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Narcissa

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Narcissa last won the day on September 12 2015

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About Narcissa

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  • Birthday 07/09/1989

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  1. Narcissa

    Repeat After Me

    Rou pressed her cheek to his temple, inhaling steadily to catch her breath, having tired slightly from her duty. She had not been overenthusiastic in her performance, though nor had she been repelled, for she'd taken charge in the pursuit of the punishment that was inevitably coming. Rather than wait for it to be forced on her --whether by her husband-of-unknown-character's hand, or by Rafael's wrath towards her petulance-- it seemed less like a wound that could be inflicted upon her if she were the one holding the knife. Nonetheless, maneuvering efficiently in such a tight dress had been slightly bothersome, and was not without tire. Rou could hear the distant, occasional coughs of Fowler, both retinues implicitly and aptly aware of the reason the carriage had been shaking. The An'She hadn't moved, even as he snapped his fingers past the curtain and out the window-- their pair of eyes, so close together, were like two beasts in the dark, peering out of their den at the attendant that would dare pry into it. Her yellow beaded eyes followed the path of his arm in the dark, watched the flow of his signature be unbothered by her imposition on his lap, and noticed that there was only space for one name. On any other night she might've argued, sharpened her claws like a cat thrown into a bag, but it would serve no purpose. All the work that she'd done; wasted. All the power she'd obtained; gone. Rou had gone to such lengths and perils to prevent this very outcome, and yet she had been powerless to stop it, all because a man ordered her there, and a man signed her ownership away. What was there to fight about, now? She hadn't said a word, though he could likely feel her growing scowl against his temple. As orders through his man Noel were put into motion, Rou took the cue of the retinue gathering up their steeds as a suggestion to peel herself from her new husband, and sloshed back heavily into the seat opposite him. Fowler was to follow them, a slight comfort to the otherwise restless night, as she could see from a break in the curtains. Wiping her sweat from her brow, her hand traveled to her neck, and minorly smudged the foundation that covered up the bruises at her throat. Catching Dominique's eye at her throat, Rou glanced at her fingers, and saw the skin-colored paint staining her hand, and followed his track of thought. "It is nothing," she assured him curtly, sitting up a little straighter, opposite him diagonally as the carriage lurched into a steady roll. Glancing away, she found more interest in the inspection of her nailbeds-- anything that would spare her of the judgmental stares she expected. "Nothing that won't heal in a few days." It still felt surreal, as she could feel the phantom of Rafael's hand tightening around her throat, the tightness in her chest as he'd stolen her very breath from her lungs. It was hard to forget the pain, and even harder to forget the disturbing look upon Rafael's face... every time she closed her eyes, even for a moment, it haunted her. "So," she ventured out, with a slightly more playful tone-- playful, only in the way that a cynical cat toyed with it's food, "how has a little lordling like yourself offended His Majesty to be saddled with me?" He lived far on the outskirts of Umbra, and de Castelle was not a name she'd heard often, and in his polite pauses, she filled it with presumption, as was her wont to do. "Banishment?" she thought, thinking it would not be beyond Rafael to displace Rou as far away from him as possible-- it was smart, as much as she disliked it, to remove her from the Queen she thought her enemy, and temptation besides. As she caught another glance out the window, she remembered that her belongings were not the only possessions in her carriage that followed with Fowler. "Did he pay you?" Rou asked with eyes narrowed, but spared Dominique their direction.
  2. Narcissa

    Repeat After Me

    With narrowed eyes, Rou had done little to obscure the yellow-hornet shift of her irises as they looked him down, and back up again. Her lips were twisted by the caustic bite of her bitter temper, scrutiny heavy as an anvil on her brow, contempt personified. It was almost exaggerated, in the way that she was determined to be dissatisfied, more than just her evening spoiled by Rafael's harsh judgement; she'd imagined that encounter going much differently. She spent a long while scanning his suit from afar, especially his ring-- loud yellow jewels almost rivaling that of her eyes, much in the way a predator follows the false eyes painted on a moth's wings. And like such a beast, even beneath the fairness of her face and garb, her apprehension was apparent as she remained at a distance. Rou cut a figure that could make a man bleed, and she seethed with venom, as much the viper as her reputation preceded, but she withheld her bite in favor of wait. Dominique's face was dark, strong, and his red eyes yielded an implied patience, sparing her the hunger, the arrogance, the piercing severity that the emperor often used to see through her. It was minute, but the purse of her lips eased slightly-- he wasn't entirely unfortunate-looking, she conceded. “You look stunning.” Rou shirked his compliment, turning so deliberately that her ponytail had followed in tow, whipping the long length of sable hair with added abhorrence. She hadn't needed to say a word, the scoff beneath her breath was enough. “It would seem that the emperor’s fortune has favored me. I consider myself a lucky man.” Fowler knew as soon as Dominique had uttered his first word, that his mistress would find it imprudent. Were he not so bound to propriety in the nature of his position, he might've made gesture to caution the Lord de Castelle, or even to stifle his own charge, but he could do little but wince and remain at attention. Much to the foresight of his fears, Rou was visibly boiling. Rou's jaw was clenched hard, much at the expense of her cheek, bitten as she choked on patience, and reluctantly tilted her candle for him to light. She was bound by her duty and emperor's command to partake in this absurd, antiquated