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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

    OOC: Grey Gateway

    So sorry for the delay. I'm totally fine with that.
  2. King

    Wanderlust

    “It’s close by,” Ashe replied nonchalantly, returning to the Chimera to gather more of its organs. “I’m surprised you haven’t done it before. Sure, it isn’t the nicest place, and it smells like a sick dragon’s arse, but witches are surprisingly well-off. I imagine it’s all those poor fools that come paying for poisons or love potions, or spells.” In a similarly uncouth manner as the first, the ranger tore another of the slain beast’s heart free. “I could use the extra money, and I’m sure you could to.” Talented though she was, there were still things Eleri didn’t know. This is a good opportunity to build some trust, Ashelewyn thought to himself as he looked his partner over. Show her that you’re interested in this partnership, in seeing her succeed. She’ll work harder, he reasoned. And she’ll be more favorable with you. Partnerships are about more than just working together. It’s about improving each other, being the best versions of yourselves. Looking up from the bleeding heart in his hand to the woman across from him, the ranger nodded. “I’ll store your portions for you this time,” he said without grief or judgment in his voice. “Just make sure to use some of the coin to get proper containers. I’ll show you what you need.” The elf’s thoughts turned to her distaste for the mire. “Also, you don’t have to come along with me to the mire. I’ll head out after we’ve made our way back to town. I’ll handle the exchange and make sure I fetch us a fair price.” Ashelewyn’s bright blue eyes narrowed knowingly. “But, you’ll have to take care of Rhaast while I’m away.” It was as fair a deal as she would ever find, and Ashelewyn was certain she’d take it. # Their return to town was met with revelry and praise, and a crowd of at least twenty folks eager to see the ranger’s trophy. From the ram, he took a horn; from the lion, a massive paw; and from the dragon, an eye, which had crystallized the moment it left the creature’s skull. They hooted and cheered, and talks of a celebration – all expenses paid for – circulated quickly. It wasn’t until some started snooping around another large satchel dangling from his saddle that Ashelewyn’s demeanor soured. “What’s in this one?” a man asked. “I bet it’s the brains,” another answered. “Yes,” the ranger replied. “Chimera brain soup is good for the mind. At any rate, as you’ll be having none of it, off with you.” Confused, but not willing to risk testing the patience of a man that had just killed a chimera, the two scampered off. The void of their presence was filled by Duncan, the town’s governor. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders, and muscled from a life spent on the farm. A real man of the people, Ashelewyn remembered some describing him, with more knowledge than he cared to put out. “You’ve done good work,” Duncan said gruffly. “Again.” “I’m not a fan of leaving messes,” Ashelewyn replied. “Plus, I had excellent help,” he continued, thumbing over his shoulder at Eleri. “So, it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.” Duncan turned his attention to Eleri and nodded. “Thank you kindly, ma’am.” “Is there any chance I might be able to use your stable for the night?” Ashelewyn gestured at the satchels strapped to his horse. “I’ve got some other valuables here and, while I don’t mean any offense, I’m not of the mind to leave them in public view.” Duncan nodded. “Nothing wrong with a man looking after what’s his. You’re more than welcome to.” Ashelewyn nodded. “I’ll see you later tonight, then?” “At the celebration.” The ranger set his horse into a light trot toward the farmer’s abode, waiting until both he and his partner were out of earshot. “I’ll stay with Rhaast tonight,” he explained. “You should go and enjoy the celebration. Make sure to drink enough for the both of us, yeah?”
  3. King

