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King

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About King

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    The Virtuoso
  • Birthday 01/11/1990

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  1. King

    Where the Cat and Wolf Dwell

    Were he not so pleased by Shakarri’s agreement, August might have raised issue with her splitting words just moments prior. Instead, he nodded, smiling proudly. “There are more accommodating homes in the city,” he said. “Though, for what we’d require, I suspect we would need to look outside the walls. I’d likely be able to fetch a good price on some land nearby.” A farmstead of some sorts, he imagined. He briefly thought of some of the land plots they’d passed on their way toward the Red City’s high walls, many with well-worked soil and fresh, healthy crops. A farmer he’d never been, though, he couldn’t deny, it might do him some good to learn the trade. Shakarri preferred to live off the land; self-sustaining was her way, and thus, his way. Spare for when she desired a beautiful trinket or so, it seemed. Turning away from the apartment’s vista of its home city, August paced about the room slowly. “Breaking this lease won’t be much. Hells, I might just keep it and not renew it.” It wasn’t like they were charging him, anyway. It might prove to be a valuable asset, having a nest relatively off the books, in case enemies from the Frontier came looking for them. Life hadn’t been all sunshine, hunting, and lovemaking in the wilderness. Shakarri and August had made quite a name for themselves amongst brigands and marauders, slaughtering more than their fair share of the moralless savages as they set to prey on wandering traders and small, defenseless settlements. There was a hefty price on both their heads in the lower circles of civilization, and the East was rife with wouldbe assassins eager for a quick payoff. So far, they’d managed to stay a step ahead of those that would see them brought to ruin. He had no intention of changing that now. Shifting his thoughts to better, brighter futures, August paced around the room. “Maybe we can have a look at some other properties tomorrow?” Azaro and Ylva would be fine for the next few hours, maybe even the entire night. “For now, though, I have something else for you.” He punctuated the claim by crossing over to another door, opening it to reveal the bedroom. Dark, cool, inviting. “Come here.”
  2. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    Rafael wanted to tell his darling cousin that he understood better than anyone, remind her – for she was ever so forgetful - that it was his wealth and the hands and labors of his people that finally brought about the much-needed repairs to the City of Veelos. He wanted to point out that while there were balls and masquerades and coronations in the capital, the people of Veelos and its closest territories were living in squalor, drowning in crime and starvation. After all, hadn’t it been the ineptitude of the former regime – the kingless Black Queen’s reign – that saw her become an enemy of the people, for her head was in the clouds, entertaining the fantasy of her wouldbe romance with the devil, and a sun-blessed arrow nearly buried in her heart? But he thought better of it as she continued, having long-since learned the lesson that it was sometimes better to allow her to narrate her own story, even if it was in desperate need of editing. After all, they both seemed to enjoy the sound of her voice in equal measures. There were, however, certain aggressions that he could not – would not – allow to go unchallenged. If she believed a little rest on her behalf, and his love for the child and their new arrangement was enough to afford her a reckless tongue, she was sorely mistaken. “Don’t insult me, Gabriela,” the Elder breathed in a soft, even voice. “I did not spend a thousand years of my life waiting for this moment to be labeled as your consort. I am your emperor, and the next time you find yourself bold enough to speak otherwise, I will take great pleasure in reminding you.” Lifting his eyes from the child in his arms, Rafael looked his wife over, holding her gaze. There was sharpness there, like the edge of a tempered blade or the point of some frigid icicle. “As for the city, I will ensure that all state resources are invested in the restoration. I’ll use my personal funds for the castle’s repairs.” Perhaps they did live in the lap of luxury, surrounded by exotic trappings and masterfully crafted furniture. This almost shameful extravagance did not cater to the Elder’s more pointed tastes, however, those which were absolutely necessary. “As for my paintings...” Rafael rose from the sofa as he began, the movement still wrought from grace and elegance even as he cradled the child against his chest. “...I’m quite particular about the subjects of my art. You might remember how many of my pieces are of you, dear cousin. I’ve never painted a whore, nor have I entertained one.” While it was no secret that the Elder appreciated the nudity of a beautiful woman, and no small number of his collection consisted of images well-known in their circles, there were none of them vulgar and quite tasteful. “As for my taste in women, well, self-loathing doesn’t become you, Gabriela. What with you being my wife and the center of my affection since you were born.” Oh, how fun their years together would be. “But, you are quite right in the fact that my artistic tastes are not particularly ‘family friendly,’ and the last thing I desire is to have little Philippe stumbling into what should be an adult gallery.” Rafael spared the babe a glance, and even a smile, the image of the wide-eyed child finding his father’s vault of treasures playing through his mind. “I’ll bring only my portraits of the guards, nobles, and common folk, along with my landscapes and the like. Your portraits are already here, of course.” There was a spark of revelation in his eyes then. “And I’d like to do another, of you holding our son.” He stressed the word, underscoring his displeasure with that little bit of her game. It was a moment longer before he approached her, but not to deposit the child in her arms as she might have thought. The devil’s slight against him – masquerading as concern for a child he’d paid no mind to until just seconds before its birth – still burned, an ache that ebbed the longer Philippe remained in his possession. It was instead to cup her face in the crescent of his palm, paddling her cheek and thumbing just beneath her eye. He leaned her head toward him and dipped his chin, pressing thin lips against the center of her brow in a kiss that teetered between loving and patronizing. Then he danced away, circling the desk, inspecting a number of the blueprints she’d seen, and less obviously, the others she hadn’t yet chanced upon. “With that settled, I’d like to circle back around to the city,” he said, stopping at the desk corner opposite to her. “Though you might loathe accepting the responsibility which has been thrust upon you, you are no longer just a queen, Gabriela. You became the Carmine Empress the moment you became my wife, which means ‘your people’ define more than just those that inhabit Orisia. Versilla will no longer serve us as just the heart of Summer Isles. Like you, it too must elevate, become something more than it was. It must become the heart of the entire empire, the seat of power from where we shall govern all beneath our rule.” Atitlan anew, he added privately. “And in this, just as you expect mine