Alate Epoch (Viverescribere x Peregrine)

Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Kilroth had to restrain a chuckle as he watched Astrid whirl around in shock. He couldn't help but find it almost cute how wrapped up she'd been in her own world that she hadn't noticed his presence. However, he was still maintaining the stance of doing his best not to offend his future wife, and laughing at her would doubtless only serve to turn her even further against him—if such a thing were possible.

To distract himself from the situation, Kilroth focused on the matter of the book. "Ah," he said, before vaguely gesturing towards the front of the library. "When you enter the library, there's a slot on the left wall, covered by a hinging bronze plate. If you slide the book through the slot, it will be put into a basket, and that let's the automatons know it should be returned to where it belongs.

"But, if you'd like to put it where it goes regardless, you can open the inside cover. There should be a number written just on the inside, followed by three letters. It's a code that tells you what the book is about and, by extension, where it belongs in the library. If you get it numerically and then alphabetically in order, that's the right spot."

The system had been developed by a former member of the Department of the Treasury, who had adored numbers almost as much as he adored books. It was perhaps unsurprising that he'd created a system that combined the two. However, it had greatly eased the burden on library workers, especially those in the Royal Library who had previously needed to know where to find thousands upon thousands of books. No one had ever proposed a better organizational system, and therefore it remained.

"As for the room, I may have temporarily laid claim to the table, but the rest of the chairs are still open. I've always found it the most comfortable room in the library. You're more than welcome to stay, though I figure it may be me disturbing your reading, and not the other way around."

As though to confirm Kilroth's point, the little mechanical creature came trundling into the room a second later, another stack of documents in its arms. It sat them down on the edge of the table with a notable thunk, before bowing slightly and shuffling away once more. Kilroth let out a sigh that was somewhere between amusement and irritation as he quickly checked the documents, before glancing up at Astrid once more.
 

Viverescribere

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Astrid


"I--... had forgotten about that."

The strength of the 'I' didn't match the rest of the sentence, which was softer and almost quieter in it's confession. Now that he had spoken about the return slot, it flooded back into Astrid's mind. She had started off adamant that she had not been informed of such a detail, which really did make one's life a lot easier. However, she could not lie once the memory had popped back into place.

Her cheeks warmed slightly as a result, embarrassed by both her forgetfulness but also her haste to criticise something that hadn't even happened. The fairy was aware that she was being rather harsh on her new home and thus that influenced her expectations. Those within the palace had, so far, been nothing but kind and welcoming, yet she was still seeking anything that would balance out the positive experiences she had had.

What she read in the books she took with a pinch of salt, history was written by the victors after all. However, just looking out the windows of the palace she stayed in, or hovering at a distance mid-flight when she needed air... she could see it for herself in person.

Shaden, or at least what she had seen thus far, had not lived up to the stories that had been told. It was pleasant, forward thinking, modern. It lacked the brutality, the harshness and the overbearing nature of an oppressive empire that she had been taught to expect if she ever stepped foot within the boundaries of such an allusive land.

And Astrid knew, deep down, that terrified her.

She was not ready to accept that there was a possibility that the rumours in Arryn and beyond were false. How could she give them up so easily, when she had been raised on them? She grew up scared of Shaden and then, when she began her duties as future Empress of Arryn, began to hate the Empire that she saw as so greedy and destructive.

"...I will... take it back to the slot, then, and come back when the... little creature isn't so busy for another." Astrid finally conceded, tucking the book into the crook of her elbow to keep it pressed to her chest. Her right hand raised to overlap the left that wrapped over the book opening, fingers quietly turning the dragon ring around and around as she lingered, not yet moving despite her words.

The fairy continued to hesitate, a conflict rife within her as she battled with her wants. Eventually she swallowed her pride and took a small step forward, allowing her eyes to fall from him and onto the work before him, "What are you working on? If I may ask, that is. I understand the necessity for secrecy if it is still required." It felt impossible to look away from his emerald gaze for too long, and soon she found herself trapped, eyes locking with his once again. The twisting of the ring halted, only to be replaced with the firm rubbing over her thumb over the runes adorning the piece of jewellery, helping her to focus.

"You say I wouldn't disturb you, but if my questioning does then I can and will leave. My... curiosity just gets the better of me, most of the time."
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Looking at the faint blush that stained Astrid's cheeks, Kilroth had to work hard to suppress another chuckle. She maintained such a cool and dignified appearance in a professional environment, looking every bit the princess who had been preparing to rule her own kingdom. And yet, in private moments like these, it was possible to see the woman behind the royalty.

For one moment, it could almost seem like they weren’t in an arranged marriage, like she hadn’t taken the path of noble self-sacrifice by agreeing to marry him. Instead, the two of them might have just been a man teasing his fiancée.

And then the illusion was shattered, as she pulled her hands against her chest and spoke words that pointed to hasty retreat.

Yes. After all, they were not just a normal engaged couple, and they never would be. He hadn’t brought her here because he loved her, and she wouldn’t have accepted if he hadn’t the power to hold her kingdom ransom.

In the end, he simply nodded, eyes already straying back to the documents on the table. Their relationship would be a long-term problem. The military meetings that would begin later this week were a much more urgent issue.

And yet, he didn’t hear the sound of footsteps the moment they broke eye contact. Instead, he could hear her faint breath, the slight buzz as her wings fluttered through the air. Kilroth glanced back in her direction.

Astrid hadn’t moved. Instead, she had approached slightly, neck craned slightly to the side as though trying to peer past him to the documents on the table. Kilroth leaned back slightly from the table, tilting slightly to give her a better view.

