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Fairess

Ends and Beginnings

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It was late—late for her plans to evolve, late to be out in the unfavorable weather, and late to make assumptions about Orisia. In some ways, nothing had really changed; she'd still be heading out to analyze the island's natural resources and was very much on vacation from Shrine City. But things had fundamentally changed, changed so much that she almost felt sick. Lucis had never been someone she ought to trust, not with her work, and most certainly not her affections. What had once been a mystery was simply a new take on the old, good manners and gentle hands concealing treachery and manipulation. If she had simply ignored that invitation to visit Kingshill...

[I]I do this to myself every time, thinking things will be different, maybe there's sky past the clouds. It's foolish, and I'm getting old enough that it's not cute anymore. People are going to get hurt.[/I] Cicely sighed, tensing her fingers on the reigns and relaxing them again. Anger was fresh and hot inside of her, concealed only by the thinnest veil of apathy. It helped that most of her face was pale and cold, fixing her muscles into place despite the blood in her cheeks. There was only the wind, Elim, and Bast somewhere in the dark as she wound her way down from the castle. It wasn't wholly unlike her first departure from the place, what with the burning lights in the distance and the crunch of rock well beneath her feet.


[CENTER]“[I]Plant yourself firmly in the earth
Sway not like wind or burn like fire
Feed the roots of good within you
Look heavenward and reach for divinity[/I]”[/CENTER]

The phrase left Cicely's lips in a small burst of mist, which evaporated before she even closed her mouth. While her mother had never been particularly fond of Aezar's tenants, she found a certain peace in reciting them. After all, he was the god of the earth, of her element. If she was going to understand the power in herself, wouldn't it help to understand him? There was just a nice feeling in those teachings, words that quelled the tempest in her heart and kept her rational. It wasn't a time to start firing accusations at the DuGraces, and it was likely that she'd need their favor if she was to work in peace. Toleration without trust—that was the way her cousin worked, so why couldn't she?

Slowly, Cicely's thoughts warmed, but there was an edge to them that wouldn't let her rest her shoulders or smile at the early evening. Every other part of her was suited for the evening, her hair neatly composed in a braid for once and her clothing immaculately clean and dry. The long green sleeves of her coat kept her warm, still resting over the back of her hands like the lip of a lily. Even her stark white trousers remained spotless after rain and muddy trekking, only further complimented by the long and curving fabric of her coattails. It made her a strange picture of gentle order while her innards were teeming with burning chaos. Edited by Fairess

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

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

It was a harsh whisper that she would hear, a dangerous but familiar voice that held such a sharp edge to it that surely it would cause her to falter, to keep from turning the immediate corner. It was to her advantage that she was downwind, and that the sweet perfume made up of her sweat and the sweet herbs she brushed against didn’t loft in the direction of the furious prince. Instead, he was so consumed by whatever anger had struck him, that he hardly seemed aware of the familiar heartbeat that thundered in his ears—for he was far too consumed by the sound of his own.

[B]“Yes—gone,”[/B] said the wholly unnatural voice, a devastating sound of mechanical parts. There was nothing warm or human, or even living, about the voice. Still it did not sound undead—for that would require some form of previous life—and Father Darkenss had never been alive or dead.

He very simply was.

And at this present moment he so happened to exist here, in the stables, barely managing enough concentration to keep the awkward outline of a large man. But that’s where the familiarities began and ended, for one look at the outline would reveal that he had no features and was nothing but a two-dimensional monstrosity composed of translucent shadows.

“Where!” Hissed Lucis in response, but not before the stone wall besides him shook with the force of a sudden fist crashing against it. There was the sound of the poor stone breaking, of Lucis clenching his fingers in and out of a fist, and then finally dropping his hand so that the fine black material of his coat brushed along his breeches. Silver hair was pulled back into a thin braid, which ended with a neat black ribbon, compliments of Topaz, who had, in her own way informed the prince that this is how she often dressed his little sister’s hair. He had allowed it if only to please the darling mute girl whom he had been looking after since the ending of the tournament, two nights ago.

[B]“You know where.”[/B]

“Why did you let her go!”

[B]“Son—when can any of us ever stop your mother? She was hard-set on this being the best course of action.”[/B]

“And now she’s been missing for two days.”

