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Alexei

[Ravenspire] Meeting With The Raven

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@Pasion Pasiva

The study was elegant in its simplicity, shelves stood silent on the first floor, surrounding a small reading area in which a small fireplace that crackled softly in the quiet. The room was softly lit, bright enough to read in, but dim enough to create an air of comforting solitude. A love-seat sat in front of the fire, and a bearskin rug lay on the valsee wood floor, imported from Genesaris. Two chairs sat on either side of the rug, angled towards the fire. Corvinus had often sat with his youngest daughter Olympia, reading to her or even making up his own stories much to her delight.

Across the circular room wide windows stretched from in a halfcircle, and reached high up to the second floor. They were made of reinforced glass, but held a crystal clear quality. The view they offered of Ravenspire and the eastern coast was magnificent. The city glowed with light and the sky showed Kadian airships floating gracefully in and out of the city. A testament to the devotion of the Kadian Emperor and Empress to their people, and to Leoa’s unfathomable love for her husband.

Corvinus sat at a blackwood desk, his broad back visible from the doorway, in which the door stood ajar. His coat lay across the back of his chair, revealing the white shirt he wore. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows, buttoned so that they remained that way, and revealed attractively defined forearms, marred only by the scars of past battles. The front of his shirt was unbuttoned halfway, revealing a broad chest that looked as if it had been carved from marble, the skin too was equally scarred. His large hands were covered in black gloves, his left holding a massive tome as his right held a pen the scratched elegantly on a blank page. He wrote in High Kadic, a language that mirrored the elegant beauty of Latin and the philosophical focus of Greek.

He was an undeniably handsome man, in his dark way. His black hair was groomed and kept reasonably short, falling only to his high cheekbones. His eyes were darker than his hair, black as a moonless night, accentuated by masculine and nicely shaped eyebrows. He had a strong jaw, that spoke of determination, and drew attention to full lips that spoke of stoicism, and hinted at a lover hidden beneath that exterior.

Despite the the technology at his disposal, he preferred to take pen to paper, finding other methods too impersonal. He felt that the effort of creating a language that would be the foundation of Kadian culture and people required a personal touch, only that could provide the necessary nurturing love. He was focused, all but oblivious to his surroundings as his black eyes followed the graceful dance of the characters his hand and pen produced.

He was alone now, preferring not to be hovered over by Ucissore or TEMPLARs. He wanted solitude so he could focus on the task at hand, and to consider his thoughts over the current events of the wedding and those that happened after. For the first time in years he saw Gabriela, the woman he had loved for what seemed centuries ago. He had hidden his surprise well, maintaining a calm expression during the short moment they had met eye to eye. There had been no recognition. Had he been so easily forgotten?

He set down his pen and closed his eyes, trying to clear the pervasive thoughts. He had been visited often by them since Raphael has informed him of his departure without his fiancé. It was strange to have the Orisian Queen in his palace. It was a strange tapestry fate had weaved, he had been a knight in her service, beneath her in rank and following her decrees, until his betrayal of reversing her siring of him. Now he was her equal. He shook his head, calming his mind before he returned pen to paper.

Edited by Alexei

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She awoke to strange sense of clarity -- a sensation that had been kept from her for a very long time. In it, she found herself listening to everything in the elegant bedroom that she had been given, and even beyond, to the small but pretty canopy bed where Emily continued to sleep away the trials and tribulations of her recent trauma. It took her just a little bit longer to realize that she had not been chased out of her dreams by horrific nightmares, and that she was in turn not a shriveling mess of tears and rattled nerves in dire need of comforting. The nightmares were gone, and along with them Raphael; the very man who had more than certainly woven them all together. Yes -- everything made more sense now. Things were clearer and connections between events, between behaviors, between strange memories -- all of them were coming together. Even so, there was still a mist that clung to her mind. Everything felt foggy and distant, and she couldn’t be certain if that was the traces of his blood in her veins or the lack thereof in her belly.

 

Starving -- she was starving.

 

Ever so carefully she sat up and put her legs over the edge of the bed. She was still only half dressed in the disgustingly revealing lingerie that Raphael had forced her to wear the night before under her gown while attending the grand festivities of wedding. Her panties were missing along with one of her stockings. The other was rolled halfway down her knee with the straps of her garter belt dangling over her bruised thighs. The lace cups, which had been intended to hold her supple breasts were now torn away and flung to separate corners of the room. She looked like she had been through a whirlwind and she felt very much the same.

 

His absence caused an astounding silence that she could not come to terms with. Gone was the thunder of his heartbeat, and with it the knowledge that his presence lingered near, even when he was out of sight. The song that her blood had sang ceaselessly since he began feeding off of her was so quiet and so dim that she nearly felt herself dead. Even her heart went about beating in a distractingly slow tempo.

 

She got up -- she had to get dressed and find out what had happened. Raphael had spoken in strange riddles, he had uttered odd promises, and then she had fallen asleep and could not remember if any of it was real. He said he would leave her alone. He said he would not take what was not freely given…

 

But what did any of that mean?

 

There were no clothes for her here. They hadn’t come prepared for an extended stay. All that she owned was the gown that she had worn the night before, which had been picked up off the floor, cleaned, and neatly hung from the door of a large dresser. And while she rummaged through drawers, desperate to find something to wear, her anxiety began to build.

 

Was Raphael really gone?

 

Had he just left her here -- with nothing?

 

In the bathing room she found a bathrobe. It was white and fluffy, and ridiculously soft to the touch. She did not think twice of stripping out of the remains of her shameful garments, all but ribbing the sheer corset off her chest, and pulling the one stocking off her leg. She could not think of bathing, though she should have, and at the sight of her tangled hair in the mirror she only shook her head and combed her fingers through it leaving it in a wild mess of lush waves and strings of pearls that remained from the previous night. Barefoot, and dressed only in her bathrobe, which was by far one of the most modest outfits she had worn in months, she ventured out of her bedroom and down the hall. She was searching for something, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

 

The carpet liner, which extended to impossible lengths down both sides of the vast hall, was plush under her cold, bare toes, and she found herself often stopping to wiggle them in appreciation. There wasn’t a soul to watch or judge her, so she took her time taking in the sights of the richly decorated passage -- from tasteful tables, to gorgeous tapestries on the walls, and even portraits of the royal children, and many other faces she could not begin to recognize. She felt like such an outsider, but the warmth and elegance of her surroundings calmed her -- along with the influence of a man she did not even notice. Corvin was near, but she stepped within the boundaries of his strange aura and did not seem to notice how much her anxiety lessened, and how her heart picked up it’s pace to a more cheerful and less fearful beat.

 

She found two large double doors and slowly pushed them open. The smell of a burning fire -- of smoke and of ash brought her an instant image of Roen, one that did not immediately cause her head to feel like it was splitting in two. No -- there was just an image of him, standing handsome but worried, always so worried. And when she saw that there was someone in the room, far below the landing she had walked onto from the upper floor, her heart caught in her throat.

 

Was that Roen?

