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Charlotte last won the day on August 1 2012

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  1. The good king placed a hand upon his heart and began to bow, but both his gesture as well as his words were lost upon Charlotte. She was looking beyond him, over his right shoulder, at the vast and cloudy sky behind him. Although the rain had stopped, the sky was still gray and black with pregnant clouds that managed to look all the more menacing. The air was crackling with power, dark and heavy, and she recognized it almost immediately because she had been in its presence once before what seemed like a lifetime ago. Back when she was Alexander’s empress and play thing, she had accompanied him to meet the Warlord who was busy raising up his capital city somewhere upon the shores of Terrenus, in a place called Biazo Island. Although she knew of the Warlord’s dealings with her queen, she never imagined that she would see him again and least of all in this way. It seemed that out of thin air one of his fabled floating fortresses had materialized. It hummed a song of power that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, but not as much as the sudden symphony of screams that came from the castle proper. It was only now, after the rain had stopped, that Charlotte was able to hear the distant sound of explosions, of clashing, of shouting -- and it was only now that the blurred, dream-like fog of rain cleared up enough for her to see the wisps of smoke that pouring out of different parts of the castle. Raylon was forgotten. His kindness, his sweetness, his gentleness -- his beauty and charm. The traits that moments ago had her daydreaming about feeling the weight of his hands upon her cheek or the warmth of his lips against her own. It was all gone. And left in its place, was a hollow sense of dread and horror that seemed to stretch her stomach into a bottomless pit of despair. She was moving forward then, brushing by the king as she hurried down the steps where the gazebo was so comfortably set. “What is that,” she asked, knowing that her strange behavior was bound to cause the king to turn his head to seek out the cause of her sudden rudeness. And what a sight would greet him. The castle was shaking, and beyond it high in the sky was a floating structure that poured rivers of lava, which thankfully were falling into the waters of the Atitlan lake and not upon the residents of Versilla. Charlotte’s golden eyes were wide and frightened, and her small frame was poised to continue moving forward, but she had stopped -- she had finally turned back to look at Raylon. “I think...I think we’re under attack…” No sooner had she spoken when they saw a collection of guards come from the gardens. Both men and women, wearing light armor, began dashing toward the fight -- like Raylon and Charotte, they had somehow missed the beginnings of the conflict and were only now realizing what was going on. “I am so sorry, I have to go -- I have to see how I can help.” And off she went, that slender and beautiful thing. She was delicate, even in her movements -- dreamlike as she moved on small feet, thin ankles, and long legs across the wet lawn toward the castle. Gone was her worry for modesty as her quick steps caused her sundress to flutter and flap, and cling to her still-wet body. That hardly mattered as the beautiful structure that she called home was shaken at its core by another internal explosion.
  2. She saw it of course, the swirl of menacing crimson across what had been a lovely, and peaceful aura. The king seemed troubled at the same time, with his gentle and handsome features taking on the weight of whatever it was that was worrying him -- or torturing him. Those golden eyes of hers darkened significantly as she felt a powerful wave of protectiveness sweep past her. Though she was small and much weaker than most, one half of her very being had been inherited from a guardian angel. The impulse to protect, to guard, to guide was at times impossibly difficult to resist, especially when it came to beings of such goodness. It was a rare find, a man devoid of wickedness, but not impossible. Raylon had not been the first, and now that she was calling Orisia her new home, she hoped with all her heart that he would not be the last. It was a striking difference, feeling the strength of duty over the weakness of submission. “Unfortunately not with the attention to detail I would prefer. Perhaps one day I will have the luxury of giving Versilla the attention it deserves with a guide who can endure my many inquiries.” She was not conceited enough to take that as an invitation, so she only smiled brightly at him when his own sensible lips curled. Charlotte was not the sort of person to feel entitled to someone elses time, though she had been hopeful that he would say something about wanting to go for a stroll right then and there. The truth was, she had no idea what it meant to be a king or a queen, though she had worn the title of Empress for a very short time. In the end, she had been nothing more than a slave and the honorific title meant only that she was the first and last to suffer, nothing more or less. But what Gabriela and Raylon did -- the work that they put into their nations? She simply knew that there was a plethora of unimaginable details that went into their work. How could she be upset or hurt that the king had other things to do? Graciously, she accepted what time he could give her and found herself grateful for having even been given the chance to share a short chat. It was quite a wonderful thing, being out and about and happening upon royalty. It absolutely tickled her, and more so, the way she noticed his eyes were lingering on certain parts of her body. For the most part, Charlotte was a shy and modest girl. But after years of living under Alexander she had learned much about the significance of certain looks, and for once in her life the potential attraction she seemed to elicit from another did not feel threatening and was certainly not frightening. If anything, she felt pleased and amused. She really did think so little of herself, so to see his silver eyes drift down the length of her torso, lower still to her legs, Charlotte blushed but felt the corners of her plump lips curl ever so slightly. Her musings about being potentially attractive to the king died away as he leaned in close and whispered his regards concerning her previous warning. Already she had forgotten the dire weight of what they had been speaking about, and the remainder of Gabriela and little Philippe -- and the situation they were in, it made her grow sullen. “Seems like the worst of it has subsided. Are you ready to… enjoy the rest of your day off?” It took her a moment to realize he was talking about the rain. Her gaze drifted lazily beyond the canopy of purple and green that been keeping them dry. “Oh,” she seemed surprised -- and perhaps a little disappointed. “Yes, I suppose I am. And how about you, Good King Raylon? What shall you do with the rest of this day now that the weather is turning?”
