Completed The Homecoming

Solomon Regis

Character Biography

I have lived a full and interesting life over these last six decades. No greater existence could I have asked our Ancient fathers and mothers for, than to protect that which they left behind for us, and to serve the city we've built to honor them.

And yet...

As I grow older, I do feel questions begin to gnaw at me as I look upon fair Valenntenia from atop the tower they constructed in our infancy. The world outside has changed so much, entire civilizations born and withered to ash. Races and species thriving one generation, and then nearly extinct the next. Nothing in all the lands is as it was when I was born.

Nothing except this city. This tower. They have stood for as long as anybody living can remember, and any dead have bothered to leave behind record of. They defend this place, and us along with it. Our streets are happy, food rich and with modest wealth. From somewhere they must be safeguarding us, I'm sure of it. We are their children, inheritor of what they forged in blood. It only makes sense.

So why do they still entrust us with the care of The Sixteen? If they can protect our city, surely their power extends to The Runestones. Is it a test? A centuries-long project to see how long we can maintain our virtues before succumbing to greed and desire? Perhaps we have a different purpose, one not discovered yet, that will become apparent in time.

Nevertheless, we are here. Sixteen of their children, each forever bound to a Stone of their making.

Whatever goal is placed before us, I look upon these Guardians and know that they will attain it.


Solomon slowly flipped the hard leather cover of the book shut, leaving it on the stone table lit dimly by the candle hanging from the wall. Outside it was only minutes past midday, and yet the inside of the tower was almost always dark and moody. The few rooms with windows were placed so high upon the structure that The Absalon scarcely bothered. A small chuckle came from his chest-- The Absalon, the great Solomon Regis, shying away from a few sets of stairs. How the mighty do fall. What would his father say?

Of course, he would tell him to stop daydreaming and prepare. This was a day of great importance: Thrice each year, The Guardians of The Rune, men and women who travelled far and wide to spread the gifts of the Gods and to learn better their wisdom returned home to both pay respects to the Ancients, and to celebrate another year of success and triumph.

In a few hours, the entire city would be lit up with festivity and cheer. Even this very tower would be alive with merriment. Emotions did tend to run high when the heores of Valenntenia returned to their loved ones.

There was more to the homecoming than prayer and joy, of course. The tradition was also one of necessity: The task the Sixteen chosen faced was one not just anybody could handle. The magic of the Ancients was powerful, and to the mind of a mortal it could be corrupting if not monitored and cared for. After a short period during which they would be permitted to see their families and friends, all of the Guardians, excepting Solomon himself, would report to the Somners.

Each would be spoken to, and each would report their adventures and experiences over the last year. Should doubts arise regarding their mental or physical well-being, rehabilitation would be offered. Should rehabilitation fail, reassignment would be their next option.

Solomon traveled through chamber after chamber, Somners busying themselves with preparation, members of the Vanguard ensuring doors to sensitive areas of the tower were secured and under supervision. The first time Solomon had been Absalon during the homecoming, he'd been nervous. Now, it almost seemed routine.

The white robed elderly man swung open the door to the entry chamber at the tower's base, and emerged at the platform where two long, winding staircases running along each wall met. The massive doors that led outside were made of the same stone as the Runes themselves and even when opened would only let those of Descendant blood enter, though this could be circumvented if one carried a Runestone.

Already Somners began to ligner beneath him, rolling out thee long emerald carpet that would run from the door to the large stone pedestal on the opposite end of the room, beneath the platform Solomon stood on.

On this pedestal rested a large slab of stone, etched with an unreadable symbol and glowing faintly. The Sixteenth Stone. Life and Death. Usually it rested at the top of the Tower, but during homecoming it was placed on display, albeit under heavy guard.

Lining one side of the carpet were fifteen smaller pedestals. Each Guardian would place their rune on the respective pedestal and stand aside their Stone as The Absalon welcomed and addressed them.

Gathering breath in his chest, Solomon's voice boomed off of the walls of the chamber.

"Open the doors! The Homecoming begins now!"
Lyta stifled a yawn.

What had it meant?

She had had the same Dream three nights in a row now. For the Dreamer that was new. Each night was a different task, a different duty to fulfil somewhere in the Dreamscape even if that duty was simply to ensure others had a peaceful rest. For three nights, however, she had been pulled into a Dream unlike any other she had seen before. No matter how hard she had tried she had not been able to change it nor leave it, which was a terrifying prospect for someone who knew the deadliness of not being in control in the Dreamscape. Worse still was the lingering sensation of devastation and hopelessness she felt after waking. She knew that this Dream meant something more, the question was what. This Homecoming had not come soon enough. Perhaps she could seek out a private moment with Solomon or Stella and ask for their thoughts. She dare not share it with anyone else, not even her brother.

Lyta turned the hand that had been about to cover her yawn into a wave to a group of children she passed. They waved back enthusiastically and she found herself smiling. Yes, it was good to be home.

The great red elk continued to wind his way through the streets though the din of his hooves on the cobblestones was drowned out by the sounds of music and jubilant voices. It restored something in her to see the City and it's people again. Like a comforting blanket being draped over her as she fell into a slumber. Now and then she allowed herself to be stopped by the citizens, answering questions about her travels, gifting sweets to curious children, and letting Kuruk take the odd offered apple. Eventually, the pair made it to the base of the tower. A member of the Vanguard rushed forward to take the reins and offer her a hand from the high cantle saddle.

"Rest easy, friend," she murmured, patting the great elk's furry neck, then made her way up the steps.

Inside the tower was contrastingly quiet. Members of the Vanguard murmured their quiet greetings to her and bowed their heads as she passed but otherwise she was alone. Lyta pushed back the hood of her riding cloak and thought, not for the first time, that she should have changed before coming here. But the rune pulled her onwards to the call of the others. She at least managed to peel off her green riding gloves and tuck them into her belt and dusted off a bit of the dirt on her dress' hem before entering the chamber.

"Oh, thank the Ancestors. I'm not the first."
Mordred glanced up as Lyta entered.

“It’s good to see you, Mor,” she smiled but the action was strained. He could see it in the corners of her eyes and the tightness of her lips.

“Lyta,” he bowed and the tension eased just a fraction. He could almost read her thoughts behind those deep green eyes; he still sounds like him.

He watched as she moved to her podium and removed the rune from the delicate silver chain she wore woven in her hair and placed it on the pedestal. Was that reluctance to let go he saw in her? What was that like? To not to want to be without ones Rune? Mordred looked down at his own runestone. The ancient symbol pulsed with an angry red haze and he took a subtle step further away from it.

