OoC: Okiday! I’mma usin’ Leonna and Padme for this. Hope dis posty isun't too bad. :3Here’s the link for the correct profile for Leonna.
I did not know where to start.
Khaz had returned; no one had told me of this. Even if I desired to turn away and run, I could not, for this strange “Dome” would not allow it. No matter how many times I begged, pleaded, and demanded of Adrien, I always received the same manner of answer.
"My dear, the Dome is keeping you here, not me. It has its own will, this place. Sometimes it will not even answer to my will. When this happens I ponder why. The Dome is a place of learning. Perhaps it wants to teach you something."
Adrien could be… so difficult. It was his fault I had even attended Rain’s wedding, his fault that I had embarrassed myself just as I knew I would. I would have been content to congratulate the new couple in a much more decent way, quietly, with a small gift and a smile. Instead, I had attended the actual ceremony, only worried Rain with my presence, and proved to be useful only as unconscious luggage.
What had been learned from this? Those whom I had thought I could trust were keeping secrets. The Dome would not allow me to leave. I was trapped, trapped with my own flaring emotions in a gilded cage. Even Omentus had been…
Goodness, so much had changed. I hardly knew myself, inside or out. My time was spent re-learning my energy, cooking meals, and lonely combat practice wherever there was space. I kept completely to myself, avoiding Leita and the others when I could—particularly Adrien. Unfortunately, however, that ekimmu was determined not to leave me to my own solitude.
My haven today was the “Dome’s” gardens, an extensive quiet space filled with all manner of plants. Padme was curled quietly upon my lap as I sat on a cool stone bench, both of us enjoying the sun and clear sky above. All about us were high green hedges, enclosing the space with only a small entrance into the rest of the gardens. Before us was a small stone fountain shaped like a stork with water streaming out of its mouth. A few squares of the cobbled path had been left bare for bright pink flowers, mostly bleeding hearts.
Amongst all this, there was only the sound of active birds and running water. With any luck, we would be left in peace.
"Hunter, you're going to do fine... sure, you guys have a pretty big time gap, but you're both young guys, right? You'll, er... catch up on the slang," Cadenza was saying as they entered the gardens on their walk, side by side with the worried prince. It sounded encouraging, right? Gods she hoped it sounded encouraging. Privately she was placing bets with herself on how long it would take before Merridale and his new adopted son Christopher would stop feeling like they were speaking entirely different languages.
The top bet was forever. But saying that didn't help anybody. See? She could use tact. Sorta... well, Hunter'll find a way. Even if Chris can't understand what the hell that way is when he tells him.
"I fear it will not be so simple, Lady Cadenza... I was never close with my father. Yes, I told Marcus that I had helped train pages to knighthood, and I have, but... the bond between father and son goes beyond that," the prince replied, following her onto the cobblestone path. They were skirting around the hedges, headed on their way for the entrance to the deeper gardens. Around this time of day, both former Teachers knew this smaller area to be more or less deserted. It seemed a good place to clear their minds and talk.
"Look, Merridale... I'm not going to go into my E! True Hollywood story here or anything, but it's no secret meu madre and I had issues too. I didn't have a lot to go on when I adopted Kate, but that's worked out too, hasn't it...? If anything... the mistakes she made, as hard as she tried for us, at least taught me what to avoid with my own kid. So..." the gypsy paused to stretch, and yawned in the noontime sun. The desert-dweller was far more relaxed outdoors than she ever was indoors at the Dome, and she let that show, reaching up to the sky for a moment like a flower stretching to the sun. Just a sec... ah... this is nice... she was thinking.
The prince looked a little off-put by her timing, but waited it out without comment, taking time to listen to the burbling of the fountain not too far off and the song of the birds. He knew Cadenza's words were probably true. She and Kate had the kind of relationship he would hope for with any child of his own. But Christopher... Christopher only seemed to want to be on his own. He didn't trust foster parents...
