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Sojourn in Drakiss

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It's never easy to admit that one's mother is right. Cicel had wanted it [I]so[/I] badly—the opportunity to escape Shrine City's austere walls and the endless complaints of Mrs. Goldburrow—and had expected the sojourn to go as it usually did. She found a carriage, a boat, a merchant wagon willing to take her to the edge of a forest or the fringe of a village, and shed all pretense of a noble her mother forced her to live. There was little money to spare and a great deal of research to do, but Cicely loved the different scents of the wind.

Yes, Orisia was quite the boat ride away, but that's what made it so attractive. The island was close enough to be within reason, yet far away enough to give her up to a month of time away without castigation. Attraction to the place didn't stop there, either—the island was ripe with stories of strange beasts and varied climates, and surely any creature worth calling an alchemist wouldn't turn down a chance to study what waited there. Cicel's mind had been ripe with childish visions, visions of finding stones that might absorb light or plants that sing. Sure, it wasn't likely, but who could say Orisia didn't have even better things to offer?

Amy Goldburrow could.

[I]“Are you out of your mind? Insolent girl, ungrateful and never concerned for anyone besides yourself! You are not going—our home is here and you are not helping anyone by abandoning us when we need you the most.” Cicely's mother had been enraged, her face as red and rough as a lobster's tail. The woman had tailed Cicely all the way down the palace's hall, snatching at Cicely's trunk on the unlikely chance that she might get a hold on it.

Cicely had learned by then to just keep walking—her stubbornness was no less than her mother's. But she had no tears, nor even the slightest sign of upset as her quick pace carried her out the door. “Dearest Momma, would you step off my back for once? You don't understand rational things like research, and you're not the one being shoved into Ethan's service. Court alchemist? What a pitiful excuse.”

“Aren't you worried about the v-v-vampyres?” Rose had chimed in then with a cheerfully trembling hiss. She was Cicel's sister, but often didn't look it with the fairer complexion and head of gold. Though not greatly different in age, Rose was constantly chided for being childish, flirting with servants and and making inappropriate remarks in decent company. In the hallway, she became her mother's shadow, hunched over and hooking her fingers into her mouth for fangs.

“Be quiet.” Amy had shoved Rose aside while managing to get a hold of Cicel's arm, causing the pair to suddenly stop. “I've never approved of your going out! A lady never goes out on her own. Something could happen, something [I]will[/I] happen, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself when you're cinders and your mother is left to fend for herself!”

“Exactly where would we be without my going out, hm?” Cicel had jerked her arm away, anger creasing her brow and roughening her voice. “You think I asked for this? To work, alone, to clean and cook because you couldn't get your fancy noble hands dirty? It's my money that's given you comfort, my work that has made us anything more than useless baubles to my cousin. You do not tell me where I can go and where I cannot.”

Words like that had always silenced Amy. That look had come on her face, the hurt, the worry, and the memories flashing across her eyes as she fell silent. Then there was the glare, then the insults as she somehow managed to become angrier, throwing her hands up and storming back to her room. Rose had been caught between Cicel and her mother in that moment, suddenly serious. She had placed a hand on Cicel's shoulder before it was shrugged off, a slight smile on her face.

“You'll at least be careful, won't you?”[/I]

Cicely could do careful. It wasn't like she was defenseless, after all. Everything had gone well, too—she chartered a ship that had fair weather on its trip, found a cozy inn at the port where people were friendly enough, and had already borrowed a map to chart out the first place she would start gathering materials. Drakiss may not have been the most fabulous of the places to start, but she had heard of [I]volcanoes[/I], geologic wonders of supremely hot rock. Even if such a thing was too dangerous to explore, she imagined exotic minerals for sale. Her hopes had been so high that she had spent most of her first day about the area visiting local shops.

The fresh air was crisp, pure, clean, and the mountains formed a beautiful skyline of blue and white, and the people were kind enough. She was told it was a place of military prowess for Orisia, yet it didn't feel constricted like Shrine City often did, and no one stared at her unnatural eyes. She thought all would go as well as it could, only to return to the inn to find a most unexpected thing. The innkeeper immediately pulled her aside and handed over a letter, a letter from none other than the Black Queen herself.

[I]What, by fate's folly, could I have possibly done?[/I] Irrationality told her she had attracted attention in the worst way possible, that she was suspected of some manner of treachery, or that the mistrust of Diandren's house had somehow followed her. As she had retreated to her room and read the letter with trembling hands, however, she saw nothing more than a simple welcome and invitation enclosed. Logic found her again, and she realized she would actually have to respond to the letter.

Dresses, she had no decent dresses. One didn't wear their best when traveling, and Cicely was no exception. She had brought only one other frock with her—a plain green thing with a thick overcoat and long sleeves suited for Shrine City's weather. It had seen a bit of wear, the skirt's hem even torn in a few places. Once, when she had been exceptionally bored during a week of persistent rain, she had opted to embroider black lilies on its yolk and hems, but the work was amateurish and lopsided in more than one place.

But buying an appropriate dress was out of the question. Frugality was a way of life Cicely had known since childhood and never abandoned—it was pinched pennies and slight savings that had rendered her able to purchase equipment for brewing and required travel for ingredients on top of having to purchase food and clothing. Since her arrival at Shrine City, she had been promised a much better income, but she wasn't about to destroy her savings of the month on a single vanity. So she bravely donned on the green dress, fastening a worn gray cloak about her shoulders when the time to leave came.

It would have been polite to have come as soon as she had received the letter. But timing on such a matter was vital if she was to save as much face as possible. She left a good while before sunset, arriving at Kingshill Castle just as the sky began to grow heavy with gold. It was a perfect time, she felt, soon enough to be prompt, but late enough to discourage lingering. She would not be asked to eat because suppertime was over, and she could not stay because it never perfectly safe to travel in the dark.

That didn't slow the nervous beat of her heart as she was led into the Long Hall. All was relatively quiet, and for a moment she hoped that it meant no one would really be seeing her at all. She'd express her apologies for missing the opportunity to meet the DuGraces, then shuffle on her way back to the inn before anyone got a real look at the country mouse she was. It would be awful, so awful if Ethan ever got word of it, if he found out about her pathetic impression on such a family. Having her title revoked wasn't entirely out of the question, and neither was her being held in further contempt of The Circle of Twin Rivers.

Cicel was offered a seat in one of the fine white chairs lining the hall, but she politely declined. Her boots were already tracking grains of mud on the floor, and she worried about her dress getting anything on the immaculate furniture. She couldn't help but pine at the fact that there was so much [I]white[/I], a stark contrast to the dirt clinging to the bottom of her cloak. Even her hair had been mussed by the long walk up to the castle, the pins securing the twisted bun at the back of her head loose and causing stray hair to tickle her chin and the back of her neck. Her skin was flushed from the cold, hands wringing together and posture rigid to the point of breaking.