    [Event] Darkness and Havoc - Illyria Arrives

    Matias had never been so scared. Three weeks in the guard had not prepared him – any of them – for this, and now, as he tried to keep a steady grip on his sword, and keep his shield arm level, all his training failed him. All around him, friends and comrades fell to beasts and demons, fiends that pierced armor, shattered weapons, revelled in gore and dined on flesh. Everywhere he looked, corpses littered the ground. There was so much blood. Below him, it gathered in a thick pool that splashed with every step. It ran on the walls, splattered over debris, and dripped from teeth, claws, shields, and swords alike. The flames were red, roaring as they grew higher, consuming the city in heat and light. Even the darkness of the sky was possessed with a reddish tint, reflecting the blood and fires from below. Everywhere he looked, he saw red. I’m going to die here, the newly minted guard thought as he watched a swordbrother fall. The demon ripped into his stomach with its bare hand, talons longer making short work of the steel plating. It pulled the man’s guts free with a demanding tug, let them spill across the cobblestone before it dropped to its knees and feasted on the gruesome bounty. To his left, another demon hoisted a swordsister high above its head. She wailed in agony as it crushed her ankles and wrists, and then with a twist, tore her in half at the waist. It drank and ate from both her halves. I’m going to die here. They hadn’t prepared them for these horrors that stalked the streets of Antigua this night. However, the training was sound, and training hardly discerned between the natural and the supernatural. With his life in danger and his nerves in a panic, Matias slipped into the space between thought and instinct, where his body trusted the lessons his instructors had passed on to him. Lifting his shield, he blocked a beast’s paw as it swiped at him. When the momentum was gone from the strike, he pushed it off and brought his blade down. Black blood erupted from the wound if torrents, spraying him in the face, soaking his hair to his brow. It reeked of sewage and tasted of tar. Matias kicked the creature down to its knees, and then cleaved its head from its shoulders. Inspired by the young guard’s single kill, what remained of his unit rallied to his flanks, fending off demons, killing the smaller, weaker ones, determined to survive the night. Their cries of defiance keened over the city ruins, and together, they pressed on. But their numbers were few, and their odds great. They fell, one by one until their brief crusade consisted of only three. Five weary souls, adrift amongst a sea of bloodshed. Matias was no Captain, no leader. He could give them no words of encouragement or hope. There was no song of valor to sing, no tale of triumph in the face of certain defeat. They all knew – deep in their bones – that they would never live to see another sunrise. The sense of doom was punctuated by the arrival of yet another terror to impede their path. This one stood as a man might, on two muscled legs, but towered over even the tallest of warriors. Bone and dark, ruddy muscle defined its physique, while a forest of bones – each segment as long as a spear – protruded out from its back. In place of its face was a fanged skull, with two bottomless pits for eyes. Matias blinked, and the creature was gone. A rush of wind, a spray of blood, and the swordbrother beside him fell lifelessly to the ground. Matias followed the wind’s current – behind them – and saw the creature standing there, head tilted to the side. Pinched between two of its fingers was a curl of hair, and from it dangling the man’s head. Mouth agape, blood running from his nose and falling from the gaping neck wound in fleshy chunks. The swordbrother to Matias’ right turned to flee, but the creature moved again. It took the man’s arms first. Then his legs. And when he was nothing more than a writhing stump of steel and meat, the demon crushed his skull beneath its foot. Blood and gore oozed between its taloned toes in pulpy rivers. Matias’ stomach turned over noisily. This is it, he told himself. This is where— The pain of the demon’s hands clamping around his body, digging their talons through his armor and into his body broke the thought. Without effort, the demon hoisted Matias into the air. Though he kicked and bellowed, the fiend paid him no mind, raising him higher, squeezing harder, until it felt as though he might be crushed inside his armor. And then he kept pressing, folding the metal in on itself, crunching the guard’s arms and legs into his torso, and smashing his head down. None heard Matias scream. When the demon was finished, nothing remained of the guard spare for a bleeding sphere of twisted metal and compacted flesh. And then he was off to find more entertaining prey, leaving what remained of his latest kills for the lesser to feed on.
  4. King

    Cradle to the Grave

    Marcellus sighed, releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Roen’s reaction had been entirely unexpected, and for a moment, the knight was wary of its sincerity. At any moment, the fiend would turn and wave a palm, eradicating the old vampyre’s mind with a burst of psionic energy. Or, perhaps he would simply ram a hand through his chest, holding his heart from a gaping wound in his back? His imagination was, admittedly, becoming a bit childish in the ways he believed the devil might unleash his ire upon him, and yet-- the entire topic, in a matter of words, was dismissed. Gabriela deposited the young prince into his birth father’s arms and the devil seemed lost to the world, held hostage by his son’s enchanting gaze and innocence. These men – the foreign emperor included – were nothing like the nightmares he’d heard, the tyrants that took advantage of his beloved Queen. Were they changing? Had young Philippe managed what many thought was impossible simply by existing? Had the knight not witnessed the strange occurrences himself, he too would have been skeptical of the claim. Yet, here they stood, without as much as a harsh word spoken. If Philippe was the cause of such change, of this peace and stability, then even as a babe of no more than a few months, he was more powerful than any man, devil, god, or ruler Marcellus had ever known. “My Queen,” the knight replied with a firm nod, and then excused himself from prince’s nursery. As the knight made his way through the generously sized sub-residence of the main estate’s western side, dispensing orders to handmaidens, servants, and the small entourage of troops under his command, curiosity once again raked its tingling claws over his mind. While he’d never been one to gamble on hearsay or wet nurse tales, the heated rivalry between the devil and foreign emperor for his Queen’s affection was no secret, no rumor, not invention of a wild and romantic imagination. Blood had been spilled for less than what had transpired just moments before, no small amount of it the Queen’s, and yet-- all those involved had escaped the affair unscathed. For the briefest moment, he dared to ponder if a beast was truly capable of changing its nature, of altering the very fabric of its existence. But as the answer danced beyond his reach, Marcellus decided such topics were better left to the scholars of the time. His duty – the Queen and Prince’s protection – was more than enough to keep him busy.
  5. King

