We live in quiet times as our natural enemies occupy themselves with matters that do not concern our borders. With the empire nearing it's 300th anniversary, its people are reasonably happy. Summer is coming and the priests have predicted a bountiful harvest this year. The plebeians has celebrated this blessing and left sacrifices to show their gratitude to the Mother. The patricians rest easy, knowing their people are happy once again after a string of mediocre harvests the last few years. Today is Adomideis, the last day of the week. Your father has returned from a visit to Cantria, the capital of your theme, this morning after a lengthy visit and has called all of you to a family meeting in the great hall of the castle.
>>602074 Your brother Niphon joins you on the way there. "Hey, do you think father will have brought us presents? I wrote him like five letters about it but he never replied!"
>>602075 "These togas are really hard to put on! I don't know which end goes where!" Your twin sister eventually finishes putting her toga on with the help of one of your maids, who ushers you both out of the room. "Hurry now, little ladies. Your lord father is no doubt waiting for you."
>>602076 You move your way through the halls of the lower castle, prompting many servants to jump out of the way as you pass by. Things look very active today, they're no doubt preparing a feast for the night of sorts.
>>602078 "He's been gone for weeks! He must be happy to be back home!"
You arrive at the great hall, where your father usually holds court and, occasionally, a feast for a special occasion. This appears to be the case today as servants of various kinds are busying themselves with setting up tables and extra decorations around the room. Your parents are in the back, overseeing the operation.
>>602079 You run into >>602080 in front of the doors leading to the great hall. Your twin gulps audibly.
Through the doorway you can see the hall is being prepared for a feast!
>>602081 >>602082 "Of course he did. Why would he not?" Stop, and stand a bit to the side, motioning at the door with a large claw, a sly glint of amusement in my eyes. "Little ladies first." They are the children of Him, after all.
>>602086 "Out of my way, Mereghyl. I need room to walk too." Anthe, the eldest daughter, walks past you with a cocky smile.
>>602084 Livia follows your pace. You see Marcus and Niphon have already reached father.
Anthe passes by the two of you, not even giving you the time of day.
>>602085 Your mother looks somewhat disgruntled for some reason. "Marcus, Niphon, my sons. I have returned from Cantria bearing news from the Doux." He looks past you. "It appears the others are arriving as well."
>>602088 Anthe stops next to you. Using her sweetest voice to address your father. "Hello father."
He only gives her a simple look in return.
>>602089 >>602090 "It seems all of you are here then." He glances at your mother, then looks at one of the guards standing watch in the room. "Leave us." The guards clear the hall along with all the servants, closing the door behind them and leaving you all to yourself. "As I said, I bring news from Cantria. Good news. The Doux has requested my help."
>>602092 >>602093 >>602094 He shakes his head. "No war. He has offered me the position of sakellarios, the treasurer in charge of financial affairs in our theme. I will help him manage his treasury back in Cantria. A very important position… but it does mean my presence in the capital will be needed far more often. I'm sure you'll all understand."
>>602097 Livia blinks a few times, then frowns. "Does this mean you'll be gone for a long time more often…?" Anthe rolls her eyes. "That's what he just said, dumbo." Your father holds up his hoof. "I will be part of the Doux's council, which means I'm expected to attend certain meetings."
>>602096 >>602098 "Furthermore…" His eyes fall on Marcus. "I met with the Doux of Peneia during my stay in Cantria. You will be leaving us for a while, Marcus. To go study under the lord scholar in the city of Peneios."
>>602099 Quickly cut after Anthe- "Don't call my sister dumb!" But grow immediately silent again and focus on father as he speaks. "But you will come back from time to time, right?" Only to gasp again! "Are you sending Marcus away too?!"
>>602100 >>602102 "Silence now. Your brother Niphon will remain here, as will your sisters and mother. And Mereghyl is always around to protect you. I will only be gone from time to time when the Doux calls for my presence."
Your mother speaks up as your father pauses. You can see in her eyes that she is not pleased with this development either. "Your uncle Prokopios is on his way here as well, he will be moving in with his retinue. You… haven't seen him in years, of course."
>>602104 Livia looks sad, but she doesn't seem to dare speak up anymore. Anthe is giving her mean glares.
>>602105 "As my eldest son and heir, you are to be prepared for your future duties as the lord of this castle. As a boy, my father sent me away to study in Saddlonica as well. You must broaden your horizons and see different parts of the empire. This will be a very important learning experience for you."
>>602106 "Between you and the guards, there is little to worry about. Perhaps once the children are older, you could accompany me some time, Mereghyl."
>>602119 >>602123 Now that the others are mostly gone… Take a step closer, and lover my head completely right beside Him, in the hope of some headscratches… only He can do it the way I like it, ever since the day I hatched!
>>602126 He does so, but before he can say more his wife speaks up. "I think this is a mistake, Odyris. Peneios is leagues away… how long will I have to miss my firstborn son? What if… what if a war breaks out and he's stuck there? They could take him hostage…"
>>602127 "We could sneak along without him knowing!"
>>602131 Close my eyes… "I really missed you… when can I go with you? Just say the word and I am ready to leave." Open them and look at her. "Ponies probably know better than to try and insult our family with that."
It is the eve before Marcus' departure. Dinner time will be upon you soon. Tomorrow, Marcus will join your father to Cantria, where he will leave by ship to Peneia.
Flavia You and both your sisters are in the dining room. The table is being prepared by servants. Anthe is playing on her lyre and singing softly, occasionally pausing to give one of the servants grief.
Marcus You're packing the last of your things in your room when a knock is heard on your door. Mereghyl You've assisted the blacksmith in the forgery today and are now returning to the castle. The sun is setting, but the outside is still pleasantly warm. Summer is definitely here now. You know dinner will be called soon.
>>602147 Scoot slowly over to Anthe as she plays dragging Livia along, and begin dancing along to her soft tune, hoof in hoof with my sister, putting into practice the many hours of our morning lessons. If father will be gone starting tomorrow, we can't make this a sad day.
>>602152 You enter the castle proper. You can easily reach the dining room from here. In a few decades, that may become a harder task. You smell food being prepared by the servants in the kitchens if you'd rather go and get an early taste.
>>602153 The door opens. It's your mother. She closes the door behind her and looks around your empty room. "You've… finished packing I see."
>>602158 The two of you dance as gracefully as your tiny hooves allow, the servants making sure they don't walk in your way as they go about their business.
>>602166 She moves forward and embraces you silently.
>>602167 The kitchens are actually fairly big and impressive. The cooks are too busy to give pause upon your appearance. Several filled cauldrons are boiling and steaming. Most of the food here is vegetables, of course, with the exception of yours which is being prepared by a cook using a different cauldron.
>>602169 She actually smiles and ruffles both your manes! She quickly snaps her attention to one of the servants as she catches eye of something though. "What are you doing? You better not be slacking or I'll tell my father! He'll feed you to his dragon!"
>>602242 Trot over and pile up your books atop a stool, to reach aaaall the way up to your mane! Once there, clumsily, try to find a solid balance against your back, eeping and squeaking before finally managing to hold still, and bringing the comb up in my weak magic. "Now hold you still…"
>>602246 You feel the lightest rustle of your hairs, as if something was being dropped atop them. Maybe it's the comb? "Done!" Squeal in triumphant delight, jumping off as the pile of books falls to the ground. "You can open your eyes now!" There's a tiny pink bow in your mane.
>>602252 "But it's my favourite bow… And you are leaving… And I wanted something you could remember me by…" Trace circles in the ground with my tiny hoof, looking sad at the bow laid down in front of me.
>>602264 The thing is, I know nothing about our parents or siblings which we could know of IC. Normally I'd ask why you think father wants you to go and such. But on the other hand, the quest just started and we have nothing objective to faff about that's not our characters themselves.
You joined your father on a trip to Cantria, the capital of your theme, where you boarded a ship headed for Peneia. The journey was long and the days hot, but eight days after setting off from port the ship finally arrived in the harbor of Peneios, the capital city of thema Peneia. From what you understand, the city is fairly different from home. Far busier as well, you notice even from afar. You can hear distant music coming from the city's direction. After docking, your belongings are loaded onto a cart. A mare in light blue robes made from finest silk approaches you. "Master Hippoi, your arrival is most timely. Welcome to Peneios. I am here to escort you into the city."
>>602371 The cart is being pulled by two armored ponies. There's two more waiting further down the dock you're on. "I am one of the doux's ladies-in-waiting. Her grace wanted to make sure you were in good hooves. Perhaps you will meet her later today, if you are so lucky."
>>602373 She motions you to follow and walks down the dock toward the city. The cart follows closely behind the two of you. The other two guards split up, one walking in front of you while the other takes the back.