  3. The King was childlike in his wonder for the natural world. Charlotte found herself smiling at the genuine display of pleasure that overcame Raylon as he extended his hand and caught raindrops upon each and every one of his fingertips. While a mere mortal may have sensed his aura of tranquility, she actually saw it. The same silver hue of his eyes seemed to engulf the whole of his form. It was like he was wearing a halo of gentle light that came down and around him. It could have been a trick from the suddenly visible sun that peeked through a parting in the rain clouds, a single ray that shone down upon the good king and reflected off of the coloration of his skin -- it could have been anything really -- but she knew better. There was something special about him, something internal and inherent that made him beyond special. Charlotte felt very little and entirely inadequate to be entertaining him. She lacked the decorum, the grace, and the tact with which to speak to someone of such importance. She was fumbling over her words and saying things that were borderline offensive. And now, as her earlier words sank into him, Charlotte could see the physical manifestation of his discomfort. His smile quivered, and it seemed as if he might lose it at any moment. "Your Queen's benevolence toward me and my people's struggle forged a friendship I do not intend to end any time soon. Still, my visit was more of a courtesy given our current predicament. It would have been rude of me to not visit when Illyria now resides so close to the beauty of Orisia." Embarrassed at her own presumptions, Charlotte felt a splash of a blush color her cheeks. For a brief moment jealousy had gotten the best of her, and she had assumed the worst -- or rather the best -- of his working relationship with the queen. Raylon's response had been perfectly clear and perfectly diplomatic, regardless of how much need Gabriela may have had for a man such as him in her life, he was not there for her sake. Charlotte was both relieved by this (a fact that shamed her), but also intrigued. She had all but forgotten about the great catastrophe that had ended the lives of nearly a million Orisian citizens on the island of Ceyana. Of course, it wasn't like her to ignore the plight of so many people, but with the degree and sheer magnitude of the event, Charlotte had selected to keep her distance. She had seen enough death and horror for a hundred lifetimes. "Yes I saw him. He was definitely a sight to behold with very intriguing parentage." Charlotte's golden eyes sharpened, a trait that appeared somewhat odd upon her gentle features. She regarded the king with suspicion now, as if the comment were meant to pass some unspoken judgment upon the babe of its mother. But before she could speak in defense of the queen against an imagined slight a very curious thing happened. A bejeweled staff suddenly appeared. While the King behaved as if it were perfectly normal for a staff to just appear, Charlotte was very obviously started. She was sitting upright and slightly back, with a hand to her chest, clutching at her thin cardigan, pulling it closed over the swell of her breasts. "What are your plans after this rain subsides? Is it interrupting any of your training?" She was regarding the staff with the same distrusting gaze she had given the king just a few short moments ago. The magical item just hummed and spun gently, and pressed close to Raylon as if it had a mind of its own -- so very catlike. Behind the king, the rain clouds were breaking and now she could only see speckled portions of rain coming down, spreading open like curtains here and there. "Oh, no... Today is my day off, I can rest. I intended to have my lunch in the gardens and then head into the city eventually, I have some things I need to pick up from the market. Tell me, King Raylon, have you had a chance to walk the streets of Versilla?" She climbed to her feet and smoothed out her dress. It was still quite wet and managed to cling to certain parts of her body, like her thighs and the rounded curve of her bottom. She fixed these issues as best as she could by tugging on the skirt until it hung more comfortably and modestly. Though her words had not been an explicit invitation, she hoped that he might reply that he hadn't seen the capital yet and that he would very much like to. She operated with that in mind as she cleaned up the mess from their meal. When she was done and had stood by and walked to his side, she nervously regarded the king. "A word of warning, King Raylon," she said in a whisper -- her bottom lip blood red from having been bit down upon in her nervous consideration of what to say. Now, as she paused to think on it one last time, she chewed on it rather viciously in her nervousness. "I would not go around mentioning the little prince's intrusive parentage. I am sure you've met the Queen's husband, I am sure you realize he is not the father, and I am sure you've seen firsthand how defensive he can be..." Charlotte lowered her voice all the more, and leaned even closer to the king, "I am afraid our Emperor can be quite unstable, and it might prove a risk to both Queen and child, to mention the obvious."
