Completed Been to the End of that Road

Zael Castomir

Slayer of Ganfarred
Messages
646
Character Biography
Link
The final preparations for the Festival of Fiery Skies, which would commence this coming night, had the city of Elbion busy and bustling. People from all over, near and far, occasioned the city for it. With the noontime sun high in the clear sky, the Festival was but a matter of hours away, yet excitement pulsed already with a mighty spirit through the streets of the great magical city of Liadain.

In these conditions would fate again make an intrusion upon the life of Zael Castomir. Exquisite timing and innocuous decisions all arranged in a great tapestry reproduced a situation Zael himself recognized from a small town called Zettal, some hundreds of miles to the south and some number of weeks in the past.

Zael, expecting no such thing which one could mistake for providence, simply walked through the lively Elbionese crowds, minding his own business, when before him, as these people parted here, now those people parted there, stood none other than Kristen Pirian and Zinnia St. Kolbe. Two loyalist Dreadlord Initiates.

Zael stopped. They stopped.

And the first thing Zael did was exhale, and say simply:

"We really need to stop meetin like this."

Zinnia
 
  • Gasp
Reactions: Zinnia
A simple mission. One not entirely unlike the one Kristen had been on last year, traveling to Elbion College with Edric, Henk, Davi, and Noel. It marked her second visit to the grand city and its world-renowned College. And the Festival of Fiery Skies promised to make for such a wonderful time!

And then she and Zinnia happened upon a terrible uncertainty: stumbling upon the Rogue Dreadlord, Zael Castomir.

Kristen immediately became guarded and wary, standing rigidly opposite Zael. Around the three of them flowed the citizenry of Elbion.

"Such encounters as this seem to trail after you like a persistent spectre."

"Are you gonna punch me this time?" Zael said.

"N-No! I—" Kristen caught herself, banishing what flustered element had arisen by reflex in her response, and then said with all honesty, "...I cannot promise that I will not."

Zinnia
 
  • Sip
Reactions: Zinnia
For Zinnia this was a first. Never before had she been to the city of Elbion, a nation which was in many ways a mirror to her home of Vel Anir. They, too, had their magical academy, but it was one attended voluntarily rather than by law and creed. And to get to see a festival as well! And with a friend! Misery was such a constant when it came to missions that Zinnia had not ever expected something so refreshingly easy to come her way.

But life was never so simple. Zinnia was not immediately familiar with Zael Castomir. She'd heard the name and knew loosely of the rumors surrounding it, but if asked she could never have put a face to that name. Instead, Zinnia could only judge the unfolding scenario based on Kristen's reaction to it.

"Um...K-Kristen, who is this? Should I be...y-you know..?" she asked, nodding over her own shoulder to the handle of her hammer. The two weren't immediately hostile to each other, but if Kristen of all people had punched him...well at the very least he must have deserved it.
 
The surprise of Zinnia's confusion did not last long. The Zael before them, with his eyepatch, his longer hair, his blue eye, did not much resemble the Zael who had gone through the Academy.

"He is Zael Castomir," Kristen said in answer to her compatriot, not taking her eyes off of Zael, "the Slayer of Ganfarred Keep." She did see from the corner of her eyes the small nod Zinnia gave to her weapon, and, more lowly, she said, "Be on guard."




Zinnia
 
  • Nervous
Reactions: Zinnia
Zael raised his hands, displaying his palms, in a show of peace.

"I don't think the Elbionese authority would like us startin a big fight right in the middle of their city."







Zinnia
 
  • Thoughtful
Reactions: Zinnia
"Oh," Zinnia replied, glancing over to get a better look at Zael. "OH."

Realization suddenly dawned on her as the name, face, and stories all fell into place. Her right hand reached back to clutch the handle of her weapon, but Zael's warning had a ring of truth to it.

"R-right...so...n-neither of you came out s-swinging. Where does that l-leave us?"
 
Kristen swallowed. Elbion was far more secure than Zettal, and more over, it was a foreign nation—they had no jurisdiction here. But Zael was right here. Right. Here. Her sense of duty sat heavily upon her shoulders, yet...what was there to do?

"I...do not know," Kristen said, her voice tense and apprehensive.





Zinnia
 
  • Stressed
Reactions: Zinnia
Zael could just see it in Kristen's eyes. She wanted to give him an earful. And...maybe he owed it to her to let her do just that.

"How bout this?" Zael gave a little gesture of his head. "There's a nice teahouse that way. Got a cozy, open-air patio. Lots of College students go there. Why don't we go there? Get a drink? Chat."

He patted the pouch on his belt. Looked between Kristen and Zinnia both.

"My treat."

Zinnia
 
  • Thoughtful
Reactions: Zinnia
Zinnia simply creased her brows in concern at Zael's offer, then cast a look at Kristen. Zael at least seemed unlikely to try anything reckless in a place this public. Conversely, she was slightly repulsed by the idea of breaking bread with a traitor. Had they not been in Elbion, there would have been no question...but this was a gray area.