“No secrecy necessary,” Kilroth replied casually, taking one of the nearby pages and offering it to her. “They’re all public records. They record various information about Shaden. This particular collection goes back up to a decade ago, but we have records dating back centuries.”

For the average citizen, it could hardly be called interesting information. It recorded things like how much raw iron they had produced in one month, which of the garden beds had to be left fallow over the winter to recover the soil, how many children had been born, how many people had died and of what cause.

However, to an attentive reader, these documents contained everything one might need to know about the empire. Its strengths and weaknesses were laid out on thin, yellowed paper.
 
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Viverescribere

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Astrid


His openness took her by surprise, but the fairy made sure to keep that emotion off her features. As previously observed, everyone had been kind and helpful since her arrival, however her encounters with people had yet to include any political business. Of course, Kilroth had made it very clear that she would spend time in each of the departments, but Astrid had been sceptical. She had expected only a certain level of information to be on offer to her during her time in each of those areas. Yet here he was, the Emperor - one rumoured to be an overbearing, micro-managing dictator that demanded to oversee the minutiae of every element of his ransacking and invasion - providing her with a slip of paper that included public records.

She quietly lowered her own book onto the table to take it from him. She held it in her right while her left fell to her side, her thumb continuing to push the ring around on her finger as was the habit she had recently adopted while in thought. This piece of paper in particular laid out the details for the recent harvest. The total number of each crop, the kind that succeeded and the ones that failed and had decreased in number.

Slowly, hand and paper descended until it rested on top of the book Astrid had put down. Her eyes went over the other pieces of paper before her, taking in briefly the other record titles. Births, deaths, population records, the harvest of minerals and metals and other raw materials. Quotas expected and quotas reached. Undoubtedly the mathematics would then later come into it: how much of what would be needed to keep his people alive, the economy stable... the Empire strong.

If she read them all as acutely as he did, then she would learn more about her new home. Everything one needed to know about realm could be found within the pages of records such as these. That, of course, tempted her to later ask for them once he was done; to come back at a later time to read them herself and understand Shaden more. However, there was also that nagging in the pit of her stomach... why was he reading them now?

Astrid moved to place both hands on the edge of the table, twisted so her fingers face towards her and holding the lip of the surface, and leaned against them. Her head nodded tentatively as she tried to stop herself from jumping to conclusions (she was trying to be better, after all) and her eyes continued to flicker rapidly over the papers scattered in the mess that they were.

"...Can't make for easy, casual reading," she murmured, finally looking back up to him to gauge his reaction (not that he provided her any in the past), "So you must be looking at all these for a reason-- unless you enjoy reminding yourself of the facts within your censuses from to time. Do your department Heads quiz you often?" There was a hint of a tease to her voice with the last question, a vain attempt to lighten whatever stiff impression she may have first given.
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
As Astrid took the paper from it, lifting it in one hand to study the records, the paper mostly blocked her face, hiding all but her forehead and half of one eye from view. Shifting slightly in his seat, Kilroth’s gaze instead turned towards the book she had placed on the table.

‘A Brief Overview of the Empire.’ A history book. Without opening the cover, it was impossible to tell when this one was dated, which meant he didn’t know whether or not it was one of the most recent edits to the book. However, it was common study material used in schooling courses throughout the empire.

It was clear that the Empress was taking her duties of learning about her new land seriously, and was building herself a foundation for when she began to work in the other departments. He glanced at her face again around the paper, wondering what thoughts were running through her head as she reviewed the information on Kuanthur’s vegetable production from two years ago.

Instead, his attention was caught by her other hand, where her thumb was incessantly twirling the ring he’d sent to her through Brach. Was the gesture one of growing familiarity and attachment to the ring, or something born from irritation at its presence? There was no way for him to know. At the very least, she was wearing it, and the fact that she hadn’t been intending to meet it meant its presence wasn’t merely for appearances sake.

It wasn’t until her hand lowered, accompanied by the faint sound of rustling paper, that Kilroth lifted his gaze to meet her eyes once more. “Not the most interesting,” he agreed, “Unless you are particularly interested in statistics.”

Her follow-up question earned a slight chuckle from him, accompanied by a small shake of the head.

“I am sure some of the department heads would love nothing more than to catch me mis-quoting a statistic. Catara in particular would love nothing more, I’m sure.”

It truly wasn’t hard for the Emperor to imagine the auburn-haired witches smiling wickedly as, for the next week, she’d use his mistake as an excuse to double check every number. Her soft voice seemed to echo in his head for a moment. ‘We have to make sure we’re getting our facts right, Your Majesty. And you have been known to get things wrong here or there.’

For a moment, her warm red-toned hair seemed to overlap with Astrid’s own vivid locks. It almost seemed like the kind of thing his future Empress would enjoy doing. Assuming, of course, they were ever on friendly enough terms that she’d want to tease him.

“No. Once every decade Shaden has a major review, targeted towards finding ways to improve our greatest weaknesses. The empire’s primary focus is on cultural enrichment and lifestyle improvements. Identifying the places that are falling short of the empire’s other capabilities allows us to make targeted plans for our improvement.”

There was no discomfort or wavering as Kilroth spoke to Astrid. After all, it wasn't as though he had anything to hide.

Yet, he also couldn’t help but wonder how much Astrid understood about Shaden at this point. He’d given her full access to the palace, its various archives and meeting halls, but it was only possible for her to grasp so much in a short period of time, no matter how many history books she read.

He had a feeling her question was probing at something. After all, she’d made sure he’d sent back the brownies to Arryn with her own hands. And there was no denying that Kilroth’s research at the moment was precisely for finding out what should replace them.

‘Targeted plans.’ He hadn’t intended to make such a distasteful euphemism.

