[49 – disguise; snowy surprise]
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"What do you propose, necromancer?"

The room was quiet, free from any prying eyes, yet Alvara felt as if she were being watched, eyes peeking through the cracks in the door. She could even call it comfortable, if not for the situation.

At least, she was thankful Soren had warned her beforehand.

She swallowed, darting her crimson eyes around nervously. Damien took in every move, through observant emerald eyes that traced every twitch of the finger.

"I can help you." said Alvara after some hesitation. "Help you find what you're looking for."

A sliver of a smile, calculating and sly. "With what exactly, I wonder?"

In a second, Alvara understood. There was no beating around the bush or withholding information from this person. There was a clear reason why they stood at the position they did, and why she was warned as she was.

Therefore, she straightened her back, and her gaze turned a little sharper. She hadn't survived in all those years within the slums for nothing.

"Alright. I need to go to the Forest of the Lost, and I need you to help me." said Alvara bluntly to the point Damien blinked in surprise, his raven ears curling back as he tilted his head in thought.

"The Forest of the Lost."

A shade covered his eyes in a mist of the past.

"Master." said Damien slowly, his tail swaying with his ideas. "He informed you of my past, correct?"

"...right."

There was a long stretch of silence, so deadly Alvara thought it might be best to run. Not that she'd get very far, but it was worth the thought.

'Why are all these people so terrifying?'

Then the boy spoke again. "What else does he need from me? There's more, isn't there?"

She nodded and scrambled around her pockets to pull out a crumpled piece of paper. It had been folded neatly originally, but she hadn't really prioritized on keeping it in good condition. Legible, it was, at least.

Damien accepted the sheet and skimmed over it quickly. Reading the contents, he felt another wave of surprise wash over him.

As expected of Soren.

Always full of surprises. But that, he supposed, was the reason he stayed by that person's side for so long.

"Hm, what do you think I'll do?" wondered Damien, slowly lifting his eyes to peer at Alvara from behind the paper, forest gaze glistening with curiosity and intrigue.

Alvara furrowed her brows, pursing her lips. It was these sorts that were the most complicated to deal with. So hard to decipher, to understand. Yet they could understand you so well, read you like an open book.

What sort of answer was correct? She preferred to play it safe, for the sake of survival. Ah, risking her life like this for somebody else really wasn't something she'd typically do.

But Soren had that strange, mystical aura that drew people to him, despite his barriers and his unwilling communication. In his confident stance, or his stubborn beliefs. He was not one to bend to others’ will, and that itself was admirable.

Damien read her easily. "Do you think I'll reject you depending on the answer you give?"

"...well. You're not wrong."

"Then do you think I'd accept, simply because of a wise answer?"

"Would you?"

"What do you think?"

"Wow, you're annoying." blurted Alvara before she jerked into a straight sitting position, frowning deeply as if cursing herself in her mind. "I didn't mean that. Well, I did. But, geez..."

She froze.

Light, full of amusing wonder, was the soft laugh of Damien's, vibrant in the empty room of just them two. His chin raised slightly in arrogant flare, raven hair messy and disorganized as emerald eyes peeked through the strands that hung loosely over his face.

"I'll help you find Uriel."

"How did you—"

"In turn, help me find my parent's keepsake that was lost in the Forest. Do we have an understanding, necromancer?"

He stretched out a hand, and it hung in the air with burning confidence.

She frowned, raising her own. "To begin with, it's not 'necromancer'. It's Alvara."

"Apologies. Then do we have a deal, Alvara?"

"And what's your name?"

He tilted his head, and his ears twitched. "Damien Black."

"We have a deal," She gripped his hand firmly, gaze unwavering. "Damien."

---xxx---

"The items from Damien arrived?" asked Soren, surrounded by several pillows as he blearily blinked from the haze of waking up.

Snowy locks hung in dismay, tossed and flipped on his head to form a wintery nest. It was comical, thought Raphael leisurely, walking into the room. The contrast between such a look and his personality.

"Yeah, Brioc handed it to me earlier, said something about it appearing mysteriously before his eyes." chuckled Raphael.

Soren stared. "You wake up early."

"And you wake up late. Come on, let's get ready."

He moved around, stepping over a pillow that had fallen when Soren sat up, placing it on the bed neatly. Then he pulled the blankets off completely.

Soren absentmindedly lowered his pale blue eyes at his now uncovered legs. "The blanket. Give it."

Raphael raised a brow, holding it away from Soren's grasp. "It's time to wake up, little prince. Atlas is waiting in another guest room for us to arrive."

"It's never time to wake up."

"Stop being ridiculous, you lazy prince." replied the man with a sigh. "Why do you sleep so much, anyway?"