"Ah... sorry there," even as she said it, Hunter wondered if she really meant it. Yes they were friends, but... no, no matter. He needed this advice. Even if the gypsy wasn't the simplest woman to associate with, he valued her experience with parenthood.
"I was saying... even if you just start by... making sure you're always there for him... then you're doing better than your old man ever did. And maybe better than Chris' first dad ever did either... you may have to change some things about yourself, Hunter, but fundamentally... I think you got what he needs."
"What he needs..."
"...Reliability and caring, Merridale. That's the name of the game."
The two fell silent for a while as they strolled nearly in step closer towards the fountain, just around the next hedge. The humidity from its spray could already be felt as a cool freshness in the air, and Cadenza huddled her jacket closer around herself, trying to stay in the sun on the path. Hunter was just looking up as they rounded the bend and noticed a familiar head of blond hair.
My body stiffened immediately. I could do little more than stare, feeling my heart leap in my chest as I beheld the person beyond the fountain. No warning had been given, no ample warning could have been given, and I was at a loss of what to do. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to duck for cover, no excuse or explanation for why I was there or how I might leave.
Why did I not pay attention? Caught up in thought, oblivious to the world… and now they were here, Cadenza and… that man, of all people! I knew him, though not his name, but that face, that voice… I was sure he was the kind man I had met at her wedding. Particularly why or how they were here, I did not know, but this “Dome” seemed it could do anything it wished.
“O… oh… oh dear.” I felt my face flush, hoping the pair would simply pass on. On my lap, Padme both heard and felt my sudden stiffness, perking one ear up as she opened her beady black eyes.
Cadenza stopped right in her tracks at the odd voice. “…Did that thing just—”
“The rabbit spoke!?” Hunter blurted from behind her.
Both teachers stared, stock still for a moment, before the gypsy woman was the first to break out of her surprise. She'd had a number of strange students at the Dome, like Jhans Frenn the panserbjorne bear with his opposable thumbs and vocabulary stretching much farther than most humans, but the talking rabbit had still caught her well off guard. It was funny that a normally skittish animal was a lot less shy than Leonna, she thought. Normally the jackrabbits on the dunes back home would've hopped away at the first signs of a human, but this one just perked up and well... said hello.
Kate would've been thrilled.
"Uh... just two retired Dome teachers, passing through. Who are we talking to? I can see you're with Leonna..." Cadenza called back, slowly stepping around the hedge into their full view. Hunter followed behind, his hazel eyes still as wide as saucers.
"We're... acquaintances of hers, I guess. She knows my husband, Rain..."
"G... good day, Miss Leonna..." Hunter finally piped up, swallowing his shock.
Of course I was too late to silence Padme. She had already been fussy, having deemed the Dome “evil HUMAN magic” and perhaps even worse, boring. I could only stare at the furry creature on my lap, blushing at the mention of my name and clasping her in my arms before she could jump off and bound into them.
My ankles instinctively hid beneath the bench, my eyes going no higher than Cadenza’s shoes. “Er… I-I… Goodda—”
“Padme be no THING! Padme be no RABBIT! Padme be Hashcen, stupid HUMANS!” Padme growled, her ears going flat against her head as she struggled with my arms. I knew she was close to demanding a battle or a trucegift, but neither seemed appropriate when these two kind people had merely stumbled upon us.
“Please, Padme, that is no way to—”
“Who Shinycloth think he be, huh? Featherhead want fight? Padme show HUMANS what Haschen be!” Her furry paws were gouging at my arms now, bright eyes furious.
“I can understand being defensive given the circumstances, but Padme—”
"Oh, oh please forgive us, Padme, we had no earthly idea!" Hunter quickly spoke up, stepping forward to guard Cadenza out of sheer, ingrained chivalrous instinct. He squared his shoulders and planted his feet, yet spoke in the voice of an apologetic diplomat, urgent but polite, hazel eyes concerned. "We have never been acquainted with the great Häschen kind, but we apologize for our ignorance of your noble race, proud one! Please, we meant no offense... we were only enjoying a stroll in the gardens," the prince said, bowing his head and spreading his hands in his sincere regret.
