Book II Chapter 29: Reunion
Marquise's desk was covered in stacks of paperwork, neglected and untouched; her mind had been elsewhere for some time now, and she couldn't find the proper state of mind to get back to a normal day's work-- something that had never been a problem for her.
Lost in her thoughts, the commanding knock that sounded from her office door caught her off-guard.
The door swung open almost at once, and her brother-- the blonde brother, until recently not prone to wandering beyond the borders of Schalle-- stepped wordlessly in before shutting the door carefully behind him.
Clothed in worn leather and furs studded with wooden and clay beads, feathers and bone, vines twined through his unkempt hair and over one side of his face, curled into intricate designs against his skin. Butterflies, moths, and beetles seemed to make themselves at home in pouches and bags tied securely over his shoulders and around his belt, making the disguised flarion seem an eccentric woodsman who had somehow managed to harbor his own little ecosystem.
His golden eyes carefully scanned the room before falling upon Marquise, who met them with more than a little surprise; here was the brother who never dropped by for visits, at least not without very good reason.
"...Marquise." Carefully, fondly spoken, it was as much a greeting as a question.
"Valdren? What brings you here?"
"Soul-searching, you could say."
Frowning, Marquise got to her feet, slipping around her desk to stand by Valdren, reaching to gently stroke his hair, careful to avoid disturbing a small anole perched atop one of his ears. "What's on your mind?"
He took a slow breath, sucking briefly upon his lip and closing his eyes.
It had been some time-- several months, easily-- since the flarion prince's last contact with family, or anyone for that matter. His appearance in Chimre no doubt had turned a few heads by now, but he made certain that no one knew where he was at any point in time.
He had needed his solitude, and the care of the wild lands, in order to clear his head.
Now, he needed the advice of someone unbiased.
Someone like his little sister.
"...When you've lived your entire life in black and white, only to suddenly realize that there's more to the world than that... where do you go? How do you start over?" His voice was tinged with old pain, emotions he did not dare reveal before now.
"You decide how you feel about things, and make your decisions based on that," Marquise said. "So there's more to the world than what you thought - does it change how you look at it? How you think about it?"
Slowly, a vine curled around Valdren's arm, a tiny bud bursting into bloom as it crept ever upward.
"I'm still not sure how to make sense of it yet," Valdren admitted. "I've been thinking, ever since...well, I've been thinking for a long while. I traveled here from Laps-- I'm not a Firestarter anymore. I'm done with that."
"Oh, sweetheart." Marquise sighed softly, still stroking through his hair. "Tell me what happened, hmm?"
This was easily the most she had heard from Valdren in centuries; by far the most reserved of the three siblings, he rarely said a word unless some sudden burst of raw emotion spurred it in him. He was clearly far from violent now; something significant had happened, something that may well have changed him...
"I grew tired of following Kelan around, doing his dirty work for him and watching him balk at it. So, I left... months ago, figuring I'd take matters into my own hands. Except I managed to end up in Chimre. I paid our Mother a visit. I saw the Mirajin, face to facet. I've been wandering the continent ever since, searching for answers, or at least new questions to consider."
Marquise nodded, though she already knew half the story - the Courtesans in charge of her mother had already informed her of Valdren's visit. "...And have you found any?"
"More questions than I can count. I'll find answers for them in time...preferably sooner rather than later." He frowned. "What of you, though? There was a look in your eye when I came in."
Marquise paused with a soft sigh; she truly had been out of sorts lately to have given anything away in her expression-- or perhaps Valdren was just particularly observant.
"Things have been... stressful, these past few days. All internal affairs, but... it's troubling." With that, she moved to return to her seat once more, giving nothing away.
As head of the Court, Marquise's hesitance to disclose information was rarely a surprise to any member of her family-- even Nefirian himself was an open book compared to her tight-lipped approach on any infomation she deemed worth keeping.
Valdren kept his gaze upon her, however-- this was a different situation.
"Nothing you can't handle, I pray? The Court has never been prone to make mistakes," Valdren mused, absently watching a large, colorful moth alight upon his hand.
"The Court has never dealt with such a thing before. We..." she fell silent, hesitant.
