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Narcissa last won the day on September 12 2015

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  1. The process of the quick swivel of Vivienne's head seemed a complicated ordeal, the moving of her large braid as commanded by the turn of her skull should've been both heavy and cumbersome, but with her attention zeroed on the evidence of psionic shifting on her shelves, it moved along with the elf as if it were no burden at all. Perhaps he might've thought her angry, or perhaps even annoyed with his unintentional meddling amongst her belongings, though as her crown whipped back to him with the full weight of her braid, it was quite the opposite. "Fascinating," she whispered, her tone lingered as too many inquiries lingered apparent on her lips. Eyes wide and with an expression that could almost be called beaming, Vivienne was quick to put down the affects of the tea, nearly shoving Alex's cup over to his side of the table with an almost dangerous slosh, before imposing on the young man's space. "Have you always been able to do that?" she asked, an unsuspecting strength in the hand that pulled on his shoulder and put his boxy backside in the seat beneath him. With rather probing impropriety, little could stop Vivienne from her inspections and rambling questions. She pried his eye open by her index finger pushing up on his brow, rather manhandling the lord's face as she peered deep into his eye, and turned him by the chin this way and that. "Tell me, did your powers manifest on their own, or were they brought about through transmundane instruction? Sit still, you're constricting your pupil; I can't see. Have you only exhibited powers in telekinesis, or have you found inclination in other branches of magic? Open; say aaah. Are you able to utilize them consistently, or are they unconscious behavior? Do you see an increase in your abilities after sexual intercourse, or a decrease?" By that time, Vivienne had manifested a few tools from within reaching distance in her lab, one being a metal depressor which currently held down Alex's pink tongue, preventing him from answering any of her rapid-fire questions. "How bizarre, that one twin should be so magically inclined while the other is not. Further study of you and your brother could lead to milestone achievements to the understanding of magical power and affinity by bloodline. I shall need to conduct further tests," she rambled to herself, and plucked one of the silver hairs from his head and deposited it into a vial. All of her puttering about had almost made her forget Alexandross' own reasons for visiting her laboratory, in favor of her own machinations. By that time, he was beginning to fidget, and Vivienne relented-- only because she'd satisfied her self-curated curiosity... for the moment. Even as the acclaimed alchemist and intellectual that Andross had attested her to be, her invigoration on the subject seemed to be reminiscently close to that of a mad scientist. Dropping her tools into a beaker of sterilizing liquid, Vivienne appeared to still be buzzing with energy as she took a seat across from the young Lord Kholin, and poured herself a cup of tea from the copper kettle. It was a light green, the soot of herbs and bits of loose leaf floating to the bottom, as she calmed with a soothing sip. It was a bitter draught, sat heavy and warm in the chest, before resonating in the stomach. She listened to the lord, who was understandably flustered by her earlier conduct... and her rather risque attire, to which she found his eyes regularly slipping to. As he rose in order to pace, her eyes followed, and pulled her handkerchief from within her coat, and slid it across the table to him to retrieve. If he was determined to pace with his teacup, it didn't take future sight to foresee an inevitable spill. When he mentioned the Oathblade, she poised a finger to her lip. "I am in no position to tell anyone's secrets," she answered, remarkably serious in a tone in deep contrast to that of her run-wild inquisition. "And while we are in enough secrecy here," she said, a due thought cast to the knowledge of Andross eavesdropping from behind her, "I will only assure you once of my loyalty to the Kholins and members therein. A lesson you're probably familiar with already, my lord, is that even the walls have ears." Again, she placed a finger to her plush lips, accompanied by a jesting shush and a batting wink. Vivienne had cared about Andross' safety just as dearly as he had, if not moreso. She hoped the truth was enough to ease his nerves, if only on that subject. Vivienne sat back in her chair when he looked at her imploringly, seemingly stricken by the nature of his confession. In truth, it was the awkward likeness of the face which pleaded with her, yet the stark difference of expressions never imagined on that of her lover. It was like looking in a twisted mirror, as Alex bore his concerns, looking youthful and torn and otherwise tormented by matters of the heart-- Andross always wore his emotions with courage, certainty, and propriety, grizzled beneath the years of military rule and tempered relationships. Her lover was hard with muscle, thick with hair, and mature of stature, but his brother seemed unsure, youthly for his clean face and stylish hair, and perceptively average build. No two siblings, even twins, were the same, though in the back of Viv's mind, she'd humored herself with the thought that he might've reflected a younger Andross, beyond the years that she had started traveling with the Ul'Vandiir for the annual summits. A young Andross -- she'd nearly chuckled aloud -- somehow she'd envisioned him with a beard and stoic nature at ten, even. [tbc later]
  2. Don't forget the tuba, that one time.
  3. The slip of green fabric draped across the marble steps, fluttering upward with each ascending step like a reversed waterfall, narrated in sway by shapely hips that swept side to side like a pendulum. Layers of sheer fabric painted the curvature of Rou Ji, tapered at the waist with gold fletching, and pinholed at the chest by a simple necklace. Her hair was bound up, bangs positioned aside and her hair curled into a loose, full bun, kept it from obscuring her shoulders and back. Her skin, dark and tan by nature, was unglamoured, not even to cover the few scars that decorated her skin like gentle etchings, with not even a fraction of the cruelty that saw them placed there. The long scar running down the length of her spine was inadvertently covered by a suspended golden snake, embossed in scales, the only shielding from the night air and the many eyes behind masks. Rou's own eyes, she'd not taken to place a mask upon her face, but rather painted. With an artist's hand, she wore the guise of scales, the reptilian green highlighting the abrupt gold of her eyes, framed by dark liner. She was not Eve in the garden, but the covetous, alluring serpent. Were she a younger women, perhaps, she might've lured a naive thing among the mass to their damnation, but alas, she did not come alone. "You know, Rafael's going to have a field day when he finds out who you came with," Rou warned Zenahriel, dressed in dashing blue and silver, his own mask doing a much better job of concealing his identity. She gifted him a tilted smile, as they'd reached the paramount of the steps together, before Rou placed a gentle hand on his arm to halt, and fixed his tie. Her eyes were fixated on the knot, adjusting with the pull of her fingers. "Hope you've come to peace with it; you might be the only amusement he has, for awhile," she said, flashing her grin up at him. With a shared look, it seemed they both were acutely aware of the severity of Rafael's attentions, but perhaps Rou had been the better judge of his ire. She couldn't say she was glad to be rid of him, but she'd certainly been less sore. Slithering her arm around his like a proper serpent, Rou guided them into the foyer, brightly lit, the occasional beam of light bouncing off the gold of her attire and reflecting on the walls like glass. The music echoed even through the halls, though she hadn't quickened her pace, despite the others who brisked past the pair of An'She... well, one and a former. "Before you ask, know that I've made up my mind," she said, looking sternly ahead. Rou did not waver in her conviction, neither somber nor angry, but resolute. "I can't return to Umbra or the East; I have to give the Empire it's best chance to succeed." Complications were grave and delicate, as they'd unfolded strangely in the previous months, though the thought of having to face it, in truth, made Rou's stomach turn unpleasantly. Tilting her head --never in any short supply of coy flirtation-- Rou smirked at Zenahriel, her simper the mask that disguised her guilt in the way that her scaling paint did not. "Bold move, inviting a traitor to the ball. I'd thought you to be more cautious than that. We must be terribly good friends for you to stake on this..." she paused, looking drably around the grand room as they entered, vaguely aware of the political interest that had been dropped from her docket, "...dance? Coronation? It seems it can't decide. Though, I can't say I'm stranger to the crowd that will have a party for any trifling reason." Her purposeful humor made light of the event, but given that she'd relinquished her title, she hadn't seemed afraid of the consequences of disrespect. That alone made her feel a bit more like the Buxom Bandit, pleased with herself that she hadn't lost her snappy wit. "Though, I could really do some damage on an unchaperoned bar, for once. Join me?" she asked, her voice nearly purring with invitation. @The Hummingbird
