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The Lord Ruler's perfect capital city, Luthadel, is doing the impossible: rebelling. Skaa half-breeds are being taught the power of Allomancy, something that the Lord Ruler's obligators said only existed in the nobility. The enslaved skaa, with their murderous benefactor, now fight back against a living god's oppression.

So, the Inquisition was formed. The nobles begin to fear assassination from all sides. The times of nobility Mistborn killing each other are over. The Steel Inquisitors look for aristocrat traitors and insurgent skaa, and the skaa try with all their strength to merely survive. The Lord Ruler's perfect Final Empire is slowly devolving into chaos.

Read the full prologue!

Topics on the forum will contain spoilers for the Mistborn Trilogy





Mistborn Series © Brandon Sanderson
Allomantic Table, Symbols, and Cartography by Isaac Stewart
Luthadel Images: mking2008
Other Graphics: KChan at 17th Shard
Final Empire, Metallic Arts, and Style Guides by Chaos at 17th Shard
All original characters, places, and documentation are property of their creators. Do not reproduce or republish without permission.

A subsidiary of 17th Shard, the Official Brandon Sanderson Fansite

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KChan

Member Since 29 Jun 2009
Offline Last Active Today, 12:44 AM
*****

Topics I've Started

New Rules and Guides Forum!

16 October 2017 - 04:16 PM

Are you tired of looking all over the forum to find all of our various rules and systems? Tired of hearing obscure rules mentioned you can't find in the rules topic? Tired of hearing various policies mentioned you've never even heard of?

Guess what? So are we!

MBI has undergone a lot of changes since it was founded back in 2008 (whoa, where did the time go!?). We've made changes to some of the rules and invented entirely new policies to keep things running smoothly - but unfortunately, our documentation of these changes didn't exactly keep pace with the rest of what we were doing.

That's why we have this new forum. Everything has been consolidated and, in some cases, completely rewritten from scratch to make sure it is consistent, legible, and most of all, easily accessible. From character creation rules to how to become a Great House, everything is now accessible in that one forum. I've also moved the World of Mistborn forum there for now, for ease of access and to try and save some space on the front page.

Also, we're not done yet! Expect a few tweaks and edits as we settle into the new system, and a few new coats of varnish - included the much-awaited updated FAQ and Story Thus Far threads!

As always, thanks for being here, and enjoy actually being able to find things!

The Reunion

19 August 2017 - 12:20 AM

Nessa left her talk with Nate feeling a little better, if more confused than ever. While at first she'd been struck by the sheer awe of a female crewleader, and a Thug at that, the talk had also reminded Nessa that Datura was, in fact, a crewleader - not some sort of personal idol for Nessa to follow around. She had her own feelings and goals and motivations which had nothing to do with Nessa. Nessa herself was an exception to the rule, brought in because of her Allomancy and placed among the members of the inner circle, but still excluded from the important parts because of how new she was.

Well, being on the outside of things wasn't exactly something Nessa was used to. She'd never really stayed long enough with one crew to be anywhere else, and most of them would never trust a child or a woman anyway. She'd always just floated from crew to crew, wearing out her welcome or usefulness and then moving on to the next.

But that would be changing now, wouldn't it? The Rebellion certainly wouldn't let an Allomancer just walk out, after all, and would she even want to? She had food, and a real bed... and him.

Do you love him?

What is love like?


Nessa mulled over these questions as she munched on her midday baywrap - the afternoon's Smoker had brought some - and let the backs of her heels thump softly against the sides of the crate she was sitting on.

What was happening between them? They had known each other for all of a week, maybe a couple days more, and hadn't seen each other in almost half of that, but she still couldn't stop thinking about him. And not just to worry, though reminding herself of the danger he had been in - might still be in - churned her stomach, and she actually had to put the baywrap down for a moment.

No, it wasn't just that. It was the way he smiled at her. The look in his eyes when he brushed her hair away from her face, or traced her cheek with his finger. The gentle strength when he held her, and the soft warmth when they'd kissed. The firm resolve in his voice when he promised to keep her safe, and even the hint of affection that crept in when he called her Sweets. She didn't think she'd ever miss that, but she did. For all she cared now, he could call her that for the rest of their lives and never use her real name again, so long as it meant that he was alive.

But, most importantly, it was the way he saw her. Not an Allomancer or a stray to be used and discarded, or a piece of meat to be enjoyed, or even as a child, the way her other new friends often seemed to see her. To him, she was just Nessa, just Sweets, just some girl he'd been ordered to train - and who he'd befriended instead. He'd teased her and let her tease him in return, comforted her when she was upset, and reassured her when she was frightened. He saw her, and he listened to her, and she had never felt safer than when she was near him.

She sighed, flopping back onto the crate and splaying her arms out, letting them hang off the edges. One of her hands still clung tightly to the baywrap, of course. Her head hung down the far side of the crate, her dark hair streaming down and almost brushing the floor. Blood rushed to her head as she looked around at the now-upside-down warehouse, but that was sort of fitting, wasn't it? Her whole world was upside-down now, and Perrin did sort of make her feel all woozy when she thought about that kiss too much - if there was such a thing.

