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Aleksei

[Axis Mundi] heavy heart i'm holding

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2v92445.png@Alexei

Darim tore ferociously at the flowers and their surrounding weeds, not at all minding the dirt underneath her fingernails or the little scratches against the bend of her fingers. The coldness from her annoyance numbed her down to her very bones, making her relentless in her attack against the weed infested garden. Just above her dark head she heard little birds sing their early morning song, a beautiful tune that would put anyone that wasn't Darim in a lighter mood. 

Her sleep had been too disturbed and her emotions far too turbulent for her to relax. The anger she felt boiling in her chest is new to her and to the people that are closest to the Princess; they found her to be aloof, burning with a madness that you only see in her twin, Nero. The last few days have been a struggle for herself and for her contingent of ladies in waiting, all of which she had excused earlier. While she is aware of her current hatefulness, she hasn't been able to put it aside for a later time. Acknowledging such, she had dismissed her ladies so they no longer have to be at the end of her meanness, and had excused herself from her duties for the rest of her time in Kadia. 

Blowing at a loose strand of black hair out of her face, Darm leaned back against her haunches with a deep frown marring her sweet face. The fabric of her peach skirt had been tucked and moved off to the side, while the sleeves of her white chiffon shirt had been rolled up to her elbows; it's clear that she hadn't planned on pulling weeds. Her attire had been simple and subdued for the day, showing she had no intentions leaving the castle. Upstairs, in her room, various dresses, gowns, skirts, and other expensive pieces of clothing populated her bed and chairs; jewelry, crowns, shoes, and such were packed in cases for the long, tedious journey back home. 

Desmond had watched his sister go to war against the weeds. He hadn't meant to lurk in the shadows, but the sight of her angrily going all out against her victims, brows pressed together, lips twisted in a frown, he couldn't bring himself to ruin the sight. The early morning sunlight bounced off the black-blue curls knotted against her nap, and the simple diadem she wore made her look like a pagan goddess in the flesh. He could see why Caelius was smitten with her - him and about half the Kadian Empire. She was a small woman with lush curves, large blue eyes that were welcoming, and a mouth ready to smile, Darim is a prized jewel. Being so is why her brothers coveted her, protected her often, especially Nero who is her twin. The man alone would move mountains for his sibling.

"Darim love, please give those weeds some reprieve."

He pulled himself out of the shadows to approach her, offering her his hand which she accepted. His presence seemed to sooth the hotness in her veins, making her a bit more agreeable. Hands together he guided her to a stone bench, where he would wait for her to spread her skirts and sit delicately down. How so much anger and confusion can be inside such a small sprite, he will never know and he does not envy Caelius for his eventual meeting with her. She won't be pleased with him, more so than she is now. 

Setting his cane aside, he sat next to his sister and grabbed her hands in his, forcing her to turn and look at him. He has never been in a position where he's liked someone as much as she likes Cae, and by the looks of her he's absolutely happy he may  never have this kind of sickness. She cared, but she must know there are secrets and those secrets are making it extremely difficult for her to understand. 

"I know you're mad at Caelius, and I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't be."

Was she mad at Caelius? At this point she's not exactly sure if she's mad at him or ... just mad at him, but she is most certainly annoyed. When Desmond held her hands,she clenched her fingers into angry fists that said so much more than what words could ever do. 

"But there are things you need to understand about him, things that Nero and I can only explain."

She looked at him angrily, her spite and annoyance now switched to her siblings. Secrets, it's always with the secrets and how tired of them she is. Cae can trust her, that she has made obvious, or so she has thought. While she is but a small woman with power held only in her crown, she has strength to carry any burden, especially those that plague someone pressed to her heart. 

"He's a nasty man ..."

"How painful was it to say that?"

Desmond brushed her cheek with his fingers, his thumb resting on the crest below her eye. Darim is not spiteful, he doubts she knows how to be, so to hear her speak ill of Caelius made her words more fake than they originally would have been. It's obvious she worries about him, that her words only come from her own hurt and anger about a situation she doesn't know about. She looked at him with an apology in her blue eyes, deep and bright with the confusion she has soaked in. 

"I know you didn't mean it," he wiped away the tear that threatened to fall, "you're just mad at him and you're allowed that."

Edited by Aleksei

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“Secrets we would otherwise keep, if you weren't so smitten with him.” They both would recognize the deep baritone, full if force with an edge of violence to it. It commanded attention, not because it was loud. Indeed, it demanded attention because of the opposite, it was low and quiet, forcing others to listen intently. The massive frame of Darim's twin stepped out from behind a pillar, where he had been spying on his sister. His blue eyes ever sharp, cold as the Southern winter, were warmed with concern.

Many might have found it hard to see these two as twins separately. Darim with her inviting curves, gentle grace, and peerless beauty brought to bloom when those full lips smiled. Neronius was a tall man, broad of shoulder, with a stern set to his jaw, all barely checked violence that belied a keen intellect. It was when they were together, that one could see the striking similarities between the two. Dark of hair, like spun night, with clear blue eyes. His face was an expression if concern, not simply for his sister, though had it been any other man, he would have throttled them for making his sister unhappy. Though she had a right to feel as she did, perhaps it was time to let her know that Caelius too had a right.

