The Sword in The Stone (Valor x Raesha)

Discussion in 'ONE ON ONES IN CHARACTER' started by Valor, Aug 30, 2016.

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    "Don't worry, I'm sure you're in excellent hands."


    ...

    "...The best, your highness."

    @Raesha




    Across the ornate hallways of the Imperial Palace, a young man draped in fine silk garments pushed through the tall archways that led into the heart of the establishment. With flowing blue silks, the young man looked wildly out of place among the Imperial aristocracy, his clothes clearly and proudly displaying his foreign identity to those around him. As the young man pushed his way into the throne room, his eyes immediately caught the image of two figures standing in the distance.

    "Sir Oliver, my Lord."

    The young man introduced himself, bowing gracefully for the two figures beyond. Bowing was something that all men of his stature were required to practice... thousands of times over. Sometimes, Oliver wondered if he had become better at bowing that wielding a blade. Without waiting for the King to address him, the talented knight stepped closer, closing the gap between the figures. As he passed the giant, marble columns that thrust into the ceiling, Oliver couldn't help but feel a sense of emptiness from the throne room. He had never been inside the room while it was so empty.

    As Oliver stepped closer, he realized that the other figure standing beside the King was none other than Castella, the Crown Princess and future Queen of the throne. While Oliver had once been very close friends with Castella in his youth, he had found that the two of them had drifted quite apart over the years, their political obligations tearing their friendship apart.

    "It's good to see you, Princess Castella."

    Oliver remarked, saving another bow for the woman he had secretly enamored his entire life. The knight then turned to the King, wondering why he had been summoned. Before he could speak, however, the King jumped straight into the middle of things.

    "Sir Oliver. You will be accompanying my daughter as her bodyguard."

    Oliver raised a brow, turning towards the young woman, then back to the King, "I would be most honored to protect the Princess, but I hear the Princess is quite formidable with the blade, are you sure she wouldn't be the one protecting me on a journey?" The young smart ass smiled.

    "You are the best swordsman in the Kingdom, even if you weren't born here, you were raised by our people. While I still do not trust your kind, I cannot settle for anything less than the best. You will accompany the Princess into the Cursed Lands, where you will help her find the ancient relic every Kingdom has sought after for two hundred years."

    Oliver's smile quickly faded into a disturbed frown. "My lord, you would send your Crown Princess to the Cursed Lands? Nobody has ever returned from such a place." Everyone, including Oliver knew that the Cursed Lands were essentially suicide.

    "Yes. It is time that the Princess earns her place." The King grinned, turning towards the Princess, "Don't worry, I'm sure that you're in excellent hands."

    While Oliver did not agree with such a suicidal quest, it was his duty to protect Princess Castella from whatever dangers she would experience on such a journey. Plus, it would surely give him a chance to reconnect with his childhood friend. "The best, your highness." Oliver assured her, "Why, after you, of course." He added with a humble smile.

     
  2. Castella stood, hands clasped over the skirt of her dress, as her father's words rang in her head. You'll be going to the Cursed Lands, he'd said, shocking her into silence. She took a deep breath, trying to find the words with which to reply, but none came. So, instead, she subtly fiddled with the hem of her sleeve. She tried to suppress the bitterness that rose within her. It wasn't far, not in the least. She'd trained in the sword, like her father had wanted. She acted how she was expected in court. She wore the dresses she was supposed to. And this was her reward?

    She felt a wave of relief when footsteps approached and another voice cut through the silence. She looked away from her father to see Oliver bowing and then walking towards them. She regarded her childhood friend, thinking that she hadn't seen him in a while. As children, they'd been practically inseparable, but now they barely saw each other. Maybe it was for the best, though. The more she saw him, the harder her feelings were to ignore.

    Castella inclined her head to Oliver, giving him a terse smile. While she tried to keep her face calm, she failed to keep all of the anxiety from her expression. "And you as well, Sir Oliver," she replied politely. Even if they were friends in their childhood, there were certain expectations for her to maintain now.

    She snorted quietly at Oliver's quip, covering her amused smile with her hand and turning her face away. Her smile turned forced at her father's words. Time she earned her place? How ridiculous. But, she had a duty to uphold as Crown Princess of her country.

