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Royalty Never Walks Alone

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Pounce on her? Lunara suppressed a giggle at the thought of the young dragon chasing her, like a child catching a butterfly. It would be a tease. Instead of indulging in that though, the faerie bowed in midair with unnecessary flourish. “I’ll note that. Thank you for your help,” she said.

Immie turned to Lunara then with an accusatory tone. Hers was a question she had already prepared an answer to. However, she hadn’t expected Agony to respond before her, much less give a decent reply that seemed to satisfy the woman. The blob was far from charming, but he was improving, it seemed.

Rodan set his nifty hands on the Queen, and Lunara watched in fascination as the Mutator lived up to his name. She had never seen him in action, and the transformation was at once both beautiful and repulsive. The faerie couldn’t turn away as Gabriela’s dress first blossomed into silken feathers, then her body morphed into an abomination that would induce nightmares. She idly wondered what would happen if one of the guards came by right now and struck Rodan down. Gabriela would be stuck in this cruel form. She’d probably not live long, though. Her organs would collapse with improper support. 

Finally, the last of the queen’s human-like features melted away, and what’s left was a graceful, gigantic black swan lying across the grass. 

"She cannot fly while unconscious." Rodan turned to Lunara, with expectation clear in his eyes. She returned his pointed gaze with an incredulous look. “T-that’s it?! That’s all you can do?” The faerie exclaimed. “Magnificent and all, but - you’re not going to make her smaller?” Without full understanding of how Rodan’s skill worked, she had expected the triumvir to turn her into something.. normal-sized. She had planned to fly Gabriela out of the castle, but something this size was sure to catch more than a few unwelcome eyes. She crossed her arms and pouted.

“She will be guided by the fairy while we ensure we leave Orisian shores. Lead her away from here and toward Patia.”

Lunara turned her look of disdain from Rodan to Agony. It was true that she had suggested this, but the way that the two of them were pushing all responsibility to her irritated the faerie. “Patia?! Why don’t you try walking there from here!” It was ridiculous. “Look, I can’t even make it that far, and what’s more, she hasn’t even flown before,” Lunara gestured to the swan queen. Plus, they would run out of time for Gabriela to cooperate with them. The queen could only be drunk for so long.

“I can get her out of the castle, and land her in a lake, but you all,” she pointed at all of them, “will be responsible for thinking how we’re going to get her out of Orisia. Maybe if you have other friends who can help.” She hoped that at least one of them would be intelligent enough to pick up that she was planning to land somewhere near Nines’ lodgings. She then looked at Immie and Arashi. “First though, you’ll have to get out of the castle, and I’m counting on you two to stop the big guy from spouting his mouth off about some nonsense.” She flew up to Agony. “You’ll never get any girl like that!” She huffed.

Her tirade over, Lunara landed next to the swan. The old tales of Gabriela’s childhood had been right. Fairies were once known to trick children into leaving with them, bringing them into the land of the Fae, where they would be trapped forever. The charms of fairies were not to be underestimated. While Gabriela slept, she would dream of the infinite openness of the skies, narrated by a calm, hypnotic voice. The voice would coax her to stand in her sleepwalk, and stretch her wings out to taste freedom. The voice rose to an inspiring crescendo.

“So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly, as with your wings!”

The great swan rose to the lead of the tiny faerie, unsteady at first, then gaining momentum. Her massive wings whipped up a strong wind, blowing through those standing below. Up and up she went, Lunara bringing her higher and higher, as fast as the faerie thought was safe. She hoped to reduce the chance of anyone noticing the anomaly in the swan’s size. Luckily, the night sky helped to provide much needed cover. As the ground fell away, Gabriela would see the lights of her kingdom from above, a breathtaking sight indeed. Lunara planned to circle the skies for a while to give time for Agony and Rodan to find Nines and commune with her, before looking for a safe and secluded lake nearby to land. She supposed the experience must be exhilarating for Gabriela, someone who was probably flying on her own for the first time.

