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In an increasingly common display of the temperamental nature of the Orisian weather, what had promised to be a bright and sunny day had ended up with the production of torrential levels of water fall from the sky. Charlotte had come out into the western gardens with the intention of having a nice lunch, which someone from the kitchens had kindly packed for her, and to get a bit of reading done from one of the many books she had borrowed from Gabriela’s personal library. Now she was standing under a woefully inadequate gazebo, watching the rain that was falling in a rather loud clatter, and which was making a misty-mess of everything. The massive shape of the castle in the background lost its focus and became nothing more than a dark outline, devoid of details. It gave the scene a charming sort of dream-like quality that Charlotte found herself enjoying, even if the cold rain was starting to drip down from the leafy canopy wisteria’s, soaking through her terribly light, summer coat. And her dress, a flowy and thin little thing that reached down just a few inches below her knees and fluttered about in the slight wind, provided even less protection against the elements. She considered making a run for the castle, but she was a good distance out and quite a number of flights of stairs. By the time she made it anywhere with a decent roof, she would be soaked through to the bone. It was better to stay, she decided, and hope this spring shower did not last for long.

 

Gathering up her coat and wrapping her arms around herself, the wisp of a girl moved back from the edge of the gazebo and more towards its center, where a single wooden bench sat in wait. She had left her book there and her small leather satchel, which carried the contents of her untouched meal. In returning to the bench, she by virtue of a rather powerful growl of her stomach, Charlotte was reminded of her hunger and so she sat down to eat. There was no point in letting a perfectly good meal go to waste on account of a little rain. And much to her delight, upon opening her bag, she found a delightful assortment of cheeses, a container of beautiful, green grapes, an unpeeled orange, a dainty glass container full of dark, golden honey, and a loaf of bread with some slices of freshly roast turkey stuffed into it. There was also a small bottle of wine, and a generous serving of Chester’s famous chocolate cake, with what seemed like extra chocolate-fudge icing smeared on top.

 

Charlotte could have wept with how happy she was with the bounty that had been provided for her. Suddenly, even the cold rain didn’t seem so bad. It was a small price to pay for the opportunity to have a quiet and peaceful lunch with such a breathtaking vista of the castle and the vivid green grounds of the gardens.

 

Happily, she began to eat. First she tore her bread in half, and took a massive bite. Her delicate and pretty features shifted into an adorable sort of disarray as her cheeks bulged and her lips pinched to stay shut. She chewed happily, and without concern that anyone was watching or passing judgment. Next she took a bite of cheese, a rather strong smelling sort with a soft texture that was infinitely better tasting than it looked. Still, it could do with a spot of honey, and so she opened the small jar and drizzled some on directly onto the cheese before taking another bite.

 

She didn’t so much as suspect another living being out in the gardens today. The place had seemed practically abandoned earlier in the day as she strolled through the hedges and took in the sights around the many statue gardens that were artfully set up in different locations. But as she sat there, filling her belly and watching the rain through the robust purple-bloom drapes that fell over the edge of the gazebo, she couldn’t help but feel a tingling in her throat and a tightness around her heart.

 

Loneliness settled in like a bothersome guest who simply refused to leave, and her mind turned to thoughts of Alexander -- now dead and gone. Never in her life did she think she might miss that monstrous creature, and yet here she was, dimly aware that his company would be preferable to the suddenly crushing aloneness that she felt.

 

Grateful for the wine, Charlotte opened the bottle and took a deep drink from it. Not one to often partake of alcohol, and by virtue of her special heritage, it wasn’t long before the golden-eyed girl was swaying softly in her seat, humming a little melody to herself.

 

Not quite drunk, but certainly not sober.

Edited by Charlotte

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Though Orisia was not completely foreign, he knew little of the complexities of its weather, of the energy that governed much of the islands, and admittedly little of anyone outside of Gabriela. Thrust into a circumstance that forced him to consider doing some research of his own, he needed some time to meditate and clear his mind of the harrowing worry he held for Illyrians and Orisians alike. The weather had seemed ready to acquiesce to his desires, sunlight falling upon already sunkissed flesh and a breeze caressing the contours of his face. Having wandered into these western gardens, he had successfully found an area covered with shade and open grass. Placing himself in a supine position, he stretched his arms out and stared forward into the colorful flowers spread across the multitude of branches above him. Such flora was a rarity only cultivated within labs within Illyria so to see it grow so naturally here brought the slightest of smiles upon his face. The stark difference between his home and what he saw now, however, caused lips to curl into a frown. Closing his eyes, he spoke his thoughts aloud.

