Catriona ignored Penelope's words from earlier. After all, if there was much they did not know, then why would they leave? It would make much more sense to stay and learn more about the situation. She also ignored that "fact" about Turtles of Unusual Size. There were no such turtles, at least that she had heard of. It was more likely her sister getting carried away yet again.
The lord turned to Link as he responded. “…Yes.” He pushed himself to his feet and quietly cleared his throat, his cheeks flushed. She frowned. The usual reason for a reddened visage would be embarrassment, but the man before her had done nothing to be embarrassed of. It was then that he leaned forward and whispered into her ear, “... I have those answers you wanted, when you have the time, your Majesty.”
The princess stood there, expression stern and blank, but her insides writhed with confusion. What answers? When had she asked for them? And what would they even be answering? Still, it would look bad for her as a leader if she didn't appear to know what was going on, so she nodded, a short, sharp, jerk. "Good."
She let her mind dwell on Link's odd words, turned them over in her head while Rufus started up a speech about Sienna joining their group. "It would not be an issue," she replied, standing in an awkward place between aggression and bewilderment in her feelings on the chieftain. However, Sienna's presence had been a boon thus far, so there would be no arguments forthcoming from her end.
"I am relieved," Rufus said, reassured by their responses, even Ciela's. He turned to Sienna to gauge her reaction, but in the end, regardless of what she would say, he would then dismiss the group soon afterward to finish recovering. "If you have more you wish to speak of, then say it after the feast we shall be having," he told the group, though he had his head turned toward Edrick.
"Let us go then," Catriona said, her voice loud enough to wake Link up, however unintentionally.
"As you wish," Shiro said, getting on a knee. "Today, I vow to fight with the humans, and watch the fox, to the very best of my ability. I will succeed in this mission, or die trying. I vow this on my very honor as a Frog."
The Frog Sage looked relieved, but also sad. "Thank you," he said, laying a wrinkled hand gently on Shiro's head for a second before pulling it back and tapping his stick against the ground, though the sound came out muffled against the cushioned forest loam. He gave one last piece of advice before leaving to organize his frogs. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Aka turned to leave as well, and then paused. "Shiro," she said suddenly. "I-I'll miss you," she hugged him briefly before stepping back, blushing heavily as she fled the area, leaving Glenn behind with the blue-haired Protean.
The green-haired man watched the departing forms of the other two Proteans before turning to Shiro. "Shiro," he said, his expression serious and a little sad. "My dear friend. I would have thou rememb'r this before thou leavest. While 'tis noble to serve anoth'r to the utmost, rememb'r to take care of thyself. The sage does not sayeth it, but methinks he believes this to be for thine own good. Just as I believe."
Glenn smiled wistfully. "The world is wide and beautiful. One day thou shalt seest it too, if it not be true already. There is m're to it than the wilds of Pelinna or the des'rts of Isauria. P'rhaps, some day we can visit Galtea togeth'r, and I will show thee the farmlands and the castle and the people, of the lands Sir Cyrus so loved." His eyes grew distant as he spoke, walking the rolling fields of Galtea yet again, trailing behind his mentor and role model. It seemed an age had passed before he returned to the present with a jerk. "Beg pardon," he apologized. "Mine own mind ranneth away f'r a second there. Shiro," he refocused on the blue-haired Protean in front of him. "Do hon'r to the name of frog, and livest free." He bowed then, hand over heart, before rising, and clapping Shiro on the back. "But, let us return to the oth'rs anon. There is much to do still."
Tsetseg nodded saying, "ok. I'll go with them." After a bit, she said, "I bet it'll be sooo cool to see all the other things that are out there, not that there wasn't cool stuff here too. Thanks to you and all the patrol I got to see all kinds of cool stuff and meet all kinds of cool people, and pet all kinds of fluffy tails! But, don't worry, I'll protect those princesses as best I can. Promise."
Hange looked a little jealous for a second. "Hey, I wanna go too--" they were cut off by Erwin once more elbowing them in the side. "Okay, fine," they wheezed.
"And oh oh oh, it'll be even more awesome when we see each other again. Because one of the princesses, the really smart one, she's my friend now and really nice. And she told me that she'll help me learn how to read and stuff. So when we see each other again I'll be able to help Hange out with all new kinds of things, so make sure to look forward to that!"
"That is good," Urvan smiled indulgently as she spoke, but his eyes were sad, something Tsetseg seemed to pick up on, "but um...um..." Before she finished her thought she went to hug Urvan saying, "I'll miss you guys."
