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[Among the Poppies]

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Change was, for the most part, a necessity that he had come to appreciate and admire. So much so, in fact, that he often made an effort to be the very agent of change—be it progressive or recessive. That particular aspect, the overall outcome, very rarely interested Tenebre. So long as it was a thing of great entertainment, a thing that he could love and watch with his ever waning levels of interest. It was the chaos that ensued shortly after change that really got him going and so it has been very easy to become enamored with the youngest of the DuGrace—youngest back in the time of Antigua of course. She had been a wild agent of change being that she was so distinctly different from both families. Far too soft to be a Bartalome and not quite narcissistic enough to be a DuGrace, he immediately saw in her the ending period of a long and quite frankly rather boring and predictable family feud.

She would end Antigua and therefore the two families—and end it she did it.

It was mostly due to the oddly ridiculous level of importance that vampyres, in all their ridiculous pride, placed upon the propriety of specific bloodlines. So the little heiress to the throne had run away and the joint blood of the Bartalome and DuGrace had been lost, which was a considerable loss being that the mother and father of the child had nearly slaughtered each other on their very wedding night. That they had come together long enough to actually produce a child was no small feat—but it was certainly not the end-all of a whole civilization.

THEY gave Gabriela far too much power. And it was therefore their fault that Antigua fell. At its peak, Antigua was home to a multitude of Pure-Blooded vampyric families and for some reason the DuGrace and Bartalome could not decide amongst themselves to merely produce a new heir or build a completely different one from one of the other honorable and distinct royal bloodlines.

They lost their kingdom over a child and so it was his opinion, as he watched the marvelous decline of a great nation, that they received their just-deserts. Of course not all the ashes of the two noble families had been tossed to the wind, and while he had never really expected for either Rafael or Desmond to come this far and actually find Gabriela, it was a rather extraordinary twist. One which he could not quite wait to see develop further. And in the end it was oddly comforting, for he had loved the Bartalome and DuGrace families equally and had bestowed upon them his gifts, his attentions, and more importantly his affections.

Rafael reminded him of Maximilliana—and of course he would be being that he was the original Black Queen’s nephew. Like her, he was deliciously calculating and cruel to such a degree that it seemed near impossible to find a better villain in any realm. But perhaps what made him, in particular, so special and different from the normal day-to-day and highly over-rated evil-do’er was the very fact that he was not swayed by his evil-conduct. He saw beyond the constructs of such things and saw only an end-goal, only an achievement worth reaching—he was preservation and narcissism incarnate.

And then there was Desmond, of whom Tenebre was equally fond of, but for astoundingly different reasons. Desmond, who was perhaps much younger than Rafael—had a spark of idealisms to him that the Father of Darkness knew would complement and help to further develop his beloved. Where Rafael was interesting because he was so devout to reaching his goal, whatever that goal may be, Desmond was interesting because his goals were thwarted by thought, reason, and contemplation. Desmond had survived so long because he had adapted and he carried with him all the loyalty and devotion of the old DuGrace Patriarchy.

Two families at such odds and now all that was left of them were three—three beautiful, deadly, and utterly interesting individuals whom he had to somehow bring together. He plotted his rebirth now and dreamed of his incarnate adventures in this material world, but that could only happen if all two of the three players agreed to participate in his little game.

With his beloved effectively out of the picture, a fact that had disturbed him very much but which had not yet caused him to lose heart, he felt that it was finally the right time to bring the two distant cousins together and to present to them the wonderful thing that he had come up with. And so, with all the concentration that he could muster—while being so very excited by the prospect of his new and amusing endeavors—he pulled together a body of slender wisps of shadows. As always, it was a large and black thing that lacked features and stood at odd angels. He manifested himself in a wide field of the dreaded Dead Poppies, those flaming red and orange flowers that carried with them the poison of everlasting sleep. This would prevent them from being overheard and so long they held their breaths then they would not fall prey to the same fate as the oddly placed bodies that littered the peaceful looking space. These bodies were in all degrees of decomposition, and with a fresh paint of moonlight, they looked almost charming in their own grotesque way. He studied these with the shadows, touch them and feeling the odd dips and dives of their rotting flesh. Once his curiosity was satisfied he finally reached out—through the blood bond that connected them all, and through the darkness that he himself had injected into their veins.