By the time you reach the gates of the city, you can hear the music very clearly. Harps, lyres and other stringed instruments fill the atmosphere around the city with soothing tunes. You've very clearly entered the merchant's district, filled with warehouses, stores, taverns and public forums. Ponies are moving wares in and out of the harbor, ranging from barrels filled with wine to amphoraes holding oils and other foodstuff. There's a strong scent of incense in the air, tickling your nose slightly. "The gymnasium is located in the inner city, where you'll be spending your time studying under one of the tutors."
>>602375 You eventually leave the merchant's quarter behind and enter the inner city. While it is still very crowded here, the ponies walking about seem more reserved. The scent of incense is replaced by a subtle hint of perfume. You pass by several impressive buildings, amphitheaters, temples, libraries, theaters, bathhouses, courthouses… all painted colorfully and shining under the blazing sun. "There are plenty of things for a young lord to do during your leisure time. You are also always welcome at court, of course."
>>602379 "It can be a bit overwhelming for a foreigner, but Peneios is a fine city to live in. You can experience pleasures here which you will find no place else." Your little caravan stops in front of a large building. It appears to be rectangular, with decorated pillars surrounding the whole thing. Like most buildings, the roof is colored blue.
>>602381 She laughs. "No, this is the gymnasium." She signals the guards pulling the cart and they begin to unload your possessions, carrying them inside the building. "One of the rooms here has been prepared for your stay. You'll have servants who will make sure all your needs are fulfilled. Your private lessons commence tomorrow."
>>602383 "You are a guest of her grace, yes. As such you are welcome to visit her court as you please. But for the sake of convenience, your stay will be here in the gymnasium of the lord scholar until you are older."
>>602387 "Lady Athanasia." The two guards return from their task. She gestures at them. "They will be your acting guards for the time being. This is a safe place, but the Doux still asks you to not venture anywhere in the city on your own."
>>602389 The two guards follow your lead. The building itself is very clean, you could definitely eat off of this marble floor. As mentioned before, the building is of rectangular shape. In the middle is a large open courtyard where ponies practice their physical abilities, it's entirely possible that some of these ponies are up-and-coming athletes for the Pindosian Games. You notice no one here is wearing any clothing whatsoever. Most ponies attending range from your age to young adults.
If you wish, you can go to your room and rest until the evening, when you can visit court.
>>602391 Very well. The room you were assigned to is quite spacious, about as big as your room back home! It's far more open and decorated, however. You have a nice balcony, a bed with various kinds of sheets appropriate for various kinds of temperatures, a marble bathtub, a large bowl of fruit and a small drinking fountain.
One of the guards stays outside to guard the door while the other heads off elsewhere for now.
>>602393 Alright. Eve falls, temperatures drop slightly as the sun begins its descend to the horizon. It's still summer, so they days are nice and long. It'll still be light outside for a while longer.
The guard posted outside can lead you to the palace of the Doux if you ask.
>>602395 The stallion (or mare? Hard to tell with all the armor…) nods silently and sets off, leading you out of the gymnasium to the palace. The palace is a different building altogether, surrounded by a massive garden and a wall with a fence on top of it. The building itself looks roughly as illustrated, but has a blue roof.
The large gates to the estate are opened to you by the guards and you venture along the path through the garden while thousands of different flowery scents assault your nose. Some other earth ponies are taking a stroll through the garden but seemingly don't care for you whatsoever.
>>602398 You certainly don't want to appear weak here!
You finally reach the building itself after having traversed the garden and enter the entrance halls of the palace estate. More ponies are walking around here, most of them obviously plebeian servants. Your guard leads you through the right hallway until you reach the end, where the doors open into a dining hall. The so called triclinium, where ponies eat dinner while lying sideways on cushioned couches. The room is lit up by various golden bowls holding fire while a bard is providing music using the lyre. There are only two ponies currently lying down for dinner here. You recognize the doux quite easily, as she's wearing a formal headband made from gold.
>>602400 Your guard bows as well and whispers something to the the Doux. "Hm? Ah, Odyris' boy." There's a small pause. "Well? Are you going to keep standing there? You needn't be shy around here. Not in Peneios."
>>602402 The other mare, which you assume to be another lady-in-waiting giggles. "He's adorable! A proper little lord!" The Doux smiles at your courtesy and pats the empty couch next to hers. "Come and sit. Have you eaten dinner yet? You look hungry."
>>602406 You grab a toasted piece of bread with cheese and tomato toppings and eat it. After a few bites, you nearly cry out in surprise as the spices seemingly burn your throat. You remember the stories, about how the Peneians are said to mix small traces of poison in their food to give it some more kick. It seems they were right after all. That being said, it is really delicious despite how spicy it is.
Hypatia watches you as she casually eats some grapes, gauging for a reaction perhaps? "How old are you, boy?"
>>602410 It's just rosewater. Made from rose petals. Very tasty as well! "What a pleasant surprise." She takes a sip from her own cup. "I hear from one of my ladies that you are not content with your place in the gymnasium? That you would rather stay here in my palace?"
"Uhm yes my lady, back home I liked to watch the ponies at court to learn how to rule one day." Look at her. "The gymnasium seems a nice place but…I don't think I can learn how to be a lord from books."
The other mare whispers something in her ear and giggles. "You would be so cruel," the Doux responds in kind, turning back to look you in the eyes. She's not particularly beautiful to your adolescent mind. Her looks are fairly average, but she radiates confidence. You'd wager her presence would dominate in any company.
>>602420 You feel like she's just trying to get under your skin and see who she's dealing with here. You believe this is more of a facade rather than her real self. Like how your father isn't just dad anymore when he assumes his role as lord Hippoi. She's confident, sure, but given how she's looks like she's only in her early twenties, she can't be that experienced, right?
>>602422 She raises an eyebrow in mild surprise. "There was a regency period when the last Doux died of illness years ago. I started ruling when I came of age at the age of 16. You are almost fit to rule as well, aren't you?"
>>602424 "Well, Odyris was still alive and well the last I saw him. He spoke quite highly of you, you know. Why, if I did not know any better I'd think he was hoping to arrange a betrothal between the two of us." Roll another Sense motive roll.
>>602432 She smiles and leans in closer. "Because Peneios knows their trade better than anypony else around. Before the empire was formed, Peneios was the wealthiest city-state on the continent. Today, we are one of the most important trade hubs in the empire. But we did not manage this on our own. Cantria and Saddlonica were our partners in ancient times and that shows even today. The Saddlonicans have their ingenuity, the Cantrians their diligence and we… we have our perspicaciousness."
>>602436 "We became so wealthy because we were capable of employing foresight, recognizing patterns and perceiving the ambiguous. Cantria produced more than we did, Saddlonica had a superior fleet, but we knew how to manage everything better as a whole."
>>602442 She sips from her wine. "Spouses are all well and good, but I have no need to waste money on one yet. One of the perks of being your own matriarch is the fact that nopony is breathing down your neck about marriage at the age of 16."
>>602446 "Well, until my brothers or sister start to get uppity at least. You have a few siblings as well, don't you? You're bound to get into trouble with one of them at some point, I can tell you right now."
>>602487 "That's reality. You can't escape it, you can only operate around it. When you eventually inherit your father's position, you'll find yourself in a similar position. With power, comes risk. And the more power you have, the more at risk you are. I don't envy the Empress one bit. Maybe you'll find yourself in a civil war at some point. Or facing a Saddle-Arabian invasion. All in the name if gaining more power."
>>602520 "Of course. Thank you for joining us. Life is busy, but hopefully we can converse again soon." The Doux signals two of her servants to come over. "Show the little lord the way to one of the prepared chambers. And arrange to have his belongings transferred there as soon as possible. Oh and find out where lady Athanasia is. Tell her master Hippoi has moved to the palace."
The servants both bow, one leaving the room in a hurry while the other turns to you. "My lord. Follow me please."
>>602528 Not a guard, just a maidservant. "Cassiphia, my lord."
She leads you out of the room into a hallway, up a large set of marble stairs to the second floor, walking down another hallway before stopping in front of a set of wooden doors with silver handles. She procures a key and unlocks the doors, opening them up and allowing you to go inside first.
Nearly four years have passed since Marcus left for Peneia. During this time, Odyris has had to leave for Cantria on various occasions, leaving the rest of you sometimes for weeks on end. You've seen the relationship between the lord and his wife deteriorate during this time. You sometimes wonder if they love one another at all anymore. The children have grown as well, Anthe has seemingly mellowed out somewhat but is growing more slothful by the day while Niphon has begun to train his martial skills more and more. The twins are in their full teenage years with all the consequences that brings with it.