  4. Back in Umbra... "No no no no! Please, you don't understand!" At the foot of the courtyard in Lana'thel Palace, the pristine marbled pathway was peppered with dirt and splinters, thick logs of freshly-cut trees packed in a pile of kindling and straw. In its center stood a long beam, tall and erect, the podium for which the man of the hour would find himself upon... or rather bound upon. His wrists were fastened tightly together, rope thick and unforgiving as he struggled to pull them out from behind his back, tiptoeing on top of the jagged bark that lay beneath his feet, ankles too encircled by binds. His breath was quick, swallowing air into his stomach with fevered pace, struggling against the rigid beam that did not give way. There were great bags beneath his eyes, having not slept in days, his skin hanging off of his bones, having been denied to feed while he spent his time contemplating his ruin. Now, it would gather to culmination. Gathered around were the members of the palace, stewards, maids, cooks, guards; all were scattered across the steps and the courtyard, none daring too close, and not a soul daring sympathy. The priests lined along the steps of Lana'thel, yet all were silent as the grave, last rites denied. At the top of the scale were Beatriz and Darius Calera, looking on with stern, disapproving faces, the pair responsible for apprehending the young man. And from behind them, Rou parted the crowd like the sea, the single human in a crowd of vampyres, bearing the crest of Umbra on the enamel pin of her long burgundy coat. Rounding the stake, the young man dwarfed Rou, standing from the meager level of the ground while he balanced precariously on high. She craned her neck solemnly upward at him, her face stoic, apathetic, and dark. "Please, let me go! I'll do anything! Just please, not this!" he begged, choking on sobs, the red tears of vampire blood running down his pearlescent-pale face and nose in place of tears. Rou's eyebrows lifted, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. While often the languid cat prone to stretch and sway, Rou was unusually rigid, a hand authoritatively placed on her hip. With a swing of her hand, she turned her palm over in front of her chest, summoning a glowing flame to her hand, loftily floating and flickering above her skin. The shadows stretched across her face, deepening the pinch in her brow, and the thin, disapproving line of her lips. "Balthasar..." Rou asserted above his sobbing, gathering the slow, shivering swivel of his attention, "Why are you here?" The vampyre held his breath, the chamberboy to the Emperor horrified as he looked at Rou's unforgiving face, before searching for sympathy in the looker's on. Most were unsure, terrified, angry, but not a single one had felt benignant. Lost for justification, he hung his head, and cried. He saw no choice but to comply, in what appeared to be his final moments. "I told someone what the benevolent Lord Sauriel had planned to do..." "You betrayed him," Rou snapped, correcting him with a harsh tone. Her eyes narrowed, buzzing like hornets as she zeroed her gaze on him, unadulterated, and unrelenting. "No!" Balthasar shouted back in his defense, desperate and panicked. "I would never betray the Emperor! He made me do it! I had to! The Empress was going to leave!" "Oh, I know, I know," Rou said motherly, stepping close to the pyre, and Balthasar instinctively tried to lean away. Twisting her posture, Rou held her flame away from the kindling, and stepped up the uneven assembly of wood, until she could reach the accused. "I can see it on your face," she said, snatching him by the chin between her fingers. With tenderness in her voice, Rou cooed sympathies, "We do stupid things for those we love, don't we? But you're supposed to love your liege, aren't you, Balthasar?" Her eyes were cast low, mystified by the winged lines of her eyeliner, her skin darker than all of the radiant vampyres who were glued to the sight. "You sold out your liege so that your lover would return your affection, wouldn't you? Who is he?" When Balthasar looked at her, she was cold, anticipating. His teeth were gritted and trembling, eyes wide and beady with fear. Even while he stared Rou in the eye, he could not tell the truth, for it would damn him. "No sobs now? No pleas for mercy?" Rou asked, toying with him, and gave his chin a jerk. Scaling her fingers with a quick flutter, she made him intimately aware of the flame that grew in her hands, as she slowly brought it towards his chest. "Who is he, Balthasar? Are you at fault, or is he? Still not going to relinquish his name? How touching, that you would die for him-- would he do the same for you?" Balthasar was as a rat in Rou's grip, she the cat that was holding him by the tail, playing with her food. So often it had been the other way around, and now it was the human who tortured the vampyre. "Come now, perhaps we can meet some sort of arrangement. Give up your lover's name, perhaps we'll spare you this fate, and send you to Slaver's Enclave, instead-- become household servant to a lord, maybe, spared by Lord Sauriel's mercy. Unless you want to be burned at the stake..." she said, her fingers so close to his chest that he could feel the uncomfortable heat, shying away as red beaded droplets dewed on his skin. "AN'SHE COLE!" Balthasar shouted, trying to flatten himself against the pike, away from Rou's stifling heat. Panting, he felt drained of every ounce of his energy, defeated and broken. "It was An'She Cole..." he breathed, and hung his head. The gallery gasped, the whispers already flying between them in terrible hisses, but Balthasar was too deaf to hear them. "That's a good boy," Rou purred, grinning as she gave his cheeks a final squeeze before sliding down the kindling pile, fireball still lofty in her hand. Turning on heel, she stared back at the pyre, for no one had made a move to fetch him. "I told you what you wanted! Now you'll send me to the Enclave, instead?" he asked, eager with what little energy he had left to summon to keep his head upright. "Oh, but Balthasar..." Rou teased, her voice low and heavy. Rou inhaled in her pause, and the fireball nearly doubled to twice it's size, sealing his fate with damning words. "Someone has to greet our dear Augustus Cole. Lovers should always be together... and he'll be coming to you very soon." The night's silence was drowned out in screams and the crackle of fire, catching onto the kindling in an overwhelming gulp, as if to swallow Balthasar whole. His struggling shook at the pike, writhing painfully with the burning of his skin, which bubbled and burst in seconds, before charring into an ashen husk, seeping into his blood, sinew, and bone. The lookers-on had watched, eyes unable to look away, some with hands plied to their mouths in shock, as the screams quickly died and the fire yet raged. Glowing bright orange, red, and yellow, all that had remained of the traitor was ash. Behind Rou, Beatriz and Darius Calera had been summoned, quietly bowing their heads in reverence to the An'She whom held their allegiance. Rou hadn't taken her eyes away from the burning pyre, but mouthed orders over her shoulder. "Ready my horse, Darius, I have business to attend to in the Enclave, presently. Beatriz, notify the Seven of my hastened arrival; I leave tonight." Darius had known better than to question her motives, but curiosity and rapport had seen him well enough to ask his mistress. "And Cole?" he murmured, inquisitively. His sister, Beatriz, looked curiously at Rou, wondering the same. "Let him squirm a little," Rou ordered definitively, and patted some of the airborne ash off of her coat. "There'll be time enough to deal with him when I return." Shaking the snowy flakes of ash from her hair, the An'She addressed them both. "Talk to the wards of Lana'thel, word of what happened does not leave this courtyard, or they'll join Balthasar. Let Cole think that Balthasar died with him unnamed. Understood?" The two nodded affirmatively, and set off to complete her orders, with due haste. In the dispersing silence, Rou sighed, before reaching into her pocket to withdraw a parchment. It had been folded over many times, too many creases to count, even crumpled up at one point as Rou had tried to rid herself of guilt. However, it had returned to her possession, as she read it over again, the words already well-etched into her brain, and filled her with ominous dread, allegiances so tried that it had her stomach in knots. She was resolved, and it was time to see if Balthasar and Cole were the only traitors among the Empire.