[I]My boys—my handsome, strong, and beautiful boys. Come, come to your father, come pay homage to Darkness.[/I]


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Raphael had found her, only to lose her once more.

Though arrogant and teeming with pride, he was not beyond admitting their first encounter had been one of chance. Never before would he have believed he might run into the little princess whose bleeding heart had caused such troubles and strife for both his family and people. A once glorious empire was now nothing more than the decrepit ruins of wars and conflict centuries old, and a thriving race of rulers were pushed to what felt like the brink of extinction. Of course, Raphael’s hands were not clean – he had certainly played his part in the systematic dismemberment of their people over the years, and this too he blamed on Irene. For it was she who reduced him, along with countless others, into animals fighting for land and agency that was already theirs.

But, Raphael was always one to adapt. He could see the imagined “glorious victory” that the warring factions all spoke of, eagerly awaiting them like sheep being herded into a wolf’s den. He knew that only death – the true death – would be found at the end of the path they all walked so recklessly, blindly even. And so, he made his own path; one that spiraled haphazardly through various worlds and realms.

No longer did the blood of his enemies sate his thirst for revenge. There was only [I]one[/I] who could quench him, and he would settle for nothing else.

Tenebre’s call – a voice he had not heard in so very long – startled him, at first. [I]Why now[/I], he’d asked himself while following its whisper. [I]Where was he when we were tearing ourselves to pieces?[/I] he reflected. The dark father’s absence had been noted by many during the wars, yet neither prayer nor sacrifice had been enough to stir him from his void. He could have reined in the destruction spreading throughout their territory like wildfire, and brought order to the chaos. In some ways, their gruesome past and bleak future was every bit his fault. It was always Raphael that Tenebre could have easily plucked Irene from wherever she was hiding and given her back to the kingdom; so why hadn’t he? Did he fear the punishment she would endure, or perhaps was he just savoring the mindless fighting? Whatever his reasons, his summoning was not something the child could ignore.

Unsure of just how long he would be gone, or where the haunting shadows were leading him, Raphael had made sure all of his affairs were in order. [I]Does he know?[/I] There was nothing the shadows did not see or hear. Even in this strange new world, Tenebre’s presence only confirmed that there was no realm he could not reach. His words had been kind and loving, but it was nothing more than a veil. [I]Shall I finally be punished for all that I’ve done, and intended to do?[/I] The idea of having the dark father’s boundless wrath and cruelty extended unto him was stifling, yet he approached whatever fate awaited him without hesitation or stagnation. Even if these were his last moments, he would retain his dignity.

Traveling to Orisia, more specifically, the Dead Poppies was quite tedious; finding residence during the day and passage by night. But, he did arrive. It was a lackluster introduction, heralded by the crunch of flowers beneath the hardened soles of his shoes, and disturbance of the shadows and half-light. Even with the generous glow of the moon, Raphael appeared modest in size and dress. Dressed in a simple matte black two-piece suit, he hardly looked like the knight Tenebre might have remembered better – bedecked in bloodied armor, brandishing shield in one hand and sword in the other.

[I]I’ve come[/I], he mentally murmured as he reached the center of the field. His tone was flat, devoid of emotion or true interest. [I]How may I be of service?[/I] Edited by King

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A full week passed and never did Tenebre shift from his position. During the nights, he watched without eyes, sensing the light of the great white star that shone brightest among the twinkling sea of diamonds. He felt a kinship to that brilliant beacon for he felt himself to be as unmovable and steadfast as the distant burning orb of violent energy. He would wait here for however long was necessary until one of them answered the call.