Still, she couldn't help but think that if there was anyone she could figure out this whole love thing with, it was him. Maybe. If he wanted it too, anyway.

That thought was even more dizzying than draping herself backwards over the crate, so she pulled herself up and hopped down off of it. The warehouse spun for a moment as her blood rushed back where it was supposed to be, and she staggered a couple steps before remembering to flare her pewter slightly and catch herself.

As she blinked around at the warehouse, though, watching it come back into focus, when it hit her. What if her life wasn't upside down right now? What if it had been this whole time? That she'd been stifled, just like how it had been getting hard to breathe when she was leaning back over the crate, and everything had suddenly turned rightside up? She was staggering, struggling to catch her balance, but maybe, just maybe, things would begin to clear up. Maybe she would begin to be okay.

For her to really be okay, though, she needed to figure out a way to see Perrin. And Maks, who was also probably worried, unless someone had told him something. She was relatively unguarded right now, with only that one Smoker to babysit her, but sneaking out of a warehouse in the middle of the day would be highly suspicious, as would one lone skaa woman wandering the industrial district. She would need to wait until nightfall.

In the meantime, she should probably train like she was supposed to be doing. Not only would that be less suspicious, but even if she didn't get an opening to sneak away tonight, good behavior might convince Datura - or Nate, who probably ran the show more than anyone realized - to let her have some time off. And if it didn't, she could use the things she'd learned to get herself some free time the hard way.

Besides, she found herself realizing that she wanted to train. She was tired of being weak and not knowing anything and bloody running away all the time. She needed to get stronger. Braver. Better at taking care of herself. It was time to woman up and grow up.

And so Nessa shoved down the rest of her baywrap, forced herself to choke down as much of the pewter dust as she could, and got to work. She started slowly at first, working her way carefully through every movement Datura had shown her and only speeding up when she was able to stop thinking about it so much. It was surprising how much effort working slowly took; even with pewter, it wasn't long before sweat beaded on her face and dripped between her shoulders.

Things got really interesting after her midafternoon snack - apparently the crew now knew they could get her to do anything if they fed her enough, but food was food, and being a Thug was hungry work - when she really felt like she'd gotten her feet underneath her. Then she could speed up, chaining together the different techniques in new ways and taking up the entire space she'd been given as she jumped, slid, and dashed her way in and out of new sequences. She lost herself in the rhythm of it, stopping only to replenish her pewter. She'd never been able to practice undisturbed like this before, and it was intoxicating. She could finally focus on what she was practicing - the complexities of each movement, the subtle effect pewter had on every muscle and technique and reflex, the way her weight shifted when she threw a punch or how much it mattered that she kept her wrist straight.

Hours later, she finally let herself sink to the floor, downing the last of the water between heavy, exhausted breaths. Every fiber of every muscle screamed at her, but she felt alive. It was even different from the way she'd felt out in the mists that night. A sort of alive-ness that was only for her, because she'd captured it at some point during her training. What would it be like, she wondered, to fly through the mists with Perrin right now, invigorated as she was?

Perrin!

She looked up and out of the Warehouse's high windows, and sure enough, it was getting very dark very quickly. A few tendrils of mist began to curl and press against the glass, and Nessa knew it was time. The crew was probably working late tonight on some project or another, which would delay mess for a little longer, and she needed to be gone by then.

She couldn't leave through the front door, of course; one of her babysitters would still be there, probably bored to tears. But there had to be another way out, and Nessa would find it - and find it she did, after what felt like an eternity bumping into boxes in the rapidly darkening warehouse. She didn't dare take the lantern with her; its retreating light might warn her Smoker that she was running off. Better to leave it there as a decoy, propped safely on top of a crate in the middle of the room with nothing else remotely nearby, clearly visible to anyone who entered that space. She didn't want to burn down the warehouse, after all.

It was a small side door, probably used as another way to get workers in and out quickly. It squeaked when she pushed on it, and she cringed. Would that have alerted the Smoker? Would they have heard it from over here, or known what it was? She'd better move quickly, just in case.

If there was one good thing about going hungry constantly, it was that even with her height, Nessa had rarely found a nook or a crack she couldn't squeeze through. She barely needed to push the door open any further to slip through it, then quickly shoved it closed, wincing again at the noise. And then, just like that, she ran off into the darkening night, grinning widely as the mists curled around her streaming hair. She couldn't burn pewter out here by herself, so running was difficult to say the least, but she didn't care. She was free! And she was going to find Perrin!

Now, which way is the shop?

House Creation Guide

14 August 2017 - 08:21 PM

Welcome, one and all, to the MBI House Creation Guide! Here is where I, your guide to the madness, will explain to you how our system of player-run houses works and how you can participate in it. Interested? Keep reading for everything you need to know!

Damage Control

01 August 2017 - 03:24 AM

Nessa burst into the crewhouse, huffing and puffing from having sprinted the whole way back here - and without using pewter, since she'd left the Smoker behind. She'd go back and train like she was supposed to later, but for now, she needed to fix what she'd somehow managed to screw up. If Datura was supposed to be her teacher now, and Datura hated her, would she be shipped off somewhere else?

