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Pasion Pasiva

Hard as Stone and Cold as Ice

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(Greek) courtyard full of plants

Corvinus had been kind enough to offer her clothing and she had lost enough of her pride to accept the generous offer. She knew, by the warmth of his gaze and the sincerity of his words, that she could have asked for more and her request would have been well received. In retrospect, though their private conversation had not lasted very long, the effects of it had been profound. He had stirred in her a wonder for the life she could not remember simply by virtue of him being a part of it. He was a wondrous man, harsh and full of conviction, but she could say the same for herself. However, it was his unabashed generosity that moved thawed her heart, though it did little to remove her suspicions. And so, they had left each other on amicable terms the previous night, with the agreement that she would leave tonight. But here she was, two hours into the evening, and she still had not collected Emily from their rooms and she still wasn’t at all certain what she was going to do.


The simple reality was that she wanted to cry. Childish as it seemed, she felt utterly incapable of handling this situation. Everything felt profoundly hopeless, and she felt absolutely helpless. Everything was horrible -- there was no light at the end of this tunnel. Raphael was gone, and although she had fought for months for nothing less he had been the only certain thing in her life. The pain he inflicted, both physical and emotional, was the only real thing she had besides the small child growing in her belly. But he had even helped to mask the difficulties of even that -- now that he was gone she felt the aches and pains in her body, and the horrible chill that was making her tremble violently. This was never suppose to be an easy pregnancy, and yet with Raphael by her side, she had not suffered many adverse effects.


She was alone, and although she had never before feared loneliness, this time she felt the ache of it in her soul as well as in her gut. She had never needed friends as badly as she needed them now -- but there was no one -- and it was very simply her own fault. For the sake of the baby she should have been more agreeable with Raphael, she should have forced herself to endure just long enough to ensure her child could be born alive and healthy. A marriage to him would have secured the Orisian throne, and instead she gave in to the whims of her supposed convictions.


What the hell did her convictions matter now if they just caused her the life of the most precious and innocent being? She loathed herself beyond words. Death seemed like the only suitable end for someone as stupid and shortsighted as her, but even the comfort of suicide was an impossibility. She couldn’t take her life if it meant taking away a chance for her baby to survive.


“But I am so tired,” she blubbered out loud.”I don’t want to do this anymore…”


Her voice was small, and each word came between a sob. Ugly black tears had welled up in her eyes, but the moment they spilled, she wiped them away angrily. She didn’t get to cry or break down or fall apart, not now, not when there was still so much work to do. And even if she was alone, she couldn’t risk having anyone see her and go whispering back to the Emperor or Empress. This game was dangerous, and she was already in such a compromised position. The last thing she wanted anyone to know was that she was steadily crumbling -- pieces of her were breaking off, and her foundation was nonexistent. Each and every one of the beasts that had come stomping into her life had taken with them a piece of her, leaving behind nothing but a shell of the woman she once was. She wasn’t strong, or resolved, or courageous. She felt small, weak, and tired.


So tired…


Gabriela found herself leaning heavily against a stone pillar. She had come to walk the halls of the castle one last time, in a dire attempt to figure something out -- as if the art on the walls or the manicured gardens -- could help her come up with some sort of strategy. Somehow she had ended up here. A small, private courtyard. It was a perfect square that was lined with stone arches and slender columns. There was a fountain at the center, with murky green water and the constant stirring and shifting of tiny golden and copper fish. At the center there was a figure cut in marble and polished to a cold glow that seemed far too much like her own skin.


Would that she could be like that -- perfectly still, beautiful beyond reproach, and utterly unimportant.


“I am so sorry,” came a whisper, a dull little voice devoid of anything other than weariness and sorrow. She was speaking out loud again, but this time she was stroking her belly over the silken, long sleeve blouse that she was wearing. It was black, thank goodness, and it matched the gray, wool trousers that hugged her hips and fell in a straight leg down to her ankles. Under that, she had ankle length boots, which had been a horror to lace up and tie into knots. It was an elegant outfit, especially with her long hair braided into a loose set of links that allowed wisps of hair to fall loose around her face, elegant but functional for her upcoming travels.


“You deserve so much better than me,” her hand, pale and lovely with its glass like fingernails, stroked her belly back and forth.


And then, just in that moment, like a sign from heaven or maybe from hell, she heard the call of a bird. It was a strange sort of chirping, that she found oddly familiar. Her eyes had to close, hiding away the gold of them, as she tried to place the unique song of the strange little bird that sat somewhere overhead on one of the many hanging vines of green. She remembered it then, just as a clear and perfect image came to mind of him, of Roen, the man she hadn’t been able to think about for months. Suddenly there he was in her mind, cut in red and framed by wisps of romantic smoke that clung to him like the long limbs of a lover. He was whistling the same melody, and there were whispers, people from the night of the wedding, marveling at how sad the song was.


But it wasn’t sad.


It was hopeful -- blindly hopeful.


It was a call. The love in it endless, and it went on and on even if there was no answer.


That was the light in her dark tunnel. It was a strange and awkward reminder of who she was.


“I am all you have -- and I promise I’ll be enough, I promise.”


Although she was hard as stone and cold as ice, she was no less susceptible to suffering nor was she less susceptible to hope.

Edited by Pasion Pasiva

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She was an ethereal thing in the evening, pale and graceful. The paleness of her skin was accented by the racial trait of all Senarian women. Just as dusk settled, she seemed to do what a star did best—to shine. Truly, she was a silvery-white creature, the manner in which her skin seemed to glow. The silk of her dress with glinting threads of silver in the beauty of the garden’s lantern lit path. Raveena was incandescently happy, the grin she tried vainly to suppress creeping back into the fullness of her lips until she would break out into a smile. She lifted the pads of her fingers to hide it, and yet—such elation made it impossible. She as a school girl, giddy and happy. He had kissed her! A right and proper kiss—and with it, such emotions that were strong and endearing.

Those fingers slid, skimming the curve of her throat and resting on the oddest piece of jewelry she wore—if one could call them that. It was a habit to touch them, to remind herself they were there, and very real. A ball necklace chain and on it two metal dog tags. His identity was printed neatly on them: Rowan Knight.

It was a process to work through, a wonder! A marvelous thing to know he was here. She had slept her headache off, and though they were a distance from the full onslaught of the Emperor’s influence, Raveena knew that she may not be able to face a full conversation with him again without feeling ill. Rowan was all too happy to entertain the Lord and Lady of the Empire, and for once she was grateful to be excused.

She wanted the air on her cheeks, the coolness of the evening to breathe upon her and revitalize her. She had been imprisoned underground for what felt like an eternity in Himmelsfestung and found herself enjoying the outdoors more and more than she had ever. She wanted lush gardens and a place to wander when her mind was restless—or perhaps a quiet nook of quiet from royal duties to admire her British beau (while reading a book, of couse).


