♕ The Reign ~ [The Roleplay Thread] ♕

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer| Rowyn -JUDGE-
ARCANA
 
“I don’t suppose this wild flight was meant as the dramatic exit?”
Jaida’s voice caused Arcana to start slightly, the golden-haired woman looking up seemingly broken from her previous thoughts. 
“Ah, Dijinn.” Arcana hummed, swinging a leg up and around, she elegantly dropped from the saddle onto the ground to match height with the rumoured witch. “There are simply those who I haven’t the patience or fortitude to deal with right now. I am sure you of all people can understand.” She patted Titan’s sweat-soaked flank and sighed. “Also I wanted some snacks before returning to the trials.” 
She leaned against the large horse and folded her arms, allowing a silence to settle as she appraised Jaida with a contemplative expression.   
After a few thoughtful moments she spoke once more. “As I recall we were discussing the possibility of a raise in exchange for extra workload and your loyalty. But we were interrupted, and I felt bad to leave you like that. I figure that now is as good a time as any to present my offer.” She cracked her knuckle against her palm as she spoke, tilting her head back to stretch out the kinks in her neck. “If I take the throne, as I fully intend to either by trial or by force, if necessary, I will reinstate you in your original position at court. I will also continue to turn a blind eye to your activities, provided they do not cross a line and are within reason, of course. And that you continue to do spy work for me even after I have claimed the crown. Court can be a treacherous place and it is important that I hear all of the going-ons of my palace. Elsewise you are free to do please, and my full protections will be extended to you. Does that sound fair?”
 
~
 
 
ROWYN
 
“Miss Tinklere!” Colin’s voice sounded slightly mocking as he gasped, a grin painted on his pretty mouth. “I am not well versed in your idioms, but I do say you fancy that chap. Make sure not to let it cloud your judgement before he has even begun.”
Another hot blush crept along the red-head’s face. “Fancy him?” She echoed, covered her face with her arms. “N-no! Why, i was merely pointing out t-that his technique is finer than frogs' hair split four ways. A-and.... well he certainly isn’t offensive to look at either.”
 
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Ashton Bál | Ashreaper

Ashton waited a moment for the music to begin, the crowd still coming down from the performance high Arcana left them with. Silence fell upon the audience as the orchestra rose into melody, just giving enough time for the high pitch voice of a girl to speak her thoughts.
"He's not even from here" She squeaked, the man she spoke to quickly hushed her, gaining a short side glare from the Ashreaper in the arena. The music managed to drown out the remaining conversation between the father and daughter for Ashton. Deciding now is the best time to kick off his round.

Starting with the basics most all Ashreapers are known for, following their style and techniques. However, another form of riding underlaying his style of riding, although Ashreapers were good with near all forms of riding, they held a rather aggressive form. The more eloquent riders coming from those who worked closest to the palace. But Ashton's history didn't land him working near the royal's home, so his added eloquence was an odd thing to see from his faction. That and the eloquence he displayed wasn't quite of the Astrin's royals standards, still having the same key elements, yet somehow different without anyone being able to place what was different about it.
He continued on with a jumping course, with a mix of side stepping dressage, his horse following along just fine. Regardless of the fact that his horse wasn't one he worked with often, he managed to move with the animal fluently, landing all the challenging jumps as if they were nothing. He could get the horse to move in anyway he wanted. Having complete control of the path he had set for their course which his horse abided to every step. The two managed to land their jumps in time with the music, and walk along with the melody.

Mixing a dressage act, the horse side stepped across the open area in the arena, along with several other forms that allowed the horse to show off it's own form of dance. Ashton could see this part of the performance boring many a people in the crowds, as it wasn't as fast paced as the rest of the act. Only a few in the upperclass seats had kept their attention. But he was sure that was due to them psychoanalyzing his form. Continuing into the second part of the dressage, Ashton found even himself growing bored of the routine, the lack of action after such events the previous contender displayed left for a dull viewing. Ashton told himself he wasn't going to follow suit with the ringleader, but he decided he could at least tame her theatrics to his liking instead. Taking a look around towards the crowd where he saw a few of Arcana's "family" in the stand, then took a ganter towards where Malik, Demitri, and Denva resided. Remembering the trick the heiress showed the sailor the day prior and let a small smirk pull at his lips. 

Picking up the horse's speed into a steady gallop, before lifting himself off the saddle and kicking his feet to the ground. At the same time pulling his horse's reins enough to make a sharp turn and push himself back into the saddle, the two now going another direction. The move was stolen directly from the heiress' teachings, be it petty or not, Ashton rather enjoyed the fun. The Ashreaper made a few other exaggerated moves from his horse's saddle, but kept it limited to not anger the already irriated judges. Still keeping what he assumed was their criteria in mind when making his next decisions. Finishing his perfermance with the challenging jumps once more, then stopped in the middle of the ring the second the music ended. Facing the judges and awaiting their opinions.

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everyone

Now that the trial had recommenced, Malik trotted back to the crowds. Acknowledging Demitri and Denva, the merchant pushed Sweetpea to trot towards the duo. Malik, like many, felt his eyes drawn to the form of Ashton as he rode into the ring as the next tune of a song began playing. Unlike the thundering eruption of loud emotions that Arcana had left behind, a relative hush had settled over the crowd as they eagerly awaited observing the skills of the follow up contestant. Before Ashton could begin, an odd, lone voice of a child broke through the crowd.

“He’s not even from here,” The young voice complained audibly before further words were drowned out by the swell of the music picking up volume. Malik thought this comment peculiar but did not pay it enough mind to distract him for long. However, upon glancing over to the librarian, the silvery-haired man had a rather intense, calculating expression adorning his features. Malik was not sure what Demitri and Denva had been speaking about prior to his joining their group, but clearly Demitri was not in a very joyous mood.

Malik might have inquired to Demitri’s well-being, as he could tell from the slightly wide eyes and stuff posture of the librarian, that the latter seemed to be rather stressed to some degree. However, one glance to the shorter man’s bright eyes forced Malik to reconsider striking up conversation with the possibly irritated man. Malik was generally not afraid begin talking to most people, his own blithe attitude aiding his ability to charm others into conversation, but he also knew when not to mess with certain situations.

Already having forgotten about the child’s interference, Malik returned his attention to Ashton, who had begun moving atop horseback. Malik was not well-versed in horsemanship, opting to focus more on the rider and the way his form-fitting clothing clung to his build. Still, the merchant could tell that Ashton had mastered all the basic techniques. They were performed with a fluidity and grace only expected of a well-experienced rider with years upon years of practice. Gradually, the man delved into showcasing advanced movements, similarly performing them with no issue. Unlike Arcana, Ashton mainly stuck to, what Malik assumed, was properly expected horsemanship movements.

That was until Ashton then began to switch up his routine once more, prompting more excitement regarding his performance as he sped the dark horse to a run. He managed to incorporate the right amount of formal teaching, while also not sticking to the textbook form. It added a level of intrigue, without the cost of relying entirely on showiness like the ringmaster had.

However, one of the moves was oddly familiar to Malik. As well as Demitri. The librarian’s cool eyes snapped to the merchant, a silent but accusatory stare. Demitri did not say anything, seeming to not wish to bring attention in a public space. Malik was not sure how, but somehow the librarian had pieced together that the merchant must have showed Ashton the move. The merchant attempted to ignore the glare boring into the side of his head as if he did not notice, once more watching as Ashton performed more impressive tricks on horseback, before concluding his run.

 

Most of the judges applauded politely. Piers was an exception, his arms crossed. However, his expression and movements contrasted how he had presented himself towards Arcana. Quite the contrary, he seemed rather pleased, even if it was only through some telltale signs showing through his gruff exterior.

“Not bad at all,” Piers commended with the slightest hint of a smirk gracing his worn face. “Befitting of a true Ashreaper! You exhibited basic techniques at a master level, displaying ease on advanced techniques. I did find some of those final moves... unnecessary. But they were able to display your range of abilities, at the very least. While I do not enjoy seeing theatrics, I can appreciate your skill. 8.”

The other judges, and much of the audience, seemed rather surprised by Piers generous rating, especially after Arcana’s score having been at the other extreme of the spectrum. After a few moments, the next judge laid out her own judgement.

“Very impressive horsemanship, my dear.” Matilda offered to Ashton with a warm smile. “One can tell you have a good relationship and knowledge of how to ride with the horse, as opposed to using it as a tool. I believe that is one of the most important ways to become a good rider, which had been ingrained in your horsemanship. Additionally, you showcased a range of abilities, while remaining formal throughout; a good range. You shall receive a 9 from me.”

A polite applause scattered through the crowd, which seemed to approve of the judges’ opinions for Ashton more than the panel’s prior, generally unpopular opinions regarding Arcana.

“You… may have a 9.” Delmar began, his voice staring out at a low tone, but managing to raise his voice some for the rest of evaluation. “You are quite well-versed. I generally approve of how you treated the horse during the performance. I am not entirely sure the falling off move was needed, but nonetheless you managed to do it fluidly enough that it did not strain the animal... oh, and you have good timing on jumps… it is difficult to know the perfect time to jump without potentially pushing the horse to jump when it is not ready… generally good form, no issues there. Um.”

Delmar trailed off, seeming to offer opinions as they came to mind, but running out. A moment of awkward silence passed before Colin stepped in.

“While that was, I think we can all agree, not quite as rambunctious as the last performance,” Colin began, his voice carrying better than the last judge. The charming man offered a flash of his usual toothy grin to Ashton and the crowd. “It was a very well-done display. I echo the other judges. I saw no issue with your performance. I offer you a solid 9, and wish you luck in the following trials.”

The other judges waited a moment for Rowyn to offer her thoughts. As several long seconds trickled by, Colin leaned forward to observe the ginger. He was met with a rather mesmerized expression covering the girl’s features. Colin had half the mind to wave a hand in front of her face, but decided on simply whispering loudly into her ear, hoping to snap her out of her daze before the crowds began to notice.

“Ms. Tinklere, you may wish to offer your thoughts?” Colin implored.

 

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Rowyn |JUDGE|

The world seemed to blur out around her, all noises fading into a slightly annoying buzz in the ringing in Rowyn’s ears. She could hear her heart slamming against her chest and was acutely aware of its pulsating rhythm as it reverberated throughout the rest of her body. Heat rose to her face, congregating in her cheeks and ears until the sensation was practically burning, her whole body alight with coquettish flame.