    "Of course, father," she agreed, and then turned to Oliver. "I'll be in your care, Sir." She gave her father a curtsy, before turning and walking back down the length of the throne room. Suddenly, the bustling servants that morning made sense. Her father had probably been prepping her travel supplies without her even knowing. She suppressed a tired sigh as she headed down the palace's ornate hallways.
     
  3. The foreign Knight watched as Castella scaled down the length of the throne room, seeing herself out through the dual, wooden doors which marked the exit. Once the Princess had made her exit, the Knight followed the same formalities, bowing before the King before seeing himself down the same hallway and set of doors that Castella had pressed through. The Knight wasn't sure if he should speak to Castella before their departure. Surely, she had many arrangements to make before leaving the city: saying farewell to her acquaintances, ensuring that all of her things are prepared.

    Oliver did not have such worries. He had few belongings... and fewer friends in the Imperial Palace. No matter his accomplishments, he would always be regarded as an outsider. The young man navigated his way to his personal quarters, packing the few things he would need for the journey ahead. His blade, spare clothing and of course, his armor - which he found that he seldom had the need to ever wear. Once his things were all put together, he stepped out of his room, traveling down the stairs which led to the royal courtyard.

    Once Castella finally emerged from the front of the Palace, the Knight looked up and towards the Princess. "It must be difficult to know you may not be coming back." The Knight shared a feeling that he was all too familiar with. After all, he still had horrible nightmares the night he was pulled away from his family, never to be seen again. "Home is home, after all." Oliver frowned, turning away from the Princess as he stared off and into the bustling city below the Palace.

    "You'll be back." Oliver's frown turned to a hopeful smile as he gazed back towards the Princess. As two servants pulled a pair of horses up to them, Oliver pulled himself over the saddle. "You can ride with me." Oliver extended his hand out jokingly. While it would be incredibly inappropriate for the Princess to ride the same horse as him, he couldn't help but remind her of their childhood, where the two of them had first learned to ride a horse together.

     
  4. Castella made her way to her quarters from the throne room, setting a brisk pace as she went. She gestured to a gaggle of servants that she passed, and they broke away from their individual tasks to follow her. Sighing inwardly, she turned down yet another corridor. She had a number of things to do before she left, none of which she'd be able to get done without the help of her handmaids. She wouldn't be able to bid farewell to all of her court friends and acquaintances, but that was hardly her fault with so little time to prepare.

    "My armor, please," she said as she arrived at her rooms. "I presume my father has arranged for bags to be packed for me?" One of the servants nodded to her as they set about fetching her armor. Once out of her dress, and wearing her armor, Castella set about writing quick letters to those she wouldn't be able say goodbye to in person. She then gave them to one of the servants to deliver, before heading out to bid farewell to those of her court friends that she could, and then making her way to the front entrance of the palace.

    When she got there, she noticed that Oliver was already waiting for her. She smiled. Ever the good knight. "I appreciate the sympathy," she said honestly. "I know you speak from experience." As the words escaped her mouth, she snapped her mouth shut. Had that been rude? Anyone else might have taken offense, but she wasn't sure about Oliver.

    "Thank you." She watched the servants bring their horses around. Her nervousness reared its head again at the sight of her mare; somehow, it made the task she'd been charged with even more real. Her father was, in effect, sending her to her death. At Oliver's words, a playful smile tugged at her lips. "Why, Sir Knight, how bold of you," she replied as she mounted her own horse. "Shall we be off?"

    As she said that, she spurred her horse on, leaving the servants, and her home, behind. She cast one last, forlorn, look back at the palace, knowing that this might be the last time she saw it. Her thoughts went briefly to her sisters, hoping that this journey would let their father be less harsh towards them. Before her emotions could get the better of her, she turned back towards the road ahead, steeling herself as they descended towards the city.
     
  5. Oliver laughed as the Princess took her own horse, noticing the smile that was drawn across her lips. While the two of them had been apart for so long, Oliver was still glad that he could manage to make the Princess smile. He had been afraid that years of training she received as a Princess would have made her not appreciate such tidbits of humor. As the two of them descended the city, many did not pay heed to the pair as they rode out. It was hard to notice the pair, as the nobility would generally leave the city in a fancy caravan with several dozen knights and ornate carriages lined with the fanciest of jewels.

