Private Tales The Death of Innocence

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Houri

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Castle Mezlan, The Old Krause Estates
Despite there being a full moon hanging in the sky little light touched Castle Mezlan which loomed from the thick fogs like a menacing monster only for most of its glory to be covered by the thick grey clouds plump full of summer rain. It was not the night to truly appreciated its might and majesty. No, tonight the darkness hid the sharp turrets, the extent of the carefully planned fortifications it possessed, the danger that lurked within. A rumble of thunder sounded in the distances like the ominous call of the hunt.

A crack of lightning suddenly illuminated the castle like a beacon to the wayward traveller unfortunate enough to find themselves out on a night like tonight.

Inside, the castles main residents stirred.

* * *​

"... 11 Iku-U'-Delta, 12 Iku-U'-Delta, 13 Iku-U'-Delta, 14 Iku-U'-Delta, 15---"

Light flooded the room and Hauri jumped. There was a tiny little shriek as the rat was crushed beneath her boot but Hauri ignored it. The rumbling of her stomach far out screamed any tiny little rodent. Scrambling off her tiny morsel of dinner she grabbed it up from the dirt covered floor and sunk down to savour its flesh while it was still warm. She'd stopped getting sick from eating raw flesh days ago. Or was it weeks? When had the last few carers left? She glanced to the lines she'd been marking on the walls. They were counts of when the sun had touched her cell but that was sporadic where she was situated. The sun might have gone days without touching her for all she knew but there was little else with which to try and keep a track. So she did. For her sanity.

She had very precious little of it left.

I miss the rain on my face, Ardvi sighed in that luscious, full bodied voice. It sounded like the storm outside but crashed inside her mind instead. The hairs on the back of her neck rose on end as the familiar tingle of magic begun to crawl through her.

I swear to Ahjah if you flood this cell again with your storms we'll kick you out, Vayu howled like the harsh north wind.

I nearly had it, we would have been free if you had not intervened, the lady of storms retorted with a sniff. There was a spattering of laughter from different parts of her mind to which Ardvi snarled a response and retreated. Even she had had to admit there was no way out. Hauri's eyes drifted to the shimmering veil that separated her from the outside world. Powered by runes etched into the thick stone walls the only way out was for someone from the outside to lift it. Until then she was stuck here.

Alone.

Gentle snowfall began to fall covering her hair and her shoulders. She shivered and wrenched herself from her sorrowful mood and instead concentrated on the warmth of the meat in her hands. Freedom didn't matter now. Survival did.
 
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Olvir

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"Ollie, are you even paying attention?"​

The voice barely scratched through the surface of whatever thought had been lingering in his mind. Head turned, and he looked at the Guardsmen draped in Weiroon livery. "Sorry, what were you saying Dan?"

A loud sigh escaped the armored soldier on the horse besides him. Some of the soldiers riding just a span behind let out a laugh.

"I was reminding you of your duties. Baron Krause perished during the Revolution. As did his eldest son, younger daughter, and wife."​

Olvir frowned. Kress that's grim.

Though the Republic was, at least by his reckoning, and overall good thing. The loss of life could not be underestimated. Scores of peasants, nobles, and everything in between had died. Some executed, others just caught in the fire as Dreadlords ravaged Vel Anir and cities beyond. A fact that no one really liked talking about.

"Castle Mezlan was one of his more...understated holdings, but it is still important. Erected near two centuries ago and..."​

Dan seemed to trail off for a moment, and Ollie looked first to him and then to the Keep sitting in the distance. "And?"

Ollie asked curiously.

"I'm not...well...there isn't really much about it. Seemed he almost ignored it, but there is supposedly a small garrison still present."​

Olvir frowned, glancing back towards the Castle on the distant horizon. He shrugged, and then mentioned something about how they would soon be finding out. It was about three hours later, by the time the rain had started, that the small party found themselves at the Castle gates.

Dan slipped from his horse, as did two of the other soldiers while Olvir and the rest remained mounted. Two of them strutted forward, and with their armored gauntlets thundered against the door.
 
