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Like Father, Like Son [Epic Quest - Azix Niraj]

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Yoshiro paced back and forth in his room, frowning. His father had arrived rather suddenly, giving the Prince very little time to prepare. It would be much more difficult to arrange anything with his cousin without some planning. If father found him speaking with a known traitor, he would become more suspicious than usual. No, he would need to find a reliable messenger to handle this. Wei Tenji was also not an option, as she was to be confined to the Palace. If he let her run ‘errands’ very often, it would also draw attention. He grumbled as he paced back and forth before pausing, an idea forming slowly.

His father would be unaware of Ms. Negri’s personal involvement with Azix and, if he played it correctly, he could make it seem like he was simply courting the woman. She was part of a powerful family, so his father would not object and he could claim it was simply another effort to find a way to draw Magnostadt into the fold. He wondered if the two magicians would even accept such an idea. He only had about a day to make arrangements with Azix before his father would be underfoot, so he sent a messenger to Opportunity Hall requesting Azix’ presence under the guise of discussing the workforce program.

Hopefully the man would arrive before his father.

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Azix Niraj

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The messenger would find Azix at Opportunity Hall going over reports in his office. It was one of the rare moments that he had found time to catch up on the worker's activities. The orange magician was informed that his presence was requested at the Palace to discuss the workforce program. He was sure that wasn't the real reason since he had been expecting a message from Yoshiro for several days. If he was being called, then it was because the Emperor had made his move. Azix gathered his cloak, bundled it around himself, and followed the messenger back to the Palace.

Along the way, Azix would engage in small talk with the messenger in an amiable fashion, but he would seem distracted. His thoughts were grasping at unknown variables to questions he had. What was the Emperor doing? What were Yoshi's plans? How much time did they have to act? Where were Lilly and Kaito? Was there anyway to get out of this without spilling anymore blood? Now that the Emperor was in Reim, Azix imagined hundreds of scenarios that could or would soon occur.

Those thoughts stuck with Azix until he realized that he was in the Palace already. When the messenger gestured at a door, Azix took a deep breath to still his mind before he opened the door and stepped inside.


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Yoshiro looked to the door when Azix walked in, giving his cousin a deep bow before dismissing the messenger. His room was far enough from the main hustle and bustle of the Palace that it was unlikely any would overhear their conversation here, but to be certain he held up a finger for silence before moving to the door to Ruki’s room to check for any servants. Once all of the maids had been dismissed, he closed the door before finally greeting Azix.

“Cousin, thank you for coming. We have little time. Unfortunately, my father has decided to come more quickly than expected. He arrives later tonight. This means communication with you will be… troublesome. If we attempt to use Wei Tenji, suspicion will be aroused. I do not trust your King to be a conduit, either. Not after receiving more details on the incident with Lilly and her father. There are not many I would trust to get messages between us while still avoiding suspicion. I am sure you remember how paranoid my father is.”

He took a deep breath, uncertain about his next proposal, but decided to throw it out there to see how the man would react.

“The only idea I came up with that would avoid suspicion and could be trusted would be Ariella. She and you are known to be acquainted through the education reforms, but your overall relationship has not been made known to my father. If he asked questions, I could simply say I was attempting to court her in an effort to gain intelligence on Magnostadt, to see if we could not still bring them under my father’s… unifying embrace, as he likes to phrase it. This would keep him satisfied as to her presence around me without it seeming suspicious if she were to visit you. Unless you have any better ideas?”

He would give Azix a probing look, almost hoping the man had a better idea. He was not sure if Ariella would be able to hide her disdain for him while in the presence of his father.

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Azix Niraj

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Azix returned Yoshi's bow, though he dipped his body lower, as a sign of his lower station and waited until the Prince signaled it was alright to speak. He listened carefully to his cousin, learning that the Emperor would be in Remano by the end of the night. It was unfortunate news, but that wouldn't be what the orange magician focused on. Yoshi continued to explain that it would be hard to communicate and that he thought Ariella would be the best one to pass messages through.

Azix narrowed his eyes, the idea of his cousin play courting Ari was not what the orange magician would call a good idea. His immediate thought was that this business of assassinating the Emperor was a ploy to play a cruel joke on Azix. Especially with Ruki involved, it was quite plausible. Azix still hadn't confronted Ari about her and Yoshi's history, so he didn't know the whole story, but just knowing they had kissed didn't help. It was easy to imagine a heartbroken Prince working with his cruel sister to get Ariella back.

Azix's hand found the wand that was hidden up his sleeve as his body began to shake in anger. Pulling it out, he aimed it at Yoshiro, "Are you trying to toy with me, cousin? Can't handle that Ariella is with your lowly cousin now?" Azix's tone was thick with venom and he started to mumble to the Rukh when something in the back of his shouted at him to wait. While he wanted to ignore that tiny voice, Azix took a moment to reflect on Yoshiro's words. It was true that the Emperor was paranoid and it was just as true that he would be suspicious of Azix. He grudgingly had to admit that Ari would be easily explained, yet he couldn't help but feel that the dice were stacked against him.

The only other option for a messenger that Azix could think of were the Grumptoes. If they were explained as orphan children who were used to spy on the rebellion's movements, it might work. 'Might work', was not a good thing to put your money on when it came to the Emperor though. If Yoshi and Ruki were trying to mess with him, then it would be stupid to even bring their existence up. Plus, he refused to put them that close under the Emperor's scrutiny.

Azix lowered his wand and frowned, "No...I have no better ideas..." His tone still held a harsh edge, but he was conflicted between suspicion and trust.


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Yosiro’s eyes widened in shock at the venomous words from Azix, not understanding the spiteful words until he remembered Ruki’s barbed words from their previous meeting. Curse his sister and her big mouth. It might be good for playing the politicians, but it was horrible when trying to arrange a coup. He was about to reach for his blade when Azix seemed to calm down, Yoshiro holding up his hands in a surrendering motion.