  5. Warmth. Warmth, it seared on her cheek as he lifted his palm to it, catching the bandit in a rare, frozen moment of speechlessness. It was a tenderness that had been long gone from her skin, as her former bruises and welts remembered, and as the indented scars of fangs tattooed on her flesh. Wide-eyed and lips parted, Rou caught the nostalgic softness regained in his eyes; Rafael remembered the last time he'd extended that affection, too. His touch slipped away as fast as it had come, and Rou remained still, watching him tread on without her. It would have been instinct to miss his desire, to feel longing for all she had lost, for the selfish bandit had always considered herself first and foremost. However, as she watched his back, isolated in his stride, she could only feel sorry for him. The only thing separating Rafael from eternal loneliness was that child growing in Gabriela's belly, and he was allowing it to walk out the door and instill faith that it would come back, to love and revere him as a father. Responsibility kept the two of them torn from sharing the passions of each other, as they'd conceded that the strength of his rule had been more important than their happiness. It was going to be a long eternity, and she would depart it much more quickly than he would. Resigning herself to reality, Rou followed to catch up to his side. As he rounded his desk, Rou remained formally on the opposite side. As expected, Rou jerked at his refusal, primed to argue with quick and terse rebuttal. Of course, Rafael knew all too well that she would protest, his hands already risen with calming gestures. "What?!" she spluttered, her arms thrust wide and imploring, unable to catch onto the line of Rafael's slipping reason. Words caught in her throat, the An'She choked, but after a moment let an indignant snort speak her arguments, folding her arms crossly over her chest. 'You trust her much more than I do...' she thought, unable to extend her personal benefit of the doubt. However, her liege had given an order, and she would not disobey. "Fine," she hissed gruffly, sure that Rafael would forgive her impropriety, under the circumstances. Whether it was out of sympathy or obedience, Rou had ceased her arguing. “All the same, it would seem Balthasar is due a reward for his ambition. See to his execution, personally. Ensure all the servants of my house attend so that there can be no misunderstanding of what awaits any that would seek to curry favor at their emperor’s expense. I’ll leave Cole in your capable hands.” "Oh," Rou moaned, with a bass darkness in her voice that made it rumble and purr with diabolical intention, "I have great plans for the both of them." The cogs had already been turning in the great machine within Rou's pretty little head for some time now, and now she'd been given the lever to drop the blade of the guillotine. Cole would meet his end at Rou's hands, and in doing so, the ambitious An'She would bring about a revolution of new power among the Dominion. She could not be the Empress she once aspired to, no, but that hadn't meant that Rou's machinations ever slept. Rafael would see his will done, and be proud, proud enough for her to inspire change that would improve her home, and her. "Consider it done," she avowed confidently, her chest out and chin high, that familiar smirk draped across her blood-red lips. Sweeping her fingertips across the mahogany countertop of the desk within his study, Rou guided herself around it, and took to one knee by his side. Holding out a hand for him to place in hers, she bowed her head with knightly fealty. "I return to Umbra to do your will," she said, lifting the back of his wrist to her lips to place a soft kiss, and then lifted his knuckles to her forehead, pressing with a loyal nudge. Her sable hair parted as she rose, and resumed her catlike posture, swaying at the hips. "I have a bonfire to plan." Rou had not relished in death, though she hadn't shied away from it, either. “Is there anything else?” A tell-tale flicker of her yellow eyes was far more noticeable in the dark, deflecting quickly aside as she'd considered another of her tasks that weighed heavily on her mind. A letter, received from the Order of the Force Majeure some days ago, left her with troubling news and a far more troubling duty ahead. Jin was about to charge head-first into Slaver's Alcove, with a ragtag band of vigilantes, for justified reasons that he had not understood. Rou felt it was her duty, not only to reason with him, but to protect the culture of the place she'd truly called her home; however, she had not wanted to impart the feeling on Rafael as if both of the important women in his life were simultaneously abandoning him. Rou would never abandon him. Rather than lie, Rou paid him a grin, instead. "Nothing I can't handle," she answered, sufficing with confidence well enough. With a last bow of her head to politely signal her departure, Rou turned to leave, but the brace of her hand in the doorframe had brought her to pause. Looking back over her shoulder, she noted that Rafael's eyes were on her, whom had unabashedly been watching her back. Rou could do little to stifle the chortles that came from her nose, inwardly pleased at subtle flattery. With a softer glance, the warmth and care on her face that he had remembered from fairer nights, his desert rose smiled at him, endearingly. "Go back to Umbra," she told him, devoid of the tone of a loyal An'She who would not dare give orders her liege, but swelled with the love of one dearest to his heart, and would not see him suffer his melancholy for yet another moment, "This island sun doesn't suit you." She would see them all away from this place, away from the island cursed with heartbreak; one lonely monarch was to leave Versilla, and she would not see Rafael resume it in her place. Her warmth for him was resilient, even from afar, as she gifted him one last smile before passing through the door. It was time to go home.
  6. Skeptical, Rou stared at the bowl in front of her, pausing at the aromatic broth as the steam wafted over the surface. She paused, watching Zenahriel out of the corner of her eye, yellow and beady like a cat, as he swallowed his first ladled spoonful. His praise seemed assurance enough, as the second visiting An'She reached for her own tableware, leaving the lingering question if she had waited to be polite, or if she was being cautious. They hadn't notified Gabriela of their arrival, and they arrived under the banner of her supposed ally, though Rou hadn't completely left out the possibility of being poisoned at this awkward dinner party. Still hesitant, Rou pushed the egg around her bowl, lathering it in broth. She envied Zenahriel's calm, his rapport and friendship with the queen giving him the ease to speak freely, even tenderly, with their gratuitous hostess. Rou could tell, even as Gabriela put on her best face, she wasn't thrilled to see her, and yet her voice trilled with the daintiness of a demure debutante. Normally, Rou would've been the life of the party, slithering into favor with her silver tongue, complimenting and passing innuendo as she slipped deeper into good graces; Zenahriel had seen her do it oft and again. The Buxom Bandit could charm the pants off a priest, and yet, across the Queen's table, she sat quiet. She did not ply Gabriela with flattery, with idol admiration, as so many others in her court were wont to do, telling the Queen only what she wanted to hear, distracting her from the weighty matters at hand. The peons of her court, the would-be paramours that sought her hand, her capture, they could have the Queen's love-- Rou wanted her trust, a necessary commodity that she sorely lacked, if she wanted her plan to succeed. If she'd laced her words with gold, Gabriela would raise her walls twice as high, leaving them impossible to scale. Thus, instead, she said nothing. With a steeling breath, she consigned herself to her first sip, but let a satisfied hum note her appreciation for the dish's taste, a pleasing blend of salt and savor. As the silence lulled into delicate territory, Rou's silver spoon clinked back onto the table. "Forgive my lack of pleasantries, I find it best we delve straight into business," the An'She said, fetching her tumbler quarter-filled with a caramel-brown scotch, before leaning back in her chair, one knee poised over the other. Staring from across the table, Rou sought out the queen with determined eyes, assuming an authoritative air equal to that of the monarch who wore the crown of the Isle of Summer, from she, the ambitious An'She, who did not. "I shall be frank," Rou stated curtly, taking a short sip of her biting drink, "I came here to ask you to return to the Carmine Dominion, to couple with Rafael and exalt as his Empress." The confession was abrupt, and while her words were direct and poignant, her eyes were cast down; from all Gabriela knew, Rou didn't have the authority to make such an offer. While she hadn't gained his permission, Rou was certian that Rafael had known full well why she came, and had made no move to stop her. He knew as well as she did that this was the best thing for the Empire, even if it cut out the ambitious bandit. Swirling the liquid around her tumbler, Rou chose to partake in the sight of the scotch moving around the glass, rather than Gabriela's undoubtedly shocked or confused expression, granting her that small measure of privacy. With another drink, she hissed a sigh, feeling the burn as it traveled down her throat, idly toying with the spin of the glass as she held it between her fingers. "You stand only to benefit, as a ruler. Your island and your people would be under the protection of the Empire, as part of the greatest force within Genesaris. Your son would be given the best tutelage, and given titles and land to befit his station, protected from those who would do him harm." Rou paused, her eyes looking over the rim of the glass, so as to hide any wavering in her voice. "And with any luck, you'll have more." Rou was honest, but at the cost of being blunt, and blurring the lines of impropriety. Rou was candid and sincere, as she looked at Gabriela across the table, now unavoiding in her gaze. She was sure that it was a lot to take in, and with concerns of coming on too strongly, she looked to Zenahriel for a vote of confidence. Clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, Rou continued, a bit more gently. "The Empire is safe, for now. However, solidifying the line of succession with a pure vampyre to take over the throne will eventually be necessity. I don't think I need to explain how limited those options are, Majesty." Her fingernails dug into the arm of her dining chair, unsure whether she could inspire anger in the Queen; she came too long a way to simply be thrown out. Her gaze traveled aside, and her tone receded with a bleak murmur, as if she hadn't wanted to utter damning words. "You are, in that way, my only hope."