ceremony, and hadn't the wherewithal to refuse, but she was clearly not pleased about it. Let Dominique have his symbolism, call herself bride or wife or whatever title would find her in compliance with the law, and retain her life. This would change nothing, still in denial of the permanence of Rafael's doled justice. "Lucky?" Rou finally seethed at him, her shapely brow raising with incredulity, nearly hissing at the word. She could not help but feel patronized, however it was not his words that were the culprit, but the underlying wounds of her heart that hadn't yet any appropriate time to scab over; in the darkness that was the back of her mind, they threatened to never heal. The An'She chuckled sardonically, as if only to keep from weeping. "You've been compelled by His Majesty to be my babysitter. You would feign luck, Lord Castelle? Studhorse-- what a riot that is," Rou sought him out with a cynical grin, now with wicks lit and red wax dripping onto the leaves at their feet between them, the droplets louder than the silence that overcame the retinue of both parties, and the bride and groom at the center, softly glowing by candlelight. "This is no gift, but a punishment." For her, anyway. Either way, she'd still be in deference of the law, as she could not bear children, it was simply the salve to Rafael's conscience. Fowler sighed, only half out of relief. While Rou's words had still been laced with enough venom to kill a man, Dominique still yet stood. It was more than could be said for some in Rou's prior presence, for all her skeletons soon to be packed in Dominique's closet. Clearing his throat, he paid his mistress a stern look-- he knew she wouldn't like it, but prayed she'd listen. One of her coachmen was running to retrieve the book and contract, to proceed with the ceremony. Catching Fowler's drift, Rou scoffed again, and rolled her eyes, her chest heaving with a heavy sigh. "Apologies," she said, but only half meant it. Dryly surrendering, she dulled a bit of the barb in her tone when she looked back at Dominique. "You aren't..." Rou started, but then rethought her words for accuracy and to spare some of his pride, "... this isn't what I expected." Naive, that she'd expected marriage to be a joyful occasion, and this rather felt at knife-point. Catching her attendant making final preparations and approaching upon them both, the An'She held out a flat hand in halt. Rou looked visibly frustrated, the finality of the ceremony finally starting to set in. She pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand, dragged it down her face and was feeling the weight of the guillotine blade above her head. It was no wonder Rafael had sent her there that night, looking to deprive her of time to come up with an alternate solution, or even to run. Rou couldn't concentrate, a bit of the panic starting to set in. The entirety of their retinues waited in silence, as Rou struggled not to unravel in front of them. "Give us a moment," she said gruffly, as she plucked the candle from Dominique's hand, and took them both to her attendant, leaving him to balance the dripping wax, the massive book and contract, all in his arms, before a few more of Fowler's company had rushed to assist. Most were baffled, not only by the unexpected pause in ceremony, but by the way Rou had launched her hand forward, latching onto the lapel of Dominique's suit, brusquely pulling him along, now making towards his carriage. Gesturing to his footman, he rushed ahead of them to swing open the door of Lord Castelle's carriage, and nearly dragged him in after her. Depositing him in the seat across from her, the rungs of the curtains on the opposite doors jingled as she swiftly covered the windows, shutting them off from the party's sight... even if she could do little for their hearing. Hiking up the pink skirt of her gown, Rou's knees framed his hips, straddling on top of him in the limited space. As he might've been understandably confused, Rou snatched his broad chin between her fingers with a viper's lash, and talked down just inches away from his lips. "Seven hells, you know how to do this, don't you?" she asked, with a good deal of exasperation, leaving her fingers' claim only to soothe the growing headache behind her eye, she could hardly concentrate. "Marriage seems inordinate to what he really wants, so why don't you make yourself useful? Everyone here can report to his majesty that our obedience is unquestionable," she said, though there was no love or loyalty in her voice. She stared crossly at him, hoping it would prevent argument. Once she took the plunge, it would have to get easier... wouldn't it? There was little point in delaying the inevitable. If Rafael was throwing her away, she would cement that choice by her own hand.
  3. Narcissa

    Repeat After Me

    Magestorms earlier in the season had made winter last nearly an unbearable lifetime, the chill on the air manifesting in a small littering of snow, as if to boast it was there to stay. It obscured the waxing moon, though it's bright glow illuminated the clouds with a purple-pearlescent hue, just light enough for the An'She's party to travel by night. Once again bound to her carriage, Rou was to make one more unexpected trip that night, escorted by a small retinue of guards bearing the banners of the crown of the Carmine Dominion, and Fowler, a trusted captain of the Imperial Navy. Brooding inside, the An'She was starting to feel like a doll in a box, waiting for some spoiled child to open it up and neglect her. In a very short time, it seemed, she'd learned to be remiss in thinking otherwise. With a small lantern balanced on the opposite seat, her hands were juggled between the tasks of holding a mirror, and sculpting foundation across her neck. Blotting and dabbing, Rou swept at her throat with the brush, angling her chin upward to peer at the strokes-- an attempt to artfully hide the crescent scars of nails and minor bruising that Rafael had so painfully given her as a parting gift. Out of the corner of her eye, she witnessed the deep indent of her tithing scar, and felt her heart sink into her stomach in disgust. It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand with the constant taste of bile in her mouth. As her carriage rolled to a stop, Rou was too impatient to wait for her footmen at the door, and thrust it open herself, nearly leaping down the steps, her heels crunching on the fallen leaves frozen by the hoarfrost. They still appeared to