“I have no desire to steal Ariella from you, cousin. I am not even sure she will accept this idea, we are not on the best of terms, despite a singular incident that my sister interrupted. I would welcome any other ideas, but with my father’s paranoia, I cannot think of any. And apparently, neither can you.”

He sighed and raised a hand to rub his eyes, calming down his racing heart. Just the aura of danger that had come from his cousin was terrifying and he prayed to never be on the wrong end of it.

“I am hoping you trust her, because she is our only option at this point. I swear, there will nothing happening, she would simply need to be seen with me socially enough that my father will cease his suspicions. I assure you, I will be respectful to both you and her. If you could have her… stop by later tonight or tomorrow, once I have a better idea of what my father’s itinerary will be, it would be appreciated.”

He was beginning to have doubts about using Azix to deal with his father, but the man had the power needed to pull it off. Now he just had to find out a good plan to initiate his coup. Doubt crept in further as he considered his current options: an unruly cousin and a woman that despised him.

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Azix Niraj

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Yoshiro's reactions seemed genuine enough and the tension in Azix's body eased a fraction. The orange magician took a deep, slow breath to set aside the past and his jealousy. The point of this meeting was to find a way to maintain lines of safe communication so they could overthrow the Emperor. So why did Azix feel the need to get in a pissing match with Yoshiro? The answer was obvious, Ari meant the world to him on several different levels, he treasured her mind, body, and soul.

It was so painfully obvious from his little outburst, that if Yoshi and Ruki were ensnaring him in a trap, they knew one of his weaknesses. Azix cursed inside as this realization dawned on him and he put away his wand. He gave an apologetic look to Yoshi and nodded, "I will talk with Ariella and have her stop by." Azix rubbed his chin in thought for a moment, "If we need a team of people to pull this off, there's a few that I trust with something like this. Something to keep in mind as we build a more solid plan."

Once they were done discussing plans, Azix would excuse himself to go find Ariella. He hoped she was willing to go along with the plan. His first stop was the Inn where she stayed at and knocked on the door.


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Ariella paced the floor in her room at the Inn, her lack of sleep evident by the paleness of her normally golden skin. She was still not sure what to do with the knowledge that Lilly was roaming around and could pop in at any time. The girl probably knew where she stayed, but Ari was not sure where else to go. She did not want to risk going to Kios, even with it abandoned. She could probably stay with Azix, but after her outburst, she had been too embarrassed to approach the man.

When a knock came at her door, she stopped, her wand falling into her hand out of reflex. She opened the door cautiously, the wand in her opposite hand ready if Lilly happened to be on the other side. When she saw it was Azix, her shoulders slumped in relief and she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. Realizing she was nearly squeezing him in half, she released him with an embarrassed smile, waving him into the room, trying to throw some humor into her voice.

“Hey there, stranger. Fancy seeing you in these parts.”


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Azix Niraj

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Azix smiled when Ariella opened the door, thankfully he wouldn't have to wander all over Remano to find her. When he noticed her pale skin and the bags under her eyes, Azix frowned in concern as she wrapped her arms around him. He let out a teasing gasp for air at her tight grip and kissed her cheek softly. Ariella waved Azix in and he took a seat on the corner of her bed.

Normally he would play along with her humor, but he simply wasn't in the mood after the meeting with Yoshiro. The expression on his face grew serious with a nervousness in his posture. "I'm glad I was able to find you, we need to talk." Azix gestured for her to join him on the bed and waited for her to sit down. As he started to talk again, Azix reached out to grab her hand and squeezed it softly. "I just met with Yoshiro and there's some...news."

Azix inhaled a slow breath of air, "The Emperor should be arriving by nightfall, so we're going to have to be more careful. Yoshiro wanted to find a messenger that wouldn't arouse his father's suspicions, which is hard to find." Azix glanced at Ariella with a wounded look, he couldn't quite find the courage to tell her the plan. How could he ask the woman he loved to act like she was courting another? "At first, I thought about the Grumptoes. They could be "orphans" that Yoshi hired to spy on the rebellion and learn its movements. Yet, I could not expose them to that level of danger or put them that close to the Emperor. Nor would there be any guarantee he wouldn't be suspicious of them."

Unable to look at Ariella, Azix looked down at the floor and spoke in nearly a whisper. "Yoshiro thought...he thought it would be easier to have you run messages between us. The only problem is, it would be under the guise that he was...courting you, in an attempt to form an alliance with Magnostadt." Azix looked up to stare into Ari's golden hues, the discomfort he felt about the idea was evident in his expression. "I couldn't think of any other way that would avoid the Emperor's scrutiny. I hate to ask, but would you be willing to do this? If you're uncomfortable, it's fine. I'll have the Grumptoes help us..." Azix felt horrible and hoped Ariella's reaction wasn't terrible.


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When Azix led her to the bed and said those dreaded words, Ari felt her heart stop beating for a moment. A flash went through her mind to a similar situation when Kitana had said the same thing, only to follow it up with a long story about how she thought it was best they no longer see each other. As Azix continued speaking, Ari was not sure how to feel about his words, the jumble of ideas confusing her as she tried to work out exactly what he was saying. He wanted her to… pretend to court Yoshiro… to be a messenger between the two?

She swallowed around the knot in her throat. At least he wasn’t breaking up with her. But what he was asking was dangerously close to the reason she avoided dating in Magnostadt, she did not want to be used. The only thing that kept her from immediately denying his request was how miserable he looked. Her face was filled with a mixture of worry, hurt and anger, but she did not speak until she processed what he was asking. When he mentioned the Grumptoes, her mind immediately shut down the idea, not wanting to put the children in anymore danger. She could not believe he would even suggest such a thing.