Today is Hestaradeis or 'Priest's day'. The patriarch and his council are holding court while lady Hippoi lies ill in her chambers. Niphon is out squiring for one of the lord's knights and the twins have left for a visit to a nearby village with an entourage. Anthe is about, but you're not sure where.
>>602732 You head out to see the court hall. The doors are open and guards are posted at set intervals.There's a queue of plebeians awaiting their turn to make an appeal or speak to the lord. The lord himself is seated behind a large table with his younger brother, Prokopios, and a few other of his assistants.
Two plebs appear to be in a heated discussion with each other in front of them.
>>602741 You get a few looks, but get close enough to listen along. "- and our name is clearly engraved on the bucket!" "Carved you mean! You just used a knife to carve your name into it after you stole it from our water well!" "How dare you implicate me like that! I run an honest business!" "A business of taking buckets!?" "You're nothing but a swindler trying to defecate my name!" "That's rich coming from a thief like yourself!" "You take that back!" "Not before I take back my bucket!"
The lord is rubbing his temples in annoyance. His brother appears somewhat more amused.
>>602745 The lord eventually stands up. "Enough. I grow irate listening to this endless hoof pointing. We will have your bucket compensated for. In the future, don't bother the court with such trivial matters or we will take the bucket for ourselves." He motions them to leave, which they do rather quickly. "Bring in the next one."
>>602750 An older stallion this time. Judging by the smell, he's from the nearby fishing village. "My liege, my liege…" He bows, shivering a little. "I was harvesting seaweed during yesterday's twilight when I was assaulted by a band of marauding seaponies!"
Prokopios raises a brow. "Marauding seaponies, you say?"
The old stallion nods quickly in return. "Yes! They… They destroyed my boat and tried to devour me whole!"
>>602759 You have no idea whether or not this fellow is speaking the truth. "The empire has never had trouble with seaponies before because they tend to keep to themselves. Did you anger them in some way that caused them to become aggressive?"
The stallion shakes his head fervently. "No milord, I was just fishing for seaweed! No harm done!"
"Say you're speaking the truth, how did you escape from these seaponies?"
"I swam, milord! Swam as fast as I could I did!"
"How many of them were there?"
"Perhaps a dozen or more, it was hard to see. They moved so fast! One bit me!" He shows one of his legs, which does have teethmarks in it.
>>602797 You leave the court hall and ponies behind, leaving the castle. It's late afternoon now. Autumn. Outside temperature is beginning to drop. Bazos bay isn't too far away by flight, about twenty minutes.
>>602799 You set off and arrive at the bay a while later. It appears to be perfectly calm from your perspective. Across the bay you can see the fishing village the stallion must be from. There are a few rocky islands in the bay itself.
>>602803 Well, a few things at least. Seaponies are attracted to light and singing from what you know. They also like to make music themselves. You also know the seaponies have a civilization of their own called Pontlantis, an underwater kingdom somewhere in the sea south of here. You vaguely recall there being several sub-species of seaponies as well, but what exactly these are like you have no idea.
>>602804 Good thing it's getting late then, I can give them light. I'm afraid I can't really sing for it, too. Start breathing tiny bursts of fire into the air, just enough to light the area around me up, but not to set anything on fire.
>>602829 >>602828 Slowly stand up and rise to my full height after you finished hugging my snout, flicking my tail and spreading my wings as I stretch. Look down at you. "I am not putting you on my back when we fly, Marcus, I hope you do know that."
>>602847 No matter how tight you hold on, though, it won't stop me from lifting you off of me and holding you in my claw, forming a safe cage for you. "You won't fall or drop this way. I am sure your father would be most displeased if you were to have an accident while flying with me."
Spring into the air and lift off, hovering above the castle at first.
>>602859 Let out an echoing laugh. "We will make waves." Once I'm above the lake, fly very close to it, close enough that you could reach out with a hoof from between my claws to touch the water… then lower my tail, splitting the water as I fly and stirring up large waves behind us.
>>602889 "With you ponies, the looks can be decieving. If you could have gifted that pony something, you might have given him a toy, because you thought he was a colt. What would a big farmer stallion do with a colt's toy?"
>>602893 "The food he makes is what you eat. What the ponies nearby eat. And if he wants to keep working, he must sell all that food so he can buy tools to make more food he can sell again. Strange, is it not?"
MARCUS You've been in Peneios for a couple of months now. So far, the city has actually been quite nice! The food is great, the city and natural sights are beautiful, not to mention there's a lot of fun stuff going on like theater plays, battle tournaments and other forms of entertainment.
The palace itself is quite interesting too. People from all over pass through here with tales from other parts of the empire. You certainly feel a lot more in touch with the rest of the world here than you did back home. Today is the last day of the week, so court is not being held. The patricians are enjoying their day of rest. What do you want to do?
FLAVIA Marcus has been gone for a few months now. It's certainly weird not having him around anymore at all. You're not sure when you'll get to see him again… but at least today is the last day of the week! That means neither of your parents will be holding court today! No stitching or language lessons for you either on this day.
Still, strangely enough, your father has called you and and your sister to his working office. You're not entirely sure why he would be at work right now.
MEREGHYL >>602811 You open your eyes and focus on the direction the splashing came from. Unfortunately, there's nothing there but a few ripples in the water. It may very well have been a fish for all you know.
On the upside, it's dark out now! You see a few dimmed lights in the distance around the village, but most houses are dark by now.
>>603029 Livia. Your older sister is Anthe. "I don't know, it's pretty windy out today… it could be another kind of surprise though!" You drag her along the halls until you reach the door leading to your father's office. At times when you were called here, it was for your father to berate you in private for doing something bad…
>>603030 You're quite the sleepyhead and your reaction times aren't good enough. You hear splashing from around you again but every time you look at where it came from, there's nothing.
Eventually though, you hear a voice. Singing? Almost whispering the song. It sounds beautiful. A little bit haunting even. Where is it coming from? It's almost as if the water and evening fog is carrying the sound from elsewhere…
>>603031 She has joined the lady to go see a few plays in the past that you know of.
>>603033 You find her in the garden, reading a tome on a bench overlooking the pond. This seems to be a spot she favors to relax in.
>>603034 You glide around the bay and finally spot the source of the singing. A pony, but not quite a pony, resting on one of the rocks sticking out of the water. Her upper body looks exactly like the ponies you've seen on land, but her lower body is completely different, looking like that of a fish.
>>603036 Your twin sister tentatively knocks on the door with a hoof and enters. Your father is sitting at his desk, scribbling away on a piece of parchment with his trusty quill. He looks up momentarily to meet your eyes, then focuses back on his writing. "Girls. Come in. There's something I'd like to discuss with you both."
>>603037 She looks up from her reading and perks up slightly. "I think the rules of court dictate we are to address each other with our titles. But we're not really in court right now, so we can use first names if you're comfortable with that."
>>603038 You can land and perch yourself on the rock, yes.
>>603040 She slowly closes her book and looks at you. She's wearing her light blue toga again. "I do enjoy a good tragic play every now and then. I have no duties to the Doux today so I'm free to."
>>603041 You've heard ponies sing before, from bards and minstrels whom are capable of producing beautiful songs for their audience. This is something else entirely though, it seems to reach out and touch your very soul. You suspect her singing must be magic of sorts, more than just mere music.
She doesn't seem to be stopping either.
>>603042 He lays down his quill and looks at both of you in silence for a moment before starting. "You… both of you. My youngest daughters. According to the laws of our dynasty, you are my last two children in the line of succession. This means you are unlikely to ever become matriarch of our family. Flavia, you were officially 'born' right after your twin sister, so she surpasses you in succession even if it came down to you two. How does that make you feel?"
>>603043 It would be rude for me to interrupt her song. If seaponies do like light, however, I can provide a lightshow. Breath out tiny tongues of flame straight upwards every now and then to the rythm of the song.
You could try making some light again. She did show up last time, but didn't come too close to you.
>>603048 The palace is in the city! So you walk through the streets of the inner city. There's several theaters in the city, so you don't need to walk far. "Fate's Day is as old as the empire itself, the patricians needed it and the empress knew it. I'm glad she decided to organize the week like this."
>>603050 Sure enough, the singing starts up again minutes after. You spot the same seapony lying on a different rock this time elsewhere.
>>603051 "That is right. I study other things as well, but my knowledge on religion is good enough that the lady assigned me as her religious adviser."
>>603053 "There can only be one matriarch per family branch. Even though you are twins, she's been in this world mere minutes longer. This makes her older in the eyes of the succession law. But this will likely never matter, as you have brothers and sisters who are set to inherit my land and position before you."
>>603059 He does. There's a temple keep that falls under his lands with the high priest that runs it being one of his vassals. Said high priest fulfills the role of Ecclesiarch, or in simple terms: religious adviser.
