Go the Distance

How far will Zvezdana go for some bread and forgiveness?

Seated on the shores of Lake Lovalus, Rharne serves as the home of the Lighting Knights, the Thunder Priestesses, and the Merchant's guild. This beautiful trade city is filled with a happy and contented people who rarely need an excuse to party.

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Zvezdana Venora
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45th of Zi'da, Arc 716
Will you still love me too?

The bells of the cathedral rang heavily overhead, drawing the sleeping novitiates from their evening dreams. Zvezdana’s eyes fluttered open, her words ringing in her head. She felt strange, like it had been the most pleasant dream she had ever encountered. Deep within her, she felt warm, satiated, and pleased with herself, as if she had conquered some unsung hero. Slowly she turned over, one hand rubbing her swollen belly while the other hand rubbed her temple. For feeling this good, she could not remember the dream to save her life. Rising from the haze of sleep, she vaguely recalled the movement of bodies. Had sex been involved? Yes, there had been. It was sensual, with vast amounts of desire. Slowly she sat up and looked at the end of the bed. Her ankles tingled with a sensation. Was her body remembering something? Had she been tugged by her feet into some strange new position?

The man’s body had been gorgeous, her mind’s eye working its way up towards the face in the darkness. When she looked up for the eyes of her dream lover, the image blurred and faded. Whom had it been? Zvezdana rubbed her temple again, chewing nervously on her lip. It must have been Veljorn. With the baby coming, my mind must be telling me I miss him.

It made sense, but somewhere deep down, her heart was telling her something else. It thumped and tightened at the thought, as if it were trying to steer her away from the lie her mind was telling her.

The dream was left behind on her pillow as she got up to ready herself for the day.
“Don’t forget the bread from the bakery Zvezdana! It’s in the Glass Quarter! We have a contract with them, and if you forget, they’ll be angry!”

The Priestess called after her from the kitchens. She needed to get some air today. Despite her condition, she had insisted that she be allowed to go into town. She could do anything at all if she set her mind to it. With a smile, and the basket in hand, she waddled out of the Cathedral. She was not keen on taking the stairs to the Glass Quarter again, but it was necessary. It made the trek into town difficult, but it had been worth it. At least, that is what the other novitiates had stated. Zvezdana had not made it down into the city since she had been brought to the Cathedral. As she took the steps, she thought back to Vincent. It had been many trials since she had seen him. She really did need to figure out how to repay him for his genuine concern. Briefly she wondered what he had won his lady’s heart again.

Romance plagued her mind in recent trials. Everywhere she looked, she saw young couples holding hands, sharing chaste kisses in dim alleys in hopes that they might hide from observers. Despite their efforts, she seemed to be drawn to these embraces. With a heavy sigh, she passed through the city, trying to avoid the secret rendezvous. It pained her, knowing that she was alone in the world. Not only that, she was about to be a single mother to a son that would never know a father figure. On top of that, she was concerned that her child might not even know a mother figure.

As she walked down the streets towards the bakery she had been told to stop by, people gave her polite smiles. They didn’t know who she was or what she had done. They simply saw her as a devoted woman to Ilaren, dedicating herself to the Cathedral and the city. It was an honorable endeavor for any woman, she had come to learn. With time she might be able to elevated herself to priestess. Right now, she was satisfied with the polite smiles and nonjudgmental eyes. She was as free as a fugitive could be, with no reputation to follow her along the streets. The only reputation she maintained was the one that came with the Thunder Priestess robe. She did not cover her face as she might have in Rynmere, having no money yet to buy a cloak. Her skin prickled with the chill of the wind reminding her of her poor nature.

A carriage crossed her path, forcing her to stop abruptly. She frowned as it parked itself before her. Being obscure and unseen had its perks, but she was beginning to learn what it was like being a peon in the eyes of others. Where she had once looked down upon people, she was now looked down upon.

“You should watch where you are going. You could hurt someone by pulling into a busy street like that.”
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Alistair
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It had been a long trek in Rharne. He'd been here for nearly ninety trials at this point, and not once had he felt... "at home". Imagining, always, that he was to be far more at comfort away from his cumbersome familial duties and his strenuous relationships with his mother and father, he'd gone away for seasons at a time to explore himself and grow as a person. Away from home, always, intending almost not to go back - fighting, chasing, clawing, dreaming, imagining . . .

The dream hadn't been as glamorous as he'd imagined it to be, it turned out. In the depths of the world outside of Venora, he'd found little more than loneliness, and a feeling of emptiness so vast he'd been unable to envision it before. Men like Patrick, and his scarce visions of Damien from across the shore... they'd been his solace while in the midst of desolation, but ultimately his heart yearned for a return. To Rynmere, to the great fields of Venora; to the vineyards that ran for acres if not miles, and the festivals of art and music that reigned in every city on every end of the Duchy. His home, that he was set to rule... one day.