He'd been here a good hour before Lyta had arrived and with none of the same fanfare. Two nights prior he had quietly stolen into the city like some petty criminal whilst the people slept. Once or twice, in the first few Homecomings, he had walked through the cheering streets but as the years had gone on he had preferred not to be seen. Instead he had spent the last few days working in the city’s hospital imparting what he had learnt from his latest travels to the Doctors and Wise Women who managed the facility. The welcome he received there was far more fulfilling than that which he got in the streets.

“You’ve got a bit of…” Lyta’s voice trailed off and Mordred glanced up to where she pointed at her own cheek. He raised a hand and sure enough a smear of blood came away on his thumb.

“From a patient,” he explained, taking a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his waistcoat and making sure no other splashes marred his face. When his face was fully covered he scowled into the silk, cursing himself for not looking in the mirror before hastening here. With great care he tucked it away again. “A young girl came in earlier having fallen from a tree. Nothing serious, but I was so caught up with her stitches I rather rushed here…”

The stone seemed to pulse with its accusation; liar.

Lyta seemed satisfied though and her smile this time looked a little less strained.
Mordred was not the only Guardian who preferred to move beyond the chaos and eyes of the populace. Stella, or the Lady Stellaerys as she had come to be known by the citizens of Valenntenia, opted to arrive completely unseen as she was want to do. Like a ghost, she flew in above the clouds of the city, landing atop the great tower to take in the sights all around. Here and there her keen eyes spied the arrival of other Guardians from various directions, moving about in their habitual manners as they always tended to do.

Encircling the spire's peak, the hazy glimmer of the dragon's presence evaporated in a swirling flash of light that caught the attention of the people below. Heralding the arrival of the Guardian of the Wisdom Rune, gasps of delight and whispers of her return quickly shifted across the growing crowds.

A short while later, having descended the many stairs that gave Solomon pause, Stella stepped into the presentation hall to find Mordred and the young Lyta already in attendance.

"Lady Lyta," she greeted the young one kindly, voice warm for the small fondness Lyta had engendered from her in their short time of knowing one another.

"Lord Mordred," Stella would never be misconstrued as impolite, but the greeting she fashioned for the young man was far less maternal and far more professional.

Striding past them both to her own podium, Stella withdrew the Wisdom Rune from her satchel: a golden cube showcasing the eye of wisdom and all the many facets that attached to it on each side. With gentle reverence of the object, she set it down before turning away.


"Are you prepared to make your presentation to the Somners, Miss Lyta?"
The issue with being mute and deaf was that when the stone was away from her, Noi really couldn’t know what was going on around her. Having only received the stone six months prior, Noi felt disappointment instead of dread. She wouldn’t be able to talk to others like she normally could thanks to the Stone of Silence.

She had prepared for it, of course, already wearing a sign attached to rope tied loosely around her frail neck. Imbued with magic, Noi could write words with her fingers to speak to others. As for hearing what the others were saying? Well, she could try reading lips, but if that didn’t work she had already resigned herself to smiling and nodding her head.

Already inside the tower— wearing the stone in crowds would give even someone as resilient as Noi a terrifying migraine— Noi had placed her stone on the pedestal. The stone was like glass, quiet and inconspicuous like Noi herself was. Looking directly at it, it seemed close to blending in with the background behind it.

Unseen and unheard, Noi could feel the vibrations from the rune stone, and sneakily, the young Guardian reached out her hand to touch the stone one last time. She felt it then, all of those in the room that had arrived, as well as the commotion beyond the tower although that was fuzzy and unclear at best.

She turned around, no longer touching the stone and seeing the other guardians caused Noi to beam. There was Guardian of Dreams and the Guardian of Wisdom already conversing, and then Guardian of Blood— who seemed to have been there longer than the other two and Noi wasn’t sure when he had arrived. Before her or after her? It didn’t seem to matter, he hadn’t greeted her.

Or maybe he had and she hadn’t heard him. Strangely enough, it was the former that seemed more likely than the latter.

Noi clapped her hands three times, practically skipping over to a closer vicinity of the others and waving both of her hands excitedly. She couldn’t say anything or hear anything, but she hoped her expression would be enough for everyone to know the truth she couldn’t speak.
Sunkissed and warmed skin. A faint whiff of straw, wheat, mint, and rosemary wafted from her very being. Plain and simple clothes of a traveler. Well-worn and mud-splashed boots, a dark-green tunic with sleeves rolled just past her elbows, and a set of dark-brown trousers adorned with belts and tools of the earth.

"Ancient Ones help me," she murmured as she stepped through the crowds of bustling citizens. Just last year she'd been here with Saulonnon. The last time they'd come here together hand-in-hand. Now, surrounded by cheering crowds of people, she felt alone.

Muscled-shoulders straightened and she forced herself onward, the ghost of his touch lingering between her fingers. Umber eyes were kind to others as they called out her name. Some gave her sympathetic looks. Those who knew and remembered.

Taima didn't know what was worse. Them not knowing or their sympathy and pity.

Gaze made eye-contact with Mordred and Lyta. A quiet nod as she walked past them and placed a very plain, slate colored rock on the pedestal for Earth. A deeper nod to Stella. Turning, Taima made sure to approach Noi from the girl's front, so she could see her coming.

'Hello,' she signed. Then would scoop the frail girl into a careful but warm hug before releasing her. This would be the only hug anyone here today would get.
Dawn came and went like an after thought, seemingly pressing forward until the middle of the day and leaving no time for one to acclimate. It was the sharp three knocks to her door that roused her from her prayers, breaking the rhythm enough for Kaira to realise the night had wasted away and turned anew. The candles she lit has burned out, and the sounds of the people filtered in from the outside. Getting to her feet slowly, she called out for the visitor to let themselves in, and her grandfather nudged his head in.

"Oh, crickets!" She burst out. Arran chuckled and waited patiently for the Guardian to run into an adjoining room and assess her appearance. Homecoming. Many of the Guardians were asked to return and check in, and many of those Guardians left Valenntenia for some time. Kaira remained within the city and outskirts since touching the Stone of Faith. The Ancestors were strong within these city walls, and to travel any further will leave a Guardian without a light.

Her long hair needed a good brush, and her face needed a refreshing splash to awaken her features. No one would know she still wore yesterday's dress, but they could tell she had been praying. The front of the skirt clung to the white dust that lived on the floor of her abandoned temple home, and there was no use in cleaning it up. Hoping that her mother's old silk scarf would at least distract one's eye from the state of her dress, Kaira was tying it around her waste and walking to meet with her grandfather at the door. Amusement warmed his dark eyes, and she pinned it down to a Somner getting a Guardian ready for their first Homecoming.