>>603060 "Mereghyl of House Hippoi, why do you wish to speak to me rather than hear my song? Not many dare to speak during our songs." Her voice is very soft and soothing, almost a whisper, yet very clear to hear.
>>603062 He nods. "The Mother is our patron deity. And of our entire theme. You've learned plenty about Her. To join the ranks of Her Church as a priestess is a great deed."
>>603064 "Your patron deity is the Mother herself, correct? Most of thema Agria follows her. Her learnings are very diverse if you compare them to those of Aqualia. Reading and studying is enlightening for the mind, but it should not be all a devout follower does. I go to swim in the sea every evening, even if it is windy or chilly out during the winter months. There's nothing better than feeling the cool water of the sea all around you. I could never imagine living in a place far away from the sea where I couldn't do this."
>>603065 "My name is Neera. What do you seek justice for, Mereghyl?"
>>603069 "I will not hold you responsible if you tell me what exactly happened, yet I cannot speak for the villagers. You must now how wrathful ponies can be when they are faced with something they do not understand."
>>603070 She shakes her head slowly. "Those that attacked are detached and their songs are not ours to hear. Better it be to let their voices be lost in the winds of Aer."
>>603071 You go and observe a tragedy written by a Trotantine scholar from Clopantinople. There's dancing, singing and plain dialogue. Like all plays from this era, this goes on for many hours. Other patricians and even a few plebs are watching it with you. The marble seats are hard, but luckily cushions are provided to make it more comfortable for your butt during all those hours.
>>603073 Hours later, the play comes to an end and wraps up. It's evening now. "That was very good, Marcus. Thank you for taking me along to see it. I admittedly enjoyed your company more than I initially expected."
>>603074 "You cannot reach out to them. They live far and deep. Do not attempt to track them down, Mereghyl. A creature of Ignis will only find death in Aqualia's domain. Return to your house. Inform the ponies. Take precautions and defend if they come for you again."
>>603079 She smiles. "I've seen them at times… heard their songs as well. Some people from the inland tell tales of them being aggressive, but they are not. They are kind and beautiful creatures, blessed by Aqualia. Unfortunately, they're also fairly reclusive."
>>603080 "We cannot help you. Our plight lies elsewhere at this time."
>>603082 "They're attracted to light at night… and they love hearing singing as much as singing themselves. Sometimes they will approach swimming ponies as well, though most often they keep their distance. If they sense danger, they will flee quickly… I think they're just very pacifistic." She sighs wistfully. "I did speak with one of them once while I was enjoying the sea."
>>603083 "We have not tried to reason with them. And we do not try to understand them, lest we be corrupted ourselves. They have returned to their lair now, hidden deep beneath the waves. I hope they will stay there."
>>603086 "It was quite the experience for someone who studies Aqualia. It's not unheard of at all for them to interact with us land ponies, but it's not something they do often. We spoke for a little, I asked some questions and so did she, then she left again. That was a few months ago… Hm, the day you arrived here if I recall correctly."
You've left the city limits by now and arrive at a small rocky beach. It's fall now, so it's not as warm as it would be during summer, but still very pleasant. The sun is setting, bathing the sea in a brilliant display of orange and red colors.
>>603063 "I know that father!" Gasp surprised, my eyes wandering wildly as if still trying to understand the situation. "There's so much I've learnt about the Mother, so much I've seen and read about!"
>>603088 Livia looks a little dazed. "Does… this mean we're going to have to leave you guys behind as well to go to a temple somewhere?"
Your father shakes his head. "Don't worry about it for now, girls. You can only officially enter priesthood at the age of 16, which is years away from now. Your mother and I feel it would be a good move for the family to dedicate some of us to the Church, that's all."
>>603089 "I cannot ask anything in return for something I cannot do. I cannot help you, not today. The creator may help you one day, but that day is not today."
>>603090 She loosens her toga and takes it off, dropping it on the rocks. "Well… I hope I get to speak to her and her kind again some day. And I hope you will get the chance to as well."
>>603092 She chuckles as she starts to walk into the water, splashing into it with her hooves. "Well… not really. But it is really expansive, I'll give you that. There's whole other nations beyond this sea."
>>603093 "Farewell, Mereghyl of House Hippoi. May the tides be favorable to you."
>>603094 He frowns. "We're all children of the mother, Flavia. To gain the Mother's favor we must first show our devotion to her."
>>603096 The water is pleasantly cool, but not too cold yet. The seabreeze is truly something else, however. It feels like something you've been missing out on all your life further inland. You feel like this is something you could do more often to refresh yourself.
Athanasia dips her head underwater for a moment, then surfaces again, running a hoof through her wet mane. "If this isn't divine, I don't know what is."
>>603097 You return home with your experience with the seapony, sharing it with the lord and informing him of your findings. Ultimately, he feels there is little to be done about the issue except for increasing naval activity around the area to safeguard the coast. You don't think this is the last you'll see of Neera and her kind at all.
End of chapter. Start another?
>>603098 He nods slowly. "Yes. But they won't be on stitching or painting."
>>603100 "Yes, that's what I said. If you two show promise in a few years… I think we can stand to have two priestesses in the family. Don't worry too much about it yet, we won't be sending you away anywhere at this time. You're far too young."
>>603105 She's fairly good looking, those that follow Aqualia value beauty after all, though she's a few years older than you are. Maybe your brain just needs to shut up. "Huh… thinking about priesthood for Aqualia already after just a few hours with me?"
>>603106 Of course not. You should check the castle's garden for her perhaps.
>>603107 "I… guess? I mean it's nature, it can't be bad! She's the mother!"
>>603109 "For now? Just keep following your lessons dutifully. The rest will come in time. Now, go play and enjoy your day off, girls."
>>603110 Your dick then! "Well, you'd be throwing away a lot. You're quite lucky as an heir to your father's position, you know. Not saying it's easy, being a lord or lady… I've observed the Doux enough to know that."
>>603111 Unsurprisingly, she's lazing around on the grass. She opens one eye as she hears your approach. "There you are, I thought you had gone off to nap instead!"
>>603118 "You still have to listen to him, he's the lord of the castle, not you! Now pick me up, I want to go flying."
>>603119 She nods. "Legend goes that their labyrinth cities used to be there as a prison to them put there by lord Discord, but over time they learned how to navigate through the mazes like nopony else."
>>603121 She frowns. "I'm still a lady! The lord's eldest daughter!"
>>603122 "A little imposing, as you might expect. There's something unsettling about their size. I mean… I suppose it's more of a natural fright instinct of sorts, but I felt on edge the first few days. I got used to it afterwards though. They're good people."
>>603139 Whoever said you couldn't sing? Despite your adolescence, you have a surprising control over your voice and manage to begin singing that familiar song without stumbling or voicecracking even once. You surprise Athanasia so much that she completely forgets to join in. But that's fine, your voice alone is good enough to be carried across the sea. Eventually the song ends and your female companion looks pretty impressed. "Marcus… wow."
Before you can respond, you hear a song in response carried by the waves on the water. A beautiful female voice singing a strangely haunting song. A feeling of warmth and happiness seems to well up from deep inside you and your heart flutters. This music is definitely magical. Athanasia's ears twitch, but listen attentively to the song.
>>603141 "More power than you do, you overgrown lizard!"
>>603147 "Seaponies are capable of creating fog above the sea and other bodies of water, just like how pegasi can manipulate clouds in the sky…" The fog reaches you and surrounds you both, not allowing you to see further than a few meters. You hear splashing water nearby. The singing hasn't stopped yet.
>>603148 "You foul creature! If I fall down from here and get hurt you are going to be in a world of trouble!"
>>603150 She smiles slightly. "It's just a bit of fog, Marcus. Calm down."
The song goes on for a little while longer before ending. As it stops, the head of a pony surfaces out of the water a few meters ahead of you. The pony's face looks just like any other land pony. Her features are gorgeous. She smiles at you but doesn't speak.
>>603151 "You are going to be in so much trouble once I get down! I'll tell everypony!"
>>603156 "That's not true! This monster put me up here and refuses to help me back down! You there!" She points at the only pegasus among the guards. "Get me back down right now! This is dangerous!"
The pegasus complies and flutters over to where she is…
>>603157 She comes closer, treading into the more shallow waters. You clearly see that while her top looks anatomically like that of a pony, her lower body looks like that of a fish! "My name is Celye. I heard your beautiful song as well. I felt compelled to answer."
>>603170 "We don't always hear the songs of land ponies being sung, but I was swimming nearby and could not resist singing back to you. You were lucky I was in the area, Marcus. Or perhaps Aqualia simply favors you."
>>603184 With that, she slowly sinks underwater before disappearing from sight, leaving you and Athanasia behind as the fog begins to drift apart. "… It leaves quite the impression on you, doesn't it?"