    Cradle to the Grave

    “The Carmine Emperor was here,” Marcellus said, stepping toward the queen and her consort. The old knight’s voice was firm, unwavering with the conviction that held it still. No, he did not know the Black Queen on a personal level where he might adequately discern the look she’d given him, but he knew the devil – knew all his kind, all too well. They were little more than predators and conmen, the lot of them. They preyed on the Queen’s kindness and vulnerability, hiding behind their masks of love, concern, and understanding. Were it that any of them genuinely cared for her, they would not silence her with self-proclaimed wisdom, shackled her with threats of violence, or harass her with unwelcome advances. It was his sacred duty to protect her from these sorts, as best he could. “The prince was sick. Her Majesty sent for you as soon as she saw how dire the situation had become. She said that we should wait for you, that you might have an answer to what ailed him-- but he was not but breaths from death.” Marcellus did not dip his head in shame, but rather, held his chin high. Not in defiance of the fiend's presence, but accountability for his actions. “I summoned the Carmine Emperor here by way of prayer, hoping he might be able to assist with the situation.” Even if Rafael Bartolome was not a true god, he was something undeniably special in the world of Valucre. Having seen it, felt it, the knight could no longer deny the elder vampyre’s power. That the prince breathed easy, and color had returned to his cheeks, was testament enough to mysterious ways the foreign emperor now possessed. What that truth meant for the future of their people, he dared not imagine. Marcellus spared the Black Queen any manner of expression that might betray his claims, and instead kept his attention fixated on the child’s father. Perhaps he was underestimating Roen’s wit, but without proof to the contrary, surely the devil would spare her any unjust violence. “He saved your son, my Lord,” Marcellus said matter of factly, for there was no admiration toward the foreign emperor. “And the moment his task was complete, Her Majesty made sure that he did not linger or cause mischief for any of us,” the knight added, gesturing to the room – devoid of his presence – as proof of his claim. That did not absolve him of the crime, though, Marcellus knew. There were tales of the devil’s ire to be found in the cold corridors of the palace; whispers of handmaidens that had heard him take a hand to Gabriela when she displeased him, and amongst men, whispers of the battles he’d fought when laying claim to Patia. Marcellus resolved to meet his uncertain future with honor. “I can only ask that you will forgive my transgressions, my Lord.” In this, there was no lie. On the scale of Philippe’s life, the weight of egos and blood feuds meant little. Whether they liked it or not, Rafael and Roen were bound by blood now. One day, they would realize this – or so the knight hoped. “Know that I only acted with the Prince’s well-being in mind.”
  6. King

    It is, indeed.