be on the path shrouded by the woodlands, a ways outside Umbra proper and into the more remote hills on the cliffsides in the northeast. With no house or home in sight, a dreadful thought made Rou wonder just how far Rafael was willing to go to remove her; it would've been silly to have painted her neck for an assassination. Hiding her nerves, she plied her hand to her throat, and watched as Fowler rounded his mare. "Fowler?" she inquired, though she dug deep for an air of authority in her tone. "Th' edge o' Castellan land, m'lady," he answered her implicit question, before snapping his fingers to direct the footmen. Groaning for the soreness in his hips as he dismounted, Fowler was starting to feel the gray of his age. As the footmen brought Rou her cloak, he helped shroud it around her shoulders, to keep her warm in the chill. "They've called me back ou' to duty, in service of his majesty," he said in his usual gruff tone, though the falling of his eyes conveyed a deep regret that he was too loyal to the crown to admit, "Aft this is o'er, I must leave ye." Rou's breath misted in the cool air, and her own gaze fell, not one to burden Fowler with her grief at such news. She knew precisely where his loyalties lied, and considering all he'd done for her, Rou would not do him the disservice of letting her selfishness jeopardize that. Managing a forced smile, the An'She placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder. "I hope you are as a comfort to him as you have been to me, Fowler; I've known no better nor honorable man than you," she answered with a rare token of honesty, as hard as it was for her to let him go. He'd been a fatherly sort of comfort in her life, and with not too many influences considering her well being, he'd become a welcome addition in her life. In an attempt at levity, she shrugged, in the hopes of lifting his spirits. "Besides, I'm still a citizen of Umbra, despite this... arrangement." Rou looked off into the path, though not even the moon was bright enough to illuminate it, leaving her and her party of soldiers to wait in the dark. Reaching into his coat, Fowler dipped deep inside his pocket, and withdrew something he placed into Rou's hands-- a candle, long and pristine, the wax a deep ruby red. The wick was so far untouched, as Rou made to wave her hand over it. "No' yet, m'lady," he said, cautioning Rou with his hands to lower hers, and gave her pause. "The vampyres of old 're very particular; very bound to tradition. We wait on th' edge o' his land for him to light your candle wi' his own." Shifting her eyes down to the candle, she scoffed at the irony. "Lighting the path, as it were." She sighed, switching her weight from one foot to the other-- anything to distract her from the tedium that was waiting. Terrible had been Rafael doling out her fate not an hour ago, but worse still was waiting for the judgement to come. It felt like a knife in her back, and eventually, someone would be there to twist it out. "A symbol o' his protection, m'lady. A deed in action that conveys the acceptance of terms." Fowler fumbled with his words slightly, knowing Rou not to be fond of the idea that her livelihood was being turned into a transaction, though she seemed to have been handling it well. Fowler feared that this forest would've been a bonfire, though his current ward was seeming to take a more level-headed approach. "There was some talk o' presentin' ye in th' customary white gown, though 'is highness hadnae thought that a prudent idea." Rou seemed puzzled, and squinted her eyes at him, conveying her uncertainty. "Don't most brides wear white, Fowler?" Fowler inhaled sharply, and seemed to dance around his words. "Aye, they do, in the chance a human bride is given t' a vampyre. Custom would have ye in white t' show the blood as yer husband takes 'is first tithing," he said, pointing at his neck to emphasize his point, but still refused to look Rou in the eye. "They would, but yer not a... a..." With all the frustration mounted for the evening, Rou had lost her patience, clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "Oh, spit it out, Fowler." "A virgin, m'lady." Rou froze, and it seemed Fowler did the same, disconnected from eye contact as an awkward silence rose between the two. Clutching the candle, Rou tensed and mulled her lips together tightly. After some time, she stupidly opened her mouth. "Oh." No, certainly not. "M'lady, the House of Castelle comes." @King
  4. Her name uttered in so severe a tone sent chills down her spine, and not the kind she liked. His rise sent her sliding off the arm of his throne, bound by captive wrist, his squeeze so tight and unrelenting that her fingers splayed in their reach, for Rafael's obtrusive height. In taking the more-than-metaphorical high ground, he talked down to her (not a common occurrence, even with all the intricacies of their relationship considered) and the gravel of his voice was deliberate and weighty, despite how he struggled in his melancholia. Before arriving upon that moment opposite him, it seemed Rou was so naive that he hadn't thought him capable of such comeuppance. Not to her, not to his precious desert flower, no. Not to his favorite. In her disbelief, Rou could hardly trust the gravity of his claims, much less that he'd made them. If anything, it had to be a sort of test, or lighting the proverbial fire beneath her arse to spur movement forward. As if by default, human nature was a fickle beast that met unfathomable consequences in the wildest of ways, Rou laughed. "Ha-- oh, darling, you don't mean that," she chortled, finding denial in humor, plying her freed hand to his chest, despite how rigid it felt in response. "Me, a married woman," she could only laugh, in refusal of processing what had been presented her. There was no way. She was a lady of position, a notable An'She to the Emperor of the Carmine Dominion. She had hardly been promised to a leader of another nation, for as a diplomat she would've been the one to broker the arrangement. Seeing as she had not, the concept was beyond foreign. "When the seven hells freeze over, maybe. You don't mean that," she repeated again, for certainty that her words were true. Rou paused, and followed Rafael's eyes as he looked astray, to the doors of the throne room at the far end of the corridor. In its threshold stood Fowler, the outline of her carriage awaiting in the distance. Not awaiting her orders, but his. She felt all of the color drain from her face, painfully