She didn't want that; for one thing, she knew they wouldn't ship her back to the shop, and for another, this place was actually pretty nice, other than the whole isolating-her-from-her-friends thing. She'd still have to figure out how to solve that particular problem, but while she did, she had it pretty good for right now, and she didn't want to ruin it.

She'd intended to ask some of the crew members where to find Nate, but there was no need: he was out and about, supervising the shop floor and making sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing.

"Nate!" she called out, still gasping for breath as she approached him. "Nate, I need your help!"

Arisella Blanchart

26 July 2017 - 01:19 AM

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Name/Handle: KChan
Contact: Whisper to me in a dark corner.


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Name: Arisella Blanchart
Type: Noble
Age: 19
Gender: Female
Place of Origin: Austrex
Occupation: Socialite, Serial Dater
Relationship Status: Courting Cedric Hallieau



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Type of Powers: Misting
Metals Used: Bronze
Degree of Skill: Novice
Status: Unsnapped



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Standing at only 5’6”, Ari is of average height and slender, petite build. She has hardly any curves to speak of, and very little muscle. Her long, brown hair hangs in thick curls to the small of her back, and she usually leaves it down other than to tie the front out of her face. She has delicate facial features and large, expressive brown eyes.

In public, she usually wears the typical courtly mask, going from haughty and bored to pleasant and charming at the drop of a hat. Her gowns are the height of fashion, using the best silks and lace that her family can afford. She walks with the practiced grace of a dancer, smooth and flowing, every subtle gesture placed exactly where she wants it.


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Having grown up near the top of the social order in Austrex, Ari got used to looking down on almost everyone around her - and it shows. She wears an expertly crafted mask of haughty disdain at nearly all times, expressing her superiority through smug displeasure with anything - and anyone - she perceives as being beneath her, though she can turn it into something pleasant and charming on command. Her mask, however, does not include the cool serenity favored by some noblewomen, no matter how hard she tries. Ari is fiercely stubborn, digging in her heels at the slightest sign of dissent, and almost seems to enjoy arguing for its own sake. Her keen wit is on fine display here, as she crafts biting arguments and cutting remarks with equal skill.

The outer self she presents to the world isn’t just haughtiness and arguments, however. While her sharp-tongued commentary and fondness for seeking out arguments has made some people think she’s only happy when she’s involved in some sort of conflict, Ari truly shines when surrounded by people. Outgoing, witty, and slightly flirtatious, she flits her way through the society around her like the proverbial butterfly, constantly meeting and befriending new people (or “befriending,” as the case often is at court), shifting social circles and replacing companions as it suits her needs.

Behind the mask, though, however deep she’s buried it, lies a sweet, eager, romantic young woman who wants desperately to be loved. Heartbroken after the end of her first relationship, she did everything in her power to lock that part of herself away, using the pain and sadness and bitterness to construct her mask and keep it firmly in place, where it can both protect her shattered heart and hide her insecurities.


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Special Skills: Socializing, flirting, manipulation, observation, dancing, and embroidery

Strengths: Charismatic, personable--when she wants to be, a shrewd observer who can take people’s measure quickly, and good at cultivating a social circle that gets her the information she needs/wants.

Weaknesses: Ari’s most pressing weakness at the moment is the man who stole her heart: Alistair Casuana. She is devastated over the loss of the relationship and her own part in causing it, which causes her endless amounts of grief even years later. Even now, she has no control over herself when it comes to him, and would throw everything she has away to return to his side, if he called for it. This rashness manifests itself in other places as well, such as when she breaks up with a current romantic interest because he forgot what her favorite book is.

Before any of that developed, though, Ari was given, through her upbringing, a crippling lack of self-worth or confidence. Shoved to the side and forgotten by her parents, she is desperate for approval from anyone, and uses her haughty mask to hide it.


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Arisella Blanchart was born in the summer of the year 899 to Lord and Lady Melvin and Jenevre of House Blanchart, a prominent Southern Dominance family whose trade focused on buying, refining, and selling agricultural products. Her parents, eager for the birth of a male heir to Melvin’s legacy, had been trying and failing to conceive a child for many years, and were thrilled when Jenevre finally became pregnant. They were, however, less than pleased when the child turned out to be a girl. A girl, after all, wouldn’t pass on the family name; she was destined to marry and bear some other family’s sons.

Melvin quickly lost interest in the child, choosing to spend more and more time at his duties rather than raising his daughter and leaving parental duties to Jenevre, who in turn left it to the nannies and wetnurses to raise the baby. Ari wasn’t entirely alone, though. She had a friend, one Ferrah Brehaut, who was only a year older. The girls played together at gatherings for little noble girls, to the point that Ari never wanted to play with anyone else. Where Ari would get in trouble or rip her dresses or find her way underfoot, Ferrah was always perfect. Ari found herself wanting to be more and more like the older girl, imitating her in any way that she could. It didn’t take long for the two to become fast friends, and Ari was certain they would be friends forever.