Kilroth had never shied away from what his plans for the empire meant. He was a conqueror, and that wouldn’t change until either he fell, or the entire world had been brought into his vision for the future.

Yet, did she have any reason to suspect that Shaden’s continued conquest was for any reason but arrogance and greed for power and control? Could she believe that conquering other people would bring a better future for all its citizens, when the Empire did not permit slavery or labor exploitation?

Regardless, he supposed this was about to become a very… informative conversation. One way or another.
 
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Viverescribere

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Astrid


Targeted plans.

A bitter taste swelled onto Astrid's tongue at his choice of words and underneath the table, the knuckles of her fingers grew white with the strength of which they gripped the table. A heat rose within her, the kind that had gotten her into trouble in the past because she had been incapable of biting her tongue. It made her legs go numb and her head go light, her vision hazy and words sharp.

Her mother once told her that Astrid reminded her so much of herself. The princess had been surprised, shocked at the idea of her calm, soft and collective mother having such a fieriness within her. It had taken years, the current Empress had soothingly spoken, but she had controlled the flames within eventually. Learned to master them, bend them to her whim. Not allowed such passion to blind her and cause her to make mistakes.

Astrid longed to have that control.

"...Is that all we--" She cut herself off, eyes briefly closing as she forced herself to make the correction - there was no 'we' now, she was property of Shaden, "They, the other kingdoms and empires, are to you? Targeted plans?" Her voice was soft, but there was a slight tremble to her words, betraying the emotion she was attempting to smother.

Pushing herself away from the desk, the fairy moved to a nearby window, needing to walk out some of the energy that was building within her but also because she didn't want to have to mask her expression as she so often did from him. Her arms folded across her chest, wings quivering against her back as her thumb pressed harder against the runes of the ring, the pain becoming biting.

"W-we... are people with families, friends, loved ones... and you are taking them away with each bloody battle you fight in order to accomplish your targeted plans." She swallowed thickly, the inner war beginning to rage once more. The battle between her original view of Shaden and the one that had started to form in recent days. "You could have accomplished just as much with trade negotiations, alliances, treaties. But we will never know because you decided on this path instead. The direction of just taking."

Eventually, Astrid turned to face him. But not a slow, hesitant turn of someone who feared that they were speaking out of turn and what that could mean for the alliance agreed upon through marriage. Instead, it was driven by a fierce passion, a sudden and desperate emotion to understand just why things were being done as they were.

"You had the Brownies; Arryn could have - should have - been next. You could have had someone from a stronger kingdom, perhaps someone with a more pleasing disposition. Or maybe someone from your own Empire who can do more than fly." Her feet carried her back to the table and her hands once more came to rest on the surface, allowing her to lean against it.

She had seen the looks, very rarely (and mostly from Bach), when she had tried to learn more. The incredulous expressions that only appear for a second, but she still saw them, of his people that are wondering the same as she - how is this outsider going to be their Empress?

Her eyes continued to remain on him, as they had done the moment she had turned away from the window. "There are a lot of things about you, about Shaden, that I simply do not understand."
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Kilroth remained silent as Astrid abruptly pushed herself away from the table, pacing over to the window. He could respond to her words then and there, but the faint stirring of emotion in her voice, the repressed trembling of her wings, the arms she'd folded protectively across her chest, all spoke volumes on her behalf. She wasn't done talking, and Kilroth had no intention of interrupting her.

So he let her talk, watching, waiting, and listening as her emotion rose up into a peak as fiery as her sunlit hair, a peak that brought her back over to the table, leaning in to confront him, hazel-grey eyes fiercely meeting his own emerald green, as though attempting to lock him in place.

He held her gaze steadily.

"And yet, interestingly enough," Kilroth finally replied, his voice unreasonably light considering the intensity of the conversation. From the perspective of someone who didn't know him, it might seem like he was simply responding to accusations regarding the insufficient sorghum production from three years ago. "Despite saying you don't understand, your rebuke only actually contained one question, which I have reason to suspect you proclaimed more rhetorically than otherwise.

"Yet, I shall do my best to answer not only it, but also your other, implicit confusions as well."

Kilroth remained silent for half a moment, organizing his thoughts. This would be a welcome conversation, he supposed. Anything to actually get Astrid talking to him with more than harmless small talk filled with propriety.

"First, you are correct to some degree. I have no care for other governments. Kingdoms and empires mean nothing to me." It was a strange sentence to come out of the mouth of an Emperor. Which ruler didn't cling desperately to the power the throne offered? And yet Kilroth's entire being seemed to exude cold, steely determination. Even though he was seated, his presence seemed to match Astrid, who was still looming over him.

"That is because people are the most precious resource that exists. Governments only exist for the purpose of organizing, structuring, and unifying all people. Anything that is not contributing to that goal, or is acting against it, has no reason to exist."

It was a hardline stance, but one that had supported Shaden since the moment of it formation. Everything that existed within his empire was built with that belief as one of several, core foundations. It had yet to fail him.

"Second, your assumption that we would have gone on to forcibly take over the rest of Arryn is incorrect. We were only there for the brownies. Trying to take over the kingdom in one shot would gain us nothing, and, worse yet sow seeds of future rebellion. It would have been positively counterproductive."

She doubtless wouldn't like his assessment, wouldn't agree with his viewpoint. Perhaps she'd even take offense at him offering such a cold, calculating assessment on whether or not Shaden would take over her lifelong home. And yet, Kilroth believed that it was precisely because it was a logical decision rather than an emotional one that Astrid would be willing to believe it.

He could only hope that she would be so willing to accept his final response.

"Finally, and most importantly, I brought you here for the exact same reason."

He'd never broken eye contact with Astrid. Not since the moment he'd started talking. But now he leaned into her, closing the distance between them slightly. The firmness and detachment with which he'd approached their conversation thus far seemed to melt away like morning frost.

