A Makeshift Fort, the Kingdom of Askaia

Adila!

Running around blind and in panic and also on fire, that's a great way to disrupt and dismay a bunch of Iluminan conscripts who really didn't want to deal with anything like this today. But that's not such a great way to be able to tactically provide support to your friends, or even, really, keep an eye on where you're going. Especially when you don't just have to worry about bumping into tents but also bumping into spears! After all, there's a difference between a wimpy little person poking you with a glass spear and you flinging yourself headlong onto one!

So what happens is that, well, you manage to blunder right out of the camp. Or, rather, some enterprising, brave, and under-appreciated Iluminans manage to herd you to one of the gaps in the fence, over by the drop down into a rocky slope, and watch with apprehension as you disappear over the lip of the slope and then vanish out of sight with a great cacophony, punctuated with one final and terrible crash at the bottom of the slope.

So let's cut to where you are now, surrounded by trees which are now leaning at crazy angles and also on fire, a hop and a skip away from the river-gorge which runs between you and the house, and let's take a moment to think. Well, that... that kinda went terribly, didn't it? You told Kazelia that you were going to buy her time, and instead she comes zooming in and gets herself captured! When, clearly, that was your job! Well, okay, not that you wanted to get captured, but if anyone was going to, it should have been you!

Let's take stock: Kazelia? Captured. Your enemy? Alarmed, likely taking better anti-dragon precautions right now as we speak, if not scouring the woods looking for you. Alina and Rita? Nowhere to be found, hopefully in the house. You're alone, with no one to scheme with, enemies on every side, and everything's falling to pieces. So what do you do, in a situation like this?

***

Kazelia!

Now you know what the viper's fang of betrayal feels like, my dear. Shiva has trotted willingly into the arms of the soldiers, who have such blandishments as sugar cubes to feed her and brushies for her mane. There are bucket chains trying to put out the flames, and generally, the camp around you is abuzz with activity. But you, oh, you're the focus of Asteria's attention right now, and doesn't it feel just wonderful?

"You should know me better by now, Kaze," Asteria says, lightly tapping your chin with her boot. "Every soldier has their place on the battlefield! Mine is here, waiting for you to blunder right into my arms! Theirs is to secure our secondary objective! But if you ask me, Father will be even more pleased that I've brought back his wayward daughter and the simpering Iluminan princess! The Slaugh is such a filthy, nasty, nightmarish place and I can't imagine why he wants it to blot out this hideously kitsch kitty colony!"

Then she lifts that muddy boot and pushes your head down into the mud, grinding the pad into your hair, not giving you a chance to breathe as she barks orders. "I want the perimeter secured! Someone bring me a new whip! Erect my backup tent! Go and bring me that dragon! If we do not have all three princesses as prisoners here by dusk I shall have dinner dumped into the river!" Finally, she lifts her boot, and snaps her fingers; Tam Patterley pulls you up and twists your arms painfully behind your back, forcing you to march after Asteria as the backup command tent is hastily erected.

"Now, Kaze," she says, all poisoned sweetness once more, "let's have a chat about your princess friends. Let's start with a question: where is Alina Cascade?"

***

The Slaugh

Alina!

Let's start with the certainty that pools in the bottom of your stomach: if you go upstairs, you will face your fear, you will be wounded, you will be undone. I promise you these things. Because upstairs, that's where your room is, and that's where mommy's room is, and if someone put a magical thing here of course it would be in mommy's room. It just feels right. It could be in the wine cellar, or the kitchen, or in the room with the ping-pong table, but you know that it's not, really. Because this is the sort of place that has to make you afraid to open your mother's door, because she won't be on the other side, but something awful will be. There is the beating of terrible wings, and the tramp of heavy boots, and black water which seeps down from the warped and sagging ceiling.

What's hidden here? Well, if I was Asteria Spite, and I was trying to decide who to assign to be the guard inside the nightmare swamp house, I'd pick Kaja Ironpelt, because if a nightmare jumped out at her she'd just punch it, and she's strong enough to handle being in there for ages, and because I'm really mean and I know that Kaja would be just miserable in there. So she's definitely here, and she's definitely been ordered to not let you take the whatever-it-is. But, hey, you can probably just kiss her and walk past, right? Nothing to worry about at all. Beyond that- well, if you stay in here, you're a minute or so away from a couple of freaked-out Riders walking in from the kitchen and seeing you. At that point, you'd be the suspicious ones!

(Out in the garden, there's a loud barking, the kind that comes from dogs with froth on their jaws. Rita reaches out for your hand, humming the lullaby her mother used to purr to her at night, trying not to cry from just how awful all of this is.)

The water here is not your friend. It's all topsy-turvy! Water should be your special friend, you're Alina Cascade, for crying out loud! But this water is just ruining everything! Can you imagine if it spread all over the island? All those beautiful glass towers would sag and fall over, and mold would grow all over the houses of the cats! This black water wants to warp and rot and ruin the things that you love most.

As you look around, you find a terrible, terrible example.

Do you remember? The picture that you drew? Your mommy wore a crown of strawberries and olive leaves and sat in the garden posing for you with Queen Felicia in her lap, and they talked about all sorts of grown-up things while you sat with your ink brushes and tried to get everything just right- the light on her face, the garden all around them, the sense that your mommy was the wisest and most loving person in the whole wide world. You even signed it like a real painter, and when she saw it, your mommy had it framed and hung up on the wall and said that it was her favorite portrait she'd ever sat for. With your ink brushes, you made sure that summer afternoon was forever, and that anybody who looked at it could see your mommy through your eyes, loving and loved.

The frame is smashed on the floor, deliberately. Glass and splinters bob in the water. The picture is soaked through, and the ink is nothing more than smudges. Your mother's face is gone. Everything you put on the paper, gone. If you try to pick it up, it will rip and tear and fall apart in your fingers. You can't see the strawberries, you can't see the smile, and- maybe it is this place- but you can't even remember. When you try to think back to that day, your mother's face is a wet smudge dripping with black water.

Take Damage. You do not have to tell Rita, if you don't want to.

(As for how it could help you? Uuuuhhh if you got a great big bucket of it and dumped it over Asteria's head it would ruin her uniform and she'd be super upset! She'd deserve it, too.)