All of that changed, though, when Ari found out that Ferrah had to move to Luthadel. Her family needed her, apparently; she would be living in a keep with the Hastings and doing very important things. Ari tried to be happy for Ferrah, but all she could feel was sadness that her only friend was moving away.

Around this time, however, her etiquette training began in earnest, and she soon found a new companion in her family’s Terrisman, Varyk. Her mother still didn’t have much time for her only daughter, preferring to stay out until all hours at various balls and parties and then sleep until midafternoon, which meant that much of Ari’s education in courtly matters fell to Varyk.

What Arisella didn’t know, though, was that it wasn’t just her that Jenevre didn’t have time for - it was her entire life among the Blancharts. Though she didn’t understand what was happening at the time, shortly after Ferrah moved away, it was discovered that Jenevre had disgraced herself and the house, having multiple affairs with various prominent men in Austrex. In the heat of his anger, Melvin banished her from the house, quickly divorcing her and doing his best to suppress the incident - though of course rumors still flew no matter what he did.

Little Arisella, though, understood none of this - all she knew was that her mother had left forever without saying goodbye.

And so the next few years passed rather uneventfully. Arisella passed the time as best she could with her etiquette and dancing lessons, delving into embroidery and even romance novels in her free time. And she had lots of it, with so few people vying for her attention. Her father eventually remarried, but neither stepmother nor stepdaughter cared to strive for any sort of relationship with one another. For quite some time, it was as if she were the sole inhabitant of her own little world.

Then she debuted into society, and that entire world changed.

She was only fourteen at the time, a year younger than when most girls attended their first balls, but she was tired of her solitary existence and didn’t think she could bear another year before becoming a proper young lady. Her father, eager to see her married off in a beneficial deal, was not difficult to convince. After all, the sooner she was put on display, the sooner she would begin to attract suitors.

She was nervous, of course - any lonely young lady would be when stepping into the spotlight for the first time - but all it took was putting on a luxurious, shimmering gown for the first time and staring out at the glittering ballroom to put all her nerves to rest. And the people! People noticed her! They introduced themselves, they congratulated her on her debut, and actually engaged her in conversation. They didn’t talk over her head, or overlook her, or push her aside. This was her evening, after all, so of course they congregated around the young lady of the hour. But far from feeling overwhelmed by the attention, Ari felt like she was just now, for the first time, waking up. This was where she belonged. This was what she was meant for. This was everything she needed.

And then she met him.

Since she had no brother or intended with whom to share her first dance, the honor was supposed to go to her cousin Leiland, whom she barely knew. But as soon as the music started, she was approached by someone else. He was tall, he was the handsomest man she’d ever set eyes on, and he was most definitely not Leiland. She was vaguely aware of her cousin just a few feet away, sputtering in protest, but one smile from the man in front of her was enough to put anyone and everyone else out of her mind completely. What choice did she have, then, when he asked her to dance? Of course she accepted, and just like that, he whisked her away into their own little world.

He finally introduced himself as Alistair Casuana, and Arisella was stunned. She had been such a nobody in her own house, and now a man of such a high rank had not only taken notice of her, but asked her to dance? And a man he was in truth - at eighteen years old, he surely would be looking to marry soon. And yet he still took the time to make her feel special for her first dance. The night up until now had been absolutely perfect, but now she was convinced that it was a dream. It must be; it was too good to be true.

But the dream didn’t end. They continued to talk, and he continued to be kind and charming and wonderful, and she was sure he got handsomer every minute. She did her best to be an interesting conversationalist, though of course she couldn’t hope to keep up with his charms. But even though time seem to hang still for those few blissful moments, the dance still ended far too soon for her liking. He thanked her for the dance, still with the smile that could take her breath away, and she assumed that was with the end of it. With a heavy heart she accepted someone else’s invitation to dance. He was nice enough, of course, and not terrible to look at, but after her dance with Alistair, the whole affair seemed incredibly dull. As did the one after that, and the one after that.

She was about to give up hope on ever enjoying a single dance ever again when a familiar arm entwined around her own, and just like that, she was being led back onto the dance floor. She couldn’t help but start; whoever it was had not only not bothered to ask before taking her arm, but he’d approached from behind! Who in the--

“Miss me?” asked Alistair Casuana, and in that one moment, Arisella Casuana Blanchart. Blanchart. Arisella Blanchart decided with all of the experience and maturity of a fourteen-year-old girl that she never wanted to dance with anyone else ever again.

“Of course I did,” she said with a stunned, blissful smile of her own. She tried to smirk like he was, but she was too giddy to control such silly things as her expression. Lord Ruler, come to think of it how was she even breathing right now? “Though I fear, Lord Alistair, that you’ve done a great disservice to the other gentlemen here tonight.”

"Have I now?"

“Yes. I fear you’ve set the standard impossibly high. How am I supposed to enjoy dancing with anyone else after dancing my first dance with you? It’s incredibly unfair, you know.” She only hoped she had managed say that with half the charm and grace that he managed so effortlessly. Her painfully obvious blushing probably ruined the effect somewhat, but that was his fault, not hers.