>>603190 "It… could be. It's not always immediately clear to us what the gods are planning or expecting from us. If this was orchestrated by Aqualia, I'm not sure what her reasoning for it is. Perhaps we are yet to see it. Or perhaps it was mere coincidence and luck after all."
>>603200 "I'm not a priestess, Marcus. But yes, I have done some research on it. The seaponies have an underwater kingdom known to us as Pontlantis. They don't actually speak Imperial as their first language either. My knowledge of Pontlantic is limited to only basic vocabulary, unfortunately, no land pony alive today is fluent in their language. As you've noticed though, the sea ponies that venture outside their kingdom know our language quite well. I can't say I know how many seaponies there are living in this underwater kingdom these days and how many of those never venture outside of it." She sighs. "There used to be a academy… in the Skyrosian archipelago. They studied sea pony culture and documented it in detail over many years. Everything from their language to their biology was recorded there and written down. Unfortunately, this academy and all its records were completely destroyed almost 400 years ago during a conflict between Skyros, the Trotantine Trade League and Saddle-Arabia."
FLAVIA >>603117 When we end this part, we will forward a few years to your first days as a priestess.
MARCUS The year is 292. You've been in Peneios for three years now, learning the ropes of being a proper patrician at court. It's springtime and the Doux has funded the organization of a fair in the city! There's even more music being played and performances being shown. Acrobats, circuses, magicians, people from all over are visiting the city! The harbor is packed with docked ships and the streets are exceedingly busy.
>>603207 Your cousin is doing other things. As for guards, depends where you go. The Inner city doesn't require you to bring along guards, you're old enough now. The fair is spread around the inner and outer city as well as the merchants quarter.
>>603208 "It's not easy, Flavia! You know how much they need to study and stuff!"
>>603213 The outer city, where many plebeian citizens live, has been decorated with all kinds of colors. Flags, streamers and candles brighten up the place even more than usual. There are street performers all over, some juggling, others breathing fire, others making tamed bears dance, it's extravagant! There aren't just ponies here either. Minotaurs, goats, zebras, donkies, griffons… just about every race on the continent and beyond you know of!
>>603214 Her face brightens up. "… If you say so!"
>>603215 I've heard zebras are all thieves! And Goats are all crazy. Anything that would catch my interest? Like a fortune teller or some special magical act going on? Mereghyl can breath fire better than these plebs and jugglers and tamed bears I've certainly seen before.
>>603216 >>603217 "Let's do our best as well, I don't want to disappoint mother nature!" Very well. End of chapter. The twins begin their paths to their destiny.
Five years later…
The year is 294. You and your sister have turned 14 a few months ago and have been steadily working your way further on the path of becoming a priestess during the last few years. Both of you have shown enough promise to be inaugurated into the Church of the Mother as priestesses. Now that you're fourteen, you're old enough to officially become a priestess. Though you've made great strides, the path ahead of you is still long.
You and your twin sister have joined your brother Niphon on a trip to Cantria, where you will be initiated, the final step before becoming a priestess of the Mother!
You and Livia are in a carriage being pulled. You can see the walls of Cantria approaching rapidly in the distance. Your older brother is trotting along next to your carriage.
>>603218 Fortune tellers are definitely around, you can visit one if you so desire.
>>603220 You enter a circular red tent where a fortune teller has set up shop. Your guard waits at the entrance without saying a word. Seems like she doesn't care enough to follow you in without being asked.
Inside the tent it's fairly dark. Several candles are lit here and there's incense burning. An elderly donkey jenny wearing red robes sits at a round table with a red orb on top of it.
>>603221 Your sister smiles a little. She's wearing a set of robes just like you. Over the years you've outshined her on most subjects of faith. She has grown more introverted during this time. Your brother Niphon on the other hand, has only gained confidence and turned into a competent military strategist.
>>603229 "I don't actually think I'm allowed to witness the initiation. It's only the two of you and probably a really boring old guy." He lets out a laugh. "Can't say I envy you there."
>>603230 "Hmmmm… hmmm…" She moves her hooves over the red orb quickly, then reaches under her table and procures a mysterious black box with magically glowing runes carved into it! This must be some kind of a powerful magic tool!
She holds the box out to you and… shakes it. There's coins inside. … It's just a money box. "For as little as ten denarii… I will predict your fate and future! Your destiny for ten denarii!"
>>603235 You're in the plebeian district right now. The plebs that can afford to buy a house in the city itself live here. There's all kinds of activity going on, storekeeps are selling their wares on the streets, children are playing their games and some ponies are leaving behind small sacrifices to Mother Nature on their doorsteps. It's Priest's day after all!
>>603236 "I see… fields of wheat. I see… a seapony. I see… dragon fire. I see… a hoofprints on the road."
>>603244 She cackles dramatically again, throwing down what seems to be a small smoke bomb on the ground for effect. "Lord Ignis knows all, master Hippoi! Your affinity with Lady Aqualia is strong! You carry… a small artifact aligned to her! I can sense her influence!"
>>603245 She scrunches. "I've heard about Cantria though. It's a busy city and some parts are unsafe!"
>>603251 The carriage eventually stops as it arrives at the temple of the Mother. It's a fairly large building, surrounded by a big garden. The temple itself has vines snaking along the walls. The roof is shaped as a large white dome.
>>603253 "Lord Ignis has spoken!" She throws down a smoke bomb again and coughs.
>>603254 He gives you a winning smile. "Of course. Come on then." He takes the lead and follows the path through the garden. Your guards stay behind. Livia looks to you, then follows her brother through the garden.
>>603256 There's all kinds of flowers and plants here, the various scents assaulting your nose too quickly to discern them all. At the end of the path, your brother stops and turns to you, gesturing at the large entrance doors to the temple. "This is my stop, girls. Have fun in there! I'll be out here in the city… doing stuff."
>>603257 She wordlessly falls in line behind you as you walk further through the fair. You know your family has had bastard 'members' in the past… but as far as you know none are alive anymore today.
>>603258 What do fortune tellers know anyway? And even if she was the real deal, she listens to Ignis, Ignis and Aqualia don't see eye to eye. It might all be a trick. No I have to trust in what I know. Calm down a bit and look around the fair more.
>>603259 Livia hugs him as well. "Be sure to behave in there. I don't want to be hearing any complaints about uncourtly behavior, you hear me?" He grins and winks.
>>603260 You pass through a particularly busy street, nearly bumping into a few ponies as you go. As you look behind you to make sure your guard didn't lose you in the crowd, you are suddenly shoved aside as a young gryphon dives into you from the sky and grabs your coin purse! With a few powerful flaps of his wings, he immediately takes flight again… only to be tackled by another gryphon a few meters above the ground. The thief gryphon loses control and crashes into the side of a building. As he hits the ground, the gryphon hen is immediately on him, pinning him down. "You little rat, what do you think you're doing? Stealing in broad daylight? You think you're slick?" the hen taunts at him with a noticeable accent.
NOLIN The year is 290 UE. You celebrated your 13th birthday mere weeks ago and are now on a ship headed for the city of Peneios, capital of Thema Peneia. Your cousin Marcus has been staying there for a year now and today it's your turn to join him. You left from Cantria a few days before and are now closing in on your destination. You were lucky enough to hitch a ride on a vessel of the imperial navy heading for Peneia.
It's evening and dark out. There's thousands of lights in the distance belonging to the city, the brightest one being from the lighthouse guiding the ship into the harbor. The captain shouts some orders, the sails being lowered to bleed off speed while the oars slow down as well. You'll be there soon… to meet your cousin.
MARCUS You've been in Peneios for a year now. Today is a special day though, you've received news that your cousin, Nolin, is on his way here and will be arriving somewhere this evening. Perhaps you should go wait for him at the harbor! You don't know him that well and it's been a while since you last saw him, but he's still family!
>>603725 It's dark out already. You take one of the guards assigned to you with you. You know there will be more at the harbor to meet your cousin. Aeolia will be there as well, one of the Doux' ladies-in-waiting. You haven't spoken much to her thusfar, because she has a tendency to disappear for weeks at a time.
By the time you get there, there's a galley belonging to the imperial navy pulling into the harbor already. Aeolia is here with a few guards, one of them pulling a cart. She nods at you as you approach. The oars are raised and the ship docks and soon enough some of its crew begin leaving the vessel.
>>603726 You pull into the massive harbor of the city, there's ships everywhere, most of them look like they're merchant vessels. The oars are raised and you make your approach on one of the docks. You recognize your cousin standing together with a few guards and another patrician lady.
The captain pats you on the back. "Peneios, city of arts and poison. End of the line, little lord."
