Basal 72nd, 1042

“Sorry, why are your eyes being green a big deal? River said not to ask, that she’d explain later, but Aspen and Clover were whispering about it earlier, and, well…” Alouette trailed off. “I just thought it was some cosmetic choice? You mortals like changing stuff up on your faces, like putting holes in them and filling those holes with shiny rocks and stuff,” they were loitering in Azaleon’s room because River had asked them to get some of the luggage that had been unceremoniously dumped into the corner and take it to the inn; because apparently Aspen didn’t want to ‘see Azaleon’s face right now’.

Alouette was procrastinating on actually taking the suitcases over, choosing instead to play twenty questions and leave poor Kuiper lugging the heaviest of suitcases. Azaleon felt bad, but also felt a strong sense of self-pity, if only because Alouette was very, very nosy. And not in the kind of funny way Clover was; she was at least well-informed, and he suspected well-intentioned, before she went asking questions.

Poor Clover was sleeping off the exhaustion of Alouette apparently shoving an entirely different being’s spirit into her body with her; God or not, Azaleon was actively fighting the urge to strangle the bird. These were kids, for Gods’ sake!

“Do I really have to be the one to give you this talk?” Azaleon sighed. “How many people have you seen with green eyes, Alouette?”

“Um, you, now. Aspen, and Kuiper, too? Admittedly, this is the most I’ve gotten out around people, and there are usually more interesting things to look at than eyeballs. Like clothes, or people’s hairstyles.”

“Kuiper’s eyes are hazel. That’s a different color,” he said, choosing to ignore the rest of Alouette’s ramblings. Kuiper also had a thing about not liking eye contact, so if they wanted to talk to anyone about that, he’d be better suited than Azaleon was. “So just me and His Highness, right?”

“I guess so! Huh. Why?” They perched on the edge of his bed. He wished the healers would let him up already; he felt mostly fine now. Whatever Remedy had done had healed him entirely, yet they wanted to ‘monitor him’... he’d rather be helping Kuiper carry luggage than explain this.

“Only the royal family has the gene that makes eyes this shade of green,” Azaleon explained.

“Okay. ” Alouette nodded. Then, they considered it, and scrunched their face up. “I thought you were a guard or knight or whatever that’s called these days? I’d ask if I’m supposed to be calling you some title, but that’s too hard to remember. Even calling Aspen that ‘Highness’ stuff is too hard.”

“That’s because you have no sense of respect,” Azaleon said under his breath. Alouette rolled their eyes.

“Whatever. So you stole royal pants or something and it changed your eye color, why does Aspen care so much? Surely they have plenty of tailors at the castle–”

“What? No– genes, not jeans. Genetics?” At Alouette’s blank stare, Azaleon heaved a heavy sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We’re related. We have the same father?” he tried again.

Oh! You’re kin to him! You could’ve just said so. Why is that a bad thing?”

“It’s…complicated. I wasn’t supposed to be born. I’m not a child of the Queen, and that’s supposed to stay a secret. My existence isn’t one he even wants to acknowledge. But Alder needs something from me, and I told him he’d never get it if he didn’t give me this–the chance to have this position. And in return I swore not to let Aspen know. If he hadn’t been absolutely desperate for guards, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

Alouette looked thoughtful, taking a moment to digest that, then leaned against the bed’s foot, smiling lazily. “That’s convenient for you, that the king was so desperate.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just an observation. I do struggle with human concepts like that. Maybe Aspen would have more insight, if I asked him about how castle staffing works?”

Azaleon felt a mild spike of anger. He honestly couldn’t tell what Alouette’s intentions were here, but it was clear they were needling him on purpose.

“Kuiper or I could explain it just as well,” Azaleon muttered. “Unless that’s a threat. Which really isn’t necessary– I’m here to help him, and he wants to help you.”

Alouette tilted their head. “No, I would never threaten a human like you. I’m touched, really, by how far you’d go to protect your brother! Actually, in that vein, I have a proposition for you. How much did Clover tell you about Remedy?”

“The God that’s supposedly inside her?”

“‘Supposedly’, meaning you don’t believe her?”

