Wilhelmina slouched in the worn armchair as if born to it, limbs relaxed. The cushion had long since deflated and the base of the chair sagged despite repeated attempts to shore it up. “It’s so good to be home.”
“Well,” Thereca handed a cup of lukewarm tea to her cousin, “it has been an eventful year for you so far. The last time you were here was… a bit more hectic.” The younger girl sat down the aging leather seat across from Will, sipping from her own cup. More ladylike than Will, Thereca opted to maintain her good posture by planting her feet on the low table that sat between them, using her practical boots to nudge some haphazardly strewn historical texts out of the way. The wood creaked under even the light weight of her feet and wobbled slightly as the pieces of wood used to level the legs slid against each other.
The paladin, took a gulp of the predictably weak liquid. With Tobi gone to Dawn Bay, the likelihood of getting a good batch of tea dropped drastically. No one else in the family had any kind of facility in the kitchen. “I can’t even remember what I told you in that last letter…
“Yeah, he took it pretty well, actually. But there’s more.” Will pushed herself into a more upright position with her elbows. “I got a message from the researchers at the church of Rao. They had more information about Jack’s family that they wanted to tell me privately. Which is just silly! I told them,” she declared, waiving her drink slightly and nearly sloshing the contents out of the container, “that if they had something to say about him, they could tell Jack to his face.”
Thereca smiled behind the rim of her cup.
“But, wow, it turns out Balthasar is the direct descendant of Arnd of Tdon!”
The cleric’s eyebrows jumped to her hairline, and she coughed slightly as tea threatened to make a beeline down the wrong pipe. “What?”
“I know! It’s just insane! On one side, he’s got the legendary first paladin of Heironeous and on the other, it’s the King of All Devils!” The diminutive paladin gestured aggressively with the tea saucer, pointing from left to right.
Will drank more of her tea as Thereca mulled over the information for a moment, leaning her head back on the chair and staring at the paint peeling off the ceiling. “And how’d Jack handle learning that?”
“Eh. I had just told him about Asmodeus, so I think he was trying to absorb it all. I’m sure he’ll have something to say about it later. Or not.” She shrugged and set her saucer on her knees. “I told him it didn’t matter. It didn’t make him any different of a person than he was before he knew…” Will tugged absently on her bright red ponytail.
Narrowing her eyes, Thereca recognized the move as a nervous twitch of her cousin’s. Something she did when she was unsure — a rare occurrence for the confident paladin.
“Oh! I finally got to have a conversation with Devil Breaker —”
“The sword. He’s decided that’s his name, I guess.”
“Huh. That’s a good name,” Thereca conceded, nodding in appreciation.
“That’s what I thought too. He told me that our ancestor was one of Arnd’s followers — the second of his paladin order. Arnd commissioned some dwarves that live near where our people came from to forge Devil Breaker, though he never said why. Seems like an awfully nice thing to do for someone who works for you. Though, maybe he realized it would be necessary to help his family in the future or something.”
“Yeah… He also mentioned that Lianna is apparently on bad terms with Asmodeus’ other daughter. Glasya thinks Lianna is just a tool, a means to an end for their father, while Lianna hates the idea. Devil Breaker seems to that might be something we could use against her. It’s possible that if we can find out who Lianna’s mother is, we might be able to find out some details about the deal Asmodeus made.”
“Devil Breaker seems convinced that Balthasar isn’t dead either, and that we’ll be dealing with Asmodeus’ lackeys pretty since since things are getting pretty grim on his end. We might be able to do something that that creepy Suel lady, though.”
“He also says that there’s something off about Jack and young Jack. They’re much more good than they should be. It’s possible the process they were using was inherently flawed, though that seems really unlikely with Asmodeus being the driving force… or maybe someone sabotaged it. But it seems like that would mean someone’s been working at this either for an extended period or they did something early enough on and subtle enough not to be noticed even after all this time.” Will heaved a sigh. “ I’m hoping I can get the Raoan scholars to give me some translated copies of the Von Slythes’ notes. Kylie seems to have a good handle on things. Maybe she can help figure out what went wrong. Or right, from our point of view.”
“That’s… a lot of information. You weren’t kidding.”