cold as her jaw came agape, speechless and stunned. In a moment of panic, her earlier laughter had felt like a reflection of insanity. Amid all of Rou's machinations, she'd never thought him capable; capable of letting her go, capable of sending her away, capable of what felt like no less than betrayal. She'd thought to remain in such status quo, had the naievete to think she could wait in the wings until he needed her; while she hadn't voiced such an opinion, Rou had yet held out hope for the crown to one day rest upon her own head-- but in truth, the crown was simply accessory. Her hand slipped grimly from Rafael's chest, and she retreated, one foot and then another. Slowly, aghast, she repelled herself from him, but had never taken her eyes off of the carriage. It symbolized the horsemen of death, come to take her away. She'd trusted Rafael, and without any remorse, willingly banished her there. After she'd finally let him in, he carved her out, like a cancer upon his empire. "What have you done?" She was wounded, her hand placed over her heart in effort to stop the ache that felt like irreparable bleeding, her breath quickening as the panic set in. Shaking her head, desperately wishing she could will the foreboding away, Rou retreated from Fowler's ascent up the throne room as if it was the herald of her death. "You can't do this," she exasperated, nearly purging herself of all the breath in her lungs as she half-whined, half-pleaded at him. Rou's yellow, waspish eyes were full of hurt when she flashed them at him, and yet gave him the respect of dealing her arguments in a hissing whisper-- even though Fowler, as the only one witness to it, seemed fully apprised of the situation. "I'm not some thing you can bequeath to another," she spat at him, gesturing as if she'd had venom to throw in his face, defensive and angry. "You can't just will me off when you've tired of me. You don't want this, you don't. I know you, you don't." Heartache, betrayal, even regret, Rou was awash with more agony than she could manage, denying the fate set before her. "You can't take this back, Rafael. Please, just give my initiative a little more time." Rou could scheme her way out of this one, she was certain. She could cull the farmers, the scientists, the bloody An'She council into adhering to her rule, even if she had to make each of their lives a nightmare, so she could spare her own. Choice seemed even more out of reach, as seemingly her blood and her livelihood were things Rafael had the power to order away. She knew too well the pressures that weighed on him, but he seemed to be enacting all of the price upon her. He was sacrificing her.
  5. DON'T LOOK AT ME
  6. Rou had made a grave mistake, thinking that she could waltz into his court with the walls around her heart lowered. It had often been the point of argument, in their intimate past, of how stubbornly she'd guarded herself, testing even the bounds what had seemed Rafael's nearly infinite patience. She could tell by his first words, how even in their muted tone echoed hollowly off the walls of the throne room, that despair had driven him into a deep pit of enmity. The shadows he took solace in festered, in the portrayal of calm that was simply his way, was his own wall he'd erected. Rou was momentarily jarred, as if she'd had a door slammed in her face, recoiling back a half-step. While she had not worshipped him as all the faithful did, Rafael had (more often than not) been a testament to deific benevolence in his dealings with Rou, that the withdrawal of his love and support came as a void, something stolen that upon realization Rou had sorely missed. His tone was severe, words to the point of business. He allowed her those moments of pause to gain her bearings, for it was uncommon that Rou would balk at him-- often quick to the well-timed quip or barbed, postulated argument. Her eyes were momentarily wide like that of a child, swallowing fear so deep the notch in her throat could be seen across the room, and Rou, disguised by the folding of her arms, pinched herself in effort to spur an answer. "I remember," she said, choosing wisely to confirm his inquiry, so as not to seem contentious. It hadn't seemed to impress him, and Rou rolled her lips, licking the bottom swell to spare her now-dry throat. "We've encountered some..." she paused, in search for the right word, and hesitation tore her gaze away; she could still feel it's weight, even though she hadn't the strength to meet it, "... setbacks." In that moment, she could've outed Thaladred and Cecil for their underhanded sabotage, and even with the mulling of her own lips, it might've been plain to someone such as Rafael, even without peering into her mind. However, she did not, and pinched herself again. Her back straightened, accepting her mantra of responsibility. "We've had tremendous progress; I'll see the missive proposals sent to you," she proffered, almost casually, as if the coaxing of honeyed tones would ease him back into comfort. With any luck, she'd flatter him back into more favorable tones, offering reprieve from his foul mood. Choosing not to be afraid, she ascended the steps of the dias, albeit slowly; Gabriela was away, and no prying eyes were about in seek of scandal. "This legislation will be a massive boon to your reign; cultivates even agriculture, science, in addition to the human prerogative of your lands. A few more months-- I expect-- and we'll have the first steps in place towards progression." While he might've worn the face of a wounded animal, Rou extended a hand only to soothe, for she knew he wouldn't bite. With the gentlest of touches, she stroked at his hair, leaning to sit on the arm of his throne. "Come, let's get you to a bath; would you like me to fix this for you?" she asked, twirling a lock of his hair between her fingers. When he'd chanced to look at her, Rou met him with a sultry smile, tempting him with the solace he so routinely took with her, though such a smile hadn't felt forced, from Rou's perspective, paying back the sweetness he'd shown her, when she was at her most difficult. "A bath and a drink, perhaps," his An'She suggested when he hesitated, thumbing through his unkempt beard. The offer to feed from her was still not a comfortable suggestion to make, though she was confident in its necessity. She could feel the hard line of his jaw, the thinness of his cheek, and all her soft prodding seemed to be the meticulous work on sizing up the task at hand. "Rafael?"