  4. Charlotte watched the good king rise from his regal position. He moved with the fluidity of music, or so she thought as she watched him with a dreamy sort of gaze overtaking her normally focused or distant expression. Admiring him from behind, without the potential weight of a judgmental gaze from below his noble brow or above his straight nose, made her more bold. It was easy to examine what she considered beautiful when there was no risk of being called out, or worse yet, being rejected. She considered herself such a little thing, a worthless and hopeless thing, especially when considering the fact that she walked the halls of great kings and queens and had herself begun life as nothing more than a lowly slave. Her own past hurt her -- it haunted her even now. With pain, she looked away from Raylon as he reached out to touch the falling, silver rain. Her lips were slightly ajar, as she forced herself to breathe slowly and carefully. "Now with my land becoming a permanent fixture within this realm, I am excited to learn much more about what my people can gain from being Orsia's newest neighbor. My healers will have much to learn from you eventually..." "Once I have enough to teach, I will be glad to serve you and your people..." she smiled, from her perch upon the bench. It was still a wonder to her, and there were so many parts to the story that she didn't understand, but having had a whole country zapped from one part of the universe and brought here to another was a marvel -- further prove of divine intervention in her opinion. Only the hand of God could do such a thing, and somehow, bring such a man into Valucre. This world was filled with violence. Every man she had met -- her own master, who upon her birth did not see a small child in need of protection, but rather a piece of property that would some day make him richer, to the countless men who courted after her most beloved queen. The people of this world were barbaric and monstrous, using force to gain everything they wanted, including love itself. She paused, and for a moment reflected internally to Alexander. He was the man who had taught her that although he "loved" her, sex was not the time to show such feelings -- sex, instead, was about power, about surrender, and about pain. Even when it was about pleasure, it was always about pain. Raylon, though he would never know it, was like a light in a very ugly and very dark world. His kindness and the sweet nature of his soul were something she saw on the surface of his very being, an aura of warmth that brought her comfort and cut through the chill of even this ice-cold rain. "You spend so much time here in the capital, even though I am sure your country must need you very much..." she frowned, and cursed at herself -- her words sounded like a criticism. Shaking her head she forced herself to start over. "What I mean to say is, you must be very taken by our Queen to manage to make time enough to come and see her." I sound like a jealous school girl… "Have you met her baby? Little Philippe? He's absolutely the most stunning child I've ever seen..."
  5. “Please forgive me for invading your personal space. I crossed a boundary I shouldn't have and deeply regret causing any discomfort and imposing myself upon you.” Charlotte sat in silence, and from her peripheral she saw that Raylon had begun the gentle and deliberate process of distancing himself. She didn’t look at him, and she didn’t acknowledge the apology or the subsequent behavior. Instead she kept her eyes firmly set on the castle in the distance and tried to imagine what the world might be like if evil never happened. In this world, she would not be undone by the slightest brush of a person’s fingers. She wouldn’t feel her insides twisting themselves into knots at the penetrating warmth that came from the alien touch of affection. In short, she wouldn’t be at such impossible odds with being normal. Rather than being jittery and frightened, like some pathetic wounded beast -- she might have been brave, courageous, and less fastidious. That’s what a world without pain and torment could have offered someone like her, and then, a man like him -- like Raylon -- wouldn’t have to be sitting there feeling his heart break for what he could only imagine had happened to her. Eventually she sighed and dropped her head. Her chin rested against her chest for just a moment as she took in a few calming breaths. It wasn’t so much that she was distressed, but more so that some anxiety had started to build up at the mere thought of what her exaggerated actions might cause. The last thing she wanted was to make Raylon think of her in an unflattering way. She didn’t want to come off as some lunatic individual who was incapable of managing their emotions, regardless of how troublesome they were. She was infinitely grateful when Raylon spoke up again, changing the conversation in a sort of masterful way that very clearly showed his ability as a dignitarian. She imagined royalty had to be charming, beautiful, and smart -- but also diplomatic, perhaps more so than any other trait. And now, as he flawlessly moved them from the awkwardness she had caused, she felt relieved and also, a touch of warmth growing in her heart for the good king. “I fully intend to do my best, Raylon -- I have seen for myself that the world needs healing hands more than sword-wielding ones.” The young woman -- she couldn’t be older than seventeen -- smiled warmly at him and then looked away as if she were shy. The truth was that talking about her dream caused her a bit of pride, which was an emotion she had never really been allowed to experience or explore. It felt good to feel pride, to be proud of her achievements and her goals. It felt even better to have people who believed in her, and who valued the things she wanted to accomplish. There was a sense of pride that nearly bordered on arrogance, but managed to come off as harmless when paired with her disarming smile. She appeared young, just like a youth on the verge of greatness. After a moment or two, the bright glow dimmed and with a brush of her knuckles, she tucked some loose hair behind her ear -- she was normal again. “I am sure this will sound strange to someone like you, but it’s kind of nice living in a place without high technology. I’ve seen the things that technology can cure, the way it can fix people. It’s different here in Orisia, what with La’Ruta and the way it treats overly mechanical things. It forces people to use their hands. We search for herbs, we crush them, we dry them, we turn them into pasts or oils or balms or syrups for drinking. It keeps us connected to our patients. It’s quite magnificent, though I suspect we don’t do as much as your doctors might…”