Venora was where his heart belonged; it was home. And... the people there, he missed them dearly. He hadn't yet been able to see them since the resolution of the civil war, since he led Venora's armies to slaughtering the Qe'Dreki after he witnessed Veljorn's passing with his own eyes -- he'd been waiting for that momentous reunion with them all. So they could mourn, truly, with Zvezdana in their hearts and minds. How much had mother worried? How deep did word of sister's passing puncture Andraska's heart?

. . .

It had punctured Alistair, surely, and he had returned from it all a changed man. Perhaps leaving Venora . . . was a mission to do more than just grow, but also to clear his mind. To leave it all behind for a while. But lately, he'd begun to confront it. How terrible he'd been, all this time. Neglecting the truth of the past. The abuse he and his siblings all endured, that Alistair had silenced forever in his mind. They'd never spoke of anything. In all likelihood, they must have seen their big brother as nothing more than an empty shell. Unwilling to speak of even the most harmful, corrosive things, if even to pull out the weeds that would sew a future of anger among all three of them. Zvezdana, who had been harmed innumerable times before her death . . . Alistair who had harmed and been harmed, and Andraska who merely observed it all; yet the ones involved never spoke in a voice that would bring resolution.

Instead, they suffered in silence, and now... Zvezdana was gone. Their silence would be that of the permanence of death.

This had haunted him for trials, dozens of them, and with every hour the weight of their significance grew more and more encumbering. He was ready to go home. He was ready to see them - Willow, Kaleb, Andraska, Ebony, Karl. He was ready to confront them all, and have a conversation in finality regarding his future as the heir to the Duchy.

And so, as he pondered his life from beginning to now, locked in a carriage to be transported to the Coven base where he stored his Sundial . . . he almost didn't notice the raven haired woman that traversed the cobble roads as he was hauled forward, away from the bounds of the city.

But, as he drew closer to an obstruction that would veil that raven-haired beauty entirely from his sight . . . he noticed something particular in the corner of his eyes. Those . . . curls. They were unique; something about the wave in her hair stood out from others. And then, as he requested his carriage be lowered with a firm "stop," something else was noted. That voice.

Even the words that carried it; there was no questioning it all.

Zvezdana.

He immediately emerged from the carriage, patting his silk brocade vest as he lowered his head. He was almost afraid to look fully upon the visage before him, but look he would. His eyes rose. He imagined this had to be an illusion - some ploy by Ellasin. A joke. Even as she came fully into view, he couldn't be sure that it was her. That it was really her. Because from what he thought he knew . . . Zvezdana was dead. He saw the fire nearly consume her, and even though he did his best to push the flames away, would they not return to set her ablaze?

He had been so sure of her demise. And to meet her in this location? No. It was an impossibility. As his eyes finally flashed over her, an expression couldn't be found. He was so . . . confused. The only speech that came from him displayed that confusion.

A strained, "Zvez?" escaped his lips, and that was all that could be heard.
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Zvezdana Venora
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The man that had stepped out of the carriage made her stomach clench and drop like a heavy stone to the bottom of the lake. Of all the slithering, conniving, evil serpents to run across in this city, it had to be him. Of course he was haunting her wherever her went, watching and waiting to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of others so that she might once again run to another city out of fear for her life. He had been there when Alistair had been brutally murdered. He had been sitting beneath the metal visage of one of the Seven. He had not even worn the representation of their own house, but committed a silent betrayal to Venora by wearing the effigy of Ser Verne Andaris. He was the heir to the duchy, her father's puppet and accomplice, and the thorniest, most dangerous rose of them all. With a heavy sigh, she recognized him as none other than Alistair Venora.

She had changed some since their last encounter. Instead of the silk and satin finery she had grown up wearing, she wore the robes of the Thunder Priestess faction. Simple, white, and rough on the skin; the robes marked her as an up-and-coming Novitiate and disciple to the Immortal Ilaren. She did not wear jewelry, and although she had not commonly worn make-up with her natural beauty, she looked more tired than he would probably remember. The lack of sleep due to her biggest physical change kept her from a decent sleep. The biggest change was the round belly she sported beneath the robes. Although she had not gained weight anywhere else, clearly her body had reacted to the new life growing inside of her by enveloping it in fat and warmth.

Her name on his lips was odd. The way he said it sounded confused, dazed even. She tilted her head back and forth, wondering if this was really her brother. Why was he here? Wasn't he supposed to be back in Rynmere kneeling before the boy king and playing mind games with the other noble houses? Wasn't he to be married to Lady Andaris to solidify his standing as heir to the duchy? No, he clearly came to ruin her life some more. That was the only reason to explain it.

Smack.

She had launched her attack before she even knew what she was doing. Her hand had come up and across her body in a strong back hand against her brother. Whether or not it actually did any damage besides a harsh sting and potential red mark, she cared little. Instead, she simply made her move and then started shuffling around the carriage.