  7. For a night that would usually be occupied by his court, the throne room of Lana'Thel was peculiarly empty. Colors were muted in the hall in the low light of night, as even the sconces' casts were stunted, wicks kept low and demure. Rou entered alone, though upon the dias was Sauriel, like a shadow upon his own throne. He was quiet, though the thought hadn't quite bothered her; his red eyes were noticeable from the moment she'd entered, attracted like a magnet. Were this anyone else, the An'She might've felt on-edge, but his shade was like that beneath a bountiful tree on a sunny day, red eyes less hungry for her flesh than they were hungry for her love and acceptance, keenly aware of her movements in the way that made her feel nearly a decade younger. It took her nearly until the moment across from him to realize that she'd spent so long a time away from Rafael, and missed him. She had her duties, as An'She, and -- well, there was the certain matter of his wife she had to be careful about. She had not dressed for formal court, but had dressed nonetheless-- a form-fitting blouse of fine red silk embroidered delicately in gold, a sheer back so that her spine might indulge in the cool night air-- or a few wanton gazes. Draped over her shoulder was a ruffled chiffon sari, skirt widening over her hips and tapered at the ankles, moving like coral waves with each graceful step. With a few glances this way and that to confirm they were alone, Rou pulled at the glove that covered her left hand-- as well as the scars upon her wrist. There was no need to hide it from him. Fowler hadn't mentioned the premise for her visit, but Rou assumed that Cole, ever the whispering weevil in their Emperor's ear, didn't take kindly to her threats in the council chambers earlier that day-- and assumed a slap on the wrist, for the brazen removal of her choker. Rafael had never been one to be ashamed of his deeds, but preferred his privacy-- particularly now, she supposed, when he was trying so hard to present a united front between Umbra and Orisia to his followers. She likely wasn't doing anything to help his efforts in that, though the same argument could be made for just being there. In an attempt at levity, Rou shrugged her shoulders and gestured open-armed to him. "We could have just met in your chambers," she suggested, a tilt to her head that sent her long black ponytail slipping gracefully over her shoulder, "Is there need for all the pomp and circumstance?" Rou chuckled prematurely, as she was already positive that he wouldn't have cared for her jests. In order to rectify it, the An'She stood up straight, before placing a hand over her heart and deferring with a polite bow. "You wished to see me?"
  8. From here and there, the life of an An'She never seemed to sit still. She was constantly beckoned from one obligation to another, ferried back and forth across the city, the country, the whole Arcane East and beyond, still. Such a life had been terribly uncomfortable, having felt every cobblestone of the road intimately upon her backside. Home had so long felt like an ambiguity to Rou, constantly fluid and taken simply where it could be found, but she almost had to admit that she could live to like a sedentary nature... almost. A bed she knew she could return to sleep in was nice, upon occasion. Agitation, anger, and discomfort had worn her out, so much so that even the wooden chair in her study had felt like a down feather bed. It had been so long since she'd slept-- longer still since she'd been at ease; the An'She counselors meant to subdue her, Gabriela now held the title she coveted, and Rafael's safeguard of his favor was thinning steadily around her. Much of the time had been spent poring over books, writing drafts, even just cutting her eyes aside in the privacy of her estate so she could be afforded what seemed like the luxury of just thinking, when she'd not been away on her many ventures as a diplomat. So often she'd assumed the pose, brow heavy and rumpled, elbows propped upon the desk, and her finger poised thoughtfully over her lips. Rou bore the weight of her prerogative alone, and it resulted in many sleepless nights. To think, if things had been different, she might be concerned with more trivial pursuits-- what royal jewels to wear, holding court over peons and seeming all the more magnanimous for it, even chasing after some growing children, despite how she soured at the thought. Now, with all considered, those things had seemed easy, flighty, and altogether misguided. It was no wonder that she'd fallen asleep, head cradled in her own hands above her work. A subtle, quiet knocking roused her from her slumber. "M'lady?" Rou jolted awake, nearly startled with her hand plastered across her chest. The sun had already set, for how long, she hadn't known. "Oh, Fowler," she breathed with relief, though it hadn't been like him to intrude. The grizzled captain was often a sight for sore eyes, an occasional confidante that sweetly protected her as a father would, with all his sagely advice and boorish charm. Rou was fond of his way with words, how he was straight to the point with a genuine care, for she spent too long reading between the lines of the vampyres she was supposed to name peers. She valued his honesty, even when it was something she didn't want to hear. When she'd cast a look upon him in the doorway, she was starting to feel that pit in her stomach again. "News from Mageside?" she questioned, daring to ask hopefully. Fowler gave a single nod, before holding up a folded missive, stamped firmly with a blue wax seal. When Rou held out her hand expectantly, he obliged in her invitation, and placed it in her palm. "Good news?" Rou ventured, as if to glean its contents. She peeled back the wax, careful so as not to rip the letter, but paused before opening it. The captain was silent for a long while, but gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder in lieu of answer. "I'ave ne'er been one ta lie t' ye, m'lady," was all he said, and took a step back, in order to allow Rou privacy, politely waiting. She held her breath --more out of habit than hope-- as she flipped open the pages. Her eyes raced across each line, considering the words carefully, and the further she read, the longer her face became. She soured, a rumple in her lips that matched her brow, and culminated in a defeated sigh. Pinching the bridge of her nose, the familiar headache of frustration was creeping back into an uncomfortable throb. "Rarely, Fowler, does a letter beginning with 'we regret to inform you' end well." Clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, she tossed it aside, almost disappointed that a letter hadn't been heavy enough to damage anything in its wake, simply allowing her despair to be the casualty in silence. "The mages were unable to make headway in finding an alchemical substitute to replicate human blood. The venture is too costly, as has been mandated by An'She Thaladred; funding has been cut off." Her hands clenched tightly, boring white crescent circles of her nails into her skin, the only mark of Rou's moderated frustration-- that, and her spitting tone. Cucked again. While she did not wish to project her salty mood onto Fowler, forever the dutiful friend, he'd proved, she paid him another look. He hadn't excused himself, as was his wont to do. "Is there more?" Rou could tell Fowler was hesitating, but only for favoring care over duty. Finally, he spoke. "He wants to see you." Rou felt her heart sink into her stomach, and her stomach threatened to fall straight into the pits of hell. Closing her eyes, her headache throbbed. "Now?" "Now."