Her mother was right—all of this had been a terrible idea. Edited by Fairess

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[FONT=Garamond][box] Lucis, Dollya, and Gabriela[/box]

“Can’t Dollya do it?” asked Lucis while crossing his arms over his broad chest.

“Hey, I am on holiday,” Dollya answered, not bothering to look up from a stack of papers that had been sent to her by Leo. She had promised to consolidate some of the accounts from all the funding requests before presenting them to her mother. But it was dreadfully dull work, which she was trying to get through in order to attend the second night of fighting.

“Holiday from what?” scoffed the silver haired man, narrowing his golden eyes at the younger version of his mother. He felt his blood boil at the fact that the young woman could not even dignify her responses to him with a look. As far as he was concerned Morgana was hardly a challenge, especially in comparison to Drakiss, which was still going through heavy reconstruction. However, it seemed that his harsh tone finally attracted his sister’s attention—vicious as it was.

“[I]From what?[/I] Really—fuck you Lucis. Take a night off from chasing skirts and actually act the part of host. This is your goddamn city.” Small fisted hands slammed down on the wide mahogany desk, upon which her paper work was spread. A dangerous turquoise glare was settled sharp and narrow upon her brother.

Quietly Gabriela leaned back into the plush fullness of her overstuffed chair. With her golden eyes closed she tilted her head into an open hand and applied pressure to her aching forehead while listening to the continued argument. Lucis scoffed, and then made some smart-ass remark in a high-pitched tone, surely trying to replicate his sister’s voice which succeeded in raising the levels of agitation from the blue-eyed beauty. And while she wanted nothing more than to stand up and walk out of the private study, leaving them to settle the problem amongst themselves, she felt the same tender warmth that always overcame her when she wanted to throttle one of her children. For too long she had been without them, so now—even their bitter bickering was a cherished experience that she would rather not do without.

Gabriela frowned—silence had settled. Opening her eyes and lifting her gaze she found that both Dollya and Lucis were looking at her. Lucis looked worried, his handsome face set in a frown with his thin pale lips pinched tight, and Dollya’s expressive brows were curled upwards with her eyes wide.

“What?” She asked them, perking an elegant brow.

“Is it your head?” Lucis pushed off the table he had been leaning against and strolled slowly to her side. Peering down at her he settled a wide warm hand across her forehead, as if he were checking her temperature. But of course she was cold as ice—as always. Instead, the motion succeeded in lending the Black Queen much needed warmth, which immediately made her smile. She tilted into his warmth, and reached up to settle her own small hand over his, curling her fingers into his and pulling his hand down to press a kiss to the back of his knuckles.

“No, it’s nothing—but it’s hardly pleasant to hear you two squabble like angry chickens. Now listen, Lucis,” she said carefully holding fast to his hand as he crouched down besides her to level their eyes. “Dollya is right, she’s already busy, and Drakiss is under yours and Damian’s control. It is your responsibility to be a good host. We know so very little of the mainland, and in this day and age it is no longer pertinent to maintain Orisia so isolated. This young woman is a relation of Lord Ethan Diandren, the High King of The South—and we must treat these guests of ours with the level of respect attributed to their title and rank. The burden of power is heavy and hard, you both know that better than most, so the least we can do for one another is lessen the toll, in whatever way we can. She is a stranger in our lands, show her that she is welcome and that she has our support and friendship should she want or need it.”

The Black Prince sighed and dropped his shoulders in defeat. His mother’s words stung his ego—mostly because he recognized the truth in them. Still, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but the loving gaze with which she regarded him was like a spoonful of sugar after bitter medicine. Nodding slowly he broke the serious line of his lips into a weak smile before pulling her slender pale hand forward and returning the gentle gesture of a kiss to the back of her knuckles.

“Whatever my Queen and Sovereign commands.”

She smiled and closed her eyes, “go on.”

He leaned in close, his lips near her ear, “—for the love of God, [I]feed[/I] mother.”

Then he stood and shot Dollya a glare, “you win this round, brat.”

[box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace [/box]

[COLOR="#800000"]Had Lucis even the slightest inclination into the sort of mentality that this young woman was clinging too then perhaps he would have felt better about the whole mess. The simple truth, however, was that he imagined this woman would be some spoiled and snooty dignitary. For the most part he was fed up with the multitude of two-faced individuals who proudly and publically turn up their nose at Orisia, while all but drooling and then plotting against the island country behind closed doors. It was exhausting to continuously smile at these people while resisting the urge to rip their throats out. Politics, as far as he was concerned should be easy and to the point. Countries that disliked one another had no reason to be friendly, but neither did that mean that war was imminent. If one country had a resource another required, well then a price and a diplomatic means to acquire it could always be reached. War, served only one purpose, as far as the Black Prince understood it—to remove evil.

And although evil seemed an arguably ambivalent thing, Lucis was not above pointing out what he considered to be evil. He knew in his heart that many others would, if given the chance, react in the same way but would argue against it on solely intellectual terms.

[I]He was getting carried away. [/I]

Sharp, fast, and heavy footfalls announced his presence as he walked down the main passage that lead into the wide open doors of the Long Hall. There was a slight heel to his boots, which caused a resounding click to follow his path—revealing that his boots were not for show, but actually part of the necessary equipment for ridding. Though his clothes were made of obviously fine and expensive material, they were simple (black silk and linen breeches, and a thin white cotton shirt, with loose ruffle around the open collar and billowed sleeves that were cuffed by mother of pearl buttons around his wrist, the same kind of buttons that traced down the center of his chest down to his belly and disappeared where they were tucked into his pants)—with the exception of the heavy wolf-fur lined cloak that settled heavy on his board shoulders. This cloak carried with it a wide hood, which revealed a black silk lining. Its material was thick and revealed that the outside of it was made of finely knitted wool (dyed black of course), which seemed rather appropriate for the cold weather of the city. It dragged behind him, and fell heavy over his right shoulder, hiding a wide hand that rested on the obsidian pommel of his sword. The fur around his shoulders was displaced only by a heavy silver collar that rests upon his shoulders, set with magnificent cuts of polished hematite, from which hangs at its center, slightly below his heart the pendant of The Order of the Black Heart. A black jewel in the shape of a heart encased in silver wings—utterly marvelous in design.

The young woman has her back to him when he enters, which allows him a moment or two to trace her figure. From the top of her head, with its messy wisps of silken hair, down to the muddy and somewhat chewed hem, Lucis drank in the vision of this woman who was anything but what he expected. His golden gaze lingered on the black lilies, that he just barely spied over her shoulders—which surely lead down to her bosom should she only turn to look at him. And when she finally did, his thoughtful expression melted to a genuine smile.