  7. With arms crossed snugly across her torso, Rou idled halfway down the hall, her back pressed against a tall white column in expectant fashion. The click and swing of the door had already caught the attention of her thin yellow eyes, watchful as a cat, and the call of her name brought the full swivel of her crown, and leaned her shoulder nonchalantly into the marble, emphasizing the curve of her wide hips. As smug as silk was smooth, Rou met him with a plush-lipped grin, both a boast and a mask. The raise in her eyebrow hinted at suspicion, though she knew better than to pester him with questions-- she'd preferred not to be denied answer. "Eavesdropping? No, my Lord," she answered, toying with a cavalier tone, "Just following a lead. Due diligence, and all that." With a groan and a push of her hip, she bounced herself from her repose, stretching out her muscles with a taut reach overhead, eating up the time as he tread closer through the hall to join her. "Though, it's not as boring as it is depressing. I mean, have you seen Orisia's books?" Rou complained drably, exhibiting herself with the incidental puffing of her chest as she stretched her arm behind her head, "The Dominion would make more money burning this island to the ground, rather than trying to sustain it. The debt is enough to make the coincounters weep. Thaladred's positively going to have a field day." She was right, however, about more than the books-- the haze of depression seemed to weigh on the shoulders of the entire castle, and not because of the island's finances. Reason enough to be annoyed, as one could glean from her distasteful tone. Usually one to avoid work, noted for skipping out on meetings and found lounging about in the sun, Rou looked unusually tired, though the dark bags beneath her eyes were well-hidden under the sculpt of her makeup. An official visit to the Island of Summer had not been in the name of pleasure, no, as she'd seemed to busy herself with actual work. Even without Zenahriel to chaperone, Rou seemed to have retaken the mantle of An'She with some degree of seriousness... though even responsibility could not absolve Rou of her acerbic and sultry manner. Meeting his stride, she turned on her heels and matched his pace, keeping herself an almost proper distance to his right. "Rumor came from the mainland, a rather astonishing hoax," she said, in a slightly more serious tone, her arms still folded across her chest as she continued to look ahead on their way to Rafael's study. She sought out Rafael only by the sidelong cut of her eyes. "Color me surprised to find out it's true. That's quite big of you, Rafael..." she confided in him, the use of his name quiet, as she'd deemed they were alone and use of his name was not so inappropriate, "... given all this arrangement has cost, and risks." With a single look exchanged in the dark pools of his eyes, Rou paused with a token moment of sympathy, and brushed his arm with a comforting squeeze. He'd already known, and likely found it sore to be reminded. "She will be alright," she promised confidently, and shrugged. "Saying there would be eyes on her at all times would be putting it mildly." Coming from one who knew all too well, Rou knew that Rafael would give Gabriela the space she needed, but not the privacy. Brushing her hair back coolly, Rou relaxed, and her stride turned into a saunter. "I've already sent word to the Imperator to deploy incognito squads at various checkpoints," Rou reported lackidaisically, as if it were simply business-as-usual, "With some contingency in place, perhaps you'll rest easier, your Majesty. You could do with some sleep." As they'd turned into the study, Rou wrestled through the pocket of her coat, and withdrew a parchment, as she promptly unfolded it with both hands, and stood on the other side of his desk. "I received this from the Caleras, this morning," she explained, holding the paper out to him, detailing the contents of what she would condense for him. Rafael had given his former paramour a gift long ago, in the form of two additions to the subservience of her house, the vampyres Beatriz and Darius Calera. The mistakes of the head of House Calera had seen them pledge themselves to Rou in reparation, though with Rou's fiery temper and the arson of her home (and the large sum to be collected on it), she'd reinstated a fraction of their status, enough to be considered noble to peruse the courts once again. Even with their autonomy restored, they still bred a certain loyalty to their human dignitary. Unwittingly, Rafael had gifted her a rather useful pair of spies. She'd placed her arms gently behind her back, falling almost habitually into a military rest position, and ignored the undoubtedly vain hubris hiding on the grin beneath Rafael's downy beard, and cleared her throat. "Your chamberboy, Balthasar-- seems he's been making rather frequent visits to An'She Augustus Cole," Rou told him, accusatory and direct. She'd known better than to accuse a servant of Rafael's household without proof, but the signed letter from the Caleras was account enough, and she trusted their word and their loyalty. "An impressionable --and rather daft-- young man, but an accomplished reader. Seems he read the edict you were drafting, and went to our good councilor Cole to curry some favor. Luckily, the Caleras detained him before he could impart the knowledge on Cole... and thus prostrated himself to Beatriz and Darius, instead." The former head of their house, Eros, may had been deprived of their fangs, but Beatriz and Darius had certainly not, and could be known to use them, when the situation called. Inwardly, Rou had found herself rather proud, but stifled it, as the news delivered to Rafael had called for more temperance. "Best you know who's looking over your shoulder."
  8. Vivienne's tight lips pursed mildly at mention of a duel; most of the modern world had found it a medieval practice, and while Vivienne wasn't eager for men to risk their lives, the manifest defense of their honor was a greater testament than words, when done properly. The sport was occasionally marred by a puff-chested rooster of a man who found himself keen to hold a sword, though often found him on the receiving end of a restrained hand and practiced mercy with as sore a lesson as the bruises that would surely adorn him. It was not a divine justice, bequeathed not by her Sanguine Lord, though the blood that inevitably spattered the dueling ring was attribute to him. However, dire consequences for a nonissue would displease the idol of her faith (and displease Vivienne) for lifeblood trivially spilled in pointless pursuit. If Vivienne was eventually to sanction him to the Sanguinar faith, Andross could not prostrate himself over a mere jealous squabble. Drawing in a tempered breath, a low cut of her eyes gave her pause, and she felt Andross move in for an answer, the tips of his fingers devoted to the touch of her skin. So rare was this uncertainty in Andross, an unfamiliar color in the mildness of his tone, half-asking orders that he would not pose as a question, but would not dare to order. In battle, he had the agility of a cat; at court, he was a master of resolve. But around Vivienne, as he held her there, stroking her with restrained covetousness, he could not hire the shiver doubt ran creepily up his spine. She braced him, holding his thick-sleeved bicep with a firm, comforting hand. "A lion does not say it's a lion," she said, an even-keel seriousness in her voice, "That's how your saying goes, doesn't it?" She was not deadpan, nor dispassionate, and her red eyes would not deem her reticent to her lover, for all their earnest. Andross looked less than convinced, and she sighed whimsically, greeting him again with a conceding smile, "And you are mine." One of his pride, as it were. Though his particular request might have had ways to hinder her, she was delighted by her lover's adoration, more. "Very well," she nodded complicitly, "No one else." She stroked affectionately at his downy cheek, soothing him with warm tenderness, so that he might know she was sincere; he seemed satisfied. If a little inconvenience was what she had to pay for his peace of mind, so be it. "And now," she refocused very matter-of-factly, patting him on the arm and rolling her neck in a modest stretch, "I'm expecting another." She chuckled inwardly at the gaffe for it's irony, twists of fate proving humorous, given the task at hand. With her hand on his elbow, she spun him around, and pushed him to the back of the lab, to the door where her quarters remained, remodeled from the former dungeon. Vivienne had preferred staying close to her work, and had become somewhat of a recluse when absorbed in her machinations; often, Andross would drift down the stairs in the late morning, come to find his elven Hexmistress plugging away at her work, no less energetic, save for the graying bags under her eyes, evidence that she hadn't slept. He'd grown accustomed to most of her quirks and eccentricities, some he liked better than most, particularly her wardrobe. "Go!" she ushered him, pushing at the back of his hips with the flat of her hands, "Go, go!" Vivienne sputtered stifled laughs all the while, unable to keep a straight face while forcing through Andross' stubbornness and resistance. Nearly bowling him through the door, Vivienne reached her hand out, grasping for the unbuttoned collar of his jacket. She'd snatched him, and indulged in a deep kiss, breath hissing as she held Andross' cheeks between her hands, and tempted time to stop for her to linger with her forehead pressed against his for yet another moment. Knowing that it was short, Vivienne beamed at him, and pointed. "The portrait, there. Remove it; there's a lattice behind it. You'll want to see this," she said. With that red twinkle in her eyes, Andross could tell, she already knew. As she'd said, behind the painting of the Ursa Madeum landscape that had not-so-sentimentally adorned Vivienne's practical room, there was a metal lattice, grated with holes enough to see and hear, coming out the other side through a bookshelf, a nigh imperfect view of her laboratory. Insurance, perhaps, that no one rifled through her things whilst she slept. She held a finger to her lips, beckoning quiet as she hid Andross away, and then closed the door behind her. Sweeping return into the lab with a great flush of her white fur coat, she'd attended to assembling the tea, tested warm as she placed her fingers against the iron teapot. Lifting the handle to give it a fair swish, it settled, and the door above the stairs creaked open, not a moment too soon. "Come for tea, my lord?" Vivienne repeated in a sing-song voice, feeling an inkling of déjà vu.