  7. King

    Cradle to the Grave

    “Then make him agree,” Rafael replied, soft but firm. The intensity in his eyes vanished the instant his gaze flicked down to the child between him, fussing as he pulled at the elder vampyre’s full, downy beard. He couldn’t help but smile at the infant’s enthusiasm and demand for attention, another of his more Bartolome traits that overwhelmed both the devil’s humanity and his cousin’s selflessness. Carefully loosening the baby's grip and then prying his hand away, Rafael kissed the back of Philippe’s perfect little fingers in fatherly worship. “I’ve missed you too, darling child,” he whispered, keeping the intimacy of the reunion a private affair between the three of them. “You must forgive me. I’m an old man now, little Philippe. It’s becoming difficult to remember things. But,” he said with teasing enthusiasm, “I promise that I will do better. I will never again leave your side for so long a time.” Setting the child’s little arm back across his chest, Rafael once again leveled his gaze with his Gabriela’s tired, somber beauty. She wasn’t looking at him, perhaps out of self-pity, or maybe shame, but neither suited his need or want, and there was precious little time remaining. Again he took her by the face, hooking a long finger beneath the curve of her chin and tilting her head back. When at last their eyes met, her tear-filled golden pair to his bluish-red, the Elder’s expression steeled. Not with disgust or condemnation, but a certainty – support. “You’ve more power than you have ever cared to acknowledge, Gabriela,” the elder vampyre murmured, searching her expression for any hint of acceptance at the fact. “This isn’t a matter of preference or some contest of wills and ego. You understand that, right?” Instinctively, he thumbed the corner of her mouth as he’d done a thousand times before, pulling and pushing at her full, pouting lips for the sake of seeing them move to his touch. Gabriela had a particularly pleasing mouth, whether it was smiling or frowning, cursing or praising – from the shape of it to the way it moved, Rafael had always enjoyed watching. “If I do not treat Philippe, if I do not ensure he remains strong, he will die.” The thought of it was enough to sink the tone of his voice with despair, and Rafael’s eyes wavered, just for a moment, as he stole a glance at the lively child squirming between them. “This isn’t about you, or me, or your partner. It is about our son, Gabriela – your son. You need to return to Orisia as soon as you can, and you need to make him understand. It doesn’t matter if he agrees or not. You know what you must do.” You also know that you have options, if he’ll not listen, Rafael left unsaid, preferring for his cousin to come to her own conclusions. It was no longer enough for him to guide her every step of the way. Those days had come to an end. She might have thought it cruel to leave her adrift in the vast ocean of this life, without so much as a single star in the blackness of the sky to orientate and guide herself. But if Gabriela just dared to swim, it mattered not in what direction, she would quickly discover that all paths led to the Elder’s loving shores. Whether by fate or his design, it did not matter. They’d been bound together from the moment her mother became pregnant with her, from the moment Tenebre had begun crafting her, ever so carefully, into the flawless diamond she was. There was no question whether or not she belonged to Rafael, for even she could no longer deny it. How long had she run, finding love and comfort in the arms in another-- and yet in her most dire moments, it was Rafael she called to, prayed to, sacrificed every bit of herself to please and satisfy. It was Rafael that made her complete, that now defined and protected her, it was that realization that now sapped the Black Queen of all her enthusiasm and resistance. No, she wasn’t broken, pitiful, or worthless. Not in the Elder’s eyes, at least. Gabriela was changing, shedding the false skin she’d been wearing for these last three hundred years. The mask of cold indifference, the self-righteousness, the fruitless pursuit of freedom and autonomy. For the first time in her life, she was becoming who she was meant to be. And confusing though it may have been for the child-queen, some part of her – that piece she’d buried deep down when she was spirited away from Atitlan’s shores; that piece she hid behind dozens of memories and amnesia, though it always tempted her curiosity, urged her to look – knew it was right. It was for this reason that he leaned closer to her, letting her feel the fullness of his beard as he kissed her again. Then the side of her lips, then her cheek, all the way to the lobe of her ear. Rafael whispered into her ear: “I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail, nonetheless. Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.” There was no triumph in his voice, as there might have been some weeks ago. Instead, there was an evenness that surprised even him. “That is what we are, my love. Destiny. You’re just finally realizing it, and you don’t know how to cope. That’s all this is.” Rafael coiled a massive arm around his cousin and hugged her tight, breathing in the sweet scent of orange blossoms as he buried his nose in the bed of her hair. “I will show you how.” The elder vampyre was slow to release her from his grasp, and slower still to rise. The reluctance to abandon them again was writ clear upon his face, and yet, his words had rung true. Terrenus was a cruel place for beings like him. The longer he stayed under these unlawful terms – having arrived in such an ethereal manner – the more dangerous it became. At the height of his ascent, Rafael closed his eyes and breathed. Then he was gone. Marcellus blinked as the pressure dissipated, winded enough to remain silent, but free enough to move. Is this what you’ve been enduring, my queen? The knight thought as he looked at Gabriela, still sitting on her knees, cradling Prince Philippe in her arms. It hadn’t even been a show of power, he realized. It was just the nature of the Carmine Emperor’s existence to oppress those around them, to enslave their senses to whatever he had become. “My Queen,” Marcellus said hoarsely, struggling to find his voice. The knight cleared his throat and stepped closer. “What would you have me do?”
  8. King

    Darkness and Havoc [Apocalyptic Event in Ceyana]

    I'm an evil tyrant, so I'm always going to say no. >:T
  9. King

    An Unusual Encounter

    “Yes, stories made by humans,” Paris reiterated. “There are entire schools dedicated to the ethereal and supernatural, Ana. These establishments are filled with hundreds of scholars who spend their entire life documenting and studying the other species of the world. Water faes are only one example.” There was a notable excitement to his baritone, clearly having a deep interest in the subject. “Nymphs, minotaurs, griffins, merfolk, vampires, werewolves – the list goes on.” At her appreciation of the compliment, Paris gave a dismissive wave. “There’s no need for thanks. You are a beautiful creature, and beauty should be recognized and admired. There’s been mention that water fae can change and exaggerate their appearance, similar to how Shinguri does.” At the mention, the Naiad extended a hand before them, elongating her fingers until each was the length of a full spear. They slithered back to down to form a second later. “Others say that your kind has different forms.” Looking away, eyes glazed, Paris cast his gaze into the night sky. “Oh, how beautiful you must look.” “Where is your home? Is it in a large city? Do you live with anyone else?” Blinking away his daydreams, Paris gave the fae a knowing glance. “I live in the City of Lyria, in the castle.” Doubting his title or status meant anything to the fae, he left them absent. What would she care if he was the crown prince, a knight, or a servant? “There are plenty of others that call the castle home, yes, but it’s late. You’ll not run into many of them, if that’s what you’re worried about. There are private entrances to and from.” Then he smiled and brought his palm down to the hilt of his blade. “Besides, I gave you my word, didn’t I? No one will cause you any trouble, Ana. You will be a welcomed guest.” Paris allowed his words to sink in deep before broaching his next question. “Forgive me for noting, but you seem... mm, inexperienced? Is this your first venture into the realm of humans?”
  10. King