Even for one such as herself whose mind was constantly churning and analyzing, Rowyn found peace and silence in her mind. A pleasant quiet buzz in what was otherwise a whirlwind of thought. She actually found herself to derive some solace from the unusual quiet of her mind in that moment as she devoted her full focus towards the Ashreaper in the ring. 

Something about him just quelled her anxieties and hampered the otherwise chaotic nature of her mind. It was peaceful.

What exactly Ashton was doing was completely beyond the red-headed inventor. She instead found herself drowning in those deep emerald pools of eyes, a green so brilliant she could see the flashes of colour even from all the way up in the judge’s stand. 

Green eyes. Touched by ethereal storm clouds, as cold as a tumultuous sea. Eyes that sing of empty promises and pretty lies, an alluring gaze that threatened to drag her fathoms below their icy depths. A certain fog lay behind that emerald gaze, concealing a mystery of a man with motives and morals all to his own.

As she finally managed to pry her gaze away from those eyes, Rowyn found herself entranced by the oddly feline-like grace which Ashton carried himself. His crisp, precise movements felt incredibly well practiced and controlled. And as these movements pulled at the edges of his jacket, revealing a hint of mesh underneath, Rowyn once again felt that familiar heat rise to her face. His arms were extremely toned, padded by muscle that the mesh did little to conceal. That was likely its intended purpose. 

The button on his shirts popped tantalizingly low, revealing the flesh beneath. Rowyn found herself sub-consciously and anxiously chewing on her lower lip, or what remained of it from the burn scars that marred her face. A striking and crushing reminder that someone like her would never stand a chance with someone like Ashton.  Perhaps she may have in the past, but that was a long time ago. Now people could barely maintain eye contact with her without shying away or displaying a look of pity. 

“Ms. Tinklere, you may wish to offer your thoughts?”

Rowyn jumped so suddenly and violently that her knees slammed against the underside of the table. In a expression of startlement, Rowyn blurted out “He’s a 10!” 

A deep crimson washed over her face once she realized what she had said..... And it was not his horsemanship skills she was rating. 

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Denva Beaumont

Denva noticed the one female judge and saw the red dusting of her cheeks. She had to giggle at that. 

"I think one of the judges is sweet on Ashton." She hissed to Demitri from her perch on Lemonice. The horse snorted in agreement, tossing her mane like she was saying "No duh!" since she could see it plain as the hay in her stall at night. Denva gave her horse's golden neck a pat. 

"You see it too, huh? Hopefully the judge won't favor him too much if she has a crush on him." Denva agreed with the mare as more of the patrol animals from Pyro Squadron flew overhead. She saw Aslan, who was keeping higher than most, likely to avoid scaring the horses. She wondered if the judges had asked him to have some of his guys do dives on the arena to see how the riders handled their mounts getting sp.ooked. Alaric knew that if he and Aslan tried that on Lemonice, she'd murder him in his sleep. She made a mental note to keep a side eye on the sky if that was the case. Considering how that wild mare had gotten scared earlier by the Royal Wyvern, she would be better prepared to handle it. 

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Ashton Bál | Ashreaper

Ashton nodded his head politely as the Ashreaper gave his grading, holding back a smirk when he mentioned his distaste for the theatrics. Keeping a snarky comment from exiting his mouth to not anger the male. He listened intently to the female say her praise and observations. Giving her a smile along with a gentle pet to the horse he sat atop in appreciation as she gave him a good grade. He then listened to next judge, keeping a gentle expression as he waited for the man to collect his thoughts to share, still keeping the patience as the man spoke them with little confidence. The next man behind the table took over shortly after, the confidence much more apparent, yet somehow laxed as he gave his thoughts.
The Ashreaper gave another smile with a bow of his head before focusing on the last judge, a ginger with a scarred up face and odd contraptions surrounding her eye. To which Ashton kept his face void of any pity or distaste, having learned early on not show such things. Dazed and spaced out, the judge beside her had to say a few words to get her back to reality. She came back nearly screaming her grade. Ashton sat there taken aback for a moment, not sure how he got such a good grade by the female. Giving her a nod and a smile in thanks before turning his horse to exit the arena.

Ashton caught a glimpse of the male who's daughter had called out before his turn, an oddly sly look smeered his face. Ashton only gave him a glare and had to stop himself from rolling his eyes as he left the arena. Returning to his place between Prohyrius and Demitri.

"Show off" Hyrius grumbled.

"You're just mad you can't do that" Ashton retorted with a laugh.

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Malik Nerio | Merchant & Demitri Lockehart | Librarian

After some prodding, the redheaded judge finally announced her score for the dark-haired contestant and the eagerly awaiting crowd. The woman first jumped in her seat, nearly yelping out her words as if startled. Without an explanation alike to those the other judges offered, the distracted woman stated a result granting full marks towards Ashton. This led to producing some whispering and chuckles from the crowd, as well as a pointed glare from Piers' narrowed eyes and lowered brows. Despite his own rather high opinion for Ashton, the middle-aged Ashreaper did not seem entirely happy with Rowyn's growing pattern of potentially overly generous scores.

"A total of 45 out of 50 points!" Rodell called out in conclusion. It was just about as high of a score as anyone who was not specifically a horse expert could obtain. Some areas of the crowd cheered, other sections opting for polite clapping. There did not seem to be quite as split of opinions for Ashton as there had been for Arcana, who had recieved more extreme views at either side of the spectrum regarding the opinions she had gathered from the public.

 

 

"Hmm," Demitri could not find himself caring about the trivialities of attraction that Denva had brought up, but he did agree with the sentiment behind hoping that personal bias did not taint any scores. Unfortunately, Demitri was approaching a feeling of dread that the speculation was proving itself correct. The judges' were not only less professional than he had hoped, but they also seemed somewhat inconsistent in their rankings. While Arcana had majorly over exaggerated the performance aspects of her attempt, Ashton was not entirely exempt from likewise catering some towards entertainment. Still, Demitri almost felt more irritated by the purposeful maneuver that Ashton had incorporated into his routine. It was so particular it was not a coincidence.

Ashton trotted up nearby to Demitri, engaging jovially yet briefly with a Ridgestrider male.

Now that the field had cleared from the last contestant, the head clergyman called for hush once more.

"One of the Ridgestrider mountains' very own Beaumonts, will be the next to showcase her skills. If Denva Beaumont would please enter the field!"

Despite his fractious mood, Demitri offered his ally a curt nod as she was about to push forward.

Malik trotted forward to push between Ashton and Demitri, offering the former a smile.

"Perhaps it was a blessing I was not after you so as not to completely humilate myself in comparison," Malik spoke in his usual, jokingly abject manner.

 

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Denva Beaumont

"Wish me luck." Denva told Demitri, clicking her tongue to get Lemonice moving, the Akhal Teke trotting into the arena. They decided to keep it professional, the music for Seafarer's Jig (AKA He's a Pirate from POTC) started playing as soon as they entered the arena. Lemonice tossed her head, her shimmering mane practically glowing in the sunlight. She stopped just long enough in the center of the ring for Denva to bow to the judges in her saddle, as was protocol for events like this for her. Then Lemon started to really perform. She practically sprang forward into a trot, keeping perfect time to the music with her hooves missing a step. 

However, near the middle of the song, one of the giant osprey flew low, shrieking a call at the horse making her whinny and rear in surprise. Denva yelped, falling off and landing in the dirt. But true to form, despite having the wind knocked out of her for a moment, she shook herself and, using that trick of kicking up the legs while her horse was at a full on canter, she got back in the saddle easily and got right back to the routine, a smooth finish before the song finished. She hoped the judegs would score her based on her skill - and the fact she was able to get back on almost immediately. She knew she could count on Lemon to focus even with that stupid bird rider. She suspected that since she knew Aslan wouldn't hurt her, her cousin, Aldric, had one of the other members of Pyro Squadron decide to test to see how she would react if her horse got startled from above

(these are the routine and song - the swoop and run from the osprey would happen about halfway during the song) 

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Jaida/Djinn | Witch/fortune teller

Jaida’s voice broke the ringleader out of her thoughts and she swung down from Titan’s back. By the time Arcana’s feet touched the ground her walls were back in place, as was her unflappable, confident facade. A shadow of a smile flickered across Jaida’s face at being addressed with her new stagename. “There are simply those who I haven’t the patience or fortitude to deal with right now. I am sure you of all people can understand.”

Arcana patted Titan’s sweaty flank somewhat tiredly, adding “Also I wanted some snacks before returning to the trials.”

Jaida raised a deliberate, sceptical eyebrow, but decided not to comment. The circus leader leaned against the massive horse and gazed at her with a measured expression. She looked back calmly and waited for the other woman to speak again. After a few moments of continued silence, she did.

Jaida kept her face carefully neutral as Arcana laid out an offer almost perfectly matching her own plans. The terms in regards to her ‘activities’ were worded somewhat vaguely, but she wasn’t about to point that out. They were likely to continue along the current line anyway. All in all, she was very pleased.

“Very well, I accept,” she responded, knowing full well the risks of this agreement went both ways. If Arcana intended to employ shadowy means to obtain the crown (more so than she already did) Jaida would always have that knowledge to hold over her. The same applied to her own less-than-legal activities. But all in all, assuming the ringleader would turn out to be a reasonably competent queen, helping Arcana gain the crown was definitely in her best interest, so with that in mind she went on: “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but ruling a circus is different from ruling a country. The love of the common people won’t be enough, you need the higher-ups too. And they don’t like you. Fortunately for you they don’t like each other either, but all the same, be careful.”

She started to vanish but remembered something else as she did, flickering like a ghost. “By the way, your little protegee could do with a lesson in secrecy. Kitty-cat escaped this morning and while chasing her your teammates ran into our mysterious Ashreaper friend. She invited him into your alliance almost on sight. He declined.” She paused for a moment, watching Arcana’s expressions. “Your cat sitter blew up at her already but you might want to have a talk with her to drive the lesson home. Can’t have her ruining future plans after all.”