    Riding out of the city, the pair navigated through lush and peaceful countryside as they made their way across the several roads that led to the border. For the first several hours of their journey, the two exchanged little conversation, limited to nothing more than directions to ensure they were on the correct pathways. While they had once been very close friends, Oliver felt quite awkward when talking to the Princess. Perhaps he found it difficult to talk to her now that he understood his deep, forbidden affection for her? Shaking the thought from his mind, he surmised that the Princess had little wish to speak with him now that she understood her place above him - a feeling that he could most certainly understand.

    After a full day of travel, the sun that once gleamed high above had finally began to set. Slowly, darkness began to take hold as day passed into night. Oliver reared his horse suddenly, turning towards the Princess. "We're at the border to the Cursed Lands. Beyond this forest is the barrier that we must cross through." Oliver remarked. He had often made his way through this area when he had been passing through, but had never explored into the forest which had been rumored to be quite dangerous. "We should rest here and wait until morning. Crossing into the Cursed Lands at night sounds like it would be an incredibly bad idea." He wasn't sure if his words held true, but it was just one of his gut feelings he would get from time to time.

    After several moments, Oliver dismounted his horse, planting his feet into the soft grass underneath before tying the reins of his horse to a nearby tree. Grabbing his belongings from his horse, he set a large blanket flat across the grass. He then dropped his bag down on the grass before unraveling its contents, most notably his armor, onto the blanket. Without thinking about the gender and class of his traveling companion, he began to undo the ties which held his silk yukata in place, as undressing would be necessary to put on his suit of armor.

    Oliver wasn't the sort of person who particularly enjoyed wearing armor, saving the hefty endeavor for when they neared the Cursed Lands. The pieces that lay on the blanket before him were unlike the more metallic armors of the Kingdom. Rather, they were the armor from his Eastern home country, a colorful palette of blue and gold which matched the clothes that he frequently wore. As Oliver began to remove his clothes, he suddenly remembered the Princess' presence.

    "Sorry, I forgot that you were with me, Castella." The Knight stopped, sapphire eyes gazing in her direction. "Shall I do this somewhere out of your sight?"


     
    #5 Valor, Aug 31, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2016
  6. Castella was grateful for the relative anonymity and silence as they rode out of the city and through the countryside. It gave her time to think and collect herself. The suddenness of the whole ordeal had left her very shaken up, and she couldn't let it show - not even when she and Oliver were alone on the road. So, some quiet time on the road was nice. She thought back to her father, how matter-of-factly he'd handed off her death sentence, and felt another stab of bitterness. Had he ever cared for her in the first place? Or had she merely been a tool to him since the beginning? She supposed that this was the man who killed her mother, so she shouldn't really be surprised. She just hoped that her sisters would be safe. There were few that she trusted at the palace.

    As their journey wore on, and Castella felt herself arrive at a strange sense of calm, it truly dawned on her just how long it had been since she spent this much time with Oliver. It felt odd, in a way. While some aspects of their old banter were easy to fall back into, it still felt somewhat strained. There was distance between them, now. They weren't children, and didn't have the luxury of ignoring what their posts meant, and they'd spent enough time apart that Castella wasn't sure if they really knew each other anymore. Glancing over at him as they rode, she wished that it wasn't so. If only she didn't have the responsibilities of a Princess, then maybe... No, it wasn't worth even thinking about. She doubted that he'd feel the same way, in any event.

    When they arrived at the border, she felt dread settle into the pit of her stomach. Tomorrow, she would face that which had taken so many lives. She couldn't find it in her to hope that her luck would be any better than those before her. Bringing her own horse to a stop, she nodded absently at Oliver's words. "Good idea," she said, watching the forest before them, wondering what exactly lay beyond. Finally tearing her eyes away from it, she dismounted as well.