He was in full regalia, in cobalt and gold IMPERATOR pattern power armor only made his frame more intimidating. How he had somehow managed to move so quietly was a mystery. A trick he had picked up from their father, when he had worn primitive plate, he had been able to move without so much as a sound. “Desmond, it is good to see you. The South has grown lonely since you left, I miss our games of Bellum.” He said. Bellum was a me played on a holotable, it simulated actual combat. He gave his elder brother a smile.

“Brother, I think it would be best you tell Caelius’ tale.” He said. “Dear sister, Caelius is a man who has lost a great deal, more than any of us can truly understand. Pay close attention to Desmond’s words, he speaks the truth.” His expression turned sad for a moment, uncharacteristic of him, though it only served to emphasize the importantce and truth of what was about to be revealed. Caelius was a man who Nero had come to not only respect, but trust. He had no doubts tgat Desmond felt the same way. Of all the men in the empire, one could not find a man who was held in such high regard by her two brothers.

“Darim, do you know that Caelius is entirely smitten by you?” He asked, watching her for a moment. “Desmond and I have seen the way he watches you, not like the other men who covet you like some kind of prize.” He chuckled, knowing too how awkward the man was with the way she approached him, and the ease with which she touched his hands. “Desmond, please begin.” He said, as he leaned back against the pillar he had previously been behind.

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2v92445.pngShe did not flinch when her twin revealed how Caelius felt. Unlike a woman who can play a whole house of men and still not reveal her true feelings, Cae lacks such skills and the Princess would rather not play such games. It had been easy to figure him out, especially whenever she touched him he would blush, or if she said anything to compliment him he'd show his awkwardness. Knowing the type of man the Inquisitor is, you would understand he's the sort who likes to stand strong, be unmoving; such a person does not blush or stutter or even break protocol and call Princesses by their given name. 

Desmond and Nero had also known, maybe even from the very beginning when Darim had asked for Caelius to escort her through the market. Before that day they had only met in passing, both busy with their own duties and such. The night on the wall had been the only time when they actually stopped and talked to one another, and it was then he left an impression on her. During their time together in the market, Darim had simply ignored the man's reactions towards her, putting them as normal since he is not the first nor the last man to react that way around her. 

"He's an easy man to read."

"I don't think he knows how to act around a woman, especially one he likes."

He laughed a bit, squeezing her now relaxed hands gently. Her tension was melting away, her curiosity getting the better of her now.

"He blushes a lot for a man. I think he has me beat in that regard."

Again he laughed, but this time he was louder. His reaction made her smile, breaking the chill in her demeanor; it warmed her to speak about Cae, openly and without restraint. Not wanting to put the man in an awkward position, she made sure that any conversation surrounding the Grand was quick and to the point. While it hadn't been difficult to find out how he felt about her and vice versa, it's not appropriate to paint him as some philanderer and she as a easy woman. There are laws and rules they must follow, traditions they must uphold.

"This is not an easy story, Darim. Nero and I tell you this because you need to have full understanding about Caelius, but you must promise to not pity the man - he does that enough to himself."

Blue eyes met Desmond's dark and steady gaze. Pity him? She's not sure she can make such a promise, but she will most certainly try.

"You know Caelius doesn't like to be touched, and I believe you saw his arms during that time in the garden."

Darim nodded, thinking back on a few occasions where she had grabbed his hands or touched his arms, and she could tell he had struggled with pulling away while not wanting to be disrespectful towards her. She had just thought that considering he's a distant kind of man, that touch of any kind is awkward and weird, more so when she's around. Born as an Untouchable she's had to carry the burden of awkward and strange occurrences, but her skin has thickened over the years and now she just simply accepts the reactions from others as the norm. At the time in the gardens she hadn't thought about his arms, even the fleeting memory seemed to evade her because all she could think about was how mad she had been at him.

"The Heathens these walls keep out, they tore him and not in the figurative way," he smoothed the wrinkle in her brow caused by her confusion, "you see ... when he did not return from his mission, we set out to find the reason why. What we found, it wasn't Caelius."

Desmond looked to Nero for help, because while Darim is their blood, she is a sensative creature and he wishes to be light in his steps towards the truth. 

"They destroyed him badly, terribly, to the point we weren't sure we could save him."

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Darim had been able to crack the hard shell that had Caelius had erected around himself. A feat that only she could claim to have achieved. To others, the majority of who the young lord Adolphus is, is a mystery. Even to Desmond, and much to his own chagrin, Neronius could not claim to read the man as easily. He was every bit of an Inquisitor to them, cold, distant, and enigmatic. He never let anyone too close, as his line of work if left him the last one left. Save for his sweet twin sister. Almost immediately the two had grown a fondness for each other, though it was clear even Darim did not quite know how to act around him. Disregarding titles, rank, and formalities. Instead she called him ‘Cae’, and much to her siblings’ amusement created much rumor about the Imperium.

In truth, Neronius was satisfied with Caelius, even silently approved. The man was not like Desmond and Altair. He comported himself as a gentleman, with all the pride and dignity that befits his station, yet not once had he been arrogant. While awkward about the woman who so easily touched his hands, looked so gently into those artificial eyes so many found unnerving, he never once went too far. Perhaps a slip-up here or there where titles were concerned, but never untoward. In fact the man was impressive, most would have tried their damnedest to bed her, using all manners of tricks to do so. Much to their foolish surprise. She was a woman of great dignity, and no man could trick her with petty games, though she might humor them for a time.