    Cradle to the Grave

    “You’re wrong,” Rafael said plainly. It was the normalcy one might expect from an estranged cousin, so far from the heat, desire, and passion that once defined his accented voice when speaking to Gabriela. Yet, none in the room could deny the certainty of his tone, which seemed a strange thing given the Black Queen’s conviction. There was no smirk, no cut of the eyes, no dip of the chin to suggest otherwise – what didn’t she know? Turning away from her again, Rafael continued to nurture his darling Philippe. Cooing, singing, and whispering sweet promises of a future abundant with love, treasure, and adventure, encapsulated by his just rule. With the color returned to his cheeks, and the light to his eyes, the child once again filled the elder vampyre’s heart with joy and sorrow. It hadn’t been long, but it felt as though an eternity had passed since he last held the precious infant. “I never left Philippe,” he confessed. “I left you, Gabriela.” Looking at her from over his shoulder, his placid expression was proof enough her wicked barbs held no sway over his mood. “You know full well that another elder’s blood would be a poor substitute for what I give Philippe. It is my blood he needs, and that’s why I never stopped giving it to him.” Still a man that favored the occasional theatrics, Rafael allowed the implication to hang in the air. “You’ve become a heavy sleeper, as of late, Gabriela. There was a time when you would have felt my presence, every night I was there.” An endless cycle of drama, the stress of motherhood, a lack of a proper diet, and the heavy weight of the crown-- it was a depriving concoction that could strip the strength from even the most powerful of their kind. “Even so, I’m not perfect,” he continued, shame lilting his voice. “Given your partner’s vested interest in Terrenus, I should have accounted for the fact you wouldn’t remain in Orisia for too long. Since your arrival here, this is the longest Philippe has gone without receiving attention from me.” Rafael’s lips pursed, his brow furrowed – you should have stayed home, he thought. Why are you out parading about foreign lands when your island is in desperate need of your attention? Was her devil truly that slow-witted to believe a few letters and brief appearances before the public would be enough to bring lasting peace? Marcellus stepped forward as Gabriela fell to her hands and knees, utterly exhausted, but grew still as Rafael turned to face them. Rafael paced toward his bowing cousin, silently admiring the curve of her back, the set of her shoulders, the hanging of her beautiful head. She was a woman on edge, begging and pleading for her Lord’s guidance and blessing. For all the time she’d professed Rafael’s need of her, it was quite the opposite at this moment. She was nothing without him-- not a woman, not a mother, and least of a ruler; a pale imitation of her true potential, of what she was born to be. Gabriela may have loved Roen with all her heart, in spite of his many shortcomings – but she needed Rafael, and that was the difference between them. There was a time, not so very long ago, when Rafael would have relished in her display, made a show of it to all those in the room, and punished her grievously for having made him wait so long for her submission. Instead, when he was close enough, Rafael sank to his knees before her, Philippe in his arms, awaiting her recognition. “I didn’t tell you because there was already too much occupying your mind,” the elder vampyre said. “I had no desire to have you to feel indebted to me, Gabriela, or bound to me for the sake of Philippe’s life. As if I would take away his treatment if you did not please me. I didn’t want you to think I was weaponizing our son’s sickness against you.” They both knew how low she thought of him, of his ways; how it was not beyond the realm of possibility that she would twist his concern and sincere efforts into something ugly and wicked. Easing his hand from the child’s face, sure he’d fed enough, Rafael caught the curve of Gabriela’s cheek in his palm. He lifted her head back, met her gaze with his. “We have nothing to do with Philippe’s wellbeing and health. What I do now is for him, because I love him, Gabriela. No matter what becomes of you and me, nothing will ever change how I feel toward this child. Even if your partner forbids it, I will continue to treat Philippe, until he is strong enough to stand on his own. He is my son, and I would sooner die before I allow some fool’s ego to cause him harm.” Then he was looking past her, leveling his stern gaze on the tall doors at the head of the room. A deep frown settled across his thin lips, though he did not attempt to leave. Leaning forward, Rafael deposited the child into his mother’s arms, and then, with his hand still gently fitted to the side of her face, guided Gabriela into a kiss. It was as brief as it was intimate, conveying all the things he could not bring himself to say, whether out of fear or ego. When their lips parted, he kissed Philippe, first his eyelids and then the center of his brow. “Do not linger here longer than necessary, Gabriela,” Rafael warned against her full, sweet lips. “Even I have my limits. This land, it is unkind to me.” So close to each other, Gabriela would see the egregious toll his arrival had taken on him. The faint lines of exhaustion beneath his eyes, the thin layer of sweat wetting his brow, and the dullness in his usually fierce, striking eyes. “You and Philippe must return to Orisia as soon as you can.”
  11. Thank you for the Like.