 

Her mind was in such shambles that she could not trust her sight or senses. Everything felt like a dream, and nothing seemed to lend her the sort of grounding she needed to wake herself up. And so she moved forward, as quiet as she could -- which was quite quiet -- toward the edge of a banister where she could look down from the book-lined walls and onto the open space below. There sat a man at a desk, and there burned a fire warm and inviting. But as her sight sharpened, she saw very clearly that it was not the devil, but rather the emperor she had met a lifetime ago and then again last night.

 

Rattled at the implications of being found so near to him in nothing but a bathrobe and with no real explanation as to why she was snooping around his home, Gabriela tried to back away toward the doors she had come through.

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Suddenly he felt eyes watching him, though he had been sure his guard had been dismissed, and his wife sleep the satisfied sleep brought on by lovemaking. For a brief instant he considered the eyes belonged to those of an assassin, it would not be the first time a blade had sought him in the dark. He dismissed it, there was no malevolence in the prying eyes he felt on his back. He finished his thought, pen moving quickly and elegantly across the paper.

A scent reached him as he considered turning around, he had almost decided to wait for whoever it had been to simply leave. It was familiar, bringing back old, and at times bitter, memories. Orange blossoms, for a moment he thought itca trick of the mind, brought on by her having attended the wedding and the fact Raphael had left her in the palace. Certainly she must still be sleeping, whispers traveled quickly through the palace and he had heard them all. At one time he might have found himself jealous, even angry, yet time and Leoa's love had deeply changed him.

He knew now that his feelings for the Black Queen were unrequited back then. That his inexperience in expressing himself had ultimately led to the dark affair that led to his exile, he didn't begrudge it. In fact, though he learned a hard lesson, he could only be thankful to the fickle and capricious whims of fate. It had led him to the Lion that taught him how to love.

He set the pen down and stood, drawing himself to his full height. He was an impressive man, towering over the likes if the devil, even Raphael. Dark of hair and darker of eye. He was, for all intents, the perfect specimen of mankind as a species. Despite the inexorable effects of time he still exuded strength, though now faint lines framed those eyes. He turned, settling night black hues on the woman who hesitated at the banister, her hair a mess and dressed in only a bathrobe. A brow quirked at her, though he did not seem irritated that she had entered his private abode unannounced and without permission. “Hello, Lady DuGrace.” He said with formality baritone caressing the name, leaving noble titles such as queen or your majesty out of his words. By the whimsy of fate he was no longer a knight in servitude, but a ruler of equal status. He carried it well.

Though she could not remember, the distance he often held was no longer there. He existed in the present, as though the dar off thing he had always looked towards was not within his strong hands, at last. There waa a weight to his gaze, it spoke of authority and a stentorian nobility. He had noticed tge lack of recognition in her eyes at the wedding, had Raphael wiped away memories of him? Had it been Roen? The High Lords perhaps? He could only guess, the nature id beings who wield magic would ultimately be a mystery to him.

“It seems chance has led you before me.” He said, though more to himself. A tone of amusement tinging his voice. “I had been considering how I should talk to you, indeed I believe we have much to discuss, current events not withstanding.” He said, gesturing she come to join him. “I think first we need to discuss your current situation, and perhaps that coming dressed in such a manner before a married man might start rumours.” More amusement, he did not seem overly bothered by her choice appearance. He had always been a man of restraint.

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“Hello, Lady DuGrace.”

 

She was nearly at the door when the sound of his voice made her stop. Her fingertips lingered on the doorknobs that she had so carelessly twisted open just moments before. In response to the sound of his voice, which was for the first time it seemed, speaking directly to her, she felt her entire body grow tense. With so much going on already, the thought of somehow falling into another spiders web was not only frightening but exhausting. She didn’t have the time, the energy, or the mental fortitude to deal with another game of cat and mouse. And so her fingers lingered on the doorknob and she wondered if she could get away with simply leaving and pretending like she hadn’t heard a thing.

 

It would never work -- on multiple levels. First of all, he knew what she was and therefore knew that her hearing could pick up just about anything. Somehow, it had failed to pick up the sound of his heart or breathing when she so clumsily pushed her way into his private quarters. Second of all, they had made eye contact, for just a split second, she had seen the dark of his narrowed gaze as he sought dangers in the shadows. She had also seen the way they softened when they took in the sight of her. Of course she did not mistake this for affection, but rather a sense of security that she was no secret assassin sent to kill him -- and even if she was -- he could easily overcome and kill her. No, the softness in his eyes came from the knowledge that she was pathetic. But lastly, she couldn’t walk away now without wounding her own sense of courtesy. It wasn’t right to leave so rudely after having entered so.

 

And so slowly, Gabriela turned back to the railing and slowly crept toward its edge. To her dismay, Corvinus had gotten up, and he was looking up at her expectantly. She hadn’t thought about it before because she hadn’t put much weight into the supposed relationship they had had once upon a time, or the dark and ugly story about what happened to it that no one wanted to tell her. But now, even though she stood at a great height and he was far below, the sight of him standing and the command of his presence made her feel oddly threatened. This was a man who hated what she was, would have her and everyone else like her -- executed.

 

Fear gave way to a tempered courage that she always carried with her. Soft and wordlessly, her pretty brave mask fell on her face and smoothed away the lines of worry and mounting anxiety. Maybe he could feel these things, or read them off of her somehow -- but it wouldn’t be her face, which was now a picture-perfect mask of calm. He looked like the embodiment of authority and stentorian nobility? Well then she was living, breathing, and moving art. She was beauty, grace, and dignity all at once as she set her hands before her after ensuring that her bathrobe was properly closed all the way up the her neck.

 

“It seems chance has led you before me. I had been considering how I should talk to you, indeed I believe we have much to discuss, current events notwithstanding.”

 

He motioned for her to join him by waving a hand at a set of stairs off to the right, and she, after looking at them, wondered if she could decline.

 

“I think first we need to discuss your current situation, and perhaps that coming dressed in such a manner before a married man might start rumors.”

 

“I would hate to cause any distress to you or your wife, Emperor -- and especially not because of the way I am dressed. Perhaps this talk is better suited for another time, another place.” There was an edge to her voice, a little crack to it that spoke volumes of her nervousness. While her face may not have given anything away, the sweet shake in her voice and the lick of her spanish accent most certainly did. “I was simply looking for Raphael, I didn’t mean to disturb you. Please, accept my apology. I can show myself out.”

 

She took a single step back, but did not go further. This wasn’t her home. This wasn’t her empire. And the guards here were not at her beck and call. She knew how to play this game, and the best way to have a favorable outcome was not to overstep. She had all but asked for permission to leave, she intended to do as she was told in order to avoid having a sword shoved down her throat, or worse yet, a bullet in her brain and one in her belly.

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Corvin watched her as she continued to hesitate, head tilting in curiosity and mild expectation. Woukd she stay? Would she leave as though she had not seen or heard him, though they both knew the truth. He found himself oddly expectant, in fact he had been sure she would simply run from him, no doubt Raphael and many other had painted the picture of a monster over him, some blood thirsty maniac no doubt.