  6. “It is those horrors that provide the stark contrast we need to appreciate places like these Charlotte. Such beauty is coveted by those who understand and endure its absence.” The pretty girl sat there with her golden eyes growing distant and seemingly un-attached to this particular moment. It may well have looked as if she were uninterested, but the reality was very different. She was meditating on his words and taking careful consideration of what sort of value she should put on them. In the end, and with a trace of sadness upon her countenance, Charlotte found that she had to disagree with the good king’s words. She would never dream of comparing horror stories for it seemed like such a tactless thing to do, but she simply couldn't help but wonder if Raylon had ever experienced true horror. No, she finally concluded, it fell to women, and women alone, to carry the burden of a specific kind of violence -- one that did not cause death, or at least not all of the time. What did Raylon know of painful bondage? Of cruel torture devices, of degradation, of violation, of pain and agony served alongside pleasure -- wondrous pleasure! It was a psychological torture, she reasoned only now, with much needed time and distance from her abuser. He had made sure she felt the height of pleasure after every one of their horrific encounters so that in the end she could equally carry the responsibility for the things that were forced upon her. That was true horror, and it was plainly unnecessary. She did not have to live those things in order to find this place beautiful or somehow appreciate it more -- no one did. She blinked and pushed the memories away, chasing them with all of her strength into the dark corridors of her mind where they could not hurt her. It had been nearly a year now, perhaps even longer, since Alexander was gone and although the trauma of that violent relationship lingered, with obvious wounds upon her psyche, she too refused to allow the mounting anxiety to ruin this one peaceful moment. Raylon was right, she knew it, on some pleasant and optimistic level. “We do not have much of anything that we cannot engineer from our corrupted soil or with our labs. This is why I plan on taking advantage of your kindness and bringing some of your meal back home so we can begin benefiting from your hospitality.” Charlotte regarded Raylon with renewed amusement. Her features light up when she wasn’t struggling against the dark tides of her bad memories. She was radiant and a glow as she lifted her brows curiously at him. “You shouldn’t bother with those scraps. I am sure the Black Queen can provide you with much better samples of the foods here in Orisia. You should enjoy your half of the lunch, who knows how long this rain will last, and I believe you’ll need your strength to get back up to the castle.” She smiled, rather proud of her teasing -- proud that it came so naturally and proud that it sounded so normal. Normal was not something she had ever the pleasure of being. From her birth to this very moment, she had always looked, felt, and acted quite differently and had always been an outlier because of it. But today felt different. Today felt easy, soft, and quiet -- like there was magic in the air, awakened by the rain like tiny seedlings breaking through the wet soil. It felt like renewed life, and it filled her with contentment -- that is of course -- until he set his hand on her knee. “You should come visit when you have some time. Illyria hasn’t seen a visitor in quite some time.” She froze up like a deer caught in headlights. The easy posture of her body went rigid as she realized that no one had set a hand on her without her explicit permission since she escaped from Alexander. He had never asked for permission -- he didn’t have to. He had stolen her from her life in the castle, and spirited her away to a faraway country where he was Master, God, and King to her and everyone else he encountered. Her body had become his property, and she had no say with how it was treated, where it went, or when it was touched. She really forced herself to be considerate of the situation. Earlier, when they had been exchanging names, he had performed some strange gesture, which she had at the time dismissed as some foreign form of salutation. Perhaps this was like that, in that in his lands touching was considered acceptable behavior. For most it probably was, a little voice said inside of her -- most people wouldn’t have a meltdown from an innocent hand brushing their knee. But he touched her bare knee -- her smooth, white, warm knee, which she now stared at as she felt the lingering warmth of his touch spreading across her flesh. How long had it been since she felt the heat and weight of another touch? She despised herself for feeling the stirring of longing in her belly. “I would like that,” she replied, blushing warmly as she tried to put her mind off of how close his fingers hand been to her inner thigh. “Maybe once my studies are complete -- I am training to be a healer.”
  7. Charlotte smiled, despite her growing anxiety about the situation. At the very least, Raylon seemed like genuinely calm person, which was a strange thing to take notice of after sharing just a few short words. However, Charlotte was extraordinarily talented when it came to reading people and their moods. Whatever worries or concerns he carried, which she imagined were vast and difficult, he did not wear them like garments of clothes or fine jewels -- which was quite different than her beloved Black Queen. Though there was very little bad that Charlotte could say about Gabriela, the difference in how these two friends and rulers carried themselves was obvious. Raylon appeared perfectly composed, and resoundingly normal as he took a seat besides her, and meanwhile, Gabriela walked the halls of her castle with a pinched brow and her soft jaw set into a hard line from how hard she clenched her teeth. All the world knew that she was serious and severe, constantly worried and never at peace. It was a tragedy, Charlotte had come to accept, but perhaps not one without a solution. Perhaps there was something that this man could teach the Orisian Queen, something that might help her cope with her trials and tribulations. ‘’Please...just call me Raylon. I can do without all of the formalities for now. This is just a lunch between new friends brought together by the mercy of the elements. It is a pleasure to meet you Charlotte.” “Likewise,” she replied with a bit more pep in her voice, and her lips still fixed with that soft smile. She wasted no time dividing up the spoils of her afternoon meal. Cutting her loaf of stuffed bread in half, and giving him the portion that did not have a bite mark on it. Rather than settle into eating herself, she picked up the orange -- which was nearly too big to hold in her open hand -- and began to peel it. “Who would have thought it would rain so much and so hard, seemingly out of nowhere.” “Thank you for the privilege of sharing whatever blessing of a meal you have. It will be a welcome deviation from those I receive at home.” “It’s simple,” she said apologetically, as her fingers continued to work the peel off the orange -- busy work to keep her from getting overly nervous. “But it’s really very good.” Of course she had no idea who she was talking to. She couldn’t have imagined his background, or the fact that he came from a place with such strict dietary restrictions. Had she, and she might have believed him to be more genuine in the way he examined the food set before them. As it where, she found it strange that a High Born King would look with such curiosity and hunger at a few pieces of cheese, some fruit, and a jar of honey. They both looked out into the gardens, safe under the feeble cover of the gazebo and the leafy canopy. There was stillness for a while, and only the sound of the rain pounding against the earth, a hundred-million droplets at a time. She wondered if he felt the magic of the moment -- of the misty green fields, the explosion of color that came from all the blooming flowers that had somehow been blurred into bleeds of rainbow specks. And again, her eyes were drawn to the outline of the castle. “It looks like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?” The warmth of the wine began to creep across her cheeks. It made her feel warm and gave her a touch of confidence -- enough to share her whimsical musings with the stranger. “Hard to believe the world can be so full of horrors when places like this just sit out there, floating among rainclouds, set on carpets of lush greenery -- just being beautiful.” She sighed and split the orange in two and handed him a half. “I am sorry, I don’t normally drink…” she plucked the wine bottle by the neck and handed it to him, “--I also don’t have any glasses, I hope you don’t mind sharing. But, anyway, you were saying -- about your home? What, you don't have cheese where you come from?”