in regards to the forbearance of Philippe’s paternal father, I expect your full support.” Rafael studied his disgruntled bride, the cold, pragmatic politician that revealed nothing in expression or gesture. “A unified front,” he proclaimed after a second of reflective silence. “It does not matter if we do not agree with each other on every issue, Gabriela, but to the people, to our people, we must present ourselves as a unified front – a single, cohesive force. Curse my name in the privacy of our halls, our chambers, but in that throne room, in the face of our guests and our people, I expect you to be my wife and do as a wife should. Just as I will always be your husband and do as a husband should.” His expression darkened, his lips pressing together in a thin line as his eyes shadowed with pained memories. “We will not end like the last king and queen.” They could make each other miserable for millennia to come; until violence and insanity were all that remained of them. Until a second Collapse ravaged their great domain and once again their people faced extinction, this time, likely to succumb to it with their limited numbers. Or, for the sake of something greater than themselves, than their own wants and happiness, they could come together in compromise. It was a truce he offered now, a chance for them to continue where their friendship had left off. A chance to let bygones be bygones, no matter how deep-seated their memories were. "Do you agree?"
  3. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    No, there wouldn’t. But what was already understood needed no further explanation, and so the Elder instead chose to bask in the rarity of the moment, his non-blooded son in his left arm, his freshly minted wife in his right, both curled tight against his chest and the slow, steadily beating heart within it. It was every bit the life he’d envisioned for himself all those years ago when first he’d cradled Gabriela in his arms, the great promise that had been so violently ripped from his fingers that night she stole off to greener pastures. And even marred with violence, bondage, and cruelty beyond measure (which had been suffered both ways, regardless of how Gabriela might try to convey the tale), it was as satisfying as he had come to expect it to be. Even as the doubt and concern welled within her, threatening to cast a wicked and terrible shadow over the calm serenity of their moment, Rafael found he could not bring himself to be nearly as perturbed as he might have been just hours ago. Through their link of flesh, blood, and soul, he was privy to a wide range of emotions and information that, to a normal partner, would remain sealed behind her stoicism and polite indifference. She could no more control what he felt and experienced when sifting through the tumultuous channels than a sailor might the sea, or a pilot the weather, as they traveled. It was her right, not privilege, to experience these things, whether they are high or low, positive or negative. It was how she conveyed these feelings of euphoria and despair to her husband, her king, that mattered. And at the beginning of their new life together, just moments old, she had not failed him. And so where he might have once admonished her for these doubts clouding her mind, this sense of dread that left the uppermost levels of their bond frosty and chilled, Rafael merely stroked her naked shoulder as a loving, considerate husband ought to. They contemplated their new life together in pensive silence, and oh, what a future the Elder saw. It was a world built on the foundations of an unbreakable tradition that had endured millennium of strife and adversity, a meticulous blend of the old and the new to usher their people – their empire – into a golden age the likes Valucre had never seen; a land of blood and shadow, of endless beauty and eternal night, ruled by the strongest of Atitlan royalty. The thought sketched a content smile to the Elder’s thin lips, which he pressed to the top of her scalp in an eager kiss. She will learn to love you, he thought as he sank into the comfort of the plush sofa. Kneading the roundness of her shoulder, and sometimes stroking the curve of her throat, Rafael relished the ecstasy of it all. She will learn to be happy. Of this, there was no doubt. Gabriela was, if nothing else, adaptable. “I’ve been poring over these documents since we returned,” he explained, pointing with his chin to several stacks of documents detailing the castle’s interior and immediate exterior. “There are some anomalies that need tending to, and security measures that could be tightened. It will help keep unwanted guests from spoiling our little piece of Eden in the future.” Reflecting on their situation, a deep, derisive chuckle slipped past his lips. “I don’t mean the child’s father,” he clarified, looking down at Gabriela. “Despite my grievances with the creature, he is family now. You know what that means to me.” Oh, how he loathed what she had done – and this, like her anxiety, was abundantly clear in the ebb and flow of their bond. That the blood of the creature he’d seen in Kadia flowed through the child’s veins, that he was connected to him-- the Elder could scarcely think of a worse fate. But he was a sinner, as all knew, and a sinner could hardly argue with their just desserts. Besides, it was not as if the devil had been dealt a better hand. They would lament together. “But while I fully expect him to be a prominent role the child’s life, I’ll not tolerate his vagrancy any longer. He will provide stability, above all, or he will provide nothing at all.” Rafael had done the devil the courtesy of requesting his permission, propagating the illusion that they were, in any way, shape, or form, equals that could be compared. But that was then, which may as well have been a lifetime ago. Now, it was Rafael that held all the cards, no longer a wolf on the hunt, but a proud lion, lounging in comfort of his den as he feasted on a fresh kill. Lost in his unprofessed triumph, Rafael’s hand slipped down her body, savoring every curve with a possessive grope or fondles, and pressed softly against the toned plain of her belly, where his child, a pureblood, a proper heir to their glorious domain, would soon dwell. “We’ll need to renovate,” he said almost off-handedly, sitting up just a bit. The baby fussed with the movement, a soft, gentle sound, but could not bring himself to open his startling green eyes. With a heavy sigh, the baby nuzzled back into his father’s chest and embraced his slumber once again. “I have no desire to spend the rest of my days in separate chambers from my wife and child. I’ll leave you your room for privacy and matters best left between a woman and her handmaidens, just as I will retain my study for affairs best left to a man and those in his employment. But I desire a shared bedchamber, where we will spend the majority of our nights, equipped with a proper nursery for the little one.” Rafael twisted his lips to the side as he thought of other aspects in desperate need of his attention. “I suppose I’ll need a throne, though I have become somewhat fond of standing beside you. Ah, and I’ll need a gallery. I have so many pieces that I’ll need to import from Umbra.” As he rummaged his mind for what would or wouldn’t make the travel, his thumb gently stroked just beneath Gabriela’s navel, just as he’d done all those months when she was pregnant. “Is there anything you would like to see done, my love?” he asked without looking at her, still piecing together the blueprints in his mind’s eye. “Anything at all?
  4. King