    I'mma add you on Discord. 👀

    1. roboblu

      roboblu

      I've made a habit of reading your posts when they pop up on the main page. 👀

    2. King

      King

      Then my work is already half finished. 👀

  12. King

    Cradle to the Grave

    The Black Queen was not alone in her resentment of the gesture, and as Marcellus watched his monarch slowly sink to her knees, disgust and bile rising in his throat, he regretted the words immediately. As the last true heir of the DuGrace—as the disgraced Desmond had lost the privilege and honor of such association—and the queen, the one, true queen of their people, Gabriela did not belong on her knees. While he could not know of the slow cancer of acceptance that ate away at her conviction (the result of the Carmine Emperor’s careful conditioning), the knight only hoped that the firmness of his posture and the harsh cut of his jaw would be enough to let her know he did not – and would never – approve of such degradation. Like his queen, Marcellus refused to accept the Bartolome heir’s self-proclaimed godhood. Though stories of his miracles and power poured into Orisia, the knight saw it as little more than propaganda by brainwashed zealots. True enough, the emperor was an accomplished politician, and Marcellus, himself, knew of Rafael’s skill with a blade. Their forces had clashed only once on the high plains of Atitlan, all those years ago, but the Bartolome forces – Rafael, in particular – defeated the loyalists soundly. It was a grim memory, but he never forgot that he only lived now because he’d been spared for his bravery. But even that gave no reason to accept some false— “Rafael, please... save our son.” Marcellus’ eyes widened in shock as a man in black appeared, not a foot from the Black Queen’s left. What had been an empty room was now filled with a strange, frightening presence. The air became dense throughout the chamber, as if it had taken on an impossible weight on his tongue. Deep breaths turned shallow, and fitted armor now felt crushing. It feels like I’m drowning—and yet, as he looked around, neither the Black Queen nor the handmaidens (all of whom had long-since experienced the emperor’s company) seemed perturbed by the oppressive aura. As Marcellus studied the back of the man in black, he realized this was not the same vampyre he’d met so long ago. Now, he was something... more. For the first time in his immortal life, Gabriela did not matter. Not her ethereal beauty, which had transfixed him for centuries; not her pose, which was, as they both knew, proper and just; and, least of all, her silver tongue, which could spin venomous barbs into the sweetest autumnal honey in the span of a panicked heartbeat. No, at that moment, she was the furthest thing from any manner of importance to the Elder standing alongside her. It was strange to view her in such an objective manner, free, for the briefest of moments, of the obsession, love, and lust that had consumed his existence. Still, his hand touched her shoulder, squeezing tight – perhaps a gesture of habit, or maybe a silent thanks (though her prayer had not been for his benefit). Their relationship was a complicated affair, try as she might deny it, where there existed no black and white, but rather an infinite collection of grays. Rafael moved forward wordlessly, approaching the nude maiden with a measured pace. Gentle was his touch as he eased the infant out from the warmth of her arms and into safer, warmer embrace. “Shh,” he whispered to Philippe, pressing his lips to the child’s brow in a feathery kiss. He held the sickly babe close to his chest, ruby eyes never leaving his face. “Everything is going to be all right now. I know what you need.” I promised that I would never let anything happen to you, little one, the Elder mused as he held the child’s tired, fading gaze. No matter what becomes of this world, I will keep that promise. Pricking the bed of his fingertip with a tapered nail, Rafael pressed his bleeding index finger onto the child’s lips. Philippe’s wheezing muffled as he wrapped his tiny mouth around the digit and drank, slowly, weakly. Rafael paced around the room unhurriedly as his potent blood rooted in the child’s system, quickly bringing order to the chaos warring within. It was not instantaneous, of course, but swift enough that Gabriela, and Marcellus, would be able to note the visible changes with their heightened senses. Not feeding, not healing—the Elder was breathing life back into the babe. And the dim, fragile candle flame that had so nearly extinguished became a roaring flame. When Philippe managed to open his eyes, once again taking in the world around him, it was Rafael’s face he saw first – as was proper. This would never have happened were you born of my blood, Rafael thought venomously, though his placid demeanor betrayed him not. While the child had been lucky enough to escape his father’s curse (as no trace of the devil corruption appeared to be within him), the human within him was no favor. A poor consolation prize, if anything. You never would have had to feel this pain, come so close to losing your life before it’s even begun. But he could not fault his beloved nephew, his little fighter, for his parents’ abominable romance or their grossly irresponsible choices. “I see the Bartolome in you, little Philippe,” Rafael whispered with a satisfied smile. “A seed, now, but oh, how I look forward to seeing it blossom.” It hadn’t been Roen’s blood or Gabriela’s that let him cling to life for those few precious moments longer. It hadn’t been his genealogy as a hybrid. No, it was the strength his mother had been so determined to refuse, the power of her other half; the other great House of their homeland. It was the blood that flowed through the Elder’s hallowed veins that had given Philippe this chance. Turning to face his cousin finally, Rafael kept his figure secured in the child’s mouth, letting him eat his finger. The entire ordeal appeared to have left Philippe famished. For a moment, the Elder thought of making a quip about Roen’s embarrassing ineptitude at being a father to the child, or Gabriela’s, and how, once again, she relied on her cousin – a man she swore that she despised, that she hated – to save her precious little boy. But he thought better of it as he studied her expression, the concern still present, mixed only with a hint of relief. “Let him feed for a moment longer, Gabriela,” Rafael suggested. “Then you can hold him.”
  13. King