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The man who opened the door might, long ago, have been a part of a garrison. But the grey hair and the way his legs shook with the sheer effort of moving suggested that time was way before Olvir had even been a glint in his mothers eyes. Due to the bowed back the man had to really crane his neck back to look up at the soldier who had been hanging on the door but the look he fixed him with was sharp and deadly still.

"I en't deaf ye know!" he shrieked and the emotion of it nearly bowled him over forcing him to hold on to the door handle for support. "What d'yer want, eh?" he swung his glare out to the men beyond Dan still sat on horses. "Yer en't from Lord Krause an' we don't take guests. So scram," and with that he begun to hurl the oak door shut.
 
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Dan was the one who moved first.

The Old Man was swift when he wanted to be. Serving in the Anirian Guard for nigh on Two Decades, Olvir's father had hired simply because of reputation. His blade flickered from it's sheath in the span of a breath, stabbing into the heavy oak door before it could be closed.

"Don't think you understand, Ser."​

Olvir almost cringed at how serious the man sounded, but managed to keep his face as an implacable mask.

He knew exactly what his role was in situations like this. Why he was here in the first place. The character of Lord Weiroon was almost as important as anything else. He had authority, tradition at his back. Even in a place like this.

"Lord Krause is dead, and that-"​

Dan pointed to Olvir.

"Is Olvir Weiroon, your Barons Liege Lord. He is inheritor of his house, and this castle. Come to check on his estates. Understand?"​

Fingers wrapped around the pinning hilt of the sword in the door. Hard amber eyes stared at the man who would bar them entry. Olvir's own gaze glaring down at the man from his horse.
 
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The old Steward raised a bushy brow at Dan then turned to level a weighted stare on Olvir instead. He seemed to be chewing something as he considered the young lad before grunting.

"Dead, eh? Can't say it's a shame," he cackled apparently at his own inner joke then scratched at the whiskers on his chin. He still hadn't budged his position though it was probably obvious to all gathered Dan could have knocked him aside with one arm. "But this en't some prize teh be comin' an' claimin', lad. None of yous realise what this 'ere castle really is do yer?" he turned the question on Dan and poked him with one stubby finger straight in the chest.

"Ere there be nightmares, whippersnapper. Now, like I said, off yer scram. Come back when yer have a grown up."
 
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Dan looked back at Olvir.

Adonis would have just had the man killed and called it a day, but Olvir wasn't his brother. He had his own way of doing things. A hand slowly motioned towards Dan, and the Knight let out a long sigh. He pushed forward, grabbing the old man by the scruff of his clothes.

With a shove the old man was sent into the castle interior.

The other Knights quickly dismounted from their horses, moving alongside Ollie as he stepped through the open gate. He reached up, plucking the sword from the old wooden door. "I'm sorry, my friend."

He said with a sigh.

"Nightmares or not, I've been charged to take an account of this place." Almost as soon as he crossed through the threshold of the keep a shiver ran up his spine. "And I intend to do my duty."

"Aye, so why don't you see us through?"​

Dan said, pressing the old man.
 
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As the group stepped through the thick oaken doors into the receiving chamber beyond it became clear that what the man had warned was right. Instead of the elegant hallway with rich tapestries, clean flagstones and warm silk wallpapers that were common features of a noble - even a Minor ones - main residence, Castle Mezlam was bare of any niceties. Weapons adorned every wall; spears, swords, lances, and ugly manacles. All of them had runes etched into their sides and pulsed with their own eerie green light. It looked more suited to the armour rooms than a greeting space.

From the chamber corridors branched off in four directions and a thick, brutal curving staircase sat in its centre. It wound up into the darkness of the upper levels which made it hard to tell just how big this place was.

"Oi you ge'roff me right now ya fuckin' bawbag," he swung his frail arms and legs with mighty effort towards the knight who had him by the scruff. For such an elderly fellow he fought like a cat about to be drowned. "I en't showin' yer nowt!"

Down the winding corridors the shrieks of the old man reached the ears of the prisoners and they slowly begun to stir.

Did you hear that?

Houri had retreated back to the dirty straw she slept on after her meal and lay on her side to watch the pretty fall of snow inside her cell. She was so tired but it was a kind of tiredness she was weary of. A tiredness of the hopeless. If she closed her eyes she might just not have the energy to open them again.