“Aye, Darim. To pity him after hearing what we are about to tell you, will do more harm than good. Especially if such pity came from you.” He said, and for a brief moment Nero offered Darim a rare and soft smile. “At least try not to pity him where he can see it. To receive such a thing from the woman you are infatuated only salts the wound.” He said, his usually cold blue eyes touched by sadness. He was a man with blood on his hands, and was used to ordering men to their deaths, the duty of the Primark. He had grown close to Caelius, forged a bond with the man. The Grand Lord Inquisitor even earned the Prince’s admiration. His friendship. Not many could claim such a feat.

He caught Desmond’s eye, and shook his head with a deep sigh. It seemed he would have to be the one to tell his tale, in the detail that it must be told in. “Darim, forgive me, but to understand the gravity of what Desmond has said, I must give the full truth.” He said apologetically. He did not look forward to placing this kind of burden or images in her mind. “I had sent Caelius’ unit to scout the borders of the Old World, a reconnaissance mission. It was supposed to be simple. A low chance of actually encountering an enemy.” He said and there was a hitch in his voice. His fists clenched and only because it was them, he showed the guilt of what had happened. The burden all leaders carried, though he was still young. He took a deep breath shaking his head.

“They were ambushed, somehow their coordinates got leaked to the Heathens. They were overwhelmed in the skirmish and captured.” He said, anger rising in his chest, metalshod fists clenching so hard the Kadium alloy creaked dangerously. “Darim, those Heathens tortured and killed his friends, they forced him to watch as they dismembered them, carved out their eyes, castrated the men, and defiled the women with instruments of torture.” He settled his gaze on the ground as a deep shame settled on his shoulders. “They forced him to watch as they sacrificed his friends so that they could be bestowed with foul mutations.” Neronius said through clenched teeth. He looked at Darim then, sadness softening those blue eyes. He may be a warrior, quick to anger and often cruel, and a child of the God-Emperor, but he was also human.

“Then, then those Heathens, non-humans all of them, sawed his arms and legs off, it took them hours for each one. Making sure to extend the pain as long as possible.” He shook his head, glancing at Desmond, silently pleading that his brother offer her comfort. “The sick bastards held a mirror above him, making him watch his own dismemberment. Then the carved out his eyes. It was when they were poised to castrate him that we had managed to disrupt their foul ritual. But. But what I saw was barely recognizable. A ruin of a man. Who held onto a scrap of sanity by whispering Corvinite prayers.” He said, standing straighter now. “Darim, there you have it, now you know what only a few in the entire Imperium know. Please, do not judge him toi harshly.” He could say nothing else as he watched Darim’s reaction.

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2v92445.pngDesmond would have chastised his brother for his quickness for words, for that quickness caused him to misstep and stumble.

He had asked for help to put the truth in Darim’s gentle hands in a manner that would not overwhelm her, but apparently he had forgotten that Nero is not the sort to cut corners and perhaps that is the best route to go about this. At least he had apologized before beginning, showing his care for his twin sister while needing her to understand the heaviness of his words. More often than not Desmond does forget that his sisters have been crafted by the same blood of their parents, and that there really is little need for him to be overly protective.

“I was the one who had given the clear coordinates to go forward with the mission, even after we were given news something was wrong.”

He wasn’t going to allow Nero to carry the burden of their mistakes all by himself, for Desmond was just as much to blame. The simple mission had been painted as such because the elder brother had chosen to shrug off the bad “feelings”, believing that cold hard facts would be enough to prepare the men and women.

Unlike his brother, Desmond didn’t allow his voice to crack or his anger to rise. He sat there next to his sister and held her hands, his thumb dancing gently across her knuckles in a comforting manner as he knew well that the burden of fresh knowledge weighs heavily on her sweet shoulders. With the dignity of any royal, she had sat there in silence and listened to her siblings explain Cae’s special circumstances, soaking it all in without shedding one tear (which is concerning) or quivering at the images Nero so wonderfully painted for her.

“That does not excuse him for treating me as he did.”

“Well, that’s true enough and we are not here to make excuses for him bu-”

“I know! I know why he did it,” she squeezed Desmond’s hands and gave Nero a quick smile, “but I have enough men in my life that treat me like I’m made out of glass.”

She swiped at her eye before tucking a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear, nervous actions that painted a picture of uncertain feelings. Torn between wanting to cry and needing to comfort Cae, she clung to her elder sibling’s hands and bowed her head in thought. Would comforting the man be seen as pity?

“I don’t need more men in my life that think I’m a fragile doll to be kept on a high shelf or a woman with a bird's brain. He needed to trust me, as you two claim to do; he needs to protect me while allowing me my freedom. I have no use for more walls!”

Desmond gave a shameful smile, knowing that he is and probably will always be guilty of treating her too sweetly, too carefully. Nero has been a constant in her life, always there when she needs him, always there to ensure her safety; they, along with their father, are the walls she speaks of and he understands. Lyonene left because she couldn’t move being surrounded by the iron grip of their father and the hawkish ways of her brothers, and the last thing Desmond wants to do is make Darim run away too.  

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Neronius wasn't as skilled with words as his other brothers were. Desmond ever the gentleman, Cornelius the noble, and Julius a man who could inspire the faithful without raising them to the heights of fanaticism, though he could. His skill fell more to his abilities to war, administrate, and pick the best for the job. While he knew he lacked such qualities, he did not envy his brothers and never once held jealous thoughts. He had confidence in his own abilities and though he stumbled verbally his siblings understood the meanings and intent of his words. That was enough for him.