  8. The sudden splatter of rainwater that hit the back of her head caught her so off guard that she jolted forward and nearly dropped her wine bottle, from which she was drinking -- very unlady-like. And it seemed that the sound of her near shriek had managed to catch the attention of the man intruding upon her wonderful and tortuous moment of isolation. Although she didn’t intend to, she glared over her shoulder at the man and with an expression that she failed to mask, was again quite shocked to find herself in the presence of royalty. It took quite some work to change her angry expression, which had so quickly shifted to surprise, back into something dignified enough to present to a man of such high importance. Although she had never seen him this close, she had seen him walk close to the queen and there were whispers about how they often shared meals and moments of respite together. It was common knowledge that Raylon Tekker, the Light of Illyria, was favored by Gabriela. Charlotte had become something of a wallflower in the DuGrace castle ever since her return, especially now that little Raspberry had grown distant and disturbingly cruel. She had lost her favor with the littlest of the household royalty, but maintained some semblance of good grace with the Black Queen herself -- this meant she was allowed to stay, and she got to continue her studies. But it was a difficult adjustment after the whirlwind her life had been tossed into after Alexander spirited her away from her quiet and comfortable life. Returning to it now was borderline painful, but she knew it was the healthiest option -- at least a lot healthier than wandering the globe getting herself into trouble for no good reason. “I am so very sorry for intruding and lumbering in without realizing you were there. I didn’t wet you did I? Please forgive me…” Her face had softened significantly, not that much was required. Even though she had believed her previous expression to be harsh, the reality was that Charlotte's face was far too pretty, far too perfect, far too magnificent to ever truly display her displeasure as anything other than a masterful portrait of youthful beauty. “No need to apologize, my lord,” she said soft and quick -- her voice catching as she straightened up and turned fully to face him. Her head dipped and her knees bent as she curtsied to the foreign king. “You didn’t get me any worse than the rain already has,” she went on, by way of easing whatever tension might have taken root. The last thing she wanted to do was cause distress to one of the Black Queen’s favored guests. Standing back up she noted the way his eyes quickly took her measure, and realized with a splash of color across her cheeks that her white sundress, which had been perfectly modest earlier in the day, was now clinging to her chest, belly, and the top of her thighs. She grimaced and reached down, tugging on the hem of her dress to unpaste the material from her body. “Spring can be a bit of a mad season here, or so I’ve heard and so it seems…” she smiled tightly, and her pink lips curled ever so prettily. “I would have never guessed rain for today, but here I am -- drenched and caught at the mercy of the elements. It seems you find yourself in a similar predicament.” Oh, how she wanted to flee. This encounter required far more conversation than she was comfortable producing. No matter how much she fought the instinct that had been beaten into her to be submissive, to be pleasing, to be quiet and meek -- all she wanted to do was recoil into what was comfortable and familiar. Being bright, chatty, and friendly went against all of her instincts. “I was just sitting down to lunch, hoping to wait out the rain...would you like to join me, my lord?” she blinked, and then dropped her head and gathered her hands before her, as if in supplication (fingers interlacing tightly). “I am so sorry, my name is Charlotte. I live here as one of the queen’s wards. My meal is meager and simple, but I am happy to share all that I have.”
  9. In an increasingly common display of the temperamental nature of the Orisian weather, what had promised to be a bright and sunny day had ended up with the production of torrential levels of water fall from the sky. Charlotte had come out into the western gardens with the intention of having a nice lunch, which someone from the kitchens had kindly packed for her, and to get a bit of reading done from one of the many books she had borrowed from Gabriela’s personal library. Now she was standing under a woefully inadequate gazebo, watching the rain that was falling in a rather loud clatter, and which was making a misty-mess of everything. The massive shape of the castle in the background lost its focus and became nothing more than a dark outline, devoid of details. It gave the scene a charming sort of dream-like quality that Charlotte found herself enjoying, even if the cold rain was starting to drip down from the leafy canopy wisteria’s, soaking through her terribly light, summer coat. And her dress, a flowy and thin little thing that reached down just a few inches below her knees and fluttered about in the slight wind, provided even less protection against the elements. She considered making a run for the castle, but she was a good distance out and quite a number of flights of stairs. By the time she made it anywhere with a decent roof, she would be soaked through to the bone. It was better to stay, she decided, and hope this spring shower did not last for long. Gathering up her coat and wrapping her arms around herself, the wisp of a girl moved back from the edge of the gazebo and more towards its center, where a single wooden bench sat in wait. She had left her book there and her small leather satchel, which carried the contents of her untouched meal. In returning to the bench, she by virtue of a rather powerful growl of her stomach, Charlotte was reminded of her hunger and so she sat