[B]“—Yes.”[/B]

“Is she alive—tell me, do we at least know that much?”

Silence.

Lucis moved suddenly, rounding the corner to find perhaps a very startled Cicely standing there, struck mute by what she had overheard. But in his anger he immediately saw red, and stood there, fists at his sides, golden eyes narrowed furiously upon the pretty young woman that only days ago he had stolen a kiss from.
[/COLOR][/FONT]

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Certainly, something strange had been going on in the stables. It was really quite inconvenient for the alchemist, who could already imagine the wind in her hair as she rode back down to the city. There was still the possibility of leaving despite what she saw and heard—given the prince's demeanor, that actually seemed the best action to take. She didn't want to explain herself, didn't want to get herself worked up all over again over the handsome prince. Even in anger he managed to be beautiful, the stark fury making the gold of his eyes more vibrant and his tensed muscle seemed even more toned on his frame. It made for a terrible sort of confusion for the startled lady.

[I]Ethan and him could be blood brothers[/I]. Cicely was tempted to shake her head as she would at a naughty child, but she remained still and poised on Elim. The king of Shrine City had never had a particular amount of patience, and his fury was deep and swift. It seemed the largest difference lay in the temperature of their wrath—though Ethan was a fire Elemen, his features were colder than ice when he was upset. His voice would be utterly calm, face composed, but the energy of his anger was almost palpable, seething in his golden eyes with a burning vengeance.

“Steady now, it's alright.” Cicely leaned down to whisper to her horse, gently stroking his neck. Elim, like the other beasts in the stable, could sense the tension in the air as well, and it didn't help that the man had a naturally predatory aura. The alchemist wasn't entirely sure what Lucis was capable of, but like the rest of the animals, she wasn't keen to find out. It was all she could do to keep herself from urging Elim back out into a calmer atmosphere, as she worried that running off would be both impolite and even a means of provoking the already upset prince. She'd have to put up with the nervous pawing and fidgeting of her horse until it was safe to leave.

“Please, Your Highness—you're frightening the horses.” Cicely was eerily calm in the face of Lucis' wrath, not flinching one brow or turning her gaze away from his furious eyes. Misdirected anger was all too familiar to the alchemist, who had dealt with her share of the arrogant and fastidious. Unlike romantic advances, she knew how to deal with it, how to find that calm core in her being and ground herself in it. She had faith that Lucis wouldn't loose control there and then, and if she did have any fear as to what he might do, it was nowhere on her features. Her lips were set in a stern line, eyes narrowed slightly as she lightly reproved the prince.

“I am sorry for your circumstances and that you should have to happen upon me again, but I find myself in a strange position. I did not mean to eavesdrop on private matters.” Firm, the alchemist's voice never wavered. She felt her own anger rising up to meet his, sharp accusations and insults resting on the back of her tongue, but those she forced deep, deep into an emotionless abyss. This wasn't the time or the place for petty wounds, and she still needed to leave before she got tangled with Lucis again.

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

He breathed in deeply—held it for a moment—and then exhaled slowly. Perhaps, to her surprise, she would see the slender tendrils of white smoke, akin to the fumes that escaped one who smoked a pipe or a slender cigarette. But the prince had neither in his possession, and the scent of the smoke was not unpleasant like that of burning tobacco. Rather, it was the subtle or nearly distant aroma of burning herbs—brush, green-wood, little saplings. In that breath he managed to contain himself, though his glare was still full of unkind sentiments as he regarded the woman upon her nervous mare who shuffled from this side to the other, wide-eyed and making small whining sounds of discontentment.

What stole the fury from him—for he had a few choice words for the woman whom he was convinced had purposely hidden away to overhear the conversation—was her impeccable calm demeanor. He translated this to one of two things. First, she might simply be far more versed in politics than he ever credited her for. Or second, she was use to deflecting anger. Either instance bothered him for distinctly different reasons, but he wasn’t about to sit here and question how she managed to maintain such a calm composure in the presence of a being who could quite literally devour her for overhearing national secrets.

But his anger was shallow and while his rage stormed upon the surface there was a far deeper sea of exhaustion and frustration that tugged at his tense limbs and drew him back and away. And so he dropped his gaze and shook his head, lifting a hand and dismissing the woman with such a careless gesture that it revealed not his lack of care for her—but his lack of care for a situation he could not control.