    Castella turned, about to take her own horse to a tree, just as Oliver began undoing the ties of his yukata. She stopped in her tracks, eyes widening in surprise. Did he intend to disrobe and change right there, with her around? Castella supposed that her question was answered when he didn't stop. Did he realize that she was there? She found herself staring, unable to look away. When Oliver spoke, she started a little, a slight blush rising to her cheeks.

    "Oh, that's quite alright," she said, hoping her voice sounded normal. "I was just going to tend to my horse. I'm sure she'll appreciate some grooming." Turning, she walked towards a tree in the opposite direction, facing away from Oliver and trying desperately not to let on just how flustered she was. Under ordinary circumstances, she would have easily been able to keep her composure in such a situation, but - this was Oliver. Under ordinary circumstances, she shouldn't have had such feelings for him. So, she set about tying her mare to a tree, removing the saddles and beginning to brush her. She could organize her bedroll and belongings once she was sure that Oliver was dressed again, and once she'd regained her composure enough to act normally.
     
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  7. Once the Princess had turned out of sight, Oliver continued to disrobe, taking off the remainder of his clothes before slipping into a different set of garments. While the armor that Castella wore could be paired with a large variety of garments, the traditional armors of Oliver's homeland required a very specific set of clothing. Once he had been fully dressed, he picked up the pieces of his armor, tying them into place. Lighter than the steel armor that Castella wore, Oliver still felt that armor was too cumbersome and loathed wearing it. However, they were going into a dangerous land and the pair could use all of the protection that they could get.

    After he was finished, the young Knight sat himself down against a nearby tree. His sapphire gaze shifted upwards towards the night sky, quietly waiting for the Princess to return from grooming her horse. Once the Princess had noticed he had finished changing, he turned himself towards her. "Come sit with me, Castella." Oliver tapped the small patch of grass next to him, beckoning for her to approach. The entire day, the two of them had been alone together, just like when they were kids... yet, there was an awkward aura between them that was beginning to make them feel like strangers with one another. "You can unpack later. This may be the last night we can sleep in safety. I would like to enjoy it with you, if you do not mind."

    As Castella finally seated herself beside him, a part of Oliver wanted to wrap his arms around the woman he held deep feelings for - but he knew within his aching heart that such a thing would never be possible, that the Princess of all people could ever hold such feelings for him. After several moments of silence, the Knight turned towards the Princess, sapphire orbs studying the canvas that was the Princess' face. "You know... it's been a long time since I've been able to spend time with you like this..." Oliver sighed, his cheeks beginning to feel warm, despite the cold air that passed through the night. "I've missed it..." Oliver frowned, turning away from the Princess. "I've missed you." He added in a hushed whisper, just enough to be barely audible.
     
  8. Castella continued to brush out her mare's coat, gaze fixed firmly in front of her, as she listened to the sounds of shifting fabric and armor and tried to keep her mind on the task at hand. Verona gave an appreciative snort at the grooming, eyes drooping shut. She smiled a little. She'd had Verona since she was a kid; other than her sisters, Verona and Oliver were her oldest companions. Once, she spared a glance over her shoulder to check if he was done and caught a flash of bare skin, and quickly turned back to Verona, letting out a breath she hadn't known that she was holding.

    Eventually, she heard the sound of footsteps in the grass, and realized that Oliver must be finished. She gave Verona one last, affectionate pat before placing the brush back with her things and turning around again. She smiled, hoping that she looked relaxed and natural. She still felt a little embarrassed, truth be told. "Of course I don't mind," she said. "It would be good spend some time catching up before we're faced with mortal peril. It's very difficult to make conversation with death around every corner."

    Hoping that her stab at humor wasn't in bad taste, she walked over to Oliver and sat beside him. Castella watched the sky deepen in colour as the silence stretched on between them, unsure of what to say. She had so much that she wanted to tell him, and yet somehow couldn't find the words. She struggled between wanting to fall back into their easy familiarity, and the social protocols that had been drilled into her since she was young that told her doing so would be inappropriate. Feeling his gaze on her, she turned her face to look at him, and was captivated by his eyes. She'd almost forgotten how blue they were.