In absence of the ability to arrest, the least they could do was learn.
"I...d-don't think it could hurt."
 
Kristen and Zinnia were very much one in the same, each a mirror of the other as they looked at one another: repulsed by the idea of cordiality with a man who was their enemy. But what else could be said? What else could be done? Anirian affairs, quite naturally, meant little here in Elbion.

So Kristen drew in a breath, stood with all the rigidly regal posture she could muster, and said, "What provisional trust I extended to you in Zettal...I so extend once more."




Zinnia
 
  • Stressed
Reactions: Zinnia
Zael smiled warmly.

And, as was his nature, made a lighthearted remark on it, "Just so long as you don't extend your right arm again." He rubbed his jaw for effect. "You got a hell of a punch in that fist. I can still feel the porcelain."

Zael turned, beckoned them to follow, and started walking toward the teahouse in question. Behind him, he could hear Kristen not even bothering to whisper, just saying in a slightly quieter tone to Zinnia, "Be on guard, still." He didn't mind. He knew where they were coming from. He didn't have anything against either of them, and he wasn't looking to recruit them to Gilram's side or even so much as change their minds.

In all honesty, he was just looking forward to a little chat. Something that harkened back to a time when things were less...complicated.

Zinnia
 
  • Cthulu Knife
Reactions: Zinnia
Zinnia offered a quiet mumble of agreement to Kristen but made no attempt to speak to Zael. She felt tremendously out her element here, in a bit of shock at how hard the mood had shifted just moments before the renegade had appeared.

It was almost laughable how awkward she felt; the last time Zinnia had felt this uncomfortable had been over a year prior, at the Friendsgiving dinner table, where she'd had an anxiety attack and cried into a bowl of macaroni. Hopefully this wouldn't be quite so dire...
 
THE LAUGHING CUP


Kristen thought the name of the teahouse to be a poor fit for the three of them, for the tension she and Zinnia felt toward Zael. Hardly any laughing matter, this.

They sat at a table on the teahouse's outside patio, and Kristen took some comfort in the fact that they weren't alone; between all the other people seated at the other tables, the people walking by on the street adjacent, the lively environment made for a poor place to spring some sort of trap. Just that very thought alone brought a kind of self-reflection to Kristen, that in what was a relatively short amount of time her regard for Zael changed so drastically, trust to outright mistrust. Gods...it was tragic.

Presently, she sat and sipped at her tea, her expression taut but she as of yet being unable to say anything at all.

Zinnia
 
  • Stressed
Reactions: Zinnia
Zael didn't touch his tea yet. He just looked from Zinnia to Kristen, Kristen to Zinnia. In Kristen there stood behind the rigid composure of her countenance a deep hurt, an anger, a betrayal. In Zinnia was an uncomfortable confusion, a palpable sense of this shouldn't be happening.

Of course it would have been easier to be a good Anirian, to enter into the military as he originally resolved himself to do. It would have made Kristen happy, and even for Zinnia, whom he didn't know very well, he imagined she would've been at least neutral and content with it. But things weren't that way, were they?

Zael started not by addressing that directly, but bringing up another matter.

"Your graduation is comin up soon," he said, looking to them both. Then, to Kristen specifically, "Remember what I said."

"You would be killed," she said, her tone low and tense.

"Maybe." He looked to Zinnia then, and said, "What would you do? Would you let your fellow Initiates kill each other on the Proctors' command, or, if you could do somethin about it, would you? Even if it might mean your life?"

Zinnia
 
  • Scared
Reactions: Zinnia
Zinnia flinched as the one-eyed rogue cast his gaze and a question upon her. Why was he dragging her into this? Kristen was the eloquent one, the one with the brain and vocabulary to talk ideology, and the history with Zael, not Zinnia.

"Of c-course I would do s-something, I protect my fam--" The smug, uncaring smiled of Soleil Verdane flashed through Zinnia's mind and the word died on her lips. "...I prot-tect my friends. And I don't do that by f-fleeing my home."

She finished with a jab, glaring daggers at him.
 
And I don't do that by fleeing my home. Zael made a note to keep that in his back pocket. He hoped that, at least, he could maybe bring the two Initiates across from him to understand where he was coming from, and a statement like that, Zinnia's own words, was something he might be able to leverage to make a point.

For now, he stuck on the upcoming graduation.

"I might be gone from our home, but if I have to, I'll come back for that. I'll risk it all if those Proctors like Kimble, like Malaneaux, haven't been completely rooted out."

Zael shook his head in disdain at the memory of the Blackwood.

"Is that somethin we can all agree on? That the old graduation should die along with the Houses' rule?"