He had, for an instant, thought Raphael had sent her to kill him, though the lack of intent made it obvious it was not so. He may not have been as physically strong, or fast as her, but he was skilled in combating such beings. If he could not out right kill, he would only have to wait till sunrise. All thoughts that lasted brief seconds in the interlude. A soft smile touched his features for a mere instant when she turned back to the railing, then the calm mask was returned.

She was undoubtedly beautiful, desire of course burned, but it subsided. He was a man, after all. Her species had evolved to be desired, to lead their prey into being fed upon. None of it showed on his face or in his eyes, in his youth, inexperience, and ignorance it might have. It may even have bubbled to the surface. He saw the fear more in her stance, than on her face, in the way she leaned away, despite the distance already between them. It seemed she thought he hated her kind, that his reasons were not more pragmatic.

“Perhaps,” He conceeded. “but I doubt we will have such privacy next time.” He said,  humor touching his deep voice. He noticed the shake in her voice, it mingled sweetly with her accent. While fear may have been an attractive feature to many of the other men in her life, such was not the case for him. “I believe that is why we must talk.” He gestured again. “Please?”

His tone was not what one could call pleading, his own accent, a mixture of Greek and Latin, did not give it that quality. It was a beautiful accent, one he had crafted over the years as he built the language that would help define his people, their culture. “It is about Raphael and your situation, but I would wish to discuss our past. I only ask you indulge me for this evening.” He gestured again for her to come join him.

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“Please,” he reiterated, once again gesturing to the stairs -- and she knew that regardless of her feelings she would have to sit down and have this meeting. The timing could not have been worse. The shock of having awoken alone in her bedroom, and of knowing deep in her heart that she had been abandoned was so fresh that she didn’t know how to deal with this murderous emperor on top of all of that. She had a dark thought then. Perhaps Raphael had done all of this on purpose. He had all but convinced the world that he loved her, and planned to marry her, going so far as tethering to her through the ancient traditions of their homeland. But why would any man take her, especially when she was carrying another’s child? If all he wanted was Orisia, as he had shared some of his plans for the island with her last night, then all he had to do was get rid of her. And what better way than to have her murdered by a man whose reputation for such violent delights preceded him across the world. Raphael had left her here to die, and once she was dead, he would play the part of mourning lover and take the Orisian throne with the sympathy of all those who had once cared about her.

 

It was such a good plan that she couldn’t help but shake her head and smile as all the pieces finally fell into place. And so, armed with her supposed knowledge and her mounting anger, she lifted her head and went to the stairs. Down she climbed, taking each step carefully and even allowing a small hand to glide over the railing. Of course she wouldn’t fall, she could have jumped over the banister and landed on the floor below without a trouble. But appearances were everything in this world, and if ever she had to pretend to be normal -- to be human -- surely it was here, and around this horrible man.

 

“It is about Raphael and your situation, but I would wish to discuss our past. I only ask you indulge me for this evening.”

 

He motioned for a chair as she entered the small circle of warm firelight that was cast by hearth at the center of the room. For a moment she regarded the fire, and the few objects that were put up for display. There was a large globe of the world, seated on a throne of finely carved dark wood. She walked toward it and set her small hands on it, giving it a gentle spin until she saw Genesaris roll by. Automatically, her eyes settled on the tiny island -- no more than a penny-sized mass of land -- her home, Orisia.

 

Would she ever see it again?

 

“My situation with Raphael?” she asked, “There is no situation -- I am certain you know how these things go. We were engaged, and a better offer must have come up. It’s all business after all.”

 

Not having to look at him made it entirely easier to slip into her normal persona. She was cool and calm, she did not sound calculating, but rather uncaring. “I don’t plan to make a nuisance of myself. Just as soon as Emily is ready, I will take my leave. Of course -- ,” she stopped looking at the globe, which had now rolled to Terrenus, her eyes had been busy searching for the small dot that denoted Patia, she never found it. She was looking at Corvinus, clear, golden eyes focused intently on him. “I am very grateful for your hospitality.”

 

She all but ignored his comment about revisiting their past. It was a tantalizing though -- and it seduced her -- but she resisted bravely. The past was the past, was there any need to go digging it up? She had lived all these years without knowing who he was, without remembering what he did and why, it seemed foolish to want to regain the knowledge. And yet he looked determined.

 

“I don’t remember who you are,” she confessed after a moment, dropping her gaze to the floor between her and his desk. She looked perplexed, and the warm gold of her eyes was distant -- she looked lonely standing there next to the globe, loney and small.

 

“I don’t remember your face. Just your name, and just from things I wrote and what some have bothered to tell me. Once upon a time, you were my knight,” she paused and shook her head. “No -- not just a knight, not just one of the many, you were my knight. And then,” she looked at him, her lips a straight line, devoid of emotion, but the strain on that single word revealed that she had some sense of the nature of the relationship they had shared. Not of ownership -- of affection perhaps? “-- And then you were not. That’s all I know.”

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His features softened when she decided to come down the stairs. Graceful, head held high, it brought back distant memories. He could tell by her posture, despite how regal, showed she did not trust him. Indeed, she might have thought some plan for her death was in play. Only she did not consider what exactly he would gain from such a thing, or did the Black Queen think bloodshed was payment enough? He might have been insulted if he had been privy to her thoughts, yet Corvin knew how he had been portrayed the world over.

No matter how hard Gabriela portrayed human characteristics, their movements, she could never fool others. She was distinctly inhuman. Her graceful movements, her balance, even her beauty could not be hidden. The effort was respected, he could appreciate it, despite her reasons. She had always taken such care, an effort to relate to the humans though she could never truly understand them. An oddity of her kind.

He watched as she walked past him, and in the long silence toyed with the glove upon the fireplace mantle. Firelight reflected in his dark eyes, lonely flames in dark worlds. He was patient, there was no need to rush a conversation, and he thought she might need some time to collect herself. To find herself abandoned in a foreign nation, with a man she no doubt thought a murderer. His clasped gloved hands behind his back and waited.

Finally her words came from full and pouty lips, a welcome break from the silence that had stretched between them. “No, I cannot say I do.” He said honestly. “Lord Bartolome did not deign to disclose his reasons, only that he was leaving without you.” His tone was thoughtful. He wished she would look him in the eye, he knew despite her uncaring tone that she did not want to show hurt or confusion. He knew this act, he had seen it many times in years past. “We both know, it is hardly ever business.” He said bluntly. “Think nothing of it, you are my guest.”

She had ignored his words concerning discussing their past. He woukd not be forceful or demanding, and allow her own curiosity to bring her to it. For Corvin it was an open chapter, where his exile had never allowed him to explain why he had cleansed himself of her siring. Why he did what he had that brought about the siring. His gaze softened for a time.