“It’s not that– the eyes and the fact she healed me were proof enough, but I guess I’ve had other things on my mind. Is she okay?”

“More than fine! She was able to heal you with no Thauma, even! I suspect there’s other perks we haven’t even seen yet. It’s amazing how it clicked into place once she was part of the equation. That’s what I was missing all these years, when I was trying to free them all. I couldn’t just free them into this realm, since they’re all sort of cursed; mortals would get hurt, and that wouldn’t do. Freeing them and letting them go alone back to the Upper Realm was out of the question, too. They’d just get re-sealed, and this time, I’m sure the Lunar and Sol Gods would put them somewhere I couldn’t reach. You get where I’m going with this? They need vessels. You want to be a help to Aspen, get him out of this Quasar business, don’t you? Because you’re such a good brother. Helping free them would do just that!”

Azaleon listened to Alouette monologue while they paced the room, and they grew increasingly excited, their wings flapping to punctuate each sentence and feathers falling to the floor.

“You said you had a proposition for me. You’re asking me to let one of them use my body…?” Azaleon asked.

“Ah, not ‘use’, per say! Just let him…’hang out’. Clover was still in control, if you noticed. He’ll just be riding backseat, just for a while, until all the Gods are unsealed and we can all go back to the Upper Realm together. Maybe a few weeks, a few months, max.”

“And do the others know you’re asking this of me? Have you ran it past them?”

“Clover’d be fine with it,” Alouette argued. “She let one in herself. And Aspen would be touched that you’d do that to help him, and you guys could make up! It’d help stop the Quasar Ceremony–”

“Can you guarantee it? How do you know that has anything to do with why they’re sealed?”

“I just do. My memories of the Upper Realm are hazy, but there are things I just know. Every year he doesn’t go through with the Ceremony, their chains get weaker and weaker…I can feel it. Do you have any concept of how strong a willingly sacrificed human soul is?”

Azaleon mulled that over for a moment. He didn’t trust the God, but he knew they could sense things outside of normal perception; and they wouldn’t be much of a God if they didn’t know those sorts of things intrinsically. He supposed the idea of a human soul being the lock that could hold down five Gods for a hundred years wasn’t so far-fetched. Certainly, for personal reasons, he preferred that idea to the idea of the souls being used to save a dying universe, if only because it gave Aspen an out.

“I’m more concerned about what Kuiper might say…” Azaleon murmured. Actually, he wasn’t concerned– he knew exactly what his partner would say. He’d be against it. He’d been against them even taking this job because of the risks. If it was up to Kuiper, they’d be settled back down in Cheytell, or Covalle, even, getting fat off of spicy shrimp soup everyday in a cozy little apartment on the coast, full of books and three to four bearcats.

And Aspen would’ve never met either of them, and would probably have gotten stuck with a set of guards who would do the bare minimum. Who else would do this much for his sake, if not them?

Alouette watched his resolve crumble with a small self-satisfied smirk, their arms crossed over their chest.

“...Which God?”

“Well. Seiche Carving is the closest,” they said very quickly in one breath, as if he wouldn’t hear them if they said it fast enough. “I’ve known where he is for a while. He’s stuck under the sea, has been so long that you humans realized the waves kick up around there more than anywhere else and built a tidal power plant nearby! I’ll never get over how ingenious that is–”

“You don’t mean all the way near his temple on Atlas Islands, do you? That’s several days out–”

“No! No, it’s a while before that. We could probably get there in a handful of hours if I was flying!”

“And…you think it’d be okay for me to…’host’ Seiche?” Azaleon asked incredulously.

“Normally, I would say no one deserves to be trapped in a body with Seiche, but I still do not like you very much,” Alouette admitted. “That’s no slight against mortals as a whole, either, it’s just you.”

“You’d trap me with a primordial God of Rage because I hit you once?”

“God of War, I think you know as much, considering your affinity for cobalt Thauma,” they corrected. “And you make me sound so petty when you say it like that! In the long run, it’s for the greater good. You like doing good things, don’t you? He’s not as bad as you’re expecting!”

“I am also not opposed to hitting more people, and I suspect Seiche might find that agreeable. Maybe the first favor I ask him will be to do just that, to you.”