“I hope you’ll keep what you heard to yourself—and if you can’t, doesn’t matter, I suppose it’s bound to get out to the public sooner or later. Lady Cicely, have a wonderful evening,” and then he turned and began his retreat.

It was odd—there was always more warmth when he dealt with this woman. He had thought about her extensively since their first meeting, to the extent of even sending a knight after her to keep an eye on her. Though he insisted it was to make sure she wasn’t a spy of some sort, there was a far simpler truth to his reasons. Lucis simply wanted to ensure her safety. But he felt numb tonight, and even the sight of her—regal and calm upon her nervous beast—could not melt the soul crushing cold that was spreading within him. It was always very difficult for the Black Prince to meet with his Grandfather—Tenebre, God of the Abyss, Father of Darkness—shadow manifest here in this world. Tenebre disapproved of Lucis, but unfortunately the prince carried his black blood within his veins and whenever they did meet—he could not help but toy with the hybrid by cooling his body and blood to uncomfortable temperatures.

It was at the end of the stables that Lucis stopped—but not to look back. Instead he reached out and clung to a thick wooden gate, the other hand touching his head as if—as if he were in distress.[/COLOR][/FONT]

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[I]He did [B]not[/B] just do that.[/I] Cicely's nostrils flared as the prince dismissed her, golden eyes eyes all the more vibrant as they sparked with anger. There she had been, willing to walk away and let bygones be bygones, and by sheer chance, she'd happened to overhear some conversation about Lucis' mother and now he was angry at her. At first, she'd just assumed that he was upset from the conversation, but the way he had [I]looked[/I] at her, [I]glared[/I] at her as though she'd just insulted him made something unpleasant twist in the pit of her stomach. When did princes go about having private conversations in stables, and did he not already owe her a dozen apologies for the kiss while he was already in a relationship and the running off mid-conversation and the setting of militant figures to watch her? It didn't matter what class of woman such was intolerable to—all of it was downright wrong!

Cicely's hands tightened on the reigns, features far from indifferent as eyes narrowed and cheeks flushed with fury. Many circumstances of her life simply had to be lived with—the indifference of men in higher position was one of them. Even in her upset, even with wounds bubbling to the surface, she cooled out of sheer force of habit. Bad as things could could get, cruel as the world could be, if one got angry back at it, few people would sympathize. Vengeance, insult was just degradation on a righteous cause, reason to call any source of good wicked or undeserving of justice. To suffer quietly, to do one's best despite horrendous odds—that was the only way to beat a system bent on destroying dreams.

So the next reaction was quick to follow. Hot, silent tears formed in the alchemist's eyes, and despite the fact that no one was looking, she turned her head away and wiped at them. “I thought you better than this, Lucis.” It was impossible to tell how well a vampire could hear, so Cicely increased the volume of her voice, turning her head back towards him. “I don't care to tell anyone about your mother nor any other of your less than pure exploits, and I am sorry that you are suffering. But by the gods, Lucis, you are not alone.”

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

He meant to leave her there—fuming and withering in her own anguish. Not out of cruelty, for he felt not a single mean thing towards the woman who, still at this moment, held his heart. Rather, he meant to leave before his anger at a situation that did not involve her at all managed to bubble to the surface and reveal a side of him that he would rather not show—especially not to this woman. But then she went speaking, and then there was that smell, like that of the salty sea and a sensation of angry heat.

Tears.

And he heard her sniffle, though she did her best to hide it, and felt his heart sink so low that he loathed himself. More so, he hated that he stopped, that he did not continue on the path that he had intended to take. He would leave tomorrow—and the plan was to never see her again, for he was certain that she was made uncomfortable by his presence, especially after the liberties he had taken. But by God! He worried—he worried for her, and he would not apologize for having sent Vintage after her, to guard her, to make certain that she did not get into any trouble.

That’s what he thought this was all about—that and of course the secret she had overheard—but his entire understanding of this situation fell apart with her words that stung him so sharply that he when he turned it was fully livid.

“What?!” He demanded and then began to stalk toward her before she could answer, causing her poor mare to buckle, to back up, to shake her head while a whine began to gather in her throat. Rather viciously, Lucis reached up and caught the brown leather noseband that stretched above the horse’s nostrils and pulled her forward—not roughly but very firmly. For a moment his attention wavered and he settled his eyes on the wide black terrified gaze of the horse.

