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Sincerely, Yours

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Dear prince,

I hope it is not odd for me to have contacted you. I know it is out of the blue, and that we are not very close, but I think I would like to be. Just between us, every time we bump shoulders or catch eyes when you visit with your father and sister... I become curious about what type of person you are. I have never visited runic, what is it like there?

Sincerely,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear your majesty,

I was surprised to get this letter from you. We hadn't spent much time together before, so it's nice to know that I wasn't the only one taking note. Your smile is very beautiful, you should wear it more.

Runic this time of year is getting very cold. Usually the wind off the borealin sea isn't so bad, but the lightning storms make the wind pick up and even some of our oldest, strongest trees sway. The cities in the mountains get a strong draft, but the deeper you go the warmer it gets. Perhaps you can ask your mother to allow you to visit sometime, if we get to know each other better. If you don't mind me asking, why did you choose to talk to me, over everyone else?

Sincerely,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear prince,

It sounds very beautiful. We don't get many storms in the capital, I wonder what it's like to live somewhere so unpredictable. My mother keeps the weather in check with her magic to keep the capital to her liking, but I've always liked a bit of organized chaos. Not that I like chaos or anything! That sounds so weird.

As for your question, there's a few parts to it. My mother doesn't let many royals and nobles stick around or get too close to me. She says she wants to raise me the way she was raised, but if I'm being honest with you I'd rather have friends. I don't have many of those here, and you've always been kind to me. If my sending letters bothers you, though, I can stop.

Sincerely,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear your majesty,

I didn't mean to imply that I wasn't grateful for them, I was just curious. You seemed pretty reserved when we last met, so I must have assumed you didn't like me very much. I'm very happy to know that my assumption was wrong, though, I think we can become very close.

The castle in the capital always did feel very empty, if you ask me. I'm sure when you are queen you will breathe some life into those halls. Have you thought much about what you want to do in the future?

Sincerely,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear prince,

You know, in the past it was considered treason against the queen to ask about the heir's plans...

But as the heiress, I suppose I have no reason to tell anyone about this. Just between us, I see a lot of walls between the capital and the rest of Ephedia that have no business being there. It's difficult to get into the castle, and I've never liked that. Shouldn't the castle be open to its people, not hidden away and locked up?

I apologize, that might sound treasonous in its own right. Please keep these letters just between us, alright?

Sincerely,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear your majesty,

I thank you for not turning me in, in runic and calix we are much more free with our language, especially regarding royalty. I don't say that just as a prince, but as a citizen. We've always been surrounded by the people we may one day lead, father made sure of that.

I think your vision for the capital is more in reach than you think. When you take the throne, however long the stretch of time may be, and bless the queen, I'm sure you will be able to make Ephedia what you want to see. If we continue this rapport. I could even help as your friend and advisor, if you saw fit.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear prince,

'Yours'? 'Friend and advisor'? My, that almost sounds like a proposal, if I'm not mistaken. I do like the sound of that, however. I haven't gotten to have a close friend before, my mother kept others distant. I am glad that we have an opportunity to become friends, though, you understand where I'm coming from and will hopefully not expect too much from me. It's a learning process, and I'm glad that you didn't ignore my first letter.

Sincerely yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear your majesty,

Are all proposals a bad thing? And on that note, wasn't your first letter a proposal in its own right? A proposal to be friends, a proposal to begin a correspondence. Who would I be to ignore a proposal that big from the crown princess, the heiress to the planet on which I live? And I'll admit, I was curious to your intention and curious what drove you to choose me. After the last few letters we've had, I've found myself enjoying talking to you. I hope you find my company, these strokes on gerra petals, as comforting as I find yours.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear prince,

You make it sound so noble to receive a letter, really it's just a letter. And now it's a correspondence between friends. I suppose my original letter was a proposal, so now we're even? I put myself out there to begin, and you put yourself out there next. Very honorable, your highness, very honorable.