 

“What to do..oh great King….”

 

<”Avoid women and use this island’s resources to your benefit….whelp”>

 

Havoc’s words did not produce any reaction out of Raylon other than a small sigh which allowed a droplet to sneak into his mouth and crash against his teeth. Soon many more followed and began to attempt their assault on his exposed frame. The branches above tried admirably to protect him but the torrential rains were unforgiving, finding ways to batter his black robes and drench him down to the point that his hair dripped water freely. Silvery eyes searched around frantically for where he could find shelter. The rain itself was quite comforting, the weight of his soaked clothing not bothering him in the least but he could hear his sister yelling at him to find shelter before he got himself sick resounding within his mind already. Quick steps helped him maneuver through several trees only to find a gazebo nearby which he immediately marked as his destination. Watching his steps with a lowered head, he failed to notice anyone underneath the gazebo. Even as he stood underneath its cover, he had become far too focused on himself to acknowledge Charlotte, letting out a loud sigh of relief even as he dripped all over the floor beneath him. Quickly taking off his robe and letting it drop with a heavy thud along the floor, he whipped his hair back and forth without remorse, likely spraying the poor woman should she not have the foresight to evade him.

 

With his back facing her, it was clear that he thought he was alone. That was until he managed to smell the freshly roasted meat, the strong odor of cheese that wafted through the misty air, and the humming melody. Sniffing a few times, he pivoted only to notice Charlotte sitting at the bench with her meal. Eyes widened in surprise and lips parted to further display his brief shock at the realization that he was not alone. Wearing an oddly weaved shirt that hugged his athletic physique and glimmered slightly due to being somewhat wet, Charlotte would see his hand press against his chest before he spoke.

 

“I am so very sorry for intruding and lumbering in without realizing you were there. I didn’t wet you did I? Please forgive me…”

 

Rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment, he smiled hoping that his apology would be enough. Only now did he notice the golden eyes and the thin fabric she wore. Stepping back a bit to maintain enough distance to show he was respectful of her personal space, he anxiously awaited her response. He sincerely hoped he hadn’t negatively affected someone he didn’t even know on his first official day as a permanent resident of the Summer Isles.

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The sudden splatter of rainwater that hit the back of her head caught her so off guard that she jolted forward and nearly dropped her wine bottle, from which she was drinking -- very unlady-like. And it seemed that the sound of her near shriek had managed to catch the attention of the man intruding upon her wonderful and tortuous moment of isolation. Although she didn’t intend to, she glared over her shoulder at the man and with an expression that she failed to mask, was again quite shocked to find herself in the presence of royalty. It took quite some work to change her angry expression, which had so quickly shifted to surprise, back into something dignified enough to present to a man of such high importance. Although she had never seen him this close, she had seen him walk close to the queen and there were whispers about how they often shared meals and moments of respite together. It was common knowledge that Raylon Tekker, the Light of Illyria, was favored by Gabriela.

 

Charlotte had become something of a wallflower in the DuGrace castle ever since her return, especially now that little Raspberry had grown distant and disturbingly cruel. She had lost her favor with the littlest of the household royalty, but maintained some semblance of good grace with the Black Queen herself -- this meant she was allowed to stay, and she got to continue her studies. But it was a difficult adjustment after the whirlwind her life had been tossed into after Alexander spirited her away from her quiet and comfortable life. Returning to it now was borderline painful, but she knew it was the healthiest option -- at least a lot healthier than wandering the globe getting herself into trouble for no good reason.

 

“I am so very sorry for intruding and lumbering in without realizing you were there. I didn’t wet you did I? Please forgive me…”

 

Her face had softened significantly, not that much was required. Even though she had believed her previous expression to be harsh, the reality was that Charlotte's face was far too pretty, far too perfect, far too magnificent to ever truly display her displeasure as anything other than a masterful portrait of youthful beauty.