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Malik Nerio | Merchant & Demitri Lockehart | Librarian

The judges observed Denva's movements, which were well coordinated with the music the girl had chosen. Denva showcased knowledge that had been developed over the course of multiple years, sticking primarily to a dressage-style presentation and routine. While less excitable than the prior two performances which incorporated more divergent techniques, it was an accomplished procedure.

That was, until around the middle of the routine. One of the overhead, circling guard mounts screeched, its shrill voice carrying loudly over the music. Some audience members even began to cover their ears to block out the noise. Various horses whinnied, startled, including Demitri's own mount who shifted on her feet. The most prevalent issue to arise was that Lemonice was very frightened, rearing up and dropping Denva from her back.

Denva landed harshly, with a sound of alarm unwillingly bursting from her throat. Various people in the crowd gasped, others clicking their tongues in disappointment or criticism. Some glared up at the sky, accusatory of the overhead squadron. Demitri was almost sure he overheard some conspiracies about sabotage, but he had little reason to believe the baseless rumors so far. Still, the librarian was irked about the presence of the flying creatures, regardless of the reason they were in attendance.

Denva used her momentum to kick back up onto the horse, a relatively impressive feat considering the cirumstance. The move may have been somewhat necessary to recover some of her grace despite the interruption, but Demitri tsked under his breath. Denva was only the third contestant to ride, yet was also the third to pull off the very same falling-off maneuver. While she was the only one who had truly needed the move to save herself from potentially losing more points, the last two contenders had already performed the movement, making it far less impressive or original than it may have been under other conditions. Demitri did not know when he would ride in the lineup for the trial, but he knew he would not attempt that maneuver in front of the judges for a fourth time that day.

The song drew close, Denva winding down her performance alongside the beat. Aside from the fall, she had concluded her performance smoothly, without any other issues of her fault. Piers stood up, storming off the wooden platform. More hushed whispers were exchanged among crowd goers at the sight. The other judges appeared a bit confused or uncomfortable by the sudden departure. With Piers missing, Matilda took over as the first to present her opinion.

"Well, then." The woman began. "Miss Beaumont, I believe you did a very good job with your attempt. Still. It was perhaps not as impressive as expected due to the, er... interruptions. I am afraid we cannot ignore that. Though it was not your fault, you were also not the most unique in some of your choices. Still. You handled the issue with grace. You show an high level of horsemanship, even despite your faction not being the most renowned in the sport. Considering your high level of professionalism and ability to righten yourself despite an obstacle, you shall receive a 6 from me."

Scattered applause from the crowd cemented the fair score into place.

"Well-" Delmar began, only to be entirely spoken over by a more thunderous voice as the prominent Ashreaper judge reclaimed his seat. The fidgety Tideseeker shrank into his chair as Piers began speaking.

"Preposterous! Who even decided to allow the entire zoo into something so formal?! Who trained the beasties? Worry not, for they have heard their piece from me." Piers announced smugly before plopping down into his seat and crossing his arms. His stern gaze settled on Denva.

"You realize you were the third person to perform that frilly, kicking maneuver onto your saddle today?" Piers stated in a cold tone devoid of much emotion at all. "Third... when you are the third person to go. The absolute lack of originality is, quite frankly, baffling. I do not know what to expect from a mountain dweller, but I cannot say I am impressed if this is all you have to show."

"Piers," Matilda chided. "The poor girl was thrown from her horse. I agree that the move has grown stale, but she did save herself from an external-"

"Do you expect a Queen to copy others?! What sort of example is that! Excuses cannot stand on the throne, so that shall not here, either." Piers snapped at the Wispweaver. The woman did not shrink away from Piers' steely glare, but she did not attempt to fight him further on the topic. "You will be granted a 4 for showcasing acknowledgment of riding, but for being unable to stay on the horse and lacking originality you do not deserve anything higher."

Demitri felt the leather of the reins he gripped bite into his gloves, feeling the edges dig into his palm even through the leather. The librarian disliked the gruff Ashreaper more by the minute. The man preached about standards, yet he was crass. He disliked performance, yet conversely dismissed preparation that did not require unexpected moves. His opinions were inconsistent, seeming to be based mainly on his liking of an individual or his own mood. As much as Demitri wished that Denva had not had to utilize the movement, he did not know what he would have done differently in the same circumstance. Demitri wished to speak out against the injustices he saw, but he managed to keep his mouth shut. His jaw was visibly clenched with distaste towards the judging panel.

Piers opinion was met with fewer applause than the prior scoring, but no one seemed as if they wanted to debate his opinion. Delmar opened his mouth to speak, but Colin beat him to enunciate his words.

"Tsk," Colin clicked his tongue as if in disapproval, but he did not directly confront Piers' judgment. He aimed his usual toothy smile toward the current contestant. "I believe you did rather well, considering the circumstances. I believe an 8 is a rather fair score for the clear dressage skills you have honed. My dear, I hope you did not find yourself hurt from your fall. If you find yourself sore, I believe a medic is nearby."

"Ah-HEM!" Delmar finally managed to speak loudly enough to allow attention to turn to the man's generally overlooked presence. The man brushed his shirt off, as if in preparation to speak further. "I think. The song was a wonderful choice. Peculiar for a mountaineer to know, but a good choice... nonetheless. Oh, right. I enjoyed your relationship with the horse. You have been together a while, I suspect. Despite being so scared, she did not seem like she did not trust you, although I would like you to make certain she has calmed down after you exit the ring. You get... a 7?"

"Where are the standards today?" Piers barked, forcing Delmar to all but flinch. Ashreaper finally quieted down enough to allow the final red-haired judge to offer her score, not without aiming his cold eyes to bore into the side of her partially metal features.

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Ashton Bál | Ashreaper

Denva's performance started off smoothly, however the dressage seemed more on the horses abilities rather than the rider's. Making Ashton wonder if the judegs would give only the horse the grading and nod of approval to the rider for remaining on the horse. The thought brought a small realization that perhaps Ashton would not make a good judge. More likely to grade a squirrel for watching over the contestant, which makes him thankful he's not in any of the seats in front of the arena. 
Instead, his thoughts brought him to the creatures flying above, noticing one feathered mount break off from the formation and began diving. The Ashreaper placed a hand on his horse's neck as the flying beast screeched into the arena, the early warning he gave his horse left it just bouncing his head in slight surprise. A handful of other riders around the waiting area had far more reaction than Ashton's mount. But nothing too serious as Denva's horse had went through, kicking off her rider only for her to save herself in the same move Ashton had stolen. Letting a smile slide onto his lips for a short moment.
"Definitely not as clean as what she demostrated yesterday" Ashton breathed out, leaning his head towards Prophyrius.
"She showed you that?" Hyrius hissed quietly, a glare was nearly seeping into his gaze.

"No, she told the sailor he couldn't come out and play until he got the move down" Ashton cooed, a childish smile on his face.

"She kept showing us it until he finally got it" He finished, the Ridgestrider simply rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the dressage.

Near the end of the performance, Ashton noticed the Ashreaper judge make a hand single to the sky, to which the Pyro Squadron responded by landing outside of the arena. Which Ashton could guess is where the angry judge stomped off to when the performance ended. He can't imagine Alaric liked the words he recieved from Piers. Nor did he think Denva enjoyed the words from the same Ashreaper when he returned. Ashton could only chortle at the man's statements.

"Isn't his department the security? How ironic" Ashton cooed, this time leaning his head towards Demitri.
"Wish you luck with that one" Prohyrius hummed over the Ashreaper towards the Truthkeeper, for whenever his turn had arrived.

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Denva Beaumont

Denva knew this was how competitions went sometimes. She glared up at the retreating osprey that was chased off by Aslan, the big wyvern snapping at it's tail feathers as if to say "DUDE! WHAT THE HECK!?" She knew that she probably could've used a different maneuver than the butterfly kick she learned from Arcana, but still...

"I understand, thank you for taking the time to consider the situation." Denva told the judges, still perched on her horse and keeping her composure, despite her embarassment from some of their comments. She was internally bristling, but if she wanted to be Queen, she knew she had ot keep her composure. She could always have a private meltdown with Lemonice later. 

The horse in question seemed more indignant than she was and whinnied as if to say "Oh come on! It's not my fault I got startled by a giant osprey!" before Denva calmed her horse, riding her out of the arena. 

"Easy girl, they know about the osprey. I'm sure Alaric will give that rider a firm talking to." She assured the mare, who snorted indignantly as they rejoined the others. She swung off her horse, going over to join Demitri. 

"Well...I suppose my score could've been worse...I could've done something more unique than the Butterfly Kick though, but it was all I could think of to get back on Lemon." The Ridgestrider girl commented to nobody in particular with a sigh as she reassured her horse, Lemon pressing her golden nose into her rider's hand in return. 

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer| Rowyn -JUDGE-

ARCANA

 

"Very well, I accept."

Jaida's affirmaiton brought a slight smile to Arcana's lips. 

“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this," Jaida began, "but ruling a circus is different from ruling a country. The love of the common people won’t be enough, you need the higher-ups too. And they don’t like you. Fortunately for you they don’t like each other either, but all the same, be careful.”

Arcana sighed a bit, her shoulders slumping slightly in an action of recongition. She always intended to prioritize winning over the people, there were simply more of them and an uprising could risk way more than the displeasure of the few elite. But she also recongized the importance of Jaida's point. 

"By the way," Jaida began to fade away as the wind swept up her form, "your little protegee could do with a lesson in secrecy. Kitty-cat escaped this morning and while chasing her your teammates ran into our mysterious Ashreaper friend. She invited him into your alliance almost on sight. He declined.”

A long and drawn out sigh fell from Arcana's lips as the ringleader pressed her entire palm into her face, dragging it across her face where it came to rest by her temple, massaging the area briefly in a gesture of pure exasperation. 

Jaida continued. “Your cat sitter blew up at her already but you might want to have a talk with her to drive the lesson home. Can’t have her ruining future plans after all.”

"Okay.... I'll see what I can do." Arcana murmured in an even and quiet tone. Her voice sounded resignedly calm provided the circumstances and frustration which she had just displayed. Arcana folded her arms as she processed this new information, a contemplative and thoughtful look passed over her features. "Unfortunately her daddy's got money, so we still need her. Thank you, Dijinn. You’ve been very helpful.”
With that praise, Arcana grasped Titan’s lead and began to meander out of the alley. She briefly paused, checking the surrounding area for signs of the knight who had spotted her. Upon ensuring that the coast was clear she lead Titan out, keeping a steady pace on foot down the cobbled streets and towards the nearby markets to pick up some snacks. 