"The only unfair one is you, milady. Making me abandon propriety by being such a stunning vision of loveliness that I couldn't stop myself from stealing your first dance, and then showing you've charm and wit in vast supply as well? Truly I think that is the only unfair thing happening right now. No woman should be so utterly perfect."

Perfect…

Charm and wit…

Vision of loveliness…

No woman...

Oh Lord Ruler help me.

Arisella felt her world spin, and it wasn’t just the dancing. Had actually said those things to her? Had Alistair Casuana actually said those things about her? He thought she was stunning? He thought she was witty and charming? He thought of her as a woman? No matter how many times she repeated it in her mind, she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. It was like she was falling - floating, flying deeper and deeper into Lord Ruler only knew what--

No. No, wait. She was definitely actually falling.

She must have tripped over her own two feet, or maybe stepped on her hem, but as dazed and dazzle-eyed as he’d made her, she hadn’t been paying enough attention to her own sense of balance until it was too late. She was going to fall, she was going to make an idiot of herself in front of all these people, in front of him, and everything would be ruined and---

Oh. Or he could catch her. That worked too. And now he was holding her and oh Lord Ruler what do I do? She needn’t have worried, though, because Alistair seemed to know exactly what to do: he just dipped her, smooth as could be, before gently lifting her back up and setting her back on her feet.

“Now everyone thinks that was on purpose,” he said with a wink, and Arisella almost laughed with relief.

“My hero.”

The rest of the evening passed in similar fashion: she would dance with a few of the other guests, despite finding even the most charming of their number quite comparatively dull, and then right when she was missing him the most, Alistair would reappear as if out of the mists, whisking her back onto the dance floor for another brief glimpse of what was surely every woman’s wildest dreams. It came as no surprise at all, of course, that he insisted upon stealing the last dance of the night. Though, Arisella couldn’t help but think, she would be perfectly happy if he stole all her dances. Did he know that, she wondered? Is that why he kept coming back? Not that it would do any good thinking about this at the end of the night, of course, so instead she put her worries out of her head and let herself enjoy his company for the last time.

The dance was over far too quickly for her taste - couldn’t the orchestra play a little longer? But it was late, and guests had already begun to trickle out the door, and she supposed the most perfect night of her life had to end sometime. But, wouldn’t you know it, Alistair couldn’t just leave it at that. He had to give it the perfect ending, too.

"Thank you for a most singular and enchanting evening, milady," he said. And just like that, he was gone, having vanished into the crowd. Arisella just stared after him, turning that phrase over and over in her head. That emphasis had been unmistakable. Milady, he had said, not milady. Milady.

My lady.

Mine.

She was completely and utterly useless for the rest of the night. She ran upstairs to her room almost immediately, barely pausing long enough to say the bare minimum of proper farewells, and spent the rest of the night dancing and flirting with “Lord Alistair” - a spare nightgown she fished out of her wardrobe - between fits of giggles and overdramatic sighing.

She went through the paces of society after that, dutifully attending tea parties and other social gatherings and soaking up all of the attention she was getting. Lord Alistair was quite popular, it seemed, and all the time they’d spent together at her debut had not gone unnoticed by society. Everyone wanted to know more, and she was quite happy to bask in the limelight and tell her new friends about how charming and gentlemanly Lord Alistair Casuana really was. Oh, she had other interests to talk about besides - mostly her old standbys, embroidery and novels - but it always seemed to come back to him. Society loved gossip, just as she had been taught, and if it got her the notice she craved, what was the harm in giving them some if it was all true anyways?

Though she enjoyed her new daily life as a debutante, what Arisella was really waiting for was her next ball. She went to even more effort getting ready than she had for her debut, making sure her hair and makeup were extra perfect and wearing the pale blue ballgown with the silvery crystals in the bodice that she had been saving for a special occasion. Would he like it, she wondered? Would he notice?

It wasn’t difficult to spot him in the crowd, of course. He was surrounded by a laughing group of men, each of them almost but not nearly as handsome as he, and when he happened to catch her eye, she couldn’t help but smile a bright, eager smile. Would he approach her? Dance with her again? He smiled back, but just then, one of his other friends elbowed him and said something she couldn’t hear, and then the whole group of sidekicks burst out laughing harder than before. Convinced they were laughing at her, Arisella flushed crimson in embarrassment and slipped away to find her table before she could suffer any more humiliation. Perhaps she was wrong about him; perhaps he’d just wanted to give her a special first night in society and that was the end of it. After all, he was a grown gentleman and she a young girl. She had been stupid to believe he might be thinking of her at all after they said good night.

She had just made it to her table, her face flushed from her attempts at holding back tears, and was attempting to pretend to enjoy a glass of wine when, once again, a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.

"They are making fun of me for falling for you so quickly."

She choked on her wine.