She pulled her hands free so she could stand, pacing as she let the ideas roll around in her head, needing to move before she said something she might regret. She had already made the mistake of acting like a child while he tried to create a safer world within Reim’s borders. She wanted to scream at him for even considering Yoshiro’s idea. And of course it would be the idea of that blasted Prince, the man that had no problem using anyone to get what he wanted. So not only was Azix asking her to play ‘court’ with another man, he wanted her to do it with a man she was most certainly not fond of.

But he was obviously not enjoying the idea, his conflict quite clear on his face and in his hesitation to even mention it. She had to admit, the idea was not a horrible one, aside from her having to act like she was interesting in a man that she wanted to beat with her wand. It would also keep the Grumptoes safely out of the Emperor’s reach. Any man that would use his own children to begin a conquest on another country would have no problems using the Grumptoes to nefarious ends.

She suddenly realized she had been silent for several minutes as she paced a hole in the floor. She moved to sit back beside Azix, her eyes glued to his face as though gauging his reaction to her words.

“We will not endanger the Grumptoes, not like this. I will do it. I will not like it. I am hurt and angry right now, but I know this is the best option. The Emperor is aware of Yoshiro and I’s prior… incident, so it would not raise any suspicion with him.”

She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself through logic and speaking.

“I really hate this idea, but if it is necessary and you are asking me to, then I accept this responsibility so that you can see your goal through. The Emperor needs stopped, I will just look at this as my way of doing my part to save the world from him. It is a small part, but it is one apparently only I can do, right?”

She tried for a small smile, but she knew it was a stretch. She wondered if Azix knew what he was asking her to do and how much it stretched her trust.


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Azix Niraj

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Azix winced as his lover stood up, expecting a slap to the face for asking such a favor of her. However, the slap did not come and instead she paced the room quietly. If she needed time to process what he had asked, then Azix was more than willing to give it to her. He fidgeted with his hands in his lap and watched Ariella from the corner of his eye while he waited for her response.

Finally, she sat back down at his side and Azix met her gaze as she started to talk. A wave of relief washed over him when she stated that she wanted to avoid using the Grumptoes, but that was quickly replaced by guilt. He hadn't meant for it to come across like an ultimatum, but now it sure seemed like it, at least to him. Once again she brushed on the topic of a previous incident with Yoshiro, but did not bother to explain further.

While Ariella was clearly not happy with the idea, she agreed to do it for Azix and to defeat the Emperor. Azix attempted to smile back at Ariella, but it did not reach into his eyes. He struggled to find the right thing to say. Was he supposed to say thank you for play dating his cousin? He sure wasn't thankful for that fact, but thankful she was so understanding. "Unfortunantly, yes...you are the only one who could do it. I...appreciate you for understanding. Maybe someday I can make it up to you."

Azix let out a deep breath and slowly leaned in to brush her lips with a kiss, careful to watch her reactions. If she seemed opposed to his touch, Azix would pull back, understanding that she wasn't in the mood. Regardless of whether or not a kiss happened, Azix would ask a question that had been bothering him for some time. "So...about you and Yoshiro's...'prior incident'?"


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Ariella fidgeted on the bed as he thanked her for her understanding, still in no way comfortable with the idea. When he leaned in to kiss her, she gave a brief brush of lips before arching a brow at his question. She should have expected it, but she was not sure what to tell him. It had been nearly three years ago, now. She chewed her lip for a moment before sighing and speaking.

“A little over two years ago, the Emperor’s children came to tour Magnostadt. I was excited, because it meant parties and showing off. I had heard his sons were very handsome and all of my friends were aflutter with the idea of being swept away by a Prince, from Kou, no less. One of the most powerful countries in the world. Yoshiro and Adam are the first two heirs, but Adam had already gone adventuring by that time and would not be visiting. It was just Yoshiro and Ruki. I remember the Chancellor being excited as he informed the classes, he was hoping that if we made a good impression, then the Emperor would send more magicians to be trained.”

Ari stood back up, going back to pacing nervously as she dredged up a part of her childhood she would rather forget about.

“When I first saw Yoshiro, I was as bad as the rest of my friends, mooning over the handsome, kind son of the Emperor. We trailed after him like a pack of puppies, we must have seemed ridiculous. I know Ruki certainly thought so. The night before they were scheduled to leave, there was a ball planned, since the Emperor himself was arriving to take his children home. Yoshiro did his princely duty, he danced with all the girls mooning over him, including me. I was on top of the world, thinking I was special, even though he must have danced with fifteen other girls that night. When we snuck off to a closet, I was certain I must be something special. We kissed a few times and then suddenly Ruki threw open the door and dragged us both out, laughing at us. Everyone there saw us looking embarrassed, my hair all messed up, it was horrible, but part of me was proud. Now all those other girls knew he had chosen me.”

She blew out a heavy breath. Surprisingly, telling Azix she had kissed Yoshiro was not the hard part for her to speak about. She was blushing, remembering her adolescent idiocy, snorting at how proud she had been. She chewed her lip for a moment before continuing.

“A month later, Kou began its assault. Yoshiro, Ruki and Kaito were leading their own troops, their proving ground, this was when they were still Commanders who had used the titles to get their position. They certainly did their damnedest to earn their General title during that time. It turns out, their visit was nothing more than the Emperor scouting for any weaknesses Magnostadt had. His children gave reports on the more important figures in the Academy, including my family. Everything from their visit had just been a ploy to gain information to try and destroy my home. Including my brief but memorable incident with Prince Yoshiro.”