The gypsy, on the other hand, simply watched with raised eyebrows, crossing her arms as Hunter made his numerous apologies to the creature. A Häschen? She had never heard of the things, but she had already learned way more than a mouthful from this thing with its hair-trigger temper. Har har. "Hare"-triggered. The fact that such a confrontational little critter was friends with Leonna caught her by surprise. Leonna didn't seem the type to like loud or angry people. Or most people, from what she'd seen so far. Only Rain had broken through her shell. He's good at that...
"Yeah, we're sorry," she added, once Hunter was done. "We had no idea you guys were out here, we were just talking amongst ourselves. Sorry if we interrupted something big. And called you a 'thing'. Can hardly keep track of all the different creatures around here."
A low growl escaped Padme's throat as her dark eyes narrowed, but she uttered no more threats. Like a sulky child, she curled back up on my lap, though her body remained tense as she stared at the strangers. It seemed that the man in all his kindness had calmed her enough to disway an attack.
Not that I would have allowed such a thing. Padme still had much to learn of the human world... as did I. It was strange, sometimes, knowing little more of these immense mortal societies than this small furry creature did. But I enjoyed her company all the same, providing mild conversation to ward off lonliness and always plenty of trouble.
"I must apologize on behalf of my friend." I offered a small, sheepish smile, reassured only by Padme's warmth on my lap. "We were merely a bit surprised. These gardens are very... quiet. But please, do not allow us to detain your business. I fear Padme becomes a bit overexcited in the presence of humans."
"Leonna..." Cadenza spoke up, and Hunter was a little surprised by her change in tone. There was a note of sadness in it, resigned, and maybe a bit of exasperation. He rarely heard such open emotion from the woman, even if she still kept it a bit reserved.
"Is this it...? You're friends with my husband, but with me... it's like you never want to know me. Every time we bump into each other, you're quick to cut the meeting off..." I know Adrien told me about how sensitive you are as a fae, but... I keep my powers pretty well under control. Is it that bad? Cadenza wondered to herself. Do I feel that dark to her?
The prince fell quiet, bowing his head at these words. He, too, had felt something similar around this fair, blond woman. When they'd met at the wedding, it seemed most of the time she wished to flee from his and Arina's presence. What made her recoil so much from them? "In the presence of humans"? he thought, but is she not one too?
“Eh? O-oh, I do apologize for giving such an impression.” But it was true, was it not? Everything had changed so much since I had left Bren. The villagers desired none of my company, and others who beheld me saw me as strange, or simply as a stranger. Yet the more I lingered here, the more this expression of Cadenza’s became evident. These people… they were hurt by the idea that I did not wish to linger among them.
It was so very difficult to understand things from their point of view. I knew what it was to feel rejected, yet no one had shown such pain when I withdrew myself. Why would they care? Why would Cadenza care? I was merely an acquaintance of Rain’s, nothing more.
I choose my next words with care, speaking gently as I looked to the both of them. “I… I fear I merely assumed that the two of you were about your own business in the garden before Padme so rudely interrupted you. For that I apologize, but there is nothing of your good company that I should wish in the least to avoid.”
"We were talking..." Cadenza shrugged a shoulder, "but we were just about done, anyhow. Merridale and I can talk any time." The prince nodded agreement at this, giving one of his warm smiles. "What I've... always wanted to ask you since the wedding..." the gypsy went on, "can I...?"
The woman strode over towards a bench across from the blond fairy and her companion, Hunter following behind like a courtier behind his queen. It was his nature to guard or escort a woman, and he did so without thinking of it. As Cadenza sat, she offered Leonna one of her gentler smiles, an expression that reached her eyes and made the blue of them seem brighter, less deeply engulfing and dark.
"I was just curious... how did you meet my husband? He doesn't tell me about all his travels... I like to hear stories of him. Do you mind...?"