  9. Rou's honey-gold irises followed the reflection of Zenahriel to the hearth, and while he'd taken obvious strides not to exhort her with too strict a tone, she could see the faint displeasure in his face as the soft ember glow danced upon it. With a heaving sigh, which relieved absolutely none of the tension that gathered in the An'She's shoulders, the black-haired vixen pinched the bridge of her nose, nursing the growing headache. "I know that-- Don't you think I know that?" Rou snapped tersely, recalling the events in the throne room, which she'd promptly taken out on her hair. Her anger was misdirected at Zenahriel, though she'd been too taken to offer apologies. Before leaving from Umbra, Rou had already felt like she'd had one foot in the grave, and the other was starting to slip. The Carmine Dominion's only human An'She had made great strides in ambassadorship, but in standing across from her mortal enemy, Rou had nearly devolved into the seething serpent of spite and fire she was of yesteryear. This summit had been in the name of change, and Rou wasn't helping it. "You're probably the only person in all of Genesaris who doesn't know of our feud, maybe all Valucre," she groused, as one did not obtain the reputation of enemy to the Black Queen lightly. Irene Gabriela Du'Grace was loved and admired even far beyond her borders, championed as the porcelain queen of innocence, chivalry, and star-crossed love; hers was the love story told by romantic paramours, mothers to their children, heralds that boasted good news to incite the fealty to the crowns amidst the dreary days of the gentry. With Rou's reputation, it was hardly an exaggeration that she had become the villain in the world's eyes. Beyond the oversimplified public recount, Rou would claim she hadn't been every bit as vile as they'd made her out to be... nor Gabriela as happy, as judged by their recent crossings. A happy wife wasn't what Rou witnessed at Kadia's grand wedding. Even with strides towards coming to terms, it still came unnaturally for Rou to empathize with the Black Queen. With a small bit of guilt weighing heavy on her, she again weighed the probability of success. It wouldn't ride on her affection for her liege, though in truth, Rou had never intended it to be. Her winged confidante had come to take the brush from her, wielding it with a much more delicate hand. Frustrated, she deflected with a begrudging scoff, and sat up straight for him, complicit as he ran comfortingly through her locks. The pressure was weighing down heavy upon her, even moreso as his eyes caught her poignantly on the vanity mirror; she could not leave him in the dark any further. There was so much riding on this, so much bigger than herself. Reaching her hand to her crown, she paused Zenahriel's stroke of the brush, withdrawing from her hair, and stood. Taking it from him (reminding herself to do so gently), she placed it upon the vanity, and instead took up his hands folded in hers. Rou was alarmingly human, in a world filled with beings that dwarfed her presence the way the moon outshone a simple lone meteor, passing and fleeting, but her resolve was that of the sun. The situation was dire, and the fire in Rou's eyes burned with exceeding courage, for she could spare none. "Zenahriel, know that I do not do this lightly..." she confessed, and on they talked through the morning... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rou's ankle dropped up and down with impatience, bouncing her foot as one knee crossed over the other. Poising her elbow on the arm of a white dining chair, pushed far out from the table so as to lounge in their privacy, she draped her index finger pensively beneath her lip, looking through Zenahriel as if he were a ghost. They were to wait in the supping hall, laid out grandly in anticipation of the summit, with so many sets of cutlery that in the house of a vampyre could only be called ironic. The sun was still setting, orange and purple hues streaking through the opaquely curtained windows, and still yet a few minutes too early for the night queen to rise in the safe bask of dusk. When the door creaked open, Rou's head swiveled, expecting the Gabriela. Her breath appeared to have held a brief moment, but resumed at the sight of her ward, in all due diligence and propriety, ferrying glasses and a deep green bottle of wine. The An'She's expression wrinkled, unable to hide a distasteful sneer, still in the private company of but Zenahriel and an underling. "Is that the house vintage?" she asked, dangling an inquisitive finger towards the bottle, to which she received an affirmative nod, "None for me. Something stronger; scotch, if you have it." Rou had a long-running disgust for Orisian wine, certainly tainted by its presence in unfavorable situations, and scoffed at the thought. Sparing a glance towards Zenahriel, he was unimpressed with her candor. "Please," Rou added sharply to the ward, hoping to assuage the High Lord's displeasure, "Thank you." She was going to need something strong if she was to get through the trial ahead. Rou had dressed in her exotic finery, the bright crimson tunic that was a modest comparison to her rather scandalous outfits, containing most of her bust and distracting from it with finely-embroidered hems. A royal blue skirt was wrapped starting high above her hips, a thin line of the copper skin of her midriff bordered between the colors, and swept from the floor and over her shoulder, draping on the ground like a long cape, which was currently dressed over the arm of the chair. She'd worn her hair half-up, collecting her hair into a small bun that sat at the back of the crown of her head, and soft curls flowed down her shoulders and spine. Rou's face was artistically devised, edges touched up from the night prior, for she had slept in it... as well as she could, anyway, under an enemy's roof. Two pieces of the ensemble were not her own, however: a sheer black lace glove, upon her right hand and ending at the wrist, covering up the indented twin incisor scars, and a black velvet choker, a tear-shaped diamond hanging from its center-- necessities imposed by Rafael, in lieu of tradition. When the door opened again, Rou first glanced to the window, the sun having sunk well beneath the depths of the horizon. As Zenahriel had pushed himself back from his chair to stand, Rou hesitated but a moment, then did the same. She paid the queen the briefest look as she entered, before placing her gloved hand to her chest, and sinking her chin in a bow of her head. So far, so good. Silence followed, as Rou made no pleasantries whilst the queen took her opposite seat across the long supping table; she was not the scheming politician, come to ply her with brown-nosing flights of fancy in order to curry her favor, so she said nothing. The matter at hand would be less impactful, should she have wasted time, allowing the queen to build further walls of suspicion; it would be hard enough to break through the ones that already stood in her way. Instead, she let the Queen and Zenahriel begin-- closer friends, better tidings.
