[P] the centre of the city where all roads meet
The Call to Court
Though the mood of the event had been shattered by the abrupt and apparently out of the ordinary display of the Sun and Moon's duel, Whisper did not want the rest of the night to fall apart. She had sampled the fares offered and tasted a variety of drinks, learning all about the “Brass Potato” from a talkative fellow who had missed her incredulous look when it came to the silly name provided. Her father separated from her, presumably to keep an eye on his grandson, and Whisper was left to socialize as she pleased.

This was proving far more difficult now, however. The Caledonians were not the sort of people who could pretend very well – many had begun to disappear into the night by this point. Disappointment was not the feeling Whisper wanted to take with her over this event, but at this point it seemed unavoidable. She imagined this was why Salsola would never show its inner face to Outsiders. Of course, she could not imagine something unexpected happening (the last major event had been before her time, after all) and privately thought the northern Kingdom was handling itself very poorly.

Well, it was likely to end soon enough. The energy of the place was falling and the chill of night creeping in now that the bodies filling the space had lessened and the food was no longer warm to the touch. Even though the music carried on, an uneasiness now existed in the banquet area that the Salsolans were certainly not unaware of.

Idly, Whisper considered heading off to prepare the horses. She wondered if her father would object, but imagined he would not. Given how he had taken the words of the woman overseeing the mock-combat, Grievous seemed keen to report back to the Mafiosi on the matter.

As she lingered and lapped at a bowl of cold water, another woman approached her. Though not as tall as Whisper, the Caledonian was notably plump and soft looking. She was not a laborer, Whisper thought, and certainly no one who had experienced any shortage of food in her life. Still, she looked old enough to have experienced the war the previous winter. With warm eyes and a pelt to match, she gave off a comforting impression – though Whisper knew appearances could be deceiving, she had yet to meet a Caledonian who did not present themselves as more (or less) than what they were.

Backdated to the night of the Call to Court, set towards the end of the night.
[+ 408]

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"Hi there," she chirped, giving the woman a pleasant smile. She wasn't from the Realm and she didn't look like any of the hired performers, so that left only one other option. "You're from Salsola, right? Thank you for coming. I hope that you've been enjoying the festivities!"

Though she tried not to let it, the unexpected outcome of the Duel had made it difficult for Sólveig to enjoy the remainder of the evening. Poor Battalion! That wasn't the way the Duel was supposed to go. What would have compelled Níndari to behave that way? All night long these thoughts visited her mind and soured what should have been a joyous occasion. She hoped that the way she had to force jubilation and cheerfulness into her voice wasn't obvious, though she was certainly no performer. If it didn't show in her tone, Sóli feared that it might on her body instead.

A peal of laughter drew her attention. With her smile pitching upwards into something a little more genuine, she watched a moment as Ambrose pulled one of the performers — the red-headed woman — onto the dance floor while her remaining companions continued to play a lively tune. But for the two of them, there weren't many others who were dancing. In fact, there weren't many others left in the Bastion at all.

Again, her thoughts circled back to the Duel and Sólveig's smile faded back down to a shadow of its usual glow.

"I think the Call to Court would've been more exciting if..." What? If the Moon hadn't defeated the Sun? If the jollity of Call to Court didn't have to compete with the memories of last winter's war? If being back in the Bastion didn't remind them of the siege? Sóli lifted her eyes to Whisper's face and offered her a sweet smile. "Well, 'if' a lot of things," she said said with a humorless giggle and a little shrug. "But that's okay. I'm glad we had one this year.

She turned to watch Ambrose dance a little before a realization hit her like a stone.

"Oh! Did I ever introduce myself?" she gasped, looking at Whisper with shock and apology. "Gods, how rude of me. My name is Sólveig Dawnrunner. I'm a High Lady of the Dawn Court here."

[WC -- 408]

“Yes, it has been...interesting,” Whisper settled on.

She did not think it wise to share the fact that her father had grown irritable and distant since the duel and Councilor Kalypso's announcement thereafter. The rest of their company seemed content to busy themselves elsewhere, however, and Whisper was intent on making the most of her trip even if it had encountered a peculiarity along the way. It was no matter: the upper echelon would handle whatever the Caledonian's words had meant, she would go home and rest and get back to work, and things would carry on as they always had.

Whisper imagined that was partially why New Caledonia had wanted to host this event again. She had not participated in the liberation of the pack the previous winter but understood that he event had been unfathomable. It, like many of the terrible things that those around her had endured, was a topic best left buried.

So she nodded in agreement and let the silence settle between them, but the woman – Sólveig Dawnrunner, a member of a court of similar name – broke it soon after.