Falling for her? Is that actually what he had said? She was pretty sure that was what he had said. And now she was choking and oh Lord Ruler how did the wine get up her nose? By the time she calmed down again, he had taken a seat at her table, to which she had no objections whatsoever. What could she say after an entrance like that, though? All she could do for the first couple of moments was blush furiously and smile at him like an idiot.

“Um. Hello,” she finally managed. How eloquent.

"Did I startle you? My apologies. You just looked upset and I wanted to cheer you up."

It took a moment for her to properly form a reply, with the phrase falling for you still bouncing around in her head the way it was. Even when she could finally speak again, it was accompanied by a shy, red-faced smile.

“You needn’t apologize, Lord Alistair. You’re always welcome in my company, and this is only my second ball. I fear I might still be a little nervous.”

"Nervous? You? Forgive me, but I could not tell at all. You carry yourself with a confidence of a Great Lady."

A Great Lady? She couldn’t help but blush even further. A tiny part of her wondered what he was implying, between that and the “falling for you” comment, and though she tried to quickly silence it, it was too late. The thought was in her head, and she found herself yet again unable to speak. And when she found her voice again at last, it was a far more flustered tone than was befitting of the Great Lady he made her out to be.

“Would… you like to stay for dinner?”

Would you like to stay forever?

"I'd be delighted."

They spent the rest of that ball together, and the next one, and the next one. He never formally asked her, of course; one of them would just find the other and they would spend the rest of the evening together. Other men stopped even trying to pull her away, and while other women tried to catch Alistair’s eye, he merely ignored them. They never made any sort of formal courtship arrangement, but it wasn’t long before all of Austrex simply assumed that they were officially an item.

She asked about it eventually, while they were dancing the night away underneath House Hasting’s marvelous crystal chandelier. She was terrified, of course - what if their silence on the subject was some unspoken rule? What would he say, what would he do when it came out? But not knowing was driving her mad. She had to know where they stood!

But he just smiled that charming smile when she worked up the courage to ask him if they were a real couple. “Of course we are,” he said, and just like that, all her fear and anxiety over not knowing fled from the joy those words brought her.

And then he kissed her.

He kissed her! Right there in the open, in the middle of the dance floor! It was warm, and gentle, and over before she knew what had happened, and by the time she got her bearings again they weren’t moving anymore, and there was Alistair, smiling fondly down at her with his most charming grin. He must have stopped them while her head was spinning so she wouldn’t trip. She knew she should say something - tell him how she felt, what it meant to her, anything - but for the first few seconds, it was all she could manage just to stand there, staring up at him blissfully.

“Um. Hello,” she finally managed, and immediately wanted to go bang her head against the nearest wall. What sort of thing was that to say after a first kiss? But Alistair was as smooth and charming as always. Instead of laughing at her or pointing out her inexperience, he merely smiled, winked, and continued the dance.

She clung tightly to him for the rest of the night. She danced closer with him than she had before, held his arm with both of hers instead of just one when they walked, and scooted her chair closer to his when they sat down for a rest. This was too good to be real, after all, and if she clung tightly enough to him, maybe she wouldn’t wake from it.

Except she didn’t wake, and it was real. He began calling on her more often, taking her out for strolls and shopping trips and lavishing gifts upon her. They started out as little trinkets, but Alistair - always one to outdo himself, as well as everyone else - quickly stumbled upon the one gift that made all others pale in comparison: jewelry. He selected the finest pieces to give her - oh, she picked a few herself, but she much preferred seeing what he would choose - and it wasn’t long before she had some new piece or another for almost every ball they attended.

She went to all his duels, of course, watching from as close as possible and cheering louder than anybody. When he won, which was far more often than not, she lavished him with praise and affection in front of everybody, and comforted him over his rare losses.

Her life changed in other ways, as well. The more time she spent with Alistair, the more friends she attracted. Ladies who might not have paid her a single bit of attention after she debuted invited her to tea, and more and more lower ranked young women clamored for a spot in her retinue. Sure, there were those who said - quite rudely - that she was merely riding Alistair’s coattails, but what was wrong with that? This was how it was done at court: you found someone important to associate yourself with, and if you earned their favor, they shared some of that influence with you. Alistair knew she wasn’t using him, and that despite her happiness over having so many friends now, he remained the center of her world. And she did everything in her power to make sure he would always know that.

There was one person, however, who was more displeased than anyone at this matchup, and that was Ari’s father. Where most of society saw an advantageous match with a high-ranking scion of a Great House, Melvin saw a waste of time with a philanderer who was using his daughter as a plaything. Everyone knew Alistair Casuana’s reputation, after all, and in Melvin’s mind, every moment they spent together was another bit of rust on her pure reputation, chipping away at her ability to find a more respectable match.

But Ari didn’t want a ‘more respectable’ match. She wanted Alistair, and only him. And so she devoted herself to him all the more, encouraging him to spend time with his friends whenever he pleased, and ignoring when he looked at other women. And what was the harm in just looking anyways? Just as she made sure he knew he was more important to her than anyone else, so did he with her - with every word, every gift, every time he smiled that special smile he only gave to her, he told her that she was the most special person in his life. So she would be faithful and devoted to him, as he was to her, and surely, one day soon, he would make all her dreams come true by making her his completely.

