Fable - Ask Within The Walls

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Vlas

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He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. The memory was not a stark one in his mind. "Oh?"

There had been many Gala's in his time, too many to count really. She could have told him the very date and he still wouldn't have been able to recall. An insult, many might say, but the truth was that he simply couldn't remember.

"When was that?" He asked, genuinely curious.

"There were more than a few of them." Vlas explained. "And most blend together."

Still, for a few seconds at least his attention was drawn away from the Gala and towards her. A distraction that he couldn't quite help. He was only human after all.
 
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Irina

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Irina snapped out her fan so it would hide the fact she was laughing at his curiosity.

"It wasn't long after you joined the Imperial Guard and it was a ball in honour of the Duma's 20th wedding anniversary," a lavish affair that no doubt blended in to all the others as he so flippantly put it. She didn't disagree, of course, but it would be too close to the truth of who she was to admit as much so openly. Her eyes swept over the crowd one last time before turning their full icy blue weight upon her companion.

"You were very dedicated to the job back then, so so serious," she mock frowned before laughing at her own memory. "My sister was only little, four, but the Duma and his wife had wanted children there too. She was a shy thing and the other children teased her for it. I wasn't sure what had happened but I found her and you on the marble steps outside the ballroom with her in tears, her knees scuffed, and you turned her broken tiara into a golden butterfly for her," her voice had grown softer - almost tender - as she spoke of her sister and her face was solemn once she finished. Abruptly she looked away.

"When you were destined to be executed I told my father what you had done and he spoke on your behalf to lessen your sentence."
 
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Vlas

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Vlas smiled for a moment. "Ah yes I remember."

The memory came fluttering back, shrouded by dozens of encounters with man and monsters alike. He had been young then, more careful with who he was. Things had not always gone to plan, and that night had been the same.

That kind gesture had only been the smallest piece of his evening. Later there had been an assassin, and then an interrogation, but there was no need to spoil the memory for Irina.

"She had a good heart." He commented quietly.

Vlas could still remember finding her after the other kids had bullied her. He had tripped one of them with the cuffs on his boots. It had been somewhat...amusing. "Execution might have been preferable at some points."

He chuckled, his life had not exactly been pleasant over the last few years. At times anyway.
 
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Irina

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Irina smiled faintly; her sisters good heart was not something she had lost as she has grown.

"She kept that butterfly, it was a shame it was lost in the fire," it would have been a nice thing to still have of the laughing happy child instead of the memory of her burnt face and agonising pleas to end her suffering.

She shut the memories off.

"If you had died, how many of those little countrymen and women you've been saving all these years would be dead?" She raised a brow and offered a mocking smile. "I'm sure a learned man such as yourself has some proverb or other about how one life can touch a thousand."
 
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Vlas

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"I'm sure I do." Vlas agreed quietly. There were a thousand of them, every nation, every city had their own variant. The greater good sacrificed for one person. Something along those lines. It was a common enough sentiment.

He wasn't sure if he agreed with it.

A part of him had always thought that his life would have been easier had he been a farmer, a man with no magic. Someone that nobody cared about. Someone that nobody ever even had to concern themselves with. It would have made his life easier.

Fingers tightened for a moment, but he wiped away those contemplative thoughts and brought himself back into the moment. "Not that it matters now."

Couldn't turn back time.

"Let's focus on the task at hand." He told her. "There's a monster out there."
 
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Irina

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"Are you talking about the doppleganger or the nobles?" Irina murmured behind the fan.

Her eyes had landed on the latest Prince to arrive and their number one suspect. Mikhail had a way of making an entrance and today was no different. Dressed in a deep navy blue that looked almost black with silver embroidery and iridescent pearls along his collar that glinted like stars on a velvet sky. His hair was almost entirely silver now he had entered his fifth decade but despite hit he was handsome and he knew it. There was a small hush over the crowd that radiated out from him as he walked in with a snow leopard on a thick brutal chain. He practically dragged it behind him towards where Irina was standing.

"Your Highness," his words dripped with his clear distaste for naming her such as he bent and kissed her knuckles. "A gift... Perhaps it will be better at keeping you safe from this supposed monster than your current pet," his eyes flickered to Vlas with a sneer.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas flashed her an amused smile, but his expression became a neutral blank as Mikhail approached.