  9. The carriage ride was a long one, bumpy, and moved frightfully slow. This was in effect of her doubled guard, Rafael's own soldiers mandating extra protections in light of the separatist movements in Genesaris, and though they hadn't reached so close as the capital of the Arcane East, they still made a showing of preparation, as far as the Emperor's own household. In Rou's mind, holding a dozen more banners of the House of Bartolome did little to assuage security, but it was simply the presence of it that made for the benefit of those who witnessed it, rather than herself. Complaining did little good, so she simply sat back, and tried to make the best of the carriage ride alone, despite how it rattled along the bumps of the road to the outskirts of Umbra. As it pulled up to a large farmhouse, Rou was helped out of the carriage by the hand, and the hands came out to greet her. The owner was a portly man, human, with a growing litter of children, as evidenced by his small, homely wife, who held a child in each arm, and several more around her skirts. As Rou strode closer to them, she could see that each of the adults bore at least one tithing scar, and even some of the older children did, as well. The youngest couldn't have been any older than 12, who looked upon the fleet of banners with admiring awe, the crane in her neck showing off the two dimples that lay cradled in the flesh of her throat. Rou swallowed uncomfortably, but gathered her bearings before coming within proximity of her father. He removed his hat and bowed awkwardly, unsure how exactly to show proper greeting to the An'She, as she'd been removed from more prestigious and self-explanatory titles. "Yer Grace," he greeted her, straw hat in hand. "Mr. Caldwell," Rou answered, with an acknowledging nod of her head, and with a wave of her hand, shooed the soldiers away to return to the carriage. The farmer's posture eased, but only slightly. The An'She was right to business, with a cock of her head. "I trust our stores are coming along swimmingly in your care?" "Oh yes, m'lady, they've had plenty of time to weave right mighty nests. A bit hard to keep in the pen, it's true, but we've got more litters than we imagined, as they keep growing by the day," he said, fidgeting a bit as he held his hat. Were he to hold it any tighter, the whole thing might've unraveled. Rou held her breath at the utterance of a peculiar word, so jarring that she wasn't quite sure she'd heard right. Pausing with an inquisitively concerned look, she sought to unravel more than his hat. "Come again, nests?" she asked, her tongue clicking on the roof of her mouth. "Right, ma'am, nests. The rats have taken every bit of spare string, twine, and straw they can find, and pulled it into the corral. They've been a bit of a challenge, though we've left all the food in the corral to keep them living and multiplying there, though I can't say we're the most popular folks in town, any more. They've eaten nearly a dozen of me hats, so far, y'know," Caldwell answered, with a nervous laugh. Rou stopped on a dime, and not even a bridge meant to hold the weight of an entire castle could've kept her jaw from dropping. The color drained from her face, nearly white as a sheet. "...Rats?" she repeated, in a tone so lifeless she might've needed to be resuscitated right there on that field. In the quiet between them, the wind had calmed for a moment, and Rou could finally hear it behind the farmhouse, the rustling and squeaking of what must've been an army. Desperately, she looked to Caldwell, in hopes that this was all just a dream. He did little to soothe her fears, and he was starting to sweat a bit, himself. "M'lady?" he asked, starting to catch her worry, "Would ye like to inspect them?" Speechless for many moments, she waved a hand and he turned around to walk her behind the farmhouse. The An'She followed, as the sounds grew louder, louder still, until Rou could see the pens-- tumbleweeds of dirty straw. The smell was pungent, as Rou nearly gagged before she covered her nose and mouth, eyes widening in horror as she looked at the mass, growing taller than the old wood pens. The soiled strings of nests moved, wriggling with the passage of pests beneath, sometimes clear enough to see a fleshy tail or beaded pair of eyes. Caldwell was trying to speak to her, but Rou could only hear the white noise, drowned out in the thoughts too many and too egregious to have found voice. "Ma'am?" he asked, waving a hand in front of her face. Rou raised a hand, but this was no polite gesture. Palm facing the infestation, it started to glow bright orange, the wind turning hot as it rolled and condensed, twisting into an alight sphere. Deaf to all else, Rou's magic was known well to most of Umbra, and Caldwell had the good sense to get out of the way, diving behind her. With a shove, it burst towards the pen, and the mass caught alight in seconds, dry tinder beneath became edible kindling. The squeaking turned to shrieking, the nest shaking and rustling with terror, and pests began to leap out of the tangle in droves. With two fingers, Rou summoned two more rounds, and painted them in a circle around the nest from where she stood. The dry grass of Caldwell's field burned quickly, rising, effectively cornering the rats inside the pen to burn. Smoke tufted up to the clouds, dark and sooty, and the screams and squeals were carried on the wind, loud and long... until they quieted... and died out. All that remained was ash, piled high while flames crept to devour the rest of the dry field, a flabbergasted Caldwell, and a grim An'She. She stared at the destruction for a long while, before she turned, grimacing sternly at the farmer on the ground. "Caldwell," she spoke, her honeyed voice frozen over, chilling him to the bone, "You and yours are pig farmers, are you not?" He could do little but nod, nod and clutch his hat. Seething from between her teeth, Rou slithered up to him like a snake, as he could've sworn she bore fangs as she preyed over him, yellow eyes as thin slits that harbored the hell to which she'd just sent his hive of rats on a most painful journey to. She darted, snatching his hat from the farmer's hands, and loomed over him in demand of answers. "Then why, Mr. Caldwell, would you raise a berth of rats to supply as livestock for the bloodbank? We are diverting drinking from humans, not depriving them of their dignity. Pigs, sheep, cows-- livestock. You think they would be