And sure enough, about six months into their relationship, the day finally came when he pulled her aside, a serious look on his face. This must be it! He never looked like that, so surely he must be getting ready to propose!

Except he wasn’t. Instead, he was leaving her.

Well, he wasn’t breaking up with her, per se, but he was going into the army, which was almost as bad. He was going away. He was going away and she couldn’t follow. The logical part of her understood that his father was forcing him into it and he had no choice, but the louder voice by far insisted that he was leaving her behind. He tried to reassure her, and she tried to listen, but the heartbreak was simply too great to handle, and she fled the conversation in tears.

She managed to keep it together just long enough to bid him farewell the day he left, but she was inconsolable for weeks afterwards. She neglected her social duties, barely leaving her room unless directly ordered to. Still, for all their teasing about taking care of her, Alistair’s friends did actually keep an eye out for her in her beloved’s absence. While none of them dared to ask her on an official date, they did make an effort to bring their own dates into the group more often, and there was always a seat for her at their table at balls. It didn’t completely negate the fact that Alistair was gone, but their company - and protection, as she saw it - did help the long months pass until he returned.

But when he finally returned, something was wrong. Instead of her warm, fun-loving, beloved Alistair, she was greeted by a far more stiff and formal man wearing her love’s face. He stood straight and sharp now, which she had to admit was handsome, but he didn’t relax, even when they were alone together. His eyes didn’t wander anymore, but they didn’t focus on her as much anymore either; they were always turned inward, as if he had a great deal on his mind, and she wasn’t allowed to share in it. He treated her with impeccable etiquette, but gone were the flirtatious quips that stole her breath away, making her swoon.

And worst of all, he was responsible now. He did as he was told, when he was told, performing his duty exactly as he was expected to. In other words, he was an adult now. He had outgrown her. How long would it be until he looked down at his arm and saw the child clinging to it for what she really was? If he looked down at all; while he was so busy doing responsible adult things, wouldn’t it be possible that he’d find a responsible adult woman who met his needs better than she ever could? She’d always been pretty useless after all, only good for a smile and a kiss and a dance. But this new Alistair didn’t want those things anymore, not the way he had before. He wanted to do his job and be all respectable. And, Ari realized, he wouldn’t be able to do that with her holding him back.

And so she did the only thing he could: she set him free.

He didn’t understand, of course, and she blurted out some things that made no sense. He fought to keep her, of course, but he just didn’t get it. They lived in different worlds now, and she simply didn’t belong by his side anymore, no matter how they felt about it. She eventually had to end the conversation by running out of the room, sobbing the whole way.

She regretted her decision as soon as she got home, of course, but she’d hurt him so badly. How could she possibly return to him, after what she’d done, and beg him to take her back? And even then, it wouldn’t fix any of the reasons she’d done it in the first place. She’d still be in his way, dragging him down and preventing him from being the man he was supposed to be.

Still, she couldn’t help but hope that he would follow her. Or come see her, or send her a message, anything. Instead, her father praised her, telling her how glad he was that she’d come to her senses, and that he’d see about making her a proper match now that that scoundrel was out of the picture. She responded by throwing her diary at his head.

She became almost empty after that. Alistair’s friends all abandoned her, of course, as did many of her “friends” at court, leaving her completely, utterly, alone. A few of them stuck around - intrigued by the prospect of a woman who dared turn down a man from a Great House - but, for once in her life, she was fine with being away from the center of attention.

Alistair, meanwhile, was doing fine. He spent the rest of his leave with his friends, looking completely and utterly normal, as if he didn’t even notice Ari’s absence at all. So she had been right after all. She was a weight, chained to his ankle, pulling him down. Well, he was free of her now, and she would have to console herself with the thought that she’d done what was best for him. She’d had her chance; there was no way he’d take her back now.

Alistair deployed soon after that, so Ari no longer had to suffer through watching him be happy without her, but she soon had a new torment: an endless stream of dates and suitors, arranged by her father in the hopes that one or the other of them would catch her eye. She accepted their invitations to dates, mostly because she was forced to, but also because now that her world no longer revolved around Alistair, she had nothing better to do. They were all dull and pathetic compared to him, of course; paying her empty compliments and saying pretty words to her but not meaning any of them. A few of the more promising ones got to take her on a handful of dates rather than just one, but invariably, within a couple weeks, she would break it off and request someone else from her father.

She was on one of these forced dates when she’d heard that Alistair had come back from deployment. She tried to avoid him at first, ducking behind other ballgoers and even a pillar to keep out of his view, but eventually, she caught sight of him. He was handsomer than ever, with his strong shoulders and razor-straight posture and the soft brown hair she loved to run her fingers through when they kissed and those eyes…

… And Ari knew that she wasn’t over him yet, and never would be.

She resolved that instant to break away from her date and find him. Surely he would listen to her apology now that they’d had some time to cool off? At the very least, even if he declined to take her back, he deserved that much. She’d break away, and approach him, and then everything would be fine.