down to eat. There was no point in letting a perfectly good meal go to waste on account of a little rain. And much to her delight, upon opening her bag, she found a delightful assortment of cheeses, a container of beautiful, green grapes, an unpeeled orange, a dainty glass container full of dark, golden honey, and a loaf of bread with some slices of freshly roast turkey stuffed into it. There was also a small bottle of wine, and a generous serving of Chester’s famous chocolate cake, with what seemed like extra chocolate-fudge icing smeared on top. Charlotte could have wept with how happy she was with the bounty that had been provided for her. Suddenly, even the cold rain didn’t seem so bad. It was a small price to pay for the opportunity to have a quiet and peaceful lunch with such a breathtaking vista of the castle and the vivid green grounds of the gardens. Happily, she began to eat. First she tore her bread in half, and took a massive bite. Her delicate and pretty features shifted into an adorable sort of disarray as her cheeks bulged and her lips pinched to stay shut. She chewed happily, and without concern that anyone was watching or passing judgment. Next she took a bite of cheese, a rather strong smelling sort with a soft texture that was infinitely better tasting than it looked. Still, it could do with a spot of honey, and so she opened the small jar and drizzled some on directly onto the cheese before taking another bite. She didn’t so much as suspect another living being out in the gardens today. The place had seemed practically abandoned earlier in the day as she strolled through the hedges and took in the sights around the many statue gardens that were artfully set up in different locations. But as she sat there, filling her belly and watching the rain through the robust purple-bloom drapes that fell over the edge of the gazebo, she couldn’t help but feel a tingling in her throat and a tightness around her heart. Loneliness settled in like a bothersome guest who simply refused to leave, and her mind turned to thoughts of Alexander -- now dead and gone. Never in her life did she think she might miss that monstrous creature, and yet here she was, dimly aware that his company would be preferable to the suddenly crushing aloneness that she felt. Grateful for the wine, Charlotte opened the bottle and took a deep drink from it. Not one to often partake of alcohol, and by virtue of her special heritage, it wasn’t long before the golden-eyed girl was swaying softly in her seat, humming a little melody to herself. Not quite drunk, but certainly not sober.
  10. “Oh,” said Charlotte softly as the woman brushed back her golden hair and revealed the ugly scar. And just as anyone could have expected from such a strange girl, she openly stared at the roughly set skin that closed over the evidence of some violent act or accident. Charlotte’s curiosity piqued, but even her poor manners and dreadful social skills had a limit, and although it was hard, she resisted the urge to ask how it had happened. Somehow, Vespera seemed unaware of all of this -- perhaps genuinely blind to the girl’s uncouth curiosity or perhaps simply use to the wonder that her torn face produced. Whatever the case, the stern looking woman relinquished an answer that was both untrue and unsatisfactory to the divine creature that had come to harass her. “Sentimentality.” “Right,” Charlotte said in mocking agreement, her pretty pale lips flickering into a smile that burnt out just as quick. But they had both looked down at the picture and they had both seen the clean, pretty face of the young woman in black and white. “Sentimentality,” she repeated eventually, her expression having become serious. “And I’ve never felt better. Is that all?” Those golden eyes drifted from the woman’s face down the length of her body -- Charlotte regarded her tight grasp on the pommel of her cane. However, it wasn’t for her to say if the woman was being honest or lying, and it certainly wasn’t her concern if she was doing the latter. And yet, Charlotte could not help feeling pangs of despair at the thought that the conversation was over and the woman was dismissing her. Her brows knitted together and her lips pressed into a disappointed frown. Without thinking it, she was pressing her chin into her collar and looking up from under her long, dark lashes. She was trying to puppy-dog eye Vespera. Unfortunately the woman was already turning away, abandoning her and taking away with her all the swirling mystery that surrounded her very existence. It was unfair, and Charlotte huffed at the woman’s back as she hobbled off. She missed the tell-tale signs of danger, the yelling, the cursing, the sound of a trash can being violently kicked against a wall. Instead, she was trying to debate on whether or not her tour guide would still be sitting on the steps waiting for her or if she should just head back to her hotel room alone. “Walk and talk. If I find you dead in the morning, I’ll end up having half the city burned down to find the assholes.” Thrilled to bits, Charlotte immediately perked up and quickly bounced along to catch up. She made a show of her youthful energy, of her healthy legs, without even intending to. By the time she reached Vespera’s side, the meaning of her words had settled and the young girl looked at her perplexed. “Why would I be dead? Why would you find me if I were? And -- could you really burn down half the city to find out who did it? What are you some kind of knight?” Again, those golden eyes glanced at her cane and fancies of imagination began to take off. What if that walking stick hid a dangerous secret? A hidden weapon to cut down evil-doers with! “Or, whatever the equivalent to a knight is in place like this.” Her eyes darted to and fro, she took in the height of the buildings, the texture of their walls, the glowing lights fed by electricity -- a thing that did not exist in Orisia.