She finally focused her gaze on Azix, nervous though part of her mind was screaming that she shouldn’t have to explain herself. It had been ages ago, her first version of heartbreak, it was supposed to be something private. But she was with Azix and if he wanted to know, she would not hide it from him. It had been a few stolen kisses in a closet that had led to her not trusting the motives of most people showing interest in her. It was the first time she began to fully understand what her parents had tried to warn her about the sway their name held. The reminder of how she had felt then, like she had been used for someone else’s gain, struck home now, that same feeling resonating within her. She pushed it down as best she could, reminding herself the idea had not been Azix’, that they relationship had begun before either had realized who and what the other was in political terms, that he was not looking to just use her and toss her to the side when she was no longer a valuable tool.

She cleared her throat to signal that the tale was complete, arching a brow at him.

“Well… as bad as whatever Ruki’s accusations and my own vagueness led you to believe?”


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While Ariella brought up the past, Azix listened patiently with a sympathetic ear. A variety of emotions swept through him, but he tried to keep them from reflecting on his face. A bit of jealousy began to boil in the back of his mind when he heard about how Ariella fawned after Yoshiro. The fact that Azix was now dating Ariella wasn't the sole reason behind that jealousy, but part of a larger sum. Growing up, Yoshiro had been one of the golden children who were always looking down at Azix. To learn that his cousin had gotten to Ariella first was like a blow to his pride.

The jealousy that had started to infect Azix's thoughts flat-lined with the next part of Ariella's story. Her words were like a stinging rebuke for feeling such emotions when Yoshiro had used her. Azix shook his head, 'Stop being so childish! Are you really going to let such petty emotions compromise the mission? Compromise your relationship with Ariella? She clearly cares for you and has nothing but contempt for Yoshi.'

When the yellow magician cleared her throat, Azix stirred from his thoughts and gave a sheepish look. "No...I did let my imagination get to me though. Actually, in a way it's worse." Azix stood up and grabbed her hands, "I let jealousy make me worry about losing you, but instead..." Azix sighed, "Instead I was asking you to put up with a man who betrayed your trust. Not only did he betray, but he used you so he could invade. I'm sorry...."

Azix felt like an idiot, when had he let emotion rule him instead of logic? That question led to some tough answers. There were quite a few instances of that. Emotion had led him to curse his fate, to take pleasure in Manius' death, to reveal his weaknesses to Yoshiro. Azix stopped his train of thought there and took a deep breath, vowing to be more conscious of his emotions in the future. There was too much at stake and too much to lose this far into the rebellion.

He wrapped his arms around Ariella, "After everything is over, when the Emperor is defeated and Reim's sovereignty is restored, we should go on a vacation. Just get away for a few months with no worries. Maybe travel the world. I would like to visit Heliohapt again. We could go to Balbadd and see what the republic is really like." While Azix said after their responsibilities were taken care of, in that moment he wanted nothing more than to carry Ariella outside and runaway right now. He couldn't do that though, he wouldn't allow himself to avoid a challenge. Plus, if he ran now, Ayero would surely hunt him down and punch him in the nuts. Twice.


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Ari gave a grimace of a smile, shrugging at his apology.

“I can’t say that I wouldn’t react the same way, if I found out you had courted someone else. I may not have courted Yoshiro, but I did kiss him, and dance with him. But you know what? I like your kisses better… and your dances, too.”

When he mentioned going on a trip, she brightened and practically bounced in place.

“I would love to see Heliohapt! Grandmother always talked about it so fondly. And Balbadd is pretty. We could just sit on the beach at night and watch the stars.”

She settled down on the bed once more, leaning against him comfortably.

“We can go anywhere you want, once this is over. But until then, I suppose we have things we need to do. Like pretend not to hate Yoshiro long enough to convince his father I am not just a spy. And deal with a few other things, like Lilly. And then, we can escape for a bit, I think. Hopefully.”

She nuzzled against his neck, enjoying being close to him, finding it calmed her ruffled nerves and anticipation. They probably would not get a chance to be together for a while, until the Emperor was dealt with. She tried not to let that weigh on her, but she subconsciously tugged his arms until they were wrapped tightly around her. She wanted to take advantage of their time to soothe both of their insecurities before they had to go to a more professional relationship. This would be difficult for both of them. Her voice was muffled against his neck as she peppered soft kisses there.

“So, how much longer do I get to torture you with kisses before I have to go play court?”


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Azix pulled Ariella closer when she leaned into him, a smile dancing lightly on his lips. The simple act of touching seemed to soothe the tension from their bodies. As she left a trail of soft kisses down his neck, Azix brought his fingers to her chin and tilted her head upwards. He placed several gentle kisses on her lips, each one lingering longer than the last. "A few more hours, at the very least," Azix mumbled as he pulled away from her lips for a moment.




Azix lay in the bed with Ariella's head cradled against his chest. While one of Azix's hand danced across her back in a caressing touch, his other hand was entwined with hers. He lifted his head up to brush his lips against her forehead. He looked out the window to see that night had settled in and groaned. "I think it might be time for you to go."

Azix brought her hand up to his lips and placed soft kisses against her knuckles. His eye found her golden hues and he smiled, "You are an amazing woman, Ari. Shekh ma Shieraki Anni." It was a romantic phrase he had heard during his time in Heliohapt and it resonated with Azix in this moment. It was fitting, Ariella was a bright light in his life. Azix pulled her into a deep kiss that left him panting. "I love you."


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Ari groaned and cuddled closer when he mentioned it was time for them to part, acting like a child not wanting to do chores. It felt right lying here, entwined with him, but she had things to do, sadly. When he kissed her knuckles and murmured soft words that she barely recognized, she smiled brightly. She had often heard her grandmother and grandfather exchanging the words in quiet moments when she was a young child. She gave a soft moan of disappointment when he pulled away from the kiss, but it was forgotten when he said three small words she had not been expecting. Her face lit up like fireworks and she gave him another deep kiss, reaching up to cradle his face, chuckling softly.

“I love you, too. But I believe the phrase you were looking for was ‘Yer jalan atthirari anni’. It is the female counterpart to what you said, if I remember my grandmother’s lessons. Now, I must go and try not to stab Yoshiro in the throat.”