He waved his brother off, his face taking a more stern expression as he tried to share in the guilt. “As Primark the responsibility is mine alone to bear. Had I trusted my instincts and the advice of my generals I would have acted sooner.” He stated, shaking his head. “We lost one of the most skilled units in our Legion, almost lost the man who made them. A mistake I will not make again.” He stated, next time he would not allow his pride to become arrogance and cloud his instincts. Such a thing could cost him more than a unit. Especially given the fact the Cold South was in a precarious position.

Neronius sighed, shaking his head and wearing a bemused expression at his sister. These are not excuses, Darim. They are context.” He stated, offering her a rare and gentle smile. “He did it as much to protect you as to maintain the tenuous peace the Imperium has up until this point.” He said, shrugging his massive shoulders. “Had you gone through with it, do you think even mother could have quelled father's anger?” They all knew that regardless of their father's pragmatism and patience he too was an uncompromising man, whose rage had burned cities. “Do try to give Caelius some credit, father did not give him such a heavy office because he was so singular in consideration.”

While he did not doubt that Darim was a great and developing focus for Caelius, the man placed his duty as Inquisitor highly. He too noticed how much Darim cared for the Inquisitor, especially by the how much of an effect he had on her. Had he not, would she have been so angry with the man, especially if all it had been about was the parameters of his job? Neronius did not think so, his twin was a proud creature. The fact Caelius was able to draw out such an angry side amused him greatly. Perhaps he would have Caelius spend more time in Kadia, close to his sister, few men could be considered worthy of her, fewer still worthy of a helpful nudge. He would have to plot with Desmond about such a thing. Besides, the man could do with some rest before his work consumes him.

A deep chuckle rumbled from within Neronius’ expansive chest. He felt no shame about how protective he was, they were closer than most of their other siblings. Though over the years he had relented, operated in more discreet  ways. “Darim, if that is so, why don't you confront him with your feelings then?“ He said bluntly, blue eyes watching his sister. “We gave you the context of the man, but you should not simply confront him, but have him state why he did what he did.” He passed Desmond a quick glance, though his eyes and face revealed nothing, he hoped his elder brother would understand what he was trying to do.” Though he and Desmond were trying to help her understand Caelius in some measure, it was unfair to bother her and the inquisitor.

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2v92445.pngPeace, she would laugh at the word if it would not be a slap to their faces. Boiling underneath Kadia is a power struggle for a land immersed in magic and darkness that many do not know. This awkward pause may be called peace, but it is far from peaceful when one is always walking on eggshells and glass.

“I don’t know what I am more annoyed about to be honest with you.”

Desmond felt incredibly vulnerable when Darim released his hands so that she may stand up. From his position he could see the jutting of her awfully proud chin and the square of her shoulders - he didn’t like it. Men were often drawn to her beauty, they’ve mentioned this countless times before, but it’s the way she can look a man square in the eyes and treat him as an equal that made her special - he didn’t like it. Though, if the gods blessed him with sisters who were soft and meek, his work to protect them would wear him thin.

“That you believe I would have given her my blood.”

The memory came to her fresh and warm, allowing her to relive it in the moment. Irene had asked for blood and in the moment Darim believed the woman had asked it with the indication that it would come from Darim. Knowing what she knows, if the woman had drank Darim’s blood it would do her more harm than it would good, and the Princess would have felt guilty for changing such a woman in such a way. Who is she to be the decider of such things?

Dropping her hands to her sides, she looked at Desmond who quickly found something else to look at and then to Nero. It annoyed her that they took the opportunity for her to speak away, she was annoyed that they thought little of her and more of themselves and their positions, it annoyed her … to think that Cae couldn’t trust her thinking and acting before thinking.

“I won’t deny it, I did think about it considering the situation was dire and something needed to be done.”

Desmond felt guilty, where Nero probably wouldn’t, so that leaves the elder to carry the weight of guilt for them both. It’s not that they didn’t trust her, it’s just emotions and reasoning often get messy and in order to protect her and their Empire they had to act on her behalf. They love her probably more than they love anything else - as they do all their siblings - and her safety comes above all else, no matter the consequences.

“And that you would think I would do something to compromise this peace we hold so tenaciously.”

Desmond may not like her changing into a woman, but he can certainly respect her speech and where she is coming from. He ran his fingers through his dark hair before releasing a grand smile that nearly took over his entire face - she’s not wrong. He does not envy Caelius, especially if he should ever do anything to bruise Darim’s immeasurable pride.

“I think that’s a perfect idea,” Desmond shared Nero’s look before continuing, “maybe you two can get together an-”

“He’s still here?”

Darim figured the man would have left once his part was taken care of; she hadn’t the time or the care to search him out. Truthfully, sincerely, it wasn’t that she didn’t care, it’s more she wasn’t sure how she could face the man she felt hadn’t trusted her enough that they could work together. The fire in her veins had run rampant and unable to sooth the meanness on her tongue, she refrained and allowed her anger to continue it’s raging blaze across her thoughts.

“Of course! Probably still in his office.”

She was off in a blaze of pretty fabrics and elaborate jewelry, leaving both her brothers in her dust. For a second Desmond sat there a bit confused, before he shook his head and laughed, slapping his aching knee before standing up.