“Ah…” My eyes wandered away, seeking solace for my thoughts. I could feel the hum of shadow as Cadenza approached, and had to remind myself that she had asked a question that needed answering. Truly, she did appear to be a perfectly kind person, but I was reminded of Adrien in his deep perception. There were… people who could see things that were not visible, thoughts and feelings that had no words.
But where on earth could I start? Our first meeting was rather simple—I had attempted to knock him senseless to retrieve something I had been told he had stolen. As it turned out, Rain had been perfectly innocent, and the one who had tricked me into hurting him was nothing less than a monster. Why, if Rain had not been there, I would have likely died myself in all the destruction that creature had caused.
Where did one begin telling such a tale to Rain’s wife? I did not know how she would react to my attempt to hurt him or the fact that some supernatural creature had attempted to attack him multiple times in multiple ways. Frightening as it was, however… I knew very well that Rain was a good deal more powerful than Vladimir. Could that mean… was Cadenza as strong as…?
“Oh-ho! Padme like story!” The furry creature stirred on my lap, pawing my arm as she turned her head to look up at me.
“Well… I…” I gave an awkward cough, looking apologetically back to Cadenza. “I fear it may be somewhat long.”
What he told me about her... that she worries others will think the worst of her. She's doing that now, isn't she? There must be some parts in this story she thinks are gonna rub me the wrong way. I guess I do have a rep for having a temper, too.
"I've got time," Cadenza replied, with another shrug, and a spreading of her hands in a gesture like 'after you' as she sprawled out comfortably in her seat. The fae's hesitance to share her tale only made her want to hear it all the more, to show her that she didn't need to fear or fret about what responses she'd get from her when it was done. Yes, the gypsy formed strong impressions of people. But Leonna was one up right now, a very strong one up, because Rain liked her. There were very few things she could do or say that would ruin that so easily. "Like I said, I like to hear about him... the longer the story, the more I get to."
I wonder what I feel like to her...? If she's sensitive to energies... I've heard myself described a zillion different ways. But mostly by humans or vampires... are faeries afraid of the dark? Do shadows get a bad rap with them too?
Hunter looked a little uncomfortable in his seat, feeling like he was listening in on the ladies' personal matters. He allowed his gaze to wander, further into the small garden, thinking of his worries from earlier that day.
"Hoi! Yes, Leonna tell story." Padme settled back in my lap, happily preparing herself for a tale. It was one of the few things she could manage to sit still for.
I continued to avoid Cadenza's gaze, nervous for the fact that this was Rain's wife that I was attempting to please. Her friend... I hardly knew him, but it was rather clear by their appearances and auras that they were people of importance.
With an awkward smile, I continued staring at the pavement, searching my mind for the details I wished to speak. “Ah… it has been a while, has it not? I had been passing through a small village when I noticed one particular building, an inn, in disrepair. There was a man inside… everything had been crushed and tattered beyond all repair. He was very distraught, and told me that a terrible man had destroyed his place and robbed him. Feeling compassion for his great misfortune, I readily offered to find the thief and return what he had stolen. As I could do little else for him, it… it seemed decent enough.
“Finding the thief was not difficult, as he had not travelled far into the forest. When I happened upon him, he was merely sitting in a clearing, perhaps resting. Not knowing quite who he was, and knowing of the ruined man’s sad state, I… I merely assumed…”
I sighed, feeling my cheeks flush with shame. “It was Rain whom I snuck up upon and attempted to knock out. I struck him once, but was unsuccessful in rendering him unconscious. Instead, he stood up and faced me, but did not attack. He… he even… he laughed. Even as I fired my accusations against him, he denied them, never once striking back when I struck at him.
“Needless to say, our battle did not last long. He convinced me of the truth, and we returned to the village… only to find it in ruin. Rain claimed that the innkeeper (or rather, the pretended one) was in fact some manner of Demifiend named Vladimir. I did not understand the true power and gall of that ‘Demifiend’ until I saw what he had done in our absence. Vladimir himself proved Rain true when he attempted to attack me. Rain managed to stop him, and having nothing more to do for the village, we left.”