There was nothing but the dull roar of a reception beyond closed doors—punctuated by the occasional burst of laughter from those who loitered outside, the bubbling lullaby of a fountain, the evening orchestra of insects and the peace of one’s mind. Rowan was near—she could better sense him now that she had touched him so often in the hours before (though certainly not the way she wanted to). The pillars of the courtyard were something to be admired, she thought. She was wandering aimlessly now, following the path to its epicenter.

She pondered the architecture, it’s history—if it expanded as long as Corvin and Leoa’s reign. Would it endure beyond then? Would she be around to see it, or would she be dust while those pillars remained proud and beautiful? She had not questioned the loss of her immortality. Himmelsfestung and—even though she ignored it long before that fiasco—Rowan had taught her a valuable lesson about her life: it was indeed valuable.

Raveena sighed softly and sat by the ledge of the fountain. She could barely make out her reflection, as if the the murkiness of the water reflected a future she was unsure about. It was a most peculiar sound that drew her attention away from the golden fish that swam in the fountain the bubbled. It was an ugly cry, if ever she heard one, and Raveena stood abruptly, hitching the skirts of her dress as the heels clicked on stone to follow the source.

“My Lady Irene!” She exclaimed—and truly, she was shocked. The Empress was an emotional mess—and Raveena could feel it even from where she stood. She rushed to the woman’s side—how she sobbed and whispered as she stroked her belly. “My Lady, come—come sit with me here.” She guided the woman patiently, slowly to the a stone bench not far from the fountain’s bubbling center and gently helped her to ease and sit.

Raveena knelt before the Empress, a storm of worry in her eyes. Distress, sorrow, aching loneliness. Irene was cold to the touch and clear signs of tension and upset wrought her immortal features. Irene was a beautiful thing no matter how much she laughed or despaired. It was an ethereal beauty Raveena would never achieve, that no artist would replicate, that no man could stomach regardless of their attempt. She had never been fond of the woman for the struggles she had placed upon her two friends—powerful rivals for her affection and adoration. There would always be a disagreement somewhere, a pull in the thread. Still, Raveena was beholden to the Empress simply for serving as a Lord of the Carmine Empire. And yet, that was not the concern that etched her features.

“I don’t understand—are you alone? Where is Ra--. His Imperial Majesty, he is not with you? It’s not safe to be out here unattended, this country is--.” She paused and lowered her voice, “It’s not safe to be here alone.” It was uncouth to speak of Raphael to familiarly beyond the stretch of their letters. They were truly great friends who enjoyed each other’s written words, news and gossips. No, he would not leave her unattended like this—surely, he would not! Kadia was known for its pride in the human populace, and found Raveena’s kind even more dangerous and in need of control. Though it was unlikely someone would attempt something as insidious as attacking a pregnant Empress, Raveena took a page from Rowan’s book and knew it was better not to assume anyone was safe.

“Gabriela,” She spoke from a place of sincere worry, her brows knitting together as she studied the porcelain woman. She spoke from one mother to another, “What happened?”

Edited by Deus Ex Aizen

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“My Lady Irene!”


Beyond startled, Gabriela appeared nearly frozen with terror at the sudden intrusion. Of course it wasn’t an intrusion at all. She was the one out in the open, mulling about her life and the sad state of affairs that she found herself in, crying and blubbering in public like a useless and helpless child, but even so she had believed herself to be alone. The heavy blanket of Corvin’s power had settled over her like a comfortable old coat, oversized and overstuffed, warm and utterly comforting, and so she had fallen under some strange spell that dulled the edge of her perception. For a brief moment she didn’t have to worry about hearing every little thing, or feeling the presence of others, or even worrying that she might be the source of anyone’s attention. After all, now that Raphael was gone, so too was her title of Empress. She was no one of importance. And yet, the parentage of the child that she carried was by far the most precious and dangerous secret she had ever held, and she could not fool herself into lessing the importance of her child’s identity.


So Gabriela stood there and looked every bit a deer caught in headlights, with her golden eyes opened wide and her mouth pinched into a hard, straight line. Even as warm hands settled on her arms and gave her gentle pushes toward the fountain she could begin to feel the hitch of her breath as it caught on lump after lump of emotion in her throat.


“My Lady, come--come sit with me here.”


At first she didn’t move. And like any frightening creature of power, she was so still it was surely uncanny to witness. Her flesh seemed dreadfully firm and was in fact terribly cold even though it was actually soft, supple, and cool. Unfortunately, those particular characteristics were lost under the soft material of her blouse and the severity of her expression. But then, after a moment or two, with the woman’s unyielding patience at her back, Gabriela felt herself moved forward by a delicate and pretty woman. A stranger with a familiar face, a familiar smell, and a familiar presence.


To the edge of the fountain she was taken, and then she was urged to sit. Gabriela did so, though some clarity had returned to her golden eyes and some of the initial shock had begun to wash away. Her pale lips, which had been hanging open from the moment she began to move forward, finally closed into a not so harsh from. Still, her expression was troubled, even as the stranger took to her knees before her and leveled a pretty gaze made up of a multitude of colors, including brown-gold, and green.


The concern in those eyes, Gabriela decided, was genuine. She couldn’t begin to understand why, but she believed the worry to be sincere, which of course only tortured her with more questions. Up and down, Gabriela’s eyes took in the sight of this woman. A creature that was all but glowing, a thing she had only ever seen in herself and a few others like her. But by far, the glow in the woman's flesh was more akin to sunlight than the moonlight that appeared rubbed into Gabriela’s arms and legs. And she was bathed in silver material, a dress that spread around her and made her look like some unearthly creature sent from heaven itself. The frown on her face lightened, her expression became less upset and more confounded.


“I don’t understand--are you alone? Where is Ra--. His Imperial Majesty, he is not with you? It’s not safe to be out here unattended, this country is--It’s not safe to be here alone.”


Slowly she made sense out of things. This woman was one of Raphael’s -- a friend or perhaps a lover? Who could guess with a man of such insatiable appetites. Such a pretty face, such a unique creature -- it simply wasn’t the first time that Gabriela had felt suspicions arise. The problem was that they always died. Sometimes she wondered at the life that Raphael had before her, or the life that he continued to have now -- all the secrets that were kept from here -- but that’s about as far as her wondering got. Whatever kind of double life he lead had never been enough to keep him from seeking out her bed at night. No secret lover, no hidden friendships were ever enough to give her room to breathe. He was always there besides her, on top of her, or behind her -- always a shadow ensuring that she glowed as the only visible light.


Gabriela shuddered and closed her eyes.


But that was all over.


“Gabriela. What happened?”


She leaned forward slowly and doubled over. Her elbows rested on her knees and her balled up hands pressed into her eye sockets until she saw white and black dots floating in the darkness behind her lidded eyes. The pressure hurt her forehead, but it kept her from crying. Eventually, after a prolonged silence, pale and trembling lips parted.