There!

"Please Vayu, I just want to be alone," she sighed and started to close her eyes.

GET UP CHILD! Someone is coming!
 
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Olvir frowned as Dan pinned the man back against the far wall, but it wasn't the struggle that caught his attention.

Almost as soon as they moved into the Castle he could feel a sense of wrongness. A dour press on the mind that he couldn't quite describe. The walls were barren, the corridors dark. It was obvious almost as soon as they were inside that this wasn't...this wasn't an ordinary keep.

Lips thinned, and slowly he turned his head. "Dan."

The word was curt, quick.

Within a breath the knight responded, slamming the old man back into the wall and speaking a terse word of threat.

Olvir did not wait around for the man to speak, and instead motioned to once of the Knights. Slowly he began to move into the darkened corridors, his steps echoing out with each cobble he strode over. Eyes flickered over ancient doors, slits within the walls.

"What..." His gaze caught through the bars of a door, latching onto a set of eyes. "What the fuck is this place?"

He asked loudly.
 
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The cells were an odd mishmash as though every single one had been designed with the inmate inside in mind. There were cells with thick iron doors and tiny slits and others that appeared to be rooms with walls of pulsing lightning to keep the inhabitants from getting too close. Each inmate stared - if they could, for some cells were devoid of any way of seeing in or out - as Olvir walked past. Their reactions were a range from anger and hatred to fear and hopelessness.

Beside each door was a clipboard with papers documenting the inmates name, identity number, and their special complications.

Dan had followed with the now grumbling old man but whatever the other knight had said had seemed to at least loosen his tongue.

"It's ah place for dirty secrets," he cackled then broke off when he was shook. "They're Dreadlords, but ya'know," he made a looney whistling noise. "Not all there anymore. But yer don't want t'kill what's still useful."

* * *
It's that wretched little man, Tish sniffed.

But he isn't alone like he has been. Listen, there's several footsteps, Vayu pointed out and Houri cocked her head to listen. Sure enough she thought she could make out six in the group approaching and the voices of at least three men. Tiredly she rolled to her feet and carefully made her way towards the shimmering veil in an attempt to peer down the corridor.

"Maybe they came back," Houri said a touch hopefully. The carers were cruel but... it would mean food. And sunlight for her 20 minutes of permitted exercise.
 
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”Kress.” Ollie cursed as what the man was actually saying dawned on him. It didn’t take him long for his hand to reach up and snatch one of the papers from the wall, eyes flickering back and forth as he read it over.

Then he took another. Then another.

A sickness welled within his stomach.

He was a Weiroon. The Great House who had befor the Republic held the least amount of Dreadlords to their loyalty. A mark of just how far they had fallen over the centuries. Is that why the Baron had this? To secure cast-offs and remnants?

There’s no way father knew about this. He thought bitterly, not because he thought Sebastian wouldn’t allow it. But because the old man wouldn’t have let even the broke rot. There must be hu-

His thoughts suddenly stopped as he read a paper.

Eyes widened almost immediately in shock. He took a step, peering into the cell in front of him in utter disbelief. Houri?”

Ollie asked, practically shaking.
 
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"Ollie?"

* * *

The Luana Summer Picnic, 13 years ago...
Houri slipped past the large skirts of her mother and her friends and out into the gardens. Grown-up talk was so boring and she wanted to play with the other children. She'd never understood why her mother liked to keep her close - Jiya got to play so the thing about girls was a complete lie! - but today everyone was here and she had no intentions of missing out. On her way down the path, past the older children like her brothers and their friends, she noticed another boy sitting poking sticks in the mud. He looked as bored as her.

Cautiously, she approached.

"Hello, my name's Houri. D'you wanna play?"

* * *
"Ollie?" Houri whispered in disbelief. She hadn't seen him for several years but it couldn't be anyone else. The veil pulsed in warning as she stepped closer to get a better look until only an inch separated her nose from the magic barrier. Her eyes ran over every inch of his face, comparing it to the memories she had of when they had been children. It was him!

She'd barely realised the snow had stopped falling.

"Ollie! What are you---?!" Her words were cut off by a sudden yelp as the veil issued a bolt of electricity as a warning. Her eyes swung in anger to the man pressing a curving rune.