 

~

 

ROWYN

 

To say Rowyn was distracted was an understatement. Although she tried her best to pay attention to the next contestant demonstrating her horsemanship skills, her attention kept slipping away and sliding over to where the previous black-haired contestant stood. After a time zoning out, a sudden yelp snapped her attention back towards the arena just in time to see the girl being thrown off her horse. 

A gasp sounded from Rowyn’s chest as the red-haired scientist rocked to her feet, leaning over the table to get a better look at the arena. “Is she okay?!”

Luckily, the girl managed to regain herself, performing the very same trick she had seen both Ashton and Arcana do to return to a seated position on her horse. 

It was definitely very odd to see the same very specific trick performed three times over. Perhaps those three had formed a kind of alliance and were sharing tricks. There was no question as to where the move originated from. As Rowyn turned her gaze outwards to the crowd, her brow furrowed once she realized she could no longer spot the imposing blonde figure looming over the rest. 

The girl managed to finish up the remainder of her performance seamlessly and without issue, earning a small and polite clap from Rowyn. 

The judges proceed to give their scoring.

Matilda gave her typical fair, albeit tough scoring. 

Piers, per usual, seemed entirely upset and mad about well... everything. During his rant, Rowyn leaned across the table and whispered to Colin, “that man must be worn slap out from all that yelling all the time. The poor girl is no bigger than a minnow in a fishing pond.” 

Piers and Matilda exchanged a few words of disagreement. Whilst they argued, Rowyn slumped back and folded her arms, looking none too pleased by her fellow judges. 

Finally, Colin spoke up, his own opinions reflecting Rowyn’s although they had been fairly aligned all morning. 

Delmar finally spoke up, the fidgety Tideseeker clearing his throat indignantly and promptly, seemingly fed up with his presence being consistently overlooked by the others. His score was also once Rowyn deemed pretty fair, and she offered him a smile of encouragement. 

“Where are the standards today?” Piers snapped angrily, causing Delmar to wince back in his chair. 

“Oh, quit being so ugly!” Rowyn sighed, meeting Piers’ pointed glare with one of her own. Although her expression seemed far more disappointed and sadened then mad. Like she was taking pity on him. “You can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next. So get off your high horse and join the rest of us, it must get mighty lonely up there.” Then, in a complete tonal shift she turned and smiled at Delmar warmly. “You had a perfectly valid opinion, dearie. I thought it was a mighty fair assessment, too. You’re doing great.”

Taking a short breath and a moment to compose herself, Rowyn turned once more towards the arena to face Denva except.... the girl was nowhere to be seen. It seemed she had completely left the arena before the red-haired judge could provide her opinion. 

“Where’d she go?” Rowyn mumbled then sighed. “Rude. But nevertheless.” 

Rowyn raised her voice to project across the audience. “Well, sweetie, wherever you are. You have a lot of gumption, I’ll give you that. I appreciate the nerve it took to get right back into the saddle despite being knocked over. The technical skill demonstrated by that performance was finer than a frog’s hair split four ways. However, nothing you did took the risks that would demonstrate true mastery of the craft. And you did leave before you were dismissed which I find to be a bit rude. My final score is a 7.” 

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Riot (no faction), Azashi (Ashreaper), Lyze (Tideseeker)

Azashi snorted upon hearing Rowyn's score for the Ashreaper's performance, or rather, the Ashreaper himself. She'd begun loosing interest after that, and realized with a jolt her turn was probably coming up next. Excusing herself, she dismounted Saga and began making her way towards the direction where the judges were. She weaved through the crowd unti she neared the platform they were seated and approached from the side. She had purposefully left Riot behind, preferring to keep this conversation just between herself and the judges she sought. She waited until the red-headed judge had finished speaking, then politely coughed to catch Colin's attention from the side. The jovial judge, Azashi felt, would take her statement better than Piers would. 

 

~~~

 

Riot didn't realize Azashi had dismounted and left the group until too late. She had, however, braided a portion of Saga's mane that looked quite spiffy and gave him a more regal air. 

"Ta-da!" she said aloud, oblivious to the others around her. She crawled back atop Saga, balancing lightly on the saddle while Azashi was away. Riot had enough awareness to understand when Azashi didn't want her around for some reason. It wounded Riot a little each time it happened, but the jester had learned to respect privacy- most of the time. 

"Where are your numbers?" Riot asked of the girl who'd just competed. Hadn't the jduges given her numbers, like a 7, an 8, or something like that? Shouldn't the contestants have their numbers? It seemed odd to Riot that there was a disconnect between the numbers the judges gave and the contestants not having said numbers. Azashi wasn't there to explain, unfortunately, so she had to rely on the others for an answer. 

 

~~~

 

Lysander began to feel jittery from adrenaline. Horse riding was definitely not his thing, and doing anything in front of such a large crowd made him especially uncomfortable. It would've been a different thing entirely if he were doing something he was familiar with, like like charting a course for a long voyage, or using his knowledge of astronomy to get their bearings in the middle of the sea. Unfortunately for him, that was not what the trial was on and he doubted he'd get a chance to really show his skill set, which he figured most would find boring or confusing anyway. 

He nodded politely when the girl returned, rather moodily, leaving before the final judge could give her score. He glanced at the gaudily clad circus woman now perched atop Saga when she spoke. He didn't quite understand the question, nor did he feel comfortable voicing his musing at an answer aloud in this group of veritable strangers. 

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Reiher - Herons' Leader | Chandra Faramund - Chief Physician

In the markets just beyond the trial grounds, Reiher silently watched a fruit vendor deftly putting his order into two bulky sacks. He stood there, mask and all, yet none seemed bothered to give him weird looks. Did the competition actually bring all sorts of odd people, so many that the townsfolk just accepted it? Whatever it was though, he was just grateful that he wasn't attracting attention.

There was a good reason why he rarely visited the capital city. The mask was one of them, - though he supposed it was no longer cause of concern - the other was… something else entirely. Something he had the pleasure to experience just a moment ago. Out of the very few times he visited the city… the universe truly was against him.

The thought made his hands tremble. Phantom pains pricked throughout his body, especially at the inner side of his elbows. Quickly, he clenched his hand, digging his nails into it as hard as he could with the gloves on. He closed his eyes, focusing on the way air entered and exited his airway. In, out, in, out, in-

"Here's yer order, lad. Ye sure you can carry it yerself?"

Reiher snapped his gaze upwards, meeting the indifferent look of the fruit vendor. The vendor gestured at the two sacks atop the stall table. They were bulky, bumped by the numerous fruits fitted inside. The ropes tying them looked like they were one pull away from snapping.

"Yeah, uh, no. I'm carrying those."

From his left, a young man with short dark red hair sidled up and hefted both sacks with ease, one slung over his shoulder while the other was carried as it was. The vendor's eyes widened slightly at the display. The man was by no means skinny yet he didn't look like someone who could casually haul two 24 pound sacks either. He seemed to notice what the vendor was thinking as his face broke into a smug grin.

"Thanks, Inigo," Reiher uttered, addressing his second-in-command while tossing some coppers to the table. "And this would be enough, I believe?" 

The vendor frowned. “Yer serious? That’s only half you owe, lad.”

“True, if you had packed my order correctly.” Reiher pointed to several baskets in the corner of the stall. Peeking from a haphazardly draped cloth was a batch of brightly colored oranges. “Bitter oranges, aren’t they? I didn’t order those.”

The vendor widened his eyes, though he quickly schooled it into a scowl. “What, yer accusin’ me or somethin'?"

“I can always just open these sacks and show it to your face," Reiher continued, his tone eerily calm.

The two stared at each other, the vendor with a glare and Reiher through his mask. It didn’t take long for the former to break it off, however. He sighed and gestured at Inigo to return the sacks. “Fine, I snuck some. Didn’t think ye would notice, what with ye lookin’ the other way and all.” Deftly, he took out the oranges and replaced them with other fruits displayed in the stall, “Gotta ask though, how did ye know?”

Reiher shrugged. “Experience, I guess.”

“Aye, a handy stuff to have,” the vendor chuckled, “Aight, here ye go. No oranges, on my ma's grave."

"Actually… Can I have one of them?"

"Uh… sure? If ye want." the vendor tossed the orange to Reiher, who easily caught it in one hand. "I don't normally sell 'em but someone got my orders mixed up. Ain't selling well, as ye can see, but I can’t exactly let ‘em rot either."

"You're simply selling it to the wrong people. People don’t usually consume it just like that but it does have its uses. Some tavern keepers use them for flavoring and medics use them for elixirs. I suppose neither are your regular customers?" the vendor shook his head. “Try selling these to them. You’re fortunate to have acquired an excellent batch," Reiher squeezed the fruit in question before turning it around, finding the surface pristine bar for some discolored parts here and there. "Firm, reasonable weight, and only some minor scarring. I bet they would be interested in buying."

"Huh, that so?" the vendor scratched his chin. "Welp, not like I have better ideas. I'll try it out. Thanks, lad." He chuckled. "Yer a funny one, ya know? I tried scammin' ye and ye ended up helpin' my dilemma. O y'know what? If yer advice turns out useful, ye can pay for half price again the next time ye buy somethin' from me."

“Deal. Good luck with your business.” With that, Reiher walked away, Inigo trailing behind while carrying the sacks. They followed the cobbled path paving the market square, heading to another group of stalls.

“Now I get why you always ask Haku to shop,” Inigo piped up, “If it were me, pretty sure I would just lose it.”

“Exactly,” Reiher replied without pause, “You do make an excellent carrier, though. Perhaps the next time Haku shops, you should accompany him.”

“That’s one way of saying I’m just all brawn,” Inigo guffawed, his smile widening when Reiher chucked in return. It was always nice to see the masked man at ease, even if the periodic tightening of the orange in his hand indicated otherwise. At least his positive response signaled he had considerably recovered from…before. On the way to the market, Inigo had countlessly asked Reiher to talk it out yet he simply acted oblivious. Inigo was this close to just beg on his knees and persist until his voice was no more, but the last thing they both needed was attracting unwanted attention. Heck, he was pretty sure Reiher led him to this very much open and public area so that he would stop pestering.