“Stop it.”

To some degree he could communicate with animals—only on a very basic level. What he attempted to portray to the nervous horse was that he did not intend to hurt her, regardless of how anger he seemed or how predatory his gait and gaze. When he was satisfied that the mare would not throw the lovely lady off, he released his hold and returned his furious gaze to Cicely, “—now, what less than pure exploits are you blabbering about?”[/COLOR][/FONT]

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Sadly, Cicely was the one that had made the accusation and thus had to claim it. She wasn't sure of what it was that drilled down her spine when Lucis came closer, but from the fire in his eyes, she could only guess that it was some kind of warning. Her own emotions were still very close to the surface—pain, anger, even a touch of jealousy—but they did not rule her expression or her thought. While the alchemist had never learned how to hide her feelings, she had a strange kind of control over them. As soon as something threatened to boil over, as soon as the sharp retort at the mention of “blabbering” reached the tip of her tongue, it suddenly recoiled. All in all, it was something like watching a furnace burning behind a thick sheet of glass.

If she wasn't able to walk away at this point, though, what was she going to do? She hadn't planned on lingering after her last words to Lucis, nor expected him to corner her horse when he seemed so ready to leave them. He was in such a better position than she, him a prince in his own castle and she an outcast relative from a distant king, but she couldn't find it in herself to grovel at his feet and beg for forgiveness. Perhaps she was simply naive, but she didn't expect an arrest, not even a warning from him. Knowledge of her own innocence and indignance from what she assumed was his dishonesty gave her pride enough to expect equality. If he was going to corner her, then an argument was what he was [I]asking[/I] for.

Cicely squared her shoulders, brows and lips set in firm determination. She leaned her weight into the stirrup for her right foot, lifting her left leg off the beast with one brisk swoop and catching herself on the flat of her toes. The gesture was practiced and solid enough to be masculine, as though she were a soldier or a courier dismounting before her prince. With one hand still resting on the horn of the saddle where she had centered her balance before pushing off, she turned to face Lucis.

And it was there, gazing at the fearsome prince from below rather than above, that she lost her candid retort. It wasn't his vampiric features that stole her away, but rather, how [I]human[/I] he looked. Everything was raw on his features—unmasked, blazing, vulnerable. It was so different from the prince she had met before, the charming, playful creature who softened her sensibilities with the simple touch of his hand. Pain could change things like that, and despite all that she had heard about him, she couldn't help but feel that his troubles were genuine and greater than an affair with a governess. Perhaps something had been bothering him long before they had ever met, but things had finally come to a head. Was it even possible that there was something he was trying to protect her from?

[I]Don't touch him, don't do it![/I] And yet she couldn't heed her own warning. It was Lucis that had said it first, and even if it was just in jest, it seemed worth a try. If she could just... calm him down, get her facts straight before condemning him, having him explode could possibly be avoided. So she slowly, carefully reached out to hold his shoulder, her anger curbing itself in favor of concern.

“I'm not here to levy judgment, Lucis, nor to involve myself in your affairs. I only wish for respect enough for you to believe that I have no interest in using base information to throw at gossipers. All I know is what I have heard, and if you must hear of it, your servants... told me about a recent conflict involving the queen, which then touches upon you and someone... someone you were said to be rather close with. Truly, Lucis, I have no interest in discussing it further with anyone. Let your concerns in that regard, at least, be put to rest.”

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

The touch undid him and all his anger melted away like a cube of ice set upon his palm. Lucis recoiled, but not with disgust or fury, instead it was a heavy and miserable expression that caressed the beauty of his features. He didn’t care what she had heard—be it about his mother or about his supposed elicit behavior. And the truth of the matter was he didn’t believe, not for one moment, that she would be the source of some vicious rumor. If anything, the sight of her had roused in him anger for the implications that it carried—the fact that he might not see her again, that he was very well running away from her although they had only shared a few moments of time together, hardly enough to warrant the growing fondness. But this was not the time or place to think on all of these things—not when the very real possibility of the Queen’s death hung over his shoulders.

And so he turned away, gave to her his back, and reached up to rub his face with both his hands. Suddenly he appeared very young—like a sleepy child who could not find a place to rest. He took three paces away from her, and then sat down heavily upon a block of hay that had been pressed to the wall. Sitting there his elbows bent and rested on his knees and his face hid in those beautiful white hands.