“Raphael is gone. He left.”


We broke up -- that sounded ridiculous.


He left me -- that wasn’t true.  At the time, she had wanted him to go.


“We’ve broken our engagement,” she whispered.


Saying it outloud made it real. Raphael was gone, and with him -- any chance to get back the Orisian throne, any chance to save her baby, any chance to fulfil her promise to the old witch who had tricked her into all of this. She was crying again, sobbing silently, and hiding her horrendous tears. Gabriela imagined that the woman would think all of this was over losing Raphael -- better she think that than know the truth. The truth was too horrible and so very pathetic. And so she took a moment and gathered herself up before sitting up and wiping at the ugly black tears before they could stain her face.


Yes, Gabriela was a beautiful creature. Her beauty as uncanny as every other aspect of her existence. She was too lovely, her beauty seemed unnatural and was upsetting to most. But she was more manageable here, where Corvin’s powers eased the worry she often carried of trying to appear normal. Oddly enough, not having to concentrate on appearing human, made her far more human than ever before. She breathed when she felt like it, she moved when the spirit of emotion moved her, and so when she sat up and once more took in the sight of Raveena, she didn’t look quite as perfect, or quite as pretty -- she merely looked afraid.


“I don’t know who you are,” her voice was still a whisper, “but I remember you. I saw you before, in the Cathedral.


She looked away, she had to, she felt embarrassed remembering that place -- remembering what was done to her there. That night, the night she had seen this woman, she had called Roen master and he had called her slave. The very thought of it made her entire body tense up and tremble.

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There was a soft gasp as she sucked in air—it was a shock even to her. Though they were well beyond acquaintances, Raveena never dreamt that Raphael would agree to breaking off the engagement. He spoke fondly of his Empress, and she well knew the Queen's history with Roen through his tumultuous emotions she had been exposed to. The Countess stroked a thumb along the woman’s hand—and it was cold and trembling.

The Black Queen doubled over, and Raveena knelt fully, the plushness of her chiffon saving her knee from an unnecessary scraping on the meticulously paved path around the fountain. Gabriela cried, and Raveena knew better than to try and comfort her just then. No, this was a cry that was necessary—a thing to let pass. No good would come from such pent up emotions and—as an Empath, she knew that better than anyone.

“I...I don’t know what to say your Majesty. That breaks my heart to hear so I cannot possibly imagine how you feel right now.” It was not an easy lie. Raveena always knew how people felt. It was often times involuntary. The only thing that saved her from the onslaught of the Queen’s emotions was Rowan. His psionic dissonance was keeping her both subdued and protected. Her own feelings were sequestered for the protection of others. The Revenant was a powerful thing that was given reign only in the direst of times.

When Gabriela spoke again, she sat upright, and Raveena leaned back, yet she neither slouched nor relaxed in her kneeling. It gave her some design of effortless elegance—for despite all the militant training, she was a regal-looking woman when it suited her. It was a practice Raphael had instilled in her, to always hold the air of nobility and respect. It was a sign of courtesy to the Queen, her hand kindly remained as a show of solidarity.

“I am Lady Raveena, Queen Regnant of Himmelsfestung in La Guardia, Renovatio. I serve The Carmine Empire as a Lord. The Emperor has graciously allowed me to remain within Umbra for the duration of my training as an Imperial noble and politician.” There was a long pause, as there was both truth and half-truth to her next words. The Queen looked away from her, and Raveena smiled a tiny smile of reassurance. “The woman you met at the time is long dead, you’ve nothing to fear from me. Neither Emperor nor Devil says me in my current thoughts. I am often called Raven, or Rae for short. I would say it is a pleasure to be reacquainted with you, but.”

She rose swiftly and swept the skirts of her gown around her legs, coming to rest on the ledge by the Gabriela. All the while she kept a hand on the woman—always to reassure she was there to comfort and consult. Raveena moved with grace she was familiar with--both from the manner of her culture--the circumstance of her birthright, no less--and the training this woman's husband had overseen. Less and less she was a soldier, and more and more she was a well practiced lady. “I’m just worried, your Ladyship. You are with child, and Kadia is a dangerous city to be in. The Wedding is over and civility is fragile. Our kind is not welcome here, how long do you intend to stay?”

She spoke in the soft, hushed tones of intimacy and concern. In the evening, her curls and waves spilled over her shoulder as she leaned close to the Queen, unabashedly reaching to sweep the inky black tears away. It marred her gleaming skin, as if she were canvas swept with black. Blood was not a thing to shy from, but the imperfection of Gabriela in that moment was endearing to her. After some thought her lips creased into a frown at a sudden thought, fear creeping into her voice. “You’re not staying here alone, are you? Tell me you don’t intend to stay longer than you must!”

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“I would say it is a pleasure to be reacquainted with you, but…”


To say it was difficult to wrap her head around the current situation would be an oversimplification of the tempest of emotions that were quickly coming to a swell just beneath the surface of her already cracking composure. The harsh reality of this moment, and the truth that this woman seemed utterly unable to continue pressing seemed to clash violently with the renewed ability to remember Roen. Now that Raphael was gone, so too was his wicked curse, and the memories of the devil whom she loved so much were flooding her at an alarming rate. Hand in hand with those fledgling feelings of devotion she had just barely started to nurture for Roen, came all the ugly and horrible memories of the harsh path that had led them to where they were now. What was real and what wasn’t seemed so convoluted that all she wanted to do was put her head back down and continue to cry.


But it would be selfish to slip into such simple and childish escapes. Though both Emperor and Devil called her a child, in love and in hate, the truth was she could not afford to be one anymore. There was, instead, a very real child who depended on her and every decision she made. Slipping again into a puddle of tears and allowing herself to be overwhelmed by her sense of loss and defeat -- it was an escape she could no longer make. And yet, that fear lingered.


I didn’t want to do this alone…


“I’m just worried, your Ladyship. You are with child, and Kadia is a dangerous city to be in. The Wedding is over and civility is fragile. Our kind is not welcome here, how long do you intend to stay?”


Suddenly she wanted to confess a great sin to this woman -- this perfect stranger who had come sweeping out of nowhere offering warm consolation and such sympathetic looks. She wanted to tell her everything that Corvinus had confessed -- that they had once upon a time been fond of each other, that she had hurt him by picking someone else, that somehow her rejection had paved the way for all of this. She was already internalizing the blame for something that her better self knew was not her fault, but she was hardly herself in these moments.


“Our kind…” she whispered, clinging to the only faintly familiar thing that she could grasp. She forced her golden eyes to take a better measure of the woman sitting at her side, the woman who continued to gently clutch at her hand. But she wasn’t a vampyre that was obvious and not just from the warmth of her delicate fingers, or the flutter of her beating heart, which echoed like a pleasant beating drum somewhere in the background of Gabriela’s thoughts. There was a distinct lack of immortality and in its place, she saw the budding glow of youth and the ever present looming shadow of death. Yet, she was far from human and that too was obvious. Gabriela looked away for the first time, her eyes sweeping from the concerned young woman to the surrounding gardens. She tried to reach out, to feel something (to hear it, to smell it, to taste it in the air), but found instead found the world muted to a dull silence. She was not herself here -- not strong, not fast, not nearly as aware as she should have been.