“You think there’s going to be anything left of him this time?”

Desmond questioned Nero, the only person who truly knows Darim right down to her lack of soul.

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For Neronius, perhaps even their father, peace was a more pragmatic concept to these men of conflict and dominion. It was merely a preparatory phase for the next inevitable war. It was a time for the citizenry to relax and refocus, to unwind a bit without losing their edge. In the Kadia, no, the entire Imperium stood on a razor’s edge. There was the deep darkness beneath Kadia, one that threatened more than just the island, never allowing the forces of the empire to ever truly relax its vigil. Peace was an entirely different concept for her brothers, a thing that did not last forever, such an ideal was but a distant dream that their father worked towards. War was ultimately a means to an end, much like peace.

Blue eyes watched his sister as she stood and fixed her posture with the stubborn pride he had long since come to be familiar with. While Desmond did not like it, Neronius found a certain amusement in the way she squared her shoulders and stuck out her chin. She could stare down a warlord as an equal without flinching. It was a stubborn pride both their parents exhibited and created a rather troublesome nature in many of his siblings, including himself. “Honestly? I did not, but Caelius I cannot speak for.” He said with a shrug of his massive shoulders. “If I were to make a guess, it is more that he cannot trust himself to trust others.” He said, his tone becoming thoughtful momentarily. “In any case he could not allow our father's laws to be shirked, not even by your order.” It was the simple statement of fact. Though Corvinus often spoiled his daughters, even he held limits to what he would allow them to get away with.

When Darim looked to him, he met her gaze with confident self-assurance. Unlike Desmond he had grown up both challenging and being challenged by his twin, as well as working as an effective team until their paths ultimately diverged as they came into their own. “Everything we say, we do, can destroy this peace in a mere instant. Our actions hold great weight, not simply in Kadia, but on the global stage.” Neronius felt he should remind her that Kadia was surrounded by enemies without as well as within. Many sought the destruction of their father’s empire for their so-called righteousness, or simply hyenas looking for a weakness so that they could add to their own power. Even Neronius had to measure himself, it had become a valuable lesson in control.

“I have given him some leave so that he can rest. I cannot work the best inquisitor we have to death.” He said with a light smile. “Though I have no doubt he is working regardless of the fact that he is on leave.” He shook his head. He and his siblings were augmented fromaugmented. Caelius had indeed proven to be a valuable asset, and even one of the few friends outside his TEMPLAR Chapter that he considered friend. He had been about to say something else when she suddenly tore off with a new purpose, taking his carefully laid suggestion with all the vigor he knew she would. He shared in Desmond’s laugh. “The fact that there is anything left of him still speaks volumes.”

____________

Caelius sat in the dim light of his office in the Kadian Inquisitorial Branch. For the moment his was not pouring over files and data that had once filled the air before him. His left arm lay on the desk, the entirety of the metal extremity bare, not even gloves covered his metal digits. Plating was slid open to reveal the artificial muscle made of high grade kadium fibers, interwoven as intricately as human muscle though containing far more power and durability. In his other hand he held a multi-tool. He had noticed some stiffness to the movements of his left hand, so he had decided to run some calibrations. It touch of the specialized tool-tip caused the entire hand to clench or individual fingers to move. Whenever there was a hitch he would switch tool-tips to fix.

As he did so, he allowed his mind to wander. It had been a long few days, what had been intended as leave had become a mess that required his attention. From the incident involving Farkis in an attempt to take the lives of Raphael, Gabriela, and Emily, to the attempted assassination of Raveena and the Gabriela. It seemed that the Black Queen brought nothing but trouble where she went. Endangering the lives of the Imperium with her mere presence due to her past if slighted suitors. He grimaced momentarily. It seems recent events had only served to further engrain his prejudices. Non-humans were a great danger to mankind, inviting disaster brought by powerful creatures that could level entire towns with but a thought.

After some fiddling he set the tool down and slid the plates closed. He flexed his hands and let a slight ironic smile of satisfaction creep on his face. It seemed he was getting a knack for upkeeping his own prosthetics. It was a skill that would allow him to maintain them in the field, though far more advanced procedures would have to be done by those with the knowledge and skills to undertake such a task. He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as a display of a map depicting the cold south. The light revealed that his coat was hung over the back of his chair, so that he sat in a plain black tank top. In privacy he had no qualms with uncovering them, though it was absolutely necessary for maintenance.

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2v92445.pngShe understood, and perhaps that is the overall problem of things. When one loves something, it makes it far more difficult to let it go because if you did not love that thing (no matter how brief) it would be easier to let it slip through your fingers. Darim knew that it is not just an entire empire her siblings and parents have to worry and constantly prune, it is their very living they must consider and treat with indifference at times. Perhaps her anger stemmed more from the fact that she is spoiled and has always been given what she most desires.

This time, when she had expected things to go her way, they did not and it rubbed her wrong to be snubbed so easily by someone she had thought was wrapped around her finger. The revelation made her stop in her tracks, allowing the balm to sooth her raging anger to a small smolder. It's difficult, no matter how you want to look at the whole ordeal - it's difficult.

That won't change what needs to be done today. Clearing her throat and smoothing the front of her skirt, Darim gathered her thoughts.