agreeable to drink from pests?!" "We was doing what ye told us!" Caldwell said, realizing that he was not acting in the An'She's pleasure, as if he were begging for his own life. He was bewildered, confused, but above all, scared. "We was raising the pigs, and Lord An'She Cecil had come to check on our stock, he did, an said that ye needed a bank that would grow more quickly! We was just doin' as told!" Cecil, that malicious vermin. Rou was reeling with the amount of life-sustaining breath that had left her, and there weren't enough curses in the world to damn him. I should have known they would sabotage me. This was that awful feeling that sat in the pit of her stomach; the way they'd stared at her, they knew what loss she was about to walk into. They had taken initiative off of her own proposal, and ruined her attempts before they could even get off the ground. Months of work, he'd wasted, and now they would have to start over from nothing. Gripping tightly the only matter she could reach, Rou's hands clenched into the straw, and ripped the hat apart. She could not even bring the words of failure to bear, but her hands certainly could. Teeth gritted and fuming, Rou dropped it at his feet, and turned to return to the carriage. Scrambling to his feet, the farmer stumbled over to his family, watching stunned as the An'She had made to leave. His farm was in flames, and there hadn't been any word from the An'She. With a prompt from his wife, he spoke up before she was out of earshot. "D-do you want us to start over, then? With pigs?" As the soldiers opened the carriage door for her, Rou paused before ascending the step. She turned back, her face dour and cold. "I want you to report to the town square at daybreak, tomorrow. There, you'll receive thirty lashes, for your stupidity," she spat. Caldwell was stunned and horrified, and when he'd opened his mouth to beg forgiveness, Rou raised a hand, for she wasn't finished. "Then your wife and your children will receive ten each, for bearing witness to it." With a hand, Rou gestured at her soldiers, who disembarked their mounts and banners in order to guard the farmhouse, breathing down Caldwell's neck to carry out the An'She's will. "No, no, please-- yer grace!" Caldwell pleaded, running toward the carriage, but was caught by the arm by her soldiers. "They didnae do anything!" "You're right, they didn't. And yet you let the vampyres feed from them? They didn't deserve that, either. But they will blame you for it." With no chance at mercy, Rou lifted herself into the carriage, paying one last, cold glance out the window. "Let those scars be a reminder to you, and all your family, not to trust such idiocy in the future. Captain, move out." The crack of the whip, and the carriage lurched away from the farm, the crackle of wildfire still echoing behind her. In the solace of her carriage, Rou heaved a heavy sigh, before removing her gloves. The rattle and rocking of the carriage hadn't deterred her eyes from the sight of her scars, the dimples from Rafael's tithing scars on her wrist, on top of the faded streaks from the cuffs in her shackles, how the steel had cut into her flesh. They were pains of remembrance she would never forget, memories that threatened to strip her of her humanity. She was as foolish as they were, once, but now she knew better. They would, too.
  10. Chatter in Umbra's greater council chambers were as white noise, a droll humming that buzzed incoherently, words that could simply be wished from cohesion. It was the same every time, as one could tell by their tone, in that way that the brown-nosing upper-crust that had the fortune to be mandated with that authority, made similar rounds of patting themselves on the back for trivial pursuits that benefitted little beyond themselves. The military was preened to statuesque display, as Augustus Cole continued to be proud, despite the fact that the troops of Umbra hadn't even been mobilized in the struggles against the separatists, simply patrolling as if all were normal, in a fool's air of stability. Thaladred was beaming over the reports of the treasury, plying tales of how she'd managed to keep the funds of the Imperial City in positive balance-- conveniently dismissing the bleeding toll that was Orisia, the sister-island of Umbra that latched onto the empire like a parasite more than half a year ago. And Cecil, in all his idolotry, had the nerve to boast about the success of vampyre affairs, for they all had enough food to eat and wealth to share. Still, he managed to weasel in that nagging tone, the one that could curl a cat's whiskers. "...And all preparations are underway for the Feeding, set to take place in a few month's time. Seems like the humans know well enough their duty, despite the fact that the An'She of human affairs does not attend prayers." Without whiskers of her own to curl, Rou simply grimaced, a cut of her eyes across the An'She council chambers at those named her peers. She did not rise, even in her seat, with her chin cradled in her hand, resting on the arm of her great chair. Opposite three perpetually-youthful vampyres, be it blessed or cursed by their immortality, Rou was the only one who showed her age, approaching her thirty-second birthday, though she'd felt more like she was nearly fifty. It had not softened the glare of her yellow eyes, this work, even arguably made it more severe. She sighed brusquely through her nose, projecting frustration, annoyed at having to repeat herself at nearly every council. "And as I've said before, An'She Cecil, my worship is made alone." Convinced of their superiority, the three shared looks that appeared humored, together in the opinion that Rou played the part of a jaded child, undeserved of her rank, and had successfully gotten under her skin. With eyes narrow, Rou hadn't taken too kindly to it. Straightening in her chair, Rou's arms rose behind her great ponytail of sable hair, and unfastened the velvet choker from around her neck, letting it slip into her hands before she'd placed it on the table, deliberately airing the dimpled scars of the bite on her neck. "As I'm sure you're aware, counselors, my consecration is the only one to which the Father, himself, partakes," Rou said, with her eyes low, though she could feel their guilt thickening in the air, "And were his most trusted confidantes to forget that fact, mind you, I should think it would be my duty to pray for your unfortunate bouts of forgetfulness. That