With a sigh, Inigo opted to talk about the other times he visited the capital city. The issue would just have to wait.

 

 

 

 

Observing the second contestant, Chandra couldn’t say he was surprised by the standardized performance. Arcana might have won the crowd but she did so at the expense of mixed scoring. It was sensible for the next contestant to play it safe. The crowd was indifferent, if not bored by the formal routine, whereas the nobility watched with rapt attention. However, the Ashreaper kicked it up a notch during the later part of his performance. His most striking move was when he feigned falling and pushed himself back onto the saddle, a maneuver that clearly took inspiration - or rather, a simplified version - from Arcana’s move. 

“That ‘fall and kick yourself back’ thing,” Haku piped up, “Didn’t Arcana do that too?”

“Indeed. It makes one wonder, doesn’t it?” Chandra mumbled.

They said nothing more until the judging finished. Predictably, Ashton received a well-rounded score, although Rowyn’s score was rather… questionable, to put it lightly. Many in the crowd found her outburst amusing, though it seemed that Haku didn't share the sentiment judging by the frown he was sporting.

"Copper for your thoughts?" Chandra uttered, breaking the silence between them.

"Huh?" Haku snapped his gaze to the older man. He paused for a few seconds, his brain seemingly catching up after being so deep in thought, "Oh, was just thinking about that saddle maneuver. It's not something you'd attempt on the spot, ain't it? You think they're allied or something?"

"Well, it wouldn't be surprising if some contestants form alliances." And the thought brought much amusement to the nobleman. An alliance was a beneficial arrangement as much as it was a risky one. Receiving boons is an idea too good to pass up, yet there would always be the chances of backstabbing. 

It was only the first trial and here the contestants were, simulating how the royal court worked. The parallelism was rather poetic.

"That aside," Chandra continued, "I suppose this also gave us more insight about how the judging works. Arbitrary as they may be, they would all give a high score if the contestant followed the norm.” But does it even matter in the end?

“Yeah, playing it safe, basically,” Haku nodded. 

After the Ashreaper, a Ridgestrider noblewoman was called. Chandra was familiar with the family name, although his House never had any dealings with them. Based on her formal Ridgestrider horse riding outfit, he assumed her performance would be similarly formal and standardized as well.

It became all the more interesting when her horse was spooked and she recovered using the very same maneuver that Ashton performed.

Before Chandra dwelled on it though, he shot a disapproving glare towards the group of airborne guards. As Chief Physician, he had requested them to not meddle in the first trial. There was no need to endanger the contestants' lives, especially in a trial that did not even assess their combat prowess. Clearly he was not listened to.

He had wondered if their presence was more than merely testing the contestants. To his relief however, Piers' interjection suggested otherwise. For once, Chandra was grateful of the gruff Ashreaper's presence. That said, it was only as far as that instance. Piers predictably gave a low score, ignoring Matilda's attempt to dissuade his harsh judgment. 

"Geez, at least the girl came out in one piece," Haku scrunched his eyes in disgust, "Does it really matter whether she copied it or not? She saved her own a.ss!"

"Not in Piers' eyes, unfortunately. Imagine dealing with people like him on a daily basis," Chandra huffed out a laugh, his smile only brightened by the sarcasm, "But the fact that she used the same maneuver on instinct… I suppose we can be sure that Denva and Arcana are allied."

"Uh… So?"

"Nothing of concern for both of us. At least for now." The nobleman fixed his gaze to the Ridgestrider, who was rejoining the contestants, "It's intriguing, however. The Beaumonts are awfully wealthy, even among the noble houses in Astrin. Now the competing member of their house is allied with the imposing yet commoner ringleader," He turned to Haku, his amused smile shrouding whatever truly was in his mind, "Makes you wonder why the alliance was formed, don't you think?"

"I mean," Haku gestured at the other man, "You're in the same situation."

Chandra laughed. "Touché, though I like to think mine is an exception."

"Well, if thinking that makes you feel better," Haku shot back with the same sentence the Truthkeeper had used earlier. Chandra answered his teasing by ruffling the boy’s hair. He chuckled when Haku let out an indignant yelp.

"Nooo not my hair!" Haku reached for his now loose updo, eyes drooping when he found it unsalvageable, "Grif did it for me!"

"Did she now?" Chandra's tone bore no remorse, only amusement at the vigilante's plight, "No wonder it looks better than usual. Here, let me redo it."

With a huff, Haku turned his back to the nobleman. Chandra gently pried the hair tie away before raking his fingers to smoothen the hair. He gathered them and tied it back near the top of the younger's head, leaving some locks to flow wildly down his neck. He had always marveled how Haku's hair stuck up in all directions, no matter how tenacious he tried smoothing it.

"You're sure of Denva and Arcana being allies," Haku piped up, "Why not Ashton?"

Chandra hummed, absently unraveling a stubborn knot in the younger's hair. "The Beaumont did it reflexively, despite knowing the movement has been used twice. In contrast, the Ashreaper performed it deliberately. It's not unlikely that a person of his stature could pull such a maneuver without prior practice." He patted Haku’s back, signaling he was done. They both turned back towards the trial grounds before Chandra continued, “Assuming he wanted to play it safe, it doesn’t make sense that he performed the move. It was singlehandedly the most dramatic move in his routine. Perhaps he did that so that Beaumont would be discouraged from using it. And now thanks to those guards, Ashton received more than he bargained for.”

“That so…” Haku mumbled, his tone neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

“Of course, this is an assumption. Best to treat it as it is: mere conjectures, not facts.” Chandra beamed, “Not that it matters much. It’s only a bit of fun.”

“Heh, yeah,” Haku rubbed his nape, “I’m usually the one who chatters. ‘S nice change.”

Chandra huffed out a laugh. He hadn’t realized just how long he had let his mouth run. “I suppose I’ve babbled enough then. Why don’t you take the lead for the next contestant? I would love to witness the infamous Cardinal at work.”

At that, Haku bursted out in laughter. “It’s not really the same thing, ya know. But alright, I’ll give it a go.”

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Malik Nerio | Merchant & Demitri Lockehart | Librarian

Demitri felt a wave of second-hand embarassment when Denva trotted off the field before the final judge could have her say. However, the silvery haired man was more irked by Piers'. It was one thing to voice his own opinion during his slot of time, but he was actively attempting to disuade his fellow colleages. Demitri's jaw clenched, wishing to speak out against the injustice, but managing to maintain his tongue. Despite the mistake Denva had made, the redhead offered a fair scoring, not without aiming at Piers' some pointed, yet seasonable words. Piers smiled darkly, his teeth more bared than anything, his forehead wrinkling with displeasure at the Truthkeeper woman's exclaimation. Despite the signs of unspoken anger, he did not utter another word for the time being.

During this, Ashton leaned over to the librarian with some words also concerning the older Ashreaper. Demitri turned to glance at Ashton with an arched eyebrow. He had heard of the Ashreaper before, but as the man was not stationed at the castle, Demitri did not know much about his work. Something about the new information seemed to only poke at Demitri's ever growing irritability.

"Is that so?" Demitri stated in response to Ashton with a slight snap, though less aimed at the dark-haired man himself, but rather at the topic itself. "You are claiming he is indirectly responsible for this lack of organization? That is rather bothersome. What a charlatan, that one is."

Before Demitri could respond to Prophyrius, Denva trotted up to the group. She admitted a sheepish comment regarding her recently applied choices. Demitri forced himself to breath in and out a few times, gathering the peace of mind enough to respond in a relatively civil manner.

"I suspect it was all that could be done at that moment. You did get a passing score, which is what matters most."

Demitri turned his blue eyes to Ashton in a slight, indirect glare. While he must not have had a hand in the giant osprey's outburst, the man's stealing of the move Arcana had taught the alliance was concerning. Which only brought to mind Denva's earlier offer to allow him to join the alliance. Demitri turned to glower at the ground.

 

"And that leaves a 32/50 for Denva Beaumont," A bewildered and slightly judging expression covered the elder's face as he witnessed the aforementioned contestant exit the field prematurely. Rodell quickly moved on, announcing the next participant.

"The next contestant will be our first Tideseeker to enter the ring. If Malik Nerio would enter the field!" Rodell declared, allowing the crowd to prepare themselves to turn to see the newcomer to the ring. He was far less known than the Beaumont heir that had gone before him, as well as the newly popular Arcana who had managed to make herself a popular name.

Colin applauded politely. A familiar woman suddenly coughed subtly nearby, yet it had been enough to capture the blond's attention. Colin froze for a moment, before offering her a flashy smile.

"Yes? How may I help you?" The Truthkeeper asked smoothly at he swiftly directed his attention to Azashi since Malik had not yet made it to the field. Genuinely curious of what she could want, his word choice did not indicate he knew the woman.

 

Despite himself, Malik almost jumped upon hearing his name shouted so loudly. The shock was only for a moment, instead replaced by, seemingly, a shot of adrenaline-induced excitement. Malik pushed Sweetpea with a light heel to her flank, passing by Ashton. He offered the Ashreaper a knowing look, thinking back to the conversation they had had in the stables. Malik then pushed Sweetpea out to the grass.

A lot of confidence for an absolute lack of form, Demitri thought to himself, but did not voice his opinion aloud - not that it was needed. Anyone who understood horses at all would notice the lack of rythm Malik had with his steed. The sailor either did not know this fact, or did not much care. He simply languidly tilted his head towards the judging pane, alongside a partial and similarly mannered bow on horseback. The man then turned to the musicians. He cocked his head, as if perplexed, before addressing them.

"Play something jovial, why not!" The accented sailor called out. The musicians seemed to look at one another in a slightly perplexed manner, as if they had been expecting to play a general classical piece. But after a moment of conferring with one another, agreed on a tune. Despite the speed Malik began riding Sweetpea at, he did not post, lacking proper flow form for the style of riding taking place, and at the speed at which he was moving. As the music began, the sailor had little regard for utilizing the tempo for the various activities taking place. It was probably less of a purposeful ignorance, but rather a state of simply not understanding how to apply the finesse.

Malik was probably only ready to attempt steady horseback riding at a slower speed, but he pushed up to a constant trot. Sweetpea complied, but the movements were janky as the sailor did not understand entirely how to subtly handle the reins to signal what he wished for. His turns around the ring often slightly too early or late, as he had little way of using body language to indicate what he wished for. He seemed to be randomly adding movements, as opposed to having a routine in mind.