    Un-Foretold Journey

    “No,” Paris answered the she-cat. Though she too was another of nature’s beautiful creations, the crown prince was particularly protective of his little Naiad. Where Helaine and Okina would hone their skills and become warrior treasures, the nymph was a trophy he could not bring himself to risk. “I’ll make sure you two have some time together when we return.” It was endearing how fond Helaine had become of the nymph. They’d come a long way from that night he’d found her wandering the wilds, shield and sword clumsily in hand. Paris returned his attention to the she-wolf still in his grasp, both hands kneading and squeezing her hips with the possessiveness both women knew him for. Though she’d relaxed, it hadn’t been enough, and he dipped his chin to press a kiss to her full, pouty lips. Paris pulled her into the embrace, opening her mouth and tasting her for a long, quiet moment before he pulled away. Could she taste the fresh-water nymph’s taste on his tongue, feel her wetness still rolling down his skin? These creatures with their heightened senses, it was enough to make even the most spoiled of royalty envious. He made his way across the room, stopping at the divan. Helaine’s displeasure was almost palpable, and her crown prince could hardly justify himself for his transgression. “I’m sorry, pussycat,” he whispered to her. Soft fingertips danced over her leg, up the across the swell of her pert backside. “I got carried away. You know how I can sometimes be.” Paris smiled sheepishly. “It won’t happen again. The divan is yours.” Not daring to push his luck with the apology and perhaps scratch behind her ear, Paris lifted himself and continued to his closet. “We’ll be going to the outskirts of the kingdom,” he explained from inside his closet. “Surveying some of the smaller villages that were most heavily affected by the Whispernight. We are still sending resources and supplies to the people, but we know that certain leaders can, mm, exaggerate the plight of their people. So, we need eyes on them, to see the true extent of the damage.” There was a pause as Paris busied himself with tugging up his pants. “We’ve received reports of some marauder activity in the region, as well. It will be a good opportunity for you both to get some exercise.”
  5. Primal or not, pain was pain. Ifrit’s tolerance for the sensation was extraordinary, being an entity carved from the bedrock of the first hellish planes. And yet, he’d never developed a taste or indifference to having a blade thrust through him, those able to pierce and slice his impressively durable hideskin. Arun’s sword, godforged as it was, fit the bill perfectly. Even after having absorbed his blow to the chest, Arun managed a devastating counter, and had Ifrit not managed to grab the sword’s length and halt some of the velocity, a deader Infernian might have laid at the Sun God’s feet. The blood that seeped from the opening and dripped to the floor set it ablaze, caustic and volatile. “I win this wager,” Arun boasted. And yet Ifrit still breathed. “I have won this. You can’t see it now, but I have won.” You gods and your silly prophecies, the Infernian growled mentally. Did Arun still believe this was some divine foretelling come true? Ifrit cared little for the chess game of immortals, his own goals far more palpable and achievable. For beings of cosmic power, these gods of the realm possessed such a pitiful sense of understanding or awareness. Not everything was a result of their meticulous planning or plotting against each other. Ifrit existed outside their inner circle, beyond their influence and manipulation. Grimacing, the Infernian ground his knuckles against the god’s breastplate, leaning in even closer, as if to kiss handsome figure before him. Leveling his burning red eyes with the deity’s lighter pair, Ifrit frowned. “I don’t care.” That same fist rocketed up into Arun’s throat with enough force to utterly crush his trachea, tired of hearing the godchild speak and boast about some divine plan the Infernian had no interest in being part of. In a fraction of a second after the first blow, his hand redoubled its efforts, squeezing the god’s likely collapsed throat in a vice-like grip. “I have my own plans, Sun God, that do not involve you or your herd of sheep.” Ifrit pushed the blade out from his side, not without strain, but kept it tight in his grip (in case Arun still had some fight left in him after the crippling strike). It was not just fire that the Infernian possessed dominion over, as some might believe. Just as he might call down the flames of a super-heated main sequence star, so too could he command the heat of his surroundings. With his fingers digging deep into Arun’s throat, now, he also was subject to this manipulation. In the span of a mortal’s heartbeat, Ifrit pulled every trace of heat from the captive deity, reducing him to a husk of ice, posed as he had been in life. But at the center of his arctic being, encased deep within the bitter ice, the heart of a sun beat strong and loud. “There you are,” Ifrit whispered, tugging the sword from Arun’s hand, shattering the limb. “You were far more difficult to acquire than was necessary.” Ifrit punched into the ice statue, wrapping fingers around the godsoul. The sculpture that had once been Arun’daeraa crumbled, gathering in a large, fragmented heap at primal’s feet. Closing his fingers tight around the raw essence, he drew it into himself, channeling its power and binding it to his own. The star dimmed, flickering at first, until it was gone. His body strained mightily against the acquisition, unaccustomed to containing such volatile might. He thrust his head back, teeth bared, body trembling as light and heat radiated from every inch of his figure. The flame of cosmic creation was no trifling affair-- and now it was his. He couldn’t see it, gloved as his hands were, but he felt a hardened shard forming on the back of his left hand – a crystalline jewel signifying the completion of his ascension. Ifrit released a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding in his chest, and the black pitch of his skin vanished along with it. The wound in his side was gone, now little more than a faint, pink scar marking where Arun’daeraa had gotten the best of him. He eyed the sword, still slick with his blood, and decided he would keep it for himself. Tossing it into the air, the blade vanished before it touched the earth, locked away in the infernal armory that was his to command. A surveying glance revealed Cinderella close by, and Ifrit made his way over to her calmly. His lips sank in a disapproving frown as he inspected her, found her uninjured, but just as nude above the waist as he. He tilted his head as he watched her fondle and massage her chest, suspecting she needed to be milked (again), but refused to inquire on the tasteless habit. “We’re finished here,” he said dryly. Kneeling, the Infernian reached into a small flame still burning on the street, a small thing that could have fit inside his palm. He retrieved a proper-sized shirt for the massive minotaur and tossed it to her. “Put that on.” He was walking again, but paused at her side to ruffle her shaggy hair, right around the ear, in that approving manner she’d come to love. “You’re a lady, Cinderella. Behave like it.” With their business settled, the two unlikely comrades made a swift exit from the smoldering ruins, leaving the people of Hyperion scorched and shook in their terrible wake.
  6. King