Feeling revitalized, she approached his office, ignoring anyone who hovered around and dismissed the obvious who asked to escort her inside. There was no time for interruptions and she doesn't need half the empire knowing the full details of her business. So she entered his office in a flurry of skirts and fire, slamming it shut behind her as to punctuate her feelings and her determination to stand up against Cae.

“I don’t need you or my father or my brothers dictating my thoughts and actions.”

The words left her heart before they could reach her mind. They lacked her usual eloquence and most certainly her common delicacy. What she wishes to say and what needs to be said are washed together, creating a puddle of indescribable colors used to paint how she feels. She has allowed her siblings and her father too much control over the things she does, and while it is love that guides their heart it is ignorance they walk upon. She understands why her eldest sister took the opportunity to leave home, and how she has blossomed from the separation.

Love is a very difficult sort of creature and she knows at the base of it all she is a precious person to many other precious people, and all they do is out of love and necessity. While it has angered her beyond reason that Cae made a decision for her, she understood why and now he is going to understand her capability as a person.

"I know you have a job to do, and I know that involves protecting my family and such, and that requires you to step on toes."

She wouldn't allow him to speak, and if he tried she would simply cut him off. Right now it is her opportunity to use her own influence.

"But you will not act for me. I was capable of making my own decisions and I would never place us in a precarious situation, no matter how I felt intrigued to do so. If you don't trust me, I completely understand and won't judge you harshly for it; you will know that it is the last time you dictate my actions."

Darim could care less about his appearance; she hardly looked at his scarring, obviously dismissing his attire all together for it didn't matter.

Edited by Aleksei

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Suddenly to door opened and with it, in swept the princess. The usual calm mask that Caelius wore was gone, replaced by an expression of utter surprise. He had not expected her of all people to come bursting into his office. After the incident in the gardens he had expected her to ignore him, her authority as a member of the royal family being superseded was not something she was accustomed to. Indeed, he had resigned himself to never seeing her lovely face, or hearing her sweet voice. So there he sat, cybernetic arms bared on either side of the table. He was only vaguely aware of it, his attention and those luminescent blue eyes focused solely on the angry woman before him.

A few times did he try to get a word in, but she would have none of it. She cut him off with a sharp tongue hidden behind pouty lips. Her blue eyes full of that stubborn arrogance that only she could make beautiful. Finally she finished, blue eyes looking down on him. His expression had changed, surprise replaced by cold anger. His lips a thin line, his jaw clenched, eyes narrowed. “Enough!” He shouted, slamming a metal fist against the table, shattering the wood and delicate hologlyphic screen. It snapped inward, laying as a broken heap. “You think I did it because I didn't trust you? As if my action are dictated a revolve around you!?” He raised his voice in question, sweeping past the desk and towards her. “Arrogant woman!” He said in an angry hiss, his blue eyes full of anger, only reason tempered him. Such an insult simply would not stand.

He bore down on yer as a wrathful gale of biting words and raw emotion. He pinned her to the door, metal hands thumping at either side of her. He glared down at her, his face stern and hard. “It is not you I did not trust. It's not your actions and words that dictated mine.” His voice was low, angry at the insult that she laid on him. Did she truly think him such a petty mind. That the Grand Lord Inquisitor was but a child to be reprimanded at her leisure? “It was them! Your actions be damned, it was them I did not trust!” His words came hot and heavy. “I act on behalf of the Imperium with full authority granted by your father. Not on your whim.” He hammered home. He had pride in his position, as much as he hated it, but he would not allow it to be trampled on in arrogance.

“Aye, I am to protect the royal family, that is the duty of all in the Imperium.” He cooled somewhat, tone becoming more reasonable. “But do not think my actiins were dictated by some doubt in your decision. As if my mind is such a petty thing.” A thin smile spread across stern lips. “Do you think so poorly of me, Darim?” Suddenly he realized how close he was to her, the scent of vanilla and lemons filling his senses, losing himself in her eyes. Still he refused to back down. How could he now? Fear welled inside him, had he gone to far, should he have simply sat there and meekly accepted her admonishments? No! He had to lay his reasoning his out, and put into perspective that unlike most men, his world did not evolve around her. He was not a dog to be ordered about or, smacked on the nose.

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2v92445.png“Arrogant man!”

You can easily place the blame on her father, a man who has a weakness for pretty things. Due to Lyonene needing to find her place anywhere other than their fathers shadow, he attached his fatherly ways on his other daughter Darim. It also did not help that her twin (Nero) dedicated a majority of his life protecting and coveting his sister, ensuring her constant comfort and safety. Sheltered and overly loved, Darim is arrogance personified and she is not one to back down from a fight or arrogant men such as Cae. Two can play these games.

“Am I turned sorcerer and now know your thoughts?”

She hadn't flinched when he slammed his fists against the desk, and she certainly did not shrink away from his cold touch. His fingers bruised supple skin, possibly the first of their kind, and later she will lash him for it, but now she has him in her grasp and she has no intention on letting him go so easily. Her pride matters just as much as his, even if she is simple a pampered princess with a golden spoon in her mouth. There is very little to Darim as a person, and that very little dislikes being treated poorly.

“Actions speak louder than words Caelius!”

How is she to think he did or did not trust her? A man of simple expressions and brisk words, how is she supposed to know his thoughts?

“You hide behind your mechanics and your melancholy, how is one supposed to know what you're thinking if you refuse to talk?”