People began mummering amongst themselves. Despite the low score Arcana had receieved, she at least had riding experience. The Tideseeker had little understanding of the sport beyond staying atop of the horse and somewhat succeeding in guiding it. Although it was expected; the coastal regions were not known for their experience in horseman ship with their sandy terrains and wooden docks. Malik finished a few laps of basic riding maneuvers, though even those were not anything close to exhibiting that they had been honed, finally closing in towards a jump. Trotting towards the posts too fast, and with little understanding of how to signal Sweetpea to prepare to leap, the horse began to rear her head in alarm, her eyes showcasing their whites. Malik's casual smile finally slipped as he struggled to keep the dark mare moving forward. The horse kept running on command, but was struggling against her bit in protest.

Malik grit his teeth, realizing he would have to relent. He relaxed his formerly forward positioning, leaning back and allowing the mare to both slow down and bypass the jump posts entirely, only just missing them at the speed. The merchant released a breath he had not known he had been holding from the extertion and tension that had built up. He only just realized that Sweetpea may have barely managed to jump, but if she had, she could have likely landed poorly or thrown him off. Malik circled the arena a few more times, in order to not be stationary for the remainder of the music, but not wishing to attempt another movement he was unable to attempt. It would be better to stick with simple actions than to try something that could not only hurt himself or the horse, but also potentially give him even fewer points.

The music dwindled down, so the merchant pushed towards the judging panel. Despite the absolute embarassment that must have been coursing through Malik's very being, he allowed a rather neutral smile to grace his features as he awaited the surely upcoming onslaught of critique.

"Well," Matilda finally stated when none of the other judging members seemed willing to start. Although Piers' face basically gave away any and every thought he was thinking without requiring any words to translate them. Delmar also had a far more exasperated expression than he had had with the other contenders thus far.

"I cannot say that was good... at all. It was rather poor, my dear. Of course, we cannot expect that everyone has experience in any given sport or trial we are hosting, so it is not your fault, per say. Still, there was a significant lack of understanding in anything beyond, well, staying on the horse. And I believe you were in a bit over your head, though luckily you caught onto that, which I can respect. I can only spare you a 1, which is where your level truly resides. You... may be able to work up your skills rather well, but that's difficult to determine since it seems as if you may not have riden more than a handful of times before."

"Thank you, m'lady." Malik blew the woman a jovial kiss. The Wispweaver placed a hand to her chest, caught off guard by the action, though she did not appear entirely opposed.

"That was poor," Delmar stated. "I think... even for a Tideseeker. I may not have been born there, but I have lived in the faction most of my life. I am only glad you managed not to hurt the poor creature when you attempted that jump. You only use her as a tool, with little regard to how to handle her, even for an unexperienced rider. You did not even consider the speed of which you were going. Though I suspect that is more from... ignorance?... than malice. I will likewise give you a 1 for managing to stay on, and also for not going through with that jump that could have caused injury."

"Thank ye," Malik stated.

Matilda and Colin seemed slightly surprised by the harshness and authority of Delmar's words, which had been less extreme on the prior contestants, but seeing as his grade was fair, they moved on.

"Er, good job considering," Colin smiled. "I shall give you a 2 for attempting something outside of your comfort zone. Better luck on the text trials."

"I thank you for your generosity," Malik smiled.

Piers looked positively about to explode. However, he said surprisingly little.

"1." The Ashreaper's only word was the score, as if he had so much distate for Malik that he could not even be bothered to offer an explanation. His tone dripped with disapproval and anger. Malik could almost tell that the man would have definitely have given him a zero, were the lower score allowed.

Malik did not offer a verbal response for once, settling instead on a nod of his head to indicate acceptance. He then set his wine-colored eyes on the ginger judge, awaiting her ranking for him.

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Joined: 06/11/2014
Denva Beaumont

Denva glanced at Demitri as she took off Lemonice's gear and started ggrooming the horse to calm both the animal's and her own nerves. 
"True, at least I'm not out of the competition - not yet anyways," Denva allowed, glad that she had the Truthkeeper to talk to. 

 

Denva grimaced at the scores that Malik got - so much for the alliance...he was probably going to get out early. But they still needed his skills. None of them knew anything about sailing. She glanced over at the judges, remembering that she had walked out on one of them, Rowyn, and blushed. She was glad her attention to grooming Lemonice kept her blush from being noticed as she made a mental note to apologize when the competition was done. 

However, while she was brushing, she listened to some of the nearby comments about her riding as the other horses milled about. She had taken off Lemon's tack to do this and it was resting on the rail of the corral. She decided to try practicing gathering information - she needed to work on that skill after all 

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Riot (no faction), Nike (Ashreaper), Lyze (Tideseeker)

Azashi smiled politely at Colin when he turned to her. 

"I wish to skip this trial," she told him. "I was not warned there would be such a trial upon my return and thus have nothing prepared. I am in no condition for excessive or fancy-a.ss riding having just returned from a weeks long journey on horseback, and neither is Saga. I bid you good day now, sir." 

With that, she turned and left as the next competitor was announced, leaving Colin no time to respond as Malik trotted out onto the field. She returned to Saga, who now had a rather pretty braid in his mane thanks to Riot. She mounted Saga again, patting his thicc neck fondly. He'd taken her on many adventures throughout the kingdom and returned her safely to the circus each time. She had faith in his capabilities, but she knew straining him in a competition after a long journey wasn't safe or healthy for him. Hopefully Colin, as one of the more amiable judges, would understand her reasons for passing on this trial. 

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer| Rowyn -JUDGE-
ARCANA 
 
Given Titan's sheer size, navigating the market area was not too much of an issue. Most of the crowds were currently spectating the arena and those that did remain had the sense to get out of the way of the massive horse as he clomped by. 
From her perch up top the black steed's back, Arcana was able to see well over the heads of her fellow market-goers, honing in on a butcherer that was selling an asbolutely delectable looking slow-roasted turkey leg. 
Sliding off the saddle, Arcana brought herself along with Titan to the vendor. She fished out the extra coin she had earned from drawing with Ashton in the drinking contest.
After purchasing her leg, Arcana meandered over to purchase some jerky. She packed what she could in her saddle bag and was about to return to the arena when a stall advertising fresh fruit piqued her attention. 
Coaxing Titan along with her, the blonde performer headed in that direction. Leaning against the stall, Arcana poked her head inside. 
"Got anything good?"
Her sudden apperance and voice caused the poor man to straighen up so fast, his head slammed unceremoniously against a shelf, causing a sack of what appeared to be oranges to tip over, spilling the fruit onto the ground.
"I, uh," the vendor turned towards the Ring Leader, his eyes widening as he was forced to look upwards at her tall stature, "sorry, lassy, jus' got bought outta most ma' stock." 
"Pity." Arcana leaned over the edge, peering at the still intact sacks of bitter oranges behind him. "How about those?"
"Ah, well, I was jus' about to take 'em over to that there tavern. Most folks don't care for the bitter taste ya' see-"
"I'm not "most folks"." Arcana interjected, holding up her turkey leg. "And I'll take the lot." 
With her other hand she deposited three gold pieces on the table. 
The vendor seemed taken aback by not only her request but the sheer amount she was willing to drop on it. 
“Uhhh, I- erm...”
“You can keep it all.” Arcana said dismissively.
Stunned, the vendor began to slowly unload the sacks, dropping them off by the front of his stall. “Are ya gonna carry all this yerself?”
“I wouldn’t worry about me.” Arcana smiled and easily plucked a few of the bags up from the ground, slinging them over her shoulder as though they weighed nothing at all. 
She hitched them to Titan’s saddle, securing them firmly in place with straps as the bewildered shopkeep looked on in disbelief. 
Even despite the weight of the sacks, they did not seem to at all affect the large horse. Titan’s stature and stride did not once falter under the supposed weight.
Aeronwen had quite a few recipes involving bitter oranges and given how rare the fruit was to come by, Arcana figured that their arrival would be a nice treat for the whole circus to share. And she was more than happy to pay out of pocket so that the rest could eat. She was also quite partial to the flavour. 
Mounting Titan, Arcana settled herself in the saddle and reached down. She carefully pulled an orange from one of the sacks. Digging her teeth into the flesh of the orange, she gingerly pulled away the skin, spitting it out after the piece tore. 
Clicking her tongue to the roof of her mouth, Arcana gave Titan the order to move forward. 
Despite having no free hands by which to guide the horse with, Titan heeded the command and began to start forth. The large horse had been trained to understand and follow verbal-only commands as part of routines in which riders would balance on their hands whilst riding so Arcana was not too worried about allowing the reins to slack. 
She bit into the meat of the orange allowing the extremely sour flavour to wash over her taste buds. Despite most people’s aversions to such bold flavours, Arcana had always enjoyed them. She had offended many of her fellow performers over the years by eating lemons, limes, and even onions completely raw. 
Truth be told, where she came from, she did not often have the luxury to be picky about what kinds of foods she ate. She often lacked the foods that brought the flavour profiles which complimented them so eating such foods in their raw forms were often what she had to put up with regularly. 
Really the flavours brought a rush of nostalgia to her and her former, far more carefree years.
Somewhat preoccupied by her food and navigating Titan through the markets with a series of clicks and soft trills, Arcana did not notice the short stature of the masked man and his companion amongst the crowd. 
It wasn’t until Titan halted, rearing up on his legs with a distressed whinney to avoid nearly trampling the poor man, that Arcana noticed him.
Unfortunately her orange was lost in the ensuing chaos as Arcana dropped it and instead reached for the reins to steady herself so she did not fall off Titan’s back due to the sudden movements. 
Titan snorted as his hooves crashed down into the pavement a few centimeters away from Reiher. 
Arcana leaned over with an apologetic, close-eyed smile. “whoaaaa, my sincerest apologies. I didn’t see you down there. Totally my bad-” she opened her eyes, quickly giving the people she had almost trampled on a once-over. Immediately she noticed the porcelain white mask that perched delicately on the features of the short figure, this was followed by a flash of recognition in her blue eyes. It was hard to miss, the mask itself had become an iconic brand in its own right. “Oh, I know you.” 
The words were spoken in a deceptively calm manner, as though she were stating a simple fact as opposed to exclaming a realization. 
 