    Business is Pleasure

    Ishmael was rubbing his large hands across the curve of Bodice’s back as she regurgitated a shocking amount of alcohol, when her transformation occurred. Even as the mindflayer’s ephemeral tentacles began working their way up her throat, spilling out past her lips and dangling from her nostrils, he continued to ease the tremors through her body with those dexterous hands, driving the pressure deep, as soothingly as he could. It wasn’t until she turned around to face him, or where she’d last felt him, that he took a step in retreat-- not out of fear, but a growing curiosity and desire to see the entirety of her poor, pitiful self. Indeed, the archdaemon could scarcely think of a time he’d seen the Headmistress in so sorry a state. And yet, beneath the tides of pity welling inside his chest, there was a hint of resentment. This was the cause of the rift he’d felt between them, this parasite incubating in the depths of her psyche? “Is there nothing else?” Though she could not see it, a frown had creased his full lips. He stepped closer, enough for her – and the tentacles feeling about the air and coiling over her face – to feel the infernal heat of his figure. “Is this your deep, dark secret that you’ve kept hidden from the world, from me?” Had she forgotten the truth of his nature, what it was that lurked beneath the dark flesh of his vessel? Ishmael, for all that he was, stood not so terribly far from the mindflayer struggling for control over its host. He’d been fashioned from the hellish tempest of the Maelstrom itself, an amalgamation of thoughts, emotions, and raw psychic power, cast into existence without a body with which to contain it all. Much like the parasite slathering her drunken thoughts with influence, he too had come to another, the vessel he currently wore. Ishmael, this body’s name had been – and like the body itself, the archdaemon took it for himself. Ishmael revealed his position to her as he pressed through the veil of tentacles and took her jaw in his hand, soft but firm. He thumbed her slippery bottom lip, flicking at the translucent chords that writhed about his arm, curiously ensnaring his limb with a multitude of slippery feelers. They wormed their way beneath the cuff of his sleeve, slithering further up his muscled forearm, absorbing what information they could. Hello there, little one, his thoughts poured into each tentacle. Bodice may have asserted control once again, but the passageway to the mindflayer’s own conscious mind was, for the moment, open. Unfortunately, this one is mine. It has been for quite some time-- and you’re far from being ready to contest me for it. Flexing his mind in emphasis of the claim, a wave of psychic stimulation flooded the tentacles’ many feelers. It wasn’t painful, per say, but a sharp sensation like a slap across the wrist or a quick pop to the mouth. A parental warning, if anything. “My poor, sweet Bodice,” he murmured as he removed his hand from her face. “You are without a doubt one of the most intelligent women that I know, and yet you know so impossibly little.” Ishmael was frowning again, looking his pale lover over. “I never claimed to be a monster, Bodice. Simply because I am not what you mortals would label as ‘normal’ does not make me a monster.” He pressed a finger to the center of her brow, tilting her head back so that her blind eyes were leveled with his dark, bottomless pair. “Simply because you nurture a mind parasite does not make you monstrous, either. You understand?” Stepping away, giving her more room to continue with her show or return to her former beauty, Ishmael posed himself against the wall, leaning against a broad shoulder. “If that thing is the source of your power and cunning, then clearly it has become something of an invaluable tool to you, no?” He eyed the tentacles thoughtfully, disgust and revulsion still yet to lilt his voice or break across his expression. “But, unlike a hammer or knife, this is a living thing, a creature. And like all creatures, it can be broken and tamed. Once you have fully asserted your dominance over it, it will be totally and utterly under your control. I can help you with that.” Bodice, better than anyone, knew he was more than qualified to do so. But at this moment, he spoke in terms far more intimately. Though time had stretched long and thin since he’d come to Ishmael, their battle of wills still haunted him. This mountainous man possessed a will several times larger, and the archdaemon nearly saw himself destroyed in the ensuing conflict. Had it not been for the man’s wife and child, which proved excellent leverage, Bodice may very well have never met her dark-skinned lover. “I hope you weren’t expecting a different reaction,” Ishmael added after a moment, teasingly. “I can still run for the hills, screaming and crying about the ‘monster’ I’ve been taking to bed all these years. Would that be appropriately dramatic?”
  7. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    “I am sorry.” When did you get here? Rafael’s eyes snapped up from the child, settling an easy blue gaze on his cousin. He studied her for a contemplative moment, looking her over as if he were appraising some precious artifact or jewel. Though she had her flaws (as they all did), they were nothing short of invisible in the shadow of her grandeur. Indeed, there was scarcely a moment when his cousin was not ethereal and enchanting. Even now, tormented by nightmares and exhausted in spite having slept nearly ‘till sunrise, she was undeniably beautiful and stirred deep within the Elder a need and longing built by the hands of tradition, fate, and genealogy. “I haven’t been able to sleep,” Gabriela continued. “I didn’t know where else to go.” Rafael adjusted the young child in his arms, though remained seated on the edge of his desk. Time had stretched long and thin since he last saw his cousin so desperate and vulnerable, in such explicit need of his attention. Not since that awful storm in Veelos, he remembered, when the devil’s involvement in the botched attempt on her life came to light. All her life, Gabriela had built a fortress around herself and filled it those she believed trustworthy, whether they be pawns, knights, bishops, queens, or kings. But the doors had opened, the walls were crumbling, and a once invulnerable queen found herself beset on all sides by violence and treachery. For the first time in her life, Rafael was all she had. “Because there is nowhere else to go, my love.” Rafael’s voice lacked the condescending timbre it would have held just hours earlier. Instead, it was replaced with the sympathy one might believe had been pushed to extinction between their two ancient houses; a genuine understanding wrought from the pain and agony rippling through their bond, so palpable it could scarcely be said to belong solely to her. “After all that we’ve been through together, all that I’ve done, surely, you must know that no one will ever love you as I do. That no one will ever seek to protect you as I do.” The Elder let his words hang in the air for a poignant moment, then added: “The both of you.” At the mention of the child, Rafael lowered his gaze back to him, still busily feeding on the wounded finger in his mouth. The Elder pushed himself from his desk, considerably neater than it had been when Gabriela had first entered his study and paced about a room now devoid of mess and clutter. “Besides, I could hardly afford to refuse such an auspicious opportunity.” He lifted the child higher against his chest in emphasis. “I’ve quite enjoyed his company, and it seems as though he’s been able to tolerate mine.” Rafael sighed, a full smile behind his thick, downy beard. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve held a child, Gabriela? A child of vampyric blood?” That the little one was a dhampir detracted nothing from the intimacy of the moment. “Not since you were born.” A swath of memories ebbed to the forefront of his mind, changing his study to the delivering chamber in the heart of the old castle. He was dressed differently then, adorned in the lavish trappings typical of vampyric highborne, much younger than he was today. He’d been there when Gabriela was born, and as her esteemed fiancé, been privileged as one of the first to hold her. Three hundred years ago, he’d cradled Gabriela in this exact same manner, and fed her as he did the little one now. It had been at Isabella’s urging, of course, to give her a strong taste for his life force, to lay the foundation of the unity and loyalty that was to bloom between them. They were the future of their species, you see, and one could not afford to have errant feelings of love, or choice, interfere. But things didn’t work out as they had planned. Now, Rafael stood holding the very result of her chosen love, of her free will, just as she sat across from him shouldering the weight of it all. Several lifetimes of free-will and the questionable decisions that came with it pressed down on Gabriela’s narrow shoulders mightily, shrinking her, making her seem so much smaller than she truly was. It was impossible not to see the young, impressionable princess that once looked up at him wide-eyed and eager to change the world; the child he’d fallen so desperately in love with. But now, she was a woman grown, and like all adults, she’d come to learn the harsh truth all parents keep far away from their children’s dreams: that the world is a cruel and unforgiving place. It wasn’t until the little one’s eyes were closed, and the seal of his lips around the finger slackened, that Rafael made his way over to Gabriela. He took his seat beside her, and pulling his hand from the child’s face, set a heavy palm over both her hands, squeezing them. “Look at me,” he whispered, fearful he might wake the child. “Irene, look at me.” It was not often that her first name left his lips, reserved for his most maddening of furies or desperate of pleas. “I failed you,” he confessed. “I should have been there, and I wasn’t. They took you because I believed someone else might protect you when that duty is mine alone. On the eyes of our ancestors and our children, that will never happen again.” The hand cradling both of hers in its grip relented, and he stroked his way up her cold, pale arm. At her shoulder, Rafael wrapped his strong arm around her and pulled her into him, nuzzling her into his side, setting her face on the unoccupied end of his broad chest, opposite the sleeping babe in his arm. “Here in my arms, you have nothing to fear. I will protect my family,” he whispered. Long fingers weaved into the thickness of her hair, gently raking at her scalp as he combed through the silken tresses. “And those who have wronged us will be punished. They will be brought to justice.” My justice, he added privately. With a half-hearted smile, Rafael lowered his chin, pressing a tender kiss to the center of her handsome brow. He buried his nose in her hair, taking deep of the rich scent of orange blossoms and her more natural aromas. “Here in my arms, no harm will ever come to you or our son, beloved. You have my word.”
  8. King