He had never feared any man, not even as a youth. Perhaps it was the strength his magic gave him, perhaps it was something else. Sometimes it was difficult to tell. Mikhail did not inspire fear in him, not for a moment, but there was an inkling of...rage.

Calling it that was generous in a way. The man was walking scum on his best day. He was a filth that should have been wiped out long ago.

When he made his jab Vlas said nothing, only raising an eyebrow.

It would have been comically easy to kill the man now. The pins on his lapel would have been enough, bent and sent piercing through his skull in one quick movement. It was hard to not just do it now.
 
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Irina

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His lip curled in disgust when he didn't get the rise out of Vlas that he wanted and he went to say something again when Irina plucked the leash of the leopard from his hands.

"How lovely," her voice had once more taken on that fake, almost docile tone she adopted around courtiers and other nobles. It played its part well in painting her as the naive child who had never intended to inherit they all thought she was. Clearly it worked on Mikhail for he gave her an easy smile and another low bow. Idly she passed on the leash to the nearest of her fellows which happened to be Lord Melchett who had materialised on her other side.

The leopard's snarls suddenly went silent and its ears flickered back against its skull. Irina missed it for Mikhail was continuing on with his honeyed words.

"Perhaps my castle would be a safer place for you my dear, I have my own monster hunters who can guard you round the clock..."
 
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Vlas

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"Would those be the hunters that let Greshik burn?" The words spilled from his lips before he even had a second to think about it. They were said in a neutral tone, his eyes piercing through the man before him.

Mikhail's entire demeanor seemed to change in an instant.

"They-How did you? Silence!"​

The words were quick, terse, angry. Vlas had struck a nerve, one that came quickly and plucked like a cord. The Hunter could only smile as the man faltered a little bit, clearly not having expected that anyone knew his secret.

Vlas hadn't been sure until that moment, but now he knew.

Greshik had been a sacrifice to the Changeling. A way to feed the beast and get him to do what Mikhail had wanted. Revealing that theory might have been dangerous, but it was necessary.

Not to mention worth it.
 
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Irina

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Irina's eyes widened a small fraction as the implications of this revelation hit her, and apparently the rest of the room. Silence stretched out from them like a ripple and even those who hadn't heard fell quiet in order to see what was happening. Mikhail hadn't let go of her hand and in fact his grip tightened until she had to stifle a noise of pain.

"You should keep your dog in check, Princess," he spat, yanking her closer so their faces were inches apart. Irina's jaw tensed and her soldiers subtly began to weave their way closer. A few other Princes were also moving.

"Vlas is not a dog, he is a member of my court," she replied coldly and yanked her bruised hand free. "If you speak to him in such a way again I'll take that as a personal insult," which would mean war. Of course, Irina wasn't stupid enough to start a war over a man but the implication was clear that she knew what he had done - they all did - and she would bring him to justice.

"The lady is right, perhaps you should leave," Dimitri folded his arms over his chest and watched.
 
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Vlas

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Now Vlas seemed bemused.

There was a smile on his face, and a certain air of smugness that carried on his features. He rocked gently on the balls of his feet, savoring the memory.

A lifetime ago he had been forced to be respectful. He had been forced to be kind and show the greatest deference. Now he was a free man, now he could speak as he wanted. There were consequences of course, there were always consequences.

But he wouldn't hold back.

Mikhail spat on the ground, letting go of Irina and stepping back. He eyed Vlas for a few seconds, hands flickering to the hilt of the saber he carried. "Try it."

He didn't speak the words, but mouthed them. Fingers flickered slightly at his side, arms flexing as he almost ached to break the Prince. After a few moments Mikhail simply took another step back.

"I've had enough of this...trash heap anyway. It should have all burned."​

The Prince threw one more insult at his counterpart, and then turned on his heel to leave.

Vlas watched as the dog turned tail and began to run, fully understandingg that his real pet was still within the crowd. No doubt now further urged to take Irina's life.
 
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Irina

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Irina's face was the perfect tapestry of an inferno of rage. She didn't take her eyes off of the man until he was beyond the doors and her guards had firmly shut it behind him, but even then the anger remained. Had that been a hint he had been behind the fire too? Or was she seeing shadows where there were none? Her nails bit into her flesh until Prince Igor stepped forward with his kind smile and warm presence. He was the only other Prince close to her age and they had been promised from the crib. Fate had had a different idea.