My stomach was contorting itself into knots as I spoke, feeling all manner of emotions at the memory. Strange it was, to think how much I had missed the gold-eyed man. There was so much good in him, such a bright light of kindness in his eyes that soothed a pained heart. I still felt it meet that Chanson had remained with him rather than me, who still struggled to understand the child. She had taken so well to Aurora… it was both a pain and a relief to know there was at least another whom she could enjoy herself with.
“In all truth, that is how I met your husband, and how I have come to respect him as one of the best men of my acquaintance. Such kindness and acceptance… can be difficult to find in any one person. I am happy to see him so well matched with you Cadenza, and I wish you both every happiness.” My… that did seem an odd way to end a story, but I had not had the chance to give her any well wishing at her wedding. It seemed almost fitting this way, in a quiet place where I could give my thoughts and compliments without fear of embarrassing Rain or myself.
"Thank you, Leonna..." Cadenza bowed her head for a moment, enjoying a private smile. Her husband had been just the good-natured gentleman she'd always known him to be. Where she would've lashed out, ditched her accuser, maybe even worked to turn things against them or make them look dumb, he took it all with patience and kindness. And when he'd only known the faerie for a moment, when danger came, he'd stood to protect her. That was the man she had fallen in love with on that ship. The man who'd defended her after only a day against some of the most daunting threats her world had to offer, Death himself on her heels.
Meu amor cariñoso... you never disappoint...
"You knew him for so little, but you seem to know him so well... you must be a good judge of people."
The prince listened as Cadenza spoke her words of admiration, and he could picture the expression on her face. Not too long ago, he had daydreamed of her features taking on that tenderness at the thought of him, with sweet words about his deeds. It still stung a little to hear her talk of another man. But he respected and liked Rain, and was happy for his friend. He hoped, with the lovely lady he had met at the wedding, he might move on. There was also something special about this blond maiden, but he dared not consider it. She hadn't even remembered him. That was all right...
"You are very kind." I smiled even as my heart fell, her gentle words falling hard upon my ears. A good judge of people? I wanted to believe such things, but Khaz... had I seen only my own feelings reflected in his gaze? Had I hoped too much and thought too little?
Of course the answer was yes. How could it be any other way? Khaz had left without a word... his friends and family had sheilded him from me. My heart had only done him harm, and my selfish actions had only made everything worse. If I could but have the courage, the selflessness... I could have spoken to him as I ought to. But I had been weary from the wedding, and had never so much as dreamed of seeing him again.
With a sigh, I looked back up. It was good to see Cadenza satisfied, and Padme was once again quiet. All that was left was the odd silence that I felt it meet to break.
"Er... Good Sir, am I mistaken in believing you were one I met at Cadenza's wedding?"
"Oh..." Hunter glanced up, "oh, pray tell, you... you recognized me, fair lady? Yes, it was I that you met when you came outside the church, perhaps for a breath of air. We spoke a little before you... headed to return inside, and..." The prince didn't dare finish the sentence, and bring up how she had fainted then. It wasn't polite to remind her so bluntly. Just what had really happened that day...?
"Ah..." I felt my cheeks warm at the memory, tucking my feet further beneath the bench. It seemed he remembered me as well as I remembered him, though I had never caught his name. There was such a nice cadence to his voice, so formal, yet gentle at the same time.
And certainly, one could not look at him without the assumption that he was some manner of soldier or knight. The greatest clue there was the armor, polished and perfectly functional. Even his posture had dignity. Were it not for his warm and gentle eyes, the kind lines of his face, I would have been rather intimidated.
But even that did not compare to the contrast he shared with Cadenza. Where she was colored with sun, his skin was fair, where her tone was firm, his was humble—in posture, in clothing, in speech, the two would struggle to be anything less than opposites. They did seem to be on good terms with one another nonetheless, though the man did not seem quite as determined or comfortable in our odd conversation.