He was an imposing man with his six foot height, but devastatingly beautiful as only a vampire could be. Fair flesh, polished by an inner glow that could only be distinguished as moonlight, encompassed the fine details of his face. He had a narrow nose, slender pale lips, thick silver brows which ran smooth along a wide forehead, and below molten golden eyes framed in thick black lashes. His hair, in the same shade as his brows—silver, not gray or white, was pulled back and bound by a black ribbon at the nape of his neck.

“Lady Goldburrow,” he finally said after a moment or two of silence. And then he moved forward, straight for her, brisk and fast with two or three steps delivering her there just a foot or two before her. He held out his hand, “it’s a pleasure to meet you—we are honored that you accepted our invitation on such short notice. My name is Lucis Angelus DuGrace, I am the son of the Black Queen, and heir to Orisia’s crown.” This portion sounded rehearsed, and his mischievous smile when it was all said and done revealed his relief at having gotten that aside. “If the smell of earth and grass, which clings to your hair, is any indication that you’ve enjoyed the natural wonders that Orisia has to offer then you are well met here, my fellow adventurer.”-[/COLOR][/FONT]

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For a moment, Cecil was convinced she had fallen into a horrible nightmare concocted just for her. If the creature coming at her had been an angry dog or a furious hornet, she would have known how to act—she could throw her foot out at a canine or swat at an insect. Even had it been a drake, she would have been able to run away, or at least move for something sharp to spear in its maw if it tried to bite. But no, this man was something far worse, the very picture of dignity and charm as he moved. The proud angle of his chin, the smooth arch of his stride, the extravagant clothes that looked only more expensive because of the recherche figure wearing them—if there was a tangible sum of every noble thing Cicel wasn't, he would be it.

Cicel felt her heart collapse in her chest, the pink touching her skin paling into nothing. Only one thread of thought kept her from smattering her own sensibilities, and that was the curious complexion of the approaching royal figure. His fine silver hair caught the warm tones of the falling sun, gleaming a golden color not far from that of his eyes. It was not wholly unlike her own eyes, but there was something more metallic about his, something that smoldered. Golden eyes were not unheard of among Elemen or elves, but humans? Just what was this man?

And then he said her name, stepping closer and all but shattering the bubble of her personal space. It took every last nerve left in her to keep herself from backing away, her chin tilting upwards as Lucis' shadow dwarfed over her. She stared as he introduced himself, so caught in the surreal nature of their meeting that she was almost convinced he was an apparition. When he smiled, she didn't even think to check for fangs—the DuGraces were rumored to be vampires, after all—feeling her heart return again, if just a bit gooier than before.

But then Lucis said what she never would have expected. His fellow adventurer? A scent on her hair? Was he [I]teasing[/I] her? It wasn't the worst way he could have reacted—she had been expecting disappointment, perhaps even anger that she would visit in such an condition—but there was something in his smile, the distance he had chosen to eliminate between them, that made her feel suddenly woozy. In the South, one did not come within such proximity to a stranger unless they meant to wound or accost them. No one went without some manner of weapon by their side, and nobles, of all people, had to be the most careful. Did Lucis mean to intimidate or calm her?

“Your Majesty honors me—I regret only that I did not make it sooner.” Cicel's voice was dry, automatic, but she was suddenly thankful for her mother's constant drilling. She hadn't words to say, but the phrase had come from practiced memory, and her body followed. Her hand moved to accept Lucis', fingers trembling slightly, but forming the delicate curve of hand noble women were famous for. Knees dipped in a curtsey, and despite it being too low and more than a little wobbly, she managed not to fall. It also gave her the excuse to drop his gaze, head bowing and eyes turning to the floor.

Cicel couldn't remember a time before her leave to Shrine City when she had kept company with one of so high a status as a prince. She knew she was rusty, pitiful even, but within her was a heavy core that comes with age and patience. It was trembling, but slowly, surely she began to find herself, and though she did not meet the man's eyes again, she spoke with confidence. “I am flattered, but I fear 'adventurer' is a title too bold. I am but a lady, Your Highness, and it was adventure enough to brave my way here. Your mountains are beautiful, and because of that, all the more dangerous. As you can see, they have discombobulated me quite shamefully.” Edited by Fairess

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace[/box]

Regardless of what she thought, her face was incredibly expressive. Perhaps it had something to do with his ability to pinpoint the slightest changes in temperature, flow of blood below the skin, and minute movements. Whatever the case, he was well informed by the tension that racked the back of her thighs, or how she shifted forward ever so much when her toes curled—as if to anchor her to the floor. But all of these observations meant very little, for in the end it was personal intent that commanded anything and everything. So what if she blushed, what could that really reveal other than she was uncomfortable, enamored, angry, or maybe even overwhelmed? In the end, all he took from his remarkable ability for perception was the sheer pleasure of seeing her form in the poetry of motion. And it was certainly more than enough to keep him amused.

Her obvious discomfort or perhaps uncertainty with his sudden nearness caused him to take a small step back when she at last lifted her hand. Well aware that the heat that exuded from his flesh was often a source of distress for humans, he quickly curved the heat that had been steadily climbing. It was such an easy thing to forget—such a careless thing to ignore. The fire in his blood was so much a part of him, so utterly natural, that his current blistering temperature of a 110 was uncomfortable cool. But his discomfort was well worth the suffering if it meant dealing with such a unique young woman. With all the care of dealing with a small and frightened bird—broken of wing, but strong of heart and will, he held her hand with a degree of firmness that would assure her that he knew what he was doing, just in case she did not. She curtsied and he bent at the waist in order to settle a feather light kiss on the top of her delicately curved knuckles.

[i] “Your Majesty honors me—I regret only that I did not make it sooner.” [/i]

Dry, cool, perfectly calm and at complete odds with the range of movements he had mapped out over her face just prior to her speaking gave away the lie. To this, he frowned, pinching together his silver brows in mock anguish. “Not one minute into our new friendship and you’re already lying to me. But there’s no need,” he released her hand and allowed it to drop back to her side. “—Oddly enough I completely understand your dilemma. Personally I think it terribly forward of us to call you out when you probably had no intention of meeting the royal family of Orisia. For that reason, I won’t prolong the torture of being in my presence for too long,” this he said with a gentle but genuine smile. There was so much ceremony required for walking in the great halls of nations that he could certainly see the appeal of escaping it—at least every now and then.

Still, the Black Prince was by far too selfish to let her go so soon, especially in consideration of how rare it was to actually have a member of the Cold South visiting Orisia. He had questions and he was certain that she had answers—quiet and meek as she was pretending to be.