The name that was provided should have meant something to Whisper. If it had, she might have been much more receptive upon hearing it, and friendlier than she was. The sad truth of the matter was that Whisper's sister had intentionally kept her family in the dark about her life. Some of this could not be helped, for Azalea had been a child and manipulated and groomed into secrecy by the now-dead Pentiti. Plenty of it might have been shared with her sister, who had wanted so desperately to trust her wholly. She, like many others, had been pushed away. These days, Azalea was more like a stranger.

Rather than any sign of recognition, Whisper merely offered a brief, flat smile and shook her head to show she took no offense.

“Well met, High Lady Sólveig. I'm Whisper Eternity, of Salsola.”

[+ 337]

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"Oh no, please!" she said with an animated wave of her hands and a self-effacing expression. "You really don't have to be so formal around me; I shouldn't have even bothered with my rank." An embarrassed titter followed, along with a shake of her head. "Just Sólveig is fine!"

Ranks were all well and good to know within the pack itself, but how were Luperci outside of the Realm supposed to know what sort of bearing or importance they held? How silly of her! Her vocations, particularly as a Healer and an herbalist, meant more to her (and probably to others as well) anyway. Maybe whatever alcohol she had been partaking of was going to her head.

As she began to allow her self-consciousness to fade, Sólveig returned her attention back onto the other woman. Whisper. Whisper Eternity of Salsola.

"Eternity?" Sóli piped up knowingly before she could stop herself, her maw parting slightly with surprise. Azalea had warned her plenty of times before to be careful about them. But Sólveig had always found it impossible to keep her body from betraying herself. Even as she tried to play off her familiarity with Whisper's family name, she overcompensated and thought that she probably ended up looking more suspicious than merely curious. "Um, I mean... That-that's a kinda... unique name. It's, um... it's meaningful."

In more ways than one, she thought and wondered if there was a relation. They looked of a similar age and were from the same pack; that must mean something. And she thought that Azalea had mentioned having sisters, but had she ever mentioned any names? Sólveig couldn't remember. And trying to pretend that the surname didn't mean something to her was quickly feeling futile.

In the end, what little caution Sóli had attempted to maintain she threw to the wind.

"Miss Whisper? May I ask, um... if-if you know someone named..." Her heart hammered in her chest. "Azalea?"

[WC -- 340]
OOC: Lmk if anything needs changing!
Things were very different in New Caledonia, Whisper silently thought. Such a lofty title was something which spoke of how highly valued Sólveig was to her pack. She must have earned this through her talents and work, whatever it was she did. Certainly nothing requiring hard labor, Whisper imagined – not with her so soft looking. This wasn't to say she was unpleasant to look at, of course. Her long, thick hair and the warm tones of her pelt made her look warm and welcoming. Even her eyes gave off this aura.

The fact that this woman recognized her surname pleased Whisper, who lifted her head and stuck out her chest with pride. She was a little deflated when Sólveig mentioned it was unique and meaningful, but these were not incorrect terms. House Eternity was a lofty one among Salsolas elite, and she a blue-blooded noble. To share the name of the Black Witch and the Golden Tigress was to be connected to their rulers, stretching all the way back to the beginning. Forever was a long time: this was how long their name would carry on.

Her sister had already provided children to do just this. Perhaps, one day, Whisper would do the same.

Before she could launch into her lordly speech about the importance of her House (which was perhaps due to her own slight inebriation) Sólveig asked her about Azalea.

Surprised by this, Whisper stared. How did a woman of the Others know her sister? Another secret, she supposed. Azalea had talked about her friends outside the pack – was Sólveig among them? Or had they merely met before, when Azalea accompanied Grievous to this event much like Whisper and Indigo did now? Uncertain, Whisper decided to be honest.

“Yes,” she answered. “She is my sister. She accompanied our father to this event the last time we were invited. Did you meet her then? I'm afraid she never mentioned you,” Whisper added.

[+ 330]

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So distracted by her nerves and the uncertainty over whether or not to bring up her recognition of the family name, Sólveig failed to noticed the pride (and later the deflation) that had passed over Whisper. But with the blood roaring in her ears, turning them unbearably hot, it was all she could do to focus wholly on the other woman's response.

Or, at least in the immediate aftermath of Azalea's name passing between Sóli's lips, lack thereof.

For a breathless moment, Sólveig could only stare back, albeit with a submissive edge to the carriage of her ears and the lines of her face. However long that moment spanned, it felt like eons to the High Lady. Then, just as her anxiety managed to shoulder its way past her resolve but before she could try to backpedal or offer Whisper an apology for being so nosy, the Salsolan woman replied.

Yes. So they were related. And sisters, no less! Unable to control it, Sólveig displayed her delight at his revelation plainly. And, just as plainly, the hurt of having never been mentioned. She understood why her name had been withheld from Salsola's knowledge — Azalea had made that much clear — but not even to her own sister? The idea of not being able to trust Ingvildr with something as important and beautiful as falling in love was foreign to her. In stark contrast to how Azalea managed their relationship around her family, Sólveig's family had known all about them.