 

“No need to apologize, my lord,” she said soft and quick -- her voice catching as she straightened up and turned fully to face him. Her head dipped and her knees bent as she curtsied to the foreign king. “You didn’t get me any worse than the rain already has,” she went on, by way of easing whatever tension might have taken root. The last thing she wanted to do was cause distress to one of the Black Queen’s favored guests.

 

Standing back up she noted the way his eyes quickly took her measure, and realized with a splash of color across her cheeks that her white sundress, which had been perfectly modest earlier in the day, was now clinging to her chest, belly, and the top of her thighs. She grimaced and reached down, tugging on the hem of her dress to unpaste the material from her body.

 

“Spring can be a bit of a mad season here, or so I’ve heard and so it seems…” she smiled tightly, and her pink lips curled ever so prettily. “I would have never guessed rain for today, but here I am -- drenched and caught at the mercy of the elements. It seems you find yourself in a similar predicament.”

 

Oh, how she wanted to flee. This encounter required far more conversation than she was comfortable producing. No matter how much she fought the instinct that had been beaten into her to be submissive, to be pleasing, to be quiet and meek -- all she wanted to do was recoil into what was comfortable and familiar. Being bright, chatty, and friendly went against all of her instincts.

 

“I was just sitting down to lunch, hoping to wait out the rain...would you like to join me, my lord?” she blinked, and then dropped her head and gathered her hands before her, as if in supplication (fingers interlacing tightly). “I am so sorry, my name is Charlotte. I live here as one of the queen’s wards. My meal is meager and simple, but I am happy to share all that I have.”

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The angry expression that was initially delivered by Charlotte was unexpectedly amusing as the glare she offered reminded him of how his sister would react whenever he did something she did not approve of. He never evinced any of it, though, sticking to formality and respect out of a habitual need to treat every interaction with diplomacy no matter who slipped onto his path. Staring directly into Charlotte’s golden eyes incognizantly, he contemplated his next steps with a methodical precision that saw him staring vehemently at the poor girl even as she responded to his apology.

 

The weight of his current predicament pressed against his spirits just enough for everything radiant about him to dim though he tried to distract himself by wringing his hair as well as his robes. The slight embarrassment visible upon Charlotte’s cheeks regarding her clothing was enough to eliminate whatever residual sadness was visible upon his face. Though her wet clothing clung to the curves of her body and enticed him to prolong his gaze upon the entirety of her frame, Raylon noticeably fixated his gaze elsewhere, only taking note of her hands tugging on the fine material once. Oblivious to her struggle to maintain her prim and proper appearance, he began to approach slowly once he considered himself dry enough to close in just a bit more despite still being further than an arm’s length from her position again out of respect.

 

It was as soon as he heard her address him twice using honorifics that he intended to interject to insist that such formality should be avoided…at least for right now. Her voice stopped him briefly as she finally introduced herself and invited him to join her. The smells of food motivated his mouth to salivate a bit at the prospect of trying whatever rarity he could find within this foreign land. Illyria’s main source of food was also manufactured within labs, compressed but packed with a robust set of nutrients that his people had grown to love despite the lack of variety. What luxury to have these choices at their disposal when the less fortunate could barely rummage to find freshly baked bread to eat. He slowly moved to sit directly beside Charlotte now, her invitation providing him a license for this proximity which was something Illyrians saw as commonplace but foreigners seemed reluctant to adopt. An arm would brush against her own before he spoke, his hands moving dynamically to enhance his speech.

 

“Please…just call me Raylon. I can do without all of the formalities for now. This is just a lunch between new friends brought together by the mercy of the elements. It is a pleasure to meet you Charlotte.”

 

Again he held his hand to his heart, then motioned to her own and back. It was an odd Illyrian custom amongst friends that come together that was done subconsciously.

 

“Thank you for the privilege of sharing whatever blessing of a meal you have. It will be a welcome deviation from those I receive at home.”