“I am sorry,” he said simply—voice deep and thick with emotion. “It’s been a long night.”

He dropped his hands and lifted his head though his back remained hunched over. Regarding her with a much different expression he offered a weak smile before opening a hand and motioning forward, “—I didn’t mean to sound dismissive or to make you feel belittled. I don’t want to keep you if you must go.” As he spoke these words there was something tight in his jaw—as if there were more he needed to say, but could not.

Hearing what she had heard—what she imagined was the problem only made him shake his head. It took him a moment to think of who she could have possibly meant when she spoke of someone he had gotten close to. Oddly enough it took him a moment to consider Topaz, the young governess who had stolen a kiss—whom he had in turn—kissed back. It had been a strange thing, one that hadn’t weighed all that heavily upon his mind, except for the fear she saw in her eyes after he—like a hungry monster—pulled her close and deepened the innocent and curious touch into something far more passionate and violent.

I am my father’s son…He thought numbly as he leaned back and pressed his back to the wall.

If she thought that he was involved with another, then maybe it was for the best. While it had hurt him to see Topaz so frightened—it had ultimately been an expected reaction. But the thought, the thought that she might see him that way—with her beautiful eyes wide with terror—it made his chest ache and he would not have it. He’d rather remember her blush, her sweet and beautiful blush, on that night—during the tournament—when it was he who stole a kiss.

“I greatly appreciate your discretion then, and again ask for you to forgive my outburst—I’d hate for that to be your last memory of me sweet lady.”[/COLOR][/FONT]

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Cicely's expression softened as Lucis retreated, though it took her a moment to believe that it had actually happened. She'd been angry at dignitaries before, but never had she actually expected to turn an argument in her favor unless the favor was already there. She was an educated woman, yes, and certainly an avid alchemist, but she didn't exactly have the sharpest tongue in the family. She was easily distracted, quickly moved to blush with embarrassment or flush with anger, and she simply lacked the gut to say what was in opposition to those above her. That confidence had left her early as a child, as she'd found that apologies, rather than arguments, appeased the wrath of her parents and teachers. It didn't make them any more gentle or correct, but it at least convinced them to spend their time fixing actual problems instead of finding more reason to berate her.

So it was that when Lucis apologized, her doubt showed itself more plainly than it had before. Had she been right to assume so quickly that what the servant had said was accurate? Was she just making things worse for everyone by distracting the prince with trivial accusations when something big had clearly happened with his mother? As she watched his anger falter, the steel in his eyes melt as he ran his hands over his face, all she could feel was sick with guilt. This wasn't a game—Lucis was above that when it came to those he cared about.

Cicely had to wrestle with herself, once again at war. On one hand, it appeared that Lucis needed time alone, time to collect his thoughts and have privacy for his anguish, but on the other, wasn't it her duty to help him? It was her [i]job[/I] to fix wounds, to find solutions where others found only more problems. And even more importantly, hadn't he been there for her in her moment of doubt? When he could have simply left her alone or let her walk out of Kingshill, he had invited her in, chastised her for demeaning herself and opened himself up to hear anything she wanted to say. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she cared about him, worried for him as she did any of her friends, so ultimately walking out was out of the question.

“We're at a very bad start if one of us has to apologize every time we meet.” A laugh that never quite left her throat shook her shoulders as she stepped away from Elim after giving the beast a reassuring pat. Whatever spell Lucis had put the creature under rendered it nervous, staring out with wide eyes, but Elim stayed put. It allowed Cicely to approach the prince again without too much worry, almost making her smile when she realized the irony of the situation. Hadn't it always been her backing off, trying to keep everything on her mind to herself?

Slowly, Cicely lowered herself in front of Lucis,, dragging her long, curved coattails on the ground and dipping both knees into the mud and hay. She sat with a strange sort of composure, hands in her lap and back lightly curved, leaving only her face to reveal her true feelings. The gold of her eyes was warm, lips quivering slightly with a pout. It was unfair, really, to endure the breaking of such a majestic creature. Even if his natural beauty alone wasn't enough to deserve such a word, one only had to look at the work he had done to build up Orisia and the way he treated the lowliest of his subjects. Watching him squirm in his own pain was like watching the moon split in two or seeing a forest burn—beautiful, powerful forces of nature weren't supposed to break or falter, and if they did, everything they held up would fall to pieces.