    When he spoke, she found herself listening even more intently than before. If she hadn't been, she might have missed his final words. As it was, she wasn't sure that she had heard him correctly. "It has been a long time, hasn't it?" She remarked quietly, her voice a little uncertain. She paused, watching him, as she tried to find the right words. "I've missed you as well, Oliver. It's been lonely at the palace without being able to spend time with you. None of the lords or ladies..." She shook her head, and then flashed him a small smile. She shouldn't get into her feelings too much; it was dangerous territory. "Nevermind, it isn't important."
     
  9. "Nevermind, it isn't important."

    The Knight turned towards the Princess, who was flashing him a small, yet ever present smile. The young man gently placed his hand onto Castella's cheek, tracing her face with his hand, allowing the feeling to linger in her mind before resting the hand on her shoulder. "Whatever is on your mind, Castella, you should tell me." Oliver cooed softly, "The two of us will face danger around every corner soon. We should not hold secrets from one another." As he spoke, the Knight could feel the pang of hypocrisy burn through his chest. If he was not supposed to hold secrets, then shouldn't he divulge his feelings? No... there is no way he could do such a thing without ruining the trust that the Princess had for him.

    Oliver's hand slowly dripped off of the Princess' shoulder, falling back to his side as he leaned back against the tree. Sitting beside the Princess felt... comfortable - as if he could fall asleep then and there without the need of any sleeping bag. Slowly, the Knight's eyes began to feel heavier as he quietly began to drift off. As he slowly began to fall asleep, Oliver's head slowly leaned away from the tree that they had been propped against, falling gently and nuzzling against the Princess' shoulder.
     
  10. Castella stiffened, just a fraction, when Oliver placed his hand on her cheek. They'd exchanged casual touches many times when they were younger. The feel of his hand felt familiar, and yet somehow foreign at the same time. The callouses were new, she thought. She remembered his hands being much softer when they were children. She supposed it made sense. He had distinguished himself as a Knight, after all. "You're right," she spoke quietly, watching his face intently. She briefly thought about just confessing then and there, but no. It would just complicate things. It was best kept to herself.

    She gazed back at the sky, thinking about how to say what she wanted to say without sounding strange or too forward. Just as she took a breath and was about to speak again, she felt a soft weight hit her shoulder. She jerked a little in surprise, looking to see that Oliver was now sleeping on her shoulder. An endearing smile spread across her lips. Suddenly, it felt just like being children again. "None of the lords or ladies were you," she whispered to his sleeping form. "None of them understood me like you did." Soon, before she could slip away to her bedroll, sleep came to her as well, her head resting against her Knight's.
     
  11. Sapphire eyes slowly drifted open, the sun's warm rays beaming through the branches of the tree that hung overhead. Oliver's blurred vision eventually gave way to a clear view of the grassy countryside, the rolling plains bestowing both a calm and peaceful feeling to the young Knight. The Knight, who had forgotten to sleep properly, turned to his side to find the Princess resting her shoulder against his. Did I just... with Castella...?

    A sense of panic overwhelmed the young man. While sleeping like this with the Princess was perfectly acceptable when they were children, they were now grown adults from very different classes. If anybody had seen this, the Knight could find himself hanging from the very tree they slept under. The initial shock and panic eventually disappeared, a smile drawing across the young man's face.

    As the Princess rested against his shoulder, Oliver attempted to shuffle in a way so that she was no longer leaning against him, but rather against the tree. His attempts ended in futility, however, as he moved, the Princess' head fell off of his shoulder and into his lap, causing the young man to blush profusely.

    "I'll always be here for you." Oliver mused under his breath. Slowly, his hand began to brush the long, golden strands of hair that flowed across his lap. His fingers intertwined themselves across the blonde locks before softly resting themselves against the Princess' forehead. "Castella." Oliver began in a hushed whisper, "It's time to wake." He added lovingly.
     