"Go away Alistair. Have you not done enough to ruin my life?" Zvezdana questioned, having a loss for words otherwise. She wanted to go after him for his transgressions against her. He had participated in rape alongside their father once upon a time and then he had sat idly by while her dreams had been set ablaze by dragon fire. Alistair had done nothing when Elyna murdered her husband in cold blood. He had not help her when she was hunted and forced into hiding. The thoughts seemed to consume her, slowing her movement to the point that she stopped before she rounded the carriage. Unbeknownst to her, she had balled her fists and was shaking with rage.

"Have you not done enough?"
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Alistair
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He was hit. The man hardly recognized the blow, even after it had already landed - all he could feel was a blunt force against his cheeks, and then a silence. A stillness. It didn't hurt, really - didn't even sting. He was shocked, so no physical sensation was quite nearly as potent as in any other time. The blow did something other than angering him or harming him, in fact. It allowed him to snap out of his shock. To calm. To look at things from a rational perspective - like he always did. Even in the midst of this emotional moment, for both sister and brother, Alistair would keep his cool. He wouldn't allow himself to be wound up by Zvezdana's accusations, on the one hand, or even by joy at seeing her alive.

He simply wanted to know . . . how?

"I thought you were dead," he whispered. "You were consumed by a Jacadon's flame. I did what I could - with all that I could - to try and dispel it before it devoured you. But you were in grief... unwanting to move. I don't understand -- how did you survive?" he questioned. His mind paused. Did she gather the strength to leave that dreadful scene? Did she pray to the Gods for her life intact?

He came to realize, with her reaction - all too native to Zvezdana - that she was not an illusion. That loathing for Alistair that she'd held for so long was there. But, there was also a grief. He could feel it. And then he noticed... she was with child. As the shock dispelled, so too did the blur of his vision; his focal point was widened. He witnessed, then, the swelling in her chest. The babe. How could he have not noticed until now?

Was it Veljorn's?

He shook his head. He could not think of that now. Alistair had a duty this day - to attempt to amend it all. How far did their childish bickering with one another have to go, and how greatly did this malice have to drag down the reputation of House Venora, before the two of them could make peace?

"Zvez," he spoke up. She began to shuffle around the carriage, and he followed her. Quickly, he reached out to grab her hand. To stop her. "Let me tell you something, sister. A thing I know well. There is no such reality as a ruined life as long as one is still alive. You know that -- I know you know that." He looked her dead in the eye, with a stern expression; one she'd recognize well, but with an integrity now that had not been presented to her before. Alistair had changed a lot. While he was still the same sociopathic recluse, he had come to understand himself. To understand this world. And he had confronted all of the things of the past -- the echoes of yore that he'd never been able to confront before Zvezdana's apparent death.

"I as well have been thrown into pain and depravity for all the duration of my mortal life. I've witnessed, performed, and have been subjected to things far too cruel and unusual for one man to bear. But I'm still here, Zvez. I'm still fighting. I've been fighting for my dreams all this time, even isolated from our family... rejected by the Kingdom by nature of who I am... I have fought. So, fight too, sister. Show me your thorns. Tell me, with etiquette and grace aside, what it is about me that angers you. That brings about this instinctual rage. You need to end this prose of saying you're angry and then not relaying to me from where it derives. It's time for us to confront this blight of silence and move on."
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Zvezdana Venora
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Alistair must have been high. The flames had consumed the fire, but he had not done shit to help her out. Who did he think he was? A mage, capable of dispelling dragon fire with the snap of a fingers. If she had been less angry, she might have started laughing hysterically. Her brother, the closet mage? The Venoran wonder boy had skeletons in his closet that could actually bring him to his knees? She survived on her own accord, not because of his efforts to save her life. He had not made any to her knowledge. She thought back on the event, clasping her left hand over her right forearm. She had saved herself because she had made a deal with the devil. The scar seemed to react to the thought, tingles beneath her skin making her arm hair rise.

Surprisingly, Zvezdana did not flinch at his touch. His fingers barely hung onto her wrist, as if she might react if he seemed forceful about it. She remained turned away from him as he spoke. Although she knew he was right, she hated the fact that he was right. She was still here and she was still fighting tooth and nail for every ounce of life she had left. He came around, staring at her. The gaze she offered back was blank. It held neither rage, sadness, or happiness. Her eyes just stared into his.

The next time he spoke, he seemed to be trying to relate to her. Her entire life, Zvezdana had been so wrapped up in herself that she had not thought that the heir to the duchy could have a difficult life. He had been their father's favorite. He was destined to inherit everything that she and Andraska had ever known. They were to be left behind, to fend for themselves or marry into another family to elevate themselves. Zvezdana had shot her chances when the rebellion had ended tragically. With everything that he was going to inherit, he thought he could place himself on their level? The blank stare narrowed as the spark of hatred roared to life with fresh fuel.

"You want to know why you make me angry? Fine, let the gloves come off," Zvezdana hissed while placing her hands squarely on his chest. She shoved him as hard as she could, but it was fairly weak due to her pregnancy and instability. The best her shove would do was make him back up. "You have everything I have ever wanted by being born first! You will inherit the duchy. You have been Mother and Father's favorite from the start. As such, nothing bad ever happened to you! You were never looked down upon! Father raped me! Again," She shoved him again. "And again! He dragged you into the fray to have at my body because he wanted to train you to take his mantle."

