Trial by Fire

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Ice Breaker

No one knew why Tulip chose this destination, a House well built but surrounded by the outside forest. The five did a good job cleaning up for the upper royals, but nonetheless, it was a far cry from Kilo. Tulip had also asked for no guard to be present, no patrols, even relayed a message to the garrison commander to rest all but essential staff. What she was going for was anyone’s guess, but it was quiet, dark, and ominous in the outskirts of Wenshe.

Inside the House, extra chairs were brought out for all in attendance. Luko, Denisun, Riven, Nike, Onyx, Tulip, Boreit, Poppy, Xilo, and surprisingly, Tootsie as well. At the square table, Riven and Luko sat together in the left middle, Denisun, Boreit, and Tootsie on the opposite side, Tulip on the end closest to the wall, Nike and Onyx closest to the door. Xilo and Poppy stood vigilant, swords at the ready as commanded by Tulip.

The energy in the air was intense. Riven looked from the side of her eyes and stared at Nike. Xe could feel her gaze boring holes into her bark. Xe wanted to say something but knew better. Luko closely eyed Onyx and Boreit, switching between the two like he had something to say. Denisun, his eyes low focused only on the table. Tootsie nervously clinked his claws together. They had grown noticeably longer over the year, a result of Onyx’s tampering no doubt. Tulip scratched an etching into the table, drawing the ire of Onyx as she finished her carving.

Feeling his energy Tulip asked, “Does that bother you, shaper of iron?”

Onyx shifted in his seat and looked towards Boreit who just shrugged his shoulders.

Tulip reiterated her question, this time with authority. “I am talking to you and you only. Does my tampering bother you, shaper of iron?”

Onyx stared directly into Tulip’s yellow eyes and answered, “No, the Princess’s actions were only curious to me. Apologies, Lady Tulip.”

Tulip smiled, her sharp teeth black and grey polished stone.

“You see? He is as much the gentleman as my own son! If we lose the war we can rest assured we did it in good fashion.”

Luko scoffed. Riven maintained her stare on Nike. Xilo could see Nike out of the corner of her eye. She made sure xe didn’t do anything rash. She had never met Riven or Luko, but knew that the patience of higher nobility is nothing to mess with. Afterall, Tulip’s throne was not solidified. A princess rules in absence of true royalty, the likes of which could be obtained through ritual, and of course, the death of Tulip herself. This all ran through Xilo’s head as Nike started to smile. Riven, annoyed by xyr facial expression, took notice.

“Care to share what is so funny, Nike? Has Tulip waited too long to start?”

Nike, for the first time looked directly at Tulip. Her yellow eyes met Nike’s as she turned her head slightly sideways, then the slightest of smiles crossed her face and vanished in an instant. Nike turned xyr eyes to Riven. Xyr voice was soothing, but not condescending, soft, but not quiet.

“Lady Riven, I do not expect the respect of a higher royal so easily. I admire your figure as well, the contours on your body are similar to those that Onyx himself has shaped for me, for what feels like so long ago. I am smitten that you feel my neck is as elegant, or more so than your own. The definition of my bark is not by design, however, it is because of Xilo’s training. She is a phenomenal swordswoman, perhaps even a better duelist than yourself. These muscles are the result of constant torturous physical betterment, as you yourself would know. I credit my vocabulary to Tootsie, who so graciously has allowed me to read his books, his own writings, and those of your own. I am the two-spirited child of the Jule family, the last of my line. I am both Rema and Nami, and yes, I did bring Juniper from the vale, but no, I do not know exactly how I did it. It is nice to meet you, Lady Riven, I hope to continue this conversation at a more… opportune time.”

Xilo swore under her breath and clinched her sword. Before Riven could react, Tulip stood and clapped, adoration in her eyes.

“I always knew you were a marvelous student with a terrible attitude and little to no aptitude for success. The little two-spirit read my mind. My mind. Well, out with your introductions, this may be the first and last time you will all get to know each other. Make it worthwhile.”

Xilo relaxed her grip on her sword and smiled with her back to the company. Normally she’d bonk Nike in the head and punish her with sap-ups, but even if she could, she couldn’t shake the feeling of pride she had. Poppy noticed this and looked out the side of her eye at Xilo. It put a smile on her face, she knew what she was feeling, she felt the same for Tootsie.

Once Tulip had been seated, Riven began her introduction. She seemed unperturbed by the events, her spirit betraying no frustration whatsoever.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, and two-spirits. I am Riven of Astora. The sister of Luko the Lonely. I am the chief coordinator of Wenshe, meaning the garrison is under my command. Your exploits” Riven slightly smiled and looked to Onyx, “are well known on my end. I am nine hundred and forty years of age, which makes me senior to all but Tulip herself.”

Riven casted a quick glance and smirked in Boreit’s direction. The giant stared back at Riven in nonchalant indifference. Luko Stood up and introduced himself.

“You forgot to mention the dungeons.” Luko said as he raised mischievously side eyed Riven. “I am Luko, the champion, the lonely, the no spirit. Whichever you prescribe to me is fine, so long as you do not bother me with the humdrum of everyday life or the intensity of soldiering. I have no formal role in the administration, beyond offering my services and loyalty to the Princess.”

Luko sat down, his elegantly craft frame slipping without a sound back into his seat. Denisun spoke next.