“There’s a bit more, too. Devil Breaker told me a bit about Doria, the land where our Oeridian ancestors came from. I guess the plan was always to come and colonize the Flanaess, but they were going to use a system more like their own. City states that collaborate rather than a kingdom. But the wizard kings, Azalin probably, betrayed everyone for their own ends. It might be nice to write some of that down, honestly. Maybe whoever’s supposed to take the crown in Rauxes could use it to make things better.”
Will lapsed into silence as she took a few more gulps of her rapidly cooling tea. Thereca waited patiently for many minutes before breaking into the quiet, “And?”
“And… I think that’s everything. You know about what happened in Rauxes.” The small paladin looked puzzled.
“I was more asking about what you deliberately aren’t telling me… What you told Jack about not caring about his heritage?”
“Um… It’s nothing… But…” Will plucked at the frayed threads on the arm of her chair. She remembered back when the fabric had been new and scratchy, though now the stuffing threatened to burst from the weary seams.
Throwing up her hand that wasn’t clutching the tea cup, Will exclaimed, “It’s freaking Arnd of Tdon, Thereca! I mean, what do I have to add to that?!”
Blowing out a sigh, the cleric smiled to herself. Should have known that was what Will would focus on.
“I’m not trying to sell our family’s accomplishments short, really I’m not. But he should be, I dunno, marrying someone from one of the Celestial families or something. Arnd’s bloodline is too important to just wallow in this tiny domain… Which I realize is just ridiculous, you know. Thinking like that.”
Will’s mouth twisted into an expression of frustration, she pulled a bit more venomously on her scarlet hair. “What I said was true. None of this makes Jack any different than he was before he knew it. And it’s not like he’s the type to think it makes him more important… I just… I don’t know… I don’t feel like I’m worthy enough to marry him… Ugh.” She flopped back into an ungraceful slouch, legs making a heavy thud when she stretched them out in front of her and free arm draped over the arm of the chair.
“As long as you know that thinking like that is silly,” the cleric said.
“Yessss.” Will drew out the word irritatedly, slurping the last of her tea in defiance.
Thereca watched her brood. It was an amusing sight since the young paladin stuck out her lower lip in a look that was much closer to a childish pout, chin pressed to her chest and practically sliding out of her seat with her wilted pose. “You know, the people have started hearing word about the things you’re doing. They’re very proud.” The paladin didn’t respond, glowering at her empty cup. “They’re just as interested in what Jack has been up to. Working with the Geoff Navy and helping you… It’s rather… heroic.”
Will looked up at that. “Well it is heroic. He’s been incredibly helpful.”
“Yes. And a heroic Von Slythe is something that very much bolsters their spirits. People are always asking me for news now.”
“Huh. I guess I hadn’t thought of that.” Will perked up.
Thereca paused as she finished her own drink, grimacing at the bitterness of the dregs. “They’re all very excited about the fact your betrothal is still in effect. I’ve been getting progressively more questions about when the wedding might be. You might say there’s been some… speculation. Possibly even of the increasingly rampant kind.”
“What? Oh, that.”
“Yes. ‘Oh, that.’ There are some who think it’s rather romantic that you’re both galavanting around on a flying ship, dispensing justice and thwarting evil.”
“We haven’t really talked about it any further,” Will shrugged, unconcerned. “We actually haven’t spent that much time together lately. There’s so much going on right now. I’m not really worried about it.”
“Hmm. Well, some people seem quite keen on the particulars already. Do let me know if you get the chance to work out some details. I’ve had several folks volunteer various services. I get the impression they think their offers might help spur things along.” Thereca sniffed in a manner that, to someone who wasn’t related, would seem disapproving. Weddings were one of her favorite things after all.
“You thanked them, right? I should go thank them… Do I need to go talk to them or something? I have no idea how this stuff works…” Will groaned and swiped a calloused hand across her pale, freckled face.
The red-headed cleric laughed. “That’s what family is for, Will. I know Adam is still pitching a bit of a fit, but you can count on us to handle things here while you’re off heroing.”
Will grinned and leaned forward to stretch out her hand. Her cousin mimicked the movement, gripping the paladin’s fingers with her own. “I can always count on all of you. You know I’ll come back, Thereca.”
The younger girl tried to keep her smile steady. She did not underestimate the dangers Wilhelmina and her friends were facing, and she knew that a courageous and just heart was not nearly enough protection against the forces Asmodeous could call upon. They had seen the results. But even still, Heironeous had never abandoned them even in their darkest days. There was always faith to fall back on when everything else failed you. “I know,” she replied. And she meant it.