"Ah, you've already said too much, haven't you? It won't reach anyone's ears from me, I swear it."
"...I've never had any reason not to trust you, brother. I'm sorry, it's rude of me to keep it from you," she sighed, relenting, her expression lost, uncertain. "A few days ago, we lost a Courtesan. She just... disappeared."
"Disappeared," Valdren gasped, incredulous. "That's... well, what sort of force would be capable of such a thing?"
"Any number of things could have happened. Her charges are gone too." She turned her gaze downward. " I felt her life... go out. Just like that. It's... it's hard to describe."
"We'll find what's responsible," Valdren promised.
"I already have Erosions out there, searching. ...I doubt it'll be an isolated incident."
They gazed at one another in solemn silence, brother and sister reunited for one brief moment. Leaning over the desk, Valdren reached to stroke her cheek.
"It's been a long time since I've seen this side of you," Marquise smiled.
"I've wronged and neglected you far too many times. I hope I can even begin to make up for that."
"Shh," she said. "You've always done what you thought was right. I can't slight you for that."
Valdren smiled sadly, brushing hair and living vines away from his face. "You were always the graceful one."
"And you were always the affirmative one. Don't look so sad, sweetie."
"It's difficult," Valdren admitted, shaking his head. "I... still love my father, but I don't regret the things I said to him. It's not easy for me to come to terms with..." he fell silent, frowning.
"To come to terms with what?"
The prince swallowed, knowing his next words would likely... still, saying it would cement it within his mind, ensure his action and dedication where his father had failed to do so.
"It's not easy for me to come to terms with the very real possibility that I may be forced to declare war against Kelan in the near future."
Marquise blinked, more than a little shocked. "...That's not something to say lightly, Valdren. You know what happened the last time the Chapters got involved in a dispute, and they--"
"I remember all too well, sister. And yet... he was given a charge of the utmost importance, and he has failed to see to it. Schalle is secure, but Schalle is not enough, and for all of his preaching and communion with the wilds and insisting he knew what was best... well, it is complicated."
"Just... don't do anything rash. I'd hate to be the one to sign off on the order to neutralise my own brother." As the great balancers of the world, it fell upon the Court to ensure any outstanding situations that threatened to sway favor too far in any direction were dealt with.
This was done with frightening accuracy and no remorse-- regardless of the identity of the targets in question.
"I'd rather it not come to that at all... but I will tread lightly, where I can. Time is running out, and had Kelan acted years ago, the circumstances and necessary solutions wouldnt've been so dire," he said, turning to eye the window. "Don't worry, though-- I'm still myself," Valdren insisted, managing a faint grin over a shoulder.
"Then... don't go doing anything that'd make our mother sad, okay?" she said, knowing the invocation would strike an instant chord with her brother.
It didn't have quite the anticipated effect, however; Valdren suddenly smiled, a strange, dangerous fire in his eyes. "There's no need to worry. I'm acting upon her suggestions, after all..."
"Oh, yes," Valdren purred, quite certain of himself. "She said she thought it was time someone took measures to properly see to the well-being of the natural world..."
Now Marquise was on edge; unnerved, she watched him closely. "...When did she say this, Valdren?"
He paused. "...why, not three days ago."
"Why, is something the matter?" A tiny bird wriggled its way out of his hair, chirping furiously before darting for the cracked window.
"No, dearheart," Marquise insisted. "Everything's fine. I'm glad you came to talk to me today, I've missed you over the years."
"And I you, little sister. Perhaps with a bit of good fortune, I'll be able to come see you more often."
"I hope so. You know my door's always open."
"I'm glad to know it-- thank you, Marky."
Valdren stood, slipping around to embrace her gently, warmly, pecking her cheek before heading for the door. "If you should need me, send for an hawk-owl. It will know how and where to find me."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll find you," she insisted with a smile.
"The world is changing, little sister. Be ready for anything. There's just no telling what's out there, or what will come next," he said, slipping away through the office door with a rustle of leaves.
Marquise's eyes never left him.
"It only changes if we let it, brother," she whispered.
Next Chapter: Book II Chapter XXX
Category: Book II | Story