    Wanderlust

    Ashelewyn frowned as he looked the woman over, quite dissatisfied with her excessive sarcasm. You have your own quirks, he reminded himself. If you want this partnership to work, you’ll find a way to compromise. “There’s no need to be like that,” the ranger said. “Animals tend to be more sensitive to certain things than us. For instance, your reluctance and sarcasm? They don’t understand those as we do, so to him, you might as well be playing around-- hence your result, as opposed to mine.” For a moment, he reflected on her response to his previous wording. “Since you seem rather adverse to my phrasing of our current situation, how about this? You don’t have to look at the pup like a child-- but he is a member of this team. Treat him with the same respect you expect from me, and I promise that this will go much better in the future.” Rising, he meandered over to the toppled over pile of his armor and clothing, ready to dress. “You didn’t do too bad, though. You’ll get the hang of it.” Ashelewyn was careful putting on his clothing, which bared the evidence of long-term use. The cloak was threadbare, the hardened leather notched and split at certain places. It told a grim story of life in the Genesarian wilds, one that was quite near its end. The battle with the Chimera had taken more out of the armor than he’d been expecting. “Yes, that is what I intend to do,” he agreed. “I know an Artificer in Mageside that can fashion rather spectacular armor from it. I won’t need much. You’re free to take as much as you can carry to do with what you wish.” Ashelewyn shrugged, fully dressed, and made his way over to Rhast. Crysta followed close behind, bobbing over his left shoulder. “Return to it as many times as you’d like, for all I care. I’ll handle the pup. Wouldn’t want to have him walking all over you again, would we?” Curling a finger, he beckoned the fae closer. He whispered something in his native tongue, and the mote of light sparkled as she loomed over the chimera pup. Swaying back and forth, a trail of stardust began sprinkling over the beast’s three heads. The effect was nearly immediate, as the dragon, lion, and ram began to loll their heads about, their body staggering. With a tired yawn from all three heads, the chimera slumped, and then settled into a deep sleep. “There we have it,” Ashelewyn chirped. “He’ll be out for the rest of the day.” Gathering the pup up beneath his right arm, the ranger stood and tugged hood up, covering his eyes once again. “Off we go.” Butchering the elder chimera’s carcass proved almost as difficult as slaying it had been. The pelt had all the makings of fine, exotic leather, and so cutting it was a delicate process. The scales on the dragon’s neck and tail were the toughest-- you didn’t want them to fleck of snap apart, but rather, needed a full, single sheet. Even for Ashelewyn, it was a slower-than-average process. But, he managed. As promised, the materials he required were considerably meek when compared to the size of the beast. He’d focused most of his efforts around the creature’s lion aspect, including its thick, luxurious mane. He removed a single tooth from each head and put them into a pouch fastened at his waist, which looked quite heavy with weight. “The good thing about Chimeras,” Ashelewyn grunted as he thrust his arm shoulder-deep into an opening in its chest, “Is that they tend to have two of almost every organ. And since their innards tend to fetch a hefty price on the spell market, that’s good news for us.” With a few more hacks from his hatchet, and firm tug, the ranger freed an enormous mass of muscle and fleshy tubes-- the heart. “Speaking of, you do have a way to preserve all your stuff, right? It gets a bit muggy out here, and we’re a ways from town.” Setting his blade down in the earth, the ranger made off toward his largest satchel. Crysta sped ahead, circling its tightly-cinched opening, glowing as she did so. The fabric glowed, an intricate inscription becoming visible around the single entrance. Opening it, he dumped the heart in, and then closed it. Crysta circled the opening as she had before, sealing it. “I learned the hard way that even witches in the mire won’t buy rotten entrails.” He gave an incredulous look at his companion. “I mean, they’re witches – warts on the nose, blood, guts, the whole nine. But they’re picky?”
  9. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    It was not unlike Gabriela to fail seeing or hearing Rafael, especially when he such proximity. In spite of their species’ extraordinarily heightened senses, the Black Queen was well-known to become both blind and deaf wherever he was concerned. The symptoms had become so frequent that she didn’t even bother trying to mask them anymore. Rafael noticed the way her molten gold eyes, bright with recognition, and more often than not, accusation, became dull and distant, dimly aware of his animation. And her mouth, the sharpest tongue he knew framed by those two full, pouty lips, pressed into a thin line of silence. Much like their game of cat and mouse had become all but routine over the years, so too had the plummeting temperatures of their encounters. “I am tired,” she finally answered him. Sleep? It seemed a ludicrous thing to expect in his company. Of the many things that transpired between the two cousins, sleep was rarely one of them. It had been in the interest of her rest that Rafael kept his distance since their return to Orisia, regardless of how brief it had been thus far. There was far too much that needed tending to, and as Duke-- no, as king, it was his burden to shoulder. More than that, it was an opportunity to set into place measures that should have been exacted long ago without Gabriela’s opinion, which often proved little more than contrarian in nature. No matter the consequences, of course. But before he could fix his mouth to reply, the baby cooed, stretching his tiny limbs, nuzzling deeper into his mother’s breast, but fell silent once again. Gabriela’s approach caught the Elder off guard, as did the discarding manner with which she handed him the child. Visibly shocked, Rafael’s brow furrowed as his lips twisted into a snarl. On the verge of giving in to the instinct rooted deep in his bones, a large, violent hand nearly reached out and struck his panicked cousin. But at that moment, their awful encounter in Last Chance flashed through his mind-- he could still feel the crunch and crack of her jaw against his knuckles as it dislocated, feel the blood splattering across his hand as her lip split. You promised her never again, he chastised himself. And of the many vows and promises he’d made to his darling cousin, this one, Rafael intended to keep. Never again, he said once more, sworn to finality. “Explain yourself!” Rafael demanded, still not having looked at the child. “I can’t sleep. I can’t close my eyes without... I...” Gabriela’s words fell away as she seemed to inspect Rafael, studying him as if it were the first time she’d ever seen him—truly seen him. And what she saw pleased her, if the relief written clear across her gorgeous face was any indication. Was it the way his strong arms visibly softened around the child’s body, tenderly cradling him, and yet nevertheless protective. Was it the way his body turned, ever so slightly, away from her-- still wary of her unexpected behavior, and strangely unsure whether or not he could trust Gabriela to tend for the child as she ought to? Or was it the way the bond between them, the three of them, flare in unique completion now that he’d finally held the babe? “You aren’t making sense,” Rafael proposed. “I am scared they’ll take him,” she confessed. “Or take me.” Rafael wanted to ask her who it was she spoke of. He tried to tell her that those pitiful kidnappers would be dealt with in short order, and that the child’s father would sooner find the end of a blade before making off with him, but Gabriela was walking away. When a mystery is too compelling, one dare not disobey it, let alone let it wander too far. Driven by a newly born, insatiable curiosity, and perpetual concern, the Elder followed Gabriela as she crossed his study and passed into the sleeping chamber fixed at its far end. Like the first, this was large and commodious, minimally furnished, with the most substantial piece being the enormous bed that occupied the majority of the space. Gabriela was already crawling atop it by the time he reached the threshold, and without a word, she sank into the depths of exhaustion. As she’d done to him just moments before, Rafael quietly deliberated his cousin’s being, listening, and watching. When her breathing was rhythmic and heavy, and he was certain she was fast asleep, Rafael cracked the door and left her to either dreams or nightmares. It wasn’t until Rafael was well into his return that he noticed the child had awakened, sitting quietly in his arms, gazing up at him with strange, curious emerald eyes. He was as one might think a child born of a vampyre might be, perfect in every way, despite the inferiority of his father’s genes. The Elder could not banish from his thoughts that which he’d seen of the devil in Kadia, his monstrous, disgusting “true self” that lurked beneath the papery-thin façade he often presented. That such a beautiful child was wrought from such putrid seed was, in no small way, a miracle beyond reckoning. That the child appeared to show no immediate signs of his father’s genes-- neither tail, petulant pout, nor insectoid limbs --was positively divine. It was the first time they’d been allowed the pleasuring of meeting, and as they sat there, man watching infant, infant watching man, Rafael could not help the smile that curved his lips. He resented the babe’s mother for this embarrassing debacle, of course – that would never change. But he could not fault him-- he could never fault him. “You know who I am, don’t you?” the Elder asked softly. “You can feel it, just as I do.” While the child gave no manner of acknowledgment, Rafael was certain. He’d been there from the start, the two firm hands that coddled his mother’s swollen belly when she still carried him. The presence he’d acknowledged with excited kicks and shifts. “I am your uncle by blood, but your father by law.” Rafael frowned at hearing the words. The baby cooed. “Yes, I suppose our family is a bit dysfunctional, isn’t it?” Averting his attention from the child, Rafael canvased his study, spurred by a desire to be seen as more than a lunatic in the child’s eyes (though he very much doubted the infant would retain such early memories). Rafael set to the long, tedious task of collecting the swath of papers scattered about the floor, his desk, and stacked high in places they shouldn’t be. “A lot, isn’t it?” He chuckled self-depreciatingly, glancing to see if the child was still watching him. Those emerald eyes refused to waver. “Well, your lovely mother has a way of bringing out the worst in me. I’ve no doubt you’ll find that out sooner rather than later.” There was no pride in the statement, but rather a hint of shame, embarrassment even, that he could be provoked to such extremes by the woman. “You see this here?” Rafael waved a piece of parchment before the infant, though he did not look at it. “Warding spells for your mother’s chamber. And this here,” he continued, collecting another piece of paper, “These are inhibitors located throughout the castle. I intend to have them altered to a certain degree. They will be more prejudice against certain individuals and their abilities. There are a select few individuals that have a known history of violence and betrayal toward the throne. We can’t have them running amuck in our home, now can we? I can trust you, yes? You’ll not repeat what we’ve discussed here?” The Elder looked at the child with a purposefully suspicious expression, his brow knit tight, his lips pursed, his eyes narrow and accusing. The child blinked. “Mm, yes, I thought so. You’d never betray me, little one.” The remainder of their night was spent tidying the study, with Rafael often breaking into fits of rambling about this or that document and its relevance. They checked on Gabriela several times, still deep in her slumber, and returned to their activities posthaste. It was closer to sunrise when the infant began to fuss, struggling in Rafael’s arms, and twisting his beautiful little face into a heartbreakingly pained expression. “What is it, love?” The child continued to fuss, growing louder, and Rafael raked his brain for answers. It dawned on him not a moment later. “Ah, I know what you need. Haven’t been on your mother’s teat much yet, have you? No worries, little one. Another benefit of our species and our particular diet.” While dhamphirs may have been able to enjoy the delicacy of mortal food as well, blood was suitable sustenance enough. Deciding on the index finger of his right hand, Rafael crunched the nail’s tapered end between his teeth, crudely filing it down to a blunted instrument (and spitting out the debris). “We can’t have you cutting yourself,” he murmured. “The world knows your mother would swear I’d tried to kill you or something equally ridiculous.” Then he pricked the bed of his fingertip against his thumb, drawing a single bead of blood to the skin. The infant continued to fuss, was at the precipice of crying when Rafael pressed his finger to his lips. The child, still upset, muffled his sounds of angst as he latched onto the slow-bleeding digit. He pulled greedily on the finger, demanding a steady supply, which Rafael was happy to oblige. “There you are,” Rafael whispered, taking a seat on the corner of his desk. “There you are, little one.”
  10. King