"You would still be praying were it not for my interruption. Come now, the Tower awaits us." Arran shephered his grandadughter down the narrow steps that lead to the street, where a carriage waited. A member of the Vanguard was posted beside the driver too, greeting her with a curt nod. Kaira smiled sheepishly at those gathered around. There was not one Vanguard member, but a dozen, controlling the crowd and keeping a clear path.

"Oh... this is quite an awkward scene." Kaira commented once inside the carriage, and her grandfather settling in after her. They horses began to move as soon as the door closed, and they made their way out from the Old Town. From the safety and privacy of her small window, the Guardian was able to peer at the faces of those local to the area calling out her name. She chewed on her cheek to keep herself from tearing at the sight, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that they celebrated her despite residing in Valenntenia. "I asked the Ancients about this moment... about how I will never experience a true Homecoming when I live here." She almost begged them to see guidance on how to travel past the walls for a day, just so that she could reminisce her childhood outside the city.

"You are their Champion, Kai. Every life in the Old Town has been touched by your benevolence. They celebrate you and your duty to the Ancients. There have only been five recorded Guardians to the Faith Runestone, and it is clear you not only proved yourself to the Somners, but also the Children of the Ancients." Arran lifted a hand to tussle her hair, chuckling as she desperately went to fix it. The ride to the Tower was a short one, but to have walked these streets when she was already late would have rendered Kaira with anxiety. It had been a few years since she last saw the Guardians, but she remembered each of their names. She had to. The Stone seemed to ask of them often, so much so that Kaira began to pray for each of them every night and bless their adventures and selves. In a way, Kaira felt a connection with them, as they too were entrusted with these stones that the Ancients created.

She was nervous leaving the carriage, her grandfather a few paces away from her as she ascended towards the Tower. The smile tugging at her lips was genuine, excitement filling the Guardian as her dark hazel eyes fell on each of the Guardians already assembled and waiting.
Home. Was it truly? So little did Ingrid feel toward the place of her birth, though emotion was too tiring to keep up for long. Passing through the gates had done nothing for her, she passes without bravado and fanfare. No, the people avoided her like the plague. A small smile lifted her lips, well she was the plague, wasn't she?

She made her way through the winding streets quietly as the sea of people parted before her. Her eyes were the brightest thing about her, they hadn't yet lost their luster. Flies followed her, and the ground beneath her decayed as she walked. It was an unfortunate side effect, one she had yet to figure out.

On one hand, she healed the ill, and in the other she polluted entire lakes. Never intentionally, but yet it happened. Lost in thought, she found her way to the stairs. One sluggish step at a time, until she found her way into the chamber. She glanced into the room before stepping inside, already there were so many in attendance.

The rags she wore, for anything of splendor would eventually decay, looked drab compared to everyone else. She suddenly felt the shyness of before she owned the stone creep in. Hee gaze landed on Mordred, his stone was a similar nature to hers, and even if the rarely spoke, she felt a kinship.

She stepped up slowly to the pedestal, flies buzzing and landing on her cheeks, her garb. She took the stone from her pocket, and it glowed a sickly green as she placed it in it's spot. She backed away and stood a distance from the rest, a small cough working it's way out, her chest burning with the effort of it.

Tamia and Noi were hugging, both girls looking so vibrant compared to the deathly grey look Ingrid possessed. Tamia always kept her distance, and Ingrid could feel the heat of anger on her cold skin every time their eyes met. Noi was welcoming, at least for now. Stella was there, Lyta, so many faces that Ingrid had yet to even speak to once. It was shyness at first, but the stone had a funny way of pushing others away. No one wanted to get sick after all, or smell the decay that followed her. Even the flies and the carrion birds that often followed kept the superstitious at bay. So she stood, and she waited. If greeted, then and only then would she look up from the floor and attempt to mingle.
Vazia was the eighth to arrive and she did so with no fanfare and no cheering crowds. The citizens were talking about the return of the Guardians and which one had smiled at them or blessed them or other nonsense like that, and so the Guardian of the Void Runestone walked (or rather glided) by them all unnoticed. The city was just as loud and bustling as she remembered, but she was more aware of the gaps in the crowds.

Her white hair hung in loose waves and her dark lashes surrounded white eyes. She work a black gown and a black cloak that billowed on some unknown wind. The tower rose above her and she could feel the presence of the other Guardians. She knew most of them; there were a few new members of their group but Vazia knew most of the others.

She walked into the tower and as she walked, she lifted a hand and pulled a deep blue stone from thin air. It was weightless in her hand and when she set it down on the pedestal, it seemed to suck up the surrounding light, the dark depths flickering.

She turned to the rest of the crowd, taking in the room slowly with her blank gaze. She saw Noi and Taima hug and she blinked once then shifted her gaze.
His eyes ached, but it was okay so long as he didn't open them. 'This way, Guardian,' a voice beckoned, guiding him through the bright maze of corridors leading deeper into the Tower. 'Not far now! Next room over and we're set!' The promise was so sickeningly sweet, it made Mabbon want to puke. Or maybe that's just the migraine, he thought, pulling his hood further over his head.

It wasn't often he found himself travelling during the daytime. Alas, he had had no other choice. To hesitate on his journey would have meant missing the Homecoming entirely, and the Absalon did not appreciate tardiness. Though he might have made an exception, given Mabbon's... condition.

Keyword being might.

The footsteps in front of him stopped. Raising his eyes slowly, Mabbon forced himself to smile as the Vanguards on duty snuffed out the nearest torches. 'We have arrived,' his guide announced, bowing his head in respect. Mabbon had never gotten used to that. The deference. It felt... unnatural, or perhaps undeserved.

The half-orc thanked him all the same.

Slipping quietly into the hall, Mabbon made his way over to the plinth on which the Stone of Darkness would sit during the ceremony. Here, at least, he knew where he was going. Looking around, his eyes shielded against the bright lights by the lip of his hood, Mabbon took stock of which Guardians had yet to arrive, and which were already present.

A faint smell of decay reached his nose a moment before he bumped into Ingrid. Startled by her presence, kicking himself for not noticing sooner, Mabbon smiled shyly as he greeted the Bearer of Disease. 'Hello, Ingrid,' he said, each word he spoke ringing far too loud in his ears to be comfortable. 'Long time, no see. How've you been? Still in one piece, I take it.'

He gave her an appraising look, though, in all honesty, it probably looked like he was narrowing his eyes at her.

Which, funnily enough, he was.