"You have the potential to become the ultimate force of collaboration and unity. You have the capability to do things that no one else in this world is able. Not even me. So don't doubt yourself so much."

Only then did he lean away, pressing himself into the back of the wooden chair and folding his arms, a small smile tugging its way across his lips.

"Next time, you can just ask."
 
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Viverescribere

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Astrid


As she stood before him, Astrid hadn't been sure what to expect. Previous to this, all their conversations had mostly been short, pleasant small talk - except, of course, the toeing of the line (mostly on her part) after the meeting with his Department Heads. She may not have snapped at him as she had done in the library, but she knew she still pushed her luck.

So when he started to speak, calmly and nonchalantly, it sent her for a loop. But his body language did not match. Should he be stood, he would tower over her. Yet even sitting, Astrid began to feel small. It took all of her to keep her spine straight and her eyes focused onto his. Those dangerous emerald hues that seemed to promise so much for her. Her heart began to pound as he continued to speak, throwing away words with such disgusting casualness about her kingdom and her throne.

By the end of his second point, she felt as though she had frozen in place. Her fingers had curled back in on themselves so tightly, that they were now fists pressed into the surface of the desk he had been working on. The knuckles showing white as her nails bit into the fleshy part of her palms. The only thing that suggested that she wasn't as statuesque as she felt, was the trembling. The shiver-like tension in her body from the rage and irritation and pain that the conversation was bringing up. The pain of leaving her family.

The worse thing was that she couldn't even take it out on him. Not as unreasonably as she had wished to. He wasn't threatening in any way, shape or form. There were no raised voices or hands. She couldn't accuse him of being a liar because he spoke with logic. Logic that he believed, anyway. But she could sense no lie within his words.

Until the third statement.

When he leaned in, the redhead felt her body stiffen even further (if that was even possible) as she controlled her natural reaction to shy away. She wanted as little close proximity with her betrothed as possible and detested him being even on the brink of her personal space. Yet she was stubborn, and refused to back away. It was standoff that she had created within her own mind as she was certain he wouldn't have paid it any mind. Hell, this whole conversation would undoubtedly be forgotten by him within the next hour or so.

Then she wanted to raise her own hand and slap the smile from his lips, regardless of how small it was.

"Next time, I'll leave and not entertain the idea of speaking to you." She retorted, despising that it was her own curiosity that led to the conversation in the first place. If she hadn't tried to learn more about Shaden, she wouldn't have had to have brought the book back. If she hadn't been in the library that day, she wouldn't have seen him.

If she hadn't have seen him, she wouldn't have asked about his work. Found out what he was doing. Exploded the way she had.

"You are highly mistaken, Emperor du Shaden." Astrid spoke next, finally peeling herself away from the table and tucking her hands behind her back, the one still a clenched fist as the other ached as it stretched out to cradle it, "I am not quite sure what you think you have seen in me but-- no-- no, actually. Yes. Please. Do enlighten me."

The Arryn princess moved abruptly, sweeping her way across to a nearby chair to drag it across with a few squeals and whines and grunts of displeasure from the piece of furniture. She settled into it. Leaning back as he had done with her hands folded across her abdomen in a casual manner, attempting to mirror his seemingly blasé attitude.

"Make me laugh, Emperor. What potential and what capabilities can you see within this servant of yours?" Sarcasm dripped off every word, feeling as though it eroded the air around her. "If I'm to be so great, how are you not sitting here not bent to my whim, hm?"
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Kilroth couldn’t help but let out a soft chuckle, little more than a raspy exhalation, at Astrid’s proclamation that she wouldn’t even consider talking with him next time. For a woman who professed her confusion only a few moments ago, she was certainly doing her best to contradict anything that would give her a chance to resolve that confusion.

It was almost as delightfully contradictory as the fact that, a moment later, she began to forcibly drag over one of the heavy armchairs from near the windows. Clearly determined to have a long, heated conversation with him.

The heavy chair scraped across the floor, letting out faint noises of displeasure at its abrupt displacement. Faint scratches were left on the wood floor, which the librarian would doubtless buff out later that evening. And then the armchair was in place, Astrid firmly placing herself on top of it, hands folded.

Kilroth, too, shifted himself in the chair, rotating his legs so that he was now sitting sideways in the chair, its backrest pressed against his shoulder. A moment later, and his hands folded into position to imitate her, loosely crossed in his lap.

“I thought,” he began, voice filled with humor. “That the next time you had a question, you wouldn’t even entertain the idea of speaking to me?”

Kilroth laughed slightly, but continued on before Astrid would have time to do much more than bristle at his teasing.

“But, an Emperor should always keep to his words. Very well. As I said before. It is a potential. It ‘will be’. You are young. But, with time and good fortune on both our parts, one day, you will become a leader who can bring all people to her side.”

Kilroth leaned forward slightly, but this time it wasn’t so much an attempt to encroach upon her as it was a simple relaxation on his part, letting his chin come to rest on his hand, elbow in turn resting on the edge of the table. He stared at Astrid, corners of his eyes still tilted with good cheer.

“But, now it is my turn to profess my curiosity. What whims would you have me bend to? As far as I know, you have yet to make any requests since your arrival.”
 
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Astrid


Her contradictory behaviours did not need to be pointed out to her by him. His subtle expressions of amusement were just as irking as the words that left his lips in a teasing fashion. It took all of Astrid's stubborn nature to remain in that seat, despite her irritation itching for her to pull herself out of her seat and telling him to forget she ever asked.