    Business is Pleasure

    “I never claimed to know love,” Ishmael replied dryly, still sitting at the edge of the bed. With a lazy flick of his hand, the door eased shut completely, and the locks flipped into place. The seal completed, their words were now their own, inaudible to the outside world. “Though, I am quite certain it is not something that can be quantified. It isn’t like mathematics or science, Bodice. There are no rules when it comes to love. And try as you mortals like, it is not something that can be so clearly defined.” Departing his gaze from her, the archdaemon briefly glanced over his shoulder at the bracelet no idle on her mattress. “You say that all I know how to do is please a woman, and that’s fair. Of the many things I am able to experience with this vessel,” he gestured to the exquisite specimen he inhabited, “pleasure is certainly the most enjoyable, especially when I am in the proper company.” At this, he gestured to her. “And yet, I asked you to speak with me. I sit across from you expecting nothing other than your candor.” Ishmael smiled, satisfied. “We have known each other a long time, Bodice. I dare say that you are one of the few people that actually knowing anything about me. But if you were wrong about that-- and clearly, you were --then does it not stand to reason that maybe you are wrong about other things?” His smile became pensive, albeit still inviting. “Unless, in our time apart, the Headmistress of Bronte has become all-knowing. Though, I don’t suspect she has.” Rising from his seat, Ishmael paced about the room, slow, predatory, his dark eyes never once leaving her. “Because if she was, she would know that what her companion said earlier this night was the truth.” He rolled his hand in gesture. “Perhaps it doesn’t conform to her society’s standards of what she considers to be fact, but a limited view is not necessarily a correct one.” There was a certain delicious irony in lecturing the Headmistress of one of the most prestigious arcane schools about ‘opening her mind’. “But the fact remains that I recognize there is only one you, and no matter your faults, you are irreplaceable to me.” Closer to her now, Ishmael reached out and tucked one messy strand of hair behind her tapered ear. “It sounds to me as if your sister saw what I do,” he murmured, studying Bodice’s wounded expression. “You’re drowning in self-loathing. You can’t even see the surface anymore.” Pity was something the archdaemon had in such scarce supply, and yet he was awash with it now. “Talent is a multi-faceted term, Bodice. What does it matter if you cannot conjure a meteor to crush your enemies or turn water into wine? These people? They believe you can,” he said, unable to hide his smirk. “You have obtained a position in society that men and women study their entire lives for. That you fucked or lied your way here does not matter.” Not willing to let her turn away from his praise, or sink further into the quagmire of self-depreciation, Ishmael hooked his large palm under her jaw, posing her cheeks between his fingers. “You are the greatest actress of a generation,” he said. “And that, my dear Bodice, is far from talentless.” Ishmael could have taken her there and ended the discussion, and were he any less concerned, or curious, with the Headmistress’s strange behavior, he might have. But there was more to this, alluded to by her prior statement, and the archdaemon was determined to understand. And so, he released her face, stepped back a foot, and motioned for her to continue with her unveiling. “So, what did you wish to show me?”
  11. Ifrit watched as the Sun God donned his armor, and for a moment longer, it seemed, as the deity contemplated the outcome of this encounter. Was that fear the Infernian smelled wafting out from beneath the marvelous gilded plates, or just a sad resignation? Did he truly lack such confidence in his abilities, in his strength, or was he like most gods of the cosmos -- a bottom feeding crustacean that, as luck would have it, proved more powerful than man. Had he any more sympathy in his old heart, Ifrit might have felt sorry for Arun, but such a space was exceedingly tiny and already at capacity with the presence of the enormous minotaur that accompanied him. A quick death was the only consolation he could offer. While Arun’s tactic might have been to rush headlong toward the inevitable, Ifrit’s was to invite his charge. He’d never been fond of long-range combat, and just barely tolerable of mid-range. He preferred the intimacy of melee, where hidden truths came to light, where the grit and merit of an entity was tested to the fullest. Blow by blow, he would learn who Arun was – as a god, as a man – just as the deity would learn who, or what, it was that sought his life. The god’s armored punch, in his own eyes, may not have carried with it the strength of the Earth Goddess or War God, but there was the might of the sun in each of those curled fingers, and that was a power not even Ifrit dared take directly. Shifting his weight to the side, the Infernian brought his body into a slant outside the punch, and rather than hammer into his solar plexus, the armored fist instead glanced off his opposite flank. His riposte was immediate. Without the need to rear back his arm to unleash the full extent of his might, Ifrit’s fist launched forward like a bat out of hell. Hardened knuckles sought purchase on the center of the god’s breastplate, but not for the sake of toying with him, or making a show of their bought. The moment his flesh collided with the steel, the heat, power, and fury of the flames he’d consumed would surge free in an amalgamated column of force-- a column that would drill through Arun’s torso, wreaking havoc on his inner self as it skewered him.
  12. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    Rafael’s expression soured at the incessant knocking, this latest rapping of a more desperate kind. Not bothering to repeat himself, he swiveled his gaze from the depths of the window to the wooden door, all ire and vexation. Who could that be? It may have come as a surprise that, for the first time, his thoughts did not immediately turn to Gabriela. Busy with the newborn babe on her teat and the harsh shadow of the child’s father, skulking about the palace, a visit to her cousin was likely the last thing on her weary mind. Instead, he thought of Elisha, and the somewhat important task she’d been charged with. Maria briefly entered his thoughts after that, perhaps coming to offer some bargain in exchange for an additional meeting with her mother, which he would deny. Heavy with self-loathing and the resignation of his reality, sinking deep into that black, bottomless pit, the Elder knew it would take the pain of someone else, someone he controlled, to elevate his spirits. But his influence stretched far and wide, and there was no shortage of those that had fallen prey to his absolute authority. Rafael rose from his chair with all the pain, aches, and lethargy of his thousand years, and decided that it didn’t matter who it was standing on the other side of his door, for he would punish them all the same. He would do so severely, for the sport of it, for want of it; because he could, and not even Gabriela, herself, could stop him. Opening the door, Rafael posed himself in the aperture, the curiosity bleeding from his expression as he looked at the softer likeness of himself. Gabriela had always been the fairer of the two, with those scorching, summerset eyes, those full, pouty lips, and the slight roundness to her chin and cheeks that perpetuated her youth even amongst their own kind. And yet, Rafael saw more of himself in her this night. He was in the tight purse of her lips, the tired lines sketching themselves across her brow, the dark circles just beginning to form beneath her eyes, and the sad, defeated slouch of her usually proud shoulders. But even trouble as she was, Gabriela was no more exempt to his unspoken edict than any other in service to his house. Were it not for the small babe she coddled in her arms, he would have dragged her into his chamber and exacted his vengeance upon her. None were more deserving of it than she was. “Gabriela.” Even with the sternness in his tone, it was impossible not to purr her name, the sound more inviting than he’d intended it to be. “You shouldn’t be up.” Glancing beyond her for a moment, he studied the hall, eyes narrowing at the flowers wreathing her doorway. Then he studied what distance of the hallway he could see, half-expecting to see the devil, or some glimpse of him, dancing between the flicker of candlelight and shadow. “You need your rest. My blood will only do so much.” And yet, in spite of his protest, Rafael pushed his doors further apart and allowed her in. The dull thud of the dense wood closing and the soft, mechanical song of the locks engaging sounded behind her, while Rafael remained, unsure, but unwilling to follow. “You must forgive me of the mess,” he said. “It’s been an unusually stressful month for me, what with all that has transpired. I haven’t had much time to tidy up, and strangely, I’ve found it’s easier to find things in a rush when they’re all scattered about.” The mess he spoke of consisted of numerous papers scattered about his desk, the floor, and some even in the two guest chairs near the window. Some were locator spells of varying degrees, none of which had proven useful in his search for her. Others were schematics of the castle, its secret chambers, and its surrounding areas; others were blueprints for additions he intended to implement in the near future: rooms, armories, and spell circles. Then there were the dozens of letters to lords both foreign and domestic. A small collection was entries from the Elder’s private journal, with the names of enemies and dates of critical events underscored or circled. With such a vista, his descent into madness was so very apparent. Feeling suddenly insecure, and hoping to limit his view of what an embarrassment she had made of him, Rafael stepped away from the door. He stalked his way back to his desk where he half-sat, half-collapsed into the comfort of his chair. Did she relish in the torture she inflicted upon him? Looking upon the insanity she bequeathed unto him with her recklessness, with her need for “freedom,” did she feel a sense of accomplishment? Was this how she intended to repay him for those many rough nights he’d taken her, bled her, carved his name into her flesh and paraded her about the public like the glorious, exotic trophy she was? “I was worried.” There was shame in his voice, so thick that not even the lilt of his accent could hide it. “I have lived for over a thousand years, Gabriela, and never once have I been so worried.” Rafael ran a broad hand over his face, as if he could wipe away the embarrassment. “Call me overbearing, a tyrant, a murdering bastard, but do not dismiss the fact that I all I want-- all I have ever done --is to try and protect you. But you never listen to me,” he sighed. “You would sooner die than listen to me, Gabriela, and look at where we are.” He should have been angry. There should have been wrath and hellfire in his voice, the greatest storm the world had seen in his eyes... and yet he was calm, utterly resigned. “Look at what we have become.” “Why are you here, Gabriela? What is it that you want from me?” There was only one thing he could think of, and for some strange reason, it made him ache to think of it. “The annulment?” Rafael tilted his head, studying her, his sad, defeated cousin as she stood cradling the center of three separate universes in her arms. “Even after everything that I’ve done, you think that I won’t keep my word? Is that what this is about-- is that what’s troubling you so?”
  13. King