“Corvinus said I was safe,” she whispered mostly to herself, and then, with a frown she realized the familiarity that was implied in using the man’s first name so casually. She blinked some clarity into her eyes and looked down to her hands, “The Emperor assured me my safety, and that of my child's. Regardless, I will only stay as long as I must.”


She didn’t want to add the fact that she had no way back home. Ever since she stepped down from the throne and abdicated for her son, she had turned her back on the wealth of an entire nation. No longer did she want to rely on the coffers of the Orisian people. If she was not their queen, then the money that they were taxed did not belong to her. But she had not financially prepared for the extent of troubles she was met with. She had never intended to be pulled and dragged along to so many places, and least of all left abandoned to her own fortune, here in the middle of a hostile nation.


Gabriela was drawn away from the multitude of competing worries that all tugged at her resolution to not break down into tears again by an unexpected touch. The young woman, Raveena, was stroking a curled finger against her ice-cold cheek and drawing away a black tear that had spilled over. It was startling, as always, to have anyone react so kindly to such a godawful sight. Overwhelmed by embarrassment, Gabriela quickly began to dig through her pocket, until she was able to produce a lovely black handcherfief with lace trim. It was strange, the sort of things that people fixated on when they had absolutely no control over anything that was going on around them.


“I am sorry,” she whispered, not daring to look and meet the woman’s eyes. She looked more than a little disheveled as she pried her hand free of Raveena’s and instead turned her focus to wiping the black smear of blood that now painted her fingers.


If there was anyone in the world capable of navigating the utter discord of Gabriela’s mind -- her worries, her fears, her mounting doubts and the turbulence with which she saw the future -- surely it was this woman with her special powers. But Gabriela didn’t know about them, and she had been lulled into a sense of security thanks to Corvinus blanketed powers. She felt freely, she worried openly, she cried without reservations.


“You’re not staying here alone, are you? Tell me you don’t intend to stay longer than you must!”


Finally the oddly timed fretting over a bit of flesh stained by bloody tears came to an end. Gabriela met Raveena’s worried stare. “I am leaving tonight, unless something or someone stops me. I have to get back to Orisia as soon as possible. Beyond whatever threats this strange country might hold, the only thing that poses a risk to me at this moment is being away from my throne...I have to get home.”


But why -- she couldn’t say.

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“You know, lad. You’re not bad company. Silent. A good listener. It’s just a pity that things had to end this way.” The raven-haired man whispered, sparing a glance toward his silent ‘partner’. Fair-skinned and blonde the man had boasted about how fair a shot he was, and had been more than interested upon given an opportunity (and gold) with which he could prove himself. The contract was simple: Single target, unsuspecting, and full of pride. Allowing himself a chuckle, Rowan looked at the twin bullet wounds that had extinguished the spark of the young man’s life. As a general rule, Rowan Knight was entirely against leaving bodies: Bodies led to questions. They led to evidence. And they created an entire host of problems he did not have the inclination to deal with…


But for once, the body was a part of his plan.


Since coming to Valucre, the wetworks asset had made a small fortune taking different contracts. He was no stranger to infiltration, information gathering, torture, kidnapping, and even the occasional assassination. This, however, was a bloody first. Rowan Knight, former MI6 agent, wetworks specialist, and hired bodyguard had been hired to shoot the woman he had just began to suspect he loved and the fanger she was encountering as per the bloody fanger’s husband. All because her husband loved her. It was like the stories his wi--


Taking a grip of the side of his head, Rowan’s orange eyes winced as the little whisper of a memory escaped him once more. Lately, these little fragmentary passages seemed to come to him, tickling the edges of his mind but never remaining long enough for him to truly process what they meant. Ever since the Himmelfestung Affair and his subsequent actions, Rowan had found himself getting more and more of these flashes… He was not even safe in the few fleeting moments where he could sleep. Dreams had began to plague him, dreams he could hardly remember nor had cared to attempt.


Dreams of a human Rowan Knight.


Shaking his head and sighing to himself, Rowan pushed the troublesome thoughts of the past and decided to place emphasis on the troublesome tasks of the present. He watched as the little raven-haired woman walked through the gardens, face lit up with relaxed happiness after last’ night’s events. For a moment, Rowan leaned against the parapets of stone and could not help but smile to himself as the heart he had once sworn did not exist jumped as she sashayed her way into the little private area. She had been so shocked the night before when he took her hand into the crook of his arm and accompanied her to meet the Lord and Lady of the house. She hadn’t said it, but the look of incredulity in her face told him that she had expected him to leave.


Not to act as her official escort.


Not for him to smile and nod politely as they shook hands with Corvinus and Leoa.


And certainly not for him to escort her back to her chambers and hold her while they both fell into the comforting lull of slumber.


Slipping out of the bed they had shared early in the morning, Rowan had found himself amused with thoughts of leaving her vexed with how he had managed to leave the room so quietly. Casting a longing look toward the kettle, Rowan could not resist brewing them both a fresh pot of tea as he internally chided the lot of Valucretins and their inability to brew a proper cuppa. He readied himself to leave, Rowan stopped himself and scribbled her a note assuring that he would in fact return, but he had meetings with Corvinus and a certain set of affairs to take care of. Successfully he had established his own alibi and set himself to meet with his partner in crime, Efrideet, to make sure that the final details of their plan had been properly put in motion.


As it turned out, a good murder attempt required three things: Preparation, location, and causation. Pulling off a successful murder was easy. Pulling off a successful failed murder attempt in which the would-be assassin would be killed and neither you nor the others involved would be suspected? A rather different endeavor. Sparing another glance at the body beside him, Rowan took a deep breath and ridded himself of his thoughts and emotions as his target and the collateral damage took place of the two women he had been watching. Bringing out the gun his accomplice had pilfered from a Kadian soldier, Rowan adjusted the scope and took aim.




He felt his heart beating and time slowing down as he took aim at the psion. That was the primary threat, and perhaps the only current foil to his plan.






“Sorry, Raveena.” He muttered in a monotone voice to himself no one in particular as his finger found the trigger, squeezing once and feeling the light recoil of the rifle’s butt against his shoulder even as he squeezed the triggered once more. Turning his attention away from the collateral damage, the man moved the rifle toward the primary target as he cogitated his options even as the bullets impacted against his lady love’s left shoulder.


That left him with the biggest issue of them all: How to properly execute his assignment.