She gave him another scorching kiss before untangling herself and moving to get dressed in something more appropriate for a visit to the Palace.




Ari walked through the halls of the Palace, her hips swaying enticingly, a broad smile on her face. Anyone looking at her would assume she was happily jaunting to go see a prospective lover. No one would guess she had just come from the arms of her love. The smile on her face was a residual effect from her time with Azix, but it would make her act with Yoshiro more convincing, so she did not attempt to hide it. When she was shown into the library, she immediately gave a deep bow, nearly bending in half. She had not expected to interrupt a meeting with the Emperor.

Yoshiro turned to her with a seemingly genuine smile before turning to address his father.

“Well, Father, it is wonderful to see you here safe and well. But you mentioned wanting to see Kaito and, as you can see, my guest has arrived.”

The Emperor looked from his son to the woman that had entered, arching a brow at the purple hair and golden eyes. Was this the same girl that had been dragged before the ball in Magnostadt years ago? She had grown up to be an even more attractive woman and her standing was high enough that he approved of Yoshiro’s choice in companion. If what his son had said was true, he would be trying to bring Magnostadt to heel by going through this girl. It seemed Yoshiro was taking after him more each day, learning to embrace the necessity of using people to achieve a goal. To unite a world, some people would have to be hurt.

“Very well, my son. Enjoy your evening. I will be returning later to discuss other matters with you, but I must call off your brother before he risks this union.”

Ariella remained bowed through the two men talking, etiquette was always very clear. When addressing the ruler of a country, you physically lower yourself as a display that you recognize that socially, you are beneath them. And you remained lowered until they acknowledged you and gave you permission to rise. Since the Emperor had not addressed her directly, she remained bent over until he had left the room before straightening and arching a brow at Yoshiro.

The Prince held out a hand to take hers, putting on a show for the servants still bustling about. She took it without so much as a grimace and allowed him to lead her to his room where they could talk more privately. As soon as the door to his room was closed, she ripped her hand free while glaring at him. When he started to speak, she held up a hand for silence, her eyes losing the happiness she had displayed on her way to see him.

“First, the ground rules. I agreed to this plan, but I am not happy with it. While in public, no one will even suspect that I am acting, but when no one is around, you will not touch me. In public, you may go so far as to kiss my hand or my cheek, absolutely nothing else. Is that understood?”

Yoshiro swallowed at her angry words, suddenly thankful that this woman was not his, he was not sure he could handle her temper. His cousin was a brave man to involve himself with such a confident, self-assured woman. He nodded in agreement, holding up his hands in surrender.

“I will not touch you in private and displays of affection in public will be limited, I swear it. Thank you for agreeing to this arrangement, I am sure it was not your favorite thought.”

He briefly pondered if his cousin had taken a beating for asking her to participate in their plan like this, but quickly brushed his thoughts to the matter at hand.

“Now that Father is here, it would be best if you stayed in the Palace. It would not be appropriate for someone of your… station to be housed at an inn.”

Ariella sighed but nodded in agreement, hating the idea of being in such a public arena. She was quite fond of her privacy and staying at the Palace would put her in a place of scrutiny, but it was necessary. She waved at him to continue.

“There will be a celebration held in two night’s time, a welcome to my Father. You should attend with me. Azix will need to be present as well, given he is a Marquis in Father’s court. It would probably be best if he brought a date of his own, though if he does not, it will just solidify in my Father’s mind that I ‘stole’ you from my cousin, which would make him happy. A way to show that his children are superior to such a man. If he does bring a date, please make sure she is…less attractive than yourself.”

Ariella growled softly, crossing her arms and tapping her fingers in irritation in the crook of her elbow. So now, not only did she have to play pretend, but Azix would as well? This would not go over well. Yoshiro continued, explaining the basic plan for the Welcoming Celebration as Ariella grumbled and rolled her eyes. The man was a good tactician, it was what had given him such an edge while leading his troops against Magnostadt.

“Do you think Azix would be able to play the jealous ex-lover in front of my father?”

At this question, Ariella snorted loudly.

“I think the better question would be if either he or I could resist the urge to rip your head off, Yoshiro. I am sure we can both play the parts you have given us. Such a good General, your father taught you well.”

Yoshiro looked hurt at the comment, hating what he had to do to take down his father but he knew that the best way to defeat the Emperor was to use his own tactics against him. His voice was quiet when he spoke again, an apologetic look in his eyes.

“Ariella, I’m sorry. It’s the only way and we all know it. And I am truly sorry for… before…”

Ariella cut him off, shaking her head.

“The past is past, Yoshiro. I do not need to hear your excuses or reasons. Now, if you would be so kind, ‘escort’ me to wherever my quarters are here so I can get settled in. I will not have the help assuming that just because we are ‘courting’ that I am your whore.”

He was about to say something else in defense before slumping in defeat at her look. Shaking off the look, he brightened as he reached for the door, glancing back to her and almost doing a double take at her seeming transformation. Once again, she was smiling and had a look of fondness in her eyes that remained in place as he led her to the guest quarters, the servants rushing to prepare the room for her. He pressed a kiss to her knuckles before leaving her to get settled, returning to his own room to attempt to convince himself that he could trust a woman that hated him and a cousin that held no fondness for him either.




The next day, Ariella donned apparel more professional than social, stopping to see Wei Tenji and discuss matters about the schools, making sure that their discussion was overheard by several people. The Kou woman gave Ariella a confused look when Yoshiro interrupted their meeting to invite Ari to dinner, an invitation she happily accepted. Yoshiro grasped her fingers to lay a kiss to her knuckles before disappearing, Wei arching a brow at Ariella in question. While she had never seen Ariella and Azix display any affection publicly, she had suspected the two were involved outside of the Education Reform program. Ariella brushed off the woman’s curious look before gathering up some of the parchments they had been going over.