 

His eyes closed and he offered a wide smile before shifting to adjust himself so that his body was turned enough for him to look at his lunch companion without much effort. She was a welcome distraction he would willingly succumb to before the severity of the decisions that needed to be made could not be avoided any longer.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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Charlotte smiled, despite her growing anxiety about the situation. At the very least, Raylon seemed like genuinely calm person, which was a strange thing to take notice of after sharing just a few short words. However, Charlotte was extraordinarily talented when it came to reading people and their moods. Whatever worries or concerns he carried, which she imagined were vast and difficult, he did not wear them like garments of clothes or fine jewels -- which was quite different than her beloved Black Queen. Though there was very little bad that Charlotte could say about Gabriela, the difference in how these two friends and rulers carried themselves was obvious. Raylon appeared perfectly composed, and resoundingly normal as he took a seat besides her, and meanwhile, Gabriela walked the halls of her castle with a pinched brow and her soft jaw set into a hard line from how hard she clenched her teeth. All the world knew that she was serious and severe, constantly worried and never at peace. It was a tragedy, Charlotte had come to accept, but perhaps not one without a solution. Perhaps there was something that this man could teach the Orisian Queen, something that might help her cope with her trials and tribulations.

 

‘’Please...just call me Raylon. I can do without all of the formalities for now. This is just a lunch between new friends brought together by the mercy of the elements. It is a pleasure to meet you Charlotte.”

 

“Likewise,” she replied with a bit more pep in her voice, and her lips still fixed with that soft smile. She wasted no time dividing up the spoils of her afternoon meal. Cutting her loaf of stuffed bread in half, and giving him the portion that did not have a bite mark on it. Rather than settle into eating herself, she picked up the orange -- which was nearly too big to hold in her open hand -- and began to peel it. “Who would have thought it would rain so much and so hard, seemingly out of nowhere.”

 

“Thank you for the privilege of sharing whatever blessing of a meal you have. It will be a welcome deviation from those I receive at home.”

 

“It’s simple,” she said apologetically, as her fingers continued to work the peel off the orange -- busy work to keep her from getting overly nervous. “But it’s really very good.”

 

Of course she had no idea who she was talking to. She couldn’t have imagined his background, or the fact that he came from a place with such strict dietary restrictions. Had she, and she might have believed him to be more genuine in the way he examined the food set before them. As it where, she found it strange that a High Born King would look with such curiosity and hunger at a few pieces of cheese, some fruit, and a jar of honey.

 

They both looked out into the gardens, safe under the feeble cover of the gazebo and the leafy canopy. There was stillness for a while, and only the sound of the rain pounding against the earth, a hundred-million droplets at a time. She wondered if he felt the magic of the moment -- of the misty green fields, the explosion of color that came from all the blooming flowers that had somehow been blurred into bleeds of rainbow specks. And again, her eyes were drawn to the outline of the castle.

 

“It looks like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?”

 

The warmth of the wine began to creep across her cheeks. It made her feel warm and gave her a touch of confidence -- enough to share her whimsical musings with the stranger.

 

“Hard to believe the world can be so full of horrors when places like this just sit out there, floating among rainclouds, set on carpets of lush greenery -- just being beautiful.”

 

She sighed and split the orange in two and handed him a half.

 

“I am sorry, I don’t normally drink…” she plucked the wine bottle by the neck and handed it to him, “--I also don’t have any glasses, I hope you don’t mind sharing. But, anyway, you were saying -- about your home? What, you don't have cheese where you come from?”

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Charlotte wasn’t the only one affected by a growing anxiety pushing against any accessible comfort. Raylon refused to allow it to sully any interaction he held with anyone and willed himself into a state of tranquility he truly believed. Facades and other fronts were a disservice to his people and those he interacted with so the decision to be at peace within this maelstrom of doubt helped him remember that he had overcome far worse before. So with a genuine smile and gentle demeanor, he sat next to this woman he barely knew and felt himself capable of indulging in the misty masterpiece that the pouring rain before them made of the castle beyond and of the garden around them.

 

“Who would have thought it would rain so much and so hard, seemingly out of nowhere.”

 

“I believe our wet clothes suggest we surely didn’t”

 

A small chuckle escaped him before he looked at the food Charlotte had set aside for him, thinking about how these things could improve the quotidian lives of his people immensely. They had been deprived of comfort for far too long and he would die before allowing whatever it was that caused his appearance within this realm to reopen wounds for those who called him King. He broke apart some of his bread, and began sectioning the fruits and cheeses meticulously as he planned on bringing them back home for the learned of Illyria to study and perhaps even enhance. Charlotte continued on and attempted to downplay the wonder of this meal but her words did little to dim the elation he felt as he ate the stuffed bread, pausing on the first bite out of sheer enjoyment. Eyes closed and his smile widened before he spoke again soon after these next words.