“I deduced such when we met in the hall.” He said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “The lack of recognition in your eyes was more than enough to realize that.” He said, walking up behind her, just to her right. She seemed so lonely and small. “I remember you. The first time we met in the dark streets of Patia.” He said, his tone wistful. “I remember the night I tore tge Roanist surcoat from my breast, tossed it at Roen’s feet and pledged myself to you.” There was some amusement there, the memory of the little devil’s expression that night often brought such a feeling. “I even remember the moments we shared in private, simply talking.”

He looked out towards the large windows, a thoughtful expression on his dark and handsome features. “Aye, I was yourknight.” He confirmed. “I loved you then, a part of me always will.” He said, turning away and facing the windows fully, presenting her with his broad back and shoulders. Still strong. “It would take more than a night to tell the tale.” He admitted, turning to face her once more. “I would suggest offering my blood, to sate your hunger and so that you may see what happened in truth, albeit from my point of view.” He suggested, his head tilting like the creature of his namesake.

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“I remember you. The first time we met in the dark streets of Patia. I remember the night I tore the Roanist surcoat from my breast, tossed it at Roen’s feet and pledged myself to you. I even remember the moments we shared in private, simply talking.”

 

Over a small shoulder she turned to look at him. The gold in her eyes was aglow, as it usually was when she was feeling too much -- and her pretty lips had formed a hard line that denoted how pensive she had become as she listened to his tale. But it was her eyebrows, the way they lifted, the way they dipped at the outer corners, they changed her expression completely and made her look so very sad. And she was. She felt it in the way her heart began to beat a little faster as she heard all of this, as she tried to make sense of what he was saying so very subtly.

 

Moments shared in private…

 

“...I was your knight. I loved you then, a part of me always will.”

 

She was beyond grateful when he turned away. Quite suddenly she was feeling exhausted -- tired of the farce that was this meeting, this moment, and the rest of her miserable life. Every word was so carefully selected, and every move planned and meticulously executed. But the weight of it all, of how cheap and hollow it actually felt, became such a hideous burden that she nearly felt herself break down into tears. She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to have this talk, she didn’t want to defend herself, or remember, or relive a past that she had been forced to forget. Every memory she had was filled with horror and agony, why should his be any different? Once upon a time they cared for each other -- he had admitted to as much -- and then something changed, something went wrong, and now there was nothing.

 

Love was worthless. It always amounted to nothing in the end. Roen loved her, Raphael loved her, even Zenahriel the great High Lord, loved her. But each and everyone of them had a different definition for the word, and now she knew that Corvinus was no better. Whatever he had felt, whatever residual feelings he harbored, it was all part of that same narrative that always left her feeling like she had lost a little part of herself and gained nothing for it. She was beyond empty -- she was cold and alone -- and even the pressure of his presence did little to calm the swell of pain that began to form like a thick lump in her throat.

 

“It would take more than a night to tell the tale. I would suggest offering my blood, to sate your hunger and so that you may see what happened in truth, albeit from my point of view.”

 

The hurt and loneliness was easily hidden behind the growing sense of indignation that was forming. Those warm golden eyes lifted and settled on his face, his tilted expression.

 

“I do not want to drink your blood,” she said, her voice was cold as ice -- gone was the sweetness of her accent, and in its place was nothing save hurt. “Hard as it may be for you to believe, but we vampyres do not require blood transactions in every single one of our dealings. If you wish to share our mutual history, then words will suffice, although I personally do not feel a need to go digging up skeletons. As I said, I know just about everything I need to know. Whatever reasons we had for parting, I am certain that they were good and just. You are happy now, and you are very successful -- our past seems, unimportant.”

 

Gabriela could cut men down with her indifference. She wounded many by simply pretending not to care -- but it was always pretense. Would he see through it? Could he…

 

“All that I think we really have to talk about, Emperor, is the fact that I have been abandoned here in your country -- a country that does not hold my existence in a particularly kind light. I do not know if I am in any danger, but for the sake of my…” she lifted her chin, she lifted her head, she looked regal and calm and ever so committed to the words she was speaking, “ -- for the sake of my unborn heir, I cannot risk staying much longer. Yesterday I witnessed a child walking about your halls, bloodied and severely hurt without anyone so much as batting an eyelash. It seems that you do not know what occurs in your own capital, let alone under your own roof…”

 

She paused and took a moment to breathe. She had to look away because she felt suddenly embarrassed for how she had spoken to him. A small hand went up to her belly, and rested protectively over the slight swell that was just barely detectable under the plush material of her robes.

 

“I am sorry, I don’t mean to be cruel -- but it’s not just my life I am hoping to prolong. I must,” she looked troubled -- so very troubled. “I really must make my way home. Sooner, rather than later. As much as I would like to, sit around and reminisce about what was -- I cannot afford to look to the past when my future is so uncertain.”

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If he had been privy to her thoughts, he might have rebuked Gabriela for her arrogant assumptions. Indeed his words were picked with care, meticulously stated. None of it was a mere hollow attempt at manipulation. They were employed in such a way to express his sincerity, the truth of his heart. He could not truly blame her for such assumptions, given the petty viperous men in her life, constantly manipulating with words, or brutalizing with cruel hands when they could not.

Indeed, he knew much of the harsh reality between her and Roen, even of Raphael’s more...unique tastes of brutality and torture. Whispers flowed from Umbra, where his own spies lurked, and even here where they resided in his domain. He was as near omniscient as a human could be, his skill at networking developed and refined from the tactics of Renovatian Ucissore. Knowledge is power. Power is victory. A tenant he instituted within the Kadian culture he had built with his own two hands. As distasteful as he found it, it was why his empire still stood and his family remained safe. Just as he knew of Raphael's own plans. He held no illusions that he was safe from Umbran spies.

He would never openly speak that he knew. Loath to admit he even had an inkling of the distasteful acts of lust. Yet, pragmatically, what choice did he have? To be ignorant of Raphael would leave him severely unprepared for the inevitable conflict of Empires. The inevitable conflict between man and monster. Between the Emperor of Man and the Blood God. Though sure such a fact was a far off inevitability, where mutual death no doubt awaited.

So there he stood, an utter contradiction to her own melancholy thoughts. Love had touched him, he had grown from it, it was perhaps the hopeless love for her that had forged the man whose dark eyes watched with great intensity. Perhaps that was the nature of man, where time was an inexorable instigator of death for his species. Perhaps it was simpler, the it was not love that Roen or Raphael felt, but lust and violent desire. Love was a concept first defined by man, felt by man. Love only had value when it was built in the knowledge that life could not last forever. That the body would inevitably wither and die. What could beings of longevity, who did not have to fear aging, truly understand of human love and emotion?

“And I will not force you to.” He stated plainly, though the offer still stood. “I know, you once sired me, for the crime of attempted regicide.” He stated honestly, a momentary flash of shame showed in his eyes. “You could not bear to see me die for good, there is no eternity for Untouchables in death.” He explained, giving her the insight of the true reality of those born with the Pariah Gene. He saw it as the price paid for the greater benefit and safety of mankind. “You so coldly state that you do not care, that it is some useless attempt to dig up skeletons.” His tone was challenging. “I know well enough the mask you wear, the false detachment so that you can hide.” He stated, calling her bluff. “I once shared your blood, the instant of my siring you shared a great deal with me.” He admitted, once again pointing to the deep meaning of what they had once upon a time.