But just then, their eyes met for a brief moment. Ari gave him a hopeful smile, but just then, she noticed it. He wasn’t looking at her at all. He was looking through her. His eyes didn’t merely pass over her like they would a stranger; it was like she didn’t exist at all. Had it really only taken six short months for him to forget about her? She’d been devastated since she cast him out, wishing and praying to the Lord Ruler that she would wake up and it had all been a terrible dream and it turns out it was their wedding day and everything would be fine. Except it wasn’t. It never was, because he was gone.

And now, Ari realized, so was she. Erased from his heart so thoroughly it was as if she’d never been there.

Something broke inside of her in that moment. She had lost her chance forever, and no amount of begging or apologizing would get it back. So she simply stopped caring: she would dance with any man who asked her, and go on dates with them too, letting them entertain her until she grew bored of them and then dismissing them in turn. She did make a couple good friends, but no meaningful romantic connections. What was the point? They weren’t Alistair; they would never be good enough. But her father wanted her to have a husband, so she would keep looking. Or pretending to look, anyways.

Eventually, when she was sixteen years old, her uncle decided to make a bid for Luthadel, hoping to build Blanchart’s fortune and power enough to become the next Great House. It was a relief to be away from Austrex, with painful memories of Alistair lurking around every corner, and of course she had plenty of fresh new faces with whom to pass the time. The next couple of years passed in a blur, an endless repetition of the same thing: date a man until he got boring or they became too good of friends to continue dating, break it off, and repeat. She never told them, of course, why she never permitted them to kiss her.

The cycle continued, anyways, until her father tired of her endless stream of dates. She was gaining a poor reputation, he said; half of Luthadel thought of her as a loose woman. He’d be lucky to find a match for her at all now! She didn’t particularly care, of course; if she couldn’t marry Alistair, what was the point? Her father did care, though, and when House Hallieau showed interest in a more lasting arrangement between Ari and their scion Cedric, her father jumped at the opportunity. The official agreement was that they would court for a year, and if things went well, they would be officially betrothed. Joy.

Things did not go well, at least as far as Ari was concerned. Cedric was bored and unpleasant, and obviously disliked being roped into this just as much as she did. It was as if he didn’t feel like he needed to put in any effort, since Ari was stuck with him anyway, but that suited her just fine - if he didn’t want to put in any effort, then she wouldn’t either. The one saving grace was that he played the piano beautifully; she actually sort of didn’t mind listening to that. Otherwise, it was sort of a miserable experience for both of them: neither wanted to be there, neither particularly liked the other, and neither really cared enough to change the state of things. They were stuck together, and that was that.

And then Alistair Casuana came to Luthadel.


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The dancing had only just begun, and the evening was already beginning to drag on. Cedric was in a foul and sulky mood, and Arisella had been knocked reeling when she caught sight of Alistair earlier, which meant that conversation at their private table was terse and strained when it was present at all.

Why did seeing Alistair bother her the way it did? She'd known that with Casuana on the rise it would only be a matter of time before he was summoned to Luthadel, but the sight of him at the Casuana ball had hit her like a punch to the gut. And it wasn't just his presence there either, but his behavior. Since when had Alistair been prone to outbursts like that? Even before the military turned him all stiff and proper, he'd never made a fool of himself like that before - or at least, when he did, it was because he was doing it on purpose. When the old Alistair made a fool of himself, he'd have the entire ballroom laughing right along with him, but watching him go down in flames at the Casuana ball had just been painful.

So painful, in fact, that she couldn't bear to come face-to-face with him tonight. Oh sure, there was their entire history together and the fact that she'd thrown away the love of her life over teenage stupidity, but now it just felt like subjecting him to her presence would just be kicking them both while he was down. All the anger and frustration and regret in the world couldn't make her actually want to do that to him.

And so here she sat, slumped at her table as if trying to hide, dwelling on the thought of the last man in Luthadel she actually needed to be thinking about. Surely everything would be fine, wouldn't it? They would go about their evenings, he would ignore her as he always had, and she would go home to spend another evening regretting missing the chance to talk to him. Perfectly fine, just like always.

To occupy her mind, she stared about the room in order to search out her other former romantic interests. Caden had made quite the stir arriving in a Southern Islands-style suit with his surprise date; Ari couldn't help but wonder what had got into his head. If he'd been that spontaneous and unpredictable when they were together... No, no, she couldn't go down that road.

And speaking of the Southern Islands, Felix was making quite the scene dancing with a woman who could only be his cousin Eliza. Other couples were even making way for them. She would have to see if she could convince him to steal her away for a dance; those moves looked incredibly fun.

Aaron, bless him, was relaxing at a very crowded table and seemed to be having the time of his life with a bunch of people Arisella had never seen before. They were all very much enjoying each other's company though, to the point that it actually made her a little jealous. She would have to go over and say hello at some point; maybe Aaron's infectious cheer would help lift her spirits.

For now though, she supposed she should have one dance with her actual date. That is, if he ever stopped glaring at the world in general long enough to ask her.