But enough talk about intentions and proposals and politics, tell me something interesting. I'm bored to death of these walls, these tall towers. Any free moment I have is spent wandering and longing for the next letter from you and anything, anything at all, to happen. The other day I found myself delighted because I noticed a new shipment of voltan draperies and curtains. Drapes! I ran my hands over them for most of the morning and my smile just wouldn't budge. In retrospect I'm embarrassed, it must have been such a pathetic sight. So tell me something interesting! Spare no details, good prince, for I anxiously await your response.

Yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear your majesty,

If it was a pathetic sight to see you fawning over those voltan drapes, then I must be a pathetic person to wish I could have seen it. Someone excited by little things is someone who is honest and trustworthy, someone I wish to keep in my life.

As for your request... my, the pressure it has put on myself. I racked my brain for hours thinking of what to tell you, while looking out the window and feeling guilty I couldn't think of something sooner. I don't intend to make you feel bad, it's an interesting request and a great opportunity to look back at my life recently and consider things. What I wanted to share, how I wanted you to think of me, if anyone else (namely, Praxina) would throw a fit over the crown princess knowing it. Finally, however, I feel I found a story that may interest you:

Before the air grew staticky with the changing of seasons, I lost a bet to my sister. I don't remember what the bet was, but the result was that I had to raise some caddas for her. I went up to Yanijro and followed the rope bridges until I found a seller who wasn't shy, and sat down with tea and learned everything about the creatures. Everything, mind you, took until late, late in the evening. Finally we traded, my money and warm (but tired) smile for a breathable sack of three caddas pups. Now, the seller forgot to tell me three very important things, which I will tell you, and then you can tell me how you think the story continued...

1... caddas pups are very wet. Slimy. They secrete mucus at a rate I had never known possible, and consume a lot of water to keep their bodies hydrated.
2... caddas are more active at night.
3... caddas pups have a very deep croak, not unlike a grown man calling "what" directly into your ear.

Until next time,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

(Additionally, you may call me Mephisto if you wish, your majesty.)

-

Dear Mephisto,

I can already imagine so much. I write this letter just moments after I've read yours, and I must say that I cannot wait for the end of the tale! Hurry, hurry, and may your crystal be steady, for I absolutely must know the end of the tale.

Yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

(If you like, you may call me Izabela or Iris. The latter is a nickname my father gave me, but I understand if you prefer not to use it. A silly borealin nickname from a silly borealin man, after all)

-

Dear your majesty,

I was intending to simply continue my story, but I'm afraid I must heighten the suspense. Your majesty, Izabela, I am touched. I expected nothing in return when I offered use of my first name, and being allowed to use yours... I will not make you regret this, Izabela. If you don't mind, may I find my own nicknames for you? I enjoy talking to you so much that surely I will find something soon.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear Mephisto,

You may call me anything you like, so long as that story gets finished, your highness.

Yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear Izabela,

You're right. Let me continue,

So, you now know more than I did about the pups. I was about halfway home when they became restless, starting to wriggle and whine softly. I hurried my pace, thinking that would help, but then I heard it... "What" directly in my ear. No sooner had the first happened then the other two pups joined in. I had them on my back, and I absolutely lost my mind. I believed I was being followed. I started to sprint, the bridges swinging dangerously under me. The bridges in runic are made of woven vines, then sealed. They are very sturdy, do not get me wrong, but in this case... they did not exactly feel steady under my feet, if you can imagine.

I made it out of the city, heading for the castle, the voices getting louder in my ear as the pups grew more distressed and as I moved faster to try and escape the perceived threat.

There is a bridge between Yanijro and the castle, as Yanijro is very close to my home. This bridge is as wide across as ten men, wound tight between the edge of the city and the edge of the road to the castle. I ran and ran and ran, and just my luck... I tripped.

Until next time,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear Mephisto,

You ended the story there! Your descriptors make me want to wander Yanijro on a crisp day with static in the air and a feeling of organized chaos afoot. How I long to visit, and long to visit soon. The knowledge about caddas pups is also providing quite the suspense... I wait on the edge of my seat for your next letter, for the next time I get to read your lovely penmanship.

Yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear Izabela,

I greatly enjoy knowing that you like my story and how I am telling it. Praxina cuffed me upside the head, pulled a pup into her lap, and cuddled it, not minding the slime or the croak or the wriggling. I also long for the day you are allowed to visit, there is much I would like to show you of my home and even more that I would love to discover for the first time with you.

But, to appease your curiousity,

I skidded along the bridge. And the sack came off of my arm. I landed near the railing- a tall thing, for safety and for anyone who may need it- and the sack landed a bit in front of me. I hit my head on the fall and cut my forehead, a scar I would be delighted to share with you, and looked nervously at the sack. I'd already grown attached to the pups when I chose them, so fear struck my heart that some amount of harm had come to them. I reached in front of myself and... the sack was wet. I choked back some noise, believing them dead, and opened the sack.

Enjoying keeping your majesty on the edge of her seat,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear Mephisto,

Oh! Your suspense is so good. When I asked for a story I had assumed you would tell me it in one go, then I'd have to keep bothering you for more tales. I wish there was something more exciting in the capital, but it truly is frightfully boring. I write this letter laying on my bed, hugging a pillow and reading through your previous letters to try and satisfy myself until I can read the end of the story. When I come to visit you must show me this scar, and this bridge, and this city and this seller and everything else! I am not ordering you, I am asking as a friend.

On the edge of her seat,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear Izabela,

I think your majesty would like Yanijro. It's a beautiful city for a beautiful princess, if I may compliment you.

But! I opened the sack, thinking the worst, and the pups all scrambled into my lap, whining and croaking and searching for comfort. When they're young they're still fat and soft, their ridges not yet hardened with age and their metabolisms not yet adjusted. They climbed all over me and nosed into my face and cuddled as close as they could, and it was then I realized how silly I had been before. I went home with one riding on each of my shoulders, and the third nestled into the crook of my arm. I went to Praxina's room first, and it was very late at night, and dropped the pups on her bed, where they immediately began to give her the same treatment they had given me, including little love bites and wriggling to try to get closest to her. And what I said? "You are a mother."

She could have killed me. It was worth it.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear Mephisto,

"You are a mother" is perhaps the funniest end to a story that I can imagine, I rolled around laughing for what felt like forever when I read that. Someone even knocked on my door to check and make sure I was alright, thinking I was choking or something! That was such an enjoyable story, I can't wait to thank you for it in person. And the pups! I would love to meet them, hear their croaks, be cuddled by them. They sound like delightful creatures, and I am saddened that we don't have too many in the capital, don't have any in the castle. They prefer trees and wood cover, the sprawling fields and bustling marketplaces wouldn't suit them. But that's not important, even if they would not enjoy themselves in my home they are content in yours, as I'm sure I will be. How I long for us to meet again, the awkward silence of strangers banished by the comfortable one of friends and the conversations that we will have. I admit I cannot recall your voice, but I look forward to when I can.

I've been doing very well in my studies, especially since we began writing these letters. I think that my mother may budge if I were to ask her to leave for a while... would you have me if she did?

Yours,
Princess Izabela Halphas

-

Dear Izabela,

If you wish it, there is a festival at the end of the year that I think you would enjoy greatly. There is a whole ten days of festivities, quite long but quite well deserved. It marks the end of the season and the end of the harvest. People all through the kingdom take whatever they have on hand and make white clothing, of whatever sort and style they please, along with colorful pigments. Sand and dust and dyes, of all shades and textures and colors. We get a lot of people visiting, xerins and voltans and borealins and calixians, and everyone parties for the ten days, eating and laughing and drinking and telling stories and painting their skin, their hair, their clothing, their caddas and their homes and everything else they can get their hands on.