“You can put up that happy-go-lucky facade all you want, you’re just as sour as Aspen is,” Alouette said with a small pout. “So you’ll do it?”

“I will,” he confirmed. “But I’m not trying to argue with anyone about it. Come when everyone’s sleeping and I’ll go with you.”

Alouette shrugged. “If that’s what you want. Don’t come crying to me when you get yelled at afterwards.”

‘A few hours out’ was an understatement. It took a good while after they’d left, and it was a wonder Alouette didn’t have to stop more often to rest their wings.

Still, eventually they ended up on a beach, the waves dark and choppy. They were just past the Twilight Strip, stars twinking overhead and the sky dark.

Technically, they were still within Fern Helion’s borders, if only just barely into the Lunar Zone. The dark made Azaleon uneasy; so did the fact they were so far out, completely alone. Alouette strolled on the sand, calling out a few times to Seiche, asking if he was there, if he could hear them.

Azaleon had started to wonder if this was a fluke, and was starting to get annoyed; it was freezing cold, in the middle of the night, and Alouette was yelling at the sea.

So it was almost satisfying when a huge wave jumped from the sea and pulled them in.

They barely had time to yelp before being dragged under. And it was very deliberate, there was no mistaking that; the waves didn’t come near any other part of the beach, or near Azaleon.

“Oh…I actually needed them, please don’t do that,” Azaleon requested, raising the volume of his own voice. “Seiche Carving, I assume? Hi, I’m Azaleon and I–”

“The chains are almost broken,” the voice sounded as if it came from the waves themselves, harsh and salty. “I do not bargain with mortals. I have taken what is rightfully mine. The blood of all of the other Gods will run.”

“Why don’t you take their blood after they free you?”

“Free me? They, and all of the other Gods put me down here, cowardly bastards, while laughing–”

Alouette burst from the water, wings soggy, landing on the sand and scrambling upwards while coughing up water. They stood, shakily holding their hands up.

“That’s not what happened! Sure, you got locked up first, but the rest of us had nothing to do with it! It was the Sol and Lunar Gods, and they put the rest of the minor Gods down here on this realm, too, Seiche! It wasn’t like we were all ganging up on you! I came to free you!”

The dark, rolling, angry waves were loud, but the God’s silence deafening. For a terrifying moment, Azaleon expected Seiche to pull them both under. And no one would know where they had disappeared to, because he was trying to avoid arguing. Alouette was still coughing up water beside him, their hands on their knees. Their wings were soaked thoroughly, and Azaleon wondered if they could manage to fly if they needed to right now.

“And you’ve brought me a royal as what, a sacrifice, to beg for forgiveness?” Seiche asked finally.

“No, he’s not a sacrifice. Or royal,” Alouette added. “Only related by blood, not actually in a position to get power.”

“You’ve always been poor at politics, haven’t you, Ash? But it’s in my nature to know such things. Your family has a long history with me,” the waves whispered to Azaleon. “I know your eyes well. You don’t need to tell me what you hunger for.”

“I think we can help each other,” Azaleon said, bending and dipping his fingers in the freezing waters. “Alouette here thinks they can take your elemental form and put it in my body. I’m willing to offer you that freely. I’ve been devoted to you for a majority of my life.”

“You intend to take me from one prison to another?” Seiche asked.

“No! It’s just a temporary situation, just until we can free the others; you can’t take on the Sol and Lunar Gods by yourself, much as I know you’re rearing to go try. Aha, I always admired that gumption... You’ll be happy to know you’re number two on my list! Uh, Remedy was unexpected, you totally would’ve been number one if I’d known sooner,” Alouette babbled nervously hopping between one foot to the other, eyeing the waves that seemed to grow restless and inch closer the longer they spoke. “Besides, you like being around mortals. They’re always fighting, right? You love to orchestrate a good mortal fight.”

“Mortal,” Seiche said, and the waves seemed to whip in his direction, away from Alouette.

“Azaleon. Sorry, I should have started with that.”

“Azaleon, then. Let me see how suited you are. Hold still and hold your breath, too.” Azaleon barely had enough time to suck in a gulp of air before the shock of cold water overtook him, pulling him down, down further, any faint light from the stars being pulled away. It was so cold it felt like his entire body seized, going numb in an instant.