Zinnia
 
  • Thoughtful
Reactions: Zinnia
Those names. Everyone at the Academy knew them now. Two of the perpetrators of the Bloody Graduation, the likes of which men like Proctor Snicket had come to replace.

"And have you c-caught Kimble or M-Malaneaux out here yet? How is this w-working out for you so f-far?" Zinnia jabbed, to her own surprise. Perhaps her feelings towards those she viewed as traitorous was still stronger than she had thought, given the ordeal she'd been through to hunt Caeso's killer.

She folded her arms across her chest and looked out toward the street with a huff.

"I can ag-gree with that much, yeah...the old ways should s-stay dead. I d-don't really care who's in charge as l-long as our leaders s-stop treating us as d-disposable, or trying to turn us into m-monsters..."
 
At last, the proverbial straw, and Kristen could hold herself back no more. She slammed both of her palms down on the table in both rage and pain and exclaimed, "Why!?"

Zael looked at her. As did some of the teahouse's patrons, before their brief curiosity waned.

"Why, Zael, why? You weren't some...some...butcher like the others! Like Bull! Like Edric! You could have been part of the promise that the Republic has brought to Vel Anir! The promise..." her voice caught for a second, "...of hope."

Zael merely pointed a casual finger to Zinnia.

"She has a good point, doesn't she?"

Zinnia
 
Last edited:
  • Stressed
Reactions: Zinnia
Quiet "hey, hey's" spilled from Zinnia as her friend lost her temper.

Zinnia put a comforting arm around Kristen and rubbed her back, then shot a glare at Zael.

"Y-you know, for someone who was so k-keen on having this chat, you seem to be r-really allergic to answering q-questions."
 
Gods, did Kristen ever appreciate Zinnia in that moment. Just that simple gesture—her reassuring arm and her rubbing hand—helped to simmer the unsightly anger which had boiled up and bubbled over. She was able to regain a good measure of calm from the presence of a friend.







Zinnia
 
  • Cthuulove
Reactions: Zinnia
"Maybe I like your company and I'm keepin you around longer because you're the rainbow to my sunshine," Zael said, lifting his cup from the plate and trying the tea. This really was more of a Chas thing, drinking tea, but one of his College friends, Eric, had introduced him to this place. Shit really was good.

Kristen didn't appreciate his roguish response to Zinnia. Her voice was level this time though. "Zinnia is right. You wished to talk? Talk."

Zael set aside the cup of tea. Entwined his hands on the table. "You know what that was? What Zinnia had said there? Awareness. I ain't tryin to denigrate you, Kristen, but you really don't know the world me, and Zinnia, and Bull, and Edric, and everyone else came from. Not a damn one of us woulda thought anythin like that—that we were disposable, that we were monsters. No, we knew what we were, because we had it pounded into our heads until there was nothin else but that: we were weapons. And weapons don't think. They just kill."

He thought briefly of that one sunrise, of a few choice words he had said to Everleigh. Words that led to him losing his eye and nearly dying in the Black Wood.

"You know what else weapons don't do? They don't say 'no.'" Zael frowned a little. "They can't."

Zinnia
 
  • Nervous
Reactions: Zinnia
Zinnia wrinkled her nose at the very idea of Zael's idiom. Even so, the act of him sipping at his cup reminded her that she had not yet touched her own tea. It was a comfort drink, one that reminded her of nights spent curled up in her favorite chair in the Academy commons, watching the fireplace. She drank deep from her own teacup and exhaled some of her pent up anxiety.

Zael did speak some sense. The Dreadlord chain of command, and indeed the Anirian way of life, often called for absolute order. From the history books she'd read, Zinnia could recall that under the old ways asking a few questions could earn you a field execution. "Sedition" and "insubordination" were serious offenses.

"Is th-that why you ran? Bec-cause you didn't think you could d-disobey orders?"
 
"Close," Zael said to Zinnia. "You wanna know why, Kristen? I'll tell ya. Here it is."

Zael sat up nice and straight. Looked between the two girls—at Zinnia for a moment, at Kristen for a moment—and he said calmly the thing that he had wanted to shout from the top of his lungs back at Ganfarred when that whole lot of Initiates had showed up. What he never got a chance to say before all the official badmouthing that was sure to follow smeared him in the worst light possible.

"I want to see the Dreadlords freed. Freed from state control. It's that simple." He drew in a breath through his nose, and with specific regard to Kristen said, "And I'm sorry, Kris...I don't believe the Republic is gonna do that."

Zinnia
 
  • Thoughtful
Reactions: Zinnia
A moment passed, as tight as a thin rope pulled taut by irresistible forces on both ends.

"My...entire...family...backs the Republic. House Pirian has devoted everything to it. Everything."

Kristen spoke quietly. It was impossible to discern from her tone whether she was angry, sorrowful, or both.





Zinnia
 
  • Stressed
Reactions: Zinnia