 

“It looks like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?”

 

“It is definitely quite the sight..”

 

“Hard to believe the world can be so full of horrors when places like this just sit out there, floating among rainclouds, set on carpets of lush greenery – just being beautiful”

 

Taking the half of the orange and biting into it, he felt the juices drip down his lips and chin. His hand moved swiftly to wipe it off before he continued.

 

“It is those horrors that provide the stark contrast we need to appreciate places like these Charlotte. Such beauty is coveted by those who understand and endure its absence.”

 

His hand gripped the wine bottle she had handed him and he drank a considerable amount, taking longer swigs as he realized he enjoyed its taste. Sun-kissed flesh would be decorated by a tinge of red as he felt even more peace surge from within him now. She naturally inquired about his home. He had a feeling he would be explaining much about their customs as he continued to navigate the unknown waters that having them so near beings they detested could bring.

 

“We do not have much of anything that we cannot engineer from our corrupted soil or within our labs. This is why I plan on taking advantage of your kindness and bringing some of your meal back home so we can begin benefiting from your hospitality.”

 

He turned to her and smiled yet again, handing the wine bottle back before he continued.

 

“You should come visit when you have some time. Illyria hasn’t seen a visitor in quite some time.”

 

His hand moved to rest on her knee innocently for just a few seconds before he shifted his head to gaze through the rain aimlessly. This was nice.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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“It is those horrors that provide the stark contrast we need to appreciate places like these Charlotte. Such beauty is coveted by those who understand and endure its absence.”

 

The pretty girl sat there with her golden eyes growing distant and seemingly un-attached to this particular moment. It may well have looked as if she were uninterested, but the reality was very different. She was meditating on his words and taking careful consideration of what sort of value she should put on them. In the end, and with a trace of sadness upon her countenance, Charlotte found that she had to disagree with the good king’s words. She would never dream of comparing horror stories for it seemed like such a tactless thing to do, but she simply couldn't help but wonder if Raylon had ever experienced true horror. No, she finally concluded, it fell to women, and women alone, to carry the burden of a specific kind of violence -- one that did not cause death, or at least not all of the time. What did Raylon know of painful bondage? Of cruel torture devices, of degradation, of violation, of pain and agony served alongside pleasure -- wondrous pleasure! It was a psychological torture, she reasoned only now, with much needed time and distance from her abuser. He had made sure she felt the height of pleasure after every one of their horrific encounters so that in the end she could equally carry the responsibility for the things that were forced upon her. That was true horror, and it was plainly unnecessary. She did not have to live those things in order to find this place beautiful or somehow appreciate it more -- no one did.

 

She blinked and pushed the memories away, chasing them with all of her strength into the dark corridors of her mind where they could not hurt her. It had been nearly a year now, perhaps even longer, since Alexander was gone and although the trauma of that violent relationship lingered, with obvious wounds upon her psyche, she too refused to allow the mounting anxiety to ruin this one peaceful moment. Raylon was right, she knew it, on some pleasant and optimistic level.

 

“We do not have much of anything that we cannot engineer from our corrupted soil or with our labs. This is why I plan on taking advantage of your kindness and bringing some of your meal back home so we can begin benefiting from your hospitality.”

 

Charlotte regarded Raylon with renewed amusement. Her features light up when she wasn’t struggling against the dark tides of her bad memories. She was radiant and a glow as she lifted her brows curiously at him.

 

“You shouldn’t bother with those scraps. I am sure the Black Queen can provide you with much better samples of the foods here in Orisia. You should enjoy your half of the lunch, who knows how long this rain will last, and I believe you’ll need your strength to get back up to the castle.”

 

She smiled, rather proud of her teasing -- proud that it came so naturally and proud that it sounded so normal. Normal was not something she had ever the pleasure of being. From her birth to this very moment, she had always looked, felt, and acted quite differently and had always been an outlier because of it. But today felt different. Today felt easy, soft, and quiet -- like there was magic in the air, awakened by the rain like tiny seedlings breaking through the wet soil. It felt like renewed life, and it filled her with contentment -- that is of course -- until he set his hand on her knee.