[i] “I am flattered, but I fear 'adventurer' is a title too bold. I am but a lady, Your Highness, and it was adventure enough to brave my way here. Your mountains are beautiful, and because of that, all the more dangerous. As you can see, they have discombobulated me quite shamefully.”[/i]

“What an interesting choice of a word—[I]shamefully[/I],” he mused to himself before reaching out and rather boldly tucking the small woman under his arm and cloak. He pulled her to his side, with a touch so gentle that she would feel the comfort of knowing she could break out of it whenever she like. Delivering the most dashing smile he could muster don’t at his little captive, he gave her a squeeze and pulled along forward toward one of the many sofas available in the room. “I am by far more offended by you using that word in reference to yourself than the fact that you’re willing to deprive me of your company. So why don’t you make it up to me? Have a glass of wine, tell me why you’re here—if you’re so inclined, and how Orisia has treated you thus far, and then I’ll set you free. Yes?” [/COLOR][/FONT]

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Charming wasn't strong enough a word—Lucis was enchanting. Even when she couldn't see his eyes, she could feel them, the heat of his gaze making the back of her neck warm. The saccharine tones of his voice carried a number of emotions as he spoke, but above any of them, there was confidence. There was confidence, and yet a firm gentleness in all of his gestures, enough to soften a woman, but not scare her away. Even as Cicel found herself floundering in the causal accusations levied against her, her worries of Ethan and the burdens she carried from her own title faded away, replaced by a pleasant nervousness she hadn't felt in years.

Rather than continuing to bite herself for failed formalities, she allowed herself to glow in the crook of Lucis' arm, the side of her soft and cold frame resting easily against his. A slight smile even came onto her features, honeyed eyes absorbing and reflecting the amiable warmth the prince gave off. Had she been twenty years younger, she would have been swept off her feet, lost in the charming company of so noble a man that seemed to overlook everything that screamed [I]bucolic[/I]. While she still held the appearance of perfect youth, there was still the mind of an older woman underneath the scattered chestnut curls of her hair.

The prince had all but demanded that she be frank in his own way, being forthcoming and utterly blunt in the face of white lies. She liked being near him, feeling the plush of his cloak brush against her back, the warm and light weight of his arm on her shoulders. It was even endearing to watch him tear her pretenses apart, to welcome her with open arms instead of the jaded sneer she had become so accustomed to seeing. She was too old, however, too tried believe such kindness to be real.

He wanted something. She had been so overwhelmed by his greeting that she hadn't thought about his motives, why he would welcome a stranger—noble or no—so suddenly into his home. It was quite possible that his affections were feigned, preying upon a young woman's softness. But even as she tried to think the worst of him, it wouldn't work. Why would he need to go to such lengths to charm a distant member of Ethan's family? If he wanted to know of the South, surely he could send any number of servants, and if he wanted direct information on the Diandrens, a single letter with his name on it would ensure a great deal of quality information.

There was too much on the surface—if she wanted to know, she would have to delve deeper. Delving deeper meant staying longer, however, but that was exactly what she didn't need. Another man to tempt her, to promise comfort and use her? No, she had spent too many years alone, too many years among books and potions and colleagues to take marriage seriously. It was the only attitude of her life that her mother criticized more than her alchemy, but Cicely didn't expect the woman to understand. How could someone unwilling to clean their own house and boil their own tea know the perfection of independence? To have that challenged, to be taken care of, to have her vulnerabilities laid out for another to crush at their whim, was something she hadn't the strength to do.

When Lucis stopped at a sofa, Cicely didn't move to seat herself. It wasn't fear of her damp clothes that stopped her this time, but the dry heat from being under Lucis' wing. He had a nice scent about him, too, though she didn't have a name for it. She still had to avoid looking at him directly to keep her thoughts from being scattered, but she decided to ultimately surrender to his wishes of informality, if just to avoid the very gentle reproach she felt she would receive if she tried otherwise.

“You must forgive me then, Your Highness, for I have learned it is best not to reason with captors—there are too many disadvantages.” Cicely smiled a full smile then, gentle, but teasing. “Perhaps you could enlighten me about my purpose here? You, or someone in your very fine castle, knows my name already, as well as the place of temporary residence I have taken. That being the case, I could not insult you by detailing what you have already found.” Edited by Fairess

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[COLOR="#800000"][FONT=Garamond][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace[/box]

-Oh, how wicked and wonderful were those butterflies that fluttered about the belly of a nervous body. Unfortunately, that seemed to be an emotion that Lucis would never have the pleasure of experiencing, though he often saw it depicted in the behaviors of others. Still, it seemed an unimaginably stressful and pleasant sensation—for it made the heart labor, it rose the temperature of the body, and it caused pheromones to perfume the air. So he could only ever conclude that it was an overwhelming sensation, one that could easily be sought after by some, and utterly reproached by others. And here, under his arm he had such a sweet specimen of attraction’s cruel reactions! He could not gauge if she was enjoying the rush of nearly being carried away, or if she was made uncomfortable and unhappy by it. He settled on imagining it to be a lukewarm middle—for body seemed supple and ready to accept the guiding gestures of his touch, while denying him the absolute pleasure of gazing into her amber colored eyes.

Never would he have guessed her to be similar to himself in world experience. Truly, the amount of knowledge gained was astounding when one could well outlive the length of a human’s allotted time. More so, it was such a curious thing to see the reaction of others as century’s old wisdom came from the lips of the form of a young man. But as always, he took things in such patient strides. It was a resolution of his, to curve his temper and control the fire of his blood—and not just for the sake of everyone else’s safety, but for the true betterment of his own self. Anger could be a useful tool when it was properly harnessed, but in the hands and hearts of fools it was naught but another weapon against their own selves.

And so he was patient with her, for he thought her shyness to be born out of youthfulness. Unfortunately he lacked his mother’s ability to gauge age and experience through a mere gaze into a stranger’s eyes. Gabriela had explained that this was an important trait of the Vampyre—for many times, these creatures of bloodlust, preferred to outlive their enemies rather than engage them. Of course there was also the fact that vampyre’s, after a certain age or if sired, would not grow old. Often he heard his mother state it rather poetically—she could weigh the amount of pain in a gaze. Lucis could do no such thing, and had no desire to learn how. Instead, he much preferred to think of people as surprises—wondrous little packages to be unwrapped.

Meanwhile, his lovely captive contemplated all the untruthful reasons for which Lucis was behaving—well, like Lucis. He would have scolded her had he any inclination to her thoughts. What good did it do to try and guess at the reasoning behind a complete stranger’s actions? They were not well acquainted, she had very little to go on, so why torture herself with doubts? This was an adventure! Plain and simple. She was a new world to explore—both in body and mind, if Lucis had things his way. He was certain that she had stories to tell, and he was rather restless with all his time being spent in Kingshill.

He deposited her by the sofa, and did not take notice of her reluctance to sit. Instead he swept past her, leaving her in the sudden overwhelming chill of the Long Hall. Many of the large windows were open wide—leading out to vistas of snowy-capped mountains and a sky the color of deep navy blue, slowly but surely, turning to black. The sky was speckled with stars—white and cold looking with the sudden absence of Lucis’ uncanny warmth.