Unbidden, [M]another thought resurfaced and a twinge of anguish constricted her heart. Maybe she had been right after all. Maybe their relationship hadn't been as real to Azalea as it had been to Sólveig. Not enough, anyway, to risk telling her family about them.

But, fool as it might make her, Sóli still carried love in her heart for Azalea.

"No, actually," she replied, forcing a dim smile to her lips and giving her tail a listless wag. "We met that spring at your Marketplace, when Salsola invited us for a trade event. It was wonderful, seeing a little bit of your home!" Her smile became more genuine, touching her eyes. "We were fast friends and stayed in touch after that. I mean, only a little bit, of course!" Another little titter escaped her throat, more out of nervous energy than actual humor or cheer. "I haven't heard from her in a long time, though. I, um... I hope she's doing well."

Sensing that she was failing spectacularly now at being cautious, Sólveig lapped at the contents of her cup to keep from blathering on more.

[WC -- 451]
OOC: lmao i love Whisper
The lie passed easily from Sólveig's lips, and Whisper tried to recall how her sister had been the spring before last. Aani had still been alive. She hadn't had been pregnant yet, nor saddled with her new husband. They hadn't even known then, Whisper thought, what was really going on. It would be nearly a full year before then.

Sólveig had met another version of her sister, Whisper thought. That girl no longer existed. Now there was merely a shadow, one stunted by the agonies its mortal body and endless spirit had endured. Secretly, sometimes, Whisper thought that Azalea would have been far happier had she done what their parents asked and given her children to them. It would have been a lie, but she would have been able to move on from that newest mistake without damaging anyone else.

Thistle, after all, had been sent away to stay with Lilium. Surely something had been going on to warrant that decision.

Distracted by her own thoughts, Whisper didn't realize how peculiar Sólveig was acting. It was only once the chattering stopped that the wolfdog gathered her thoughts into a proper response.

“She is well,” Whisper lied in return. “She and her husband had several children, so I imagine that might be why you haven't heard from her – that sort of thing keeps a person busy. I can tell her I spoke with you, though. We'll be departing later, but if you have a message or something you'd like me to give to her I could do so for you.”

There surely couldn't be any harm in that.

“Actually, Sólveig,” Whisper said, trying her best to pronounce the name properly. “Do you know someone named Naomi? I was hoping to speak with her again, before we leave.”

[+ 3]

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Husband. Children. Despite knowing some of the details, the words were still like fangs to her heart.

But what sort of future would they have had together? Azalea would never leave Salsola — that much had been proven true by her refusal to stay in New Caledonia, where she would be safe from the terrible woman Aani. And would Sólveig really have been able to leave behind her own family and friends in the Realm to join Azalea? At the time, Sóli thought that she might. Now, nearly a year after their separation, she wasn't so sure. Was that because her heart wasn no longer so enchanted by love as it had been in those happier days? Or was it because she never would have been able to leave New Caledonia in the first place?

Oh, what did it matter! Tipping back her cup, Sólveig drained the remaining contents of it down her throat. Azalea was well. She was married to a man and was raising her children and she was well. That was all Sóli needed to hear.

Swallowing down the liquor, Sólveig hummed brightly and forced her lips into a happier smile. "Oh, how wonderful for her! Would you please congratulate her for me, Miss Whisper? And-and..." She shrugged a little sheepishly, wishing that she had somehow been able to better prepare for this moment. "Well, I guess, just... just that I've been thinking of her. And that I wish her well."

When her name was spoken by the Salsolan, Sólveig offered Whisper an attentive, if inquisitive, pause. Surprise that the other woman knew of Naomi played plainly on her face before it broke into a broad smile.

"Oh! You know Naomi?" she chirped, her tail wagging cheerfully. "She's actually one of my closest friends! I haven't seen her here for a little while, but I'd be happy to find her for you, Miss Whisper."

[WC -- 328]

Ignorant of her weapons, Whisper struck again and again. With each word she wounded poor Sólveig. Despite this, the saddlemaker was aware that something was bothering the Caledonian. This was not all that surprising, though – the night had turned strange during the duel, when that girl struck down the dark sun.

Something was festering in New Caledonia, waiting to strike.

“Of course,” Whisper said. Simple words, she thought.

Would they mean something to Azalea?

Would her sister, still drowning in the shadows and the light of the gods-blessed/cursed visions. She chosen. She heard strange music and voices from beyond. Did she still shake, and fall into darkness when the trinity summoned her? Who was it that called her from the waking world? The huntress, the Silver Arrow, that was who needed to be believed – but what about the night, and the cannibal god who sought to devour their bloodline?

Whisper did not believe in the things she could not see, but her sister was not lying about what was happening to her.

Could Casimir save her? Would the children?

Maybe there was an answer there, but Whisper did not see it.

“That would be great. I appreciate your help,” she said, and meant this.

We can wrap with your reply or here!

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