By now, those on the street around them paused to look at the argument. The carriage driver had even gotten down with intent to pull Zvezdana away from Alistair. Everyone seemed to be enthralled in the chaotic scene between the siblings. "You even went so far as to sit next to Cassander across from me. You turned your back on me. You left me alone when I needed you most! Every single dream I had you have in some way ruined! Veljorn should be alive, and you simply watched him die. You. Did. Nothing."

Zvezdana shoved him one last time, but her hands slipped and she stumbled forward. Falling to her knees, the pregnant woman sat there. Once more, she was groveling before her brother. This time it was a physical presentation of the emotional relationship they had shared throughout their lifetime. She had never been his equal, and this only made it true. Zvezdana stifled a sob, still too angry to feel anything else. Silence reigned for a few extra moments.

"I hate you. I hate you because you are everything I want to be."
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Alistair
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The gloves came off indeed, and the mage found that - in truth - he wasn't as ready to witness her anger as he thought he'd be. The words she unleashed hit home. They hit on things that Alistair had never said - things he'd never reveal. Zvezdana's fury was wrought, flaring throughout her body. It was stronger than Alistair's, even with the mark of the winged devil upon his back, guiding him. Raising his blood.

Perhaps it was not a self-given ailment, but contagion that inflicted this rage. As Zvezdana's emotions rose, so did his. The people around them gathered to listen to her outlash, and Alistair's mind went racing. His calm facade disappeared. You have everything I have ever wanted by being born first!

"Do you..." he cleared his throat, "really think that being the heir is such a great thing, Zvez?" His eyes narrowed, as his clench of her wrist tightened. He wanted to know, truly, if she thought that inheriting the name of Venora was really such a beautiful thing. If her aspirations and ambitions had blinded her so severely. Alistair was under no such delusion; he had known from the era of his youth that becoming the Duke was a burden, not a path to becoming free.

"If you knew grandmother as well as I, and had heard her stories, you would understand the blight that is living in such a position. Can you imagine having to live as a bloody symbol for all your life, suppressing everything that is you -- and instead presenting a mirage suited for the common folk? Even right now, while you feel free to flare in anger, I must hold back. Because I've been trained to never let out, never make a scene. Even here in Rharne, someone could send a letter to a journalist back at home; the Gazette will be printing profanities about me for a whole arc." And in truth, such a thing could even happen now. There was no true security for men of great power - they could only witness glimpses of comfort, before the public eye washed over them once more.

Moments of genuine freedom, found in obscure corners of Idalos such as this, were delightful distractions. Yet even here, his duty had clearly followed him. His obligation to the family. "You don't know what it's like to have to live in an act during every trial of your existence, Zvez. You've freely expressed your pain and intolerance towards our family throughout your life. You became estranged, and lived away from Sabaissant. You married a man that mother did not force upon you. You vied for Queendom by rebellion, Nora's legacy be damned. Do you think that I can live life as you have, Zvezdana? Freely? If so, you are mistaken." He shook his head.

And then she brought up . . . the rape. The molestation. It was something she hadn't fully understood - she was so young. Her pain, at the hands of their father, was a sin of his. But it was not his first. Far from just mutilating Willow's pets, or sending threatening letters to the Duchess . . . he had partaken in cruelty before Zvezdana found true, developed awareness. Alistair was his first victim.

And he'd never confronted it. Never. He could barely confront it now - so much of that past was locked away, held back. He didn't want to give it up; in a way, this dark secret had made him special. It was as if he'd been touched by the back hand of God, damaged but still blessed. He'd been molested by their father as Zvezdana had, but...

He also achieved great things. He found happiness, in some sense of the word. He moved on. To bring it back now, to still be so angered by it as she was... was he ready to take that step? Was he ready to be hurled back all those arcs past, when he was but a young child - naked and afraid? With... with... their father... looming over-

Tears began to stream from his eyes. Zvezdana fell, professing her anger at the inability of Alistair to protect her and Veljorn from Cassander. His complicity in the defamation of her name. He heard those things, but they did not stick. Not yet. Instead, the image of that man played in his head, approaching the young and docile Alistair. The boy he was, before he'd been crafted into this dark and unfeeling man. It was from their father's actions that this false sociopathy was created, a mold made around Ali to protect him from his pain.

And... regret. Guilt. Why was he so guilty? He didn't know. Somehow, he felt like he'd brought evil upon their father. Why did he go from Alistair to Zvezdana, changing his instrument of perversion? What had Alistair done to him to make him so? Kaleb . . . used to be good.

He didn't understand.

He stood straight, but only barely. The mage's face froze, and by now, he was sobbing. He could barely speak; his throat felt full. The man didn't even remember what it was like to feel like this. He hadn't cried in so long, to this degree. Not since he was a child, recoiling from the pain he'd experienced, hurt by the betrayal of the man who raised him.