  12. Castella stirred slowly, blinking her eyes open as she woke from a dream she barely remembered. Grogginess clogged her mind as the sky came into focus. She wasn't sure where she was sleeping - she didn't remember making it to her bedroll last night, and it surely wouldn't be this comfortable - but she knew that she didn't want to get up. She wished that she could just stay there and go back to sleep. Vaguely, she registered Oliver's soft voice trying to rouse her. She turned her face towards the source of it, and-

    "Oh." She sat upright as quickly as she could, her cheeks reddening. Now she realized why she didn't recall making it to her bedroll - she hadn't. She'd fallen asleep on Oliver, and had somehow ended up in his lap. He must have been incredibly uncomfortable, unable to say anything. Had he worried that waking her before was necessary would be rude? How embarrassing, she thought, tugging on a strand of her hair - a nervous habit from when she was a child

    "I didn't realize that I was..." She said, trailing off and averting her gaze. "My apologies. You must have been uncomfortable." After a few moments, she stood, dusting the grass from her trousers. "We need to be off soon, don't we? I should go re-saddle Verona." She hesitated a moment more, feeling a little stiff, before turning to collect her saddle and bags from the spot near Verona where she left them.
     
  13. "My apologies. You must have been uncomfortable."

    Oh if only the Princess knew her words reflected the complete opposite of the truth. The young Knight sealed his lips, unwilling to reveal such feelings to Castella. His cheeks warm from embarrassment, his mind scrambled to find some sort of witty response to the Princess' soft spoken words. Before he could say anything, however, Castella had excused herself from his side, patting herself down before moving away from him.

    Oliver sighed as he stood up, straightening his posture as he stretched an arm over his head. The sun hung high over the eastern clouds as the Knight stepped away from the shade and under its powerful gaze. Oliver disliked the mornings, the sun's daybreak ushering sad feelings of unhomeliness - a reminder that he was from a land far away... a reminder that there was a family that missed him.

    The young Knight shook such thoughts from his mind as he turned back towards Castella. This was his responsibility now, and he would give his life protecting the one woman who had ever cared for him if necessary. Oliver pulled away from the tree and towards his own horse, throwing the saddle over the steed's back before adjusting his gaze on the Princess. Once his horse and equipment was prepared, he thrust himself back over his own horse.

    No words were spoken as the pair head off from the safety of the countryside, their horses slowly dipping into the dark forests that led to the Cursed Lands...

    The forests that surrounded the Cursed Lands held up to their reputation. The lush, green oak trees and peaceful wildlife quickly gave way to decaying towers of petrified wood and deceased grass. The sound of the wilds were replaced with an eerie, dark silence. It was no wonder that few ever ventured close to these woods, for they felt dangerous in every sense of the word.

    The pair slowly navigated their way between the deceased trees of the forest, the small rays of light which passed through the intertwined branches giving them at least some mercy from their seemingly inhospitable surroundings. Oliver was glad that the two of them had not attempted to travel through the night, as they would have certainly become lost.
     
  14. As Castella mounted her mare, she spared a glance at Oliver, wondering what he was thinking. He hadn't said anything since waking her. She worried that she had upset him. She doubted that he would ever say so, of course. To do so wasn't his place, and even if Castella would appreciate his honesty - it would still be considered inappropriate. While there would be no one here to reprimand them for it... If they started ignoring their different stations, she wasn't sure it was a habit she would be able to break if they somehow survived this ordeal.

    Looking away, she spurred her horse on, trying not to think about how dashing the morning light made Oliver look. It was best to try not to think about these things. They would likely distract her from the task at hand, in any case. As likely as her death was, she still wanted to try. Maybe, just maybe, she could use her wish to make things better.

    As they passed into the dead areas of the woods, Castella felt a chill pass over her and a sense of dread settle in the pit of her stomach. While she had been appreciative of the quiet the day before, she now found it somewhat uncomfortable now. Not just because of her personal worries, and how much she didn't want to admit how big the part of her was that wanted to stay on Oliver's lap was, consequences be damned - but also because of how eerie this place was. Even more so than she had imagined. She was glad that she was here with Oliver, despite how much of a fool of herself she had made. There was no one that she felt safer with.

    It seemed that the closer they got to the Cursed Lands, the more dead everything became - if that was even possible. It felt as if the life had been sucked from the land itself. Castella shivered, unable to suppress it. Would the Cursed Lands be even worse than this? She found herself wishing that she didn't have to find out.