The Void Bearer floated by as they talked. Mabbon tried waving to her, but Vazia seemed too... preoccupied to pay him any mind. Every year she seemed to grow more and more distant, as if succumbing to the emptiness over which she held sway. A part of him feared she wasn't the only one. 'I'd better go and... uh, get ready,' he said. Smiling, he made to pat Ingrid on the shoulder, thought better of it. 'See you later?'
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Thrice a year the Homecoming took place, and thrice a year the man approaching the tower was left awash with uncertain emotions. At least each time he could rely on it getting easier. Seven years had come and gone since the stars of Valentennia had been lost to the quiet of eternity. Gold earrings set to match the gilding set into his very skin chimed softly against themselves as the crumbling man looked skywards. The soft, glimmering haze of that ghostly serpent filled the air as she arrived just prior to Konstantin.

Now he could place it a little better. Bittersweet nostalgia. A single blue eye stared up at the tower, a soft smile on the war-weary mien of the Guardian of Power. Valentennia was still home after all these years. He'd wait a few moments more while he let the rush of melancholy and pleasant memory flow through him, several of the other Guardians slipping by him as he did. At last he sighed, instinctively straightened his tie, and headed inside.

Darkness, Void, Disease, Faith, Earth, Silence, Wisdom, Blood, and Dreams were all present already. Each would receive their own greeting in time, but for now decorum took priority. Those nearest to Konstantin's pedestal would at least get his pleasantries.

"Miss Vazia, Miss Noi, Lady Stellaerys, good day. I'm pleased to see you here safe." He spoke as he stepped forward, a hand reaching for his Runestone. It wasn't much to look at by Konstantin's estimate. When it had a guardian it had hardly any presence within itself. The stone was far more in him than its own vessel. Perhaps that's why it looked as it did, like a spherical, filigree cage wrapped ever so loosely about a dimly glowing core. Konstantin had always believed it looked like a malformed heart or a dying star. Fitting, he thought. With a dry chuckle he placed it on the pedestal.

As if it were so easy to rid oneself of the thing.

Konstantin's gaze cast over the room. Just five left to gather.
"I look forward to catching up with you all, as ever."
Homecoming must be underway...

Celine looked up from her maps. She squirreled herself away in one of the Somner's libraries, reviewing their most up to date maps of 'Āina o Ka Lā. Prior to her arrival to the mainland, a foreboding air unremittingly weighed down on her. It was not that she wasn't pleased to see her fellow Guardians, but more or less how apprehensive she was to be gathered with all of them in one place--even for something like Homecoming. Her lips pressed together as she finished her notations, hurriedly stashed her notes and sketches away, reverently returned the maps and made her way to get ready.

Day was passing, and she had no desire to be first--nor last. Standing and stretching, the back of her left hand ached as the scarred skin on the back was drawn taut. The skirmishes were growing more frequent as the slavers changed their tactics. They found their alliances, their new and serpentine ways to continue their loathesome business. Celine would not stand for it. She could see their Kutia Waa--the part of their heart that was tainted. It stood out against the receding light in their hearts. It was yet an unfortunate boon to being a guardian of the runestone of light. The sooner Homecoming came and went, the sooner she could return to her job.

Celine knew better. What was righteous and just to one was corrupt and malicious to another. For every slave freed, another person was endangered by her impassioned extracurriculars. Food on a family's table, clothes on their back. Still, it was not enough. Not for her. Nor would it ever. Under the cover of night she became a symbol--a beacon of hope--and vengeance. Here, now, she would be a respectable Guardian. A fresh change of clothing left better prepared. Pristine breeches and a gauzy hooded tunic of light grey, a quilted vest of white and a surcoat with silver piping and a meticulously stitched motif of silver and gold bursts of light.

Only because it is Homecoming, Celine reasoned. The last thing she did was check her knives, each knife named for a slave she freed, or a slaver's ship she destroyed. It was only fitting that as she plunged a poisoned blade into the heart of a tainted person that the very person they sought to cage and shackle be the one to end their life.

A silent prayer was said as an attendant guided them to the main hall and staircase where the others gathered. Reaching into the many pockets of her coat, she plucked a vial, plucked the cork off and retrieved two pieces of mint leaf to chew on. The runestone was kept out of sight, for Celine was already distrustful enough of them gathering. Despite what was hidden, the sight of the other Guardians left her with a tender, radiating smile. Corking her vials of herb, Celine fumbled with tucking it away, distracted by the gathering. Her eyes danced, sweeping and recognizing faces. Some had grown, some looked classically eternal. "
Kholo, has it been that long?" She murmured quietly under her breath, referencing to the ancestors in their ancestral tongue. It was not difficult to find where she would stand with the stone--which she would produce only when the time was right. "Aweh, menzi!" Celine lifted her scarred hand to greet her fellow guardians, "Shamwari, it is a pleasure to see you all once more. I hope your travels weren't too difficult." Warm, polite--shy and with too much effort put in to sound exuberant.

She really needed to get out and socialize more.

Empy's Guide to "Wtf did you call my mama?!"

Aweh = Awe = Hello
Menzi = Friend
Shamwari = Colleague

All words are borrowed from various regions of Africa and some liberties are taken with how each is spelled and/or used
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What did these people see when they looked at him?

There was a time when Villam knew who he was to the men and women of Valenntenia. When he could travel these streets and see their awe reflected in their eyes. Of course, they were not in awe of him, but of his surname. Regis. Growing up the son of the Absalon had always been trying. Expectations were that he should meet or surpass the one who came before him, and that bar had been set long before Villam could speak words to argue otherwise. His path had been set at birth.

And yet, Villam almost missed being seen only as Solomon Regis' only offspring. Now, as the Guardian of Passion all but marched down the cobbled paths of Valenntenia to the great tower that awaited all who served the Stones, the amazement they heaped onto him was something far different. Far more unknowable. Such was the effect his Stone had on them all. They saw not the man that he was, but the muse they needed most. When he left their sight, they would return to their homes to paint pictures, create music, and write stories inspired by the visage the Passion Stone's magic presented them.

It was simply more admiration that he hadn't earned, that he hadn't asked for.

Villam was ever faithful, regardless. He would not have accepted the Stone of Passion if he did not wish to be its Guardian and protector. This city held exaggerated and grandiose ideas about a great many things, but the magnitude and importance of The Runestones was not one of them. Serving the Sixteen was just and right.

Whether or not his arrival as one of the last Guardians to the Tower was intentional was up for debate, and Villam certainly wouldn't be confirming one or the other. Nevertheless, the hooded ranger strode into the hall with eyes dead ahead and towards his father perched above, offering the old man a nod before slipping his Rune from a hidden pocket and placing it on his appointed pedestal. Stopping short as a face he wasn't entirely familiar with yet passed by him.