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There would have been a time where Lunara’s antics would have provoked him to meet her challenge with vicious reciprocation. The idea that he had to endure the burden of someone else’s beliefs or mannerisms would have produced repulsion to the degree that the faerie would have been swiftly and efficiently removed. Yet here he stood, watching this diminutive creature take command in a begrudgingly collaborative spirit and openly demand things from beings who held the capacity to eradicate or consumer her fully. Lunara’s bold response to her superiors caused the knight to regard her in a new light. One that accentuated qualities that elevated her above any acquisition that had fallen into the Mutater’s lap that fateful night in Patia. Lustrous black rippled slightly as he weathered the barrage of words thrust at him by the only one who has remained by his side for more than a single day.

 

“T-that’s it?! That’s all you can do?

Patia?! Why don’t you try walking there from here!” 

“I can get her out of the castle, and land her in a lake, but you all,”

“will be responsible for thinking how we’re going to get her out of Orisia. Maybe if you have other friends who can help.” 

“You’ll never get any girl like that!”

 

The loquacity of the faerie likely knew no bounds and she could have continued if she did not realize the haste in which this mission had to be completed. The eye that was embedded within his large palm looked at Rodan while the tirade continued briefly, gauging what the man thought about his charge and wondering if the man knew the hardship he must have endured to keep their already shaky alliance tenable. Agony did not bother responding to Lunara, opting instead to brace himself for the ascent of Gabriela who now held a size that exceeded his own. The petite Black Queen had transformed into the monstrous swan capable of a freedom long forgotten. Gusts of wind produced by the impressive wingspan would be enough to propel those within the vicinity should they be ill prepared for it yet he stood there, fixed upon Orisian grounds until the object of his current obsession safely exited.

 

It was upon this exit that Agony decided to attempt to take control of this endeavor yet again. Discordant baritone addressed everyone nearby as he pivoted to begin exiting the courtyard.

 

“Come quickly and stay close if you want to exit this castle and avoid apprehension.”

 

It was clear that he did not care to hear any objection nor was he concerned whether or not they actually followed him. Any words that followed from Immie, Arashi, or even Rodan would be met with silence as he initiated a confident gait which led him boldly through hallways with little to no resistance due to his appearance. Should the rest of them maintain their proximity, the assumption would remain he was simply escorting them out after the debacle of a ceremony that had already spurred several spats of gossip. It wasn’t until they reached the huge entrance that had originally beckoned all of the invitees into the unforgiving events this night that there existed a barrier that had to be breached. Several guards had been placed on high alert, either influenced by the secondhand accounts of what Malice had done and stated during the event or by their superiors to ensure things would not escalate any more than they already had. As Agony approached, a guard noticed the pendant embedded near what would have been a collarbone. That same pendant which had meant something so long ago but did not exude the same power it had before.

 

“I have never seen one of the Queen’s Captain Generals in the flesh. What can we help you with here?”

 

The man’s tone was not one of reverence. Suspicion had already settled in as word of knights masquerading as other things and attempts on the queen’s life had travelled fast already. These facts coupled with the obscurity that had drowned the notoriety of those who had loved Gabriela truly caused several guards to create a barrier before Agony and any who accompanied him. Crimson eyes stared down at the group of soldiers, his imposing frame causing pause but not weakening the guard’s resolve.

 

“I have been tasked by the Queen herself to escort them to their lodgings. Do you aim to deter the Black Queen’s wishes? Are you not privy to what happens to those who defy the Queen?”

 

The quick reference to what had become of Desmond caused hints of trepidation, as the guards looked at one another briefly. Most of them seemed willing to acquiesce except for one bold one.

 

“We are here in the interest of serving our returning Queen. The security of all who tread on Orisian soil is paramount and we will not see any more tragedy befall her or those who serve her tonight.”

 

The man had stepped forward, clad in black armor with a steely stance that spoke of his commitment to the land he grew up in.

 

“Your commitment is admirable but should you delay me any further, the safety of those who she has invited to celebrate with her will have been delayed by your acute vision.”

 

Something willed the guard’s stance to linger for a few seconds more before he pivoted and began speaking yet again.

 

“Let them through.”