 
 
ROWYN
As the intensity of the moment fizzled and the judges settled back into their seats, Rodell called forth the next contestant. 
"The next contestant will be our first Tideseeker to enter the ring. If Malik Nerio would enter the field!"
Although Rowyn was not paying much attention to the new contestant. Her attention had instead been captured by the dark-haired woman who was making her way up towards the judging panel.
Colin, too, seemed to notice her approach as the fair-haired judge turned to look at her, once of his dazzlingly charismatic smiles gracing his features as he spoke. "Yes? How may I help you?"
Rowyn rolled her eyes at the display, huffing as she leaned her chin against the palm of her hand. 
"I wish to skip this trial," the woman stated rather matter-of-factly. "I was not warned there would be such a trial upon my return and thus have nothing prepared. I am in no condition for excessive or fancy-a.ss riding having just returned from a weeks long journey on horseback, and neither is Saga. I bid you good day now, sir."
Rowyn snorted as she left, covering up her laughter with the backside of her palm. However she did not have much more time to respond as the newest contestant to enter the ring called for some jovial music. 
As the song swelled, Rowyn turned her gaze back towards the arena. 
The man who she recalled was named Malik was handsome. However, thus far the entirety of the candidates had been absurdly, excessively attractive so she figured that the trend would merely continue. 
Malik began his routine which was.... something to say the absolute least. His form was sloppy enough for even someone like Rowyn to notice. And he seemed to be perfectly content to simply run around in barely controlled circles. Although Rowyn respected his ability to recognize and understand his own limitations as Malik chose to forgo attempting a jump. 
After he completed his run, Rowyn listened to the other judge’s scores, frowning slightly because she found them to be unnecessarily harsh. However, per usual, she seemed more inclined to agree with Colin’s assessment. 
“Well, I am sure you have.... other talents, dear. While that performance was all hat and no cattle,” Rowyn began, “you really put ya’ self out there and I can respect that. Even though I can tell you were out of your comfort zone you kept on hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit. I appreciate the gumption. And you seem to understand your limits. That takes gile. Perhaps even some wisdom. It's a two from me.” 
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Reiher - Herons' Leader

Just as Inigo started recounting his experience, Reiher heard a series of clicks rapidly approaching them. He nudged the other man, who sidestepped just in time as the horse suddenly stopped, its hooves nearly hitting him. Inigo quickly rushed back, moving to shield him before Reiher lightly pushed him by the forearm, signaling the taller man to be at ease.

“Whoaaaa, my sincerest apologies. I didn’t see you down there. Totally my bad-” the voice cut off just as Reiher turned to see who nearly trampled him. He was greeted by the sight of a rather monstrous horse, fur all ebony which contrasted its fair yet equally bulky woman. A flash of recognition glinted in her eyes, which Reiher mirrored beneath the mask.

 “Oh, I know you," she stated. Well, it would be more surprising if she didn't. The Herons never had contact with Arcana's circus, but if even he was aware of a few things regarding the circus, Arcana would know a thing or two about the Herons as well. It was actually more surprising that the capital city's market square, out of all places, was where they finally ran into each other. The accursed city truly was full of surprises.

Was she not competing though? Reiher was under the impression that contestants couldn't come and go as they pleased. Although he figured that sort of unspoken rule wouldn't deter the likes of Arcana.

"Do you now?" Reiher replied, his tone light as if he was teasing rather than being defensive. "Though I suppose there is no use pretending we don't know about each other. I'm just surprised we finally crossed paths in a place like this."

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer|

The instinctive reaction by which Reiher's companion stepped to his leader's aid was not lost on the boisterous circus leader who made a mental note regarding the apparent loyalty within the Heron's ranks. It seemed like a family not entirely dissimiliar to her own. 

"Do you now?" The masked figurehead replied in an airy and teasing tone which brought a cheeky grin to Arcana's lips. "Though I suppose there is no use pretending we don't know about each other. I'm just surprised we finally crossed paths in a place like this."

Arcana chuckled in amusement, then shrugged. "Well, I take it you're not the type who would enjoy attending shows." 

It was rare for Reiher himself to come out of his hole, with the reported sightingss Arcana collected from her informants being few and far between.

Both parties, it seemed were very much aware ofe each other. Although given how similiarly aligned their goals and views were, it did come as a suprise that neither had directly crossed paths before. Because despite how aligned they were, their methods of operation were starkly opposite. 

The Herons, preferred to work in the shadows. Operating from some elusive hideout the location of which even Arcana was not privy too. 

The Nox Arcanus, on the other hand, operated entirely in broad daylight. Like a good magician who wows his audience with an elaborate distraction, keeping the real magic of the trick hidden behind his back. They used the glamour and vibrance of the shows to keep the people's attention off their less than savoury actvities. 

Arcana had never thought the Herons as much of a threat given that their targets seemed to be the institution, and of course, the people who took what didnt belong to them. So she never poured too much of her resources into investigating them and their activites, but she did want to understand the other players around and had a few spies assigned to them. She was sure the inverse was likely true as well. 

While she admired the efforts of Reiher and his crew, she also found them to be ultimately fruitless endeavours. His crew was far too small and confined to possibly make a dent in the systematic issues that plauged the nation at an institutional level. Hence why she was competing for the crown. She currently was in a rare position that could potentially afford her the ability to enact the most radical and profoundly positive change. If she could secure the crown, she could cut out the Truthkeeper underbelly from the inside and completely disband all funding that lead to the kidnappings. 

However, that was merefly wishful thinking for the time being. She had a lot of obstacles to overcome before she could even get to such a position. Not to mention undoing the decades of anti-magic propaganda the country had been subjected to.  

"Although, if that ever changes know that you are always welcome. Our home is your home if you so choose." Arcana hummed thoughtfully.

They fought very similiar fights, which as far as Arcana was concerned, made them potential allies. So she figured she might as well extend the offer offically. She would be willing to lend her men and resources if it meant broadening her circule of influence. She also trusted the Heron's discretion and knew that they weren't likely to be caught loitering and damaging the circus' otherwise pristine reputation. Besides, it was always way more benefical to be making friends than enemies.  

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Reiher - Herons' Leader

Reiher hummed, mulling over Arcana's offer. Despite how the ringleader acted, he surmised she was in pursuit of the crown not merely for personal reasons. Based on what his informants conveyed, Reiher could at least be sure she wouldn't leave the underdogs in the dust. He couldn't care less of her true reason as long as it wasn’t detrimental to the underworld his gang dreamed of. 

It was astonishing, really. Arcana's circus had only been around for half as long as the Herons, yet the former had made considerable progress. Which, he supposed, was not surprising. He was aware of the drastic measures she would take to realize her ambitions, not to mention her resources and manpower on top of that. While the Herons was a flourishing community by itself, he knew they were powerless against those who exploited the underworld. If he wanted to end Herons' five year long status quo, he must be involved in partnerships one way or another. Being completely independent would not get them anywhere.

He supposed that was why Arcana extended the offer. With a predominant magic wielders in her troupe, she was bound to be in their radar. Most of the Herons were… intimately acquainted with them, so to speak. If she wished to uproot them, his gang was her best bet.

Regardless of whether she would get the crown, allying with Arcana would still increase his chances of abolishing that terrible fate. Even if it meant risking his happy little community.

 "Well then, do tell when your next show will take place," he uttered, ignoring Inigo's baffled stare, "I'll be sure to attend."

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer|

While the mask covered his features, Arcana could tell that Reiher was deeply considering the offer. Quietly mulling it over as she laid it out for him. 

And in the silence that settled between them, Arcana noticed the oddness of the current situation. Here she sat up top a massive 20 hand horse, propping her up a good 2 metres in the air, and that was on top of her already tall stature overall lending itself to an almost comically tall apperance. Reiher and his lackey were both forced to crane their necks entirely upwards in order to make eye contact with Arcana who was quite literally looking down on them. All the while she was carrying a massive turkey leg. 

Well, she supposed that the turket leg couldn't be helped. But she could do the polite thing and level the field a bit. 

"Well then, do tell when your next show will take place," Reiher finally spoke, having considered his options and seemingly willing to entertain them, "I'll be sure to attend."

"Oooh, a personal attendance? I'm flattered." Arcana hummed in the same light and teasing tone he had used with her earlier. She swiftly dismounted Titan, dropping to the ground with a muted thud. Honestly. In the middle of a potentially incredibly valuable negotiation to form a alliance and Arcana was toting around a giant turkey leg. 

She had to scoff at herself, and her truly remarkable display of professionalism and leadership. Although she supposed that was sort of the status quo for her lot. 

Many a meeting had been conducted in increasingly odd situations. She seemed to recall one taking place topless in a mud pit, making peace talks with a foreign leader, although the excess of ritualistic booze they consumed at the behest of the people and in fear of offending them made the exact specifics of that situation to be.... fuzzy. 

That experience taught her a valuable lesson: that if she spoke long enough, she could make anything right or wrong. So either she is a god or truth is relative.

She was moreso leaning towards the latter. 

Straightening up, Arcana turned to face Reiher and his companion. While she had initally intended to lower her height for the sake of polite conversation, she couldn't help but crack a soft smile at the height disparage that still remained between them. Although it was a vast improvment from earlier. 

Leaning casually against Titan's flank she tilted her head in an expression of consideration. "Well, we have a performance every other night so you're in luck for tonight. I look forward to seeing you there." Arcana crossed her arms, taking her turkey leg with her. "You know where to find us, how can I get a hold of you if I need to?" 

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Reiher - Herons' Leader

Reiher smirked when Arcana replied with a similar teasing tone he used before. The ringleader was as cheeky as he imagined. Truly fitting the bits of controversial info his informants managed to gather. He almost lamented leaving the trial early. Her performance must have been grandiose, just as how Haku would describe her shows.

He relaxed his head when the woman finally leapt off her gigantic horse, though he still had to look up anyway due to his short height. Well, it was nothing he wasn’t used to. At least Inigo fared better, his height nearly matching the ringleader’s despite his leaner build.

Arcana seemed to scoff at something before straightening up and leaning against her horse. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem important enough to note. Though Reiher wondered if it had to do with her carrying around a turkey leg in the middle of their conversation. He himself was still holding the orange from earlier but it was nothing compared to the sizable turkey leg.  