“Much I learned from watching. At one time all my eyes could ever watch, was you.” He leveled a black gaze on her, this time she could see the full truth of his statement. That it was not some attempt to manipulate, but to gain, and perhaps give, a sense of closure and insight to a past she did not remember but was taunted by vague mentions with. “You are a guest, there will be no harm.” He stated as a matter of fact. “Not from me, my children, or my citizens. Despite what the rest of the arrogant lot think across valucre, we are not hateful savages. Our reasons are mire pragmatic.” He said, waving away the notions that they were illogical bigots.

“The child is not Kadian. Nor a heathen for that matter.” His expression became pensive. “Unsanctioned magic was used to bring her here, which explains how she got past the guards.” His tone revealed no insult was taken. “My country is still developing measures against it, such things,  unfortunately, take time.” He offered her a shrug, there was not much else to say on that matter.


He watched her place a protective hand on her belly. She thought low of him, that mere words could spur him to bring her harm. If he had been consistently prone to such acts, he would not be standing here today. “You could not truly be cruel, even if you tried.” His words held a ring of amusement, but not in a mocking way. “I will not force you to stay any longer than necessary, you are no prisoner. I only suggest you stay the rest of today and travel tomorrow at dusk.”

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Love was not a concept first defined by man, and it went to show how full of himself he was to think such a ridiculous thing. Love, in its purest and simplest form, was first defined by God. The same God who made man, who made woman, who made beasts of land, of air, and of sea. The same God, she might have said had she been privy to his own thoughts, that had also made her. She came from a distant world, and in it she had learned about Christianity and had embraced it in her own strange way. She knew she fell outside of the “plan”, but she often likened herself to the Canaanite woman in one of her favorite bible verses.

 

But Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

 

She took those crumbs. Those dirtied and fallen pieces that were not intended for her, but which fed her anyway, and she clung to them deeply. It was the little bit of faith that she had, and what little she understood of it, that gave her the ability to give meaning to her sorrow, to her constant torment, and to the seemingly endless sea of troubles that always came her way. It was this strange God, this all powerful, all knowing, and all good, creature that had somehow shown her that her lonely mourning was not in fact isolated.  It was the only love she believed in, and the only reason she could understand it at all was because she felt it. She felt it the moment she learned that she was pregnant. Suddenly the story of God sending his only Son to earth, and more importantly, the very essence of himself, to suffer unimaginable pain, humiliation, and eventual death was utterly preposterous. She could not sacrifice her child, so strong was her love. And yet, she felt, that in some small way she understood God more keenly now than her many years of study.

 

But what did it matter? She was too afraid to be honest, and far too reserved to reveal more of herself than was necessary. Though they shared something -- it was gone, and she couldn’t even remember it. No, she couldn’t even find a thread of the affection she had supposedly harbored for him once upon a time. And although there was warmth in his eyes, and although he had admitted that the feelings remained -- at least in some form or essence -- she knew that she could not reciprocate the notion, not without tasting his blood, and not without seeing what they had shared.

 

“I will not force you to,” said the Emperor, and she regarded him with a weak smile. Could he have forced her? Would it have even been hard...A drop of his blood, she imagined its aroma and found herself moved into a wistful sort of hunger. His mere presence provided so much comfort, what could his blood do…

"I know, you once sired me, for the crime of attempted regicide. You could not bare to see me die for good, there is no eternity for Untouchables in death.”

 

The revelation was clearly astounding to Gabriela, who dropped her cool mask of control for a moment. Her brows pinched and her lips parted ever so slightly. She would not sire anyone --  not under the most dire of circumstances, and no matter her feelings for the person. What he was saying seemed ridiculous.

 

“I wouldn’t…” she whispered, and yet, his offer to drink his blood seemed as genuine as any oath she could have made him swear. Blood didn’t lie, and he had offered his freely -- even if she didn’t partake. It made her look at him differently. Confusion sparkled in her eyes like wayward glints of sunlight coming through pieces of clear topaz. “I swore to myself that I would never do that.”

 

“You so coldly state that you do not care, that it is some useless attempt to dig up skeletons. I know well enough the mask you wear, the false detachment so that you can hide. I once shared your blood, the instant of my siring you shared a great deal with me.”

 

Everything… Not just a great deal. If this was true, which she had no doubt that it was, this stranger knew more about her than any living person in Valucre. He knew the secrets in her blood, the deeply buried truths she herself could no longer recall. She felt inexplicably vulnerable and tired. She couldn’t even meet his gaze anymore.

 

“...At one time all my eyes could ever watch, was you.”

 

Still, she could not look at him and so the black mirror of his eyes did not shine with the reflection of her sunset gaze. She stared at the floor between them. There was only one question in her mind.

 

“Regicide?”

 

More silence. She spoke the word as a question, but she wasn’t sure she wanted the answer. Perhaps out of kindness, he did not choose to acknowledge her.

 

“You are a guest, there will be no harm. Not from me, my children, or my citizens…”

 

She nodded and answered simply with, “alright.”

 

He explained about the child, about what was used to cause her such horrible pain and loss. Gabriela forced herself to focus and seemed all the more distressed by what he was saying. “Raphael was convinced it was a trap. That someone had sent the child as bait -- to lure me out. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but I feel like I might as well have been the one to pluck the eye out of her skull. Therefore, I would like to take the child with me. I would like her to become my ward. Fate brought her to me, perhaps it is my responsibility to try and give her a better life. With your permission of course. I would not mean to kidnap a Kadian citizen. And as for my inability to be cruel -- there are many men who would disagree with you. But yes, tomorrow at dusk sounds acceptable. Thank you again.”

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Perhaps in her world of origin that was true. Here, things were far more different. Supposedly there was a multitude of deities here, either existing before man, or sacrificing themselves to create the world. These religions have existed for as long as man has, only becoming more refined. For him, all that he knew, that he had learned from his rise to power, spoke of man existing as long as creatures immortal have walked Valucre. Though primitive they were. Made playthings by those that were not human.

Perhaps he was part of her God's plans, cursed to be reviled and hated, the price for being anathema to that which went against His laws. Perhaps his people were correct, that he was the manifestation of mankind's will. Given flesh and purpose to guide them and protect them, a God born for their survival. In truth neither mattered to the now-called God-Emperor. Save that there was truth to some of it. He was anathema to the unnatural, he did strive from some internal desire to raise up and protect mankind.

“Yet you broke that oath.” He said mildly, his face passive and thoughtful. There was doubt in her words, and on her face. Though she knew she could confirm it with just a taste of his blood. He would not press it, he offered once, and out of dignity, would not offer it again. She would either accept it as truth or disregard it all together. It made small difference to him, in a way he was being selfish. Using this moment to set some shadows to rest in his own mind. To set aside the past before a new chapter began in earnest. It was unlike him, despite the way in which he had been painted.