    "It's so quiet here," she found herself saying, unable to stand the silence any longer. Her ears were almost ringing from it. "I wonder how much further it is to the barrier." In a way, she didn't really want to know. She would rather just keep riding forever than reach it. But she talked to fill the air between them, desperately wanting to lighten the mood, even if just a little.
     
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  15. Another two hours later, the pair eventually found themselves at a clearing in the dark forest, where the sun's rays managed to glean through the dark network of deceased branches that hung overhead. While it was certainly a reprieve from the dark, shadowy forest, it did not make the Knight feel any less cautious. "We must be close, Castella." Oliver said the obvious as his stallion trotted into the sunny clearing. The sound of steel sliding from wood filled the air as the warrior drew his weapon into his sword hand, tightly gripping the blade as a precaution... who knew what could possibly lie ahead.

    "Please stay close to me." There was no telling what dangers could be waiting for them near the barrier. As Oliver and his horse cautiously moved through the clearing, the young knight turned backwards to the Princess. "It's really way too quiet aro-" Oliver was cut off as the horse suddenly walked into a solid wall, causing the knight to almost fall from his horse as the animal reeled backwards. Gaining his balance, he turned to find a visible ripple in the air before them. "Well, I found the barrier." He remarked with a cheeky grin.

    Oliver dismounted his horse, standing up against the invisible barrier which barred him from entering. He placed his hand against it, feeling as the wall resisted his touch. It was solid, as if it was comprised of the hardest castle brick. There was no way that he would be getting through without the blood of a noble... Castella's blood. As soon as he was done inspecting the wall, he turned back towards Castella, beckoning for her to dismount her horse and join him. Once she was beside him, he wanted to see if Castella would be able to pass through the barrier unopposed.

    Before either of them could run their little "magical experiment", he noticed a movement in the nearby treeline. "Castella! Behind!" Oliver shouted, pushing the armored Princess to the ground. Missing the Princess by inches, a giant, black creature with sharp teeth jumped overhead and crashed against Oliver, forcing him back against the magical barrier. "Bloodhound!" Oliver gritted his teeth as the demonic hound pinned the knight against the magical barrier, its teeth desperately clenching at the knight's face.
     
  16. As they entered the clearing, tension coiled within Castella. Following Oliver's lead, she drew her own sword, gripping the hilt tightly. There was a strange... calm to this place. Castella didn't like it. It was like it was trying to lull her into a false sense of security - into complacency. Something was about to happen. Whether that 'something' was solely related to the barrier or not, Castella couldn't say. She just knew that the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up, and that her every instinct was telling her to be careful.

    Castella did as Oliver said, trotting up to him and keeping close behind. If any danger came, they'd be able to face it better if they stuck close to one another. She watched the clearing around them as she followed her knight, knuckles turning white around her sword and her heart thundering in her ears. She didn't trust this place. Not in the least. The fight for their lives began now, she knew. When Oliver's horse reared back, she kept a tight reign on her own, moving out of the way in case he fell. She snorted at his attempt at humor, a small smile pulling at her lips. "I suppose so," she said. How he managed to joke in this situation was beyond her, but she was grateful for it.

    She dismounted as well, leaving her mare to stand nervously in the clearing. She stepped towards the barrier, slowly and apprehensively. Not for the first time, she wished she could just take Verona and run. But that would most certainly be putting her sisters at risk - and Castella wouldn't be able to live with that. As she approached the barrier, she held her hand out towards it. Just as she was about to make contact with it, Oliver pushed her to the ground.

    Castella cursed as she fell, wondering just what had come. She could berate herself for the slip in her composure later. Quickly regaining her bearings, she scrambled to her feet and grabbed her sword again, casting her gaze about. She looked to see the bloodhound attacking Oliver, pressing him precariously against the barrier. "Oliver!" She cried. Without giving herself time to have second thoughts, she lunged forward. She swung her sword with a yell, and struck the creature across the back and neck. Blood splattered from the wound, sullying her armor and dirtying her face. The bloodhound fell, but Castella wasn't sure if it was really dead.