Certainly he knew that he had to give them time to arrive—it was unfortunate that Desmond found himself in the Versillian Dungeons but Tenebre had figured the boy would be clever enough to get himself out so that he too could heed the call of his father. In fact, he expected Desmond to be the first to arrive. Much to his displeasure the distant heir of the DuGrace blood did not stir from his jail cell, whether it was due to a lack of desire or ability, Tenebre did not know and frankly he did not care.


He settled instead on watching the travels that carried Raphael across the wide sea. It was a strange thing that he had never been able to look through Gabriela’s eyes or her shadow when she had been in Terrenus, but Darkness figured it had something to do with the company she kept. That cursed devil had called himself—perhaps that was the reason he could not upon the world from his beloved daughter’s presence. But Raphael was different and the dark nearly black shadow that he cast offered a clear and precise vision of the path that he traveled. And so it was that there was very little in the form of surprise when at last the impeccably dressed man set foot upon the field of fire-red and sunset-orange poppies.


In these late hours and with the white light of the moon, the poppies took on a strange coloration—gray and black. The bodies that Tenebre had busied himself studying during his wait had been gone through an accelerated state of decomposition so that the lean shadow that stood at the center was surrounded by skeletons of all shapes and sizes. It was macabre but distinctly peaceful.


He did not have to turn—he carried but the form of a body but with his featureless face there was no way of telling what side was the front side. Even so, the abysmal figure came to life when Raphael drew close enough. It was like the air of life was blown into him by the night breeze that swept across the clearing. The figure lurched half a step forward, then stopped.


I’ve come…How may I be of service? 


Tenebre tasted the notes of his voice and wondered at what could be gathered from its tone. It was cold but not cruel—rather not angry but very collected. What fascinated him the most was the subtle sprinkle of disinterest, which matched the smooth expression of his perfect face. Darkness stirred, attracted to the shadows that touched the corner of Raphael’s eyes and lips. Were there any beings of more beauty than these two cursed families? Seeing the wondrous flawlessness of Raphael’s face and body made the Shadow ache for the one he had lost for now he was certain that she was lost to him forever.


What have they done to her? My sweet beautiful girl—lamented the Shadow aloud in the strange mental space between their bodies. But the question was not posed to Raphael; it was a personal thought or perhaps reflection.


Was three hundred years enough to snuff the flame of your soul? How little you must have felt for your people—for your family. Tenebre paused, but without any features to go on and with only the sound of an odd and mechanical voice it was hard to gather what emotion, if any, the shadow was feeling. I expected anger. You were glorious when you were angry. Regardless, you are here and I saw your journey so the pretense is unnecessary.




The shadow did not move.


You once prayed to me. You vowed your whole life to my service and now you ask what service you can provide, no better than a stranger.


What did it mean—what did he feel. Was it anger, regret, or even longing? There was no way of knowing.


My beautiful boy, tonight I want to know how I may be of service to you.

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Now, he wished to help? Where had their dark father been when they were tearing each other to pieces, leaving trails of smoldering carcasses across the lands of their nation? Lurking in every shadow, Tenebre had been satisfied with simply watching. And now that they had dwindled to but a handful, teetering dangerously on the brink of extinction, he wished to lend his hand in service? Had the ambiguous mass been any other entity, such blatant disrespect would not have been tolerated, regardless of if it ended in the vampire's destruction. But, as he stood there, he remembered. He always has a purpose, the haunting voices said, their tongues licking at the recesses of his mind. Always a purpose.


Raphael accepted Tenebre's disapproval - or at least, what he gathered it to be - without hesitation. He remembered very well the days of old, sword and shield in hand, always adorned in valiant armor and the blood of both his enemies and kin. Now, he only held wine and jewels, and wore only the finest suits Valucrean tailors could produce. Had he changed out of want, or necessity? Was it the lack of care that brought about this new persona, or simply the need for adaptation?