Since he continued to speak before she could retort, the hazel-eyed fairy settled for narrowing her gaze even further with tightened shoulders and arms that moved slowly from her lap to spread to either side of the chair, perching her wrists upon the arms of her seat. Her body language may be open, in a textbook sense, but the tension within her body was not to be mistaken for someone looking to be amenable.

She couldn't understand his humour. Not with the words he just spoke. But she was beginning to understand.

From her interpretation of their conversation, he wished to mould her into something like himself. Worse than himself. This 'ultimate force' that he seemed to have dreams of her being... it was unexplainable to her. He described her as something that was simply otherworldly; a creature with the ability to bend grown men to her will. It would have made her laugh, if she hadn't known that he was serious in his description of the future he imagined for her. That gaiety that he displayed remained and she knew that the kind of fun he was having wasn't the kind of someone teasing another by trying to convince them of something. No, this was just plain teasing; baiting her with something that he knew and she did not.

And Astrid hated not knowing.

Heated hazel eyes fixed upon entertained emerald; rich and sparkling with the delight he was clearly experiencing with their conversation. She doubted it was because of her sharp tongue and teetering patience. Unless he enjoyed seeing how far he could push her.

"Following our conversation, Emperor du Shaden, I doubt you would bend for anyone." Her drawled response was unimpressed, not bothering to disguise either her irritation at the fun he was clearly having with her. "As for requests... what could I possibly ask for except for what I cannot have in its entirety?"

Her home. She wanted her home. She wanted the familiar scent of her mother's perfume. She longed to argue again with her father over matters of state. She wished to see her instructor again, Yvaine, who taught her combat and flying, but who was also like a sister to her.

However, not to be outdone, Astrid dared to mirror his movement. She leaned forward but instead rested both forearms, while crossed, on the surface of the table. However, she did not prop her chin up in hand; keeping it up with a defiant tilt, "Do you wish to use me?"
 

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Kilroth couldn't help but shake his head slightly as Astrid replied to his question with sharp statements, leading his eyes to drop closed

It wasn't as though he didn't know how to play along, how to humor, or how to appreciate others. Yet, even saying that to himself in his mind seemed pompous and unbelievable. Who ever believed a person when they flattered themselves to deny someone else's point?

And thus the second reason for that small shake, the one that led to the disappointment that had so briefly caused his eyes to rest closed. He'd wanted to her to make a request. He'd wanted to see just how unreasonable she could be, and what way he could find to use it to engage a little further with her. Yet, in the end, she hadn't even bothered to ask. She'd just... assumed, and confidently marched forward with that assumption, giving him no room to participate.

At least it spoke to her self-confidence.

That didn't make it any more disappointing.

Yet, at least they were still talking now. Leaning towards the table across from each other, almost like two ministers in a heated debate. That caused him to smile slightly again, although it was accompanied by another shake of his head, this one more pronounced and clearly communicative.

However, what followed weren't words to reassure her that he didn't intend to use her, but rather a complete denial of the principle of her question.

"You can't use people," he stated, calmly and confidently. "Sure, people can force others into things they don't want to do, can blackmail or manipulate them into acting on your behalf. But the moment anyone does such, I assure you, they won't get the end result they're hoping for. After all, most of that person's being will be focused on trying to find ways to thwart you."

Kilroth considered for a moment, lightly rubbing one hand across the back of his neck, before allowing it to drop back to the surface of the table.

"I believe the greatest results can only ever arrive from the heartfelt passion of a person's body and soul. Anything other than that is simply pursuing cheap gains from an ever more unstable foundation. It will inevitably collapse. Don't you agree, Astrid?"
 

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Astrid


"And a forced engagement makes for stable foundation, does it, Kilroth?"

She didn't want to answer his question. He didn't deserve any further answers from her while he was being so insufferable.

Just when she felt like her opinion of this empire was altering somewhat, even if the scales of her thoughts were tipping into a more favourable view of the land she would rule someday (even as a regent of some kind)... he went and ruined it. To Astrid, it was as though he couldn't contain himself with the amused twitching of his lips and the low chuckles, the witty comments that just felt quite patronising. The closing of his eyes and the shaking of his head, as if she were a petulant child that just simply didn't understand the ways of the world.

"...So help me if you open your mouth to tell me that it wasn't forced, or make some droll comment that you believe some great, omniscient being would make..." The fairy took a deep breath in, as if to cool the flames that had flared dangerously within her, "Because I believe that there was no real choice for me in this engagement, was there? You made a promise, a deal, and your gamble worked. You got what you wanted, while I got what my kingdom wanted."

A small chuckle then escaped her as she drew back from the table, pulling her folded arms back to her chest as she rested back into the armchair, "I do agree with your statement though, Kilroth. Heartfelt passion, one derived from a person's body and soul, to create the greatest results? Oh yes..." Her body moved to settle her wrists onto the arms of the chair, "As I will be channelling my heartfelt passion into thwarting whatever little plans you have in mind for me. And these capabilities I seem to possess. At least if they serve a means for your... expansion." She snorted.
 

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"Of course it was forced," Kilroth replied, the words accompanied by a faint trace of agreeable laughter. He didn't try and control his expression or emotions in any particular way, because no doubt she would find a way to revile him for it regardless. He might as well be honest to himself.

"I have no intention to delude myself into believing that our marriage is currently anything but a contractual agreement. That is why, other than the very act of bringing you here, I have made no attempt to get you to do anything. And I intend for that to remain the case going forward."

He'd brought her here, introduced her to the Directors, and then stepped back. Now, Shaden was at her disposal, to learn about or ignore as she would. But Kilroth truly believed she would take action. Her coming here to find a book on Shaden's history, the fact that she had ended up engaging with him about the papers he was studying. All of it pointed to her natural curiosity, her interest in learning.