"I'm dying."

"...that's not funny, even as a joke."

"I'm dying, so you should have pity and let me sleep." said Soren firmly, wrapping an arm around a pillow lazily.

Raphael, at this point, gave up on being polite and stepped forward, roughly tugging the squished pillow out of Soren’s grasp and tossing it to the other side of the messy bed. 

Soren had clung to it for a moment before loosening his grip, feeling too lazy to take part in a strange game of tug of war with the other. He simply stared numbly at the empty space in his arms before casting his bleary eyes at Raphael with a hint of annoyance. 

"Yeah, no. Don't try looking pitiful, I'm not giving your pillow back."

"...I'm not trying."

"Hmm." The protagonist squinted at Soren in mistrust before moving closer. 

When Atlas stepped into the room to see what had been taking so long, he saw such a sight. Raphael's arms had snaked around Soren's chest, tugging his shirt slightly as he attempted to drag Soren from the bed.

On the other hand, Soren's slender hands had curled around Raphael's shirt, in an attempt to pry him away as his feet kicked up against Raphael's thigh, firmly planted. 

Upon looking closer, one could see the tremble in both their arms as they struggled, resisting each other's strength.  

Atlas paused and stepped back slightly as the door closed by a fragment. Cautiously glancing between the two, he cleared his throat.

"Pardon me, am I disturbing something...?"

"No." said Soren coldly, disgust steeping in his tone.

"Definitely not." growled Raphael in exasperation. 

"Then, perhaps, may you explain the current situation?"

Raphael said, "This lazy fool isn't waking up.

"This hippo is bothering me." said Soren simultaneously. 

"...I see." said Atlas after a moment, seeming to process several thoughts in his head. He opened the door once again, a pile of clothes hanging loosely over his arm. "I brought it over in case you preferred to change in here."

Atlas smiled politely, arranging the clothes onto the bed before glancing at the two. Raphael felt as if the smile felt slightly more threatening behind the princely facade. 

He promptly released his clutch and focused his attention on the sprawled out clothes. 

"Wake up, little brother. It's best to be prepared early, rather than later." said Atlas, his clothes properly done up and straightened, posture tall and proud. "We must follow the plan as best as we can."

The prince was one to prefer structure and stability, although he could rapidly form a new strategy depending on the situation. In some ways, he was kind in the way Deimos was, though lacking the certain charm and intrigue that the other had. 

Soren frowned, but obeyed reluctantly, dragging his body out as he lazily grasped onto the bundle of clothing and started to the connecting restroom of the bedroom.

There were several guest rooms in the castle for the highest of nobility, ones the Haze King desired to stick up to, for their words could influence the crowd drastically. 

Due to Atlas' connections, from who knows where, they managed to steal the invitation to one of the rooms. The current room, however, was likely an empty one that Raphael had snuck into.

The guards were slack on security in this area, away from the King's chambers. After all, even if he wanted to butter up those nobles, the King didn't mind if they were injured or harmed. Another could easily replace them.

"Are you done?" asked Raphael, knocking on the door. "Do you need any help?"

Soren lifted the clothing up, peering at it curiously. Shuffling it around, eyes examining each detail and seam with precision. 

It would be a new experience, that was for certain. 

There were several pieces to the disguise, each complicated and strange to Soren. Well, less complicated and more annoying to put on. 

"No."

The rustling of clothes was heard from behind the closed door, and tinkling of metal, clinking against the wall.

It seemed to be a long time that passed before Raphael and Atlas both questioned whether the lethargic prince had fallen asleep in the process. 

Until the door burst open. 

And a striking sight could be seen. 

A face of reluctant beauty appeared, embodying a pale blue dress that matched their enchanting eyes. 

Drapes of fabric tumbled from the waist, grazing the floor in a graceful brush while starlight glittered in a thin sheen of lucid dreams. The long sleeves outlined the lean muscle of the arms, tracing along every curve.

Soren tugged at the hem of the skirt lightly, scowling as he lifted his eyes, pausing in his steps. Another startling sight awaited him.

Silky raven hair loosely fell over their shoulders, a piece of night fabric draped from one corner down to hang loosely by their arms. 

It hid the broadness of their chest, apparent behind the slim dress that billowed out as it neared the ground. Simple and elegant, yet radiating such a rippling confidence that matched its wearer.

Raphael's eyes skimmed over Soren, glistening with amusement.  

"Not a bad look, little prince." said the man through painted red lips. 

Soren stared for a moment longer. "....." 

It had been his plan to begin with — a disguise none would be able to see through for it was something most would not do — but it still surprised him so. 