would be, after all, the most pious thing to do, would it not?" Spite was held brazenly on the end of her tongue, a lilt of savagery that was understated with purpose, though it was the final flash of her eyes that was the hands that released the blade of the guillotine. As well as Rou could ever mystify a man with those wasp-yellow eyes, so too could she behead one. The air shifted uncomfortably as the remaining three An'She did in their seats, and Rou slumped back against her chair with annoyance, bristling. "Fucking vampyres," she muttered coarsely under her breath, with little regard that they could hear her across the room. She cared little, and her gaze shifted to the empty seat next to her. Elsewhere had need of the absent Zenahriel, whom she'd come to find great strength in bearing these council meetings together, though the duties of a High Lord had made Rou to suffer the previous few alone. Some work to be done on an island off the coast of Umbra, and each time she was summoned to chambers, she'd hoped to see that of her friend, though was sorely disappointed to be without. Having tired of the charade and endless boasts, Rou gathered up the papers and missives spread on her desk, filing them messily into a single stack. Her eyebrow arched as she'd collected copies of her legislative draft, each marked in red with a stamp of denial. She remained seated, having avoided seeing the council chambers up in flames --for the moment, at least-- but it was clear that she was brooding. Brandishing the sheets like an insult upon her name, Rou thrust them forward in demand of an explanation, "You reject my proposal again? I had nearly 80 percent of the human commonwealth's signatures!" "And yet none of the vampyre nobility," Thaladred was quick to interject, pleased with herself as if she'd quipped with some marvelous revelation. "Of course none of the vampyres would be in favor of this legislation, the status quo already benefits them," Rou snapped, "but the human prerogative would see them afforded civil liberties. Forget the disillusion of the spread of wealth in the pockets of those with the longer lifespan, but what do humans get out of the arrangement of food supply for the vampyre minority?" "Well, they've always had the protection--" Augustus was quick to answer, but was silenced by the pointed raise of Rou's finger. "From your military that is now accustomed to wearing decorative armor. Your soldiers know nothing but peacetime, seeing it is the protection of Sauriel himself that is the only show of force. Do not ply me with your grandiose falsehoods, do not seek to soothe me with tales of always, General Cole. I may be foreign, but I know of the failures of the reign of Bronte, and who commanded the Pharoah's forces." Rou culled him with the hiss of her tongue, her clench of her nails nearly scraping scars into the wood of her chair. "This is precisely why this missive needs to be enacted now, so as to prevent any future reason for revolt. The world is changing, and soon enough the people inside what remains of the empire will not take kindly upon the intrusions to their life to be cattle for dignitaries simply because they can be food." "You speak of revolution," Cecil laughed, in all his gall, "And are you to be the one to lead it? Are you to threaten us to comply with this upheaval?" "No, I'm not threatening anyone--" Rou answered quickly and sighed with more than mild frustration, soothing the migraine that was growing behind her eye with the obscuring press of her palm. These roundabout and attempts at incriminating sessions vexed her to no end, as they sought to disqualify her claims by twisting her words. "But this isn't a symbiotic relationship, and as a preventative measure, our way-- I mean, the human way of life, needs to change." Catching her in misstep, Cecil prompted her again. "Why does this matter so much to you, An'She?" Because feeding is intimate, and personal. Because he reads my mind before I can even put it to thought. Because it will never be the same with him, again. Rou was quiet for a long while, face buried in the solace of her palm against the throbbing headache behind her eye. She could tell the other An'She were sharing victorious glances with one another, for all their pride and smug snobbishness. Again, Rou thought to the empty chair on her right, wishing she'd had support. "Because this is my home," she finally answered, in a grim, sensible tone. She sat up straight in her chair, elegant in almost a ghastly, tired portrayal of their revered Empress. Even for one Rou considered her true enemy, emulating Gabriela seemed the best course of action for the bastards across from her to consider her words, rather than whom they came from. "I've seen what havoc these social inequalities can have, and we are one of the few kingdoms that still rely on this archaic way of life. If we do not change, the world will change for us, and it will not be cleanly. I do not want this to happen to my home." For all the strength in her words, it was depressing how quickly the remaining three An'She all shrugged them off. Dismissal was flippant, holier than thou, and conceited, feeling as impervious as their vampyre bloodline spat in the face of time and age. Again, their retorts were washed out in white noise, as Rou could not hear them over her own heavy sigh. She was down, but not out. Without progressive vampyres to lend support to the cause, or even an alternative plan in place to conveniently transition to and keep the vampyre populace fed, her plans would always be met with opposition. Luckily, she'd thought to make some progress on the latter. "That's enough for today," Rou had finished in executive decision, gathering her things. "Once the bloodbank is operational, tithing will no longer be in vogue. Expect revisions of the legislation upon the next An'She Council." Though she could not hear them, Rou could identify a rather unfamiliar tone, a whisper shared among the three of them that sat uncomfortably in her chest. Something was about to fall through, but she hadn't any insight what-- only the feeling of dread, looming on the horizon. Not wishing to bask in it, Rou left. @King
  11. 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]
  12. Don't forget the tuba, that one time.
  13. 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
  14. 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.
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