  10. Showered in the keep of his arms, even Andross' sour disposition could not dissuade Vivienne from spooning against his chest, smooth as velvet. Her gaze danced noncommittally from his face, diverting to his shoulders, his chest, which she stroked with a heavy palm in effort to look busy. Vivienne's pink lips rolled in her mouth-- a telltale sign of guilt, or perhaps even a little remorse. It was difficult not to pervade such an expression with a smile, and her eyes traveled wayward, seeking silent forgiveness for finding amusement in his envy. Clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, Vivienne walked her fingers up the broad chest of his cobalt blue uniform, and made to cup his cheek with soft affection. She tilted her head into her shoulder with a probing arch in her brow, testing the endurance of his disapproval. "Ah, lossëa ráunya," she cajoled him, her voice thick with her elvish tongue-- an uncommon habit, which he could only assume was for things she didn't want him to hear. Andross was always so stalwart and stern, projecting the perfect example of military and lordly decorum, that she might've thought him embarrassed to be called by the rare (albeit affectionate) nickname. Though Vivienne murmured it with a teasing tone, she'd never used it to diminish him. My snowy lion, it translated to, as she'd confessed to him once, for the silvery-white wisps of his beard and the strength of his prowess. He hadn't seemed to mind too much. "What is this strange aura about you, hm?" she entreated him, her words light and fluttery, as she raked through his beard to pinch playfully at his chin, "It looks positively green." She laughed from her nose, her smile coupled with the crease of her eyes that she'd meant only to tease, and would soothe it with a comforting kiss as she pulled his head gently down to claim it. It was brief and apologetic, for Andross was not one to be easily distracted. “You shouldn’t do that. I’m sure you had your reasons, you always do, but there must be other ways for you to go about it. Besides... I don’t like to share, Vivienne.” Vivienne rose on his hand, grasping onto his sleeves as he reached between her legs, as if she were simply about to float away off the ground. She squealed, sharing equal parts surprise and delight; her lips formed a perfect circle, challenging him with a leering glance. If anything was theatrical, it was her feigned petulance. "Andross!" the Hexmistress argued, giving the breadth of his chest a playful swat, and slid down from his nosy fingers with the shifting of her hips. "You'd pluck a spider out of its web before winter," she said, scoffing and wrinkling her nose at him in playful admonishment-- an elvish proverb that hadn't translated perfectly to the common tongue. Exchanging looks with Andross, he could tell well enough her meaning; he was solving a problem before it was one, to make a point. Soothing his pride with another kiss to his cheek from upon the tips of her toes, she wrestled herself from his grip without too much force. Tossing the length of her thick, golden-spun hair behind her shoulder, she retreated to her counters, and turned the switch of a burner. The flame grew bright blue beneath a glass alembic, the liquid above a deep green, connecting to other flasks through impressively blown glass tubing. "Fetch me that jar of galerina --the mushrooms-- would you?" she asked, pointing leisurely at a shelf across the room, which was filled with vials and vessels of many uncommon ingredients. She returned just as quickly to her work, but even without her eyes on him, she'd corrected Andross' selection; eyes in the back of her head, that one. "Not the morel; it's the pink one, on the right." The elven Hexmistress was meticulous, as Andross often found, wrapped in conversation one moment, and then intently focused in her machinations the next. Dragging a stone mortar from beneath a messy stack of books, she looked over the many mineral crystals scattered in her workspace, before selecting one to grind with the pestle. Her back to Andross, the moment's vision seemed little far off from that of a dutiful wife in the kitchen, her whole body put into the effort, as noted by the shifting of her great white fur coat. Vivienne was hardly the domestic little housewife, given all of her eccentricities. "It was not simply for his benefit, I assure you," she said facing opposite him, not having forgotten that Andross was there, as if to extend an olive branch with consolation. Vivienne knew it bore heavy on his mind; Andross rarely wore so green a color, though Vivienne secreted away a smile at the warm thought. Worry was not a curse she'd wish upon someone so loved. "My efforts this morning were purely for pragmatic purposes, my love. I had need of the boy's..." she paused, curling her finger thoughtfully beneath her lip. Her voice stumbled, as she turned, gesturing with her hands as if she were trying to gather the words out of the air, until she'd condemned the effort altogether. "His vírië... his youthly vigor," Vivienne chose, followed by a quick translation, but by the way she'd sucked at her cheek, it hadn't seemed quite so simply done. She caught Andross' eye, and Vivienne shrunk as he managed to make himself look even more displeased, realizing the room for misconception in her words. The elf raised her hands in surrender, inherently framing her plump chest, and offered a sheepish smile. "I didn't... there was no..." she tried, a bit flustered, and avoided uttering the awkward explanation aloud by simply making an obscene gesture with her fingers, inserting her index finger of one hand through the hole made by the other. Clumsily, she'd confessed that she hadn't compromised the young lad's supposed virgin dignity, even if he'd found himself lewdly occupied. "He did all the work himself; I simply prompted the desired result." Quickly rifling through the mess of jars on the counters, she withdrew a long glass ewer that contained a glowing blue liquid, softly bright, the way algae lit up the sea at night. "I purified the baths with holy salts, and--" she huffed indignantly, shaking her proof at him, which was hardly filled even a quarter full, "-- do you even know how hard it is to get vírië from maidens?" She snorted from her nose, the short elf inherently working herself into frustration. Vivienne drooped visibly with a sigh, mulling her lips until they pinkened from the pressure, seeking understanding from Andross with doe eyes. "I could not ask you," she confessed, though her reasons still dripped with ambiguity, "There are some lines even I will not cross." Setting her things down, she laced her fingers, clasping them in front of her chest in honest plea. "Do not be angry with me, Andross. I am bereft to see you so displeased."
  11. "Not at all. Come, please." Zenahriel's inquisition found the meet of his gaze through a mirror of a pristine white vanity, body undisturbed as she sat oppositely faced upon a plush cushion whilst her hands mastered the laborious task of brushing out her hair, dressed in an ivory silk shift that hardly covered anything. The locks were damp and stringy, clinging together as she forced her way through knots, as if to beat her way through the pent-up aggression that she'd tucked away for safe-keeping, earlier. It curled in gentle waves as the air dried it in ringlets that stuck to her skin, which was notably smooth and unmarred. Upon closer inspection, Rou guessed as she saw the reflection of Zenahriel's eyes wandering to more than just her mortal curves, that he was keen enough to see the subtle caked textures that dappled her skin. Straight from the bath, she went to preserving her ego, banishing the sight from her eyes even before retreating to the canopied bed, which from afar seemed to be more pillows than mattress. Discomfort caused her to straighten when she caught the wayward path of his eye, and swiveled around. Choosing not to be ashamed, her gaze dropped to the plate in his hands. "Is that food?" she asked rhetorically, before helping herself to a cheese pastry upon his plate, and indulged in a less-than-dainty bite. As if she hadn't eaten in a week, Rou closed her eyes and let out a deep, growling moan through her nose, her posture shrinking with the satisfaction. "Mmmmfffh," she said through a stuffed cheek, "You're a saint." Polishing off her scavenged food with quick work, she pushed her hairbrush aside in favor of smaller tools, pointed brushes and puffs in cases of powder, nothing short of a mess of cosmetics splayed about the vanity. Drawing close to the mirror, she dipped a thin bristle into a kohl ink before sweeping it slowly across her eyelid, mouth precariously poised open, as if to balance. "Orisia's magic is fickle; even my glamour doesn't work. Have to do it the old fashioned way," she explained curtly, as she polished off an artistic wing beside her eye, and went to coat the pen again with a few dabs. Relieved of the intent focus of her face for a few moments, Rou chanced a glance at Zenahriel's reflection, whose pooling black eyes were still staring, as if waiting. Heaving in a dramatic sigh, she started to sweep across the opposite eye. "I suppose this dalliance ends in a lecture, does it?" Someone had to, given Rafael's merciful absence. Her stroke finished, and her gaze found itself in her lap, her brow furrowed and lips teasing at a muddled, half-humored grin. "I picked out something more... conservative than I am often known for," she said with mild pause, before pointing a haphazard finger towards a garment hanging above her trunk. In bold colors and silk thick with embroidery, it was meant to wrap around the figure-- highlighting it, rather than baring it. Rou, who was often wont to the phrase "less is more", was apparent to the change, knowing that she would make her task ahead much harder if she'd made the Black Queen uncomfortable... well, more uncomfortable. It was clear that she was trying. Considering it for the few minutes as she fiddled with her brush, she found solace in the mirror, as if steeling herself for what was to come. She didn't need to voice it, for it was writ plain on her face-- the trial ahead was herculean, for the Queen didn't trust her. Why would she? Rou had felt wounded by the queen, but had turn to dealt her own wounds, and one could not simply ask for forgiveness in attempt on a child's life. Expression darkening, the mirror could not show the truth, for she had masked it. They had come all this way, and Rou could not afford to turn back, now; there was too much at stake. "I can't help but think that this might be a monumental mistake," she confided quietly, her solemn thoughts seeking safe harbor with Zenahriel. She had dragged him and a dozen soldiers across the sea and to the foot of the one she'd named her enemy, and had not even confessed to even one as to why.
