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[NW]On the King's Road

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Continued from In the Court of Jesters...

In Orisia, the Rioja family is nobility in decline, of the once lauded House of Mercy. Today, their highest title lay equivalent to hidalgo, little more than a courtesy, a sign of belonging to the gentry, denoting one's family as noble, even if lacking in ambition. The truth was, the Rioja line stretched back through history with only mediocre accomplishments, with men and women fielded to be pawns of other, greater houses. Their apathy would see them remembered fondly, the Rioja—no ire from the common man, no wars fought in their noble name—but that was only if they were remembered at all.

Vincinte Melchor Rioja Thalon sat comfortably on the plush leather seats of his carriage, resting one leg over the other as he flipped through the yellowing pages of a book plain but for the time worn marks across its surface. He went to turn a page but stopped, suspending it a moment, hesitating, before he followed through and leafed through a few more in quick succession.

Several passages described the Rioja heraldry, touched on, and then quickly moved away from, their contributions to Orisia as a whole. None of it particularly interested Vincinte. The Rioja did not interest him, even. Not as a subject, at least; their history and their culture held no draw; and that was what drew Vincinte to them.

A month ago, Vincinte was called Ezra der Herzen, an inspiring leader of men, or at least of thugs, but his world view had changed and he had needed to change with it. He had entered a game with no pieces and without prior knowledge of its rules. He possessed no pawns to block for him, nor a king to maneuver; he had no bishop or knight or rook; and although he did have a queen, the game could not be won through the queen alone, and when playing the queen—especially his queen—he needed the payout to match the gamble.

Therein lay his plans for the Rioja. It was in their nature to be used, and in the newly turned Thalon's nature to use them. Theirs would be mutually beneficial arrangement; and they just did not know it yet.

On in the inside of his jacket, Ezra kept a folded piece of stationery, its quality several grades above what he had used even in his most important business transactions. Written on this paper, though Ezra himself had not opened it, he knew was the Heraldic coat of arms belonging to the Rioja family, and its contents below that announced him as the fifth brother of a third cousin to the current head of the family, Alonso Pimentel Rioja.

Vincinte Melchor Rioja Thalon was an imagined man, however. A necessary pretense. His writ of heritage an expensive, but nearly flawless, forgery crafted by the Thalon's expert scribes. Courtesy of Ashlyn Thalon's connections, the sister of Malcom Thalon, and her eagerness to please, Ezra believed, stemmed from her being responsible for his actions, for his successes, and for his failures. His education in their ways was limited and not yet near completion, but he knew enough to know that she had erred in siring him, and that admission into the family was normally paid with commitment and dedication that bordered on religious.

Ezra possessed neither commitment nor dedication to the family, not in the way their human cattle might know it, nor even his seniors in the low-end of the family hierarchy; Ezra was dedicated to himself, and he was committed to his ambitions, and so long as he was Thalon the family would reap the benefits of his association.

That was the best he could offer them; but on the other hand, Ezra did pay his debts, imagined or otherwise, and he had come to see his change as … agreeable.

He closed the book softly and set it to the side, keeping his hand on it, protectively as the carriage rocked and bounced, finding every hole in the paved road that lead to the Rioja's holding, a medium sized plantation, whose boarders held a small village, barely worth naming but the island's cartographers designated it 'Sierrae' on their maps despite its unworthiness.

And how is my mistress feeling today?” Ezra asked, lips drawn up into a smile that shone through to his eyes, softening the hard edge that normally resided in his features. He had considered introducing Ashlyn as his sister but their looks were too different for that to be believable in the end, even after the change had whitened his skin to match hers. His other choice had been wife but then that added too much an air of finality to their relationship. Ezra had decided then that a mistress was better. It meant that there was a chance to snatch her away, and Ezra had yet to meet a noble that could resist the temptation of a honey-trap.

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Business. It was an important tool for the family, and more so, her responsibility to keep an eye on the mules that ran their legitimate businesses. As of now, Donovan was more qualified to keep track of these things and it was a nice break for her. Ezra was her new focal point. He was already a very capable force and of that she was proud. However she continued to remain at his side and watch as he continued to grow and be a constant for him regardless if he believed he needed it or not.

“I grow weary of the traveling.” She flashed him a smile as she curled her legs underneath her indian style. “There is nothing quite like being at the family home, surrounded by those that share our life force and the history that is Thalon.” She waved her hand dismissively. “There is work to do however, and it will come first. Our greatness is reflected by the continuous work we do and so we shall do it.” She winked playfully. While she longed to be home, curious if there was any word on the Mother, she was also grateful to be out and about with Ezra to keep her mind busy.