But he hadn’t gone far. He was standing at the other end of the sofa, where a table low to the ground showed off a variety of beautiful bottles in all shapes and sizes, with liquids that quite literally looked like melted colors.

[i]“You must forgive me then, Your Highness, for I have learned it is best not to reason with captors—there are too many disadvantages.”[/i]

A wide grin spread across the prince’s face as he glanced back at Cicely over his shoulder. “Smart girl—if you ever find yourself captured its best not to try and reason with the ruffians. Instead, I implore you to wait for me to come save you.” His grin was playful, but there was an edge of sharpness in the gold of his eyes that spoke to some unspoken truth.

[i]“Perhaps you could enlighten me about my purpose here? You, or someone in your very fine castle, knows my name already, as well as the place of temporary residence I have taken. That being the case, I could not insult you by detailing what you have already found.”[/i]

“Allow me to clarify, just to settle any doubts you may have had and hopefully quash any anxieties you may be suffering. We were not really looking for you. There is a list, as I imagine your country as, of notable surnames. Mostly this list is tended to by the Order of the Black Heart—of which I am a part of, and so you see why I would have some familiarity with your surname, though not with you yourself, My Lady. Mike,” Lucis was busy producing two fine glasses, and filling each about half way with a mild smelling spiced wine. When he turned back to her he could not help but perk a curious brow to her standing. “—Mike, the proprietor of the establishment where you are currently residing is family with Frank, the owner of the Broken Chant Tavern in Orisia’s capital city of Versilla. Frank has been a trusted friend of the DuGrace family for quite some time now, and I can only imagine that Mike, wanting to follow in his brother’s footsteps thought that he could get on the up and ups with us by informing us that someone with one of the last names we usually keep an eye out for was staying at his Inn. That’s how we found out you were here. As for your purpose for being called here? Well that’s just The Black Queen and her kind if not at times insurable desire to be hospitable. Let me see,” Lucis moved close, and held out a hand with the wine glass in two, he offered it to Cicely. He then sat, crossed his long legs, and leaned back, but not before patting the spot besides him. “She said something along the lines of—[i]The burden of power is heavy and hard, blah—blah—blah, so the least we can do for one another is lessen the toll, blah—blah—blah. She is a stranger in our lands, show her that she is welcome and that she has our support and friendship should she want or need it.[/i] Emphasis on the ‘should she want or need it,’ so you see you’re only here so that I could tell you that you are not alone, and should you want or need it, you have the support of the DuGrace family. Other than that, we merely hope that you will enjoy your time here.”

Sitting, she could no longer ignore his gaze, for now it was peering up into her pretty face. He wanted to see what her reaction would be—how she would behave when she found out that this was really not much, and that she could in fact leave whenever she wanted to. He wanted to see sadness—perhaps a touch of unwillingness to depart so soon. But those were rather muted desires, and Lucis was not one for keeping his desires a secret.

“Personally—if I was king, I’d demand you stay in Kingshill while you visited. I wouldn’t give you a [I]choice[/I] in the matter. Fortunately, or perhaps [I]unfortunately[/I] for you, I am not king.”-

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The reply to Cicely's mention of a captor drizzled through her mind slowly. She didn't smile or laugh, somewhat miffed at being referred to as, 'girl,' and she couldn't help but feel that there was an edge to the jest. That, however, didn't stop the flash of imagination—a vision of what it would be like to have him come to the rescue. She saw herself trapped in the parlor of her old home, nose in a book in an attempt to filter out her mother's complaints about their neighbor's weeds, and then Lucis appearing in his elegant black, sweeping her up in his arms and insisting to her mother that the woman was fabulously beautiful and shouldn't hide herself away at home. [I]That[/I] thought made her press a hand to her chest, lips taut as she held back a laugh. A man of Lucis's stature would make Amy take any of his charming jests to heart.

And speaking of stature, Cicely found herself in awe—not because the sparkle of crystal and liqueur was strange, but because it ordinary. She openly stared at Lucis' hand as it wrapped around the glossy neck of a bottle, her head canting ever so slightly to the side. It wasn't particularly difficult to guess what the prince might be pouring into two gleaming glasses, but the fine maroon flowing like liquid satin caught her eyes and held them. The color brought out the ivory of Lucis' skin, complimenting his grace when the wine in its glass didn't even stir when he moved. She was so caught up with his hands, in fact, that she failed to look up to see the expressions of his face.

He went on to explain about the invitation—she blushed, realizing how rude she must have sounded to question the motives of a host—and she found herself surprised by the prince once again. There seemed no need for such depth of exposition, but it said a great deal about the man, about responsibilities and concern for “common” people. It touched a place in her that hadn't been moved by beauty or extravagant wit, and her gaze softened into what could only be described as fondness. Perhaps there was more in common between them, the weight and the hidden calluses that came from placing charity before desire.

And then Lucis stepped close again, this time offering a glass. She glanced high enough to catch his chin, accepting the gift in both hands. It was then that she realized that she might actually be a captive—she hadn't agreed to any of the terms he had set out, and yet there she was, holding a glass of wine as night began to fall. Reflexively, her eyes went to the plentiful windows, but she didn't feel the despair she had expected. It was cold, quite cold already, and the trip back to the inn promised little more than wind and ice, but she felt warm.

In that moment, her building affection for Lucis warred with his own land. She saw the jagged cliffs, the pristine snow, the sky wide and bare The cold was harsher than the pristine Bay of Chemosh she had come to know and love, but it was open, so close to the sea and barren of smog. The rocks and the water, the light of the stars and the shivering air tempted her more than any fine chair by a fire, and for a moment it seemed she might go to the window just to be closer to the sea. Her body was poised to move, and yet she didn't, still held by Lucis' voice.

The prince did manage to catch her eyes as she looked down, the beginnings of amusement, rather than melancholy in her eyes. When they met, she felt her skin warm again (in fact, it was getting redundant—there seemed to be very little time between each flush of color), and she couldn't help but smile. It was something in that gold of his, something that reached into her, beyond pretense and reason, and touched her core, made it glow. At this point, she was starting to lose track of what it was that had worried her in the first place, and the vigilant paranoia she had kept fizzled. It certainly helped that Lucis seemed to share some of her misery when it came to the sometimes [I]overbearing[/I] nature of a loving mother.

“Your Majesty...” Like a flower drooping from frost, Cicely bent herself just enough to catch one of the wonderfully soft cushions Lucis had offered. Her place fell naturally beside him, a good foot away, but her knees were pointed towards him before her ankles crossed and tucked underneath the sofa. “I believe one is never too old to celebrate the freedom of a lesser title. With every gift, a string is attached, and with every string, less give to move. The demand you propose would be even more preposterous as a king than a prince... but not as a friend.”