“I will deliver these to the Marquis, since you are confined to the Palace. I am sure he will approve of the suggested changes. Magnostadt has also offered to send a Second Kodor student over for a bit to take over my magic teaching position. I will update you when I have his confirmation to the new program, Ms. Tenji.”

Wei nodded and gave the woman a small bow, which Ariella returned before leaving and heading for Opportunity Hall. When she arrived, she was shown to Azix’ office to await his arrival.


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Azix Niraj

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When Azix arrived at Opportunity Hall the next morning, he wasn't surprised to see Ariella waiting for him. Closing the door behind him, he smiled warmly at his love and embraced her. After placing a few soft kisses on her lips, Azix pulled away so they could return to their "roles". Azix pulled a chair over to take a seat and folded his hands in his lap. "So, what did you learn?"

He would listen to Ariella recant the details of the previous night and nod when she finished. Yoshiro's plan wasn't pleasant, but Azix had to admit that it would help solidify the deception. So, he would play the part he was meant to play at the dinner. "I guess I'll see you at the dinner. I'm sad that I won't get to dance with you. Hopefully Yoshi will have a better idea of our opening by then."




Azix entered the palace dressed in an elegant outfit of Kou fashion that was acceptable for his station as Marquis. However, his hair was disheveled and he walked with a hollow look on his face, playing up his ex-lover role. He was shown to a crowded ballroom and led to the table where he would be sitting at. Azix thanked the servant who had shown him the way, a distracted tone in his voice as he took a seat and scanned the throng for Ariella.


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Ariella was led into the ballroom by Yoshiro, both of them dressed for their respective stations and for the event. King Lagi was already at the table, deep in conversation with his bride-to-be, who spotted her brother and arched a brow. She had not been privy to this part of the plan and was a bit surprised to see Yoshiro escorting Ariella instead of Azix. They had arrived a bit late, giving the appearance of being otherwise distracted, so most of the guests were already present, including Azix. She gave him only a small glance, though her heart panged to see him look so forlorn and ragged. Yoshiro led her to a seat near the Emperor, the Prince taking the seat immediately to his Father’s left hand.

She held Yoshiro’s hand at the table, smiling and making small talk with the other nobles present, playing her part well. It came as second nature to her, her etiquette classes finally paying off. Apparently, she had managed to absorb some of them even without paying attention. She kept sneaking tiny looks to Azix throughout the meal, being discreet. The smile never left her face and to anyone looking at her, she appeared quite smitten with Yoshiro. The Prince would occasionally kiss her hand while talking with his father. The Emperor looked at the two a few times before eyeing Azix. His nephew looked quite unsettled at seeing Ariella here with his son, recalling that the girl and his nephew worked together on reforms. It would seem Azix had more in mind for the girl only to lose her to Yoshiro. Never one to pass up the opportunity to torture the child of a traitor, the Emperor spoke to Yoshiro and Ariella, loud enough for Azix and most of the table to hear.

“So, my daughter is to wed the King and what about you, son? Do you intend to ask for Miss Negri’s hand, as well?”

Yoshiro froze, keeping the smile on his face as he tightened his grip on Ari’s hand. Ari flashed an embarrassed but hopeful smile at the Emperor, giggling softly.

“Your Grace, it may be a bit soon for you to be picturing grandchildren. I have not even told my father about Yoshiro and I’s relationship. Perhaps once I make him more comfortable with the idea, though.”

Yoshiro breathed a sigh of relief at the way she played it off and then changed the subject to the meal they had just consumed. He could tell every time Ariella became uncomfortable by the rough squeeze she gave to his hand and the tension behind her eyes. When Ruki raised a glass, he almost groaned, his sister standing to make a toast.

“To my father, may he live a long, healthy life. And to my brother, swiping this beautiful woman away from a less deserving man. Isn’t that right, cousin?”

She turned a vicious grin to Azix and Ariella abruptly stood. Before she could do something foolish, Yoshiro stood as well, laughing softly.

“Speaking of, perhaps my beautiful woman would care to dance?”

Ariella tried not to grimace but allowed Yoshiro to lead her to the dance floor, the feel of his hand on her waist making her skin crawl, though her face was covered with an adoring smile. She ground words out between gritted teeth, the smile never faltering.

“I am going to kill her, you know. This is hard enough.”

Yoshiro hushed her, spinning her around as he gauged his father’s reaction. The Emperor seemed to buy the spiteful words of his daughter, satisfied with the humiliation his nephew was being exposed to. When Yoshiro’s hand moved to her back to press her closer, she had to fight back the urge to tear away from him, instead melting into the embrace. She did not think she could keep this up much longer. Raising on her toes, she appeared to be talking seductively to the Prince, no one would guess what she was actually saying.

“If you do not get me out of here right now, I will drive my knee into your testicles and then drive my wand into your eye, my Prince.”

Yoshiro’s eyes widened but he chuckled and and flushed with color. The flush was nervousness at how to go about getting her out of the room before she followed through with her threat. Moving back towards the table, Yoshiro would stand just behind Azix, making it appear to his father as though he was intentionally goading his cousin.

“Father, as much as I would like to stay and celebrate further, I seem to have a rather pressing matter with a very beautiful woman to attend to.”

He would clap a hand roughly on Azix’ shoulder, driving the barb deeper, before bowing to his Father and moving back to escort Ariella from the room.


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Azix Niraj

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Throughout the dinner, Azix's gaze never left Ariella as he idly picked at the food in front of him. He wore a mask of the heartbroken fool, still in mourning of his lost relationship. He grimaced at every smile or laugh that Ari gave to Yoshiro. On the inside, Azix felt the faint tinges of jealousy tempting him, which were helpful in his performance. However part of his mind was detached from the situation, treating it as an operation. This part of him observed his partner to make sure she was successful in pulling off their objective, deceiving a paranoid and powerful man.

