Natalya had often come to visit Tycon or vice versa. Most of their conversation was her venting about her coworkers or subordinates. Sasha seemed to not like that... but Tycon assumed there was a deeper meaning behind it-- likely that she was a rather strict instructor. 

Lone continued mail correspondence with his romantic interest, Coraline Heartsong. She found a job in the city of Archangel as a researcher for a prestigious Mage Order. Tycon looked forward to visiting and discussing her published papers-- all interesting, if a bit esoteric to magical community in the Eastern States. 

Tycon lamented not being able to send word to his own pursuit, Medousa of Silva. The Snake Cult undoubtedly tracked his movements in the Holy Country... as too did enemies from his muddled past. He would not risk his more vulnerable associates being targeted by kidnappers-- if only to assuage his loneliness. 

After a few moons... a missive came via the Courier's Guild, marked for Sol Invictus. 

It was from Athena Vanzano. She and her... boyfriend(?) Tanamar succeeded in earning the trust of the Frozen Cairn sect and were undergoing Martialist training. She suggested meeting after the coming winter. 

Tycon responded with a confirmation... and sent out a series of his own summons to various factions. 

After the winter, they would fight the Snake Cult. 

The city of Caeruleum would fall. 

...

⟬ The personal office of Archbishop Natalya Crucis. ⟭ 

"--and can you believe it? This FISH shows up without a fresh haircut and shave!" Natalya fanned herself, she was so angry. "Two of his Decani were there, looking twenty shades of pathetic! His Centurion was there, red in the face! His PILUS PRIOR was there!! And he LAUGHED!!!"

Tycon uncrossed and recrossed his legs, repositioning the plate of take-out food on his lap, "Mhm? Any upcoming crucifixions, then?"

"By the Eternal Flame, I... WISH!!" Natalya pomf'd back down into her seat, leaning back with her hands on her face, "Back when I was a Decanus, before all the reformations, the whole LOT of them would have been crucified!!"

"And where are they now?" Tycon munched on a piece of fatty chicken. After so many times of ordering food from Olea Garden, he knew what he liked. 

"The Munifex is in the stockades," Natalya explained. "The Centurion and the Decani are probably still running on the beach."

"The Pilus Prior?"

"In the hospital," Natalya shrugged, "wearing a Flame-taken diaper, from what I'm told."

Tycon tapped his teeth, "There's... a mint leaf, it looks like."

With a heavy sigh, she picked at her own plate-- some sort of salad... "You said you had something to discuss with me?"

"Two things, actually," Tycon nodded. "First, I wanted to know the color of your undergarments."

"Sod off, Decanus," Natalya rolled her eyes.

Tycon furrowed his eyebrows, "Could it be... that you aren't wearing any?"

The Archbishop laughed so loud she snorted, "Flame take it, Tycondrius. You are the most insubordinate man I have ever met."

"Tss," Tycon shook his head, grinning. "I must have misunderstood when I heard I'd be working 'under' you."

The woman threw her fork-- powered with a bit of mana. Tycon shifted so the metal prongs stuck into the back of his wooden chair, "Natalya-- I'm sure you know this, but I much prefer *I* do the--"

"--Yes, Ivory Prince! I've heard!" Natalya snickered, "You have a penis and you're not afraid to use it!" 

Tycon took a sheet of parchment from a tube on his belt and placed it on Natalya's desk, "I'd like to discuss our final arrangements, concerning... that place."

Natalya looked over the writing and nodded, "Most everything's been discussed... Though I must remind you that, should you fail, the Church will brand you as rogues acting without orders."

"Granted," Tycon took no offense. That was how any business operated, always prepared to cut their losses in the event of disaster. 

He placed his hand under his chin, tapping on his cheek, "You mentioned a moon prior that you could supply me with reinforcements?" 

"Indeed," Natalya gestured to her planning table, "I've spread word to two different centuries, urging them to finish their campaigns in Sterngate and the Sleeping Country's Chaos Scar, respectively..."

"Hm... and for the other urge?" 

"I'm sorry?" Natalya raised her eyebrows, "What was that?"

"Rather than spreading word, Lady Crucis, I was wondering when you'd spread your legs for me?"

She threw her half-finished plate. 

Tycon carefully caught it... and unsticking her fork, carefully caught the errant bits of food and greenery in the air. The woman would throw a tantrum if there was a mess in her office-- even if she was at fault. 

"Is that a no?" Tycon teased. 

"Yooooouuu!!" Natalya shouted, tensing her entire body... And then, she began to laugh. She was overcome by it, clutching at her stomach and wheezing to catch her breath. 