Certainly, Tenebre knew the answer.


Where is she? He'd ignored the deity's previous complaint until after he'd finished speaking. No matter what Raphael wore, how he walked, or how he dressed, one thing would always remain the same. Just as much as he blamed the dark father for the desolation of their people, so too did he equally place upon the young, ignorant queen. If there is anyone who can find her, or knows her whereabouts, it's you. You saw the devastation she caused with her selfishness, Father. You saw what she did!


Now, the anger he longed for revealed itself.


You question why I ceased my prayers? Because of her, he explained. I waged a war against those I'd come to know as friends and family, all because of the careless decision of one little girl. I lost the chance at an empire because of her, he spat, venomously. I prayed to you for years - asked that you might end the foolishness and bring her back. You never answered me, until now.


Would he right the wrongs? I will find her, he said with explicit finality. I will take that which is mine, by whatever means necessary. And I will restore our people's glory, and honor, with her at my side as she should have been so very long ago. You ask how you can help me, Father? Tell me where she is.

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Always a purpose.


Perhaps that is what a frightened man tells himself when he feels that his God has left him. The truth of the matter was cruel in terms of mortal understanding but not in Tenebre’s reality. There was no purpose—there was no rhyme or reason to all the bloodshed that had occurred and all the pain that had been suffered. There was no justification or grand scheme when it came to the near annihilation of this particular line of vampyres. The simple truth, which Darkness saw no purpose in sharing, was that he had simply stopped caring.


There was a vast universe beyond this world—beyond Atitlan and Orisia. Out there, in the vastness of space where galaxies were died and were reborn within the span of seconds—there was just so much more to see. He lingered here now as more than just a natural occurrence, as all things of material substance cast shadows, only because of her desire to remain. Would that she only accept his proposal then she would have been freed from her body, her soul extracted, and together they would gone away from this little grain of sand amongst such a vast temperate beach.


Unfortunately, she loved this place and she loved her body and what it allowed her to experience—what he had once upon a time wanted to experience for himself. And he had managed, for some time, to be content with merely watching. But he was a god now and he was no longer content to merely watch. If he was to remain on this world until such a day as Gabriela’s natural death finally occurred then he would take part in it. He would have his body and he too would experience this thing called life and then perhaps he could escape the agonizing boredom of his current existence.


Gabriela would give him what he wanted for he saw no other worthy or capable. The DuGrace, for the better part of a thousand years, had taken into themselves the abyss and it had been no easy feat! Like one who carefully builds up a resistance to a deadly poison, generation through generation, these vampyres had accomplished what no others could do. And while Raphael was not his favored, Gabriela could not be expected to produce him a body all by herself through immaculate conception and powerful as he was he could not father himself.


But this had not been planned.


There was no purpose here other than the desires of a very lonely deity.


Had you the strength and will, then you would have had an empire with or without her, Raphael.


These were the first mechanical words that the dark creature answered after the vampyres spirited speech. Tenebre had remained perfectly still through this exchange, but finally shifted once it was his turn to speak. It seemed that perhaps it was difficult for the God to maintain this physical manifestation while also focusing on listening—there were just so many sounds, so many shadows, so very many images. Now his long slender limbs broke apart from the narrow center of a body. His arms bent and showed the slight definition of muscle, though it was only outlines and nothing more. He fashioned himself a body that held all the likeness of Raphael’s—save that it was three times bigger. When he was done he was a magnificent black sculpture, a nude man colored in such dark paint that even in the night he was easily seen. But the image wavered; it was hard to contain such a smooth shape with such fine straight and strong lines. What a magnificent body Raphael would give him if only he were to father the child that he would take possession of.