“Yes, regicide. Perhaps from jealousy, or love unreturned. The reasons are not even too clear to me.” He admitted with a self-depricating smile. “Regardless I brought my blade against you. Even attempted to rape you.” His voice darkened as he glowered inwardly to himself. “You kissed me back, oddly enough it caused me to regain control of myself. It also led to my capture.” He paused for a moment. “Then inevitably my execution and siring by your hand.” He finished finally, the proud emperor baring the dark truth in full.

“If I had intended a trap, you and Raphael would be dead.” He stated matter-of-factly. He showed no insult at the speculation, as it had now proved to be untrue. “Stepping onto Kadia without an army, you two would have been at my mercy.” He stated blandly, for all of Raphael’s power, here Corvinus was absolute. “The child is not of Kadia, but she is human and therefore my responsibility. What guarantee do I have that she will grow up healthy and safe in your care? Given the dangerous and cruel men you keep company.” He leveled a gaze at her.

He sighed then, shaking his head. “Perhaps we should talk of brighter, happier things. Come.” He gestured for her to follow him to the large windows overlooking Ravenspire. “Tell me, do you know how we first met?” He asked, black eyes reflecting the lights of the city below. He was genuinely curious, mostly about what others might have told her, of how much a monster he had been crafted into and placed into her mind. She no doubt believed him a genocidal maniac without rhyme or reason. He contemplated showing her the truth of Kadia, that he stood against something far darker than even Roen, Raphael, or Malice.

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“You broke that oath,” he said simply and she could not take her eyes off of him, though they grew misty with crimson tears. He had tasted her blood, more so than anyone alive in Valucre because that’s how much was required to turn a human into a vampire. She believed that somehow that had given them a connection, even if she didn’t remember it. But the way he spoke of her broken oath made her realize he didn’t understand her at all. If it was all true, then he should have known what it meant to her to break that oath -- what he meant to her. But he seemed distant and cold, utterly uncaring about it, and she for the life of her could not remember what must have been one of the single most defining moments of her life. How many people had she sired in her three hundred years of life? Two, with him being the third?

 

Her heart ached and she felt so utterly overwhelmed by the revelation that she nearly asked him if she could sit. He mused to himself that he was being selfish -- because he didn’t care if she believed him or not. This was all for him. This confession, this moment of closure that he had been waiting for. She wasn’t even the same person who had lived through all of those experiences with him. But somehow she was still accountable for it.

 

“Yes, regicide. Perhaps from jealousy, or loved unreturned. The reasons are not even too clear to me. Regardless I brought my blade against you. Even attempted to rape you.”

 

What did his mind’s eye see -- she wondered. Certainly it was the crisp white of her bed linens, the place where he had set her down after cutting her, nearly to the bone, along the inside of her thigh. It was all still pristine and beautiful, while down below her waist she soaked the mattress through with black blood. He had lingered there over her, and she lay pale and dying beneath him. Had he meant to straddle her and wrap his fingers around her throat, leave her for dead on her bed, or had he always intended to violate her. But there had been a tenderness to his attack, even then -- a desperate sort of longing for her to listen, to just listen. Sometimes talking to her was a lot like trying to talk to someone behind sheets and sheets of ice, dozens of feet thick. Sometimes, subtle whispers weren’t enough, and screaming and shoting were the only things that worked.

 

Was that what it had been like, she wondered…

 

“You kissed me back, oddly enough it caused me to regain control of myself. It also led to my capture. Then inevitably my expectation and siring by your hand.”

 

“It sounds like I was an idiot,” she whispered. There were tears now, she couldn’t help it. Maybe it was the pregnancy that made her so useless when it came to controlling her emotions. She sank into a chair, this time without waiting for an invitation and felt the elegant length of her back crumble as she sulked forward and curled her shoulders inwardly. Her hands rested on her lap, and they trembled as she closed them into fists. Why would she save a man who tried to kill her? Why would she suffer the agony of breaking her oath for someone who broke his… She was a sentimental fool, and it was all becoming clear to her now.

 

A balled up hand reached up and rubbed at the tears in her eyes.

 

“If I had intended a trap, you and Raphael would be dead.”

 

She smiled into the fluffy material of the bathrobe as the cuff of the sleeve pressed against her face. The subtle threats were never too far away.

 

“Stepping onto Kadia without an army, you two would have been at my mercy.”

 

“I never wanted to set foot in Kadia -- I didn’t want to come here. I don’t want to be here. This all happened years and years ago, and for years and years we haven’t spoken a word to each other. I don’t want to relieve every sad instance of betrayal in my life, there’s too many of them.”

 

Again, there was silence between them and she didn’t know if it was because her words had hurt him or angered him. She couldn’t muster the courage to look up, and so she focused on the blotches of black blood she left on the bathrobe sleeve. She hated herself so much for weeping, but everything he said -- not only did he say it so matter-of-factly, it was simply the retelling of more awful things happening to her.

 

Was there nothing good?

 

Was there nothing bright?

 

As if to answer her, she felt a strong jab from the child in her womb. A well placed, and much needed, reminder that she was not alone.

 

“The child is not of Kadia, but she is human and therefore my responsibility. What guarantee do I have that she will grow up healthy and safe in your care? Given the dangerous and cruel men you keep company.”

 

It was a slap to the face -- to institute after everything he must have known -- that she chose to keep the company of dangerous and cruel men. It was one too many insults, and she was tired and emotionally drained.

 

“The child suffered terrible loss under your responsibility. I did not seek her out, she sought me out. And if you know anything about me at all, which I am beginning to doubt more and more, then I would at least imagine that you’d acknowledge the conviction of my sense of duty for those I love. But if you don’t intend to let me leave with her, then it will be you who tells her that. For, I, cannot stomach the thought of taking something else away from that little girl.”

 

He sighed, and soon thereafter, she did too.

 

“Perhaps we should talk of brighter, happier things. Come,” he made a gesture and she, reluctantly followed after him. She was small compared to him, compared to most in this country. She stood well below him, and from her what was visible in her scantily dressed form, her ankles and wrists were small enough for his hands to encircle them completely. It was always an odd thing to stand next to such a larger creature, and still know that on some level, she was stronger and faster. “Tell me, do you know how we first met?”

 

Perhaps, to his surprise, she answered, “I do remember that.”

 

She leaned past him and closer to the window, until one of her small hands lay flat against the cool glass. She was staring down at the city below. “You walked with me through Patia. You took me to a tavern where we sat and talked for hours...No one liked you, everyone felt nervous and uncomfortable around you. I was different. I liked you, almost right away. I felt at ease, almost immediately -- save for the crimson and black that you wore at the time. His colors.”

 

Those golden eyes swept back and forth across the cityscape. It was beautiful, but then again she hadn't come across a place she didn't like. Every great city, and every great nation, had a living soul -- a beating heart. Like she was Orisia's, she knew that Corvin was the heart of this place. But hadn't she been turned out from that heart years ago? Suddenly, she didn't know what she was doing there, or why she was prolonging the inevitable.