Izabela, would you like to attend it with me? It may be short notice, but a month and a half til then, but I would love to get to meet you in person again and share the most beautiful festival of my home with you, the most beautiful friend I have. Write back quickly, I await your response.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear Izabela,

I waited for your letter patiently, but as the days turned to weeks... I grew concerned. Has my offer offended you? I did not mean it that way, I assure you. Please write back soon, if you would like to come to the festival the offer is still open, if you would rather not then that is alright too. It is not required, it was merely an idea I had. Spur of the moment, please write back soon.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

-

Dear your majesty,

The festival grows near, but the usual excitement I feel is overshadowed by doubt and worry. If I have offended, please tell me so, for the loss of your kind words in my life is something I simply cannot bear. Please write back soon, I miss you.

Yours,
Prince Mephisto Nagendra

Chapter Text

Mephisto buried his face in his hands, groaning. There were just two days left until the festival, but all he could feel was anxiety and anger. He'd invited the princess thinking that she would enjoy the festival and the visit, but his words turned around and bit him. Instead of getting to see her again, he lost her entirely, it felt.

He turns and heads for his bed, frowning to himself. What was the point of being awake if it just meant that he had to think about his failure? About the loss of her words in his life?

He falls face-first onto the bed and, just his luck, there's a knock on his bedroom door.

"Not right now!" He groans.

"Mephisto!" It was Praxina, he should have guessed this. "Mephisto, let me in!"

"No!"

"Stop pouting and let me in. I have Shemiah..."

Mephisto lifted a hand and used magic to open the door.

There's a scrambling noise as the caddas tears across the floor, then a tugging sensation on his bedsheets as it uses its toothless mouth to climb up and wriggle into his side, poking its head under his arm and nosing at his cheek.

Mephisto can't help but laugh at the caddas, now as long as his arm and fat around as his thigh. He'd been confused when Praxina voiced a want for the lizard breed, but now he was glad that she had.

"What do you want?" He turns to curl around the caddas. "Or are you just trying to get me to stop moping?"

"I was trying to get you to put a jacket and some shoes on, there's someone here for you."

He froze.

"There's... what now?"

Praxina crossed her arms and smirked. "There's someone here for you."

She knew of his correspondence with the princess, and definitely knew what his first thought would be. He moves to stand, already heading to tug on his boots and pull on his best jacket.

"If you're pulling my leg, I want you to know that I do know where you sleep." He reminds her.

"If you didn't I'd wonder when you had gotten so stupid." She flips her hair, walking over to the bed to pick Shemiah up. "Come to mama, pretty girl." She cooed, pressing kisses to the caddas' head.

"You know as well as I do that caddas don't have gender." Mephisto rolled his eyes, moving to the mirror to rake his fingers through his hair. "Why do you insist on pretending they do?"

"It makes me happy." She rolls her eyes, pulling Shemiah closer. "Now hurry, your visitor seemed impatient..."

He sprinted for the door, then backtracked for a moment.

"Prax?"

"Front hallway. Father's entertaining her."

This time he ran faster.

On a good day it was difficult to get across the castle in a fast way. Lots of steps, lots of hallways, lots of people hustling through. With the festival dawning? It would be impossible.

Luckily though, he had the secret weapon of flight.

He zoomed through the hallways and slid down stair railings, grinning and whooping. When he reached the bottom he ran the rest of the way, his thoughts racing. Was it her? If it wasn't he'd simply die of embarrassment.

Mephisto pauses at the side doors to the front hallway, breathing heavily but trying to calm down. He didn't want to seem too eager... Oh, who was he kidding? Eagerness was bubbling in his very being.

He pushed the doors open once he caught his breath.

His father turned toward him, smiling. Next to him stood...

"Mother?" Mephisto's face brightened.

Ellira was the head of the guard in the capital, but she'd made sure to visit often and be in her children's lives. Their father, the Bachelor King of Runic, was not one to be tied down by marriage... and that was alright for the fiery redhead that had mothered his twin heirs. She got to keep her life in the capital serving side by side with her best friend, King Chen, and he got to keep his single life with his two children. It worked.