 

“You should come visit when you have some time. Illyria hasn’t seen a visitor in quite some time.”

 

She froze up like a deer caught in headlights. The easy posture of her body went rigid as she realized that no one had set a hand on her without her explicit permission since she escaped from Alexander. He had never asked for permission -- he didn’t have to. He had stolen her from her life in the castle, and spirited her away to a faraway country where he was Master, God, and King to her and everyone else he encountered. Her body had become his property, and she had no say with how it was treated, where it went, or when it was touched. She really forced herself to be considerate of the situation. Earlier, when they had been exchanging names, he had performed some strange gesture, which she had at the time dismissed as some foreign form of salutation. Perhaps this was like that, in that in his lands touching was considered acceptable behavior. For most it probably was, a little voice said inside of her -- most people wouldn’t have a meltdown from an innocent hand brushing their knee.

 

But he touched her bare knee -- her smooth, white, warm knee, which she now stared at as she felt the lingering warmth of his touch spreading across her flesh. How long had it been since she felt the heat and weight of another touch? She despised herself for feeling the stirring of longing in her belly.

 

“I would like that,” she replied, blushing warmly as she tried to put her mind off of how close his fingers hand been to her inner thigh. “Maybe once my studies are complete -- I am training to be a healer.”

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Whatever experiences Charlotte had faced in her past eluded Raylon’s observant nature which read Charlotte’s facial expressions and lack thereof only to deduce that the woman sunk into deep contemplation of his words. The fact she took her time to formulate her own response whether focused or not spoke to a certain potential for diplomacy that made him smile slightly amidst this dialogue while he indulged in what this woman considered scraps but his people would consider a delicacy. Silver eyes never diverted their attention from the woman’s pleasing facial features and made sure to linger on her golden eyes, a color she shared with the Black Queen but made all her own with a curious vibrance Raylon truly enjoyed.

 

When she reacted to his reveal concerning the state of Illyria’s culinary options, he felt a small bite of embarrassment which quickly morphed into a passionate thought that caused his expression to turn rather serious for a few moments. This might have thrown Charlotte off or caused her to believe that her teasing on the matter hit a sensitive nerve but his usual smile soon returned as he responded.

 

“I wouldn’t want to bother the queen with any more than what was necessary. It will please me to know that your graciousness was the cause for the beginnings of a new project back home. Also…I think I can manage the trek back. Please make sure you finish your meal as well unless you would like me to carry you back.”

 

Charlotte seemed rather light and Raylon began executing the math in his head should he be forced to carry her all the way back. From the length of travel to which method he would use, he swiftly created a contingency plan should he need to act. Luckily the brainstorming finished before the amusement was drained out of the brief bout of teasing yet the lighthearted exchange between him and Gabriela’s ward soon gained a considerable amount of weight due to his own mannerisms that didn’t take the respect he had given to her personal space before into account due to his increasing amount of comfort. He felt the stiffness with the taut muscle that his hand laid so close to and how her body froze. The warmth of his touch on her bare knee that still felt just a tad wet meshed well with the heat of her flesh. The impact of her reaction hit him hard for what she didn’t know was that he had seen this sort of reaction once before. The depths that he had managed to unknowingly let loose with such a simple gesture caused his smile to disappear and though Charlotte had admirably attempted to pivot and continue the conversation as if he had not negatively affected her, he immediately urged himself to apologize.

 

“Please forgive me for invading your personal space. I crossed a boundary I shouldn’t have and deeply regret causing any discomfort and imposing myself upon you.”

 

He slowly slid away from her on the bench they sat upon, pausing a bit before feeling his eyes tear up ever so slightly as he recalled the last time he had seen that reaction. The struggle that he had gone through to recover his sister from his mortal enemy only to see her react that way as soon as she had been touched replayed several times in his mind. It took years for her to recover. Years where he had wished to hold her and embrace her to negate the damage his enemy had inflicted on her only to find he would perpetuate it if he tried. Right now he knew that what he saw in Charlotte wasn’t necessarily the same but he still should have known better than to act so freely around a stranger and forget that every interaction no matter how insignificant someone else may have considered it mattered. He shouldn’t have been so nonchalant. Recovering a bit he spoke yet again, noticeably still attempting to recover yet he was genuine all the same.