The difficulty with this was the restrictions he had been placed with. Fatally wound her, but not so fatally that she could not come back. That had left him with the obvious choice: A gut shot, which was not viable due to the growing child and the condition that the man who hired him had made that the child be unscathed. With that in mind, the chimera brought up the muzzle of the rifle and took a deep breath as he aimed toward the side of her neck before squeezing the trigger and repeating the process as he aimed at Gabriela’s thigh, hoping to nick the femoral artery.


Setting the rifle upon the nearby tripod, the assassin hefted his ‘silent partner’ over his shoulder, placing his hand over the trigger and arranging his body so that it looked as if he were still attempting to take shots. He heard the commotion below as people began to make their ways into the garden, climbing his way down the walls directly behind them. He dropped to the ground and shook his head, his facial expression a mix of anger and grief that was only partially feigned as he pushed his way through to Raveena. Pale faced displaying horror, Rowan pulled up his sleeves as he appeared to check her wounds before placing his right wrist inches from it and pushing his webbing into a makeshift compress to try and stop the bleeding.


“Efrideet, find the killer!” The other one, not me. Rowan said quietly as he lifted Raveena in his arms as if she weighed nothing. He began to stalk his way out of the the garden, taking a moment to look over his shoulder at the pregnant, bleeding figure, blinking, and staring at his friend once more. “I have to make sure Raveena is okay.” Since I already bloody hurt her.


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Mortality was a wicked thing.


There was no loud crack. No herald of the pain she felt.

She wondered what she could do? Heroically call for help, perhaps? Or she could throw herself on top of Gabriela to protect her child? She would stand and endure the biting, burning pain.


No, there were none of those theatrics.


There were no heroics.

No valiant cries of help, outing the shooter.

No brave attempts to protect a mother and child.

No feats of strength and survival.


The exit wounds marred her pretty flesh.

Quivering fingers touched her shoulder gingerly. A warm, stickiness of blood coated the tips and her beautiful spidersilk gown was blossoming with the dark spread of blood. Raveena sucked in ragged air, trying to think—trying to comprehend what was happening. The reeling shock of her injuries was settling upon her like a comforting shawl as quick, shallow breaths began cutting her oxygen off, the dull roaring of blood pounding in her ears drowning out all else.


The world was tilting and Raveena succumbed to her wounds, her skull cracking against the pavers she had just knelt upon--a shock of white-hot pain bursting at her crown. The air rushed from her lungs in a strangled cry. Her vision swam as her temple throbbed at the searing pain that washed over her, where the warmth of blood caressed her temple and brushed her cheek.

There was a burning pain unlike anything she had felt before—and it scared her. Even as her body toppled over, the pain crested upon her again and again as her wounded shoulder hit the smooth, paved walkway. Her pain seemed to double instantly, and she felt a sickness in her stomach as her mind tried to process what happened--and failed. Her chest rose and fell rapidly in panic, and Raveena could feel the wetness of tears on her cheeks, her teeth chattering. What was happening? What was this pain?! It burned so badly...

It was her inability to cry out—her utter helplessness striking fear into her. She dreamt of what she was like in her past life. That she was strong and brave—and she did not feel strong nor brave in such a dire moment. There was nothing but dismal disappointment, the fear of dying alone, so quickly and effortlessly.

She couldn’t possibly think of Gabriela and her child, immortal things that they were. She was flesh and blood; fragile, despite the unparalleled power contained and hidden away within. In that moment she was nothing.

There was nothing strong or brave about her.

The artery of her shoulder was clipped, and the tell-tale signs of bleeding were growing, the bodice of her dress soaked and dark in the cover of night. She lay sprawled on the cold stone path, her skin feeling like ice despite the unyielding, burning pain. It was neither beautiful nor graceful, the way she fell—for it was all ungraceful, unexpected and terrible in circumstance.

All too suddenly she was weightless and uplifted. Her vision swam and she reached up, the nearly dried blood on her fingertips smearing along the bridge of a nose and cheek before dropping. There was no will to fight it. She barely noticed the pressure to her shoulder, or the organic form of Rowan hovering over her as he tended to her. Her consciousness was threatening to give out, blurring into surrealism. As if time was slowing, garbled voices stretched out too slowly, making no sense to her.


Breathing was so hard…so hard…


It had only taken seconds.

Seconds to be shot.

Seconds to fall.

Seconds to collapse into the arms of death, who deftly swept her broken form and toted her away to his domain…

Raveena’s eyes rolled in the back of her head as she moaned incomprehensibly, sinking into unconsciousness.

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It was the look on Raveena’s face that resonated within the golden eyes of the deposed Black Queen of Orisia -- a look of agony and anguish, a look of terror the likes of which she had only ever seen reflected in the dark hues of wild animals mere moments before they died. It was savage, raw, and terrifying, but also, it was nearly strong enough to dull the burst of fire and pain that bloomed inside her left upper thigh. Pain became nothing in that moment, when a splatter of the woman’s blood sprayed across her face and painted her cheeks and forehead. Every one of her senses came alive to the symphony of sensations that suddenly exploded around her. There was blood in the air mixed with the awful smell of burnt flesh from where the heat of the bullet had pierced and caused the woman’s delicate flesh to sizzle. There was the taste of blood on her tongue, which she caught when she opened her mouth to say something -- words that were utterly forgotten now. And the sight and the sound and feeling of the woman’s body as it fell forward into Gabriela’s arms. And then of course the sudden and awful weightlessness as the woman was pulled off and carried away.


Confused, Gabriela sat there for what felt like an eternity with nothing but a lump of emotions in her throat so thick that she couldn’t get a word around it, not even a sound. Raveena had been shot and she was now being carried away by a man who looked like he could be responsible for the violence. There was no way for her to know it was her protector -- her beloved. Gabriela knew only what she had been told, and all of these people were still mysteries, Raveena included. But there was a terrible sense of loss as the warmth of her tough and the weight of her comfort was swept away, and all that Gabriela could do was sit there watching.


There was an echo in her mind -- the silent sound of a bullet. It was the strangest thing. She heard the small object flying through the air a hundred million times, but didn’t realize until this very moment, what it was. Far too late to do anything about it.




The Black Queen moved to stand and suddenly the world went black and red with pain. Not only had the assassin’s bullet found its mark, nicking her femoral artery, but the bullet had swirled inwardly and rather than cutting straight through tender flesh, it broke through the hard material of her bone, completely shattering her femur in the process.


Down she went.


Down, down, down the rabbit hole of pain, confusion, and fear. She landed besides the fountain and rolled to her right, suddenly aware that she had been hit by a bullet and that there was no way of knowing if more projectiles were waiting to rain down on her. She took cover behind the fountain she had been admiring just moments before, and heard the trickle of water spilling through the hole where the bullet that had cut through Raveena, her thigh, and the stone. Suddenly, there was no other sound but the tiny cascade of water and the labored breaths that she was sucking in and hissing out. Beyond dizzy, she felt her head swimming and rolling from side to side as her eyes lost focus.