She stepped forward and opened her arms, a grin on her lips. "Come here!"

He ran to her, wrapping his arms around her. She got her arms around him too and swung him, both laughing.

When she set him back down she cupped his cheek and nodded, looking him over. "Very good, very good. You've grown since I saw you last."

He laughed, nodding as well. "And you haven't grown at all."

She rolled her eyes and pinched his cheek, the joy not leaving her face. "It's good to see you, son. But it's not just me who's here for you..." She turns to look to her right, and he slowly follows her gaze.

It had to have been years since he last saw the princess. Then she'd been much shorter than him, hardly to his chest, her pink hair loose and free and her dresses chaste and childish. Just as he'd grown, she'd grown too.

Her hair was pulled into a tight latticework braid that turned into a bun, only a few strands free. She had the tiara that he'd always known her to have resting on the top of her head, the centered jewel glittering in the light. She had her pendant on a choker tight to her neck, and the neckline of her dress accented it well. Off the shoulders, drawing a line that was just low enough to get his heart beating but still high enough to be classy, long sleeves, a belt around the middle, the bottom flaring out and ending just below where he assumed her knees were. It was a very beautiful dress, gold and pink swirling designs that seemed to be moving the longer he tried to discern what they were.

The princess smiled at him. He slowly smiled back.

"The princess has come to visit for the festival, claiming that you invited her. Is that correct, Mephisto?" His father's voice interrupts, and Mephisto slowly turns to look at him.

"Yes sir, I did." He nods once. "I thought she would enjoy it."

"Then enjoy it she will!" His father laughed. "My home is your home, princess, it is a joy to have you."

Iris bowed her head, and when she lifted it she glanced back at Mephisto. "I look forward to it, thank you for having me."

Mephisto sighed, and Ellira patted his cheek.

-

"And up here we have where you'll be staying- I'm on the opposite end of the stairs."

Iris nods, glancing where he'd gestured. "Alright, that's good."

Mephisto nodded as well. "Yes... may I ask something? It's been eating me up inside."

Iris hummed, holding out a hand and motioning for him to continue.

"Why didn't you answer my letters? I thought you were offended and hated me." He admitted. "I'm glad to see you but you really had me scared."

She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "Getting your letters and hearing you become sad was very difficult, but I wanted to surprise you. More than that, I didn't have time to figure out what to say. My mother told me that I'd only be allowed to come if I worked harder than ever before and mastered six new spells."

"Six? In a month and a half?" He whistled. "I'm amazed you managed."

"I only finally got the last one yesterday." She admitted, laughing softly. "I thought I wouldn't be able to make it."

"Well," He offered her a hand. "I'm very happy you did. Now we can talk in person, and you don't have to wait weeks to hear the end of a story."

She reached forward to tap his nose before taking his hand, her sleeve falling back to reveal a large collection of bracelets and bangles clanking together on her wrist. "I had better not, your highness."

"Then since you wished it, I won't, your majesty." His tone is light and amused, and she laughs with him.

"Show me to my room, then?" Iris squeezed his hand. "I'm curious what a guest room in runic is like."

"Not unlike everything else in runic," He started as he led her to it, the first room past the stairs on the left. "Lots of stone and greenery. He pushes the door open, letting her take the first step inside.

There was a balcony facing Yanijro and the forest, the river that led into the borealin sea and the bottom of the mountainside. It was open, no doors, just some thick voltan curtains that, when tied, would protect against the chill.

The bed was against the wall to the left, presumably with nothing on the other side but the stairs they'd just left behind. There was an alcove immediately to her right that was presumably a bathroom, polished xerin glass with puffs and swirls of color mixed throughout. Then there was a desk against the wall next to the balcony, a dresser next to the bed, and a round flat couch in the middle of the room.

Iris nodded slowly. "This looks much more comfortable than the rooms back home."

Mephisto shrugged. "We tend to have a lot of guests stay for long periods of time, we want them to be comfortable."