The soft curves of Cicely's face were rosy as her gaze fell to contemplate her drink, and then her eyes closed. She allowed herself the quirky pleasure of an alchemist, taking a deep breath of the liquid's scent. Cinnamon, a touch of red wine, even citrus—they were warm scents, and even smoothed over some of the goosebumps the cold had raised on her skin. She let the smell fill her head, briefly following the memory of concocting syrups in the kitchen of her old home. It wasn't polite to simply drop off a conversation as she did, but the moment seemed to calm her, relaxed her shoulders as her eyes opened again. She then continued on as though nothing had happened, changing the topic that made her stomach squeeze.

“I suppose I have lied to you, though not entirely. I cannot regret what duty demands, as the resistance of authority rarely brings joy. What I fear is that whoever wrote your list is ill informed—Goldburrow is an oxymoron, and I have no more influence upon my cousin than a flea has upon a horse. You are not blind, and my attire is without pretense—thus, I do not understand your curiosity.” Edited by Fairess

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace [/box]

-Oddly enough, a vampyre’s hands were indeed an object of peculiar obsession for most mortals. Clearly, any part of a vampyre was worthy of admiration—they were creatures born into beauty, weather through natural birth or selected and then changed by the blood through siring. The dark blood had a way of enhancing even the most ordinary individual, for beauty was present in every living thing; sometimes it was just deeply hidden. But this sort of beauty, for the most part, was utterly superficial. So what if the skin became perfect, losing all blemishes and signs of aging? So what if the hair appeared to radiate a healthy unearthly sheen or that the speckled colors within the irises’ were granted an inner glow. All of it was superficial. However, there was one thing that made vampyre’s and vampires quite different—apart from the obvious difference that one group was alive and the other was considered undead. No, the superficial difference came in the hands and the feet—more specifically the nails.

While Lucis handled her wine glass, and as it was taken from his hands, he would note the way she regarded the perfect length of ever one of his fingers, the careful artful quality of his pronounced knuckles. But surely it was his fingernails that would cause her the most—discomfort. His fingernails were like glass, each a perfect oval, and neatly trimmed, but utterly resembling a perfect piece of clear crystal.

When at last she took the glass and lifted her gaze only high enough to peer at his throat, Lucis could only smile with sort of sympathetic warmth. He was very much aware that he could come off as—a bit much. And although her constant rush of blood to the cheeks and the sweet swell her breasts as her breathing became slightly off pattern was flattering, Lucis certainly didn’t want to cause the girl actual discomfort. It seemed their first dance together would have to be slow—but Lucis didn’t much mind that.

She sat on the sofa, but left a good amount of space between them. He found her words oddly disappointing, for it seemed she had to some degree had all the rules of propriety beaten into her. “My greatest desire for this life is that I will never become my father, or my mother,” he said in a measured tone, “—however, there are distinct traits that I am pleased to have inherited from them both, and that is a distinctive appreciation and desires, which very much ebbs on obsession, for hospitality. Whether a King, a prince, or a very humble farm hand—I would do everything and anything to make your stay in Orisia all the more pleasant. For what good is a king or a prince who cannot be at the same time a good friend.”

Then he smiled to her and the edge in his voice was gone. She handled her wine and he seemed to remember something suddenly, which made him lean forward across the couch very close to her body. At some point she had grown quite, and he had picked up the conversation—but now they sat there in comfortable silence. He warped his hand around the bulb of her wineglass and gave her a charming and rather mischievous grin. “—This spiced wine is famous through Orisia, an old recipe brought from Eden—however, what really makes it wonderful is when it’s served warm, then all the flavors really marry.” His touch was enough, the liquid within the glass wine was warmed—lightly but enough to greatly enhance the smells she had been enjoying only a moment before. And then she had her space back. Once more he was seated on the other end of the sofa, his long legs crossed one knee over the other, and his elegant frame posed in a slight inclination against the arm and back rest.

[i] “I suppose I have lied to you, though not entirely. I cannot regret what duty demands, as the resistance of authority rarely brings joy. What I fear is that whoever wrote your list is ill informed—Goldburrow is an oxymoron, and I have no more influence upon my cousin than a flea has upon a horse. You are not blind, and my attire is without pretense—thus, I do not understand your curiosity.”[/i]

“You continue to wound me, My Lady,” he said with mock hurt. Still, the sad expression was a rather devastating sight. The warm glow of his golden eyes seemed dimed while his noble brows rose. “If I wanted to influence your cousin then I would have sent some message directly to him—whether you are his favorite or his least favorite, matters very little to me. You come from very far, your name was noted only because it had a connection to your cousins, you were only recognized—no more or less was ever expected. But it seems that reaching out to you has caused you some unnecessary stress and for that I am deeply sorry. If you like we can end this meeting now, I’ve relayed the message sent to you from the Black Queen. However, I’d much rather continue to feed my curiosity, which I assure you has very little to do with political affiliations.”-

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Cicley had a reply on the tip of her tongue as Lucis had mentioned his parents, but it had been lost in a nervous swallow as they had become suddenly close. The glass had been poised near her face, close to her throat and collar bone, so when the hand came, her body tensed as though it was her the prince was reaching for. Her eyes had fluttered, gaze snapping from his long fingers to his face. It was then that he had smiled, and then that her breath had faltered, caught up in her chest as the rest of her senses watched the light dance in his eyes. When he had pulled away again, the slightest protest came from her lips—more resembling the mew of a kitten plucked from the warmth of a hearth than a woman's sigh.

[I]Is it him or me causing all this trouble? I can't tell.[/I] Never before had the woman been swept up in such a way, so affected by every touch and so sad when it left her. She could scarcely call it love—the two had barely met—but all the same, she was not one to allow so much vulnerability. Unlike her sister, who was under the constant attention of suitors, she didn't know how to accept or refuse advances, and couldn't even say that Lucis was doing any such thing. The sweet kiss on her hand was a formality, his arm on her shoulders only friendly. Yet to say that she wasn't drawn to him, that she wanted to be closer to him, was to deny that gravity, the accepted rule of the universe, was in existence.

She was beside herself, only to be drawn into more confusion when Lucis spoke of being hurt. Her eyes widened, her hand instinctively reaching out to comfort. It hesitated, hovering one inch away from her lap, and then something broke. How could she expect to return kindness or even help someone if she couldn't move beyond herself? She didn't have Lucis's length and lacked his grace, and so her journey across the sofa wasn't quite as flawless, but she did manage to touch his shoulder, her own eyes melting. “Oh... please, I do not mean to offend you. I am not... I am not stressed, I am...” Her eyes fell to his lap, more unsteady bangs falling away from their pin. “I am sorry.”