“Bleeding,” she said breathlessly to no one in particular -- there was no one to hear. However, the sound of her voice grounded her. But she spoke in that strange way that people speak when they're trying to deny the inevitable. 


“I am bleeding…”


A violently trembling hand reached down to feel for the wound. She was sickened by the sensation of her breeches, soaked through with cold blood so much so that her hand nearly pulled away. There it was, she felt the hole and the instant agony of putting pressure on bone fragments.


Oddly deft fingers, from both her trembling hands, set to work on the belt buckle that sat a few inches below her swollen belly. She worked the intricate little pieces until the leather belt was loose, and with weakening limbs, pulled the strap free from around her hips. Up she went, resisting the urge to scream in agony, she sat against the fountain’s base and wrapped the belt around her wounded thigh, as close to the groin as possible. Her pretty white hands were now covered in inky black blood. It didn’t matter, she worked through not only the pain but the swell of disgust and weakness that threatened to force her eyes closed. She tightened the belt with all of her remaining strength, which caused spots of black and white to dance before her eyes until, for a brief moment, she fell unconscious. But it was the same awful pulsing pain that woke her back up, her cheek still pressed to the cool stone tiles that surrounded the fountain.


Fevered, disoriented, and feeling more hurt and pain than she had ever experienced, Gabriela crawled on her side, pushing with her good leg and using her arms to pull herself across the grass back into the safety of the covered hall. There she stopped -- there she felt some semblance of safety. She lay flat on her back trying desperately to calm the heaving force of her every breath, and to control the shivers that continued to assault her limbs.


“Roen,” she wept the name, a bloody prayer from dangerously pale lips -- blue in shade now as she opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling of the hall. It was beautifully decorated like every other part of this palace, with painted squares that depicted all aspects of human life, ordinary but extraordinary. It was beautiful, she thought as a hand came to rest heavy on her belly. An odd thought crossed her mind just then.


“He has to see -- Roen, he has to!”


Her eyes drooped, they nearly closed.

“The world,” she whispered more forcefully, “he has to see the world. It’s beautiful. It’s  beautiful.”


Bone was mending, skin was knitting itself back together, but the amount of blood she lost was tremendous. There was a puddle of it where she had been sitting on the fountain, there was a soaking trail across the grass to where she now lay. She wouldn’t die from this -- not unless whoever shot her came by to finish the job. But she would sink into a torpor, she would slip away from the world, and her baby would die.


“Please, please -- please…” she begged with tearless sobs, “please don’t let that happen.”

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Efrideet grit her teeth against the loud crack of the first shot, knowing it had been meant for their Lady. Rowan’s plan had left a pit in her stomach from the moment he’d divulged its sordid details, and the rifle’s thundering echoed and rumbled in the bottomlessness of it. It might not seem like it, but I’m doing this for her. You just have to trust me—her partner’s words, and she suspected he knew the weight of his request. While she may have lacked the romantic ties that the chimera held for the countess, Efrideet’s loyalty was no less absolute, her love no less intense. Raveena had plucked her from the depths of perdition and gripped her tight; and for that, Efrideet owed the woman her life.

Closing her eyes, the Efrideet clenched her fists as she steeled herself. Crescents of Light flickered along her fingers, crackling as they arced up her forearms.

The second shots rang out in rapid succession, echoing in her stomach like the first had, and she was in motion. Arc Light coursed along the Titan’s armored frame as she cut across the yard, a blur of Light and steel and roaring electricity. Bringing herself before the Black Queen, her fallen Lady, and her heroic companion, the Titan thrust up her arm – the Light within her reacted to the motion, swelling and rushing through her arm, erupting from her fingers in a translucent sheen. The wall stood twice her height and three times her girth, hardened Light able to reflect even the most impressive of ammunition – in defiance of further transgression, covering their escape.

There was a brief second as her eyes searched for their target. In the next breath, the Titan rolled out to the right, her strong hand falling down to her hip where her piece hung. One step—she slid the weapon free of its holstering mechanism. Two steps—she leveled her arm at a second story window. Three steps—the hand canon roared as she double-tapped the trigger, two Light-filled rounds effortlessly kicking through glass and stone. Ghost, now! She could almost feel her life-companion’s gears overworking to transmat the ammunition, rendering them from the scene. But the force was there, as was the debris, and Rowan’s prop ate the brunt of both.

“Clear!” The Titan shouted. “Securing the perimeter.”

Perhaps it was the adrenaline pumping in her veins, the thunderous heartbeat in her ears, or an unrelenting determination to ensure their would-be assassin’s fate was sealed, but Efrideet neither saw nor heard the arrival the fourth guest.

The man in black stood tall over the sprawled empress, soaked and heavy in the blood she’d lost from her wounds. He was silent, unmoving as he inspected the severity of her wounds—the tourniquet she'd fashioned from her belt had done well to stem the bleeding as her starved, malnourished body desperately tried to heal. Had she been any slower, any weaker, she likely wouldn't have made it, herself—and the full extent of their damage. Her will to survive, oh, how admirable it was - and he knew, without a doubt, he knew it was not for herself. No, it was for that darling babe inside her. The cut of his silhouette against the dark of the night was no doubt familiar to the vampyre, dazed though she may have been. It was one of familiar height, breadth, and decorated with a pair of striking red eyes she had never in her life been able to escape. Even his touch was rooted deep in the bed of her memories, deeper than any other, and his long, strong fingers took their time as they rolled over the swell of her belly, sticky with blood blacker than ink.

“Please, please -- please…” she begged him with tearless sobs, “please don’t let that happen.”

Had he come to protect her, to deliver her from this hell?

“I would never let that happen, Gabriela,” the man in black reassured her.

No, he hadn’t.

The man in black could feel the life growing inside her, a small ember of hope, of promise. A few errant seconds more, and that precious life would smolder into nothingness. He owed her nothing, he noted with a final glance over her woundless form, least of all this. And yet he found himself here, kneeling before her, even when it was not his name she had called. Gabriela would have rather died than admit a need for him, though there were none other better suited to aid her in this moment. With the entire world at stake, she had gambled with their future—and lost.

“Everything is fine,” he promised her. It was not the cold of death creeping its way through her, hungrily searching for her child, but the warmth of life—his life. It permeated through her flesh in a torrent of security and reinforcement, shielding her child from the coming storm. She would have time to recover, to replenish her stores, but until then it would be this gift that nurtured her child. “Everything is fine.” He repeated the words, almost like a mantra, as he plucked the Black Queen up in his arms and rose to his height. He held her close, enough that she might see him more clearly through her tear-stained eyes and feel the trembling—unseen, unheard, but impossible to hide—of his chest.

Raphael looked ahead, his expression grim and weathered. Already, the red of his eyes had begun to bleed away. “They’re coming.”