    Heavy Is the Head

    My love, Something has happened to the Emperor. While I will never claim to know him any more than a guard should know their lord, my position as a guard of the royal wing has allotted me a far higher number of interactions with him than the average knight. Though it is but my second year in service to him, I am comfortable in saying I’ve learned a great deal about his mannerisms. The man that left Orisia to retrieve the Black Queen not a day before is not the man that has returned with her. I know that you lack any notable experiences with the vampyres, but they are masters of deception. Imagine for me a porcelain statue, as seamless, motionless, and perfect as you know them to be. This is the vampyre’s default state of being, which is what makes discourse with them so tedious. It’s impossible to know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, or if what they’re telling you is the truth. As a creature of considerable age and experience, the Emperor’s “false face” was perfect even amongst his own kind. And yet, now it isn’t. I saw the pain in his eyes, my love. Real pain. Which I find to be rather strange, as it has been confirmed the Black Queen gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The Emperor’s affection for the child is no secret, as we all remember how fiercely protective he was over her pregnant cousin, but I stand by what I tell you. Something has broken inside him, darling, and I worry that it might be his heart. Be sure to offer a prayer for him when next you settle the boys to bed. With all my love, Samuel It had been seven hours, twenty minutes, and thirty-three seconds since they returned to Orisia, and Rafael had yet to taste the sweetness of the briefest rest. There was far too much to do, he told himself, and there was only so much he could trust to his beloved cousin-- his wife; a fact that had still not escaped him, even amidst the self-imposed chaos --and even less to her baby’s father, evanescent as he was known to be. Never again, the Elder reminded himself as his thoughts returned the recent past. He’d been unable to scrub the shame of Gabriela’s kidnapping, and the utterly deplorable nature of her child’s birth, from his pride. His wounded ego lay dying inside him, only visible when his mask faltered, cracking further, and the truth flickered out. “Samuel.” The door to Rafael’s chamber, the room directly opposite to Gabriela’s, opened sharply. The knight presented himself with a firm salute, gauntleted fist thrust over his chest, where his heart would be, his head held high. However, the cleanliness of his garb and the superb condition of his steel spoke volumes to how little combat he’d seen. For the briefest moment, Rafael paused, pondering just how qualified such a man could be to protect his precious family if the sword he commanded had not once been raised in their defense. He’d likely been on duty when Gabriela was first taken, and the thought-- “Yes, my lord?” The Elder dismissed the topic with a shake of the head, his irritation-- at the castle’s poor state of affairs; at the odd dynamic of his family; at himself --manifesting in the way his lineless brow furrowed, and how he pinched the bridge of his nose. But it was also in the set of his jaw, the deep frown that had sunk his lips, and the disorderly shuffle of his usually seamless attire. You can’t keep blaming everyone else, he chastised himself in the privacy of his thoughts. You know what happens when you trust her safety to others, and yet to appease her, you do so anyway. You have no one to blame but yourself, fool. “Indeed.” “My Lord?” Samuel asked again. The knight stood at the side, watching curiously. It would not be wise to allow the man witness anything further of his mental and emotional descent. If there was one thing humans did better than any other, it was gossip. Rafael had debased himself enough for their pitiful, ungrateful species. “I want the patrols of the castle grounds doubled-- no, tripled, day and night,” the Elder ordered, pouring over the map on his desk. It was a detailed schematic of the castle grounds, with the areas considered exploitable circled in bright red ink. “And I want sentinels placed here, here, and here,” he said, pointing. “The throne’s utterly lax approach to security and the incompetence of those that serve her will no longer be tolerated. Should the queen ever face danger in her home again, I will see to it that every single one of you will be held accountable. Do I make myself clear?” The knight nodded, stiff with fear. “And the flowers, my lord?” Rafael had almost forgotten about those hideous, silver flowers with bright, bloody centers. They’d sprouted up here and there, though the lion’s share seemed embedded ‘round Gabriela’s chamber, and he could have sworn he’d seen Lucia with one tucked behind her ear, running through the castle halls. He’d need to question his little drop of moonlight when next he saw her. “Leave it to me,” he sighed. “As you wish.” “Now, get out.” The knight saluted once again before exiting the room, sweeping the door closed behind him. Alone with his cacophony of thoughts once again, Rafael slumped into the pillowed embrace of his chair, the only comfort he’d known in quite some time. “How did I get here?” he asked, almost hopeful, that the shadows might answer him back. But he had pushed aside the Dark Father one too many times on this path he now walked, and in the depths of his peril, he now stood forsaken by his creator. Tenebre had eyes for only one of his ilk, and she was not here to bring about his attention. “Is this the great destiny that fate has weaved for me? Husband to a wife that will never love him; father to the child of a creature I despise more than anything in this world.” Letting his head loll to the side, Rafael cast his sapphire gaze out the window, deep into the dark of the night. Why didn’t she call out my name? There was nothing her captors could have done to keep them apart had she but mentioned his name, called out to him as she had before. What could have been worth the risk of losing everything they had worked so hard for over these last nine months? Was it truly so awful to be loved and cherished by him, to be held above all others, all else? Perhaps he was the beast she claimed him to be, the monster they both knew that lurked just beneath the blase demeanor that he presented the world-- but did that justify her fierce spurning of his devotion and affection? The knocking on his door roused his attention, but his eyes, blue as the Ild Pass, remained fixated on the sea of darkness and the bright, starry islands floating on its inky tides. “Come in.”
  14. King