And in a way, he was that child again. It was the same memory that brought the same tears.

"Zvez..." Alistair said, trying to clear his throat. "I'm sorry... for doing what I did. I had been taught for all my life to comply, in all things. To obey my father. A healthy virtue for a young nobleman, but... not with him. With dad. He was... not a good man. He didn't... he..."

Before her, he fell to his knees, and made their place equal. His palms held him up from the ground, as his tears hit the hard cobble floor. He didn't want to recall. He didn't want to.

But he had to. It had been twenty years of complying. He had to accept that his father was the man he was, not the man that Alistair was trained to believe he was. He was... a bad man. He was a wolf, and his children - poor and innocent, in those days - were still sheep. Trying desperately to grow. To move past it all.

They had to stick together. He knew that. That was why he needed to make this right.

"You don't want to be me, Zvez," the man said, wiping his eyes. His throat cleared a bit, enough so that he could properly speak. "I'm an incarnation of evil. I always have been. I've always... complied with those with power. Obeyed them without thought. I killed my emotions, completely. My life was nothing but duty. And look where it got me, right? Wealth, fame, power. Yeah, you can say that. Everyone always says that they're impressed with how great I've become - they say that I'm fit to be one of the greatest Lords Venora's had. But what did I sacrifice, sister? My dignity," he spat onto the ground, as if the word mattered not.

"I have no dignity. Only noble prestige. I'm going to marry some wealthy woman of mother's choosing, even though nothing would make me less happy. I don't even like women. I'm going to let sycophants and bureaucrats replace my self identity. I'm going to let Rynmere's arbitrary laws hold me back from what I really enjoy; magic, the exploration of forbidden knowledge, the quest to take a carving knife to an Immortal's power. And worst of all, I'm going to pretend that the man they made me is who I really am. I'll say that I love my wife. I'll say that magic is evil. I'll say that I am my father's son. There is nothing about me that you should envy, Zvez. Nor is there anything about nobility that is enviable. You are blessed to be here, away from our sad Kingdom. If it were not my destiny to rule Venora, then I would gladly follow. But I am the legacy of Venora. It is not my role to run."
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Throughout her statements, Alistair had tried to justify himself. Yes, she really thought that being the heir to their duchy, their family, was much better than being groomed to join another family as a liaison and trophy. All her life she had been trained with the intention to be cast out of a bride to some other houses lord. Ideally, she would have married into one of the seven houses. With her attitude and higher-than-everyone-else outlook, she would have been lucky to marry a man from a merchant family if her mother and father had arranged it. As men, Alistair and Andráska were privileged to bring women into the family while Zvezdana was cast out. It pained her to know that had always been what she was good for. If she had been first born, they could have all stayed together; under her supreme, wise, and benevolent lead of course.

His argument of the Gazette stalking their lives was valid. She knew that Qe'Dreki had been a risky maneuver, and still heard tales about wanted ads for any Qe'Dreki soldiers and their families. The press could be a wicked beast, one they all had to deal with on a daily basis. She had been somewhat sheltered from that by being second born. Maybe this talk of freedom had a purpose. She gave a side glance to those around her. Rharne had many people. All those she had met had been fun loving and carefree. In Rynmere, that had not been the case. Everyone was careful, watchful. Gossip could occur around any corner and suddenly your life could be ripped apart for one misdeed that was misinterpreted. Zvezdana stared at the cobblestone, one hand rubbing her belly. As the Fallen Queen of Rynmere, she was already in the gossip circles. If they knew about the baby...the Seven be damned she would allow them to have at his innocence.

What made him turn from the stone figure into a sniveling cry baby, Zvezdana did not quite understand. She was taken aback to the point she actually leaned away from him. Pulling herself backwards into a position on her knees, she watched Alistair stumble through realization that Kaleb was not the man they had all thought him to be when they were younger. Alistair was right, as much as she rarely admitted it. Kaleb was not a good man. Somehow, he had destroyed each one of his children with no remorse. His apology was taken in stride, and she kept her eyes cast down. Their dirty laundry should have been aired long ago. Maybe, just maybe, the events of the Rebellion would have gone a different way if they had been friends instead of enemies for so long.

His words were a form of deliverance in her eyes. All her life she had thought he had it easy when in fact, he was playing a role to please the family. Tristan would have made a find Duke if that were really the case. Alistair was a fine actor, for she had believed all her life he enjoyed his life and was happy to be himself. Instead, he detested the idea of marriage in favor of men. That explained a lot actually, especially when it came to the rumors the press had ran. His interest in magic was alarming, but unsurprising. What became shocking to her was her reaction to his tears. She reached forward, gently aiming to wipe at a streak of tears and to run a gentle hand against his cheek. The sleeve of her robe fell back just enough to reveal one of the silvery scratch marks on her right arm. Clearly her overflow of hormones was getting to her. She was already getting dribbles of motherly gestures into her daily life.