“There must be a great deal on your mind. I wish I could understand or offer some kind of comfort, but I can't pretend to know what it's like to bear such a mantle. What I do know is that you really aren't alone and neither is your mother. You have men and women to do what they can to find and help her, but there's only one of you. Your people need you, your knights need you, and so you must be here for them, well and capable to do what you must.” Here, Cicely reached into her coat to procure a small flask, offering it up for him to take. “This will help you feel better—just don't drink too much at once. I don't want to induce a fever.”

OoC Note: The drink Cicely is offering is described in [URL="http://www.valucre.com/showthread.php/21205-Far-From-Home?p=285393&viewfull=1#post285393"]this post[/URL], should he choose to take it. Edited by Fairess

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[FONT=Garamond][COLOR="#800000"][imgalign=right]http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y222/lesbia_09/Signature%20Pictures/Lucis1_zps4c813d71.png[/imgalign]

The sound of her laughter made his golden eyes turn upwards. Through black dark lashes he regarded her, and the serious line of his lips slowly turned into a sad smile. He enjoyed the sound of her laughter—found it rich and soulful but at the same time very young. Still keeping his worried pose, elbows on his knees and hands gathered together as in prayer with his pointed index fingers pressed to his lips, he continued to watch her as she drew near. There was something predatory in his gaze that would never be lost—a sharpness that focused so intently upon the object of his attention that surely however was on the receiving end would feel that miniscule tingle of fear. This was a man who wielded unbelievable power in the end, both political as well as physical. He had explained his patronage, but did she understand—did she fully comprehend—that Lucis was indeed a dragon beneath the white marble flesh and the silver hair that draped across him like a heavenly cloak?

He admired her movements. It was as if she were taking careful measurements in her head before each tiny step that brought her closer and closer, and when at last she stopped before him, and knelt there in the muck and hey, he said nothing to stop her. There was of course that inkling of gentlemanly duty—she was a lady and should not kneel before him, not here—not anywhere. But the look on her face held something comforting to it a softness that he knew was meant to ease him.

Somehow she thought him a dying force—something suffering and fading. His anger, his worry, his frustrations made him stronger and drew him closer to a self he was not prepared to show her. So while she thought that she saw the moon break in his saddened expression or a majestic forest burst into flame and burn to the ground—his emotional turmoil represented a much different thing. He was the blackness that tore the moon in two and he was the red-orange flame that devoured the great ancient trees.

“In Orisia,” he began softly after her words of comfort had been spoken, “—the Royal Family is the first line of defense, not the last. If the Black Queen is gone, and if she had gone to where I think she has gone, then it is because she would rather risk her own life than any one man or woman whose sole responsibility is to protect Orisia first and foremost. When I think of myself, I think that it is an appropriate way of thinking—after all I am stronger—and I am a protector above all else. But when I think of my mother doing it,” suddenly that pain appeared again; it was raw and harsh upon his handsome features as dropped his hands and looked away. “Strong as she may be, she is the very heartblood of our country, and should she die, her place is not a place I am ready to take. She is a fool for trying to reason with men who have no reason!”

Cicely heard all of this in silence, and then tenderly offered a flask of some concoction that she said would make him feel better. He found it odd and at the same time—with his mixture of grief and anger potent in his blood—he found her utterly endearing.

“A fever?” he asked while his silver brows lifted in sheer amusement, “—darling my blood is fire.” He then took the flask from her and untwisted its little cap before drinking a mouthful of the strange concoction. At first he felt nothing, and then there was a burst—both of flavor and warmth, unfamiliar warmth, which caused him to frown. His internal heat was constant, the fire in his veins a permanent fixture, but her drink brought warmth to his flesh in a different way. It felt like the sun baking his skin rather than the molten blood burning him from within. Laughing, amused by the sensation of his cheeks taking on a touch of color, he glanced at the little flask.