He hugged her back tightly, and was soon joined by Hange hugging both of them, tugging Erwin over as well. "We will miss you too," he murmured, eyes suspiciously bright. "Never forget that."
After a brief sniffle Tsetseg said, "you guys were like a real tribe to me, and thanks sooo much for everything." After a few more moments, the girl let go of Urvan, merely wiping her face with her hand, before saying, "but I have a mission now! So, I'll do my best!" With that, the girl left to make preparations.
The three watched her leave. "It is...for the best," Urvan sighed. "Much as I want her to stay, and much as I feel like she's not ready yet."
"She will have the best companions she could ask for," Erwin reassured.
"Except for us!" Hange cheered, "Cuz we're naturally the best of the best."
"Yes, of course," Urvan smiled, blinking rapidly a couple times before turning to the others. "Come, we have our own preparations to make."
As the evening wore on the fox tribe hosted a feast in celebration of the defeat of the bandits that had plagued their forest for so long. While the food was decent, Catriona couldn't help but miss the fare from back home. Rice and vegetables were a refreshing change of pace, but it wasn't the same as good old-fashioned pasties or trenches soaked in pottage, washed down with wine, and not the rice wine the foxes were so fond of drinking, but actual grape wine. Still, it was something to fill up the stomach, so she couldn't complain.
Nearby, Licorice turned to Penelope. "Chief Rufus has decided that I shall be joining your group as additional protection, if you will have me," she said, seeming interested in the girl's possible reaction to that bit of news.
Catriona had mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, the black fox was more civil than most of her brethren. On the other hand, she had still been the one to kidnap Penelope. The white-haired woman glanced at her sister, deciding to wait and see what she would say before making any decisions herself.
Much to her surprise, Penelope clapped her hands together and smiled brightly. "Oh, that would be wonderful. I would love to be able to talk with you more. And perhaps you can show me more of how Proteans fight."
Catriona stared at her sister in shock. She forgives...quite easily, she decided, before nodding her agreement. "Yes, it is fine with me as well."
"Very good," Licorice replied, her eyes glinting with an emotion the lord could not name. As the fox turned back to Penelope, however, they softened to their usual warm amber.
It was too late in the day for anybody to set out for their respective destinations, so Rufus invited them all to stay the night. Unlike before, he seemed warmer, more open to discussion, replying to the best of his knowledge to any questions the group had. The patrol and frogs, including Tsetseg and Shiro, stayed outside in makeshift tents and hammocks, but Catriona and company slept in the chieftain's house. Settling down to sleep, the princess tossed and turned in her bed, the pain in her chest and the tickle in her throat causing her to tense, before she eventually relaxed and drifted off to sleep.
Meanwhile, in the chieftain's room, moonlight shone through an open window onto an empty bed.
In the black of night, two figures stood in front of the great shrine of Inari.
"So you have come," one said, turning his head slightly, revealing himself as Rufus. Gone was the soft visage of a doting father. Here and now was a chieftain, his shoulders raised up confrontationally, teeth bared in a snarl.
The other nodded, the darkness shrouding their form so well only their amber eyes could be clearly seen.
"I knew you would," Rufus laughed, his eyes shining a hellish green. "You are, after all, Her servant, are you not?"
The other did not answer, but they didn't need to. Rufus had already drawn his own conclusions.
"It was you, wasn't it?" the chieftain's voice turned sharp. "You were the one...who cast that spell on me."
"Really?" the other moved slightly, revealing herself as Licorice. "But only white foxes can use magic. It's impossible for me."
"It might not have been you, but you were keeping the spell active on Her behalf. Plus, it's not known for sure whether black foxes can or cannot."
"You caught me," the raven-haired girl admitted easily. "What next?"
"I should exile you, no I should imprison you, so you cannot cause any more trouble."
"Wise, but too late. I am going with the princesses. Their destination aligns with mine."
"You mean, Hers."
"I am Her faithful servant," Licorice bowed with a bland smile. "Her wish is my command."
"But I will not allow it!" Rufus roared, face purpling with outrage. "Spirits, I command you as chieftain of the fox tribe...bind this vixen up. She cannot be allowed to leave this place." As he spoke, his body glowed and shifted to his bestial form.