    Hoping that it was enough to keep the creature down, she stepped towards Oliver. She opened her mouth to ask if he was hurt, but realized that there might be other creatures. She cast a concerned look at Oliver before turning to face the clearing again, standing beside him.
     
  17. Teeth snapped at the Knight's face as he desperately held the demonic animal by the throat, just barely out of reach. Eventually, he felt his grip loosen around the animal's neck, his hold of the wild creature slipping as the feral creature tried to clamp down on his face. When he felt all was lost, the animal screamed out, its teeth clamping shut as the once wild animal fell lifeless before him. Turning his gaze towards Castella, he realized it had been her turn to save him.

    Before Oliver could voice any gratitude, several more bloodhounds emerged from the nearby treeline, their teeth and posture preparing themselves to strike at the two of them. Without thinking, Oliver grabbed a rock off the ground, "Verona!" Oliver shouted the name of Castella's horse, tossing a rock at the animal as the bloodhounds converged upon them. As the rock hit Verona, both of the horses reared, dashing off back in the direction they had came in a panic. While they had just lost all of their living supplies, it was better than leaving the horses to be eaten by a pack of hounds.

    "Come on! We've gotta go!" Oliver shouted, remembering that they were still in imminent danger. Grabbing the Princess' dainty hand into his own, the Knight charged back into the solid magical barrier that blocked the Cursed Lands. While they had been solid before, Oliver was now able to pass straight through it - Castella's noble blood allowing the two of them to cross over into the dark territory. The bloodhounds snapped at Castella's rear as they passed through, missing her legs by inches before the couple collapsed onto the other side.

    Oliver's side was met with disgusting, marshy swamp as he fell into mud - the Princess crashing unceremoniously on top of him. With a loud groan, Oliver waited for the Princess to move herself off of him before turning towards her, wiping the small stains of mud from his face. "That armor of yours certainly puts on a few pounds." He remarked coyly before rising to his knees, "Well, at least we know you're not adopted." He added, trying to find some humor in their less than stellar situation. Finally, after regaining his balance - he turned his focus to the Princess, "You alright?"
     
  18. Castella felt a wave of relief as Verona galloped off. Surviving the Cursed Lands would be far more of a challenge now without their supplies, but Castella loved her horse dearly. She didn't want to see her die any more than she'd want to see Oliver or her sisters die. She could worry about their food and supplies when they came to it; they would have to take things one step at a time if they were going to get through it. She also felt a slight vindictive joy that these hounds wouldn't be getting any food out of them this day.

    She turned back towards Oliver at his shout, barely having time to process what he'd said when he grabbed her hand. She felt his warm hand envelope hers, and, even though she was wearing gloves, felt a slight jolt at the contact. Castella stumbled forwards through the barrier, caught a little off-guard by Oliver's sudden dash for the Cursed Lands. She felt the bloodhounds' hot breath on the back of her legs, just narrowly missing taking a chunk out of her calves. She just barely had time to think of how grateful she was for Oliver's quick thinking before she lost her balance, plunging forwards.

    Castella's heart thundered in her ears, and her breath came in ragged pants as the adrenaline in her veins wore off. Nothing in her life thus far - not the training, not the sparring, and not the severity of her father - had come close to preparing her for real battle. Even if they had only been up against bloodhounds, she had never come so close to the face of death before. Realizing that she was on top of Oliver, she scrambled off of him. She got to her feet and composed herself, sheathing her sword and tidying her hair as best she could without lacing it with mud.

    She huffed out a chuckle at Oliver's comment. "I'm not quite as light as I was as a child, either," she said lightly, shooting him an indulgent smile. Though she might not admit it aloud, she appreciated his humor in these situations. It helped her feel more relaxed, even if it was only marginally. She let out a steadying breath, and then smiled again. "Fine, thanks to your quick thinking," she said, hoping that she didn't sound quite as shaken as she felt. "Are you?"

    She glanced away, taking stock of their surroundings. As far as she could tell, it was mostly marsh and mud that stretched before them. She pursed her lips as she took it in. The sight intimidated her more than she liked to admit. She knew that they needed to start forward as soon as possible, but she hesitated. They were safe there - if filthy already - for the moment. Who knew how long that would last if they left the barrier?
     
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