Darim was not cooled, she was fire. Constantly calm, constantly sweet, constantly prim, the woman is now unbound thanks to the infamous anger her brother Nero is known for. Her eyes glowed, rivaling his own and the curl to her lips made them appear more lush; beauty is her way, and even in her anger she models it well. Off setting by appearance and by being an Untouchable, most shrink away from her before she's able to get her words out, before she's even able to get a hit in.

“It is your actions and words that dictate mine! I am more than just finery Caelius, and I will be treated with proper respects, I will not be snubbed by an insecure man. Your distrust in them bled into your trust for me! I have a duty as well and I will follow it, just as you follow yours.”

Her chest rose as much as her voice. No one had to eavesdrop, she was loud enough for anyone ten buildings down to hear.

“I was set aside, do you not understand? If it were a woman of military rank you would have acted differently, you would have treated them with firm respect. But because I'm Darim, I was treated as my title suggests, and you will learn I am more than just a pampered girl.”

She relaxed then, his grip supporting her. Yelled out and left bereft of anger, she felt suddenly lethargic, drained of all fight and meanness.

“If I thought less of you Cae, this conversation would not be happening. Your opinion of me matters a great deal, great enough that I will fight for your approval.”

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He grunted at her return, a frown touching hios lips. Willful, prideful, and fearless. Those were just some of these traits the young woman displayed in the face of his anger. It had left him silent for a moment, deep gray eyes stared into blue ones for a long moment. It had been such a long time since he had displayed such anger, especially before another person. His anger was often spent in private, either against himself, or against objects. He used his training and exercises as another method of venting his frustrations. He now realized just how difficult maintaining the cold, calculated, and vicious mask of the Grand Lord Inquisitor. It frustrated him that the princess was the one who had to see what he just now realized.

He frowned as she barreled forward, her words harsh, biting deep, yet all of them held a truth that cut him more closely than he would have liked. He drew in a ragged brith, the hurt evident on his face. “You’re right.” He conceded. “If you were a military woman, I would have treated you much differently.” He said, his eyes focusing back onto her now. “I would have arrested the soldier for heresy.” He stated, voice low and harsh. Darim was not ignorant on what punishment such a charge would bring, perhaps now she would even understand just exactly how far he went. He not only protected her from the fangs of a vampire, prejudice or not, but from a far more grave outcome.

“Darim.” He said, pulling her against him to his own surprise, holding her now in his arms. “I know you are much more than some pampered noblewoman.” He said his tone soft. “I did what I had to to both protect you from them, and from the laws of our own empire.” He sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly under the weight of his own responsibilities. “I cannot trust them, and I would be damned if I never got to see you again.” He paused for a moment. “I didn’t want to risk losing you because of my own negligence.” As much as his pride had been hurt, Darim spoke an undeniable truth.

He released her from his embrace and stood back, suddenly shy. “I already stand on a razor’s edge, Darim. My actions are heavily watched, my failures judged harshly, more so than most others.” There was no anger in his words, only a recognition of reality. “I am impure, my body tainted by machine, even within the inquisition I have enemies. Those who would seek to destroy me to advance their own careers, philosophies, or Ordo.” He looked to the banner on the far wall, A black Corvinite Cross on a split field of red and white. “If I lose my position now, I will also lose being able to see you. Everything I have striven for will crumble to ash.”

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2v92445.pngShe wasn't exactly sure what one should do when embraced by such a man. As friends she would hug back with enthusiasm, or if he were kin she would slapped his back as siblings do. Desmond was known to pluck her like a petal from a flower and swing her around; even with his wounded leg, he had a grace about him that made Darim admire him more. Unable to make up her mind and before she could even try, he released her.

"I am not a conjuring from your dreams, Cae."

As strange as she is, Darim is all woman - flesh, bone, and curves. She bleeds easily enough and can also be hurt with the same amount of ease; there is nothing about her that makes her invincible to the outside world that often tries to crash into her security. He speaks of things she knows well enough, but it is a shock that he was even capable of putting his feelings in her hands. She had expected to fight the man more about her position in his life, yet she finds herself on the edge of a revelation, uncertain where to go now.

"And you are no different than the farmer working on his crops, who is judged if he doesn't successfully till his land; what about the blacksmith whose work is the reason we fight and build?"

None in the Empire are not watched. There is not a thing her father does not know that happens in his entire Empire, and while some would see that as overbearing, the intentions are good and meaningful. The same can be said about Cae's reasons too, which in the moment she had been annoyed and mad that he would dare to disregard her. He wasn't though, she had been the center of why he did what he had done (denial or not), and she feels rather honored and so relieved that she could cry. Misunderstandings stemming from the lack of communication are bound to be made in any circumstance, though what truly matters is what's done once said misunderstandings are understood.

The finality of his words disgusted her. The more they began to understand each other, the more bitter the reality of their positions became. As Princess she is not unaware of Kadia's laws and the laws of her father's hand; her mother has been victim often enough to the laws, and has taken her beatings with all her regality. Each and everyone of them have shown that in their admiration towards their upbringing, it has led them to be individuals in their thinking and reasoning.

"You are not the only one standing on the razor's edge. You're lonely only because you've ostracized yourself from everyone else, and it is you who are making yourself impure."

Darim grabbed his hands, now free from their gloves he often wears. Before she was told his story he only thought of his augmentations to be things of vanity and need, not at all necessary. When she holds them now she understands their meaning and knows that he has gone through so much pain, is still in pain. That was a ignorant fault on her behalf and she will make up for it later when they've the proper time to do so.