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace[/box]

-Curiously, the prince tilted his head away from her touch, but by the expression on his face it was clear that it was not out of reluctance or discomfort. Instead, his eyes closed and the severe line of his lips melted into a genuinely pleased smile. When his eyes at last opened, along with the deep inhalation of air—which carried within it the mild perfume of her flesh and hair, his small smile had spread into a rather cheerful grin. His free hand reached up and caught her daring fingers pulling them forward, making her stretch further, so that he could deliver yet another kiss to the back of her knuckles. But then he freed her, and settled that daring hand of his own down on his lap.

“And with that all is forgiven—a mere touch of kindness is all I require to curve my rage.” The mirth of his expression and the obvious teasing nature of it were both perfectly reflected in the lovely glass that he brought up to his lips. In fact, there was a slight echo of his chuckle within the orb as he tilted his head back and sipped the warm spiced wine. It was quite a distinct flavor—but one that was always made all the better by the fire in his throat which managed to burn nearly anything passing through it into flaky ash.

“Mm—do tell me what you think of the wine,” he said softly trying to ease the worried look on her face, and hopefully put her at ease. She seemed so worried; her lovely features twisted this way and that into the murkiness of one whom over analyzed everything. Of course with no knowledge as to her profession, Lucis had no idea that this was in fact a very useful trait to have.

Waiting until after she had taken a sip of her wine, and had therefore hopefully calmed herself enough to actually relax—if such a thing were even possible, Lucis spoke up again. “So, I suppose your suspicions might actually be correct. I have alternative motives for bulling you into staying,” he winked at her and took another sip of wine. “Unfortunately, due to my position, travel outside of Orisia is not something I often get to do. Mostly I was just curious to hear what tales you bring from the South. It’s been nearly a hundred years since I’ve last seen the mainland—I am curious what is transpiring, what has changed, and what has remained the same.”-

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She was [I]just[/I] getting used to the idea of sharing a sofa with the prince when he had to go and kiss her hand again. And once again, she found herself entranced by each of his minor movements—the relaxed, and yet perfectly solid curve of his back, the flash of his nails as his fingers moved, and the smile, so agonizingly slow and void of comfort to her. Goosebumps erupted all along her arms as the flesh of his lips touched her hand, but it was not the pleasant sensation she had experienced before. Her brain was no longer reduced to mush—slowly, but surely, she was gaining a firmer hold on the situation.

The problem was that it was already too late. Layer by layer, the pretenses and the awkwardness were being stripped away. Lucis had even inspired the most intrinsic of her sensitivities outward, to openly fuss over his emotions as she would a close friend. It had just been happening so slowly, like an insect crawling rung by rung into the center of a spider's web. She didn't expect to get bitten, but the informality of everything, the frequent smiles and jests—why was it so [I]necessary[/I]? [I]I'm not a child to comfort, nor a friend, and yet we are so indirect. What does he truly [B]want[/B]?[/I]

Cicely wasn't practiced in hiding her own thoughts, eyes narrowing and posture tensing without her even knowing. When the prince released her hand, however, she actually scooted closer as she righted herself, her free hand drawing the rogue bangs away from her face. Though her manner of dress befitted a peasant more than a noble, she actually pulled off the form of a lady quite well, knees together and back poised—not at all at ease, but a picture of elegance. From the new vantage point, she watched Lucis drink his fill, looking thoughtfully to her own cup when he asked for her input.

Truth be told, she didn't have much to compare it to. One reason was that her mother accused alcohol of “instilling the worst of behaviors in good women,” and the true reason was because her family didn't have money to spend on fine drinks. They had water, and all the juice and tea they had came from Cicley's garden. She could still recall a time or two when she had been pressured into a glass at some gathering or another—but even that was cheap, and she had never liked the bitterness. All the same, it would be impolite to turn up her nose at was undoubtedly an expensive drink, so she tipped her own glass and took a delicately tiny sip.

Oh, but it was so much better than she imagined! She felt the warmth on her lips, and her eyes closed, feeling each individual flavor of the wine and the symphony it made on her tongue. It brought out an appetite she had lost from traveling too long on a boat, and she found herself suddenly craving biscuits. Then she blinked, realizing that Lucis was speaking, and tuned in just long enough to hear that he was curious about... transpirings? Ah, of course, he had responsibilities on Orisia, and thus likely did not get to see the rest of Valucre often. The real question was if his mention of a hundred years was simply exaggeration.

Perhaps all he really wanted was to hear a few things about the South. They'd have a nice conversation, and then she'd leave off into the night. Her eyes went to the windows again, pondering, plotting. And then she looked directly at the prince, seeming to decide at last what it was she ought to say.

“You're not human.” Edited by Fairess

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace[/box]

Never would he have imagined their conversation as being indirect. In fact, should he have been presented with such an accusation, he would have turned that right back around and questioned her ability to trust! Not that she had to trust him—it made sense that she didn’t. But she was so certain that he had alternative motives, so sure that he wanted something from her. Of course he did want something from her, it wasn’t anything more or less than any other new acquaintance would desire. It was all very simple for the Black Prince—he found her interesting, and by the clear indications of her body, the feeling was mutual. Just as he imagined that she was full of interesting stories, he was very much sure that he could share something with her. Lucis was starved for conversation, and his curious mind and big heart ached for the opportunity to make a new friend. It didn’t hurt that she was rather lovely, that she carried with her a pleasant smell, and the way her blood warmed and left patterns just beneath the surface of her tanned flesh—which only he could see.

But she didn’t speak her questions and that meant that Lucis continued to exist within the expanses of blissful ignorance. He imagined that she found him interesting, and that perhaps she’d ask some questions about Orisia—all of which he would answer. Then he would offer to show her around, but not before making certain that she was no longer staying at that dreadful Inn. A rather private smile appeared on his lips as he imagined what her reaction would be to an actual invitation to spend the rest of her time in Orisia right here, in Drakiss’ Royal Castle. The smile nearly broke into a laugh when he imagined her fuss when dresses appeared in her room—all perfectly tailored, all hand chosen by him in bright bold colors to compliment her warm skin-color.

Lucis sighed.

Meanwhile, Cicely sampled her wine and turned her thoughtful gaze away towards the large open windows. Beyond the elegant frame of dark wood, and far beyond the darkened shadows of neatly trimmed hedges—vast mountains rose high into the night sky. Silver moonlight bathed them, outlining their jagged points. Most were capped with snow, but at the center some of those mountains held a gentle eerie red glow.

Accosted by the suddenness of the woman’s statement, Lucis was nearly moved to lie. When he was growing up—that same statement had been thrown in his face so many times. And in his youth he had lied, he had shaken his head and denied that he was not human. Memories of a tear-stained boy, no more than five or six, came to mind and Lucis had to look away. He remembered the memory distinctly because it was the first time he had seen his bloody tears in the reflection of a mirror. He’d always known that his tears were made of blood—but that that was the first time in his young life that he had ever seen the way the crimson stained his white cheeks, or how the gold of his eyes became clouded and ugly under the red sheets. He had been crying because his foster brothers had said the same thing to him—[i]you’re not even human![/i] They’d call him a beast, an animal—a monster.