"You're the Yehven girl, right?"

Villam firmly placed his square stone on his pedestal before turning to face the young woman. "Kaira... is that it? It's your first homecoming, isn't it?" He'd heard her name, saw her briefly during the last Homecoming, which was shortly before she'd been given her stone. The Faith Rune was usually picky about its holder. For this woman to have it, she'd have to be a trustworthy lot. Moreso than Vazia or Mordred, anyways.

Before a conversation could be struck up, Villam noticed the Somners perched up above with his father, looking down at her, scrutinizing her every move. Clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, Villam nodded towards her pedestal. "I want a word later, but for now you'd better get to your place."

The commotion of Somners and Vanguard were far from new to him. He grew up living in this Tower, when he wasn't busy training or studying. The only thing knew was the rug that ran under their feet. Green? That was new. He supposed the incident with Fire's Guardian last Homecoming had left the usual blue carpet in disrepair...

"Shamwari, it is a pleasure to see you all once more. I hope your travels weren't too difficult."

Villam turned his head, meeting the bronzed face of The Stone of Light's Guardian.

"Celine." He replied simply. "Trip was easy. It's getting through the city that's difficult. You forget how many people live here until they swarm you... Although I'm going to guess you didn't have far to walk this morning. You smell like the books upstairs." His nose twitched.

Regardless, swarming was likely a problem he faced a bit more regularly than Atmos, or the man he saw from over her shoulder. Perhaps man was a poor descriptor... Konstantin was more of a crumbling relic waiting for a stiff breeze to blow him to smithereens. Villam felt himself tsk at the sight.

"You look like shit, Kon." Villam offered, rather bluntly. Regardless, it was obvious the words came with concern. "You'll be lucky if the Somners let you keep this up another three years. They barely passed you last inspection, if I recall."

Villam had admired Konstantin when he'd started out as a Guardian, and he was one of the first who'd accepted Villam into the group. The younger Regis' words were harsh, but he was moreso worried about his friend than he was about the Rune he protected.

His eyes flicked again, this time to Ingrid as she shambled down the aisle towards her spot, only stopping when Mabbon made a clumsy attempt at conversation. Villam felt his lips twitch into the shadow of a smirk. He wasn't much of a ladies' man, himself, but he'd say the Half-Orc Guardian had a soft spot for Miss Bohnes, if he knew any better.

"But... I suppose stranger has happened."
The Guardian of Fire would not join this homecoming to set the carpet ablaze once more.

A horse approached Valenntenia. Its rider slumped over - barely conscious. Blood all over his armor.

As the rider approached the city's gates, the Vanguard soldiers posted there raised there weapons in alarm - not recognizing the rider at first. But as the distance between the two drew short, they realized who approached their city.

"Klaus!" one Vanguard yelled out as he rushed forward. The horse came to a stop before the gates.

The two Vanguard got Klaus off the horse - supporting his body as they began to carry him toward a medic.

In a brief moment of lucidity, Klaus was able to force out a sentence, "Tell... Absalon... Fire's Guardian has fallen..."
Ayden was late. Once again. But any concept of being late was lost on the boy/man. He failed to notice the commotion with the bedraggled horse and man at the gates.

Hopeful eyes looked for Stella. Disappointment briefly touched his brow when he didn’t see her. He flew at high speed toward the tower. The skies were already turning darker toward twilight.

Which would be PERFECT.

Digging into his pocket he waved to the gawking onlookers and Guards as he circled the tower in nauseating speeds then flew upward. Digging into his pocket, he released the small boons from Celine. The light guardian probably forgot she’d given these to him and he’d been waiting for the PERFECT moment to use them.

There was a sudden pop-POP-pop flash-FLASH- sizzle as the fireworks lit on the darkening skies. Onlookers far below pointed, clapped, and stared in wonder as Ayden whooped and changed his path with a sudden dive. His yelling-crow carried farther than what a natural voice would carry. There would be no mistaking who it belonged to and who was coming.

In through the top tower window he flew, down the stairs that gave who he fondly referred to as Grandpa, some troubles. A quick glance to the great horns as he flew by. Mischief lighting up his gaze for what was yet to come.

His path dumped him into the gathering hall as he slowed his speed to lazily float around the room, above the heads of the others. Switching so he floated upside down, he grinned.

There was grumpy pants Mordy.

Sleepy Lyta.

Noi who liked to claim she was the youngest, which he was pretty sure they were the same age.

Taima who was so sad and BORING.

Kaira, Ingred, Mabs, Vazia, Konny. Serious guardian. Grumpy guardian. Serious blah-blah-blah. They all needed to lighten up and laugh a lot more.

And then there was Stella . Boyish smirk turned to a grin as he righted himself and flew around her. Voice dropping low. “If a blueberry were to, I dunno, be launched at Konstatin’s face, what’re the odds at it being sucked in by that black hole?”
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One by one they arrived, each looking different than last he saw them, save for Stella, and those few who chose to remain in Valenntenia. Solomon would be addressing them all shortly, so he saw no need to pay any of them a greeting just yet, aside from a smile and nod towards the Spectre Dragon he'd befriended so many years ago. To see her back once again was a much needed familiarity to the aging man. Her wisdom had helped him countless times through the years, and he often looked forward to Homecomings for an excuse to have a pleasant conversation with the Wisdom Guardian. In a way, she was some of the only family he had left aside from Villam.

This Homecoming was a time in which to reflect upon their nature, to look across at their brothers and sisters and remember exactly who they were and what their responsibility was. These Stones were not items wielded without cost: Konstantin's visage crumbled further and further each year under the weight of his Stone's power. Ingrid festered with the disease that coursed through hers.

It was sobering, though only some of the people gathering beneath him truly took it to heart. Lyta, for example, had molded herself into an upstanding figure of what a Guardian should be. The man she spoke with, however... Mordred did his job well, but Solomon saw the influence of Blood's calling twisting his personality more and more with every passing year. The Absalon had no solid evidence that it had led him down a dark path, but if it had, Mordred hid it from anyone who might see fit to report such behavior very skillfully.

Noi stuck close to her Runestone, for which Solomon blamed her not. Hers was a Stone of great burden, one that had broken and defeated many before her. That she was in high spirits was promising, but she was less than a year into her Guardianship, and Solomon loathed to think what another three years of servitude would do to her psyche. Whether he realized it or not, he'd a soft spot for the girl, as he often did with the Children of Silence. It was the city he led that chose and isolated them to such a brutal state of being. The least Solomon could do is make it as bearable as possible.