"Come, Irina," he said gently, taking her by the elbow and guiding her away from her fixed glare on the door. Dimitri nodded to the pair when they passed and glanced to Vlas with a grimace. The words he mouthed were simple.

Tick tock.
 

Vlas

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Right. There was a monster to hunt.

Vlas looked one last time over towards Irina, deciding that even the changeling was not bold enough to pose as one of the Princes. He stretched for a brief moment, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out one of the extra vials.

He dipped a bit of the liquid, just a single drop, upon his wrist. It was hardly enough for anyone else to smell, but it would be enough for the Changeling. A frown touched his lips for a brief moment as he looked at the Vial, then he glanced at the table of refreshments. "Well."

The hunter commented.

"Not sure why I didn't think of that earlier." Vlas mused to himsef as he moved towards the refreshments table.

Once there he tipped the rest of the vial, dumping it completely into the large bowl of punch.
 
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Irina

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"Sit."

The Princess didn't have the energy to protest. Now the shock and threat had passed her adrenaline was wearing off and all she felt was tired. Igor gave her a bemused look and went as if to say something before deciding wisely against it. Instead he fixed he had a servant go fetch her some wine and sat beside her.

"You know, this would all be much easier together," he commented lightly then laughed at the incredulous look Irina shot him. "I am not proposing. But... we could be allies," she relaxed a little and then sighed.

"You know as well as I do that allies turn into enemies as quickly as the wind changes," at that they both sat in glum silence, together but alone.

The party slowly ramped back up again and soon Mikhail was forgotten entirely by those who had come here for their own purposes. They danced and talked and drank long into the night. An hour passed, then another before Lord Melchett gagged on his punch.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas was watching.

He was careful not to be seen, and a few times the Hunter let himself devolve into some sort of conversation. Most of it was droll, drab, though a few times he was coaxed into telling one story or another about his hunts in other lands.

People always did like those stories. "It was a skinwolf, not a werewolf."

Vlas said with a smile as he watched Lord Melchett practically spit out his punch on the opposite side of the room. His eyes caught onto the man, watching as he gripped his throat and waved away the man who tried to come to his rescue.

He couldn't see what he said, but the implication was obvious.

"They're more dangerous." Vlas continued. "I'll explain when I return, I have to powder my nose."

There was a giggle from one of the women in front of them as he gave his excuse and began to slip away.
 
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Irina

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Irina hadn't noticed Vlas slipping anything into the punch so when Lord Melchett began coughing up his lungs complaining of smoke in the room and asked if she fancied a walk outside, she was oblivious to the danger she was putting herself in.

The gardens weren't entirely empty; couples had snuck off to find shadowy corners in which to dwell and others had moved quiet, private conversations to the seclusion offered by the twists and turns of her mazes. It wasn't an odd thing for her and Melchette to take a turn in the garden; the man had been her fathers advisor and watched Irina and her siblings grow up. He was family. Perhaps even the only family she had left.

"I think you should do as Mikhail says and get rid of this Hunter, Irina, there has been nothing but danger since he came," it wasn't the first time he had asked her to get rid of him and she smiled lazily.

"I was actually considering offering him a position here permanently. If war with Mikhail is coming it might pay to have a hunter around."
 
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Vlas

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Fuck.

Irina had moved a bit too fast for Vlas to catch her before 'Melchette' had made his move. It was an annoying quirk of these parties. Fucking everyone and their mother apparently knew you, and now that Irina had stood for him they wanted to talk his ear off.

He held his hand up in the face of another noble lady who tried to step in his path. "Later."

Twenty years ago doing that would have gotten him thrown in prison, now it received a giggle as the exciting hunter brushed the woman away. He frowned, pulling himself through the doorway which Irina and the Changeling had passed through.

His head turned, spotting them moving quickly down into the maze like gardens.

"Fuck." Vlas said as he walked faster.
 
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Irina

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"Are you insane, Irina!?" He grabbed her wrist and yanked her off the path. A ripple of surprise crossed her features replaced by stoic icy cold anger.

"Let me go."

"You listen here you little child, your father would have never let him in here in the first place. He would have handed him over to Nicolai to get revenge he--"

"He would have done no such thing," realisation began to dawn on her face and she tried to yank free again. Melchette's face began to write and twist and then a dagger was in his hands..