Edited by King

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@Aleksei @King @The Hound @Deus Ex Aizen @Pasion Pasiva

Armed and armored Legionnaires spilled into the courtyard with the thump of metalshod feet. Every entrance was thrown open as contingents of soldiers rushed in, polybolos rifles at the ready. Their faces hidden by the cold blue lights that acted as visual sensors of their power armor, relaying their orders over vox communications that would be silent to the five people, two of which were wounded and bleeding. A call was immediately sent out for medical personnel. A small squad held their rifles at the broken second story window. The rest formed a perimeter around the five.

While the window was an obvious sign there were two non-humans by their biometrics, a psion, a man who appeared to he human, and a woman of unknown origin. Four they recognized as data flooded their H.U.D.s. Though none held their rifles at them, there was the distinct certainty that they could be raised and fired with a moment's notice. While, in truth, none cared for the safety of the foreigners, three of which were distinctly hated by the men and women of the Corvinite Imperium, the fact shots were fired in the capital in the very palace of the God-Emperor, after a vicious attack occurred not but a day or two before, warranted a quick and heavy response.

Not but a full minute behind the came a familiar, even disliked figure to the man in the dark cloak. Wearing only a tank top instead of his long coat, the metal of his prosthetic arms visible, gloved metal hands clenched in fists. His military breeches tucked into knee high metal plated boots. What was left of his flesh was lean, powerful muscle. Scars visible where flesh showed, surgical where metal met flesh, battle scars, and to eyes knowledgeable on the subject, scars of torture. His expression was bleak, the glint in his artificial blue eyes dangerous.

“Grand Lord Inquisitor!” A Legion captain saluted crisply. “We have the perimeter secure, medical personnel will be here in less than a minute. From what we have assessed the instigating shots came from the second story window, that woman returned fire.” He snapped off briskly, gesturing to the broken window and shattered wall, then to Efrideet. Finally his gaze fell to Rowan who held Raveena and then to Raphael who held Gabriela. In another nation, the attempted murder of two “important” figures might have warranted concern, even empathy.

This was not another nation. This was Kadia and the insignificant lives of creatures who had no right to exist, and those unrepentant to the Emperor's light, had no place in the heart of a Kadian. He was also an Inquisitor, there was no room for empathy. “I want a squad to secure that room, touch nothing, let no one in.” He ordered, four were selected and moved swiftly to their tasks. “Medical aid is on its way, until then I want answers, now.” He said, crossing his prosthetic arms, his jaw set. Inviting this filth to Kadia had turned out to be more a headache than beneficial.

Edited by Alexei

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2v92445.pngShe understands, she can sympathize, she can be empathetic, she can be all those things and be painted as a hateful traitor against her father's Empire. It's difficult to form an opinion without being judged (as is life), but more so when you are a worker against all the ideals, laws, and reasonings of your home. 

While they may not be accepted in the realm of Kadia or the Cold South, they are welcomed into the hearth of Darim's heart and mind. They are looked upon as disgusting creatures against all of man's creation; endless in life, boundless with strength and will, an abomination to what man should be. There are reasons behind the discrimination, the intangible hate the people of Kadia hold for people such as Raphael and Irene, for Raveena and (guessing) her partner as well. They've fought against creatures such as them, have lost countless lives because of them, and it sadly only takes one to ruin it for all.

The Princess pushed her way through the wall of men and women, annoyance painting her brow at the sight of them just standing there. She could taste their pride and their hate, it made the hairs on the back of her neck curl and her nose scrunch, further distorting her already soured face. Sure, they waited for medical, which followed after her like a line of ants, but it's painfully clear that the Legion could care very less for the bleeding and wounded guests. 

"You, follow me, and you! You will follow her."

A very steady and very pointed finger cut through one Legionnaire, who did nothing but look at the Untouchable. There was only a few seconds of hesitation before the first listened, standing next to the Princess; the other was quicker and followed the other medical person who has rushed to look over Raveena. 

Darim looked at Caelius with a fire burning inside her determined and cold gaze. She disliked blatant disrespect, especially towards guests (because that is what they are, guests) inside the walls of Kadia. Their guests know they are not wanted, disliked, hated, and so forth, but Darim believes that they deserve some courtesy considering that Raveena has ties to Renovatio and Raphael has shaken hands with Corvinus. While none may agree that meetings and going-ons should happen between any of them, it is the matter of politics and power. 

A handful of medical personnel would flutter to Raveena and Rowan, offering up assistance that would be extremely beneficial to the woman. While their understanding of what had happened is zero, a situation like this is considered high priority and Raveena will be taken care of by the best. Darim's display made it clear that no shenanigans will be dealt with lightly, and it's best to tread lightly around the Princess. 

Satisfied with the display of the others, she with the Legionnaire and a handful of medical moved to Raphael and Irene. The sight made her heart skip, causing her to slowly approach Raphael. With her small understanding, she knows that skin and bone and such will mend on their own, but the sight of blood trailing from the fountain to the grass Irene has made her nest in, it shows that she has lost a great deal. 

Slender fingers shot between them, like a errant shooting star streaking a dark sky, to land against the cheek of Raphael. Oly has done nothing but speak kind things about him (much to her father's annoyance) and his beautiful wife; reason was hot in her touch, she will not allow more injury and pain to come to the favored couple for she would be met with Oly's pointed blade if she fails. Her touch was a sign of compliance -  understanding, reassurance. 

"Tell me what I can do for her. I will give what I can to you both, but if we are not needed, excuse us."

The hand continued to rest on his cheek while her free hand moved to touch Irene gently on her burning forehead. While she is the wounded party, she deserves to have as much say to safety and her child's safety as her husband does. The Legionnaire had his back turned, but she knew he is listening to every word, scoping out every corner, and questioning the Princess. The medical personnel waited for direction. 

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She dreamt of the lake again -- of ink-black waters that like a mirror, in perfect stillness, reflected a vast sky filled with billions of pinpoints of light. There was no moon, but the night seemed hardly dark because of it. Beyond the trees there was the outline of trees, a dark and massive forest that stood like a silent and protective mass. Behind her, she knew there stood a quaint little cabin and a path set on nearly packed earth that lead down to a small wooden dock, where she currently stood.


The last time she had dreamed of this place it had turned into a horrible nightmare, compliments of Raphael's cruel mind tricks. But this time she was distinctly aware that his influence was gone, and that she stood alone, save for the small warm body that she held wrapped in blankets and pressed close to her chest.


It was the soft coos and sighs of this little creature that caused her to look away from the majesty that stood before her. And the expanse of the wide galaxy above her and the beauty of nature before her all became nothing when she gazed into a curious little face. He was pale and lovely, his nose a button of pink as well as his lips, two pressed rose petals that threatened to turn into a frown. But then his eyes opened and the angry and fussy expression melted away along with all of his newborn wrinkles. He smiled a toothless grin and his face became smooth like warm marble, which had sat in the sun. Wide eyes, more beautiful than the sky above, looked at her. Green and bright, crystal-like with their multifaceted symphony of colors.