    Cradle Of Fate: The Swan Song

    There was a time, not so long ago (mere moments, really), that the devil’s rejection might have inspired Rafael’s to awaken yet again. That the red of his hellish fury and the Sitraic Faith would have returned to his eyes, dangerous and all-consuming as a wildfire, paving the way for he and the Outsider to come to blows. But alas, it was not to be, least of all at this moment, and so his eyes remained their deep shade of blue, as much his birthright as gold was Gabriela’s. He pondered, ever so briefly, if it was the fiend’s usual arrogance or a genuine concern for the child he knew nothing of that encouraged him to speak in such a way, but found himself unable to decide. It would surely be a point of reflection when the weapons and spells wrought of Roen’s truest blood were brought to fruition, and the string of his existence, like all other subjects of the Empire, was stretched taut between the scissors that Rafael held. That thought alone was enough to make the Elder smile humbly, a gesture that appeared every bit unnatural when exercised by a creature that defined perfection. No, it was a gesture that said, Enjoy this moment while I allow you to have it, for I am generous and considerate. Indeed, his little game of chess with the Patian king had at long last come to an end, and Rafael, though without the infant in his arms, stood victorious. But there was no need to speak on that which was already understood, or revel in the pain and misery of his forced-relative. While Roen tended to his child, Rafael tended to his wife. The Elder’s smile was indeed replaced with a genuine sense of concern as Gabriela forced her body beyond its limit, the combination of her visceral fear and the intensity of her maternal instincts a palpable thing to him, welding itself to the frame of his mind. “Easy,” the Elder breathed, working the bed of her hair, gently raking her scalp, while his stronger hand continued to knead the cold, sweaty flesh between her breasts. “You’ll do nothing for your son as a corpse, Gabriela.” But still, she resisted, too lost in a frenzy. “Look at me-- Gabriela, look at me.” The hand at the back of her head assisted with the motion, forcing her to face him, even as her eyes strained to keep the devil and her child in her peripheral. “You know that I would move heaven and earth for you and that boy,” Rafael murmured in their native tongue. “Do you truly believe I would allow him to be taken from you? Please, if for no one other than the child, you must relax.” “I can’t hear you,” she said. “I can’t see you. It’s so, so cold.” With the child safe in his father’s arms, Rafael, knowing Gabriela’s limits more intimately than any other being alive or undead, was comfortable she would be able to cope with what was to come. “I do,” he replied calmly to the devil, quite unbothered by his sudden discomfort or exhaustion of the moment. Lifting the hand from her chest, he bit into his wrist, long, feral fangs piercing the flesh with all the wet crunch of biting into a crisp fruit skin. “You’ve barely any blood left inside you,” he noted to his delirious cousin, her body rapidly failing her. “You need to feed.” To further punctuate the fact he was not requesting, Rafael pressed his bleeding wrist to her lips, willing to the flow to a heavy surge as soon as she latched on. His attention swiveled back to the devil then. “Lobo will provide us,” he said. At the mention of dire wolf’s name, the Elder’s shadow stretched long and wide, exaggerating across the floor as it struggled to accommodate the summoning. The wolf emerged naught a moment later, its red eyes glowing, enormous fangs hidden behind shadowy jowls. “You need only place a hand on his side. Make sure you do not let go until we arrive. It will only be a moment.” If he did, the devil and child would be lost in a place between realms, where the great creators of existence discarded their more abominable creation; the failures they tucked away far from prying eyes, no different than the Outsider did to his more volatile emotions behind that admirable, gentlemanly mask. “We can leave now.” With little else to offer the devil regarding conversation, Rafael’s gaze turned back to Gabriela, still nursing at his wrist. “That’s a good girl,” he purred, still stroking his fingers through the damp layers of her dark hair, holding her firmly against the fount of lifeblood. She might have bled a mortal dry, so vast was the need Rafael felt resonating in their bond. But the sustenance of his veins was without end, and unshackled from the burden of worry and consideration for her prey, Gabriela could, for the first time, drink to her body and heart’s content. “Come,” he whispered, prying his wrist from her blood-laded mouth, ignoring her whimper of protest. Frowning, he left the ribbon the devil had deposited on her shoulder as if she were common coatrack. Why he expected better, well, not even he could say. Rafael moved to slide his arms beneath her, but Gabriela, emboldened by the strength now coursing through her veins, was already on her feet. She crossed over to the devil and secured her child once again, tucking the young babe in her arms as safely as his father had. Already well in the wolf’s shadow, as was his cousin, Rafael looked to ensure the Outsider had followed his simple instruction-- or hadn't. It was but a second later that Gabriela returned to his side, the wolf posed between them and the devil. Lobo howled, and they were gone.
  15. King

    Without Further Adieu

    Welcome back to the site. I look forward to seeing your writing again.
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