  11. “Like… Sorry, like I was saying, you need to go. You can’t be here, do you understand.” It was difficult for Charlotte to pull her pupiless eyes from the retreating sight of that woman. There was something about her. It was neither sadness nor loneliness, but still it was dark and so heavy that it weighed down her slight shoulders. It was all the more visible from the back, when the woman’s face was turned elsewhere and all that Charlotte could really see was the shape of her body and the slouch to it, the heavy favoring of one side, the pressure of her curled fingers around that tiny skull. Even so, she found that the young man was quite insistent and her attention ended up shifting but not before she noticed the sad swaying fall of an old photograph. “I understand,” she said to the man, though her expression did little to denote comprehension. It was the oddness of her eyes, the missing pupils in those molten gold irises, it gave her a perpetually confused expression. For most, it was endearing. The angelic blood in her veins made her a strange curiosity to humans. But there were a handful who saw her for what she was and were not only disturbed but outright offended by her existence. The mortal world could not accept the existence of the divine, and she was here -- a little drop of heaven in a very ugly world. Those big eyes of hers blinked and she shook her head. Charlotte smiled for Siv, “I am sorry. I didn’t know,” she offered by way of explanation with a half-hearted shrug of her small shoulders. “I’ll get going.” Did she disarm him? She hoped so because she wasn't intending to leave the same way she had come. Somewhere below, in the metro station, her very dearly bought tour guide had returned to the same place where he had left her. He looked around confused, and then decided that the strange girl he was showing around had probably just wandered off and he reasoned that she would soon return. As a man of reasonable moral understanding, he felt it necessary to wait -- after all -- she had paid for his services. So although he was mildly annoyed, the man sat down on the bottom step of the stairs and after setting down Charlotte’s cup of noodles, began to devour his own. “Best damn noodles,” he stayed to himself after a satisfying slurp. Back above, Charlotte hoped to slip by before Siv could reprimand her or worse, try to physically apprehend her. She jolted forward at a slow job in order to look as unassuming as possible. One thing that living under the Witch King had taught her was never to underestimate even the meekest looking creature -- not that Siv was meek looking. But she hurried along to same door that Vespera had existed through, and before clutching the knob, twisting, and pushing, she bent at the waist and plucked the picture off the floor. She was out the door just as she heard Siv yelling after her -- maybe something about not cutting through their very private and super-secret office just to get up to the surface. If she could, she would have apologized, but she was already skipping along the sidewalk, trying to keep up with Vespera. It was chilly -- there was a cold wind cutting through the streets. Charlotte had to stuff the photograph into her pocket and try to gather the wild mass of dark brown hair that floated like a veil behind her. She pulled it into a loose ponytail, and bound it with a rubber band that would hurt like hell to pull out later. Once her hair was set, she stuffed it into her hoody, which she pulled over her head. She didn’t know exactly how to stop the woman. She seemed to be marching along to the sound of silent but demanding drums. And although Charlotte had just had a glimpse of her face, she was certain that she had managed to memorize the severity of Vespera’s expression. Charlotte settled for catching up, which wasn’t all that hard considering the woman’s slight limp. “You dropped something,” Charlotte said cheerfully -- maybe a little too much so. Her voice was a little too high pitched, a little too excited as she fell into step besides the creature that had produced so much fear and dread out of the poor guard stationed back in the office lobby. “It’s a picture,” Charlotte went on, “I figured if it was important enough to carry with you, it was probably important enough not to leave abandoned on the floor.” The golden eyed girl came to a slow stop and began to dig through her pocket. “Here,” she said while stealing a glance at the picture before she held it out to Vespera. “Why are you carrying around a picture of yourself?” Charlotte was a bright girl, a curious girl -- a girl who had lifted most of her life in unimaginable pain and sorrow. In her short life and what little she owned of reality, there was no time for fear of rejection. She lived a life of impulse because she was so certain that it was bound to end at any moment. Every feeling she had -- every attachment to Alexander -- ensured her that the Witch King was dead and gone. But she knew better than to assume. Life was all the more precious for that reason. No, there was no time to be shy or meek or quiet. So much of her life had already been wasted away by not pursuing the things that tickled her fancy. She didn’t want to waste a single more minute. “You look…” Charlotte frowned, “You look kind of sick, are you alright?”
  12. Charlotte stood at the foot of the stairs, looking up toward the cold, white glow of fluorescent light. It was pouring down from above, from some wide open space that she could only just see around the bend of the wide staircase. She was surrounded by the remains of what had once been a sprawling metro station except that now instead of the deep roar of a massive moving machine, the tile-covered walls echoed with the excited chatter of people and the steady march of footsteps. Although the train seemed to be out of commission for the foreseeable future, there was still a steady flow of traffic moving through the underground corridors. People were moving -- hundreds at a time -- regular looking folks. From time to time, she’d glance to the left and right and watch someone who managed to catch her attention walk by and then disappear into the crowded, but her gaze always returned to pristine, white light that was coming down. Like a moth to a flame, she felt herself drawn to something beyond. “What’s up there?” she asked her companion, a man maybe twenty years her senior. She had paid him to be her ‘tour guide’ and to ensure that she didn’t accidentally end up walking into any of the bad parts of town. She had learned her lesson after spending some time in Patia and Last Chance. These Terrenian cities were not as they appeared, and like the savage tropics of Orisia, this concrete jungle was ready, able, and more than willing to swallow her up whole. “Oh,” said the man -- a gentlemen with salt and pepper hair, and a matching beard that hid half of his weathered face. Little brown eyes, hidden under heavy black eyebrows, narrowed as he glanced up the staircase. With so much activity going on around them, it was hard to ignore how abandoned this one area seemed to be. He cleared his throat and offered Charlotte a shrug. “Just an old office building. I think it’s been converted into apartments, I think -- nothing all that interesting really. Are you hungry? You’re probably hungry.” For the man, Joseph, it was hard to ignore the fact that the