A beautiful monster.

“No, I am not.” Lucis finally said turning his gaze back to the woman but only after he’s managed to plant a good-natured smile upon his face. The mirth, the genuine joy that had moments ago traced every line of his face, was gone. Her comment was not offensive—everyone in Orisia knew what he was, everyone knew what the Black Queen was—that’s where she got her name after all. But no one had ever really categorized him in such a blatant way. “No—I am not human. I am the offspring of a terribly unlikely pairing of creatures. I am, what you would call, a mutt.”

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Of course she felt guilty. The sudden dimming of the prince's humor was bad enough—his forced smile and admittance afterwords only served to show that it was frankness he was accustomed to. In that moment, she second guessed herself, having hoped to catch him off guard, or at least learn what had been nipping at her since first seeing him. It seemed blatant that he was not human—the eyes, the hair, the ethereal grace—but that didn't make it easy to guess what he was. In some ways, he even resembled an Elemen, but she didn't feel the familiar thrum of power that existed in herself. He had thus far defied almost all descriptions of vampires she'd been acquainted with, and he lacked the proper pointed ears for an elf. It was a mystery, but one, she realized, that may not have been appropriate to verbalize.

“Please don't call yourself that. It leaves me little hope for myself.” Cicely's hands settled back to her lap, but she forced herself to keep Lucis's gaze. “My mother is an Elemen—perhaps you know of them already? We are not so different from humans, carrying Genesaris' innate energy in our own bodies. But my father was a human, mortal as any mortal could be. It seems the more human I am, the more I regret what is not.”

At this point, the woman felt that she should just stop talking, but something strange was growing inside of her, something that had not seen the light of day for a very long time. “There are old stories, some that describe a more lost specimen of Elemen—people so transformed that they lost all sense of what made them sentient. It seems a less painful existence in some ways, to be unaware of what one is and what one could be. And yet... I cannot imagine being anything else but what I am.”

Cicely's gaze suddenly narrowed, the gold of her eyes glazed over with muddled thoughts. “But we are changing all the time, aren't we? Every day more different a person... it is difficult enough for me, but for you... tell me there is some place where change is not so terrible.”

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][box]Lucis Angelus DuGrace[/box]

“Orisia,” he answered honestly after a thoughtful moment when she had grown silent. He’d kept her gaze the whole time, focused not directly upon her—but more so on the warm radiance of her eyes. There, in the multi-colored shades of sunset, he found himself calmed and more at home. In a strange way, he found himself captivated by the very same attractions that often earned him the adoration of complete strangers. Certainly it had to do with the color, he found himself thinking after a pause.

“Change—I suppose is to be regarded as positive or negative, based on the observer or the one affected by said change. Personally, I do not believe that I have changed. I am what I’ve always been. The change that I’ve experienced is psychological. I’ve accepted that I was, am, and will always be different. And it is this place,” he lifted his free hand and motioned to the vastness of the mountains in the distance, “—that has allowed me the confidence to embrace my strange parentage.”

Lucis lifted his glass and pressed the brim of it to his bottom lip. He seemed intent on taking another drink, but his distant gaze, which was still focused upon the mountains revealed that neither his heart or mind were invested in the action. After a moment, the long pale fingers that held up the stem of the glass began to gently tap against the crystal in a very rhythmic motion.

The weight of her revelation had settled heavily upon his mind. She had shared her own status as a mixed creature, a half-breed, a dirty-blood. And while his own rarity was not at all unknown in Orisia, he wondered if he should be the one to share with her. Perhaps it would be best if she was told, if she heard it from the lips of others—then she could reveal her disgust, fear, horror freely without feeling as if she might suffer any sort of consequence. But he knew that wasn’t the real reason he didn’t want to tell her that he was a vampire-dragon hybrid. It was such a disturbing blend! He’d rather not be reminded of the loathing he suffered in his childhood. However, childhood fears could not define his actions as a prince. And Gabriela had been perfectly clear on the matter—total transparency.

The DuGrace family had nothing to hide.

“Perhaps it’s because of the widely diverse population of the two islands—whatever the reason my own strange mixture was not such a shock, though it did seem somewhat difficult to understand by most. I am a hybrid—my mother a vampyre and my father a red wyrm. In all truth, I should have never been born, but here I am.” He shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled in her direction. “So how about a toast? To extraordinary new creations from unlikely pairings,” with that he thrust his wine glass towards her. “Don’t forget to keep eye contact with me while we [I]clink[/I]—there’s a saying, if you don’t, you’ll have bad sex for seven years.” He gave her his most charming and mischievous grin. And with that, all was forgiven and forgotten. “Tell me more about the Elemen?”

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Perhaps it was the sound of his voice or the change in topic that began to weigh Cicely down, softening the curve of her neck and shoulders as her head began to loll. It may also have been the passing time or the long trip up to the prince's home—at any rate, she would have curled up on her comfortable perch had she not been aware of the company she kept and the muddy state of her boots. She was fully facing the prince now, her side lightly resting against the back of the sofa. By virtue of her own insatiable curiosity, her eyes had never left his as he spoke, and that kept her from being pulled into the void of her own thoughts.

Lucis had hesitated to share his heritage, or at least, she believed he had. It seemed the one thing he hadn't smiled at or dismissed with merry melancholy. Unfortunately, she knew so little of vampyres and red wyrms that her reaction at such news was disappointingly dull. Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully, lips pursing, but ultimately the emptiness of her knowledge left her with chagrin.

Here she had been wanting to know what he was, wanting to sift through the rumors of Orisia to find out what was false and what was useful, but even when the blatant truth was spoken to her, it meant so little. Before her was the physical reality of what Lucis was—a striking gentleman whose generosity and humor so opposed the oppressive sharpness and cold of his own mountains—and that was all that mattered. Names, titles, and labels had no bearing whatsoever since she had walked into his Long Hall. He had made that clear himself, and she realized she had already accepted it.

[I]Never should have been born...[/I] Cicely frowned, so caught up in the feeling of those words that she failed to follow Lucis's gestures for a toast. But then a certain three lettered word passed his lips, and a virgin's blush reddened her cheeks, averting her gaze despite the warning. Her eyes wandered to her lap, then her glass, and finally back to Lucis, chin dipping under the flattering weight of his eyes. She had to gather her thoughts again, shifting slightly in her seat.

“It is... a very general request, Your Highness. It is said we... that they originated from the southern region of Genesaris due to the results of a magestorm. Elemental magic is inherent in each individual, though it manifests itself differently... like a unique fingerprint, I suppose. There's so much and so little I can tell you...”

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