    This promise

    The concept – and likewise value – of time had been the first thing Cornelius lost in the wilds of the Imperial South. Seconds, minutes, hours, days-- none of it mattered in the bitter cold, the violent tempests, or the sweltering heat. There were no diplomatic meetings awaiting his royal attention, no late night affairs with barons’ daughters, no battle against demons and darkness gathering at their empire’s doorstep, threatening to devour all that they had built. None of that mattered now. Not since he murdered his mother and fled his father’s wrath. And in a way, Cornelius was thankful for that. Stripped of honorifics and all the duties and privileges that came with them, the heir apparent of Leoa’s lionsblood was able to hone the most base and instinctual pieces of himself. While his brothers and sisters slept on lavish beds, wrapped in sheets of silk, blankets of swan feathers, and pillows softer than the clouds themselves, he’d learned to enjoy the comfort of the hard earth. Where they wore the latest in Kadian fashion, he was garbed in tatters and rags, the symbol of the empire – and their family crest – just barely visible on the weather fabric. Golden mane, once cropped short and neat, had grown in the months since his disappearance. The longest lengths swept at his shoulders, matted with sweat, grime, and grease. A beard of similar time, equally neglected, added a number of years to the prince’s formerly young, childish looking features. The scars that riddled his muscled chest, arms, and back, were as much trophies as the bones that dangled around his neck, wrists, and waist – the grim remains of horrors he’d fell while in his isolation. Still, in spite of his tribal – no, barbaric – appearance, Cornelius had not lost his wits. There was still a man within the quiet fortress of muscle and spirit. He was at war with the soulseeker within him, beating it back from the surface, keeping its beacon of light and radiance far from his father’s vigilant eyes. The Kadian Emperor had many agents in his employ, a legion of desperate souls eager to prove themselves to the God of Mankind. A cruel, blind, unforgiving god-- Cornelius silenced the thought as he brought his titanic blade heaving down. The metal cleaved through the horror with ease, greedily drinking the creature’s black-red blood and vomiting the rest across muddy earth. Around them, a horde of other monstrosities lay butchered in the grass, their blood and entrails strewn about. With the emperor’s continued absence from the south, the Sea of Corruption had taken the offensive. Its polluted tendrils woven deep into the earth, rooting out formerly garrisoned posts and well-defended territories. More and more, these psychic horrors plagued the lands. With the final beast laid low, Cornelius slammed his sword into the ground, leaning into the breeze. Closing his eyes, he invited her into the silence. You can’t keep going like this, Cory, Leoa’s voice flooded his mind. You’re going to get yourself killed. Is that what you want? “It doesn’t matter what I want,” he replied dryly. “Either I die here, fighting, or I die by Father’s hand. If I am to die, I would rather it be on my feet, like a warrior, than broken like a dog.” You underestimate your father’s sense of reason— “He has no reason when it comes to you,” he snapped. “Do you think he cares to know that you made me do it? All I am to him is the man that killed his wife! All I am to my brothers and sisters is the sibling that killed our mother!” We are stronger than that, my love. You know that. “No.” You need to go home. “Leave me!” Gripping the hilt of his blade tight, Cornelius ripped the sword from the earth and swung it at the trees. The pressure from the blow cut through wood and stone, ripped dirt and eviscerated corpses from the floor and sent them careening deeper into the woods in a typhoon of wind, debris, and gore. Heaving with frustration, Cornelius shook his head and turned away, continuing his search for the next battle. “I have no home,” he said to himself. “Not anymore.”
  14. King