She use to have happy memories of this place, and she remembered them now, without the agony of Raphael's curse. But even the sweet remembrance of a kinder and warmer Roen did little to draw her away from what her heart was newly set on. It was a resolution to be in this place alone -- no, not alone.


“This is the world I wanted to give you,” she said to the child who had turned from looking at her to looking beyond at the night sky. “Away from everything and everyone that could ever hurt us. I am sorry it won't be like that, but I can't you away from your birthright. I can't take the choice away from you. Only you can decide.”


She lowered her face and pressed her cold cheek against the little baby’s warm face. He did not recoil, but rather reached up to lovingly hold his mother's face.


“But we have to survive little one -- we have to. There's so much I want to show you.”


“He’ll survive just fine, he is his father's son after all. He’s strong like his daddy and willful like his mommy.”


It was him.


She looked at him, standing besides her, with one arm wrapped around her small shoulders while his other hand reached for the child. His finger was caught, the child appeared older now as he laughed gleefully and tugged at his father's finger.


“He's so strong,” the devil says in wonder, and she sees it on his face, the same kind of resolute love and wonder.


“You came…”


“I did,” heavy, sad, tear filled eyes look back at her, “...of course I did.”


“I thought,” she paused -- why did he look so sad? “I was nearly certain that I was going to die.”


“I would never let that happen, Gabriela.”


It's not his voice anymore, and now the tears that had been swimming in his eyes finally spill. Both she and the child in her arms look worried. His tears are clear, and the look in his eyes -- it's him, she knows it -- but it's not his voice.


It's strange.


“Everything is fine,” he says but the words do not match the anguish written across his face.




“Everything is fine…”




She awakes to agony. The bullet wound that cut straight through her is externally healed, the flesh knitted back together to prevent more bleeding, but the shattered bone in her leg remains in fragments. As Raphael plucks her from the ground that leg dangles at a disgusting and unnatural angle. Gritting her teeth she clutched her arms around Raphael and clung to him, nearly crushing him with the suddenly unbridled display of unnatural strength she doesn't often show. A human would have been broken had they been displayed in such a manner, but Raphael hardly seemed bothered.


“Everything is fine…”


Her vision is blurred somewhat, clarity coming I speckled spots. There were so many people but none that she recognized. And there were voices and a flurry of activity. She wanted to ask what had happened, but she was swimming between consciousness and the deep, black waters of her dreams.


“It hurts,” she confesses, before her head rolls back and her eyes threaten to shut.


And then there is a voice and a touch.


"Tell me what I can do for her. I will give what I can to you both, but if we are not needed, excuse us."


This place is full of beautiful strangers -- angels and devils alike. Her dim golden eyes peer at the woman standing by her side, resting a cool hand on her hot forehead. Never has Gabriela been stuck with such dire a need for blood. But there's no loss of control, as she has always feared, but rather a deep and strange understanding of the necessity. Her life was a waning ember and Raphael's blood would be gasoline, a quick way to finish burning her out. Far too strong to drink in such a delicate condition.


“Blood,” she says barely above a whisper. “We need your blood -- please.”


A step from death and still she refused to lose herself. She would ask, she would request, she would even beg for the sake of her child. A bloodied hand reaches for the Princess and pulls her hand down from her forehead over to the swell of her belly, slick with blood.

“I am sorry to ask…”

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Gabriela may have been sorry to ask, but Raphael by no means shared that sympathy in denying her. “No,” he said sternly, almost alarmed (a sentiment Caelius mirrored in perfect unison). It was instinct that brought him a step away from Darim’s touch; the very same that had named Farkis the killer, the same that told him this Grand Lord Inquisitor—this Caelius—would forever be more difficult than helpful, better dead than alive (long term). Another step had the princess’ now-bloodied fingers, as if dripping wet with ink, sliding free from Gabriela’s swollen belly. “She is a child of Corvinus,” he stated matter of factly, blue-red eyes trained hard on Darim. “Her blood is poison to you, Gabriela.” As is mine, he added more privately.

“Forgive me, Princess Darim, for I mean no disrespect, but there is little you or your people can do for her as it stands.” The vampyre’s expression was appreciative; she was different from the rest of their ilk. “I will tend to her myself.”

Perhaps the human’s eyes would notice the change in the vampyre’s posture – rigid, but not defensive – or how his fingers tightened their hold on the wounded mother in his arms, hugging her more tightly against his chest. In this moment, he was neither vampyre nor king nor emperor nor god, but a man – a husband, a father, caring for ones he loved most in this world. He was both shield and sword, more dangerous than he’d ever been, and likely would ever be. Raphael spared a long, weary look on Gabriela; he’d never seen her so tired, so weak. “It was a mistake to come to this place.”

It was another step in retreat before Raphael half-turned, inspecting the Legionnaires still spilling into the courtyard. They were swift, methodical, impeccably trained (as was to be expected). They’d secured all the grounds in moments, with several others rushing up fleets of stairs to further secure the assassin’s resting place. It was an impressive display of command and execution, but one that left the vampyre feeling slightly claustrophobic. There were too many damning gazes, too many accusing eyes, too many men and women that would rather paint them the perpetrators than acknowledge them the victims. Even as Gabriela lay broken and bleeding in his arms, her leg all but mauled – crunching bones, twisting flesh as her body struggled to heal – and dangling below, they saw them as evil, filthy beasts that deserved this unnatural cruelty and prejudice.

“But,” he added not a second later, “You can assist me. If you would be so kind, please express my deepest regret to your sister, Princess Olympia. I do not foresee another dance in our future.”

Dipping his chin, he whispered in Gabriela’s ear: “We’re leaving.”

He met eyes with the Grand Lord Inquisitor, his gaze now entirely blue, yet no less intense than when his eyes were red. “I want answers, as well, Lord Inquisitor,” Raphael said as he fell into his stride. “My wife has been shot, my child’s life endangered,” he spat through clenched teeth. “But you’re a thorough man, if nothing else, and I respect that. I have no doubt you will find who is responsible for this…” There were no words that he could find to properly—or rather, tastefully—describe this hateful act, this declaration of war. And he suspected even a man of Caelius’ nature was not simple-minded enough, so singular in his bigotry and hatred and worship of duty, to misunderstand the gravity of the situation. “Well, I do hope you will be as swift as humanly possible with your investigation, Lord Inquisitor. I—we—have endured a great deal since our arrival here as guests of your emperor’s house, and I have gone to great lengths to respect his laws and reputation. But this…?” His voice turned deathly calm. “Tell Emperor Corvinus to expect word from me very soon.”

Raphael moved with certainty, fueled by purpose, leaving the Legionaries, Grand Lord Inquisitor, and Princess to sort the mess left by a fanatic armed with only a single rifle.

“Everything is going to be fine,” he promised Gabriela again, kissing her sweat-stained brow. “You’re both going to be all right.”


Edited by King

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