“What is your plan for this group of fools?” She was basically second fiddle in the Ezra show. He would make the plans and decide who, what, when and where. She would be his backup for anything that he needed, whenever he needed it. She was however delighted with the idea of a new play thing. She was a sexual being with an insatiable appetite, and she could have her pick of the litter.

As they neared the families plantation she wished to have some idea of what was playing out within his head. It went without saying that she could play the part of the proper lady when need be; or the seductress, and even killer...She would do whatever needed to be done but some idea of a structured nature was her preference.

“Look at this place...” The village was miniscule, she wondered if there was even a pub where one might grab a bite to eat. “Who do these people think they are again my love?” She laughed a bit at her words. These humans wouldn't know noble if it smacked them in the face. Perhaps she underestimated the fun to be had here with Ezra.

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To say that Ezra did not share Ashlyn's affection for being surrounded by other Thalons would be an understatement. Although in truth Ezra had not ye had a chance to get to know any of the others. As far as accuracy was concerned, it was better to say that, as a man of ambition, he could not sit on his laurels and grow fat on the accomplishments of others, nor watch this new family of his grow stronger while he remained the same.

Ahead of him lay an uncertain future, and Ezra was not a fan of uncertainties. It was in his best interests to cultivate his strength and his resources, and to build the foundation of his future, regardless of where his path might eventually lead. He wished to field and move pieces across the Thalon's game board, sometimes for the interests of the family, and other times to pursue his own. That was fair.

The carriage’s wheels chose then to catch every rock in it sway, jostling Ezra from his thoughts, but he smoothed his irritation with another smile, beaming.

“Same plan as any Thalon might have for them,” He deflected, delaying his real answer as he considered his words. He brushed the side of his brow with the heel of his thumb, along a scar that was faded now, nearly imperceptible since the change.

They were just west of the city of Antigua, along the orchards and wineries of the smallest of the two Orisian islands. Somewhere in their history one of the Rioja patriarchs had uncharacteristically indulged their ambitions and somehow managed to take possession of a rival family's land, which the two nightwalkers now traversed, its climate temperate and it soil rich, so much so that its contribution to the Rioja family's net worth no small matter.

“In broad strokes,” Ezra finally continued, having let several beats of his lethargic heart pass, allowing Ashlyn time enough to disparage their prey, “what I said before is true. Chain them to the family, as mules and as an asset. The usual...”

There was a brief pause there, as Ezra allowed Ashlyn some time to be disappointed. He imagined she might not be too enthused with laying down yet more infrastructure.

“...Not so usual though, is that Orisia is filled with a lesser breed of … Vampire, but toss in a 'Y' somewhere,” He said, winking. Although from what he had read on the subject, they were not to be any more underestimated than, say, Malcom Thalon, or one of the other elders in the Nightwalker hierarchy. Ezra could not face most of them in a head-on confrontation himself, and the Rioja were dynastically and historically opposed to their nearby neighbors, another noble family, except at their head was one such creature, a few centuries old. “And I would not be a Thalon if I could just… abide a land untouched by our kind, ruled by the our lessers, or so I've come to see things. Before operations can expand here though, the Rioja—”

The carriage began to slow as their driver steered the horses toward the manor house of the Rioja plantation, its face visible between two rows of trees, like wooden knights barring the way.

“—need bend their knee. I'll fill you in on the rest after we meet the locals. Promise. ”

Edited by Bedlam

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Perhaps much to his surprise she nodded in agreement. She understood the importance of their influence reaching far beyond their own boarders. Even while this “noble” family didn't amount to much where she and Ezra hailed from, here in their own lands they were important. Being the puppeteers that pulled the strings from behind the scene could and would eventually come in handy.

Drawing in a deep breath she turned slightly in the seat as to face him more. Her index finger met his chin to direct his face toward her own. “You are not just any Thalon, Ezra. You are mine.” She squeezed his chin lightly and offered him a smile. In no way did her words describe ownership of Ezra, merely were he had came from. “We are all so very diverse, and in part that helps makes us great. I will never compare you to the others, and you should not as well.”

She straightened herself back up and considered these other creatures. There was little to no concern about such abominations. The blood that flowed through her body was pure and powerful backed by hundreds of years of learning and living. They had a goal set in motion and they would find their victory one way or another.

As the carriage slowed she assumed they had began to descend toward the plantation. She was unwilling to become sour about the situation and promised herself a good bit of fun while here working to help Ezra reach his goals. “I'm going to hold you to that promise my dear.” She chuckled and patted his hand. Let the games begin…

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