"I've no reason to leave you, Cae. I can't avoid death or dangers, and you can't keep them away from me for the rest of my life. This is an unfortunate about anyone. We can do what we can with what we have, but I won't live the rest of my life hidden behind closed doors and tall walls."

She released his hands, knowing that he respected her and his position as Inquisitor, and them being alone together in his office will be a mar on them both. If they were caught touching ...

"You have to talk to me, and I will do my best to do the same."

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“I know.” He said quietly, averting his gaze in embarrassment, feeling foolish that he had embraced the imperial princess out of the blue. It had been so unlike him, but ever since he had met the young woman; she knocked him off balance. “You are perhaps the most solid existence I know.” He admitted. Such was the life of an inquisitor, either unapproachable, or never having enough time to make a solid connection. Darim was a unique presence in his life, a newly dawning revelation of his own, and in a way it had a disconcerting effect on the man. 

He watched her for a brief moment, before his shoulders relaxed, tension leaving his body visibly. “Perhaps you are right, often I must separate the wheat from the chaff. Inspect the grain for disease and impurity.” He said, his tone somewhat thoughtful. “I also craft the blades of the empire, as well as its armour; in my own way.” He smiled softly then. “It is my doing so that sees to it the farmers can till their land, that the blacksmith may work his forge. Should I fail, much would collapse into ruin.” There was a confidence to his voice, yet a distinct lack of arrogance.

Caelius was just one pair of eyes in the empire, but one finger of a great hand. Yet he was, by far; the most important one. How could one grasp and protect that which is theirs without a thumb? He realized just how far he had come from just a lowly soldier. It was a strange progression in his life, yet it had brought him all the closer to the beautiful woman he had met upon the wall of Axis Mundi. Swiftly she had become much the center, if not the sole reason; he did all that he did. 

“I know, but as an Inquisitor I do not have the luxury to get close to other.” You are an exception. He wanted to say, wanted so badly to drive home. It lingered in his eyes, and the corners of his stern lips. “Perhaps I am making myself impure, I had never considered that.” His tone was introspective. Suddenly, she grabbed the cold metal of his hands, and surprisingly; he did not feel the desire to pull away from her. Not like he had the many times she had touched him, instead his hands rested in hers.

He nodded. “Regardless, I will do my best to mitigate those dangers.” He said, offering her a smile that was both stubborn and amused. Their hands parted, returning to a sense of propriety, it would not due to be caught doing such things in the privacy of his office. “Then first, I must apologize.” He said, walking towards his broken dest and his chair. Reaching into the pocket of his coat he withdrew something. “I believe this will suffice to to prove my sincerity.” He said turning to reveal the item. He held out a coronet of white gold, studded with master cut garnets that burned even in the dim light. “Here, Darim.” He said, his voice soft.

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2v92445.png How easily infatuation can make one feel so eager to be in the presence of the one you admire, while also making one feel so improper. She was raised to understand the differences between her and the commoners walking the streets of her home; she was taught that she is above all and anything else, that she should never expect less when she can have more. Perhaps that is why she hated the propriety that needs to stay between them. He had embraced her, something that she's only imagined and never honestly entertained. His touch left her feeling tilted and utterly unsure about her safety in his presence.

His words hadn't been lost on her; she had merely found herself more interested in the lips that produced his speech. So close she openly stared, even held his hands before she realized her position. There is absolutely no way that she can hide what she feels for Cae, now that she knows about his infatuation with her. Will she be so obvious? Her mother has a look about her, almost as if her breath is snatched from her lungs, whenever she looks upon her Emporer. The stars in Leoa's eyes only glow for her husband; it's almost surprising she sees anything else.

Pulled from her thoughts by the offerings of a gift, the woman stared at the man with gentle hands holding a beautiful piece of jewelry. Vanity is indeed a weakness of hers, thought Desmond had told her that she is rightfully vain. It's safe to say that all the Melisende children are beautiful and handsome in their own right, for their parents are humans of significant genes that are being carried through their hoard of children. Darim is possibly the most striking; blue eyes and dark hair, with skin colored by gentle rays of sunlight.

Caelius pulled at her heartstrings, playing a tune she is quickly familiarising herself with. The sight of the precious gift moved her enough to silence. Glued in place she stared at the beautiful piece with interested eyes, hoping that she doesn't appear too eager to accept the gift given by him to her, a most precious gesture she will silently celebrate.

Calming herself, the princess stepped forward but kept her hands to her side while she further examined the piece.

"And here they say men have no taste," she teased, her smile reaching the far corners of her eager eyes.

Feeling ready to accept the gift, she reached forward but was quickly stopped by the sounds of alarms going on. Much to her annoyance she jumped and looked fearful, the shrieking catching her off guard, telling her that she had become far too accustomed to the comfort of the gentleman with offered gifts. Darim did not reach for him. Instead, she looked at his door with wide eyes that threatened to pierce its very make with the intensity of her gaze. The alarms mean an intruder - so soon? How can this be though? She can hardly fathom anyone wanting to attack again in a matter of days.

An explosion shook them, nearly buckling her but she stood firm holding onto the damaged desk.

"In the gardens ..."

Behind them, she can see a cloud of smoke rise from the Glass Gardens on the other end of the giant castle.

Edited by Aleksei

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