"I wouldn't get to close, young Master, these... things don't have their right minds. They'd do anything. Cut their own mothers throats probably," the old man shook his head despite the sadistic grin on his face.
 
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Ollie stared in utter disbelief.

He had always wondered what happened to her. There had been dozens of rumors, stories, but most had simply thought that like Jiya Houri had been sent away. Whisked from the Academy in the middle of the night simply because Luana wanted it that way.

Great Houses could do such things all they wanted, or at least they used to be able to. It was how Ollie escaped his service in the Guard.

But this?

His head whirled almost immediately as the old man spoke. A spike of fury bubbled over the already seething cauldron. He took three steps, his towering form moving like a viper. Fingers curled around the old man's collar, his muscled arm ripping him forward. "SHUTTUP!"

Olvir Weiroon's voice boomed through the dungeon, echoing. Some of the soldiers even flinched as they were reminded of some of Sebastian's outbursts.

"Open this door!" He shoved the old man towards Houri's prison. "Now.
 
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Houri

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We should kill him, Ahdvi thundered in her skull as they watched Ollie grab a hold of their lone prison keeper. Houri would have been lying if she had told her she didn't agree. The old man had done nothing but torment her and no doubt the other prisoners since he had been left in apparent charge of the inmates. One of his favourite cruel jokes was to walk past gnawing on a thick, juicy leg of chicken then tossing them the picked clean bone like some common dog. But killing wasn't the answer right then, not if she wanted to get out of here. She dug her nails into the tender flesh of the inside of her wrist until the pain blurred the voice of Ahdvi leaving nothing but her own in her skull.

Outside, the old man sneered at Olvir.

"You have no idea what you're doing, lad. No idea what she's done," he muttered but there was a tinge of fear in his own eyes and reluctantly he reached out and pressed the series of runes that lowered the veil. Cold air from inside the cell rushed into the hallway making a few of the soldiers shiver and drifts of snow blew across the flagstone floors.

For a moment Houri merely stared in astonishment that, just like, her prison was gone. She was free. Ollie would take her home, she was sure of it. Tentatively, she took an unsteady step forward, then another. She could have cried in relief or joy or both at the feeling of stepping beyond those four tiny walls. The old man wisely stepped back and fixed her with a wary gaze but Houri paid him no mind. She flung her arms around Ollies neck and gave a laughing sob with no care of propriety or how she looked or smelled. Brilliant warm sunshine flooded the hall.

"Thank Kress you came Ollie," she whispered.
 
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Ollie wrapped his arms around Houri, not seeming to mind the cold one bit.

The Game of Houses broke many friendships, ties, and even loves. He knew that most children of Weiroon, Urahil, Luana, and all the others grew up together. They attended the same gala's, parties, meetings and that of course created friendships and bonds.

Bonds that were later broken when the reality of the balance of power came into being. Few people could remain friends when families were actively trying to supplant one another.

Houri and Olvir had never gotten to that split. She because she left for the Academy and was apparently taken here, and Ollie because of his sister. "Kress."

He swore, still not quite fathoming that she was even here.

"How long have you been here?" Ollie asked, his brow furrowing as he looked towards the soldiers. "Get some food, water, now."

Dan nodded, quickly ordering the others to do as Lord Weiroon said.
 
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"How long?" Houri asked and pulled back with a frown. How long? She glanced back towards the cell and the scratches on the wall she had made in an attempt to keep track of when the last meal had come. But she had the sense Ollie meant more than how long she had been left alone here to rot.

"I..." she hadn't thought back to the before in so long she really had to force herself now. Her arms unwound from his neck and she rubbed at her temples as a thrumming headache began to take a hold. "I think... I think I was 13... What year is it? I'm sorry, Ollie I can't remember," she looked up at him grief stricken. "They said there was an... an accident, " flashes of memory jarringly crossed her vision and the headache grew worse.
 

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Ollie felt utter disgust.

It didn't take long for him to piece together how many years had passed. Anger still roiled in his stomach, and for the first time he felt a hatred for what his world had once been. What it had lead to. Lips thinned, and he shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

Four years.