“Good evening, to all that are present. I am Denisun, herald and chief advisor to Princess Tulip.”

Denisun promptly sat down with Luko scoffing and adding “Basically the feeble lapdog of upper royalty.”

Denisun smiled and retorted.

“Your father said something similar before he died.”

Luko’s eyes turned fiery then Riven put her hand on his shoulder.

“Calm.” She said, and he obliged.

Boreit stood. He was careful not to hit the table as he rose. He spoke slowly, but elegantly.

“I am Boreit, only child of Princess Tulip, guardian of Xilo and Poppy.”

Tulip giggled at the end of the table.

“The tension is high at this table isn’t it? I believe my father would have some great words of advice that would bring you all together. This Princess is not him. Figure out your own differences, do we agree?”

Dead silence as Tulip smiled, expecting the nodding of heads.

“By the Great Star, we’ve forgotten our manners. I said, it is better to figure out our own differences, isn’t it?”

This time, Tulip’s eyes were a wild yellow with red stripes. Her voice split the air and almost immediately a chorus of “Yes Princess.” followed.

Tulip sighed and sat back in her chair.

“Is it really only my sheer power that holds the ends of two ropes? Have I not brought honor to the throne? I find it a little impudent that I don’t deserve even a shred of the respect my father had held. Does Piriu still hold sway over my court?”

Riven answered the Princess with exasperation.

“Princess Tulip, with due respect, we are sitting in a meeting deciding the fate of our nation in an undefended hovel made by two children and an imp. It is true King Piriu dishonored the throne with his placation and subordination to the Lunu, but your usurpation of the throne without ritual and national recognition places all of us in a precarious situation.”

Tulip was taken aback by Riven's words.

“Did I not warn and evacuate our allies within the Circle? Are the two Erodeseans of prophecy in enemy's hands? Was Riven and Luko of Astora not executed by my hands despite their allegiance to Pirius?”

Riven responded in kind, not backing down.

“We do not take your kindness lightly, Princess. Can you please understand what is at stake here? We don’t need to know each other to ge-”

Tulip slammed the table in rage, cleaving it in two, eyes full of crimson red and fluorescent yellow.

“Shut your ungrateful mouth!” She looked around the room as everyone but Boreit seemed to recoil in fright and anticipation of violence. Cooling down she dusted herself off and sat calmly back in her seat. Clearing her voice and sounding much more like her usual self, she asked Onyx to continue the introductions.

“Please, introduce yourself.”

Onyx responded before he rose. He was now two feet taller than anyone in attendance, his massive frame scuffing the now broken table as he stood. His bark was blackened and thick. He had many deep lacerations in his bark that ran down to his skin, each one a symbol or picture of something that flowed into the next.

“Good evening, everyone. I am Onyx, son of Raes and Wenhelm. Before joining the Rema in Wenshe, I, along with Nike, was a student at Osk University. Princess Tulip was my mentor and advisor. That is all.”

Luko laughed out loud.

“‘That is all’ he says in his best Boreit impression. Had you any identity at all, any intelligence inside that hulking mass of burnt bark you’d have just a shred of grace that your spirit partner has.”

Tulip was surprised when Nike spoke up.

“He has worked tirelessly on his public speaking for a year since having to relive the tragedy of his parent’s death and his own personal struggles with anxiety. Have some sympathy.”

Luko turned sharply in his chair to face Nike.

“I will not speak as equals to a sap for brains little bitch who thinks xe knows everything and anything. You two have given nothing. You have sacrificed nil. Your family’s death is nothing special and your attitude and self assuredness is rotten to the core. I do not want your input and if I ever miraculously do, I’ll be sure to slit my own neck.”

Nike’s eyes went blue as xe sunk back in xyr seat and tucked xyr chin. Xilo and poppy whispered something and Tulip picked it up.

“You two, maintain vigilance. This meeting is under my own order, Luko was just… expressing himself.”

Riven sharpened her gaze toward her brother. It seemed as if Tulip favored one over the other and she was not pleased.

The entire time introductions and the fiery arguments had been going on Tootsie had been trying to remain as small as possible. He shrunk to about half his size and was only in clear view because of the shattered table. Tulip hungrily eyed him, her stone teeth glinting in the energy-light.

“And you, Tootsie. Please, introduce yourself.”

Tootsie scrambled back into his seat, slightly slipped off his chair then stood painfully erect.

“I-I am Toos-. Um.” Tootsie’s eyes went white as an uncomfortable and awkward silence enveloped the room.

“Good evening. I am Tootsie. I live here. I train with Lady Poppy, she is great. Boreit is too.”

Tootsie remembered that Onyx caught flak for saying “that is all” and reframed from making a similar mistake and instead abruptly sat back down. Three suspenseful seconds went by until Tulip mentioned something.

“It seems that Xilo is not this one’s favorite?”

Then, everyone minus Tootsie, Boreit, Nike, and Xilo, started laughing. As the laughter died down there was a knock at the door. Xilo and Poppy readied their weapons, Riven and Luko hopped out of their seats and grabbed their own, Denisun backed away slowly to a wall, Boreit moved quickly to shield Xilo and Poppy, Nike remained in xyr seat, Onyx took part of the table with him as he launched upwards, Tootsie hid where Denisun was, and Tulip smiled from ear to ear watching it all unfold.

The voice of a human sounded from outside.

“Our chickens have come to roost.”

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