>>603731 >>603732 She bows her head slightly. She's wearing a very dark blue hooded robe. "Doux Hypatia sent me to welcome you to Peneios. I hope your journey was pleasant." She makes a gesture to the guards, who promptly load your baggage onto a cart.
>>603743 >>603744 Palace, not castle. You follow the guards and the lady through the city back to the palace. The city streets are still fairly busy despite it being so late. There's still music being played on many of the street corners you pass. By the time you reach the palace, there's several tunes stuck in your head.
The palace itself reminds you of Prokopios', Nolin's father, villa, except far, far grander and more extravagant. The Doux has several more estates like these, but likes this one best because she thinks it's small and cozy.
>>603752 It's very impressive, no doubt set up exactly like this to impress any visitors, a common theme in Trotantine politics. You're fairly sure that this room alone is about as expensive as most of your villa.
>>603754 >>603755 Aeolia has disappeared, you're not sure how she managed to do that, but you head off into town nonetheless. Tomorrow is Fate's day - the last day of the week - anyway. Marcus brings you to Taverna Kryptos, a typical tavern where they serve everything from red wine to brown ale. Not a very patrician thing to do, but it's not like you're easy to spot between all the merchants wearing their garish and expensive clothing.
There's music in the tavern, a few ponies are playing their instruments out front.
>>603757 She's a mysterious mare, I'll have to try to get to know her. Well.. its fine as long as we don't make trouble I'm sure. Find a neat seat for us. >>603756 "So, any mare in particular got your eye?"
>>603758 You settle down for a seat near the window overlooking the harbor in the distance. Quite the view on the sea from here.
>>603759 You know this tavern deals in pleasure mares, or stallions if that's your thing, for its patrons if they so desire. Prostitutes are pretty ambiguous sometimes, because they also act as serving girls, artists and musicians aside from their companionship. This is a fairly upper class tavern, so these pleasure mares won't come bother you unless you want them to. You could ask one of the serving girls…
>>603773 "I think I'd know if it were business trips, they are usually well known around the palace. But nopony seems to know where she goes. I think she takes interest in more covert things. Or so I think."
>>603775 It's feta cheese, of course. Very tasty! The wine is fairly vicious though, that's some really strong stuff! You recall your father once telling you about how the Peneians love to mix small traces of poison into their food and drinks to give it some extra kick.
>>603792 You wake up with a mild hangover in the morning as a pair of servants enter your room and open the curtains. At least the unpleasant bowel activities have ceased…
The sun is shining outside, you slept in somewhat late it seems. One of the servants walks over with your toga, ready to help you put it on.
>>603791 You too are awoken by servants entering your room to do their work. No work for you today though, it's Fate's Day! You don't feel too bad either after the drinking from the night before. You're really getting used to the local cuisine.
>>603795 You put on a nice and clean toga with the aid of the servants. Feels good!
>>603796 The servants give you a look. "There… may be, my lord." Coffee is seen as a fairly exotic drink. It's very popular in Saddle-Arabia and Pursia, but less so here because it's seen as a bit of a barbarian drink.
>>603810 You head on down to the dining hall. From the looks of it, there was a intense breakfast session held here earlier. There's still plenty of food for you left though! Aside from yourself, there's only one other patrician here, a stallion busying himself with lewdly fondling one of the servants.
True to their word, there's warm herbal tea here in a jug. Ponies tend to drink this stuff mostly because they want something to soothe their headaches after a night of heavy wine usage. It tastes good though!
>>603818 You head out to the solarium. As the name implies this room is designed to let in as much sunlight as possible, meaning it's very open. There's a small swimming pool in here as well, no doubt not the only one around here. A few ponies are busy swimming and enjoying the cool water under the sunlight. None of the ponies here are wearing clothing, because it is fairly warm in here.
The Doux is easy enough to recognize thanks to the golden headband she wears - not quite a crown, but still an indication of rank and power - she's relaxing on a reclining couch. Aeolia is here as well, along with another mare Marcus recognizes as Athanasia, keeping the Doux company and chattering away. Seems like they've already started drinking wine.
The mares stop chatting and the Doux regards you from tip to toe. "Well, there's certainly a resemblance between you and your cousin." She gestures at a set of cushions lying on the ground and signals a servant to come over with wine for the two of you. "Make yourself comfortable. The two of you were out and about late last night from what I hear. I should also welcome you to my humble palace, I hope you like the room you were given."
>>603825 You push the doors open and enter the old temple. Inside, the flowery scent persists, perhaps even stronger than outside! The interior is pretty strange, the walls are rough and look like they're made entirely from tree bark, though you're fairly sure that's not actually the case and that it was just shaped to look that way. There are rows of wooden benches lined up along the west side of the room. To the east you see an altar, but this room is so spacious that it's actually a small walk to get over there. You know the positioning of the altar is traditionally on the east side of temples because that is where the Sun rises in the morning, allowing light to pour in from the windows behind the altar. You also notice there's a row of windows running along the ceiling, following the path of the Sun and Moon as they pass over during the day and night.
The floor is fairly rough as well, it almost looks like they just kept the original natural stone ground and built a temple on top of it, which is entirely possible for all you know. What's surprising to you is that nobody seems to be here right now, normally temples are packed with religious attendees on Priest's day. "W-Where is everypony?"
>>603830 "I almost feel a little intimidated though with all these Hippoi's around. I'd almost started to suspect this is a sinister plot of sorts to overtake my domain." She picks an apple from a nearby bowl of fruit and takes a slow bite from it.
>>603833 >>603832 She glances at another mare, Athanasia, who just raises a amused brow at the two of you as Nolin scoots closer together. "Aren't they the most adorable cousins you ever saw, Athanasia? Perhaps they hope to dazzle me and catch me off guard." "My lady, you'll give the poor boy a fright." "Nonsense, if he is half as smart as Marcus is, he'll know better than to pay any heed to my ramblings." Hm. You think she may just be slightly drunk. She focuses on Nolin again. "How old are you, boy?"
>>603834 There's a few birds in here, flitting around. You also hear the sounds of skittering insects and see a salamander flee at the sight of you.
>>603836 She looks around, a little uneasy. "This is strange. Did we come to the right temple? Or are we too early?"
The altar is an impressively detailed slab of marble, decorated with all kinds of intricate patterns and engravings. There's a few items lying on top of it: a cup, a ceremonial dagger and a piece of parchment.
>>603838 "Thirteen? You seem mature for your age… appears to be a common theme among the Hippoi's I have met thusfar."
Aeolia mumbles something incomprehensible at your compliment as the Doux continues on eating her apple. Athanasia giggles in response. "What are you hoping to learn here in Peneios, Nolin? Matters of court like your cousin?"
>>603839 "Actually i'm more interested in learning the on-goings of trade and business. Court manners certainly are nice, and I'm certain I will pick up more than a few, but I feel I should be more practical.. besides I don't mean to overwhelm your court with hippoi charms." Smile and sip the wine.
>>603840 "Ah… of course not. Well, Peneios is one of the most important trading hubs in the empire, only surpassed by Clopantinople. If it's matters of trade you wish to learn, this is a good place to do so. Your father… he is lord Hippoi's mystikos, is he not? I expect he wants at least one of his children to follow in his hooftsteps." Note: mystikos is a title given to someone in charge of matters of intrigue, also known as the spymaster.
>>603842 "Livia! It's a test!" Look excited, and pick up the ritual knife, wondering how to best hold it. Just to try, press the flat part of the blade against my hoof, to feel it's cold. "We must spill our life essence into the cup! Our blood!"
>>603846 Smile at her, taking her hoof. "The path ahead of us will appear." Cut my own hoof, only a bit, wincing at the blade's touch. "Hold still now." In the same fashion, hold Livia's hoof down and prick it with the blade, finally letting the fluids drop into the goblet.
>>603849 >>603850 Athanasia shrugs. "I don't know, I was just thinking out loud I suppose." She winks at Marcus.
The Doux finishes her apple and throws away the core. "In any case, you'll be educated well here in Peneia. We'll see about where your strengths lie and continue on from there. We will do our best to be a good host for you Agrians."
>>603848 "Ow!" A few trickles of her blood drop into the goblet. Nothing seems to happen for a moment, until the engravings in the altar begin to glow faintly. "Wow… you were right, something's happening!" Before you can respond, you are suddenly both enveloped by darkness and continue to black out completely, slipping out of consciousness.
You 'awaken' after an unknown amount of time and open your eyes. You're lying on the ground.
Your clothing and belongings are gone.
The altar is gone.
The temple is gone.
You're in the middle of… nature. A forest clearing to be precise. Where you are and how you got here, you have no idea. There's a babbling brook somewhere nearby by the sounds of it, which is good because you're parched for some reason. Your twin sister is nowhere in sight.
