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Narcissa last won the day on September 12 2015

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  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. "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.
  4. "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
  5. 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.
  6. [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
  7. Rou squinted to protect herself from an imagined wind as his wings shattered like an illusion, her hand instinctively over her scarves to keep the layers in place. When her golden eyes peered over the thick woven fabric, Zenahriel was as much a man, though it seemed hard even to call him that. Alabaster skin was highlighted in the darkness, even as the canopy of the forest was so thick that only select beams of moonlight could pass through. As Thunder shuffled slightly in idle, he moved more directly into one of the rays, casting him with an otherworldly blue hue that made it seem as if the no-longer-winged man were simply a specter, pooling black eyes showing her the abyss, reaching to bring her into the shade. For Rou, and the things she'd seen in Ellwood forest-- ghosts were everywhere. His fingers wrapped around her forearm assured that he had not been a shade, lifting her with ease up to his height, Rou regaining some matter of her wits enough to sweep her leg over the flank of his horse to stride. Landing heavy and awkward on the back of the saddle for little room between the two of them, she wrapped an arm around Zenahriel's torso to secure herself, cheek nearly buried between his shoulder blades. Through extension, he could feel every swivel of her head, her heart beating steadily against his back-- while she might have appeared calmed and observant, Zenahriel would have the intimate knowledge that she was anything but. While no monsters loomed to the destruction of the party, Rou might've argued that the haunting visions that plagued her memory were worse. With a hand held out far (so as not to burn her riding companion) Rou's palm offered a small flame to cleave the darkness... and to keep the ghosts at bay. Long hours passed, the 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. But for Rou, looking onward at the task ahead, knew she was about to creep into the depths of the Lion's Den... [to be continued in And Lo, the Harlot Did Rap on the Queen's Door...]
  8. Hello everyone, we're the Gaians. Perhaps you've heard of us?
  9. This is why I love Indian action films.
  10. It was hot, and I was progressively less and less photogenic the more tired I got. Also, it's impossible to see where the lens is on your phone. I'm not apologizing.
  11. It should be. It's been played like that for literally years. But you know as well as I do that getting him to submit paperwork is like pulling teeth.
  12. The party creaked along at a mild pace, wary and vigilant. The road itself was only slightly visible, a sunken path that was only just deep enough and unbarred by trees, but still mottled with thick green moss that was kicked up by hooves, and crushed by the wheels of the heavy wagon. No head remained still, as a dozen pairs of eyes swiveled in survey, like a parliament of owls, keen to every swaying branch that the breeze waved in the subtle wind. Not one dared to speak, not wishing to distract from the path ahead. The quiet was deafening, and their trek seemed almost an interruption to the since undisturbed silence. No fauna to speak of, even birds had not dared enter here, above the canopies of the leaves. Without bees and pollinators, some of the plants had taken to wither away, drying into grey, spindly husks, only to be overtaken by the creeping weeds that spread their spores in a foul musk. The poppies were indeed beautiful, even in their deceptively alluring colors, golden as the sun, red as the lips on a rosy maiden, violet like the depths of space, with deep black centers like the vast, star-speckled abyss. But the deeper they tread into the forest, the greater they came in number, and the thicker the mist, tinted in a hazardous green, almost so thick it seemed nearly impossible to see twenty steps ahead. What little remained was wreckage, in the form of the few wood shanties of hunters or the sporadic family, abandoned caravans and the long-gone carcasses of horses or steers, mementos only left in the form of dried skeletons. Not all of them were beasts. From beneath her layers of scarves, her muted golden eyes darted routinely back and forth, rocked gently by the easy step of her horse. Spores had already stuck fast to her clothing, particularly around her mouth, filtered by the linen where she would breathe in, and then out again. Early into their journey, every head in the party snapped to the sound of every misstep, a twig broken along the path, or a snort from a horse, keen to every bit as they adjusted. They were on edge for nearly an hour, maybe even perhaps two, the sun deep into the depths of its slumber and making it even more difficult to see. Most of the party had lit torches, and Rou carried a fireball aloft in her raised palm, for light-- it hadn't helped much. The constancy had made them idle, lax and adjusted to their surroundings, so much so that they hadn't noticed the uneven keel of a dip in the dirt-and-moss path, sending the first wagon down with a hard thump. It spooked nearly every soldier, no matter his years or salt earned in the Emperor's military, but it was Rou who found herself principally disturbed. There was no masking the gasp even behind the muffling of her mask, but her horse reared as well, leaning back on two feet until she had slid unceremoniously from her saddle and landing painfully on her back. Her steed had dislodged it's coverings, taking in gulping breaths of the spores, and increasing in panic. It stomped, frantic, unable to see, and the commotion caused the other horses to stir, no matter how stiffly their riders held onto to their reigns. Rou narrowly escaped a few misplaced hooves, rustling up a cloud of spores until Fowler made quick work to come fetch her. With his horse out of formation, Rou's steed took to his madness, and raced off the path and into the dark. He held his torch to the ground, sounding like a worried parent more than the commanding officer. "Milady!" he shouted, " 're ye alright? Dunnae breathe!" His cautions were secondary, and vaulted himself off his horse (though that might've seemed like a graying feat if not for the urgency) brushing the billows of green dust and mist away in wafts, as if trying to unbury her from the blight. Rou sat up with eyes wide, the palm of her hand cemented to her scarves, over her mouth, as Fowler's torch illuminated her face. Her sable hair was thick with mildew-green spores, as if it had begun to mold, having peeled the overgrowth off the ground and onto her back. She panted as she recovered from panic, unable to heed the Captain's warning, though with the linen bundled safely around her mouth, had not corrupted her lungs. Each soldier blew out a heavy sigh of relief, some still struggling to right their horses from the shock. His hand extended, Rou gripped it to bring herself to her feet, and dusted off what she could. Her heart still beat a mile a minute, and she could do little to form words, but it was the tempered training of Fowler's expertise that gruffed orders to gather the party back to attention. Realizing her horse had run off, and leaving them a ride short, Rou looked apprehensively back at the carriage. Despite the momentary trauma, the carriage seemed even less pleasant than before. Approaching cautiously, with her hand reaching for Thunder's flank, Rou craned her head to look up at Zenahriel. She was breathing more steadily now, but warily averted her eyes to check the distance, often. "Let me ride with you?" she asked, reaching up a hand to be helped to seat behind him. Fowler had to handle the soldiers, and her companion's mount was the only one that could comfortably manage two, a large Clydesdale that was built like a mountain. Even if she had to spend the rest of the trip buried in Zenahriel's wings, that seemed a comfort by comparison.
  13. Shhhhhhh. You’ll ruin my carefully-cultivated reputation. Then everybody will know I’m just full of frosting.
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