“What is this?”[/COLOR][/FONT]

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“It was only fair to warn you—I'm not familiar with your biology and I'd rather not be solely responsible for overheating or poisoning a nation's prince by accident.”Cicely couldn't help the humor—the prince's laughter brought it straight out from her, breaking sense and hesitation. It cracked a smile that was small and warm, much like a candle in an otherwise black room. When Lucis asked what her concoction called, she couldn't stop the traitorous blush, but knew then and there that she wasn't going to give him the name. Of course she'd named it after him, the fiery brew that warmed the body and made the heart jittery. Admitting that would be to reveal already blatant fondness, but like every other embarrassed and enamored woman, it was too much to admit.

“Oh, that's some mixture of wine and bloodberries. I don't think it particularly suited for your royal pallet, but I'm glad it amuses you. For those of us without dragon blood, the cold can be severe.” And then Cicely left it at that, taking her gaze away from his face as she pondered the following silence. The more sensible part of her was wondering what on Valucre she was doing with this moody hybrid in a stable and why she was behaving as though she were on a picnic, but the answer was already there. She liked the man, hated to see him upset, and enjoyed what mirth he could have because of her.

But even Cicely couldn't deny the tension that remained. It was hard to pin down exactly what it was, however. There were the worries of newfound affection—if he was going to kiss her again, send her away into the night, admit that he was indeed already with another woman and so on and so forth—along with a flurry of others. Despite never having met or even seen Orisia's queen, she felt more pain than she expected at the idea of that woman being harmed or killed in her own efforts to protect her people, and despite never having been a princess herself, she also felt an odd sense of panic at the idea of having to take her cousin's place if something happened to him. There was also the fact that Lucis had at least a century to her three decades, and thinking that she was at all qualified to offer counsel was as silly as a child counseling a king.

What was she thinking? Cicely hadn't the faintest idea. She was sitting with the lord of a nation, the golden heart-breaker of women—a man that could make a nation dance at any whim. He was honest and yet unpredictable, like a young dragon trying to hammer out his own domain. If she crossed him, he could break her, and if she didn't cross him, he could still break her. Yet there he was with the weight of an entire island on his shoulders, and all she could think to do was make him laugh.

“At any rate... there's not really anything you can do about such circumstances.” Yes, there she went again, filling the air with her voice for no other reason than to put herself at ease. Even she had to admit that there was something nice about saying such words, telling a man who had just about everything in the way of the world that he was powerless to do something. “Your mother is a monarch and free to do as she chooses, and whether she is being foolish or not doesn't change that. Even I would agree that having a queen act as alone diplomat and soldier is foolish in consideration of all that her kingdom still needs from her, but that also happens to be something you can't change. We simply have to rise to the changes and consequences or let ourselves be conquered. Of course, I don't really know much of all that, but I'm sure that's what Ethan would say.”

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The warming effects wore off quickly and just as soon as the soft color had touched his cheeks—it began to melt away, leaving behind the cool pale cheeks that she was more accustomed to seeing. His face always seemed so hard when it lacked color, but with the dim smile that touched his lips there was an edge of softness there that very few people had ever had the pleasure of seeing. This, though he didn’t know it, was a gift he was giving to a woman who had managed to burrow her way into his heart. She was so strange, so different from the others, quirky but not obnoxious, sweet without seeming fake. And so he listened to her and suffered her advice, which wasn’t bad advice, but wasn’t exactly the sort of words that would help him in his given situation. He found himself transfixed on the movement of her lips and on the sound of her heartbeat.

When she ended her small speech, and mentioned Ethan, there was a moment—a single moment—of blind rage and jealousy, for Lucis had forgotten all about Ethan and did not immediately recall the name. He was about to demand to know who the hell this man was, but her expression seemed somewhat sour, distant even, at the mention of the name and that was enough to ease the rising fire in his belly. Whoever this Ethan was, it didn’t seem like she was particularly fond of him.

Good.

With his jealousy momentarily in check, new problems were allowed into his mind—such as the fact that he had to leave come morning, to travel toward Izabal in order to begin construction of the secret project. He wondered, as he stared at the fair faced woman before him, if he would ever see her again. The thought caused him so much distress that he reached out and touched Cicely—the black of his knuckles running across the smooth shape of her cheek.