young woman standing besides him was as young, if not younger, than his daughter back at home. It boggled his mind that Charlotte was traveling alone. She had come up to his little newspaper stand -- very nonchalantly -- and set a golden coin (a solid gold coin!) on his counter and asked him to show her around. Either he was doing something very right with his kid or he was doing something very wrong, for he couldn’t help but wonder if his own daughter could survive or even move around in the world the way this young woman did. Even so, Joseph felt a protective surge for her, especially now that she looked so absolutely out of it. The kid was probably starving, he reasoned, since they had been walking around for nearly six hours now without a break. “They have pretty lights,” she replied, though he probably wasn’t the least bit interested in her nonsense. Bright golden eyes finally dropped away from what little she could see at the top of the staircase and returned to her bought companion. “I am pretty hungry. Could you get something for us? I am tired. I’ll wait here.” “Here?” Joseph asked, looking around. When he looked back at Charlotte she was already sitting on one of the steps. He cringed. “This isn’t the best place to have a picnic, kid.” “I like it here. It’s a good place to people watch,” she shrugged and pulled on the hoodie of her sweater, effectively hiding the most of her dark hair, although she did have to wrestle with her braid to get most of it tucked away. With her hands neatly stuffed into the pockets of her jeans, she peered up at Joseph and gave him ber best and most charming smile. “Hey, I am from out of town, cut me some slack.” The girl was pretty. He didn’t think so in a creepy way. He just appreciated that the girl was brightly lit from within, and when she smiled it was one of the prettiest sights he had ever seen. It was hard not to feel somewhat infected with her, seemingly genuine, curiosity and eccentricness. “Alright, if you insist. What do you want to eat?” “I don’t know. What’s good here?” Charlotte shrugged her shoulders and lurched forward slightly as if she were cold and trying to cozy up to her own folded knees. She hoped that she wasn’t overselling her attempt at appearing unassuming. “Maybe something warm?” “Fine. I’ll get us some noodle cups,” he said as his eyes began to scan the small collection of kiosk like shops that littered the sides of the massive underground tunnel. “There’s actually a pretty good guy around here. He makes the tastiest noodles. He uses fish broth, and adds fresh green onions, finely chopped…” he was going to go on, except that Charlotte managed to cut him off. “Yes, please -- that sounds wonderful.” “Alright, alright -- I’ll be right back.” And off he went to fetch the food that he had recommended and which she had so politely asked for. Meanwhile, Charlotte leaned back almost fully, her elbows resting on a few steps above where her bottom was sitting. She tilted her head as far back as she could, and she went right back to observing the white fluorescent light. And then she decided -- if it was an apartment building then surely no one would mind if she snuck up to the lobby to get a look around. She had yet to see the surface of Martial Town, and she was dying with curiosity. She tapped her feet a few times, and then, as if willed by some invisible force, Charlotte got to her feet and climbed the staircase. She took them two at a time, those ugly, graffiti covered steps. She flew up without ever touching the iron rail, until at last she stood under the full force of those white lights she had been admiring. For a brief moment she was blinded, but as her eyes adjusted she saw how utterly unimpressive the office building’s lobby was. Stark white floors, gray walls, a single massive desk where a single bored looking guy sat. There were high ceilings, with ugly industrial-style chandeliers hanging down, and a single wall that was made out of panels of glass that gave her her first look out into the city. She stood quietly at the top of the stairs and stared.
  13. Charlotte had become a creature of silence. She didn’t mean to be so quiet, or rather so off putting, but her mind had become such a dark and drewery place that she found it hard to pull herself out of it. She knew that her companion suffered for it. Justus was often left in the dark as to what her plans were, and because she had saved him and claimed ownership over his life, and he with his noble heart had accepted, he came along with her like a well behaved dog on a leash. But her intentions were not to be cruel or to mistreat him in anyway. More than once he had proven himself to be invaluable to her whenever trouble managed to find its way to her. He kept her safe, and he didn’t make demands on her methods or reasons -- he simply followed. Yet more than just his obedience, Charlotte knew that he was all that was keeping her tethered to the world anymore. She felt lost and isolated without Alexander, and she had been reckless and foolish up until the moment when she reunited with Justus. Somehow, he had given her a sense of purpose; They both had to find the Black Queen. It was of course a great relief to find out that her suspicions had been correct and that Gabriela was not dead. However, they had been met with quite a scare when they arrived in Veelos only to hear that an assassination attempt had nearly ended their search for the queen, when her life was nearly claimed by a true flying bullet while visiting the country of Kadia. Because of the attack, visiting with the wounded queen had been utterly impossible in Veelos, where the security was so tight that they never even got close to the royal palace. This felt like their only chance to see the Queen. “Once she sees us, she will recognize us,” she said to Justus as they stood there besides a large column that was decorated in ropes of lights and pearls. Not far from them stood a lovely young woman who nursed a mug of hot chocolate and was quite busy bending down to pick up a handful of snow. Charlotte couldn’t have known that this was the woman who had been so near her beloved queen when her immortal coil had nearly been done away with. Had she known, she would have gone to question the woman about the state of the queen’s mind. The rumors were hard to follow, and the gossip seemed to swerve in every, which direction. Some said she was kidnapped by Roen nearly a year ago, other’s said she was still engaged to Raphael and quite pregnant with his child -- and still others said that none of it was true, and that Gabriela had cruelly deposed her son for the sake of her own vanity. But all that Charlotte wanted to know was if the queen was herself or if some tragedy had befallen her mind as it had before in the past. Did the queen remember who she was? Who her friends were… “Are you nervous, Justus?” asked the golden-eyed girl with those big pupil-less eyes looking up into his face. It had been quite some time since she looked sweet and charming. Her face was bathed in the innocence of hope -- Orisia had always meant that much to her. Alexander had stolen her life once upon a time, but he was dead and gone now. For the first time, in a long time, Charlotte dared to dream what it might be like to go back… To live the life she had always wanted to live.
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