"You want to know a secret, Astrid?" Kilroth asked, voice somewhat playful. He continued on, expecting no genuine answer to his question, which had been mostly rhetorical to begin with. "If you truly wish to thwart every possible benefit I could get from bringing you to Shaden, there's one surefire method. Do absolutely nothing."

And wasn't that his worst fear? That she'd bury her passion and transform herself into a mindless puppet that sat blankly by his side.

"Refuse to learn about Shaden. Make no effort. Engage in nothing. Transform yourself into a beautiful doll that only moves when someone winds the key, and you will have succeeded in utterly sabotaging any plan I could have that includes you."

He wondered if it would be possible for her to suppress her nature out of sheer spite.

It seemed more likely that she'd rebel against it all the harder simply for it being his suggestion. Perhaps proposing that option to her was the best thing he could do to prevent that future from coming to be.

"So, by all means. Invest your passion. Dig up every secret you can, expose every flaw. I'll be looking forward to hearing what you find."
 

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Astrid


Her body tensed at his playful, dare-like comment for her to just do nothing.

The still, statue state that she found herself frozen in was evident of her shock that he wanted her to learn about Shaden. That he wished for her to go tearing up the history books to learn more about the empire, knowing that she would be looking for flaws to expose and wounds to reopen. She would find nothing that would help her prove that they were the dictator barbarians that she had grown up to be, not when it was their own library with their own history books. But she could read between the lines, cross-reference, do something to find the truth behind what this nation was like.

He wanted her to read and learn and talk to the people. He wanted her curiosity exposed like the raw nerve that it was to manipulate it for his own means, his own gains... his own ends.

But he had her, didn't he. He already knew her better than he should have done given their lack of time together.

The man before her, the one that forced her into an engagement, was toying with her. He knew that her curiosity was never quenched and she would go looking for the next bit of knowledge that could help her understand her topic of choice better. Shaden was just that topic, and already she had proven him right by showing him she had looked for the history books and because she spoke to him about the papers he was studying in that moment. She was preparing to sit in on his departments, the first visit in the next week or so, and had willingly agreed to it because she wanted to learn. She wanted to understand her new empire better, even if she believed she wouldn't have a say in the many runnings of it.

She just didn't want him to be right.

"Does that go for our marriage and wedding too? Because if you leave it down to me - which would honestly be laughable if you did - and I choose to 'engage with nothing', as you so aptly put it, there won't ever be a ceremony." She retorted, finally melting enough from her frozen state to retort and for an eyebrow to quirk in another challenge.
 

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Kilroth's shoulders shrugged slightly, his expression hardly concerned with her seeming threat that their marriage would not ever be officiated.

"If you are looking for something else to read," he began, not overly worried that the connection between his words and Astrid's previous comment was hard to follow. The connection would become apparent in a moment. "You should consider finding one of the books that details some of the aspects of Shaden's culture. I think one of our previous Directors of People Services wrote several volumes about it."

Compared to some of the kingdoms that existed outside Shaden's borders, the empire's culture was nothing dramatic. There were very few rituals created without purpose, religion was nonexistent, and the population's views on the world was rooted in research and logic. However, any time people gathered together en masse, habits would form and spread. That had created Shaden's culture.

"Perhaps one of the most documented examples is the cultural respect paid towards those who are willing to bear children."

Astrid's impatience with his rambling was starting to become obvious, but Kilroth continued to stubbornly plow forward in his commentary, unconcerned about the expression on her face. "That respect is paid at birth, as mothers are the ones responsible for choosing a child's first name, while the mother's partner grants the second name. But it is also paid by ensuring, at least as far as family matters are concerned, the mother or potential mother has the right to take charge."

There were only a few areas where Kilroth had any direct impact on Shaden's culture. Most of it, fashion, food, entertainment, and the like, had naturally sprung up from within the people. However, these policies were ones that could trace back right to Shaden's founding, when he'd first recognized the importance of children in the nation's future, and, though he'd never admit it, born from a deep desire to pay the same courtesy to his own mother.

"Family matters include things like initiating relationships, deciding when or whether to have children, and arranging major milestones such as weddings and anniversaries."

His long tangent had finally come to its conclusion, and Kilroth smiled slightly.

"As the Emperor, it is impossible for me to grant another the prerogative in initiating a relationship. But I intend to follow my people's standards on the rest of it as far as I am able. You do not wish to arrange our wedding.? Very well. A wedding is merely a public celebration of a relationship, and is not mandatory to officiate a commitment. So long as it does not serve to destabilize our people, you may do as you wish."

If anyone asked, Kilroth would be unable to say whether or not he hoped to have a wedding. He'd been to plenty of weddings, issued even more gifts and congratulations, but organizing his own wedding had always been so far out of his thoughts.

"You should look for Amense-Ta, Director Minesh's personal assistant, whenever you are ready. She can help you complete whatever standard you would like to follow regarding your position as Empress. I personally recommend a coronation at minimum, but should you truly wish to do nothing, that ring on your finger will be sufficient to serve as proof of your position."
 
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Astrid


His assumption that she was beginning to grow impatient with his words was not hard to come by, with the fairy rolling her eyes and deciding that she had had enough of their conversation - which really felt as though he had been lecturing her and laughing at her naivety as though she was a child. She had started that late morning ready to be relatively open to what Shaden had to offer. She had borrowed a history book and was eager to seek out another, she had engaged in conversation with him that was outside the remits of polite small talk, and had even allowed her curiosity to gander to the papers he had been attending to.

But their 'conversation' had only served as a reminder of what she had almost been blinded to but the wonders Shaden had to offer. That the man who had coerced her into an engagement was a greedy dictator who wished to slowly engulf all the other kingdoms and merge them into his own.