Iris walked forward, running her fingers over the soft bedsheets. "And your family is just on the other side of the hall? Aren't there concerns about... anything?"

"This hallway is only for royals and nobles, princess. We have guards in the hallway at night to protect this whole floor, and provide guidance for anyone who is looking for a midnight snack."

She giggled at that, moving to sit on the couch. "Will you visit me sometime? Could we talk?"

He headed for the couch as well. "Why wouldn't I? Everyone in this kingdom, and you're the only one who came just for me." Mephisto smiled at her. "The more time we spend together, the more priveleged I am for getting to spend it with you."

Iris waved a hand for him to sit next to her. "You know how to charm, don't you?"

"My father would say it was his influence in me."

"Well keep it up, your highness." Iris leaned back on the couch so that she was laying down, folding her hands over her chest. "I like how it sounds."

-

They sat comfortably for a while before she rolled onto her side and looked at him, a mischievous shape to her mouth that he'd never seen before.

"I took every single white dress from my closet." She pointed towards the trunk that had been teleported up while they rested. "And didn't tell my mother."

He choked. "She'll be furious, I don't believe she's ever attended the festival."

"My father suggested it," She rolled into her back again. "He's been, and he loved it. My mother is so boring, and so mean, I'm tired of her."

He'd never heard anyone speak of the queen that way, but he'd noticed her tense tone and how straight Iris sat around her, how quiet she was.

"Then stay here. Pretend you lost an earring and are scouring the castle for it."

She snorted. "I wish. She'd see through it in a heartbeat."

He sighed. "Worth a try, right?"

"Definitely." Iris reached over to grab his hand, flipping it over to look at his palm. "Do you ever think about leaving? Just getting up in the middle of the night and walking out and never coming back? I suppose not, this castle is a lot more free than the capital's..."

Mephisto nodded, letting her trace the lines on his hand. "That's right, I don't have to think about that. I do, however, think about stealing you away."

She giggled. "My mother would have me back before you actually got me."

"Even if you told her you wanted to go?"

"Especially if I told her I wanted to go."

He leans forward, curling his fingers around hers. "Is she really that controlling?"

"I might be... exaggerating a bit. But when I'm at home it feels like I'll never be allowed to leave. She's protective, you know? When she was younger someone killed my Uncle and he was never seen again. She doesn't want me to end up the same way."

Mephisto winced. "I remember that now... on her birthday, right?"

Iris nodded. "That's why we have the Queensday masks. She started the tradition the year she became queen, to honor him, and hasn't stopped it since. I think I'll even keep it when I become queen," She leaned down to press a kiss to his knuckles. "I like not having to show my face on her day."

"It must be very hard on the family, especially her." Mephisto guessed.

"You'd think." Her flat tone and eye roll said something else.

"What's wrong?"

"I never met him, and dad says he was a very good man. My mother, on the other hand, has never had a word to say about him other than what she tells the masses. She's so fake about it."

"Do you think there's some reason for that?"

Iris looked at him. "I don't think anything. I'm a princess, not to bother myself with such things."

He sighed. "Her words?"

"Her words."

-

They talked for a few more hours about this and that, smiling and enjoying each other's company, until the sun started to gently set and Mephisto stood, both of their stomachs rumbling.

"So when's dinner?" Iris glanced out onto the balcony.

"About... five minutes ago?" He grinned, offering her a hand.

Iris gasped at him. "Your highness, being late isn't a good first impression! What will they think of me?"

He pulled her up, brushing some hair out of her face. "That you're the most beautiful thing they've ever seen?"

She blew some air out of her face. "You're lucky you're charming. Come, show me to the dining hall."

As they went he pointed out more specific landmarks. His room, the funny paintings and statues to mark her path, what the guards looked like so she could stop them and ask for help.

They didn't walk fast, merely walking together, and even though they were going to be late it felt alright.

They paused in front of the grand doors to the dining room, Iris taking a deep breath and Mephisto giving her a moment to.

