing upright very quickly, as though trying to hide the fact that he had just caught the edge of one of the chairs with his big armored boot.

He chuckled. "Need a little wake-up sauce yourself, eh big guy?" He motioned for Lita and Goldhardt to join them at the table. Then he turned back to Cecily.

"So, what's all this about a ball? We playing a game or something?"
Azel watched Cecily's discussion with Alan closely, trying to hear in on their discussion. He quietly mumbled to himself, "How... Peculiar, I presume," before drinking down all but a little of his water. When Satsume acted a little... Strangely, Azel choked on his water and began focusing on them, trying not to either laugh or cough. After he finished coughing quietly, he began chuckling as he watched Satsume. "He seems... Dull. Especially with that last sentence."
Lita had made her way to the table of pastries fairly quickly upon entering the dining hall, grabbing several to eat. It seemed she wasn't too concerned about putting on too much weight, either that or she expected to burn it off. Goldhardt, as always, silently followed behind her in full armor. The jest about secretly being a pile of cats or something just as fanciful seemed to be more and more plausible as that armor never seemed to come off.

Once enough pastries were obtained, they moved to sit down, which was hard for Goldhardt. The armor must not allow for much visibility, but that's the price of being to fully clad. After a failed attempt for the armored one of the duo to sit down they were waved over by Satsume. The two of them seemed in favor of doing it and moved over.

”A ball, not a ball game,” Lita said as she sat down, Goldhardt opting to just stand for now. ”A formal dance, although often the dance itself is a formality. An excuse to have a gathering.” Taking a small bite of one of her pastries she said, ”I do hope the invitation has been extended to the two of us as well. Goldhardt and myself, although late to the festivities, did assist in the events last night.”
Shad began looking at the butler that appeared, mystified by his appearance. Mystified by the fact he didn't know who he was or why he was working here. He turned his head towards Maisie and waved her over, close enough to whisper. "Who's that?" He said, looking at the butler confusing the hell out of Satsume.

"That's Graham. His family were among the refugees imprisoned here. He used to serve the Caerleon family, but fled to Bern to protect his daughter. He heard of your family before and saw how great a threat Maria's magic was treated by the brigands and figured his daughter would get a good education here. So he offered his services in exchange for housing and, well, said education for his daughter." Hearing the comment about his family just made Shad hope it was something good.

"Magic education? Wolfram's not here anymore, who's going to teach her? Maria?"

"Taika. She didn't want to say it, but after the inn incidents you've been through, she'd rather stay in one place again. So she's in the middle of getting a room set up to teach in." Maisie explained, making Shad wonder why he wasn't informed in the first place. He couldn't blame her, exactly. First they were the epicenter of the conflict in Tania, next she was drugged by the inn keep in this town to be sold as a slave.

Maria looked to Lita and Goldhardt as Lita expressed her interest of them being invited. "Shad, can we bring Miss Lita and the cat man with us? They helped Auntie Maisie and miss Taika," Shad eyes widened at that comment about 'cat man' in regards to Goldhardt, not knowing where she got this from. He looked at her and saw her eyes widen a bit as well, although sincerity-instead of shock- was in her eyes.

"'Cat' man?" Shad shook his head, not wanting her to elaborate. "Anyway, I don't think that's an issue, I think they're invited," Shad kinda paused for a bit, thinking on that cat man comment. "Provided no one has cat allergies." Maria stifled her laugh at Shad's joke.
"Nothing... it's nothing," Satsume said.

Oh? His expression quickly faded. "Nothing" is clearly not an accurate way of describing what she saw, but Cecily let it drop. She had her own problems to mull over. When the butler approached them to inquire about drinks, she noted Satsume's fluster at attempting to respond.

"He prefers honey. Two spoons," Cecily told the perplexed butler, before requesting her own tea (with one spoonful of honey).

She recognized the tea as coming from the southeastern corner of Bern, perhaps even imported from more distant lands, from a previous visit to the country. The drink had an unusual flavor to it, which Cecily is unsure whether Satsume would have liked, hence the double dosage of honey to dilute. Perhaps he will thank her later.

Or perhaps she will question her decision to make Satsume her vassal, when the next thing to leave his lips was quite possibly the stupidest thing she ever heard from him. Thankfully, she was only sipping at her tea and quickly avoided choking on it, but even she could not mask her disbelief. Her own contemplation of what to say to Satsume was put to a swift end due to Lita's interjection. Cecily still had her own reservations regarding the nature of Lita and Goldhardt's arrival to the scene, but it is clear that they do not appear to harbor ill will towards them.

"I am sure Sir Alan will know whether an invitation has been extended to yourself and your companion," Cecily replied, returning to her drink.

Her eyes happened to pass over another that she did not recognize, seemingly recovering from a similar near-disaster as herself. She casually tipped her cup up and her gaze down to avoid making it appear that she noticed the man's bout. It only took a brief glance to tell that he appears to be one of Bern's wyvern knights, though it is unclear for what reason he decided not to openly express his interest in them, like Sir Alan. Does he have connections to Bern's more secretive institutions? Or perhaps even a Lycian spy?

Cecily lowered her cup and pulled Satsume close by the sleeve as the latter lowered his own cup.

"One of the knights has great interest in us," she whispered in his ear. "See if Sir Alan knows who he is. Tanned, slight build, looks like he is going to eat the table in front of him."