"Alistair..." Zvezdana whispered, before finally coming to realize this was not the place for this discussion. People had stopped their shopping to stare at the two. When she gave a glare to a nearby couple, whispering between the themselves, those that were standing still seemed to go about their business with an ear lent to any additional trouble. She began to stand, wobbling back and forth until her weight was center and upright. "This is not the place. Get up and let us go."

She practically dragged him back to the carriage that had cut her off. She ushered him in before getting in herself and slamming the door. Whether it lurched forward and continued on whatever path it had been on before, she did not care. Zvezdana was far from being the one in charge of this transportation. "We have been long overdue for this heart to heart. Had I known that you were acting a part, maybe I would have sought to do justify by you. Maybe I would not have been jealous all of these years. Alistair, if there is one thing I can do for you now, it is give you a reprieve due to my ignorance. I am sorry brother, for all of this misplaced hate."

Zvezdana paused, chewing on her lip. It was strange to forgive him after all of these years. Had reducing him to a baby in front of an audience been enough for her? No, it had been too much. All this time she had wanted to see him suffer pain equivalent to what she had suffered. Seeing him like that made her heart break. They were siblings after all. They had to be there for one another. While looking out the window, she continued on. "I forgive you. For what father made you do."

She waited a bit or two before speaking again, allowing him to relish in her apology. "You don't have to act around me anymore. Had I known all of this time, I would have tried to aid you. We have protected Andráska, and I would have done the same for you had we not shut each other out. I would rather see our house burn than to see you do something you don't want to do."

In all honesty, she really just wanted to see Venora and Rynmere burn. The entire region needed to be remade. She had tried, and she had failed. Now, she was left to her own devices while sitting on the side lines to watch it crumble from the inside out.
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Alistair
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Go the Distance

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The man attempted to recollect himself, but ultimately, he depended on Zvezdana to pull him off the streets and back into the carriage. Her voice, now calm and reassuring, brought him comfort. Finally, he could speak honestly to Zvezdana, and her in return. That meant a lot to him. There was a lot that he needed to say - and he needed to be very clear to her. In truth, Alistair's poor relations with his sister had been one of the driving factors of his morbidity and isolation; it had all collected on piles of guilt that had led him astray from society as a whole.

He had never confronted that fact, but it was here now, ready to be dealt with. He could not pass the opportunity.

"We have been long overdue for this heart to heart," she said. And he agreed. There was so much to cover... he didn't even know where to begin.

"Sister," he started, looking her in the eyes. His own orbs were watery and he was red beneath his eyelids from the tears. However, his face had evidently cleared, and his stern expression would make it obvious that his words here were of import. "Your hate was not misplaced. I did deserve a lot of what I got, especially for never telling you anything that happened to me in the past. You believed you were alone, because I was too afraid to speak up. But I will speak up now - and tell you that... you weren't alone, Zvez. You weren't the only one. I was... I was abused by our father, just as you were. In a way that only you can understand. I think maybe... he reveled in hurting us not because it brought him enjoyment, but it affirmed to him a wicked sort of power. A power over House Venora, which sought to dominate him with little more than blood, whilst he had come from little. Ebony and Willow were at this point his enemies, and we were... their products, bearing their name. I..." he paused.

Alistair realized that perhaps he was trying too hard to explain away Kaleb's actions. In reality, the man was mentally ill, and there were no excuses for his behaviors. It was just... it was hard for him to speak about. He had been taught to love his father, and although their relationship had been rough, Alistair's recent years with the man hadn't been so negative. They wouldn't have had any reason to be -- he had internally forgiven Kaleb for his actions, and as a result he assured the man his own pride.

But that wasn't the way to go about life - never fighting battles that needed to be fought, simply to keep a fragile peace. Their father had to pay for his crimes, and that would never occur if Alistair and Zvezdana did not speak together about all that had been done. He'd known this for a while, and he'd wanted to tell her about it all. But then... Veljorn, the war... he chose a side. He chose one that he regretted, even to this day.

"Zvez," he called her again, looking back up from a solemn gaze towards his lap. "I'm thankful to have your forgiveness," he said quietly, moving in to give his sister a hug, though pulling back somewhat briefly so that he could speak. "And, to know that you helped to protect Andraska, even though we did so separately. But we never thought to do something very important - protecting you. In some ways, I can understand why you envied my position. Even though I was abused as you were, I always had Ebony protecting me - acknowledging me as her heir - ensuring that I wasn't led astray, no matter how bad it got. And Andras, youngest of all, was protected by the two of us mutually. But you... you were left behind. And I'm sorry, Zvez. I'm sorry for obeying the King rather than protecting my own sister. I want to make it all right."

He exhaled. "I've decided... that I want to be the King of Rynmere, Zvezdana," the nobleman said. "There's a lot I could do for the Kingdom. I love it, genuinely. I really do. And also... I have another reason, now that I know you're alive. I would be able to issue you a royal pardon. We could make things right together, in Venora. Expose the lies, the cruelty. Forge a better House for our future generations. It would mean a lot to me; I think it's the only reason I've been fighting for so long."