 

“Healing is such a valuable skill to learn. So versatile and so wonderful for those who need it. I encourage you to learn as much as you can from your mentors and wish you nothing but the best in your studies Charlotte.”

 

He smiled and then returned to look at the castle through the rain, now just another thing to fixate on to allow himself time to recover. With his hands resting on his lap, he lost himself in the sight before him, not truly motivated to add anything else to this conversation just yet but quietly hoping its end was not near in any way.

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“Please forgive me for invading your personal space. I crossed a boundary I shouldn't have and deeply regret causing any discomfort and imposing myself upon you.”

 

Charlotte sat in silence, and from her peripheral she saw that Raylon had begun the gentle and deliberate process of distancing himself. She didn’t look at him, and she didn’t acknowledge the apology or the subsequent behavior. Instead she kept her eyes firmly set on the castle in the distance and tried to imagine what the world might be like if evil never happened. In this world, she would not be undone by the slightest brush of a person’s fingers. She wouldn’t feel her insides twisting themselves into knots at the penetrating warmth that came from the alien touch of affection. In short, she wouldn’t be at such impossible odds with being normal. Rather than being jittery and frightened, like some pathetic wounded beast -- she might have been brave, courageous, and less fastidious. That’s what a world without pain and torment could have offered someone like her, and then, a man like him -- like Raylon -- wouldn’t have to be sitting there feeling his heart break for what he could only imagine had happened to her.

 

Eventually she sighed and dropped her head. Her chin rested against her chest for just a moment as she took in a few calming breaths. It wasn’t so much that she was distressed, but more so that some anxiety had started to build up at the mere thought of what her exaggerated actions might cause. The last thing she wanted was to make Raylon think of her in an unflattering way. She didn’t want to come off as some lunatic individual who was incapable of managing their emotions, regardless of how troublesome they were.

 

She was infinitely grateful when Raylon spoke up again, changing the conversation in a sort of masterful way that very clearly showed his ability as a dignitarian. She imagined royalty had to be charming, beautiful, and smart -- but also diplomatic, perhaps more so than any other trait. And now, as he flawlessly moved them from the awkwardness she had caused, she felt relieved and also, a touch of warmth growing in her heart for the good king.

 

“I fully intend to do my best, Raylon -- I have seen for myself that the world needs healing hands more than sword-wielding ones.”

 

The young woman -- she couldn’t be older than seventeen -- smiled warmly at him and then looked away as if she were shy. The truth was that talking about her dream caused her a bit of pride, which was an emotion she had never really been allowed to experience or explore. It felt good to feel pride, to be proud of her achievements and her goals. It felt even better to have people who believed in her, and who valued the things she wanted to accomplish. There was a sense of pride that nearly bordered on arrogance, but managed to come off as harmless when paired with her disarming smile. She appeared young, just like a youth on the verge of greatness. After a moment or two, the bright glow dimmed and with a brush of her knuckles, she tucked some loose hair behind her ear -- she was normal again.

 

“I am sure this will sound strange to someone like you, but it’s kind of nice living in a place without high technology. I’ve seen the things that technology can cure, the way it can fix people. It’s different here in Orisia, what with La’Ruta and the way it treats overly mechanical things. It forces people to use their hands. We search for herbs, we crush them, we dry them, we turn them into pasts or oils or balms or syrups for drinking. It keeps us connected to our patients. It’s quite magnificent, though I suspect we don’t do as much as your doctors might…”

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The warmth of Charlotte’s smile drew Raylon’s attention toward her once again, the infectious curl of her lips causing silver eyes to glaze over the young woman’s features. The pride that she offered and the sudden shyness at the realization of it made the king smile just a bit wider. The purity of the emotions he sensed coming from her allowed him to forget much of what had just transpired and return to the innocence of their dialogue. He maintained his distance and let her finish her words, listening simultaneously to the sound of the raindrops battering the roof over them without any remorse. The barrage of water battered through their words but he remained close enough to hear every syllable. Intrigue caused him to fixate his gaze on the distinct gold, chewing on her words as she spoke.