She had stood, pushing herself out and away from her chair with some unbridled force of irritation, and had turned to leave. Only to slowly circle around the chair so she had her hands placed on the back of it as he spoke of the cultural respect paid to those who were willing to bear children.

Again, it was another show of weakness in regards to her curiosity as she lingered to hear out the rest of his explanation. And one that she wished she hadn't shown, nor given into, given his next explanation.

Her legs went weak, knees briefly shaking as it came to settle in her mind the importance, and respect, that mothers and potential mothers had in this empire. But thus, all the planning would come down to her. If there was any planning at all to be done. She would delay and delay for as long as possible. However, to Astrid, it would feel odd to be coronated but not with her arranged betrothed being her arranged husband.

She was silent, for once, with no retort ready to come springing forth from her mouth as she considered the implications of what this meant. She would have the final say in all things related to their so-called relationship. If they got married, how they got married, where and when. When they would have children, if they had any at all.

"...So... so..." Astrid started, stammering as she tried to understand the implications of what this meant. "But... we still... but we still have to get married. Legally, contractually. In the... in the agreement, it said..." Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember the paperwork, "But if I don't... organise something, your people..." She gave a bitter laugh, "Your people will be disappointed. No wedding for their beloved Emperor."

She hadn't actually expected him to manage to pin the ceremony planning on her. Yet he had. Their culture, their beliefs... it all came back onto her. She had to plan something. She would have to... surely.

Exhaling heavily, the fairy turned away from him to begin pacing, once more needing to release her nervous energy. "And you didn't think to have someone mention this to me sooner?" She sharply glanced over to him as she paced, eventually stopping behind the chair again but the heel of her one foot bouncing against the ground. "This is big, Kilroth. Very big."
 

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"What?" Kilroth asked, his normal rhythm somewhat disturbed. He sat up straight again, momentarily blinking in befuddlement. He'd been expecting rage or frustration, not... was that worry?

"No, it's not that big of a deal," he continued, quickly trying to pick out the points of concern from her slightly incoherent ramblings. "There was nothing in the contract about us having to hold a wedding ceremony. That document I sent with Brach was the marriage contract. The moment you and your father signed it, by Shaden law, we were bound and you became Empress."

It was precisely because he expected her to so deeply hate the idea of him that Kilroth hadn't put any stipulations and requirements in the contract, other than her living in Shaden as his Empress.

"I introduced you as the future Empress to the Directors because there hadn't been a ceremony or coronation yet, but the absence of such rituals won't break our agreement or change your position. I can officiate it tomorrow during the meeting if you wish. Minesh should be able to finish the relevant documentation within a few hours."

No, that wasn't all she'd mentioned.

"If you're worried about the people, Amense can arrange a corresponding public celebration to go along with it. I'm sure most people would prefer some form of tangible benefits over a ceremony anyways."

Kilroth finally paused, realizing that at some point in the past couple minutes he'd gone from trying to poke at her buttons to see how she'd react to trying to reassure her. She didn't want a wedding, and he couldn't say he cared about it one way or another. If an Emperor couldn't at least arrange things to meet his Empress' will regarding their relationship, it would have to say a lot about his lacking authority. And Kilroth did not lack authority.

Still, now that he'd caught himself, he couldn't bring himself to continue in the same vein. She'd likely just see it as another attempt on his part to manipulate her. His lips briefly pressed into a thin line, Kilroth turned his head to the side.

"You are truly free to do as you wish," the Emperor finally said, somewhat stiffly. "I stand by Shaden's traditions in this regard, and I'm sure our people will as well. I'll make sure Amense finds you tomorrow. She can help you fully understand the options, including delegating all responsibility to me. My... I... I didn't expect this to take you so by surprise. I will try to ensure it does not happen again."
 
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Astrid




Coming to Shaden, Astrid had been prepared for everything to be forced on her as expected. She had hoped to get away with never having to be in an arranged marriage, but knew what would be expected of her if she was. This one with Kilroth was no different. She anticipated to have little to no say in anything to do with their relationship: when they would be married, how it would come to be, what the ceremony would be like, the consummation... if they would have children and when.

Yet she had just been handed a snippet of information about the Empire that, while small and seemingly insignificant to him, was an incredible shock to her.

A place she thought to be so manipulative and oppressive allowed her the freedom of choice and opportunity to do as she wished, so to speak, with elements of their relationship. She would not be corralled or shepherd from one place to another, forced to sit through hours of dreary conversation regarding place settings or flowers - although some aspects of a wedding plan did seem enjoyable, like the dress shopping or the cake tasting.

Her hands came to hold onto the back of the chair, her one foot continuing to bounce away as she studied him. He seemed sincere in his apology, genuinely not having expected her to have reacted in such a way. He truly didn't realise she lacked the knowledge of their traditions.

"...You weren't to know." She eventually said, voice hushed in that defeat of not being able to remain irate. How could she when he clearly didn't realise she was completely unaware? "We just... that's just not how things are done... everywhere else. Or at least not in Arryn."

Astrid bowed her head for a moment, allowing it to fill that gap between her body and the back of her chair as she studied her feet. Her mind stewed over what she had just learned, struggling to come to a compromise on what to do. She knew her duty, to the contract and to the people of the new empire. She knew she should go ahead with the plans and make it a whole event for those in the Empire to enjoy. Yet she couldn't turn away her desires to have something more quiet and discreet where she didn't have to worry about putting on a perfect smile for everyone who would be looking to get a glimpse of their new Empress.

Her head eventually lifted as she battled within herself, eyes darting around over the surface of the table but not really seeing anything as she remained lost in her own mind. "...What... what would you like to do, Kilroth?" She finally breathed, masking the surprise she felt herself at asking him and giving him any options anyway. "For, uh, for our... our wedding. Would you like to make a big fuss of it? Or would you rather... be minimalistic?"

