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The fires of Westguard burned late into the night. Kvaldir bodies draped and piled on the cliff edge as men and women worked to remove them. They did so with little fanfare, opting to simply push them from a section of cliffside that hung high over the seas below. The frigid ocean swallowed the bodies whole, one by one they disappeared into the mist where they came. The gate and square likewise contended with removing the dead, guards working mutely into the late hours of the night lifting and carting bodies of the derelict into shallow graves dug in the permafrost.

Within the keep, Arialynn Dawnfield remained awake. Koryander dozed nearby, still sitting at the council table bench, her head partly propped up by her hand. The lady knight allowed her friend and seneschal the rest and took up the late hours reading. Candlelight lit the numbers of the night’s battle: casualties, injuries, damages, and estimated cost of repairs. Zen had somehow found the time to note the financial loss of his unsanctioned airship as a creatively-drawn addendum: A literal crude drawing of an airship, a pile of gold, and a sad face. Removing the stowaway sheaf of paper from the pile. Arialynn marked it Return to Sender along with a succinct “No.” Rethinking this action, she then added: “The Rose will partially fund your next airship. Name it what you like. Yes, I understand you may take that literally.”

Seated and moving as little as she was, she still had difficulties remaining comfortable. Time was running out. Partially armored and wrapped in a thick, fur-lined cloak perfect for Northrend weather, the Justicar blended well within the rugged crowd. But her full armor was proving too much. Closing her eyes, the lady knight took up her mug and inhaled the scent of tea brewed at a far earlier hour by Wei. The Marshals were prepared. The walls would hold, Sielic Trugan’s siege on the Rose would come to an end. So many wills were stretched thin by the assault the former Marshal put them under, and yet months into his efforts, the Rose stood. 

Glancing to the chess set she still kept on the table, Arialynn wore no smile. Her face was one that wore a smile easily, its lines drew it in a pleasant, warm shape, yet it came rare. On her face were years of weight and the burden of darker thoughts. Leaning forward with a wince, she drew a King into the corner, nestling it beside its queenside Rook. Castled as he was, the King was pulled further from his quarry’s each. An unsanctioned move, she mused, should the game be played properly. Yet it had not been played with its proper set of rules since the very beginning. Many pieces remained in the center, the Queen herself commanded the front end of the board. Rare to see such an offensive Queen, but as untethered as she was at the board’s center, her foes scattered at the mere shadow of her. But fortified as they all were, each protected by strategic placements of the other, each were still vulnerable. The slightest slip could tip the hand to the opponent’s favor. Once one piece fell, others would topple in its wake. A siege; a battle of attrition. The most decisive moments drew near.

A knock on the door. Another cooked wild fowl was left for her. It was plump, clearly a kill of a once healthy, well-fed creature. No doubt another spoil by Etsiyona, determined to keep Arialynn eating as heartily as possible. She sought only the most prime game in the fjord’s sparse woods. In Northrend, only the most hearty survived. The weak, the gamy were quickly snuffed by the continent’s tougher denizens. To bring in such a fattened kill, a wild fowl that had survived the rest of Northrend’s dangers, spoke of skill. The lady knight smiled at the presumed gift. Waving it in, she stirred Koryander.

“Dinner for four?” she asked. 

Even as sleepy as she was, Koryander grinned at the joke. “You’ll eat more than I do. It’s more like dinner for you and snacks for me.”

“Of course. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Pssht. You know I do. And it’s hilarious. You normally barely eat at all and stay up all night anyway.”

“Not tonight. It will be eat, then rest. You already started on the second item.”

“Because I wrestled Kvaldir all night while you shouted at cannons.”

“Would you have preferred that I wrestled the Kvaldir instead?”

“Hell, no. The way you are right now, I’d lock you in this room if I could. Honestly, I just might. Change the locks, lock you away and everything. Pretty sure I could get enough people on my side.”

“Soon, not yet. Join me in a meal?”

“Yep.”

The two took in the meal, speaking as old friends, sharing the briefest of lighter moments as Westguard again played the caretaker of a war’s dead.

Author Ari
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