>>603852 Your shouting your own name? Either way, no answer is heard. Nopony to be seen at the brook running down the hill you're on either. Just… trees and trees everywhere you look.
>>603853 None of them are particularly beautiful, but they're certainly not bad looking either. Their manes are well kept and styled, as is expected from patrician ladies. As mentioned before, none of them are clothed because of the heat.
The Doux chuckles. "You're a charmer, Nolin Hippoi. Being around charmers while drinking wine is a recipe for things to come around me."
>>603855 You follow the brook downhill until you begin to hear the sound of music. It sounds like… a lyre being played. Somewhere to the east of you.
>>603856 >>603857 "Well boys… we won't bore you too much with our mindless talk. Today is your day off, so I won't keep you from spending it however you wish. Because today is also the last Adomideis of this Summer as well, there will be a grand feast tonight with lords and ladies from all over Peneia coming over to celebrate. Be sure to save some appetite for then, because food will be gratuitous after the successful harvest this year. And try not to tire yourself out too much if you choose to join the orgy tonight." She chuckles and sips from her wine while Athanasia coughs awkwardly.
>>603864 You run in the direction of the music and reach a clearing where you can see the source. What must be one of the most gorgeous mares you've ever seen is sitting under a tree, playing a golden lyre. You've never seen her before, but you immediately sense this is by no means a normal pony. This creature is clearly a dryad, a spirit of nature often compared to Aqualia's seaponies, yet far more powerful than said sea dwelling ponies are. They're known to various other religions as well, each of them having their own take on these tree spirits.
They're a very rare sight because they tend to live in remote natural places and don't seek out ponies on their own.
>>603865 >>603866 I can stretch this part out some more if you guys wish, or do as Sion said.
>>604449 "It's in the whispers of the trees around us, in the wind blowing on my coat, in the notes of your lyre. This is the Mother's domain, the place closest to Her." Find the strength to look back up, admiring the dryad's features.
>>604450 "Hmmm, but isn't the whole world Her domain? She made it. She made everything. To those who truly know Her domain, her influence can be felt from the deepest ocean trenches to the highest mountain peaks. But you are not wrong, this place is more special than others." She actually looks very much like a normal pony, young and beautiful, just like how dryads were always described to you. Aside from her lyre, all she has on her is a laurel wreath resting on top of her head. While her physical attributes could make you mistake her for a normal pony, she has a certain aura to her which alerts all your senses that this is no mere pony.
Dryads are immortal in the sense that they simply don't age, yet they are still susceptible to death in various other forms.
>>604451 She flexes her talons and keeps her gaze locked on you. Those are some keen looking eyes. "Continue."
>>604461 Bits don't exist. The coin used in the empire is called the denarius, denarii in plural. These coins are made of silver and sometimes just referred to as 'silvers'.
Either way, it depends. The guard who was accompanying you has a wage of about 50 silvers a month.
>>604460 She gets up from her seating position under the tree and approaches you. "I could tell and show you many things, Flavia, but I fear all that must wait. You will come to learn more in time. For now, I must admit to you the reason I brought you here. The land you live in is in grave danger."
>>604481 "I feel you will be important to the integrity of the empire's church in the future to come. I cannot say for sure what has caused this… unrest or who exactly is involved, but I can sense it brooding. It is as clear as day to me. For now, I cannot expect you alone to put an end to this, but I wanted to make you aware of it. We do not usually interfere with the politics of ponies, but something about this particular case fills me with dread. Tread carefully, Flavia."
>>604482 "In a crowd of ponies? There are thieves lurking everywhere. You were lucky this one was so bold to make himself seen." She considers you for a moment. "And maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Do you not trust your own guards anymore? You Trotantines have a tendency not to."
>>604492 You're not sure what to make of her. She's a foreigner of course, and you're not that familiar with gryphons and their culture at your age. You do think she has a strong liking to money though. "Nothing wrong with an economical mindset. Who are you exactly?"
>>604495 "There is, if that mindset means one does just enough to get paid just enough to eat this month and get booze after hours. I'm more interested in someone who can give it their all and is well payed for that. My name is Marcus Hippoi."
It has been three years. Four years after you first set hoof here in Peneia. During this time you've been educated by several people in matters ranging from court politics to combat. Sensing your talents for the intrigue and psychology, your guardians have since been focusing their efforts on improving them.
Aeolia, as it turns out, is not actually the Doux' spymaster. As far as you can gather, she is involved in foreign affairs but you're not entirely clear on what this exactly entails.
In any case, you have been summoned by the actual spymaster today, who has been one of the driving forces behind your education for the past few years. You are expected in the council room immediately. Better hurry!
>>604496 "I am not the one who requires prayer. Not unless this corruption takes root. But I trust in you, Flavia Hippoi. I know I have made the right choice with you. All I ask of you is to never lose sight of the path you walk. Walking blindly is a dangerous thing to do indeed, rocks and gaps are plentiful on life's road."
>>604498 She considers your words for a moment before speaking further. "Where are you from, Hippoi? Not from Peneia, I can hear that much."
>>606253 "Then you are ready to move on and return to your sister. You will be trained in the way of the priest in the following years. Pay close attention to the lessons you will be taught, they will be crucial if you wish to survive the dangerous game your kind so enjoys."
>>606255 The front door just so happens to remain the quickest way to enter a room!
You knock and enter. The spymaster is a middle-aged earth pony stallion. An unlanded noble from the Doux' court who has been in the position for quite some time now. Despite his lack of lands, he is quite wealthy thanks to the generous contributions from lady Toxias. That wealth does not stay with him of course, the rumors surrounding the number of ponies on his payroll are staggering. "Nolin, come in. And close the door."
>>606256 "A lordling from Agria at that… So, you're expecting me to leave the city of Peneios behind and follow you to that collection of farms for a bit of coin?"
>>606261 She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then reaches out with a hoof to touch your forehead.
With a start, you immediately find yourself back in the temple, standing behind the altar just like before. Your sister is here as well, she's looking at you curiously. "… Well? How was it?"
You notice there are a few other ponies wearing robes here as well now. Priests. One you even recognize as a High Priest. You know there is a land-owning High Priest who is a vassal to the Agrian Doux like your father, so you assume that pony must be it.
>>606265 "Please, go ahead and sit. I'll jump straight to the point, what do you know about Skyros?" Roll knowledge check if you want to know. d20+INT modifier.
>>606271 You know it used to be an independent citystate located in an archipelago to the southeast. You know it was conquered by the Saddle-Arabians after the caliphate inflicted a crushing defeat on the Peneians and their allies who were protecting Skyros back before the empire was formed.
And you know that following a large rebellion, Skyros became an independent emirate from the Saddle-Arabian caliphate some years back.
>>606272 She smiles at you. "You passed the test as well then, great!"
The High Priest steps forward. "So we have sensed. So we have judged. Congratulations, both of you. Starting today, you are priestesses in training. If the Mother wills it, both of you will become part of the next generation of servants in our Church. You will take the vows and live the life of devoted disciples of Mother Nature."
>>606275 "Before I do, let me make it crystal clear that I'm not going to be wiping your ass and milording you whenever you ask something. I can watch your back, but don't think I'll be a slave to some pony lord like yourself. If you don't like this, then tough luck."
>>606276 "Yes they have. Not quite the ally they used to be, but they're no longer in Arabian chains. We've begun trading with them again since a few months ago and there's a trade convoy expected to arrive here in port tonight."
>>606278 "Yes, well, the Doux is interested in bringing Skyros back into the fold. Before the empire was formed, Peneia was one of the driving forces behind the Trotantine Trade League after all. We failed to protect our partner back then, so we feel bringing them under imperial control would be a wise move to protect them from the Caliphate. I'm certain the Empress would agree as well.
That's why I called you here. We have reason to believe that the Skyrosians are pouring all their resources into rebuilding their navy. If they manage to do this, it may become harder for us to… persuade them to swear fealty to the Doux in the future. So, what I would ask of you is to infiltrate the flagship of this trade convoy and find their business ledger where they keep track of transactions. If our suspicions are correct, we would see a very noticeable increase in recent timber purchases."
>>606279 "Good. Then I think we can have an agreement, Hippoi."
>>606284 With a powerful flap of her wings, she takes to the air. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Try not to make me regret this, Hippoi. I usually don't work for ponies."
>>606285 He keeps looking you in the eye for a moment longer, then gets up and walks over to a cabinet. "As I said, the Doux wishes to return them to the fold. As her spymaster, it is my job to keep tabs on any threats that may complicate Peneian interests. If you are successful in this endeavor, I can brief her on the subject."
>>606294 "I myself will tutor you for the coming months. I am told you are quite bright, so I will personally do all I can to unlock your full potential. When the time comes, you will return home as a learned mare. Of course, even after your time here ends you will need to continue to learn more, such is the plight of a priestess."