They had her in this fucking place for four years. Tortured by whomever kept her here. A bitter, acrid taste floated over his tongue. "Come on."

Ollie gently touched Houri's back, softly guiding her, walking towards the entrance of the castle. There were still others in this place, more being held...but right now Houri was all that mattered.

As he walked the youngest Weiroon stopped for just a moment. His head turned towards his Dan. "Put him in the cell."

He glanced at the old man, then continued walking.
 
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Houri looked crestfallen; it felt as though she had failed a test. She knew deep in her heart Ollie had not asked her to test her. It was clear as day he hadn't know about this place.

Or maybe just that you were in here, Vayu whispered in the back of her mind. She tried to ignore the sinister whisper but the sentence niggled at her as he put a hand to her back and gently guided her back down the winding corridor. She had remembered enough of the Houses, that learning drilled into her so deeply by her parents, that she had pieced together early on she was on one of Weiroon's bannermen's lands. She'd never seen a lord here of any kind however and had simply dismissed it and assumed the land had been given over in secret to the academy in exchange for power of some kind.

Houri stopped briefly when Olvir did to issue his command and she turned to glance over her shoulder. Despite her own worries she found time to take deep pleasure in the fact the man was about to suffer and, for just a flash of a second, her face seemed to change as she grinned at him. The man was soon a jibbering mess, pleading for forgiveness, but the cries were lost as they made their way back to the main hall.

She shuddered at the sight of the weapons on the wall and wrenched her eyes away.

"W-what are you doing here Ollie? That man was right... there are... people here who are dangerous," and far more broken than she.
 
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"Don't worry about that now." Ollie said, still trying to carry on with that gentle, reassuring tone. He did not want her wrapped up in this world, did not want her to concern herself with the burden foisted upon him.

She already cared too much.

"My father sent me." He explained quietly as he brought her to one of the seats in the main hall. "This castle...the Baron who once owned it died."

There wasn't a reason to lie. "We...I...had no idea that it was..."

His head shook.

There was no way in seven hells that Sebastian Weiroon had known about this. His father would have used every single one of these Dreadlords in some way, not let them rot. No. This was the Baron's work, likely a bargain made with the Proctors of the Academy.

Ollie slowly crouched down in front of Houri. "But that doesn't matter right now."

He would figure out what to do with this place later. What to do with the people inside of it. "I'm going to take you out of here."

The noble said gently.
 
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Houri

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Houri sat down heavily as he half explained what had brought him here. The Baron was dead? Why hadn't the Academy come to claim this place then? She knew she was not worth much to them but she was worth something. Wasn't she? Even if they had not been kind towards her her heart still felt bruised at the thought she mattered to no-one. Not even as a twisted weapon. A soft flurry of snow began to fall.

She blinked when Olvir crouched down in front of her. It was quite the difference going from having to tilt her head back to looking almost down at him. Her lips twitched into a small smile; when had he got so tall? Surely it hadn't happened just while she was in here. Though with how skinny he was she could almost believe he had been stretched like taffy.

The mental image made her giggle and the snow faded.

"When did you get so old and serious?" she tussled his hair like she had done when they were young. The whole situation was still so... surreal. She wasn't in prison anymore though a part of her was convinced she was going back in there when Ollie realised what was wrong with her.

Or when the Academy realised what he'd taken. Her face grew serious.

"I... I can't leave Ollie. When they find out I'm gone they'll come after you," panic seized her throat like a boa making her voice squeak.
 
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He couldn't help the smile on his face as Houri ran her fingers through his hair, tussling it and pulling it slightly from the bun. A hand came up, tucking some it it behind his hair so that it would stay out of his face. "Guess that's just time."

Ollie said with a smile.

He didn't think of himself as particularly serious, in fact he still heard from Adonus nearly every other day that he needed to 'grow up'. But right now he felt plenty serious. This place...this place put a darkness in his heart, one he couldn't shake.

His face flickered for a moment as her voice turned.

She doesn't know. He thought to himself quietly, bitterly. Lips thinned for a brief moment and he shook his head.

"No...no they won't Houri." Ollie said softly. "Things...things have changed back home."