 

"I should get going -- I have to make preparations."

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Perhaps it was she who did not understand the man before her. There were only three instances in which he had revealed more than the cold and distant exterior. The first had been a tender affection, when they had held hands and walked the dark and damp streets of Patia. The third had been anger on that dark night in her chambers. The last had been love and shame. None had earned him anything in return. In fact he had been shut out, pushed to the side. He had learned then that such displays had only caused him further isolation. Things were different now, thus so were the reasons. They may have been alone, but he was an Emperor, a man who must be strong in the eyes of others, distant and out of reach. Unassailable. Even to Gabriela, though he doubted she had ill intentions, he must appear as such.

So he knew the weight of her decision, the regard, love even, that she held for him. Yet even then that too did not give him the chance the be heard. So here they stood, a vampyre and a human, in a vast empire ascendant. Time had wrought many changes, more than either perhaps had bargained for. She, pregnant and much of her memories gone, he a man whose black heart had lightened by the woman who he now called wife, aged and tired. Still he was content, now that he could lay things to rest before time’s cruel blade brought him his end. Selfish though it was, he intended to tie up loose ends.

He saw all those things and more. The shadows dancing along her bare body, the fear and confusion on her face, knowing his own to be rage and confusion. His hand bloody, Orphan Maker glinting crimson. Her black blood staining the sheets, a cruel sick allusion to the loss of virginity. The loss of innocence. She had been lovely then, vulnerable. Lust had risen in his, and his hand had found its way between her thighs. He had kissed her clumsily and in earnest and she kissed him back. Even then he did not know what he had intended, he had simply acted and her kiss is what had, perhaps, saved them both.

He shook his head, dashing away such a memory, a sick reminder of his own weakness. She had not desired to listen to him even after, constantly being lured back to the devil’s foul embrace. Now she had found herself in Raphael’s, perhaps even more cruel, embrace. Had he been such, would she have listened? He brushed that aside as well, while he still held lingering affections for her, his love had found another. One who nurtured it and accepted it. There was no going back, and he had no desire to do so. He studied the woman from the corner of his eye.

He chuckled at her words then, a small smile playing on his soft lips. “Perhaps we both were idiots.” He said, as she sat down, tears welling in her golden eyes. He said nothing, his expression only softened slightly. Perhaps he was putting her through a bit much, yet he knew this would likely be the last time they would have privacy, or even talk for that matter. She would leave here as she desired, and that would be the end of it. She had Orisia to return to, he had an Empire that extended from Kadia to the Cold South to oversee. More importantly, he had the Corruption beneath this island to keep from breaking loose.

His words might have been threatening, but that was not their intent. For him it was a statement of fact, he was also a man of action, not petty words to intimidate. Threats had little force when one was not in the position of supremacy. “Indeed. You were forced to come, a trophy on the arm of lord Bartolome.” He said plainly. “No, I suppose you do not.” He said, this time he smiled, and it reached his black eyes. There was a sadness to it, and patience. “Yet you must. Relive them over and over in your mind. Learn from them.” He folded his hands behind his back. “You wish to return to Orisia, yes? To once more rule as queen? Then you have a duty, not just to yourself but to the people you rule, who follow you to do so.” His tone was firm, yet gentle. “That is your noble obligation. Your responsibility as one who rules over others. Their lives are yours to protect and guide.” He took a breath then, shaking his head in mild amusement.

“I did not intend to lecture you.” He said. “It is simply something I think you must take to heart, especially if you wish for your title and yourself to be seen as more than pretty ornamentation.” He said, looking at her thoughtfully. “It seems a few things between us have been left unchanged, hm?” He asked rhetorically. His expression became serious then, as the conversation moved to the child, black eyes now boring into hers. “The child suffered a loss outside of my country.” He said, snapping his fingers, a holographic image popping into the air between them. It showed a file on her, along with the gruesome image of the alley in which everything that led to the incident happened. “She is Terren, brought here by the unsanctioned magic. Perhaps by Farkis, or another who intended to cause him difficulty. Those details remain unclear.” He said, his baritone voice cold now, dangerous.

His expression darkened further. “Did your conviction and sense of duty save the hundreds, the thousands that died in Ellwood?” He asked, his words like a sharp blade. “If conviction and love was all it took to keep those one loves safe, then my son Altair would not have had his heart carved out by a non-human. Or my wife curse by a shaman. To love others one too must be cruel enough to protect them. Even then it is not always enough.” He said, his voice rose, though not at a shout. He looked over his city, and knew exactly what he would do to protect them, and how cruel he must be to see it through. “Should I decide I will tell her.”

Finally the subject moved on to something brighter. He took in a breath and closed his eyes. Releasing the breath, and his anger, he opened them again. Gabriela had always had that way of angering him, though he did not call her a child, and refused to raise a hand to her. If she decided to ignore his words so be it, he could not protect every human, not until they were all united under his banner. His brows raised in surprise when she admitted to remembering, so it seemed he was not completely forgotten. “We held hands that day, when I led you through Patia. Like a couple on a normal date, if you could believe such a thing.” He said, placing his gloved right hand on the window. “I wore gloves then too.” He murmured.

“Aye, his colors. The very ones I threw at his feet in the eyes of your entire court, and pledged myself to you.” He said with an amused tone. “His rage and humiliation were quite apparent then.” He said, a rye smile tugging the corners of his lips. “He called me a traitor and a turncoat, despised me as well he should have.” He turned to face her fully. “Even then, can we truly say I left his service, when he had your ear?” He tilted his head curiously to the side, akin to when he had first met her. He looked very much the creature that was his namesake. “I guarantee the tailed one still hates me for that.”

He too wondered why she remained here, even after his cruel outburst. When he had challenged her ability to protect the child. “I will not force you to stay.” He said simply, eyes watching her intently as he tried to deduce why she yet remained. “A ship will be prepared for your departure tomorrow evening, and I will give both you and the child, Emily, my answer.” He said. “Thank you, Gabriela. For humoring me.” He nodded his head in thanks. Though he did desire more conversation, he had settled aside his past, he would not keep her, though he had too much pride to request she stay for a while longer, it showed in his eyes.

Edited by Alexei

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Lectured as she was by Corvin she seemed beyond the reach of his words and his subtle, though sharp, accusations. It had always bewildered her when anyone so short upon the throne of power sought to dictate how leadership was best expressed. But at the heart of it, pretentious as it was especially coming from someone who had by his own admission done so much personal harm to her, she knew his intentions were good. Even he seemed perplexed that they should share a moment so alike what their old lives were, and she wondered if he had been like Quinn. The way her memory served now, it was Quinn and Quinn alone who had stood silent guard to her most dire moments as an emblem of unquestioning loyalty and devotion. To hear Corvin speak, was to momentarily believe he had stood watch over a similar post, and that warmed his presence to her almost immediately.