>>607298 Turn to Livia with a large, hopeful, but kind of shy smile, looking back and forth from her hooves to her eyes. "Livia, I…" Hug her. Just give her a quick, hasty hug, whispering in her ear. "Be safe up there."
>>607305 She takes a deep breath, then walks off after the other priests, leaving you alone in the room.
Your twin sister leaves the city of Cantria soon after. After a final meeting with your brother Niphon, he returns home as well. For months, you are personally tutored by the high priest while keeping in touch with Livia. The days are long and not easy, but the letters coming your way from your sister and the occasional visit from your father does a lot to ease up the experience.
Eventually, the high priest deems you worthy of the full title of priest and releases you from discipleship. Your return home to reunite with your family soon after, though you know your struggles are far from over. Weeks after your arrival at home, your sister returns a priestess as well.
It's been a while, a few years in fact. Time goes by fast when you're enjoying yourself and the four years you've spent here seem to have flown by. You've learned a lot about courtly life so far, meeting many ponies along the way. You've even managed to win over Karabi, your foreign gryphon bodyguard. Though there are still many things unknown to you surrounding her.
The palace is buzzing with activity today, there's supposedly a very important guest arriving later today and tonight marks the end of the harvest season which will be celebrated with a fancy ball. You've just had breakfast, served in bed no less. Best to get dressed for the day!
>>613667 This was something on very short notice it seems, which isn't too unusual. The maid who brought you breakfast said something about it, but it was clear she only heard it through rumors. You can ask someone who's up-to-date on the matter though. The Doux herself could no doubt tell you, or one of her lady-in-waitings. The postmaster, commander of the guards, steward or one of the other nobles could probably tell you more as well.
>>613669 Athanasia. It's been a while. You find her in her personal study in the west wing of the palace. She doesn't notice you enter, as she's hunched over her desk busily writing away in a large tome with a blue quill.
>>613675 She snaps her attention from the book to you. "Oh Marcus. I didn't hear you enter!" She glances over at one of the windows in her study, sunlight piercing through a crack in the curtains. "… Good morning." Her eyes are pretty bloodshot.
>>613679 "It's my duty as a scientist to spread my knowledge." She puts the quill down and steps away carefully from the book. "Maybe I'm a little too zealous about it at times, but I find it easy to get drawn in completely by my work."
>>613700 You don't know a whole lot about him actually. As a stallion he's pretty far down the succession line so it's very unlikely he'll ever be crowned emperor. You know he's in his midtwenties and still single, but has already proven to be a fairly successful navy commander.
>>613704 She grabs your head and directs it to a painting hanging on the wall behind you. It's a portrait of an earth pony filly, no older than twelve. Her eyes betray a youthful mischievousness and she's wearing a large grin on her face. Below the painting, a small plaque reads Hypatia Toxias. The doux of Peneia.
>>613715 "Let's leave our cards open. Karabi, when the Prince arrives, I'd like you to be at the docks. Try to see what he's bringing with him. If he's here to impress, I'm sure he'll be bringing gifts."
>>613717 "Directly approaching the Doux might make her suspicious. I'll go take a look around to see what is planned for the Prince's arrival. Before we can plan anything, we need to know our options. And then act quick."
>>613720 The ball itself will take place in the ball room and court hall, which are situated next to each other. The doux has ordered an extravagant amount of food be prepared for the feast as well as a whole host of performers and artists. Security will be doubled as well as a precaution to the prince's visit and the arrival of various Peneian lords and ladies to the capital. The number of attendees is expected to be well over a hundred, not counting bodyguards or other retinues.
>>613724 You've spoken to the lord on occasion before and you always found his mannerisms very strange. He's an older stallion, older than your own father, tall and lithe. The lord always wears yellow, whether it be a toga or more ceremonial robes. From what you understand he disliked his late wife in the times before she passed away. It was a mutual dislike, built on thousands of little disagreements ranging from rulership to the ideal temperature of the pool. Despite his peculiarisms, he and his daughter get along splendidly.
The lord is standing in the middle of the ballroom, surrounded by servants busily preparing the room with decorations and cleaning products. His eyes are closed as you approach him and he makes a gesture asking you to stop. "Shhh, shhh, shhh…"
>>613727 He takes a deep breath and stays still for a moment, then opens his eyes, looking to a few servants working together to put up banners on the wall. "No, no, NO! The aura is all wrong! And that smell! That PUTRID smell! What is that, roses? Wash the smell out! I don't want any stinking ROSE smell in this ballroom!"
The servants look at each other exasperated and begin taking down the offending banner.
>>613731 "The party was planned weeks ago. But that PRINCE! Ugh! He changes everything! His presence requires a totally different aura to be present here! My poor daughter must be beyond despair from all the stress! She probably needs all the aid and support she can get right now!"
Somehow you don't think that's the case at all given how you were told she's sunbathing outside.
It's been five years since Marcus left home… You're beginning to really miss him. Though from what you understand he appears to be enjoying himself in Peneia. It won't be much longer until he returns home.
The lord has asked your presence on the courtyard, so you've been waiting there on his arrival. He doesn't make you wait very long as he approaches you flanked by two guards.
>>613738 "There's been troubling reports coming in from up north. An old cemetery dating from before the empire is said to be experiencing supernatural activities, however there are also rumors that graverobbers are at work there. Whatever it may be, it's causing unrest and I can't have that. The graves of our ancestors cannot be defiled without punishment."
>>613740 "It's located about thirty minutes north of here by flight, so you'll be there quick. If these are indeed graverobbers and they refuse to be detained, burn them until they do." You know the cemetery's location, you've flown over it on occasion throughout the years. It's pretty desolate though.
>>613742 You fly up and away, leaving the castle behind you as a tiny speck in the distance.
About half an hour later, you spot the graveyard below you and start to make your descent. The graveyard is surrounded by a rusty metal fence and has a small temple accompanying it. The temple is pretty ruined though, clearly decayed over the years without maintenance.
Note: It's evening now and the sun has just set. If there are graverobbers on the loose it's likely they operate when it's dark out.
>>613743 Try to find a spot where I can comfortable sit without stepping on any graves or such, and lie in wait, as if I was just sleeping on my hoard. If I sat upright, even in the dark I would be a bit too obvious. Keep an eye and ear out to any movement as night falls.
>>613750 Hm. In the middle of the graveyard stands an old fountain. In olden times water would pour out of the monolithical rock and splash down into the basin below, but nowadays it has run completely dry.
You see, however, a faintly glowing silhouette walking between the gravestones before disappearing from sight behind the fountain.
From the corner of your eye, you spot a source of light appearing on the roof of the temple: it's a small ball of light dancing around and illuminating the roof around it seemingly without a care in the world.
>>613760 As you swoop down over the crypt, you are met with an unexpected sight. A pony is standing next to it waiting on you, casting a spell as it's too late for you to dodge. A wave of cold hits you right in the underbelly, though as luck would have it the spell is JUST too weak to pierce through your thick natural armor.
You land in front of the pony, whom to your surprise doesn't seem entirely… there. Her legs certainly aren't. Instead of hooves, her legs just kind of end in some sort of wispy ethereal essence. Her coat is pale and her entire body is partially see-through.
You are confronting a ghost pony. If you wish to attack her, roll initiative.
>>613761 I am not sure if even my breath would be effective against a ghost, so I will only resort to combat if there is no other way. There must be a reason why this ghost pony is here in the first place. "I recommend you do not do that again. Why are you here, restless spirit?" I'm not sure if I have to roll anything with this, since it's either indimidation or impress
>>613767 "I live among ponies, who give me more than enough to expand my hoard in return of my assistance. Something, which I assume is you, is causing unrest here. I have no need to steal from this graveyard, I only need to put an end do the cause of that unrest and earn my reward back home."
>>613781 >>613780 >>613779 She conjures up a terrifying phantasmal horror which scares the living crap out of you. You are frightened for one round and may not attack, you must spend this round moving away from her.
>>613784 Finish flying over to the temple and hover above it. Talk loudly so the ghost can hear. "I will give you one last chance to stop before I burn your precious graveyard to the ground." Intimidate. '1d20+9'
>>613786 "You will have to stop trying to hurt me then. You will also have to believe I have no interest in any treasures that may be in this graveyard." Be on the ready in case she tries to use any spells again.
>>613789 "Thieves!" You notice the light from before has reappeared, flying over to her and dancing around the crypt. The ghost pony sinks through the roof of the crypt and disappears from sight. The metal doorway is open.
>>613794 "Let us wait for them. They will come, confident they can destroy you again, but I will be here. I will try to make them talk about where they have taken the treasure. If they do not speak, they shall find their end in this graveyard."