Reiher couldn’t help but find the situation amusing. Their respective organization was like night and day, even down to the leader’s physical appearance. He wondered if the contrast extended elsewhere.

Speaking of the orange though, he couldn’t help but notice a half eaten one among the grass lining the cobbled path. It wasn’t there when he passed by and since there were hardly any people around, it must have been hers. Which, now that he thought about it, the sacks tied to her horse looked suspiciously similar to the ones Inigo were carrying. Though he supposed he didn’t need to look so far, bitter orange wasn’t exactly a common commodity to begin with.

Seems that he had lost a deal then.

“That so? Then Inigo and I will come by tonight,” he said, nodding his head to the taller man when he mentioned the name. It was then he noticed Inigo was somewhat tense, his posture slightly more upright than usual. Reiher supposed he would have much to say once the conversation was over. 

“I’m afraid you will not be able to contact us. Though, if you need a guarantee for our presence,” he held up his orange, waving it towards the ringleader, “Why not hold this for me? We can… split it up during our talk,” he emphasized, fully aware of what his offer entailed. He tossed the fruit towards Arcana, trusting she would catch it in one hand. “Do we have an agreement?”

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Arcana |Circus Ringleader/Performer|
“I’m afraid you will not be able to contact us.” Reiher replied, earning a slight frown from the ring leader. “Though, if you need a guarantee for our presence,” Reiher lifted his hand, revealing the orange he had been carrying throughout the duration of their conversation. Arcana wondered if he had procured it from the very same vendor she had just bought out.
 “Why not hold this for me? We can… split it up during our talk,” the direness of his tone struck Arcana as odd. As did the apparent distaste his companion was displaying throughout the entirety of their arrangements. 
It seemed as though Reiher was offering insurance, although Arcana did not quite understand what it had to do with the orange.
Instinctively, her hand shot up to grasp the fruit as it hurled towards her. But her eyes did not once stray from the blank features of Reiher’s mask to track the progress of the fruit as it approached her which overall lent itself to a very robotic-seeming action.
The familiar dull, pulsating ache began to throb once more across her gloved arm, pulling with it her sharpened nails in a series of painful stings in the hand that grasped the fruit.  
Luckily, Arcana had grown well accustomed to the sensations which did not present themselves on her face, and she had the sense to always keep the tattooed arm and hand covered, although something told her that it was only going to get much worse from here. 
 “Do we have an agreement?”
“Hmm?” Reiher’s voice snapped Arcana back to attention, pulling her mind off the pain that twisted and constricted her arm, leaving the tips of her fingers numbed. Turning her head to gently appraise the fruit, she rolled it over her fingertips and a grin graced her features. “Yes, of course. I look forward to breaking bread after the show tonight... or, I guess in this case, fruit.” She joked with a close-eyed smile, playfully waving the orange. 
Slipping the orange into Titan’s saddle bag, Arcana reached up to grab Titan’s saddle. She paused for a brief moment, then turned back to smile at the enigmatic leader of the Herons.
“I might have something for you, too. A compromise.” 
Arcana did not bother to further elaborate, figuring that she would have much more time to explain herself after the show.  
As with a horse Titan’s size, the stirrup was too far off the ground for her to reasonably be able to step in. Although mounting did not seem to be as much of an issue for the circus performer as Arcana hoisted herself upwards, rolling over her shoulder onto Titan’s back. For a brief moment she was able to push up into a single-armed handstand while she adjusted her position on the horse with a fanning kick of her legs before allowing the rest of her body to settle gently into the saddle. 
The mount was very similar to the one she taught Demitri and Denva, however instead of rolling forward she rolled backwards, and it seemed to be compensating for the fact that Arcana could only properly make use of one hand. 
“I look forward to seeing you lot there.” She hummed politely, grabbing a hold of Titan’s reins with her free hand to make her leave. “Oh. And be sure to come hungry. Our chef makes some delectable desserts with bitter oranges. I will ask Aeronwen to prepare some extra.” 
With a click of her tongue, Arcana coaxed Titan onward and the massive horse began a slow walk across the plaza. 
She was truly pleased by this happenstantial development, and even more pleased that they were going to come to the circus. It meant she could have Azashi take a good look at them and possibly confirm or deny something she had been suspecting. Provided, of course, they haven't figured out how to block mana output, too. 
According to Azashi, Arcana herself has no trace of mana around her. While everything alive usually had some trace of the essence, with magick users attracting it much more obviously like moths to a flame, Arcana was completely void of any and all signs of mana. Like a living corpse. It was a blocking tactic some Truthkeepers could use, although Arcana herself did not possess the ability to manipulate mana. She had a good theory who or rather what was the one actually hiding it. 
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Reiher - Herons' Leader

Reiher raised his brow when Arcana mentioned a compromise. She didn’t elaborate further, however, which meant he would have to wait until their negotiation, then. He watched as the ringleader performed an elaborate move to mount her ride. Flashy as it was, he supposed mounting a massive horse was no easy task either way. He gave a small wave as she left.

As soon as Arcana was out of sight, Reiher felt himself being tugged by the arm to the roadside. Inigo had put away his fruit sacks, opting to drag his leader under the shade of a nearby tree. It was by no means any less public but frankly, he would go insane if he had to wait until they reached their hideout. At least he was mindful that no one was within earshot.

"Egads, what were you thinking?!" he started, mindful to keep his voice low, "Waltzing into their headquarters full of magic users? With your condition??? Are you out of your da.mn mind?!"

"Peace, Inigo," Reiher raised his hands in a placating gesture, though it didn't affect the taller man at all, "I'm aware of that. It's not like I didn't take the same risk when I met our esteemed nobleman."

"Rei, this is Arcana we're talking about," Inigo's gaze hardened, the way it usually would whenever he was deeply serious, "We know what she's done to realize her ambitions. Who knows what she'd do if she knew?"

"I understand your concerns. However, even if she confirmed my condition, she can only guess how I came to be," Reiher retorted, shrugging, "Besides, the speculating is mutual. She has no traces of mana with her and all I can do is guess."

At that, Inigo recoiled, eyes widening in disbelief. He furrowed his brow as he silently mouthed what the masked man had just said. "She… what?”

Reiher nodded, confirming his words, “I can’t quite believe it myself but Arcana truly doesn’t have even a single speck. If she meant to shroud her magic ability, she would have some sense to present herself as an ordinary person. Instead, she parades around like a… an undead.”

“Huh,” Inigo hummed, offering no answer in return. It seemed that he was just as confused as his companion. It was odd, to say the least.

"Be that as it may, I understand you worry about my safety but I can promise I know what I'm doing. Feel free to keep an eye on me anyway," he reassured, heading over back to the cobbled path. However, just as he took one step, he turned around and stared squarely at the taller, somehow managing a deadpan despite the mask. "You will tag along, won’t you?”

"Always" Inigo mumbled indignantly. He was still not convinced this whole thing was a good idea, yet he did trust his leader’s judgment. When Reiher took risks, then Inigo would be there to guard his well-being. It was the same old dance they had no shortage of partaking in. 

“Ever so dependable,” Reiher sniggered, reverting to his lighthearted composure. He picked up his steps, leaving Inigo to promptly carry the fruit sacks again and follow.

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Jaida/Djinn | Witch/fortune teller

Arcana reacted to the news about Denva’s antics with appropriate exasperation, although her voice was composed and neutral as she acknowledged the girl (or rather, her father) could still be useful. She then thanked Jaida, who waited until Arcana had wheeled Titan around before hopping onto his back from behind, settling on his rear and behind the saddle, because he was plenty big and the least they could do after making her come all the way out here was give her a lift back.

The sea of people crowding the marketplace parted easily before Titan’s bulk. Arcana stopped to purchase some jerky and an absolutely massive turkey leg, and when she nearly swung straight through Jaida with the latter she decided to slide off. She slipped into the crowd as she watched Arcana move to a fruit stall and proceed to buy the merchant out of the few goods he had left. As for herself, she was planning to procure something to eat later from the vendors closer to the trials. They demanded higher prices due to their stalls’ proximity to the arena, but she wasn’t intending on paying anyway.

The people milling about were discussing the competition so far, and she listened to find out about the contestants that had taken their turn while they were away, those being Ashton and Denva. The main point standing out from both of their performances was the butterfly kick to get back into the saddle, intentional in Ashton’s case and after an almost-fall in Denva’s. Since it was a rather advanced move and every contestant so far had done it, people had connected the dots and were speculating about some sort of alliance between them. What effect such speculations would have remained to be seen, as Arcana had already made a point of letting herself be seen as a mentor figure to Denva, and Ashton would not be joining the alliance anytime soon, if at all. It might put some of the other competitors on the wrong track. At the very least Denva’s incident seemed to have resulted in the permanent departure of the Pyro Squad and their animals.

Jaida turned to check on Arcana and found the woman off Titan and deep in conversation with an infamous figure, rarely seen but immediately recognizable. The coincidence of the circus leader running into the gang leader in such a common place as the market was such that she wondered if it was not actually orchestrated.

She moved a little closer to be able to catch their words. Arcana caught a tossed orange with ease, saying, “I look forward to breaking bread after the show tonight... or, I guess in this case, fruit.” She emphasized by waving said fruit and turned back to Titan, pausing a moment before offering the pair an undisclosed compromise.

After settling back in the saddle she gave a few parting words and rode off. Jaida hesitated for a moment, but staying and listening to the pair of Herons was too risky right now. She had no idea what kind of skills or powers either of them might possess, and being caught could endanger the potential alliance.

It was strange, having to consider some larger goal when deciding what to do. A few months ago she would have stuck around and d.amn the consequences.

She had tailed a Heron once or twice before, merely to see where it would lead her. The notion of a secret hideout, the location of which no one was privy to except the Herons themselves had piqued her interest. But they were very adept at disappearing and she had always lacked the motivation to properly pursue. Nevertheless, they controlled or at least influenced a large part of the city’s underworld, and if Arcana managed to enlist them they could be powerful allies. She would have to make a point of being at tonight's show.

She made sure to give the Herons a wide berth as she looped around them, staying near the buildings and weaving through the crowds before finally rejoining Arcana and getting back on the Shire for the last part of the way.