Thankfully, while there were brief moments of tension in her body, Ariella seemed the twitterpated girl, fawning after Yoshiro. So much so, that soon the Emperor decided to join in taunting Azix, noticing his act of humiliation. At the Emperor's barb, Azix's cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment. He looked down at his plate of uneaten food to avoid the Emperor's amused gaze.

Not one to be left out, Ruki soon stood to make a toast and sling her own insults Azix's way. The orange magician sunk low into his chair as eyes turned to him when Ruki made it apparent in no uncertain terms that Yoshi had stolen Ariella from Azix. The Marquis' face was tinged red in anger and he visibly shook, but he contained himself.

Azix watched Yoshi lead Ariella to one side of the room where they began to dance. He sent a piercing glare of envy into Yoshiro's back as he twirled her around before pulling her into a close embrace. Ariella whispered something into his ear and Yoshiro's eyes went wide. They walked up behind Azix and the Prince's hand clasped against the orange magician's shoulder as he announced that he would be leaving with Ariella.

The orange magician's body went rigid from Yoshiro's touch, 'Now! Seal the deal!' Azix suddenly stood up while he twisted his body around to drive his fist into Yoshiro's jaw, letting out a snarl of anger. "Fuck you, cousin!" Wanting to keep up the illusion of the bumbling nephew, Azix let the momentum of the punch throw him off balance. Azix stumbled, tripping over his chair, and careened face-first into a bowl of soup.

Azix stood up and with a cry of frustration, turned to Yoshi with his wand aimed towards the Prince. The orange magician had a crazed look on his face, complete with soup running down the front of his body. He started to chant a nonsensical spell, expecting the guards to interfere at anytime for assaulting royalty.


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Ari gasped and covered her mouth in shock as Azix punched Yoshiro, the expression genuine. She had expected a tantrum, not a full-blown punch. Yoshiro had rocked back from the force of the hit, his cousin certainly did not hold back with that one. The guards rushed forward, one kicking him in the back of the knees to knock him to the ground, another holding a sword to his neck. The Emperor was outraged, how dare that little failure of a nephew raise a hand to his son. He stood from his seat, shouting orders to have Azix’ hand removed.

Yoshiro stepped forward, clearing his throat as he addressed his father, one hand cradling the bruise on his jaw.

“Do not bother, Father. I feel he has made himself feel quite foolish already. I believe a night in a cell will teach him to respect his betters.”

Ari sheepishly stepped forward as well, taking a deep breath before speaking to the Emperor.

“Please, your Grace. It would do no good to end a celebration in bloodshed.”

Knowing she had to avoid suspicion for her plea of mercy she moved to crouch before Azix with a sad, mocking look.

“I am sorry, Azix, but you need to understand. I upgraded. Why have a pariah when I can have a Prince? I am with Yoshi now.”

She stood and took Yoshiro’s arm, dragging him from the room with a mumble about needing some air to calm her frazzled nerves, the Prince taking the cue to lead her from the room. The Emperor watched the act, arching a brow at the woman’s cruel words to his nephew. Yes, she would make a fine mate for Yoshiro. He waved to the guards, ordering them to escort Azix to a cell for the evening to rethink his actions of striking someone much higher ranking than him. He would have preferred to kill the man, but Yoshiro’s date was correct, this was no time for bloodshed, there would be plenty of that later.




The next afternoon, Ariella had slipped unnoticed from the Palace after having lunch with Yoshiro. She had used her cloak and a few other tricks to remain undetected as she moved through the streets, taking a winding path to Azix’ house. She had not slept the night before, worried about Azix and angry with herself. She did not have to be cruel in her acting, but when the Emperor had looked at her with a suspicious eye, she had jumped to the first thing that would ease his mind, humiliation of her lover.

She and Yoshiro had been up late into the night arguing and discussing the plans he had formulated. Ariella had fought back and forth with him about the plan, hating what he wanted to do and doubting that Azix would go along with such a plan. She paced in front of the fireplace, she had started a small fire to knock the chill from the house and had brought some food from the market in case the other magician were hungry. She was afraid she had crossed the line, the guilt gnawing at her gut as she tread back and forth in front of the crackling logs.


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Azix Niraj

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When the Emperor called for one of Azix's hands, the orange magician sent an angry glare towards the man. 'Do it! I can heal it with my magic anyway.' Azix had to admit that punching Yoshiro felt good, but those warm fuzzies were soon lost with the sting of Ariella's words. The horrified look on his face was genuine, even though he knew he should have expected it.

Azix hung his head in shame as the guards led him away to a cell. After they threw him inside and slammed the door, the orange magician smiled. While the night hadn't been pleasant, Azix knew they had successfully tricked the Emperor. Azix pressed his back against the wall and slid down into a sitting position. With slow, deep breaths, Azix closed his eyes and entered a meditative state to pass the night away.




After being released in the morning, Azix had headed home to take a bath. As he entered the house, he kicked his shoes off his feet and started to head into the living room. "Viri, I'm home." He froze when he saw Ariella, surprised to see her at his home. A smile crept on his face, even though the words from the night before still rung through his head. Azix couldn't hold her responsible, instead he somehow had to find it admirable that she had the courage to say it.

Azix crossed the room to embrace Ari, "Yer jalan atthirari anni." Azix gave her a hesitant look before kissing her. "Is it safe to say we made a convincing performance last night?"


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Ari happily returned the embrace, murmuring the return to his greeting. “Shekh ma Shieraki Anni, my love.” She was relieved that he did not seem too angry about the night before, some of the tension leaving her frame. When he asked about how convincing their act had been, she snorted.