 

A minor gesticulation caused the guards to disperse. Agony walked forward with heavy steps, the metallic clink of his makeshift armor echoing slightly until they crossed the threshold of the castle doors and on to the paths that led further into Versilla. Nines had given them specific instructions regarding a possible meeting area should it be required planted close to water should they need to travel swiftly off Orisian lands for any reason. Heading in that direction, his pace would suggest they needed to move swiftly but the further they were from castle grounds, the further his desire to maintain this façade of escort would become. The only concern he now held was that Lunara would continue her streak of reliability.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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Rodan's face bore a mix of indignation and arrogant condescension as Lunara sought to question the Mutator's genius. As if he had not considered all the possibilities and complications that could arise, both from the transformation itself and from any interloper discovery of the Swan. She didn't realize what was involved in this process, and indeed, the common mage might well have performed a more perfect polymorph spell, only to accidentally create a magical paradox by blending a vampire with a swan, or to cause harm the strange hybrid baby within the queen's womb!

"The size is necessary in order for her to have proper interior capacity and physical strength to fly with the fully-grown child inside her. That child which I do not wish to alter without more time to study its elusive genetic structure and origin." Rodan replied, his voice sharp, though not overly loud, "Furthermore, if I were to reduce her size to that of a normal swan, it would result in what I estimate to be at least fifty pounds of excess flesh, which would have to be transported or disposed of. Therefore, unless there are any volunteers to carry this additional girth, or unless you wish to have me waste valuable time dispersing it throughout the garden itself, then you will have to accept my work for what it is."

Even as Rodan was defending his creation, Agony spoke of what he expected of Lunara, drawing the Faerie's attention back toward the blob. By the end of all the subsequent verbal exchanges, it appeared that Lunara was resigned to work with what was presented her, and she soon led the mighty Swan Queen out of the courtyard and into the dark Orisian sky. Ultimately satisfied, Rodan now turned toward Immie and Arashi, who thus-far had proven quite unnecessary and were more of loose-ends than anything. However, he saw some level of potential in Immie, if she could only be guided to abandon her naivety, while Arashi was an interesting physical specimen who's full capabilities were not yet revealed. They may yet be assets in this ongoing operation, therefor it was within the Triumvirate's interest to keep them along for now, even if it was only so disposal could be done somewhere more private.

Agony was wasting no more time, having already voiced his intention to leave and that the others should follow. While the Mutator did indeed wish to be out of this castle as soon as possible, he also considered himself responsible for keeping the two women from becoming liabilities. Naturally, he chose to cloak this ulterior motive with chivalry.

"Ladies, please proceed." he offered Immie and Arashi a slight bow, while beckoned with a gesture for them to follow Agony, "I shall protect our rear. We must hasten."

Presuming they did as he suggested, Rodan Allagi took up position behind the women and the massive, dark-armored guide. As they made through way through the courtyards and gardens, the Mutator began to ponder the possibility of starting a garden himself. Intricately he could craft it, using the scraps and wastes left-over by other activities as his material for the base. Then, once he was satisfied with the layout and lifeless architecture, he could then fill it with plants, trees and flowers of all shapes and sizes, even of his own design. Perhaps even wildlife could be added, though nature would of course provide some as well. And in true fashion for one such as he, Rodan imagined these plants and animals would all be of sentient origin, the final fate of prisoners, dissidents, traitors or even just interesting acquaintances. And once he had filled his garden, he would share its beauty with those worthy of witnessing it. His fellow Triumvirs perhaps, or at least the ones who had appreciation for such things? Perhaps nobles or political leaders with whom Abbadon was allied or was in negotiation with? Maybe even artists, scientists and intellectuals of renown could be given tours of his sinister creation, so that they may marvel in terror and appreciation at his grotesque creativity.

Alas, the Mutator was forced to put aside these grandiose dreams when they reached the gate, instead being left to wonder once again if his abilities would be put to a test of offensive capabilities. But as before, the threat passed without violent conflict, and they were all permitted to leave the castle grounds. Though he had enjoyed the lovely courtyards within that mighty fortress, Rodan felt a definite sense of relief as they began to place distance between them and the Queen's soldiers, who, should they learn what he had done, would surely seek to cut down his genius before his dreams could ever be given the subtlest degree of reality...

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“Castle’s closed, sir.” 