Alistair understood why Zvezdana would say such words so easily: that she would be content to see their house burn rather than witness her siblings being utilized unjustly. For Alistair, it was different. He believed in a better Venora, and a better House Venora, too. It was his future to make the House better. He wanted that. And he wanted his family to be at his side as he did so. Not for his own narcissism, but to provide a proper environment for all of them to raise their descendants, including the families of the people they ruled. Venora wouldn't have to burn. No - he would rather have it flourish. As it was meant to, given divinity from the hands of Nora and Lady Cyrene.

"I hope you're doing well here, at least," he said, though his eyes darted to the protrusion at her stomach. "I'd never have imagined you'd be bearing children, after all that. You are strong. The child will be, as well. A proper Lady's heir."
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Go the Distance

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His confession that he had been tortured by their father in emotional and physical manners was only slightly surprising to her. Kaleb's desires ran deep, and watching another in pain was one of the most deeply seeded. Many a night she recalled looking into his eyes. Only hate stared back at her. Never once were they filled with love, compassion, or even the passion involved in the heat of an orgasm. His eyes had only glimmered at the sight of her tears, fresh bruises from beatings, and blood. Although his sad story was meant to relate to her, Zvezdana felt nothing. They may have shared experiences, but her wounds were different than his. They always would be. She never tried to justify her father's actions. Alistair still seemed to hold to the remnants of the man the three of them always thought their father to be. He was no saint. He was a bastard and a shit father.

Forgiveness. The thought that her soul was trying to come back to light and purity was terrifying. After all these years, her words would absolve her from her hatred? Alistair would just take her at face value and revel in the construction of familial peace? Her mouth went dry as he hugged her. Was she even capable of truly forgiving someone that she had hated for so long? So far, Faith had been whittling away at that wall, now Alistair was offering his pick ax to chip away at it further. Soon, she would no longer be the same woman she had left Rynmere as.

"You made your choice Alistair," Zvezdana stated blankly, her eyes falling as she remembered the night where they sat at the opposite ends of a table. Her side ended up covered in blood and shrouded in death while his side ended up victorious. His statements of her brothers doing wrong by not protecting spurred a little emotion from her. Her eyes grew wet with the thought of tears. They never came. She had always been left behind, and that was something she had come to understand. "Veljorn is gone Alistair. There is no way of making it right. My child with grow up without a father. Veljorn may have put himself into a position that justified his death. Mayhaps, one day the same will happen to me. My child never asked for this."

She took a sharp breath in when he mentioned his desire to be King of Rynmere. Although they were supposed to be making amends, she could not help but feel that this was just another one of her shattered dreams that he would succeed at. Yet again, boy wonder would be placed upon the pedestal; however, this time all of Rynmere would revere him instead of just their family. Zvezdana bit her tongue, keeping her thoughts to herself. She had to remind herself she did not want anything to do with Rynmere or the throne. The thought of dealing Cassander's final blow was enticing, but it wasn't worth the risk her baby would have to endure.

Gentle strokes were placed along her right forearm when he talked about a royal pardon. Even he would not be able to forgive her crimes. He would not be able to forgive her properly without knowing. She swallowed the taste of acid in her mouth, the beast stirring within her at the thought. It seemed to stare up at her from the pit of her stomach, curious as to what she was about to do. Her mind reeled while he talked about his shock at her being pregnant. Zvezdana was far away, thinking about him attempting to forgive her while sitting on the throne. The two headed dog would only make problems for him.

"If you are to be King and wish to protect Rynmere in its entirety so that you may rebuild it in your image, you will have to slay the beast that tore through Andaris the morning after Veljorn's death. If you brought the beast down, even Cassander would have difficulty keeping the crowd pleased. You would be a hero in the people's eyes. You could be known as "Slayer of the Demon."" Zvezdana stated calmly, lifting her right hand until her finger were splayed out in front of her face. Her sleeve fell away to reveal the silvery scars Syroa had bestowed upon her when she was cursed. Unlike normal scars, they shimmered.

"I hated Elyna. I hated you. In the early breaks of that morning, while Veljorn's blood slipped through my fingers and the tents burned around me, I made a deal with the devil herself. I asked for the ability to claim revenge. I wanted to level Andaris myself for the crimes her people had committed against me. Syroa granted me that power, or so I thought. She cursed me, Alistair." Zvezdana lowered her arm to her lap, keeping her sleeve above the marks so that he could have the full effect of her next words. If they were going to completely understand one another, here and now, this had to be said.

"If you want to save Rynmere from the beast, you are going to have to kill me."
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Alistair
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Go the Distance

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The carriage was tense, though through the tension, they had spoken a lot of truth. They had learned a lot about one another, moreso than they'd ever done. The mage found himself listening to the woman intensely, ensuring he didn't miss a peep, nor a subliminal message, nor a display of emotion in a singular word. This was too important. There was too much lost between them to continue losing now. Veljorn is gone Alistair. There is no way of making it right. My child with grow up without a father. To this, the man lowered his gaze, though he shook his head.