Tycon shared in her mirth, laughing unapologetically over her absurd actions. Over the past several weeks and moons, the initially cold Archbishop had warmed to him tremendously. 

After calming down, Natalya took in a deep breath... and revealed a full, gorgeous smile, no less radiant than that of the angel-blood, Troia. 

"The short answer is... I can't promise any reinforcements."

"And the long and passionate answer?" Tycon smirked. 

"A more comprehensive answer..." Natalya paused... "we'll discuss... over dinner. Tomorrow evening. I've made reservations-- I expect you to free your schedule."

Domineering as always. That was fine, though. That was the way Natalya was and he'd expect at least that much. 

"Excellent," Tycon relaxed. "Did you book a seat for my daughter? And if we're bringing Pale and the High Oracle, I must ask you to also invite Lone."

Natalya shook her head lightly, "It will be just the two of us. It'll be at the... the... Masquerade. Very exclusive, you know. Not just anyone can get in."

Her voice cracked as she spoke. Something was amiss. 

Tycon had accompanied Natalya in public before, sometimes in a group, and sometimes by themselves. The nature of their relationship was a popular topic in Cersei's Rest. 

He'd had heard of the Masquerade. It was exclusive, as Natalya said... It was expensive and catered only to the highest class of persons, Tyrion and not. 

It was called as such, as all guests were required to wear masks to hide their identities. The inn and associated dining hall undertook several steps, both magical and mundane, to ensure absolute privacy. 

On the surface, it was a place where the rich and famous visited to hold private meetings with their associates. 

As far as its reputation... it was where illicit dealings took place behind closed doors... where strictured men and women could give in to their hedonistic desires... and where individuals belonging to high stations could discretely engage in sexual relations. 

...Tycon had made a mistake. 

He'd thought of his and Natalya's flirtatious exchanges as harmless banter. 

She... may have thought differently. Her invitation... was an indirect request that he sleep with her. 

"Well?" Natalya glared, "How long are you just going to sit there? Have you gone impotent?"

"Natalya," Tycon pursed his lips. 

"Wipe that stupid look off your face, Tycondrius!" Natalya groaned, still chuckling. "I'll ensure you get fed! I know how you are."

Tycon grimaced... "Lady Crucis..."

Realization seemed to strike the woman... She sharpened her gaze... but she swallowed hard, "Wh-what is it?"

"I feel the need to inform you... that I cannot pursue you romantically."

"What?! Preposterous!!!" Natalya laughed-- obviously forced, "Ah! Hahaha! That's-- that's not... AND WHY THE F*CK NOT?!"

Tycon nearly flinched. The outburst was unexpected. 

Natalya stood, throwing her hands outward, "Is it because of our stations?! As an Archbishop of the Holy Country of Tyrion, my status is EQUAL to yours, not below!"

"No," Tycon twisted his lips, "it's... it's not that." 

"Is it my age? Because I'm not a ripe, twenty-year-old woman, fresh out of recruiting!!??" 

"What? No!" Tycon shot back, confused. 

Natalya slammed her palms on her desk, "What is it then?!?" 

Tycon breathed in through his nostrils... "I'm courting a young woman from Silva."

The woman was stunned... "You... is... is she stronger than I am?"

"She is not."

"Prettier?"

"No."

"WELL!??" Natalya raised her arms, "What makes her BETTER than I am?!?"

"Nothing," Tycon shook his head. 

"Then... why?" Natalya's lips trembled, "Why is it then, that it's her and not me?"

"She..." Tycon took a deep breath... "I met her first."

"WHHHATTTT???!" Natalya shrieked, "So NOWWWW you pretend to have honor and loyalty?? I don't believe you, Tycondrius." 

She paced around her desk, screaming and shouting. Her eyes glowed white as her mana flared. She turned abruptly, pointing at him, "You! I know who you are! You're the IVORY PRINCE! You're a LITERAL snake! You've never been LOYAL to anyone or anything in your LIFE!!" 

Tycon inclined his head, "I'm sorry."

"You know what?! It's FINE! Everything is FINE!!" She insisted. 

She sat back down in her chair... She crossed her arms... and she grew deathly quiet. 

Tycon stood up, "Natalya..."

"It's fine... I'm used to it..." A single tear fell hot down her cheek... "I'm never the first."

Tycon stood quietly... nothing coming to mind on what he could say to mollify her anger... "Natalya, I--"

"Get out," She muttered. 

With a heavy heart, Tycon nodded solemnly, "Thank you for everything, Lady Crucis."

"...Just go."

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