The wind howled, the trees shook, and the earth groaned from underneath their feet. It was obvious that whatever the chieftain had said had had some sort of effect. But rather than panic, Licorice instead smiled, as if she was privy to a secret that he knew not. "The ancient covenant between fox tribe and the forest spirits. I'm flattered. However," she shifted herself. "You will have to do more than that." The air seemed to positively vibrate with magic, converging around the black fox. Just when it seemed she would be subdued, she started to speak in a tongue he had only heard mentions of, her eyes flashing with an eerie blue light. "Ekan bi-haissiz iuwiz haltaz."
Rufus gaped. "The ancient speech?" he asked. "I had thought it forgotten by time."
"Much that is forgotten still exists. Now as for you..." Licorice gave him a considering look. "I cannot trust you to hold your tongue. You are blunt and quick to anger, more a dog than a fox," she said with a trace of contempt. "You will have to forget once more. "Wīpanan Rufus γa-menthijan."
The magic that he had called up so readily left his grasp, surrounding the black fox. At that moment, standing in the eye of the storm, she looked every inch her birthright. While Inari had had no heirs, her successor did, and there, right before him, was that man's very descendant. While blood did not affect who was chosen to be chieftain, it did carry with it a certain prestige. Licorice was as famed throughout the tribe as Sienna was, though her vicious fighting style and ruthless kills had caused her fame to swing into infamy. Friends and enemies alike knew her by a different name than the one given to her at birth.
The Black Fang.
I underestimated her, was Rufus's last thought before he fell into darkness.
The morning dawned bright and clear--a beautiful autumn day. After eating a quiet breakfast at the chieftain's house, where Rufus seemed strangely taciturn compared to the day before, the group departed for the village exit. There, they made preparations to leave, but at the gate, were greeted by Rufus, Sandara, Licorice, Gamboge, Persimmon, the Frog Sage, Glenn, Shiro, Aka, Leonardo, Urvan, Hange, Erwin, and Tsetseg, as well as Levi and Shaoran who had arrived sometime in the night.
"Before you leave, I would have Shiro go with you," the Frog Sage said, gesturing to the blue-haired Protean with a fond smile. "The frogs stand with you."
"And the Patrol," Urvan said, patting Tsetseg on the head one last time. "We cannot let you go on your own. Tsetseg here is a fine bowwoman. And..." he paused, as if hearing something of significance, though Catriona could hear nothing but the flapping of wings and a soft neigh in the distance, probably from one of their horses. "There is somebody else we would send as well. She should be here soon."
"We thank you, and we would be glad to have you all," the lord replied.
Meanwhile, Levi turned to Tsetseg. "I heard. Don't be stupid out there," he said. Though his expression was cold and his tone flat, his words carried a hint of worry, and his face twitched as if he was fighting back a frown of concern.
"Hah! Admit it, you're as sad to see her go as the rest of us," Hange crowed.
"I'm not you, shitty four-eyes," he grumbled, crossing his arms with a huff. "Take care," he mumbled, soft enough only Tsetseg could hear, and barely at that.
"You better stay alive. You still haven't proved me wrong yet," Persimmon addressed the bow thief. He ignored his brother's chuckles from beside him.
"Shiro, rememb'r what I said. I hope thou finds thy happiness." Glenn said, turning to Gunther as well. "Hold thy head high, f'r thou art a true knight, old friend."
"Sienna," Rufus said, embracing her. "You have made me proud," he murmured. "I could have nobody better for a daughter."
"I love you, my child," Sandara agreed.
With all that was being said, Catriona found herself with nothing to do in the meantime. She looked at Edrick, remembering what he had spoken about earlier. "Did you wish to check out the bandit stronghold still?" she then turned to Link. "Oh, yes, what was that you said about answers?" Now that she thought about it, she vaguely recalled him saying something along those lines back in the village, after she had killed the mercenary.
In the end, however, the conversation was cut short by several new arrivals.
OOC: All right guys. A lot happened, but it's finally the next day. React to events of the previous day as well as the new one. To Nai, it's also that time. And, I know a few of you had additional questions for Rufus, so if you want, go ahead and ask them before you post, and I'll have him respond, along with anybody else you were thinking of.
Also Wind Rider, I have noticed a tendency on your end to post quite infrequently compared to the pace of the RP, usually once every two or three weeks. While I have overlooked it for the most part so far, it doesn't reassure me that you have skipped posting during what could possibly be one of Sienna's most important choices, not to mention previous instances where the direction of the RP has depended on her decisions. Because of this, I am sorry to say that this is your first warning. Another two, and I will have to make a decision on whether or not you will be staying in the RP.