If I recalled correctly, Cadenza had referred to both of them as being… teachers? Adrien, too, had sometimes been referred to or spoken of in such a manner. They said this “Dome” was a place of learning, but the lessons I had thus experienced were little more than further understanding of the capacity for cruelty and misunderstanding that was entirely synonymous with human nature. Such things could be seen and learned anywhere. Close-minded, selfish, prideful, spiteful mortals covered the entire earth, so few of them able to stop and wonder over the miracle, the gift of being exactly what they were.
Human. Fleshy, perfect mortal matter. They belonged to the earth, and the earth accepted them, yet at every opportunity, be it nature herself or another human, they would almost certainly take advantage. Hordes of treasures they laid up for themselves, leaving a trail of tears and broken hearts in their wake. It did not matter whether it was gold or food or name or friends—once they had all they sought, they would mock and spurn the weak and uncomely.
If this “Dome” held the very same creatures, what could possibly make it different? I was not one of them, neither teacher, nor student, nor human. Our conversation would pass into the wind and be nothing more than a memory, and I, too, would fade in their minds. Why, then, should Cadenza be upset when I chose to withdraw? Whether she knew me or not, the crossing of our paths would end, and I would be forgotten.
Human hearts… their passions and desires are fleeting. They do not bind with creatures who are not their own. If I had learned anything from my experience, from Khaz, that was it. Leita and his friends were the champions of his heart, the people he would never forget and always seek to help. Likewise, Cadenza and Rain were bound to each other, always to love and care and hope for one another. They were of the earth, they had the earth. Upon what pretense could these creatures ‘befriend’ me?
But I would have to endure. Cadenza was determined, I would offend both of them if I chose to leave so soon. So I offered a mild smile to the man in armor, beginning to stroke Padme’s furry head. “I fear I do not have the pleasure of knowing your name.”
"Oh... you don't recall it?" Hunter thought back to the wedding, to the meeting outside the church. Both Arina and he had offered their names, had they not? But perhaps the lady's mind had just been elsewhere... perhaps pondering the feelings that later overwhelmed her and caused her to faint? "I am Hunter Merridale, milady, it's a pleasure."
"Prince Hunter Merridale," Cadenza added, "explains the cape and all."
OoC: Excuse my short posts, school is draining me. ^^;
"Oh..." I felt my cheeks warm with chagrin and offered a sheepish smile. "Er... thank you... for your kindness."
"Prince? Prince! Padme knew! Padme knew all along! HUMANs come to take forest! ERAH!" I was not fast enough to stop the furry creature from leaping away. Her powerful feet nearly knocked me off my seat in the process, launching straight into the prince.
Oh dear. "P-Padme!" But it was already too late. Padme was not armed with her staff, but had managed to throw herself straight into his chest. He was at least armored, but... I suppose it simply was not the best greeting for royalty. Who would have thought Cadenza had such connnections? I had known her family was large and wealthy, but... royalty?
OoC: Dun worry! 'S all gewd. All 'chu need is a Fairbycolada. :3
Hunter fell backward from the attack, into the flowerbed, more startled than hurt. He'd felt the dread growing in him the moment Cadenza had uttered "prince", but never had he expected a reaction such as this. Usually it just fixed an image in a person's mind he'd rather not be there. Made them feel like they should show him deference when he wanted nothing less. Kellson, long ago, had shown him hostility because of his royal lineage. But never so suddenly and so outright as this.
"Cool it!" Cadenza shouted, and her hands were already prying the Häschen from the prince's armored chest. Struggle as the creature might, the gypsy's hands proved too strong, too callous from old scars and too padded by her gloves to feel much harm or be broken away from. "Hunter does not want anything from you. He hasn't got an imperial bone in his whole body. I just don't like him to try and hide who he is. You're proud to be an Häschen. Why should he be judged or shamed for being a medieval prince? You're going to attack him for who his family is? When he's done nothing wrong to you as a person?"