Kress. Was that what he was going to have to do? Was he going to have to take this to the Republic? The news would be... Fuck me this is going to be bad.

Things in the Republic were already shaky, not like the new Government would collapse any time soon. But many people still distrusted the Houses, the Dreadlords that remained. This...this was going to have to be handled carefully.

"It's not important right now, okay? We're going to get you some food, and then we're going to get out of here." He looked at her. "Trust me."
 
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Houri's eyes flickered across his face and captured every little twitch, every little frown or flash of emotion in his eyes in an attempt to read what it was he was thinking. She'd never been very good at it but she needed to be now. There were layers behind the words Olvir spoke but she just didn't know what. How had things changed back home? How had the Baron died? What was going to happen to her and the others here now? But he had such a serious scowl on his face she dare not ask them.

Her stomach interjected on her behalf anyway with a loud growl.

"Food... sounds good," she admitted with a hesitant smile and placed a hand over her gnawing stomach. Her stomach didn't need to growl to let anyone know she needed food. Her cheeks had hollowed and the simple grey uniform she was dressed in hung off her in all the wrong places. "I don't know if you'll find much here, most people left..." her eyes took on a distant look and her mouth quietly worked to count. "42 sun rotations ago."
 
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Ollie smiled, nodding his head as she admitted the small need for food.

He could see the gauntness in her cheeks, around the hollow of her eyes. It was more than clear that they hadn't been feeding her, or at least not what she actually needed. "That's alright, you're what matters right now."

The Noble said quietly, though he knew it wasn't. Whoever had done this...created this place and seen to it, they would pay. It was a quiet oath, one that he took only in his head, but Ollie would see it done if it was the end of him.

A few moments some of the Knights returned. They carried a few small bits. Bread, some dried meat, what appeared to be a soup in an container.

"All we could find. There's a kitchen but it looks mostly abandoned, My Lord."​

Ollie frowned, looking apologetically to Houri. "Looks like the hot meal will have to wait until we get back to town."

He said calmly, motioning for the nights to hand over the food anyway.
 
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Food.

Houri's mouth salivated at the small morsels the knights held. No doubt it was unappealing to men who had eaten hot meals some hours ago. But to a girl starved it was a feast. She wriggled like a small child in her seat but waited patiently for the food to be handed to her and she made sure to take it with great care and all the thank you's and pleasantries a young girl should. Then, with a glance to Ollie as if to assure herself it was safe, she tucked in to the pitiful excuse for food in a frenzy.

I forgot how good the soup was.

Houri made a noise of agreement as she tipped it down her throat then wiped her mouth with a contented sigh. She could have eaten it all over threefold.

"That was am-a-zing. Rat was getting quite boring."
 
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Ollie smiled.

It was the first genuine smile that had been on his face since they'd found this horror show. He could see the mirth that flickered through her. The joy at actually being fed something proper. It was nice to see, even if it made him think of all the horrors she'd had to go through.

"Ah...I imagine it would." Ollie said, the smile flickering for a moment.

His stomach turned at the thought of eating rat, but he tried not to show it on his face. Tried not to let that gruesome thought linger.

"What do you say we get out of here?" Ollie asked.

"My Lord..."​

Dan spoke, frowning slightly at him. Before the man continued the young Weiroon held up a hand, silencing the Knight. "Dan, you stay here. I'll take Telvir and Gren to escort us. I'm sure my Sister will want to hear about this."

There was a moment of pause, and then Dan nodded his head.

"Of course, My Lord."​
 
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Look, you've made him uncomfortable now, Tiri tsked making Houri's smile falter slightly. Oh, yes. Another Dreadlord might not have thought twice about it but Ollie was a noble not a Dreadlord. Once she had entered the academy she had had all thoughts of being a noble beaten out of her and now she considered the Academy far closer family than her own. Even if they had done this to her. Were her Luana kin any better though? Why had they not come looking for her?

Pay attention, hissed Ahdvi and Houri tuned back in as Ollie commanded the older knight to stay. It was quite clear he didn't like the thought of Olvir going off without him.

"I-I don't want to get in the way of your... mission," that was the closest word she knew to what it was Ollie was doing there. "I can wait."
 
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