Taima's tale was one of great tragedy, whilst also acting as a reminder of the bonds all people share that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Never before had the Somners and Absalon made such a choice as when it was decided that the beloved of the unfortunately passed Earth Guardian was also most fitting to be his successor. Many questioned the choice, but the old man standing over her now saw Saulonnon's strength and resolve within young Taima. Perhaps she hadn't realized it yet, but Saulonnon hadn't died. He lived on within her.

Then there was the hooded figure of his own son Villam, whose sight caused Solomon's own face to tighten slightly. The two of them had been on uncertain terms, at his own fault by admission. His work had left him too absent as a Father-- The death of his Mother had left him to cope with his newfound loneliness in the only way he'd known how at the time. It was a mistake he regretted, but despite Villam's troubled disposition and distant personality, he'd grown into a fine young man. Solomon only hoped that the boy could find the happiness that they'd both lost with Aurabella someday.

Still, he found it odd that he'd seemingly gone out of his way to converse with Kaira Yehven. This was the Faith Guardian's first homecoming, although she still lived within the city. Of course, Villam would know well of the Yehven family's significance to Valenntenia and the descendants-- The girl was beloved by the general public, even more so than usually came with Guardianship. She was looked upon as a symbol of Valenntenia's faith and devotion, an effigy of the Children of The Rune's faith and belief. Unbeknownst to Villam, he'd actually nearly been given the Rune that Kaira now wielded, Faith and Passion often went hand in hand, after all. Regardless, Yehven was undoubtedly a very promising young figure amongst the Guardians.

And while their group had promising figures, so too did they have divisive ones. Ingrid Bohnes was doing her very best to keep to herself, obviously self-conscious of the signs of disease she displayed as she made her way to her pedestal. The poor girl was not always so sickly looking-- It was an unfortunate choice made by the Runestone of Disease, one which had an array of adverse effects on its protectors over the years. Some lost the use of limbs to atrophy, some developed heart or breathing problems, and some actually became healthier. The pattern seemed unreadable. Still, Ingrid was doing her home proud in her service, and despite the misgivings she showed, Solomon and his Somners had heard of her good deeds. Perhaps a reminder was in order, today, that while she may appear sickly, a few days away from the Stone would likely clear her complexion a bit.

At the very least it seemed that young but massive Mabbon Dreierg was aware of that fact. One of the few Guardians that was very visibly a result of Descendants breeding with outside races, Mabbon had made history seven years ago when he was chosen as the first Guardian of orcish descent, the Stone of Darkness suited the notoriously stealthy and night-crawling Mabbon. Curiously, he was also one of the most pleasant protectors of Darkness that Solomon had ever met in his long life. Most chosen to hold that particular Runestone had a penchant for thievery and treachery. Mabbon was quite the contrary, often going out of his way to render aid to the less fortunate. Perhaps a very longstanding stigma was finally to be broken.

That Konstantin had arrived at all seemed to have surprised some of the Somners, though it shouldn't have. The man's resilience was like nothing Solomon had ever seen, despite the damage he was accumulating from The Runestone of Power. Still, even The Absalon had to question the wisdom in letting him continue this far, when it was clear he was at the point of no return. This Homecoming was going to be a forked road for Konsatntin: Before he left this tower, he was going to have to make a choice that would dictate the remainder of his life.

The last that he saw enter was the lovely Celine Atmos, Guardian of Light. Many would be remiss not to consider her the soul of the current roster of Guardians, morally speaking. The element-- the very concept of light was one that required a Guardian of the utmost morality and the warmest of hearts. Light was something that many needed in their lives, but an overabundance of Light was every bit as destructive as it's other half, Darkness. That Celine knew the balance necessary, that she was pure enough to know the limits of her reach, meant she had been a perfect choice.

Indeed all of them were the perfect choices for their given stones. The process was proven, and the success of the Guardians was undeniable. The Sixteen of them were bound to these relics, and in turn, these relics made them something more, something--

pop-POP-pop flash-FLASH- sizzle

Solomon looked upwards, eyes narrowing at the sudden commotion coming from outside, the attention taken from the Runes atop their pedestals and pulled to the doors as though had suddenly forgotten the magnitude of this moment. There were murmurs, both nervous and curious that ran through the Somners and Vanguard alike. Solomon knew exactly what the noise was however, and that knowledge led him to lean forward on the banister, clenching his teeth slightly. Ayden. Guardian of Air. Solomon had initially been against him being selected as a Guardian. Not only had he not served his city in any meaningful capacity beforehand, he'd constantly displayed selfish and needlessly thrill-seeking behavior unbefitting of a Rune's protector. It was only at the request of his old friend Stella that he reconsidered and went along with the Somner's decision. He had to admit, he was impressed at how well Ayden harnessed the Air, but as of yet, he'd still not matured to Solomon's expectations. The boy who floated carelessly through the window was just that-- a boy.

He'd no time to scold the Wind Guardian though. A Vanguard was suddenly at his side, speaking quiet and hushed into his ear, something awful, something foreboding. A death.

Fire and Water were both absent from this Homecoming. Water's Guardian, Misty, had an excuse from Solomon himself. Fire, however, had been unaccounted for. Evidently, the Vanguard had only now learned of his demise. Impeccable timing, to say the least. Solomon's brow furrowed, and he felt his teeth grind slowly in his mouth as the blow of losing one of his own sank into his stomach. There would be retribution, in time. Solomon did not let his Guardians die often, and when they did, The Absalon was notorious for his pursuit of an explanation. While the Vanguards had no answer now, they would find one. If they did not, Solomon himself would do it.

What was more, this meant a Rune was in jeopardy. The aspect of Fire, in danger of thoughtless abuse by tainted souls and twisted minds. It couldn't stand, and it wouldn't, but Solomon could not leave the Tower to address this happening until The Homecoming Ceremony had ended.

"It's time then. There shall be no more preamble. Sound the horns quickly, so that no more approach the tower until our work here is finished."

Looking out to the Guardians beneath him, Solomon, at last, broke the chit-chat, his booming voice penetrating all idle conversation.

"At attention! Guardians to their Stones! You will now be addressed!"
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Lyta's tense smile eased into one of genuine affection as more Guardians joined them in the grand chamber. It was a hard feeling to explain, but it was as if she had been missing small parts of her until this moment- no matter her personal feelings towards each of the stones and their guardians. Of course, in the Beginning, if legends were to be believed the greatest Magics the world had ever known had been when these stones had worked as one and not been scattered throughout the world. Was that why the knot in her stomach eased? Was that why the tiredness crept back and she felt stronger in herself than she had in months? Or was it just that the weight of the runestone being lifted was already being felt?