Atlas walked over, placing a weight over Soren's head. He felt golden strands tickle his cheeks, swaying past his eyes as it was adjusted onto his head. 

"Please stay still for a moment, Soren."

Carefully, a light shimmer was brushed against his lips, colouring it a coral pink.

A knock sounded on the door. 

"I'll check." said Raphael, moving across the room with a rough sort of grace. 

Atlas scanned the disguise up and down, adjusting the dress and rearranging the hair carefully. He was well aware of what a noble should look at, and had taken to himself to ask Vendra for advice. 

It seemed to have turned out rather well.

"Oh," said Atlas, remembering, "There was an additional garment with the clothes that I forgot to remove. I'm certain you moved it to the side. I'll fold it away if you give it to me."

Soren tilted his head. "Additional?"

"Yes? Your butler had likely placed it there accidentally, with the rest of the clothes, or perhaps there had been a misunderstanding."

"I put everything on."

"...ah?" Atlas' eyes trailed down. "Everything?"

"Yeah."

The door creaked open. 

And Soren flipped up his skirt shamelessly. 

Fitted white stockings ran up the curve of his ankles, to the outline of his thighs, matching the outfit, but not the owner. 

Deimos, who had stepped through the door, immediately paled.

Raphael almost choked. 

"Little brother..." said Deimos slowly, stalking forward as he yanked the skirt down in a panic. "What are you doing?"

Soren frowned. "Demonstrating."

"...demonstrating what exactly?"

"That I wore everything."

"......"

Raphael, who had been equally confused and speechless, rubbed his temples. "I hope you realize you didn't have to wear that part, little prince."

He hadn't understood why Damien had meticulously prepared such an outfit, down to the slight details — such as the stockings — but now he wondered if the teenager had done it while expecting such a scenario. 

"Oh." said Soren simply. "Then, I'll take it off."

Before another scandalous sight could appear, Deimos quickly stopped him. 

"Wait, little brother." said the second prince hurriedly. "If you already have it on, it is fine to keep it as it is. If you are uncomfortable, we will wait for you to change."

The young prince debated it seriously, before concluding taking it off would be too much of a hassle to do at the moment.

Deimos sighed in relief, straightening up slightly. It had been a while since he met his youngest brother, and it had been a strange reunion at that. Though he knew quite well how little Soren wished to meet up with the other princes. 

Therefore, he went straight to his point while smiling gently at Soren. "The plan was magnificent, and it has already been started. Erlen and Brioc have been cooperating, and I will cast an illusion to amplify the chaos later."

Soren sat on the bed, the fabric surrounding him. "Okay. Raphael, have you received the information as well?"

Raphael sighed. How had the topic switched so quickly, as if nothing had happened? Nevertheless, he nodded. 

"I did some exploring before too. The information we have is more than enough. The magician was right, the Haze King is foolish enough to keep mountains of documents proving his crimes."

Atlas shook his head in disbelief. "I cannot comprehend why he would do such a thing, though I cannot understand why he would cooperate with the Third Religion either. In this case, I suppose it benefits us."

"Atlas, you will start rumours at the ball. Rouse the crowd." said Soren, receiving a nod in return. "The possibility of a battle is not low, so be prepared."

"Yes, we have knights on standby and several of our own who stole into the Kingdom as backup." said Atlas calmly. "There is little worry necessary if a fight occurs."

"One more thing, if I may add." said Deimos, holding a slip of paper in his hands. "A letter from that butler of yours, little brother."

Soren stretched out a hand to receive it, flipping the paper open. 

"What does it say?" asked Raphael, walking over to take a look. He skimmed through before he faltered.

"What was it?" said Deimos.

Raphael read the letter aloud, his voice rumbling through the room. "The angel which you are looking for most likely lies within the Forest of the Lost, as predicted. Dear Master, I have two pieces of information for you."

"One, there is another person who knows of your identity."

"And two," said Raphael slowly.  "that person may also hold the truth behind the many questions you have. To something the story that connects all of you."

"Their name, I do not know. But I am certain they will appear in the Haze Kingdom during your stay. Therefore, you should keep your eyes open. Signed, Damien Black."

Deimos stilled, and Atlas frowned in confusion. A truth that Soren sought — Raphael wondered if it was related to the mysteries behind the prince. 

And those mysteries, could they explain his endless reincarnations?

The letter was cryptic, as expected of something given by the Fox Leader, but it seemed that even Damien was unclear about the specific person. 

"...if you see anyone suspicious, bring them to me." said Soren finally, the original recipient of the letter. 

The crucial question of this hint was: the person who knew the truth — which side did they stand?

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