 

“If conviction and love was all it took to keep those one loves safe, then my son Altair would not have had his heart carved out by a non-human. Or my wife curse by a shaman. To love others one too must be cruel enough to protect them. Even then it is not always enough.”

 

Whatever warmth and affection had been slowly resurrected by this odd meeting blew away, and she felt the cold of her displeasure mounting. There was a chasm between them -- one that she could not believe was newly discovered. Quite suddenly, she found herself doubting everything he has said. He was a hard man, and perhaps experience and duty had turned him into such -- but she would never willingly seek out the company of any individual who saw cruelty, not only as a necessity, but who spoke about it so near gleeful. She was certain she had experienced more pain and joy in her life than this man who stood besides her, but yet she saw the frailty of human error. He could not see beyond it. He was a creature surrounded by fear, and fear was the source of his strength -- fear for his family, for his people, for himself. And selfishly, she wondered if it had been fear that had caused him to lash out violently against her when they were once almost lovers.

 

“Heavy is the crown,” she replied softly, setting golden eyes on him, “we who must wear it must also choose how we style ourselves under it. There is no right answer, as history can clearly tell us.”

 

If she was wounded by his words regarding the awful events of Ellwood, she did not give it away. Her pretty face remained soft and devoid of any strong indications of feelings. But she remembered much -- about him specifically. He had conspired with Rou at the time, they had both felt cheated of the honor that comes with risking life and limb. They had fueled each other into greater and greater sentiments of disdain. She would do nothing differently -- it was love and conviction that ended the events of that terrible day without the added blood shed of thousands. And beyond his disgust at her sentimentality and her sacrifice, she knew there were countless families who were grateful to receive back their living descendants rather than bodies in caskets.

 

He didn't understand her, but then again -- she didn't understand him.

 

The conversation changed. Corvin spoke of their first time together and again she was struck with the remembrance of it. He had a peculiar power in her memories. He had made her feel normal -- devoid of title, power, or even gender. She had never imagined that he felt anything for her beyond a general appreciation. How could someone with such a unique ability -- breaking down the self-made boundaries of people -- have ended up as this? He was nothing but boundaries now.

 

It was hard to believe that the man in her memories was the same as the man who stood there, gloved hand on the glass so near her own. There was an instant -- just a fleeting moment -- when she wanted nothing more than to reach out and take his hand. She imagined that once upon a time the action would have been amusing to him, perhaps even endearing, but should she do it now she'd probably die at his command.

 

No...he wasn't the man she knew.

 

“I will not force you to stay.”

 

She had lingered too long while daydreaming of holding hands and defending nations. Her eyes, bright and lovely, peered up at him as she flushed. Luckily, she hadn't the ability to blush and her embarrassment remained private.

 

“A ship will be prepared for your departure tomorrow evening, and I will give both you and the child, Emily, my answer.”

 

“The ship is unnecessary. I will find my own way back home. Thank you,” she replied as she drew her hand away and used it to tuck her robe a little tighter around herself. But she sensed how cold and distant the reply was and how it might have even come off as rude. “I don't want to be a burden,”she added as an afterthought as she began to back away.

 

“Thank you, Gabriela. For humoring me.”


“When in Rome…” she offered a little smile before turning away and heading back the same path she had come -- up the winding stairs to the second level of the study and out past the door she had found in the hall.

-Exit Gabriela

Edited by Pasion Pasiva

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There had been a time where he had unquestioning loyalty, but that had been dashed aside as it had been with Roen. He often wondered if it was because of the actions of the two rulers, or that he was never meant to serve such creatures, that his true purpose was to serve as a leader of his species. He often contemplated it as both, that he had been set on his path for this specific purpose. Inevitably he set the thought aside, it mattered little about the how or why of it. The past had now been laid to rest so that the future was his only focus. The future of the Imperium, of Mankind.

In truth, he had always been a hard man. A human trained to fight monsters far stronger and faster than he, with nothing but his sword, dagger, and good plate between him and whatever he was sent to kill. It was not an experience that allowed a man such a luxury if blatant romanticism. Duty, the weight of a vast imperium, and the immeasurable value of his own family had taught him a great deal of balance between the two. Though he knew to outsiders that he often acted with a heavy hand, often that was the only thing they saw or wished to see. Believing he enjoyed cruelty. Blind arrogance, but it often kept those who sought to topple what he had built at bay.

She was not wrong that he was surrounded by fear, be it for his family, his empire, or cloaked in the fear of his enemies. What she thought was human error, a weakness, was the very instinct that has kept his species alive since the dawn of their existence. Fear of the non-human, the daemon, of the deep darkness. Fear was a useful tool, one that could keep one alive if they did not allow it to freeze them, or one with which to cause an enemy to falter. The assumptions of those whose lives were not short, whose bodies were not as fragile. The one assumption she was wrong about was fear for himself, there simply was no room for such a thing.

Had he conspired with Rou? No he had no plans formulated, not with the bandit if in his own private thoughts. Had they shared sentiments? Indeed, though it had never moved beyond that. Until she had exiled him, he simply did his duty save for one thing. Allowing tge woman who was now his wife reclaim the very gift that had cured him of his vampirism, and even evolved the abilities that had been suppressed by the unnatural state of undeath. Perhaps there were countless families that were grateful, yet there were an equal number of families denied the closure of bidding their loved ones goodbye, void of the necesarry rituals to ease the pain of those left behind, and to usher the souls into the next so that they might not linger.

Truly he could not entirely hold it against her. How could an immortal non-human understand the mortal human?

Boundaries had been crafted between him and others, those of his own devising for matters of state and those by the people who claimed him a god. It had been a necessary evolution, the very reason his empire stood strong and advanced in ways immeasurable to Gabriela and even Raphael. It was those very boundaries that commanded the respect, love, trust, and yes; even fear his people held for him. It had become a matter of course for Corvinus, experiences caused man to evolve and adapt, stagnation meant only corruption and death. Progress was another necessary tool, those that could not do so were doomed to be crushed under the heel of those who could.

Indeed, he was not the same man. She, however, was the same. Nothing had changed, no amount of her experiences had adapted her, or made any significant impact. It might have been a virtue in other matters, though in this case it was not. Her existence had become a cycle, one that never seemed to change save for the people that found their way into the orbit of that cycle. Perhaps that was the nature of those who could live for eternity, or close to it. Change did not come easily, or adaptation. Though it seemed Raphael was a unique breed of their kind.

“Unless you intend to swim home, I can have a ship take you to the Cold South and you can travel to a port where they use more archaic vessels to reach Orisia.” He said, folding his hands behind his back and facing the diminutive queen fully, taking his eyes off the vast megacity that had become the soul of Kadia. “I carry many burdens, offering transport is hardly one. If you insist on your course seek out a Renovatian trader, they are a more open minded people.” He said, offering her a shrug of his broad shoulders. She was undeniably stubborn. Black eyes watched her back away and eventually take her leave. He did not watch her go, his gaze returned to the city below.

Fin
Edited by Alexei

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