An unshaved gate guard in a rust-splotched breastplate and helmet, and with a patched maroon cloak negligently hanging from one shoulder, came unsteadily out of the gatehouse and stood swaying in front of a mounted man, seeking entry. He was wrapped in a dark, light traveller’s cloak and rode a tall, shaggy roan horse with a long nose and flat, vicious eyes. He was a tall, broad shouldered man. His hair was smooth and a deep chestnut brown. He had several weeks worth of hair on his cheeks and chin, and seemed to the guard more weary than dangerous, perhaps drunk and making the mistake of taking this avenue for another. The big roan beneath him shuddered absently, shaking the rain out of her shaggy coat, and approached the guard. Leaning over in his saddle, the traveler parted his cloak and showed the guard two items: a medallion of pure, polished platinum hanging from a leather thong, and an amulet cut in the shape of a romantic’s black heart, clasped in silver and hanging from a silver chain. It was the latter that sobered the guard, while the former spoke volumes for the owner. Without a word, the traveler straightened and closed his cloak. 

Straightening, the gate guard shifted on his feet and stepped back a pace. “Oh,” he said, “sorry, my Lord. Go ahead. And..,” he paused, then added, “welcome home.” The traveler nodded, and urging his steed with a press of heels, moved along and under the half-closed gate. Another guard poked his head out of the gatehouse. “Who was that, Sturg?” he demanded. “A Knight of the Black Heart,” the first guard replied, watching the traveler go across the bridge towards the castle. “What’s his business?” “I don’t question the Black Hearts, Lon,” the man named Sturg said. They both watched the knight as he rode on, the slow clatter of the roan’s steel-shod hooves echoing back. The building which was the knight’s destination was on an unobtrusive backstreet. It was gated at the front in its central courtyard with plain oaken planks. Its walls were peculiarly high and thick, and two dim lanterns glowed in the lower level windows, hinting at occupation. The knight pulled his horse close to the gate, leaned in his saddle, and kicked the planks solidly with one booted foot. He kicked them again, until he heard a latch being undone and saw the gate creak inward. 

After looking at the knight, the man pulled the gate wider and admitted him. Dismounting slowly, the knight leaned against his horse and squeezed at his thighs, muttering vaguely about cramps. “My Lord,” the man greeted respectfully. Raising a hand with comical dismissal, the knight shook his head. “Too late at night for formalities. Will you see to my horse?” The man, a porter by vocation, nodded. Then, overstepping himself, cut in. “Sir, the coronation, I--” The knight turned, staring up at him. The porter started to stammer. “There, I mean, something happened.” The porter swallowed, the knight’s silence devastating, as was the sudden widening of his slate-gray eyes. “The devil-king of Patia and the Warlord. I mean, they weren’t fighting eachother, they were fighting with others. The queen tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. They say there’s fighting in the castle. Are we at war again, my Lord?” The knight said nothing for a long moment, then passed a hand through his hair and straightened. Turning and tugging at the straps of his horse’s saddlebags, he removed the blanket wrapped scabbard of his sword and pulled from another bag its belt. Dropping his cloak and blanket both, he wrapped the belt twice around his hips, slipped the scabbard over the notch, and adjusted the pommel to ensure an easy draw. He wore little more than a dirty, white shirt with billowy sleeves laced at the cuffs, trousers, and boots capped at the knee. There was no time to go upstairs for his armor.

“Are there other Black Hearts stationed in the capital? Where is the captain of the guard? Who’s in charge?” Question after question, but the porter had no answers for any. He didn’t know if there were any active members of the Black Heart, there hadn’t been a captain of the guard in months insofar as he was concerned, and as for who was in charge, that depended entirely on whom was asked. Quinn listened with growing apprehension. There was only chaos in the castle, a sort-of quiet, lingering entropy that was more of an absence of order than any particular violence. Anarchy reigned when it should have been a queen, but that had not been the case for over a year, now. He had been another man with another name - someone called Gregor - in that period of time. With the queen deposed, he kept his vows to the people of Orisia, and when war came to its shores, had visited the battlefields as a traveling medic. He healed the sick, took care of the poor, and did all the work that a sword never could. And when word of her miraculous return from the dead and pending coronation reached him, he left as quietly as he had joined those humanitarian efforts to return to the capital. He was avowed to her, and owed nothing less than his presence. He hoped he had just arrived in time, but feared he was much too late. Abandoning the porter with strict instructions to send missives out to what Black Hearts he could, and to bolt the gate behind him, the knight left the building and journeyed alone and on foot to the castle proper. The knight, of course, was Tarquinius, the Knight of Faith. Inducted into the Order of the Black Hearts by the queen’s personal hand, he had oft walked these very halls by her side, protecting and sometimes, though rarely, offering council when asked. 