Before him was the Violent God of War, Seiche Carving, chained by his wrists to the floor of the sea. His eyes were filled with a blue light, the only light in the black water, and Azaleon knelt so Seiche could run his fingers across his forehead. The God was made of water, strangely heavier and more visible than the surrounding water, his fingers several degrees warmer than the sea. It felt like his mind was being tugged at, and for a moment he wondered if he’d die here at the ocean floor, Alouette unable to get him because of the stormy waters.

They were in the eye of the storm, the waters circling them but not pulling him under to drown. His lungs were burning, and he was about to need a breath of oxygen. Seiche seemed to sense this, and sent him flying back to the surface. He let out a series of wet coughs on the sand, looking back towards the water. His body was shaking violently, and Alouette ran to him, shoving a golden light onto their clothes and drying them instantly.

He was still shaking too hard to say thanks, but Alouette seemed to appreciate the little nod he offered instead.

“I saw every time you used my Thauma,” Seiche said.

“Oh, so you saw him wack me,” Alouette put their hands on their hips. “That was a lucky break, just so you know–”

“Let me ask you this: why is it you’ve used it less in recent years than in your developmental years?”

He sucked in a breath through chattering teeth. “I…suppose I just learned when to pick a fight. When it was worth it to escalate it to physicality, versus when I could get the same effect by other means.” He’d gotten smarter. He hadn’t wanted to be known as the kid who always was in trouble– because long-term goals would be impossible if he kept that up.

“Okay,” Seiche said with a sense of finality, and Azaleon nearly collapsed in relief.

“Okay?” Alouette asked.

“I’m growing impatient. Try whatever you’re going to do. Though if you came all this way and it doesn’t work, I’ll actually drown you, Ash.”

“So, just to restate, I don’t know that this will work. It could seriously kill you; Seiche is, uh, a bit…more, than Remedy would’ve been for Clover, and it might’ve just worked because she was a Quasar, so…”

Restate? They’d never mentioned that in the first place. Azaleon felt a hot flare of annoyance, but tamped it down just as quickly; even if it didn’t work, he’d be too dead to know it by the sound of things.

“Please just do it.” Azaleon muttered. “I don’t want Kuiper to get too worried.” Ideally, he’d be back before anyone even really noticed they’d left.

Alouette offered their hand to him, then a hand to the sea. Seiche raised a small wave and gripped Alouette’s hand with a force that made their knuckles white. They let out a little choked noise, and then their wings and eyes both lit up with a gold, pulsing energy.

His whole vision exploded into a distinctly cobalt blue shade.

For a moment, it felt like swallowing the entire sea, the pressure nearly unbearable, before Azaleon sat up on the sand with a gasp. Alouette was leaning over him, eyes wide and their hands on his chest. They pressed down and he coughed up salty water.

“Oh, good, you’re alive! I thought–Uh, well, nevermind. You okay? Boiling with a murderous rage? Don’t answer that by hitting me. Are any of your major organs exploding or anything? Or–”

“Alouette, I feel fine,” Azaleon said. And he did. Not too different from usual. Actually, maybe a bit better than usual. More…giddy? Like it would be a lot harder for Aspen to get rid of him now, now he was important in this God business.

He could feel Seiche’s presence acutely, like the God was standing just outside of his peripherals. It was like using cobalt Thauma, but far, far more intense.

‘You think too small,’ Seiche whispered. ‘Oh yes, making a king your enemy is ambitious of you, but we can do better than that. You and I are going to be a great help to each other indeed.’

Alouette was still looking worried, their lips drawn into a line and their eyes squinting at him, like just staring would help them puzzle something out.

“Is he talking to you? I get cut off from hearing the others when you mortals are hosting them.”

“Yes, and you don’t need to be so worried. I think we’re going to get along just fine,” he said, standing and patting Alouette’s shoulder. Thankfully, the intense cold from earlier was entirely gone. “We should go back to Glassview. If they’ve noticed we’re gone, Kuiper, Aspen, and the others are surely worried.”

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