“Come with me,” he said suddenly, “—I am leaving in the morning, traveling across the Areder Mountains, come with me?” More than a question, it sounded like a plea. Certain that his request would catch her off guard, he stared at her while she fell into silence and knew immediately that she would not accept less he present the offer in some other light. She would not be his guest—she was too bold, to stubborn, and perhaps just too prideful—so he quickly changed tactics. “These lands are vastly unexplored, we could use the help of a categorizer—someone to keep track of what she sees, to take notes on animals, plants, and any other such thing. You’re inquisitive, you can read and write, and you would be very well paid for your services.” The hand that touched her cheek dropped and instead found its way to one of her own. He caught her smaller fingers, brought her hand to his lips, and kissed her knuckles one at a time. “Say you’ll come with me?”
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Well! That wasn't exactly what she'd been expecting. For a moment, she couldn't help but be caught up in the heady and hazy sensations that come from sweet lips. Her jaw slacked, her body teetered closer, her fingers tingled, and her mind was taken up in private and romantic thoughts before she managed to catch her breath and senses along with it. What other thing could the gesture mean but that he liked her one way or another? She wasn't accustomed to the invitation, couldn't quite comprehend why she would be wanted rather than needed. One didn't simply offer payment for a joyride through the country.

Unless, it seemed, that person was Lucis.

No was the only sensible answer to his request. She had her own work to do as well as feelings she couldn't risk exposing, and she had no idea what Lucis aimed to do or where he was going. The problem was that he said the magic words, [I]Areder Mountains[/I]. It seemed like days that she'd been trying to abscond to that very location, to find some alchemic samples along with peace and quiet, and now she had the opportunity to do just that with this fine specimen of a prince.

[I]It's a bad idea and you know it. Didn't you see what he was like just moments ago? Do you really want to get caught up in all that?[/I] That annoying voice was back in her head, forcing her to plant her mind firmly on the ground again and take another look at herself. It was true—she cared about Lucis as a friend and had inclinations to go further—but where would those fancies lead her? If she aimed to help him at all, be it exploration or advice, she needed a clear, unbiased head. And if she cared anything for her own privacy, her work, it would likely be best to leave him to his own duties. Together, they were but distractions to one another...

“I...” Cicely fully intended to offer the gentlest refusal she could, only to have it catch in her throat. Those golden eyes were peering so intently down at her, and she wondered with a jolt of panic if he could read her thoughts. After all, vampyres were rumored to have all sorts of powers, least among which was that of seducing prey. There was still so little she knew about him, his family, his kind. There was a great deal she ought to have been afraid of, but she couldn't get rid of his troubled visage in her mind, the way he had been troubled, his own fears and admissions he had confessed...

“Well, who am I to challenge the wishes of a prince? If that is all you would ask of me, then I can do little but accept.” Cicely offered a sheepish smile, feeling her stomach turn on itself. Perhaps things were far less serious than she made them out to be... perhaps he'd change his mind... who could say?

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She seemed to continuously consider his loss of decorum, suffered only moments ago. He saw it in the doubtful glare in her eyes, the way the light failed to fill them completely in the same way it had before. It stung him, and he could not help but wonder if it was due to his bloodline that she now looked upon him differently. To him, it seemed perfectly reasonable that one should be so upset after receiving such troubling news. The possibility of his mother’s death made him sad.

Lucis looked away for he fully expected her to deny his offer. Of course he could not hold it against her. She was a stranger in these lands and he was asking her to pick up and leave everything on a whim and nothing more. But it was more, much more, of that he was certain but he simply could not divulge the information to her. There was a reason he was needed in Izabal and there was a reason he wanted her to come. She was smart, her eyes were captivating and in turn he was sure could captivate the minutest details of new animals and plants—but still there was something else. There was a personal desire there that made him a greedy and wicked man.

He simply wanted her.

To his surprise and pleasure, she agreed, but his smile flickered and weakened as she gave her explanation as to why. “It is not a prince who asks you to come,” he answered as he reached for her, caught her arms, and helped her to her feet while also moving to stand. “I ask you as a friend, a friend who knows your worth and would thoroughly enjoy the pleasure of your company. You make things,” he stopped, peering down at her now, while still holding her arms soft but firm so that she could not pull away, “—you make things—seem not so hopeless.” And then he kissed her, but not like before, not with the charm of a prince who could get away with whatever he wanted—as had been the case in the great arena. He kissed her tenderly upon the cheek, and then released her and stepped away, “we leave tomorrow.”

[Exit Lucis]
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