A lifetime ago for some, but cherished memories for him. Now he did not know what to expect, except danger. Danger, where once these halls had been the safest to tread in all the world. Even as he looked and saw, daemons and vampyres roamed the corridors, unnaturals to say the least but monsters to the ill-informed and uninitiated. Where once humanity had been plentiful, now there were a scarce few who wandered the castle grounds that the knight could call kin. This more than anything disquieted the paladin, but he did not wear this sentiment on his face. Where is the queen? Quinn asked of a vampyre. They did not know, they answered. Where was the queen? Quinn asked a daemon, though it, too, proved equally unaware. Pursuing servants - the first humans he had come across since he entered the castle proper - the knight cornered them in a hall. They were scared witless, and stammered until one recognized him. Though the man did not weep, there was a certain expression he wore, like a man lost who finally gazed upon something familiar, or a shipwrecked sailor finally seeing land. Quinn consoled them as best he could, and asked for the men he had trained, women he had instructed. Dismissed, they said. Unneeded. Unwanted. What was a mortal’s martial skill to a vampyre’s? What kinship could they have to the vampyre king and queen? A vampyre king, the warlord returned, the devil of Patia wandering the halls again; as much as Orisia had changed in the year Quinn had journeyed through its lands, the Summer Isles had remained largely the same. 

Without a chain of command to report to, with at least two different factions vying for control of the castle, and with no one to trust, Quinn was left with really only one discourse: to find a unifying thread. With no ready answer concerning the queen’s whereabouts and general confusion in the castle, the Knight of Faith took it upon himself to spread a rumor, a half-truth that might serve a greater purpose. Taking hold of the man servant with the better will, Quinn spoke to him plainly. “The Queen is missing.” Not a lie, of course. It was perfectly true. To him, the Queen was missing. Through her own accord or otherwise, she was unknown to her staff, the castle, and Orisia itself insofar as the knight was concerned. That she was found was paramount. Be she enjoying a stroll, the attentions of a suitor, or hunting in the woods beyond, they needed to find her, and if she be vexed, then so be it. It would not be the first time Quinn had endured her displeasure. Pushing at the man servant, Quinn urged him on. “Tell the guards. Any guards. The queen is missing, she’s in danger. Raise the alarms. Be they man, daemon, or vampyre, tell them!” The man nodded, and with the ladies with him, ushered off to spread the news. Quinn himself helped the rumor along, traveling an opposite way and accosting those he came across, monster and mortal alike. Shaming, cajoling, pleading, demanding, he urged them towards their superiors, and watched as news spread like wildfire through the castle. As the message spread, its contents invariably changed. Some said the Warlord took her back to his fortress, prompting vampyres to ascertain to truth. Some said Raphael took her away, and so galled daemons into the pursuit of that fact. Even more whispered that the devil had come to spirit her away again, which provided the most peculiar reactions of all. Some just did not care, at least when it came to the mortals. This was not to say they were malevolent with their uninterest, only that they were accepting. 

The devil had taken their monarch away on more than one occasion. He was bold and proud, and frankly garrulous with his obsession. That he might have in this at all was a familiar truth more readily swallowed than most that had been bandied about. His men and women were seen at the coronation, it was said the queen herself had hauled him off of another noble before the man was killed, and that he was in the capital still, angry and moody. If he had taken her, then all would be well. But it was only the mortals that reacted this way. Vampyres and daemons were not so accepted, and when they were not breathing down the other’s necks for answers, they were cruelly and methodically searching for the devil and those with Patian livery. In this way, Quinn’s hasty rumor spreading worked best, and hit closer to home than he might ever know. The castle’s alarms started ringing, watchtower beacons were lit, and claxons blared, rousing the castle and the city beyond into activity. No matter what variation of the rumor someone heard, there was always the unifying thread: Irene Gabrial Du’Grace was missing, and she had to be found. And while she hadn’t been the reigning monarch in over a year, she was still very much the unifying thread in the lives of countless others. No heart was deadened to the plight, no mind did not turn towards her safety, and Quinn, Quinn oversaw it all. Standing at a ballister with his hands on the railing, he overlooked the castle and the city beyond with a frown, and, as the man of faith he was, prayed for her if not her safety. 
 

 

Edited by Roen

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