“You’ve so much hate for the object you most desire. But hate is easier to admit and perhaps even to feel than whatever it is your hiding. The truth is that no empire, without her by your side, is worth having. Blood calls to blood, a sentiment that I cannot yet understand—but perhaps someday.” There he stopped no sense in getting ahead of himself.


“She is in two places at once,” he finally answered, clearly sensing Raphael’s growing frustration. “Physically—in the Cold Mountains where those blasted Brothers have taken her to mend what they have broken. But they cannot. Only blood can restore blood. For you see they made a grave mistake and took from our beloved little queen all that made her what she was. Mentally, her mind wanders and I know not where. She no longer remembers me and even the faintest memories of you are gone. She no longer knows her own name though she speaks it. Like a little parrot, they’ve taught her what to say and what songs to sing but she knows not their meaning or worth. She was a child when she left Atitlan and sealed the fate of all those you held dear. She is a child now again and may very well make the same mistake for a third time. Here is your redemption, Raphael. Here is your empire.”

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Strangely, Raphael wasn’t insulted by the dark father’s words. Though he disagreed, there was a hint of truth in his words. Raphael was much younger back then – a soldier, groomed in the ways of becoming a ruler, but far from one. With such longevity at his fingertips, what rush was there to learn all there was in the upkeep of a kingdom? Millennia would pass and still his head would bear the heavy burden of the crown.


The fire of his soul hadn’t waned so much as it had been focused, like a torch opposed to a wildfire. The anger hadn’t vanished so much as it had been controlled, no longer a wild animal running amuck. His memory hadn’t faded, and his mind hadn’t dulled; both had been refined, and were sharper now than any blade.


The Cold Mountains? He asked, rhetorically.




Raphael was always running toward what he desired. Was this the fate of a predator, to always hunt no matter the prey or terrain? Inhaling deeply, he listened to the rest of the entity’s tale, interested but refusing to let it be seen. He had very little time to savor an opportunity, knowing better than most how easily they could slip through your fingers. Already, he was plotting – carefully laying the foundation for his newest scheme. Blood for blood, indeed. A particular talent he, unlike many, had refined over the years.


But, at what cost would this information come? Surely, the dark father would collect this unspoken debt when he felt it most opportune, or convenient for him. In the end, did it truly matter?


Thank you.  It was genuine.


Turning, Raphael slowly made his way from the ambiguous mass. He didn’t have much time before they caused the child-queen to do something rash.

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With exaggerated movements the shadow extended a hand, bent it at the elbow, and with long slender black fingers he stroked what should have been a chin. It was a devious mannerism, one he had adopted only because it looked so deliciously and blatantly wicked. That wasn’t to say that he felt his actions were wicked—everything was a means to an end. He wanted his daughter back and Raphael wanted a chance to reclaim what he had lost so many years ago, so why couldn’t they both get what they wanted?


Once upon a time he may have worried about what Gabriela wanted but he was now convinced that the object of his most sincere affection didn’t even know herself. She was a creature of age and power with none of the wisdom and he was to blame. He’d given in to her sorrow and gifted her with a three-hundred year sleep after Angelus’ disappearance. And what good had it done her to simply shut her brain off and send her to sleep instead of forcing her to face her pain and grow from it? That was the mistake that the High Lord Zenahriel had made when he sought to remove the sad memories that haunted the golden-eyed queen, but it was not a mistake he would allow her to make again.


Gabriela could not spend another three-hundred years ignoring the experiences she had been given. Perhaps he too had grown from all that he had seen—but there seemed to be something far more inherently wicked about someone who so easily turned their back upon their own creations. The Black Queen had made Orisia what it was and he could not allow her to single-handedly destroy another of her masterpieces.


Raphael was an instrument, but an essential one that would serve a higher purpose in the end. That was of course, if the prideful prince could escape from his own demons and abandon his path of vengeance.


“It is harder to create than it is to destroy,” said the shadow as an afterthought, knowing full well that Raphael would hear the words. As for the meaning he would take from them?


That was completely up to him.

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