When Stella entered a genuine smile of friendship broke across Lyta's features and she stepped forward to go envelope the Wisdom Guardian in a warm embrace.

"I've missed you," she confided. "We should have tea after this, there's a matter I would seek your thoughts on..." her eyes flickered to the Guardians nearby and kept her tone quiet enough they should not hear her words. "I managed to find those toffees you like when I visited--"

She didn't get much further when the Boy Who Refused To Grow Up appeared. Lyta repressed a sigh. It was the kind of sigh an older sister gave when their younger sibling had done something they knew their parents would berate them all for later on.

"As much as I would live to see Kon tie you into a pretzel again, perhaps you can wait at least until after the ceremony?" She raised a brow. It seemed said ceremony was about to start for Solomons voice boomed out, silencing any rebuttal Ayden had been about to spar with. Instead Lyta gave him a warning look and took her position.
Mordred, too, found himself relaxing as more Guardians joined them but not for the same reasons as Lyta. The more bodies there were there was less need for him to partake in conversation. Instead he stepped back closer to the wall and watched with a small amount of envy as others hugged and shared words of companionship. There were a few that, like he, worried for their closeness to others and he made sure he caught their eyes and gave a deeper nod of respect. Each rune gave its own burden but some more than others made this existence a lonely one, even during this Homecomings.

He thought for a moment whether to step up to Ingrid and offer her a quiet word, but Mab beat him to it. Mor couldn't help but smile; Ingrid was young still and this crop of Guardians far different to the ones he had been risen into over 10 years ago. Perhaps the stigma would be broken for her this generation. He sought out Konstantin instead, quietly stepping up to the older man and setting a hand on his shoulder with a light squeeze.

"How fair you, old friend? If you have a moment after I might have found a remedy to... slow the affects of the stone for you in my travels through the Wylds. I can't promise a miracle but a relief perhaps..."

Of course when Solomon ordered them to their posts he gave a quiet nod and strode to his position.
Hugs never failed to take Stella off-guard. Brows arched, eyes wide, she stood there with her arms awkwardly away from her sides as the young girl ensnared her around the waist.

"Tea," responded the Guardian of Wisdom with a blink and then a sober smile down at Dream, "yes of course. That would be delightful." Her hands, ashen in hue against the smooth pink of Lyta's arms, gently clasped at her just below the shoulders, expression turning to one of piqued interest at the mention of ...toffees.

The sweet tooth was perhaps her greatest weakness in this form, equally curious as it was frustrating.

Ayden's arrival cut that train of thought short, perhaps for the best, and Wisdom turned a quiet and considering eye up at he boy's question. She did, of course, immediately look over toward Konstantine and rather than chide the boy for his trouble, Stella calculated the odds.

"Quite slim, I daresay," another blink, just as Solomon's vibrato rang through the chamber, she turned her gaze up to Air, "I have something for you. See me after the ceremony-" Stella moved to step off, paused, and lifted a hand distractedly, "before tea."

She took her place beside the pedestal of her Rune and lightly clasped her hands at her back with a slow and deep breath, eyes casting a distant gleam as her mind wandered to less mundane things than the present.
"Aweh, Celine." Konstantin greeted her back, simply, politely. He wasn't much for the ancients' tongue, but he had a working grasp of it. Enough at least for decorum.

After a bit of observing the room, the Guardian of Power let a knowing, sidelong glance slip towards Stella. The antics of the more junior among their ranks were something they'd likely sooner grow out of than she would get used to. It took a long time for him to do so, and he was aware of both the alienness of their behavior to her as well as the unique lens her Runestone tended to cast things through. Ayden, especially, was a force of bewilderment.

Villam, the Absalon's son himself, the Guardian of Passion, was the first among the group to address Konstantin directly. Now there was a lad who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. Power chuckled lightheartedly and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Master Villam! I seem to recall someone saying the exact same thing about three years ago. The Somner are certainly welcome to take another shot at taking the Stone from me, if they'd like to. Besides," He replied, not an ounce of malice or resentment in his tone. He ran a hand over the hole in his face, across his forehead, then swept back his hair for flair. "I think I look rather dashing."

His gaze followed Villam's towards Ingrid and Mabbon. A warm smile crested his lips.
"Indeed. We live in a world of improbabilities. Count too hard on your assumptions of reality and you'll find yourself getting flummoxed every day." He returned his gaze to Villam with that same grin and cited his old mantra. "It is law."

A hand then planted a firm hold on Konstantin's shoulder. He turned to see the welcome sight of the oldest living companion he had among the Guardians. Some had found Blood to be unsavory. Konstantin preferred the term "rough around the edges."
"Hello, Mordred," He replied, no honorifics attached to the name. This level of informality was mostly unique to Mordred, the familiarity of the two shining through even in Kons' subtle manner. The topic he'd brought forth, of course, was certainly intriguing to the Guardian of Power. "Fine enough, my friend. Ah--"

Solomon called the meeting to order, and to order Konstantin would go. Such was tradition, such was duty. Another smile flashed to Mordred.

"We'll have time to discuss later, I should think."

Konstantin began to step towards his position, but halted. An amused sigh left his lips as he recalled one of the Guardians among them. The crumbling man first stepped towards Noi and caught her attention with a wave. A bit clumsily, he did his best to sign to the girl what the Absalon had called out and gestured towards her podium with a smile. Only once she was in place would he take his own at the pedestal. It was time.
Taima! Not many could speak to Noi through their hands alone, and normally such things were fine when the stone was in Noi’s possession. Right now, it was either the sign around her neck or signing with their hands. Noi preferred the latter over the former, but she had never felt right about insisting that others should learn it for her sake.

After all, she hadn’t been allowed outside until months ago, when the Stone of Silence was officially handed down to her from the previous guardian. Taima had been the first to greet her warmly with a hug. Noi loved hugs and hugs by Taima were some of the best! Even if it did feel like Taima was about to break a rib or two, at least it was out of love.

Despite her excitement, Noi made sure to move her hands slowly and clearly when normally she would zip through the motions faster than a person could speak.

You came! Long journey? Did you bring any snacks? With her back turned, she missed Ayden’s display. Oh well, maybe next Homecoming. All too soon, people were moving around her and it was Konstantin that caught her eye with a gesture of… oh! Noi blinked, was everyone already here? She turned and looked over her shoulder and sure enough, it seemed nearly everyone had arrived. She smiled gratefully at Konstantin

Except, weren’t they missing two? Fire and Water? Maybe they were on a date!