“Oh, the Emperor bought that, hook, line and sinker. I think Yoshiro almost wet himself. Nice hit, by the way, I had wanted to do that all night.”

She gave him a lingering kiss before hugging him tightly, absorbing his warmth before she had to discuss the plan with him.

“I’m sorry for what I said. He was looking at me like he was going to try and take both our heads, so I did the only thing I could think of…join in what his kids did. I felt so horrible, I wanted to slap myself.”

Her guilt and pain over her actions were plain on her face before she buried it against his chest. Once she felt somewhat more in control, she took a deep breath.

“By the way, Viri is out getting supplies and checking on the other families for a bit. She mentioned something about giving us some ‘alone’ time and then scurried off with a wink, dragging Janus with her. And while I would love to take advantage of a spontaneously empty house, a plan has been formulated. And neither of us will like it.”

Ari then drew him to sit in front of the fire, cautiously explaining the plan to him.




“And I know it sucks, but it was all he could come up with. I have to admit, it’s a good opening.”

She looked up at him nervously, waiting for an outburst or refusal, completely understanding either reaction.


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Azix Niraj

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Azix shook his head when Ariella apologized and held her tight, "Last night you did what you had to for the mission." He leaned down to kiss her forehead, letting her know that he wouldn't hold it against her. While the words had stung, he could see that hadn't meant them. "Just remember, after this is all over we can go see the world."

Ariella explained why the house was empty before pulling him closer to the fireplace. Azix took a seat next to her and listened to Yoshiro's plan.




A week later...


Azix stepped out of the bath and grabbed a towel to dry himself off. When he was done, he wrapped the towel around his waist and went to riffle through his closet for something to wear. Today was the day of King Lagi and Princess Ruki's rehearsal dinner, which required fancier attire than he normally wore. Azix had been invited to attend, as a guest of Lagi, and the orange magician suspected his presence would grate on the Emperor's nerves. He found a black silk coat that fit his frame, with matching pants. He completed the look with a long silk sash and wound it over his shoulder and waist. Azix then walked over to the bed where his wand and assortment of magical were lain. He slipped the necklaces over his head to hang from his neck and hid them beneath his shirt. The exception was his metal vessel, instead he wound the chain around his right wrist with the twin-dragon pendant tucked into it. After hiding his wand within his sleeve, Azix headed downstairs.

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Azix entered the living room to look for Garret, who would be attending the rehearsal as one of Lagi's guards. Of course, the blue magician was really there to watch Azix's back, Garret's support would be invaluable to their plan.


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The rehearsal dinner was not as extravagant as the next night’s activities would be, but they had certainly not spared much effort. The decorations were a blend of Kou and Reim styles, and the table was glittering with golden accents. The large table at the head of the room had places for the King and his soon-to-be bride, along with the Emperor, his chosen escort for the evening, Yoshiro, Ariella, and numerous others. There were four seats open to Lagi’s right for his chosen guests, Roark, and Azix among them. Garret would be expected to be behind the King, on guard in case of any attempts on his life. There were other, smaller tables, littered around a large open area for dancing.

Guards were scattered about to make the guests feel more secure, but security was lax as the number of people in attendance would be fewer than the actual celebration night. Yoshiro was dressed to the nines, his outfit a simple but beautifully made ceremonial kimono, his katana in a decorative sheathe at his hip. Ruki looked stunning, as usual, her attire a bit more modest than usual. The Emperor was decked out in shimmering gold, his head adorned with a glimmering Kou-styled crown. The Kou royal family watched as people filed into the ballroom.

((Lagi, Azix, Ariella and Garret will need to post an entrance))

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Ari fidgeted in her outfit, arranging herself so that her ample chest was comfortable in the kimono. The inner layer was a pristine white with the outer wrapping a deep purple that matched her hair. Her hair was styled in a traditional Kou fashion, two golden chopsticks holding the arrangement in place, drawing out the glimmer of her eyes. She took a deep breath, trying to mentally prepare herself for the evening. Her wand was carefully hidden in the sleeve of her kimono while her dagger was artfully hidden under the sash. She left the rest of her weaponry in her room, though her Household Vessel was glittering at her throat, the magic circle hidden against her neck. She felt almost naked without her weapons as she moved to the door of the ballroom, Yoshiro immediately moving over to escort her to the seat next to his.

She gave him a pretty smile and a blush as she took her seat, watching as people filed into the room.


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Lagi would enter the room  with a small smile on his face. Even though he was smiling, he was a bit nervous to say the least. He never really did any formal dinners with other members of royalty before; it was mostly wine drinking and socializing. This time, he had to eat, was there a fancy way to eat food besides simply eating food?”  Fidget…”  Orie fidgeted from inside of him, apparently not sure what caused her master to be so nervous in the first place.  She started to poke around his hip to see if there was any kind of wound that was  there or something, which was mostly ticklish. However Lagi played it off to be a smooth smile.  Lagi was swearing  a silver like attire  much like the outfit from his coronation .

“Emperor… it’s a pleasure.”  They finally met face to face, though he doubt that the emperor had any choice  words for him.  After a small Kou like bow, Lagi would make his way over to his chair, giving glances to Ruki and Yoshino. He looked at Yoshio with an equal level of respect but he found himself looking at Ruki’s amazing body for a little while. “Ahem…. You…. You look amazing.” Lagi was definitely speechless, the emperor definitely had it in for making females, and they had all of the right stuff when it comes to qualities that can easily entice him. Lagi also took the time to grant the other guests in a friendly tone.  He wanted to give his dad a hug, but he mostly settled with a pat on the shoulder. He smiled and waved at Ariella, kind of wondering what brought her here today.  Lagi contained his Alchemist charm , bladed brooch, orb of communication, orie, and his decorated sash that contained his ruler gem the emerald of ashanti.  They were mostly decoration to some people, but very dangerous and important items.


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