"Before we go in..."

"Yes?"

He turns to her, righting some loose strands of hair. "I thought very hard about what nickname I thought would fit you, and I think until I have the perfect one I will stick to your father's nickname for you, if that's alright."

Iris giggled. "I do prefer his nickname for me, so that's fine."

"Iris, right?"

She nodded, and he opened the door.

Dinner was in full swing, every other guest sitting at the long table. At the head closest to them was the Bachelor King, his old flame right next to him.

Iris recognized quite a few royals at the table. None that she had taken the time to meet, but all ones that had come visit her mother in the capital.

Praxina, princess of Runic.

Izira, crown princess of Xeris and Talia, her younger sister.

Valentina, Mateo, Jodan, Auriana, four of the heirs to Volta.

Her own cousin, Lyna, princess of Borealis.

The younger twin heirs to Calix, Carissa and Cerise.

All eyes went to Iris and Mephisto.

"Good evening, son." The Bachelor King grinned, lifting his glass of wine jovially. "Come, sit, join us."

The eyes turned away.

The royals were concentrated at the end of the table with the King, and Iris rook a moment to blink in surprise. Part of her expected to see more parents accompanying them, but instead all of these princes and princesses had gathered for the festival of their own volition.

Valentina and Izira were laughing about something, Talia and Praxina sitting so close together that it was impossible not to realize that they were friends. Auriana and the calixian twins were having a riveting conversation of some sort, and Lyna was entertaining the King, Ellira, and the Voltan boys with a story.

Luckily two seats, across from princess Praxina and Talia, had been kept open. As they sat Mephisto leaned in close and whispered, "nervous?"

She glanced at him, and it was obvious that the answer was yes.

Talia turned to look at them first, Praxina having been staring at her brother the entire walk into the dining room. The xerin had her hair pulled back in dozens of braids, a sleeveless but high necked dress accenting her shoulders and arms, the delicate golden bracelet on her beautiful wrist. She smiled at Iris.

Iris smiled back.

They'd never been close, but she enjoyed when the princess visited the capital, usually accompanied by one of her mothers or her older sister. She was a very smart girl, a bit fiesty, and she usually managed to get a laugh out of Iris.

She'd halfway considered sending a letter to her, but she hadn't figured out what to say.

Iris tucked a strand behind her ear and watched as the glass filled with wine, the food magically appearing on her plate.

"So, will this be your first time at the festival?" Talia asked, leaning forward right after the ephedian heir lifted her glass for a sip.

The reply was Iris setting the glass down, picking a napkin up to wipe a spare drop of wine away, nodding. "Oh, yes! I never knew about it-"

"Never knew?" That caught her cousin's attention across the table, the mint hair, all pulled to the side and over her shoulder, gasping in surprise. "Didn't I write to you about it? Didn't your father tell you?"

Iris shrugged. "I must have forgotten, you don't tend to write often."

There's chuckles as Lyna rolls her eyes. "Why not write me? You could start the conversations, you know."

Iris shrugged and sipped at her wine again. "Maybe."

Lyna turned back to her own conversation and left Iris to wince and lean against Mephisto slightly, sighing.

"So, haven't heard about our most famous festival?" Praxina finally spoke up.

"I made sure to tell her all about it." Mephisto cut in.

Praxina 'mm-hmm'ed and left her brows raised, and the dinner continued.

"Your sister hates me!"

"She doesn't hate you." Mephisto closed the door behind them as Iris headed for the couch to flop onto it.

"Yes, she totally does. She thinks I'm an idiot!"

"Her wording would be fool-"

"So she does?" Iris crossed her arms.

"No, she doesn't. She hardly knows you!" The prince stepped forward to take her hand. "Just calm down. Runic is safe, there's no judgement and no pettiness and no- no fighting."

"No Capital?" Iris whispered.

"No Capital. Well, Yanijro is our capital, but it's safe."

She sighed and leaned forward, resting her cheek on his chest.

"Is this fine?"

"It's fine."