She gestured towards Sir Alan to emphasize her direction. Perhaps it is on the cusp of paranoia to always be looking over her shoulder but, at the same time, no one has ever spoke highly of complacency.
"Splendid, absolutely splendid," Alan replied, satisfied that they would all join. "Etrurian royalty is always welcome, especially when they travel with such beautiful women."

"Of course, all your bodyguards are welcome as well," he added, referring to Satsume and Goldhardt. "Yes, the more the merrier-"

Alan had joined the others in wondering what Azel was mumbling on about. He didn't need the women feeling uncomfortable around his men.

"Oh for goodness sake Azel," Alan spoke to the mumbler. "Speak up and introduce yourself to our guests! With that mumbling of yours, they probably think you're crazy!"

Alan then turned back to his other soldiers and issued to them to move out.

"My men will make preparations to depart shortly. Azel, when our guests are finished, kindly escort them to the courtyard."

With a silent "a pleasure", Alan bowed out to join the other soldiers. This left the group with Azel for introductions.

"I think we're in agreement to attend this ball," Paige said to the others as she turned to Azel. "The only issue remaining is this knight here"

Paige wasn't one to put people on the spot, but he was being rather suspicious with his mumbles. Since Sir Alan pointed it out, theywere pretty much forced to address Azel. Paige tried to be as friendly about it as possible.

"Azel, was it? Don't feel too bad about the mumbling. I sometimes think out loud myself," Paige chuckled. "Have you been a knight for very long?"
"I... Right." Azel nodded and slowly stood up, before turning to the guests and showing a bit of nervousness towards the guests for a split second before sighing and calming down. "As you've heard before, the name's Azel. It is quite the pleasure to be meeting with the lot of you today, before the ball especially." He then sat down, glancing over to Paige when she talked to him. "I haven't been a wyvern knight for too long honestly... but it's pretty good. A lot better than... Nevermind that." He chuckled again before turning to what little of his food he had left, starting to eat a little faster.
Alan quickly refocusing away from their Etrurian roots back into flirting with Paige didn't go unnoticed by them. Shad noticed Maisie trying to hold back her laughter. I guess as a mother, she finds his relentless attempts at flirting to be funny. She must think he's so pathetic or cliched. Poor guy. He looked towards Maria who looked at him with a puzzled look.

"He stopped listening to us almost immediately, didn't he?" She said, softly. Shad nodded his head as Graham came over. "Thank you, Graham," She said as he poured her a glass of what appeared to be the same tea that Cecily and Satsume was served. But unlike the other two, nothing was added to it. Just as Shad was wondering just kind of tea Maria drank before, he noticed her twisting her head and puckering her lips. Being the kid that she is, she wanted to look more adult-like by not adding anything to the tea. He had a big smile on his face as he watched on. She doesn't seem like she had just gone through multiple days of sleep deprivation, starvation, and trauma. Of course, that could just be due to the distractions. Night time is when things turn sour on that front.

"Maisie, I take it you probably know what outfits Maria intends on us to wear, so can you get them prepared for us? Grey won't let anyone else on that floor besides the three of us."

"Certainly."

She left the table side to go upstairs. Shad turned towards Azel, who the others had insisted on pointing out. He seemed very nervous, suspiciously so. In fact, that line of his sounded weird. "'Meeting with the lot of you'? Have we garnered some renown in Bern that you would be so nervous talking about us? Certainly, we're probably on some lists in Lycia, but I don't think that would do it."
As the conversation dragged on, a subordinate approached Alan. They briefly exchanged hushed words, difficult to read in the clamor of the mini-banquet, but it seemed as though those who noticed were about to find out shortly. Sir Alan tapped a glass to get everyone's attention.

"It seems time is short: we promised to escort our honored guests to Lord Faren's estate by evening, since the ball is to commence the following day. We have prepared wyverns to make the journey," he said.

"Wait, you don't mean..." Cecily began, her eyes widening at what the knight implied.

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Cecily cannot remember holding onto something so tightly as she did at this moment. Seeing and hearing a wyvern roar was one thing, but she never felt so inexplicably afraid while riding one. Is it being high enough in the skies that one could touch the clouds like a flower in the garden? It clearly was meant to be a precaution against further banditry as the entourage arrived at Geneva. They landed in the rear of Lord Faren's mansion, where guards and servants were lined up in anticipation of their arrival. The large garden was comprised of hedgerows that were adorned by flowers of every color. A fountain with detailed stone sculptures acted as the centerpiece.

It was no sooner than when the wyvern touched down when a familiar voice rattled in Cecily's ears. "Lady Cecilia!"

She had already prepared a glowing face before she laid eyes on the Bernese lord. "Lord Faren."

Once upon a time, Cecily would have loved the opportunity to reject Faren's behavior as a Lycian ambassador, but she knew better than to damage relations between the countries. Even polite rebukes did nothing to stop Faren's advances. Given the current situation, Cecily is fully aware that Faren's influence can be tremendous help in stemming Imperial Lycian tendencies. It made no sense to close the door to this opportunity solely due to their incompatibility.

"If I may be so bold to ask how you ended up in this motley company?" he asked with an offered hand.

'I suppose Sir Alan was not fooled in the end,' Cecily thought as she accepted the offer. "It would take far too long to regale you with the details, I assure you. At the very least, you must know that I have a new bodyguard present."

Cecily gestured to Satsume. "Satsume Hinoka."

As her eyes returned to the landing zone to point out Satsume, she saw that Faren's servants had went straight to work greeting and attending to the other guests. In her decorum, Cecily realized that she forgot about Satsume's blunder earlier. Hopefully he doesn't embarrass her in front of Faren. Hopefully.
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