Despite it all, she felt as though she owed him the option and the chance to put his thoughts forward. She had disliked the idea of everything being done without her say in things, so despite the news that had just been dropped on her and the implications that it brought, she knew she ought to at least provide him the opportunity to make any suggestions or ask for any specific thing.
 
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"Me?" Kilroth repeated, his brows shooting up in surprise.

This was the second time in only a few minutes that her response to the situation had genuinely surprised him.

There was no doubt that their marriage was a sensitive subject for her, and that was putting it mildly. Only moments ago, it had seemed like she'd shove a knife into his throat if there'd been one in the immediate viscinity. And yet, now here she was, asking him what he'd like most.

It wasn't that he hadn't expected their wedding to impact her. But he had not expected it would get this kind of reaction out of her.

Kilroth's head dipped slightly, staring blankly at the spot where her feet were resting against the library's wood floor. What was he supposed to say?

In truth, Kilroth had never once imagined himself getting married. He'd always run Shaden alone, and had imagined that was how it would always be in the future. Calling Astrid his wife, calling her the Empress, was simply the smoothest way to integrate her into Shaden's government. As for the social aspects of getting married? He'd figured she'd hate him far too much to engage in them, regardless of what she ended up thinking about Shaden in the future.

Yet here she was, reaching out to him. Even if it was just for the sake of the contract, even if she was only doing it because of her obligation, she was choosing to value and consider his opinion.

He didn't want to make a mistake.

In truth, the nature of the wedding didn't matter to him. What he wanted most was whatever would give her the best impression of Shaden. And the only way he knew of to show that was to respect her wishes on the matter.

After all, it wasn't as though he could guess and say what he thought she wanted most. If he got it wrong, it wouldn't be serving either of them well.

Yet, if he didn't give an actual answer, would she simply think that he was dismissive? Just because he said he wanted whatever she preferred did not mean she would believe him.

The silence was starting to spill out long enough that it had filled the entire room with invisible weight. He had to say something.

Kilroth lifted his head, sighing slightly, before opening his mouth and expecting satisfactory words to fall out.

"I am generally a man of efficiency," he finally said, projecting an air of confidence. "While Minesh and Amense will be quick to talk about the value of ceremony, I do not believe in ceremony solely for ceremony's sake. Were matters left entirely in my hands, I would ultimately leave the ceremony up to their judgement, because they understand how it will affect the hearts of the people more than I ever could. But first, I would likely propose a fusion ceremony that is both a wedding and a coronation."

It was as close to an answer as he seemed he would be getting.

"So I suppose you could say my preference is neither flamboyance nor intentional minimalism but simply... practicality. I will do whatever is required. Nothing less, but also... nothing more."
 
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Astrid



When he still hadn't looked back up at her and the silence dragged out to a point where she was beginning to feel uncomfortable, Astrid's lips parted to speak again. However, he finally began to provide her with a response, allowing her words (which would have been to tell him to forget she had ever asked and not to worry) to die on her tongue.

His answer did not surprise her in the slightest. There was nothing within her experiences with him or of Shaden so far that made her dubious that an efficient wedding was what he truly wanted. He was blunt, to the point, if slightly (in her opinion) arrogant about the way he conducted some things - teasing her with pieces of information like toying a dog with a treat, before finally providing that sweet titbit of knowledge that satisfied her curiosity. Only for her to feel irritated and even disgusted with herself for falling for it in the first place, feeling as though she was playing a game in which he was the master.

But regardless of that, he still was efficient. Just as he claimed himself to be. She couldn't disagree with him on that matter.

However, she could also feel herself swaying to the idea of both wedding and coronation in one. Her anxiety and uncertainty about the people she would now rule over left her wanting to make as little show of her arrival as possible. However, the royal within her knew that the supposed ideas of Minesh and Amense would be correct. This would be a momentous day for the people of Shaden, getting to live while their Emperor married and witness the wedding, experience the celebrations. That is, if they were happy about the occasion. If they were pleased about the person he was marrying.

Her gaze, which had fallen again once he had provided his answer, raised to meet his once more. Astrid observed him for a few seconds, allowing his words to hang, and then fade, on the air.

"You've never been married before, have you?" She eventually spoke up again, "Or perhaps you have, but not in the lifetime of those you currently rule." Her head turned briefly to look out the windows, foot once more returning to its bouncing state as she mulled over her thoughts. "I would bet that it is more that you haven't been married. Otherwise there would be a portrait of them somewhere, or they would have been mentioned in the history."

She projected her own confident air, fed up of feeling uncertain and cautious in his presence. She desired control in some aspects of her life again, whether it be of her assumptions or even this wedding that she realised she had full rein over.

Her head turned back to him, eyes flickering over him again before addressing the previous topic of conversation, "I will speak to Minesh and Amense about the wedding. A joint ceremony with the coronation sounds ideal and the people can still celebrate as they wish. Perhaps even a day of rest, to sweeten the deal further. They may love you but... they do not know me. Only that I am a fairy, I am from Arryn and I'm betrothed to you." Her hand slipped from the back of the chair as she prepared to leave, the new reading material she intended to request long forgotten about, "Good impressions need to be made."

Astrid paused, straightening the bodice of her clothing, clearing her throat softly as she did so, "I'll be sure to keep you updated with the details... or Minesh or Amense can do. Unless you prefer to be left alone? A date can be provided and that is all you need to worry about." She raised an eyebrow, almost seeming to offer a silent challenge into how much control he wished to allow her to have over a ceremony that could hold such importance.