Looking back at Taima with a smile, Noi’s fingers moved again: Don’t run away right after. Let us talk! And with that, Noi pivoted on her heel, turning away from Taima to go back towards the pedestal that held the Silence Rune Stone. The too-long hem of her loose palazzo pants caught underneath her boot, and normally that wouldn’t be of any concern to Noi who cared little about clothes, but as she tried to move her other leg forward, her foot caught along her slender calf.

Noi threw her hands out in front of her but she tripped and fell without any decency or grace. Her oversized pants seemed to fall further from her hips, and as Noi stood up, she had to pull them back up. Noi’s hands continued gripping her pants and hoisting them up high and over her waist as she carefully walked back to the pedestal, showing off her much too pale and much too skinny ankles until she stood next to her rune stone.
“You’re the Yehvan girl, right?”

Plucked from her straying thoughts, her eyes darted upwards to meet the close gaze of Villam Regis. Kaira’s head tilted to the side, nodding her head to confirm his guess of her moniker and smiling politely. Despite living in the city and the ties of their families working closely as Absalon and Somner, Kaira and Villam were merely strangers despite the homecomings. She hid her surprise well, offering a smile as he directed her to take her place behind the pedestal. A conversation for later, the invitation left the Guardian to Faith wondering what he had in mind to discuss. Lifting the leather string from her neck, Kaira placed the Stone where it was customary and happened to stray her gaze to the Somners, just as her grandfather took his place among them.He smiled warmly, proudly, seeing her looking his way, yet there were no smiles as warm as Arran’s, the other Somners regarded her carefully. Were they still unconvinced?

Why was she suddenly so nervous? The scrutiny of others was not new to her, remembering the doubt she was given when she joined the Vanguard, the objections of several Somners at her grandfather’s suggestion of appointing her Guardian to the Stone of Faith… what now?

A frown pulled at her face, brows knitting as the Absalon called the room to attention and began the ceremony. When she blinked, she became aware her gaze had strayed to the spot Fire should stand at, but alas, the place was not filled. With caution, the Guardian of Faith reached her fingertips to her Stone, as if to check if her intuition from the Ancients were true. Did anyone else feel this strangeness? Something incomplete?

Kaira gave a quick glance to the room, trying to decipher if anyone noticed what she had or were they paying attention to the ceremony as is their duty? Was this what Villam wished to speak of after the Homecoming Ceremony?

The Faith Guardian’s fingers flinched from her Stone, startled by the tripping of Noi stepping up to her mark. She was a few paces away, but by the time she had taken a few steps the young woman’s way, she had corrected her footing and adjusted hearself. Kaira stepped back to her spot, smiling sheepishly at her expense, but Noi did not seem too troubled by her clumsy footfalls. She made a note to find her later, perhaps to offer to hem her attire to prevent such a thing from happening again in the future.
Vazia turned her gaze to Mabbon when he waved at her. The half-orc Guardian of the Darkness Stone didn't seem to expect a response from her so she didn't give him one. She merely turned her head forward again, remaining by her stone. All the pleasantries were useless; futile attempts to make everyone feel less depressed about the burdens they carried.

She blinked once when Konstantin said her name, including her in the useless pleasantries. She dipped her head in acknowledgment, the most emotion she'd displayed in a long time.

When the Absalon called them together, everyone went to stand by their pedestals with their stones. Vazia watched as the mute and deaf girl Noi tripped over the him of her long pants and a flicker of something that might have been pity crossed Vazia's features. But then the Void stone seemed to pulse from behind her and that small flicker of emotion was wiped away like a mother brushing an imaginary speck of dust off her daughter's face.

Vazia, once again blank and unfeeling, noticed vaguely that there were two of them missing- Fire and Water. She recalled how the carpet had burned last Homecoming, and she vaguely wondered what had happened to the Guardian of Fire.
You came! Long journey? Did you bring any snacks?

The corner of her mouth twitched upward at the exuberance she caught within Noi's hand-gestures. Taima knew she was holding back for her sake. 'Yes," she signed back and passed a small, wrapped parcel to the other girl. It would be some of the freshest and ripest blueberries Noi ever tasted.

'We'll catch up later.' Taima agreed as her umber eyes flickered toward Solomon Regis.

Fingers came to tuck dark hair behind the curve of her ears as she stepped up to where the Earth Stone sat on its podium. Hands fell to clasp behind her back, her full attention on the Absalon as he called them together. And then the large horns rang out to signa-


The massive flatulence sound came from all the horns and Taima's gaze snapped to the floating red-haired boy. The little stunt had his name written all over it. A silent frown of disapproval tugged harshly at her lips. A hand coming to drag down her face, briefly hiding her look of accusation.
Celine kept her distance--as she tended to--and looked at her misfit of a secondary family with tenderness she rarely allowed anyone to see. It softened her features, which were often somber and serious--but here, now--she couldn't help but smile--the smile barely containing itself and shaping into quiet laughter. It was a different kind of light to witness. A lightheartedness.

It was probably a weakness.

Celine had carefully built a composed, level-headed shield around her--and her heart. Their jobs were a serious one, and they all faced danger and complications that the ordinary world simply would not. What they were tasked with, it was a burdensome thing. They all had to act accordingly.

Celine let the laughter take its course as she drifted to her designated pedestal. Her hand hovered. She could feel the connected power, like a well within her gut that she could reach down into and pull from. And so when she did, she felt the stone that was hidden away--for it had been carefully placed on the pedestal some time ago when the hall had been set up tastefully for Homecoming. Her hand felt a kind of gravitational pull from the magic--as magic called to magic.

It was only a flex of her fingers and a twinge of her will that the light that was bent around the stone shifted to reveal it. The natural light of the room caused it to refract and scintillate beautifully, while veins of glowing light added to its luminosity.

To say it wasn't difficult to suppress any sort of laughter at the antics that happened at least once every Homecoming would be a lie. Celine still felt the intense anxiety of them gathered in a place like this--but she couldn't deny that it made her heart warm to see familiar faces again. It was a stern reminder that she did what she did so they could all protect the stones from the world--and each other.

Their lives would constantly be stained with a darkness, no matter how bright their lives were. She briefly glanced at each guardian and noted the state of their Kutia Waa. Their light was dimming--such as their nature as Guardians. The younger they were, the brighter their light. Celine hoped--and some nights prayed--that their light would forever be cherished.

Solomon was not wrong. Celine straightened her back and resumed the careful mask of business.

Their job was a life-long journey of balance. Too much happiness would lead to contentedness. That was when the guard was let down and when ruin comes knocking. For the sake of her fellows, she would let them bask in their own light. She would remain vigilant and fiercely protect that.