"We grew up with something worse than not having a father, sister. Not only was our father cruel and abusive, but he was evil; and our mother was complicit in his actions by... by not caring. By doing nothing. By tolerating the intolerable. I would much rather be raised with a mother such as yourself, and no one else, than the two parents we were given." He spoke this in honesty. Even though the pain he'd suffered in the past had hardened him, and had allowed him to become as strong as he was, there was no doubt that he would've exchanged this life for another -- even living as the child of a failed Rebel Queen.

Zvez was a loving person, at heart. She was. He knew she was.

"In place of Veljorn, you can find a father for this child," he said, looking up at her. "You're a beautiful woman, sister. Remember that you're a Venora -- we have been given the power to steal away a man's heart at a single glance. Such was Cyrene's gift. This child can have a father, sister. Perhaps not Veljorn, but another one. And if not, I will make it my duty to ensure that the child is well-protected." Alistair wasn't perfect, but he did have influence, and he had power. Perhaps he wasn't fit to be like a father himself, at this point, but he could provide the services of many others that would give the baby all the necessities it needed.

Of course, what came next was not of such arguable topics like the health and safety of a child. It was not so simple a thing -- what came from Zvezdana was a claim, and then a confession. Alistair's eyes widened, and his heart stopped.

"You're the beast?" he asked. He was surprised, truthfully. Alistair was certainly surprised. Though, he wasn't as surprised as she might have expected -- it explained a lot, including how she managed to survive death, despite being left in a flaming tent with nothing but a dying portal vacuuming the flames. And... he'd seen a lot crazier things in his life than a beast of rage.

What surprised him the most was that while Zvezdana had been cursed by Syroa, Alistair had been blessed. Why had the Immortal chosen the two of them, and placed them on opposite ends of the spectrum? Was it to play games with them? Was it to watch the two of them tear one another apart? No. She should have known how that would end -- Alistair would not allow any creature to destroy him. He was a mage of historical proportions, and despite loving Zvezdana, he would not die as a result of one of her tantrums. There was nothing about Alistair that screamed altruism. Such an outcome was unfathomable.

So was it coincidence? Perhaps? How could anyone know?

"Sister," he responded to her, "there is a true beast of Rynmere -- and it is not you." His head shook, and he turned to the woman with a small smile upon his face. Then, and in that moment, the two of them both disappeared from the carriage -- a rift forming among them and whisking them far away. To a cliff overlooking the river, outside of the walls, with Alistair's back turned to Zvez. He removed the attire of his upper body, and revealed to her the mark of the demon. Sesser.

In this moment, the man decided, all would come unveiled. His back still turned to her, the man began to speak the unspeakable -- things he'd never told anyone. Things no one had ever imagined. He'd already given it all up, anyway -- the truths he'd sought to unveil. The molestation by their father, the abuse, the turmoil. The want to be King. The lies, the games. Why not give it all? Why not lay himself open? He'd been concealing and lying for so long.

"I am not what you believe I am, Zvezdana," he told her, overlooking the edge of the mountain. "Do you remember once upon a dream, around ten arcs ago, where I had disappeared from the Duchy for nearly a whole arc? All thought I was dead. If I hadn't returned when I did, you may have been declared the heir. But I did not die. Instead, I evolved, and became something else entirely. I was brought to the Coven of Ellasin, the most dangerous cult in all of Idalos. From that time until now, I have been molded by the Necromantress, taught magic so powerful that I can rend cities apart. Do you believe me? Could you believe me? Would you believe me if you saw it with your own eyes?"

Alistair's eyes narrowed, and he took a deep breath, before exhaling. Lifting his arms to his sides, and raising them upward, the man began to control and channel his energy to his surroundings. Zvezdana would likely be confused, but not for all that long.

In an instant, a hole formed, a black sphere that seemed to pull all around it within. A bird flying by was sucked into the sphere, and quickly after its formation, it rapidly began to expand. Expand massively. Seconds passed, and the sphere -- which was nearly a kilometer off from them -- had entered a size in the dozens of meters. Seconds later, hundreds of meters, a black ball of empty appearance so vast that it could annihilate townships around it, and devastate a city -- particularly if what laid on the other side was of dubious danger. Fire, water, chunks of earth -- districts of cities could be ripped apart, flooded, set aflame, and the dangers could only grow worse the more clever the mind.

It was the Rend, the most powerful ability of Rupturing. A skill Alistair had come to master -- his proclamation that in all the world, he was the greatest Rupturer to live.

"You are no beast to me, sister. You are instead one like me - a fellow misfit. Someone who doesn't belong in our society. Someone they all reject. And that's fine. I've never aimed to be accepted by society willingly. No. With power, I will force them to accept my place. That is the future we misfits must strive to awaken."
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