  12. "And she just came in, dropped that big fur coat right on the floor, and skimped down to her skivvies!" "Ha, I think you laid a little too thick on the sauce last night, mate. You're seeing things!" "No, I swear! Right there in the men's bath!" Two soldiers were huddled in the hall, the smooth stonework reverberating their chatter that steadily escalated from a whisper. The body language was obvious, body hunched and wild arm gesticulations imploring, trying to convey his visions as more than just idle gossip to his senior. Opposite, hands poised incredulously on his hips, the private in modest plate mail was abundantly skeptical, but quite humored. The older scoffed, perusing about for inconsistency in his friend's tale. "You're trying to tell me," he protested with an accusatory finger pointed at his chest, embellishing words left and right, "That the recluse elf who's been dallying down in the dungeons for weeks not only graced us with her presence, but roamed clear across the castle and into the soldier's barracks, just up and welcomed herself to the bath, and stripped down to Venus right in front of you?" It was a struggle to hold in a laugh, seeping out in bursts through his nose. "It's the truth!" the greenhorn insisted, the few lines of his face stressing to find truth in the few hairs that yet grew on his chin and beneath his lip. "I swear it! She was nude as her nameday, got right in the water with me. Spare me the priest's switch-- I felt absolutely sinful, doing what she told me. But how could I resist? She's got those red eyes, and these great, big br--" he said, well into pantomime of great globes in front of his chest plate, when he saw his partner turn white as a sheet, eyes distant behind him and mouth agape. Turning, with a cold sweat making its way down the back of his neck, he followed the gaze of his senior only to see a disgruntled son of House Kholin, Andross, lingering at the end of the hall. Fumbling a bit, he sheepishly slapped his arms to his sides, and swallowed. "Braids," he finished stiffly, as the expectant Kholin narrowed his eyes at them, "...Big braids." ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Vivienne was found in her normal habitat, the dungeons having reformed into quite the laboratory in the span of a few weeks' time. No more was the dusty, bone-laden rat's nest the home of Skyfall's dastards and drunkards, but the workshop of the alchemical and occult, an intricate maze of beakers and burners that held potions of varying colors, bookshelves piled with tomes in languages beyond what anyone in the region could read, and some rather questionable items floating in jars amid liquids no one dared to smell. Amid the messes of crystal balls, shards of ore and precious metals, and well-worn tarot cards, the elf was busying herself brewing tea. Known for wearing plush pelts that nearly seemed to double her size from the back, she was rather a conundrum in regards to safety; one might think it was an overly egregious pass at a lab coat, were it not for the remarkably brief throngs of fabric that laced her up, underneath. An open coat left little to the imagination, and though her father's disapproving stare was long gone, Vivienne was not about to rewrite her fashion trademarks, now. "Ah, Andross, you're early," she chimed cheerily over her shoulder, hearing the door creak open and the familiar patter of boots descend down the few stone stairs into the depths of the dungeon. Fetching a drably plain iron teapot from over the flame, she placed it on a tray, and gathered two small, ceramic cups before picking the lot up, and dutifully ferrying it to the center table of her laboratory, playing a moment of a terribly domestic trophy wife. With an amused smile and a tilt of her head, her braids moved gently aside, slightly damp and flattening the hair of the snow-white pelt. "What brings you to my humble abode, so unannounced?" she said with a teasing tone, as she welcomed herself into his intimate space, melting against him like the savor of chocolate on one's tongue, charming him with a comforting smile, chiding only so, so sweetly. Her fingers grazed past the bony arches of his hips, as if protruding even through his clothes-- Vivienne knew where they were, well enough, even when obscured beneath the layers of his uniform. Andross was still ever the stalwart soldier, dressed to impress in fine military fashion, though even the heat of summer in the castle above had seen a button around his neck loosened. Lacing her hands behind his back in lackadaisical embrace, she indulged in coaxing him into an amorous sway, glancing warmly up at him. Few and fewer knew of Lord Kholin's son's particular pastimes with their resident Ul'Vandiir, but the privacy of her laboratory often made for a fair stomping ground. Not all of the Kholin's loyal gentry were too trusting of the elves from the Carmine Empire, hearing things of witchcraft and superstitions that took more than a little convincing to overlook their prejudices. Wrinkling her nose with an almost satirical amount of daintiness, she shrugged her shoulders in the semblance to squeeze him. "Didn't come to join me for tea, did you?" @King
  13. Hawkish eyes followed the Black Queen as she softly closed the book in her palms, and descended the dais with worry; Rou had expected at least some bit of rebuke, though it was purely borne of self-importance. The porcelain doll of a woman made no mention, no words uttered in present company, but -- there. In that infrequent glance, Rou could see it behind Gabriela's eyes, an unmistakable glimpse at her secret disapproval. Gabriela was far better at hiding her sentiments behind the mask of a tempered face, as Rou was positively bristling. When she descended the dais in a flutter of worry, Zenahriel dipped low in a sweeping, elegant bow, stretching his wings with beautiful plumage. The soldiers had taken cue to do the same, a formal and polite military bow, as Fowler had done. Rou, however, remained motionless-- fists clenched at her sides, face hard, and jaw as if wired shut. The tension bred off of her like an aura, a black taint on the Queen's otherwise pristine white palace; a small, festering spot within the vast space but was no less noticeable, her hostility so thick it could've been cut with a knife. It seemed as if muscle memory, unsure whether to be more angry that she found her insignificant enough to ignore, or that the Queen did not indulge in her ego by making plain her apprehension. It fanned old flames, keen to finding the tinder and bringing down all around her in a wildfire. A well-meaning nudge from Zenahriel's wing was aptly timed, and the black-haired bandit jostled in resistant recoil, scathing him down with a rather direct glare, albeit brief. It was more than sorely needed, as it seemed to break the spell of Rou's smoldering temper. It left her with greater exhaustion, for the toil of the night's ride in the forest was seeping deep into her skin, tugging at weary bones and wearier eyes. She'd had little cause to be so outraged of late, her obligations as An'She keeping her busy... or Rafael making quick work of his intolerance for her fury. For all his rough-handed discipline, at least some seemed to have taken root. She was not without spark, but rather honed. It directed her fiery passion into being authoritative and commanding, asserting herself as she cleared her throat and resumed a straight-backed posture. Her yellow eyes were no softer, but appeared far less cruel, her scrutiny concentrated, determined and watchful. Her gaze had remained focused on Gabriela for a good time as she paused, before a brief glance back at her company took account of their most prevalent need. Inhaling audibly, she turned back to Black Queen, her ponytail sweeping to follow in a flush of black, Zenahriel's two feathers she had placed in her hair sticking out fashionably from within the thrush, and sighed. Finding it too demure to cross her hands in front of her, Rou poised her hands behind her back, widening the stance of her legs slightly into a thoughtful military rest position. Privately, Fowler secreted away a proud grin. "The matter we attend with is indeed urgent," she said collectedly, her chin high with a noble air, an attempt made not to look down her nose at the woman she long considered her enemy, "...but I concede it will be best considered after some much-needed respite." Rou had still come off a little stiff, but the intent was apparent, as she was trying her best to be polite-- despite the obvious struggle it was. Another pause caused her glance to shift to Zenahriel, who met back with an encouraging expression to go on, a flicker of gold bringing her crown to swivel again to the Queen. In an uncommon showing of respect, Rou bowed her head -- for the sake of diplomacy, of course. "We would be most grateful for your hospitality," she said sternly, but no less obliged. She stood, spine erect and confident, seeming far less like the vicious or salacious woman the Queen might've remembered, taking on her duty of An'She with all due grace and refinement, if not with a bit of intimidation. Rou was the only human who served in the Carmine Dominion's council, and standing before her mortal enemy in proper zeal to seek audience, she might have even deserved it.