    An Unusual Encounter

    Paris raised a curious dark eyebrow, smirking. “You have my word,” he said, making a grand gesture with his left hand, “on my life, that neither I nor any person or creature in my command will cause you any harm, whatsoever.” Depraved and lecherous though the crown prince was, as a man of royal blood, raised in the noblest of Lorean houses, he was a man of his word. Interesting as Ana’s appearance was, Paris found himself far more intrigued by her lack of experience. If he knew any better, he’d say their little rendezvous was her first ever experience with a human. It was in the greenness of her mannerisms, the naivety of her request, and her seemingly feral suspicion in regards to him. But, like most bipedals, the fae possessed more reason than most. “Shinguri,” Paris called softly, glancing over at the rushing river. “We’re leaving now, darling. Come along.” The water surged and gurgled as the Naiad rose from its depths, first an amorphous blob of liquid that washed over the riverbank. But as it sloshed over the grass, it grew taller, then took on shape, slowly solidifying into the small, naked nymph they’d seen before. Apparently having forgotten the earlier transgression, Shinguri giggled and bubbled with laughter as she pranced over to her master, dancing around him, wet hair lashing about like a whip, sending water every which way. Paris chuckled as he palmed the back of her head, pulling her to his side. “Come, darling. Shall we show our guest our home?” Shinguri nodded. “Yes, Lord Master.” Then, his attention turned to the water fae. “I hope you’re not opposed to a considerable walk, friend. The river is quite a distance from the city. Nearly an hour trek.” From the tone of his voice, however, Paris took very little issue with the fact. Both he and Shinguri were already on the path, their pace steady. “Anahita, was it?” Paris cut her a charming smile. “In regard to your earlier question, no, I’ve not met one before. But I’ve a voracious reader and lover of the fine arts,” he confessed. “I’ve read stories of your kind and seen more than my fair share of drawings and paintings. You’re far more lovely in person, however. I’m rather pleased that you stumbled across Shinguri and I.” Shinguri looked up at the fae, eyes wide, smile wider. “The Lord Master adores beauty.”
  15. King

    Changing the Game

    “I will send word to her when the time is right,” Athyon replied, eyes still on their scaled, winged son. The whelping remained poised at his feet, jaws snapping at the fish being delivered to it. “For now, there are more pressing matters to attend to. Your arrival has provided me with a much-needed distraction, one that I intend to take full advantage of. The worries of the empire, of the world – they will still be here on the ‘morrow.” Being the Hand of the Emperor, the Lord Imperator of the Dominion, left so little room to be a man. Finished satisfying his son’s hunger for the moment, Athyon turned to marvel at his bride-to-be. Even amongst the most beautiful women of the world and goddesses of the heavens, Kirena was an extraordinary specimen. From the roll of her shoulders, the curve of her spine, the valley between her full breasts, the swell of her plump backside, and the length of her shapely legs, she was perfect in every sense of the word. Even the admiration he held for the Imperial Princess had waned the moment he saw Kirena, plummeting into non-existence the moment he touched her for the first time. Athyon picked his way over the charred carcasses and smoldering ruins of the pyre, every step slow and methodical. “You’re a rare breed of woman, Kirena,” he murmured, bottomless black eyes drinking in her nudity. When she parted her full lips to speak, Athyon raised a single digit to his lips in a silencing gesture. It was not time for her to speak, only listen. “I’ve seen all manner of beauty as the Lord Imperator of this land – a beauty so intense, so captivating, it would steal a man’s wit if he were to stare upon it too long. But it all left me with something to be desired.” Returned to Kirena’s side, Athyon drew his fingers across her hip as he circled her, predator and prey. “You’re the first woman that has ever left me wholly satisfied,” he whispered the words directly into her ear. Behind her, he took a greedy handful of her golden locks and brought them to his nose, inhaling deep. Then he dragged his nose down behind her ear, kissed there, and moved further to the curve of her shoulder. Here, he bit her, soft at first, then hard enough to agitate the skin and pain the toned muscle beneath. “The only woman I can see myself spending the rest of my life with.” Still ignorant that the former courtesan was already with child, Athyon’s mind soared high with the possibilities of their future together. Kirena would be a proper wife to him, unburdened by wild daydreams of freedom, autonomy, and rights. He’d breed her until the halls of their estate were bursting with laughter and giggles and the patter of naked feet, running about playing tag or hide and seek. She would guide their children in the arts and teach them the ways of court, what it meant to be of the noble house of Yor. An estate, Athyon thought. I’ll need to find us a proper home, then, with land and hands to tend to it. There was no urgency in the way he herded her over to the wall, or how he turned her away from him and pulled her back flush against his chest. Athyon was gentle with how he locked her left wrist in his grasp and tucked it tight behind her back, pressed firm just above the cleft of her rear. Gentler still when he gathered a handful of her silken locks and pressed her forward, smushing her cheek against the soot-stained stone, presenting her body to his excitement as a prize ripe for the taking. Athyon took her with slow, powerful drives. “Marry me, Kirena,” he said raggedly, laboring on, crushing her into the stone. “Take your place by my side, and in my bed.” This was their beautiful, dark beginning. “Tell me your name.”
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