  14. [continued from As The Crow Flies ...] Long hours passed in the trek through the Forest of Ellwood, the Umbral entourage creeping along slowly, as the shadows of trees extended long beyond them. Rou even chanced to yawn, a good time or thrice, and though tire tugged ceaselessly at her eyes, she did not dare to sleep. The soldiers of Fowler's company did the same, knowing that their captain would have some indelicate words and choice punishment for them if they'd become lax in their duty. When the forest opened, thinning into extinction, the palpable sensation across the party was relief. "Pennants, men," Fowler commanded as their steeds stepped through the last of the thicket, half the riders circling around to the last wagon, doled out flags by the rider, on long pole masts that they carried like lances as they returned to formation. The graying naval captain, looking back over his shoulder, could still be heard definitively even through his mask he had yet to remove. "Banners, up." A great rush saw them all flap to attention in concert, deep cardinal-red fields adorned by the thorny black emblem of their master, insignia of the Carmine Emperor. Onward they proceeded like an official procession, not soon to be reminded of their messy conduct within the forest. Rou peered over Zenahriel's shoulder with curiosity, some resemblance of the tall towers seeming familiar. A party what felt like eons ago, she remembered, a party in celebration of the queen and her victory in Ellwood, Rou had confronted the Black Queen about her poor taste, given the stench of dead men had not yet left the room. Considering the conditions upon which she left, she whispered dryly to her confidante, "Of all the places I expected to be welcomed, I certainly wouldn't have thought here." As the guards drew closer, Rou didn't shrink from their arrival, but made no spectacle of herself, either. Best not to be turned away at the door, regardless of company. Fowler did all the talking, as chief officer among them. "Emissaries of the Carmine Dominion to audience with the Queen," he told them curtly, sitting up straight as he tightened the reigns on his horse, who adjusted at his master's command, "They will see her immediately. Please notify Her Grace of their arrival." Perhaps he'd done this often before, as Rou had no reason to think about prior, as she'd noticed that he'd ordered, rather than asked. To some degree of surprise, one of the Orisian soldiers bowed, before quickly running off to relay his message, while the other stayed and guided them to the courtyards at a brisk, walking pace. As they trotted beneath the first set of parapets, belaying the more intimate vision of the great Orisian palace, the men of the Umbral company relaxed with a palpable air of safety, peeling their masks from their faces and indulging in unstifled breaths. The dreaded forest was long behind them... but for Rou, she was creeping into the Lion's Den. Centrally placed within the pristine marble fortress, the caravan slowed to a halt, and Rou knew that they were not long from the throne room. As chanced a glance upward, the black sky of night was starting to streak with fair purple, their pace having devoured most of the night, and the Queen's time for audience was growing short. Time was of the essence, and no one could know that her heart was tying a vice around her throat. Steadying herself with an uncommonly chaste and pragmatic hand on Zenahriel's thigh, she won her leg from the other side of the horse, and then disembarked his saddle with a hop. The remainder of the party followed suit. Unraveling the many windings of scarves from around her neck, Rou dropped the pile on one of the wagons, and brushed the clinging dust and dirt of the forest off of herself. The spores were too few to taint in an environment of open air, however, scrubbing the forest from their skin and clothes would leave a greater satisfaction, if not peace of mind for risk of infection. Most of their clothes were dappled in green, effects of their endured time within the forest, looking as if stained-- Rou most of all, for her slip from the horse. But as she divested herself of unnecessary trappings-- her mask, her jacket, her belt and frog with the steel saber tucked away, it was as if she had peeled off a disguise-- she'd noticed as several eyes seemed to zero in on her. It was to be expected, to think she would go unrecognized was folly. Rou, with her jet black hair and olive skin now borne to the fading moonlight, eyes that shone like molten gold and deep, dusky maquillage that would make penitents blush, looked like no Orisian, nor any of the Carmine Dominion. As diverse as they may be, Rou was foreign, the Emperor's so-called Desert Bloom, thorns and all. Some recalled her for her brief time and spectacle in Orisia, others by reputation alone. Regardless, she could feel the hair standing on the back of her neck, and reminded herself to remain firm, her lips pressed into a thin line. By now, they could not remove her, as they had recognized Zenahriel, as well. Drawing in a deep, calming breath, Rou rejoined her companion with a leading hand. "The hour is upon us," she idled briefly in attention, though it seemed more to prepare herself, rather than him, fastening herself to the task with a projected sigh. "I need you now the most, my friend... I am left in your capable hands." The procession was making it's way towards the door, and with half a smile, Rou and Zenahriel would join them. The ingress was opened wide, like the maw of a great beast, intimidating and beautiful. Even in the dark cast of night, the bright white marble seemed nearly blinding by comparison, for the humans among them still found their eyes stressed from their travels through the forest. Adjusting took a few fair moments, but the path to the dais took longer-- Captain Fowler leading next to the Orisian soldiers, followed by the pair of An'She and trailed by their company. They did not look harrowed as if from battle, however disheveled and tired was an accurate depiction. Zenahriel shone out among them, as time nor wear could not diminish him, and he stood nearly a head taller than all else. As her eye trailed up the dais to its paramount, Rou expected to find a lion sitting atop its peak, though perched on the throne seemed arguably more a gazelle. Regal, indeed; beauty, unquestionable; but tooth, claw, and ferocity remained to be seen. In her natural element, surrounded by friends and peers without subterfuge, she looked positively peaceful, if not retaining that slightly forlorn cast behind her eyes. While Rou's anger was fire and destruction, she reminded herself that it was the predator you did not see coming that was more a threat than the ones that did. Very little reason had these two great women found to be in the same place, though they each remained a constant menace to the other-- Rou was hardly one to balk, brazen and arrogant as she was. Diplomacy may have seemed an easy charade for Rou to slip into, though it defied the reputation of her nature. She was determined for this to go well-- and for that, she would require rest, and privacy. Too many onlookers were eager to discern the reason of a formal party of the Carmine Dominion. Fowler stopped at the foot of the dais, pounding his fist at his heart in military salute, before managing a rigid bow, nearly to the waist. He made grand introductions, though Rou had seemed deaf to his words. With a step closer to Zenahriel, she kept her gaze ahead, not tearing from the Black Queen, but lowered her voice to a whisper. "Do not make mention that I am to be Empress," she warned privately, for he had already accustomed himself to the habit. Her eyes trailed warily to him, a subtle, firm plea, imploring him to heed her request, offering a plausible reasoning for his comfort, "I would not have us meet on unequal footing." Fowler's introductions concluded with a gruff cough, stealing Rou's attention back. As he sidled out of the way, there was nothing standing between Rou and Gabriela Du'Grace, now. In those few moments, Rou's gaze hardened, as even now she felt her blood start to boil. For all that she'd suffered, the Black Queen had earned her place in blame, and upon such close proximity in any other circumstance, Rou might've closed the distance between them with her hands wringing about Gabriela's iridescent neck. Burying the hatchet was notably difficult... particularly when it wasn't buried in the back of her skull. @The Hummingbird @Pasion Pasiva
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