 

“I am sure this will sound strange to someone like you, but it’s kind of nice living in a place without high technology. I’ve seen the things that technology can cure, the way it can fix people. It’s different here in Orisia, what with La’Ruta and the way it treats overly mechanical things. It forces people to use their hands. We search for herbs, we crush them, we dry them, we turn them into pasts or oils or balms or syrups for drinking. It keeps us connected to our patients. It’s quite magnificent, though I suspect we don’t do as much as your doctors might…”

 

La’Ruta was a foreign concept to Raylon, though he had already begun receiving reports of technology failing or misbehaving due to some external magic. It was no stretch to assume that La’Ruta was the culprit and would become a major stressor to any technological advancement that was currently being planned. His people did not solely rely on technology to survive but its negation would not be something he could allow no matter what sort of force attempted to exert its will.

 

“Does not sound strange to me at all though I myself prefer to try and make our employment of technology as personal as possible to try and create that same connection we can get from using the environment around us. Still, I’d assume the resources available here in Orisia lend themselves well to negating any need for any technology with proper handling. I would love my people to learn these practical methods you employ. You will find that they are almost as inquisitive as I am when it comes to the unknown.”

 

He smiles, showing a similar hint of pride concerning what he had just stated though he did not shy away from displaying it. He stood now, walking forward only to stretch out his hand to allow the rain to fall upon it before he offered a few more words.

 

“Now with my land becoming a permanent fixture within this realm, I am excited to learn much more about what my people can gain from being Orisia’s newest neighbor. My healers will have much to learn from you eventually…”

 

His head turned to look at Charlotte with a wide smile again though the burden of his thoughts concerning other things continued to weigh upon him. He could never allow it to ruin this, however. He already considered Charlotte worthy of such effort.

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Charlotte watched the good king rise from his regal position. He moved with the fluidity of music, or so she thought as she watched him with a dreamy sort of gaze overtaking her normally focused or distant expression. Admiring him from behind, without the potential weight of a judgmental gaze from below his noble brow or above his straight nose, made her more bold. It was easy to examine what she considered beautiful when there was no risk of being called out, or worse yet, being rejected. She considered herself such a little thing, a worthless and hopeless thing, especially when considering the fact that she walked the halls of great kings and queens and had herself begun life as nothing more than a lowly slave.

 

Her own past hurt her -- it haunted her even now.

 

With pain, she looked away from Raylon as he reached out to touch the falling, silver rain. Her lips were slightly ajar, as she forced herself to breathe slowly and carefully.

 

"Now with my land becoming a permanent fixture within this realm, I am excited to learn much more about what my people can gain from being Orsia's newest neighbor. My healers will have much to learn from you eventually..."

 

"Once I have enough to teach, I will be glad to serve you and your people..." she smiled, from her perch upon the bench. It was still a wonder to her, and there were so many parts to the story that she didn't understand, but having had a whole country zapped from one part of the universe and brought here to another was a marvel -- further prove of divine intervention in her opinion. Only the hand of God could do such a thing, and somehow, bring such a man into Valucre.

This world was filled with violence. Every man she had met -- her own master, who upon her birth did not see a small child in need of protection, but rather a piece of property that would some day make him richer, to the countless men who courted after her most beloved queen. The people of this world were barbaric and monstrous, using force to gain everything they wanted, including love itself.

 

She paused, and for a moment reflected internally to Alexander. He was the man who had taught her that although he "loved" her, sex was not the time to show such feelings -- sex, instead, was about power, about surrender, and about pain. Even when it was about pleasure, it was always about pain.

 

Raylon, though he would never know it, was like a light in a very ugly and very dark world. His kindness and the sweet nature of his soul were something she saw on the surface of his very being, an aura of warmth that brought her comfort and cut through the chill of even this ice-cold rain.

 

"You spend so much time here in the capital, even though I am sure your country must need you very much..." she frowned, and cursed at herself -- her words sounded like a criticism. Shaking her head she forced herself to start over. "What I mean to say is, you must be very taken by our Queen to manage to make time enough to come and see her."

 

I sound like a jealous school girl…

 

"Have you met her baby? Little Philippe? He's absolutely the most stunning child I've ever seen..."

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Droplets fell upon his outstretched hand, coaxing him into an indulgence that was no natural occurrence back within Illyria. Climate was manufactured for they could not have the luxury of allowing seemingly random events such as rain and sunlight to prevent them from surviving. The smell of the rain and the feeling of the raindrops sliding down his fingers motivated him to take a deep breath and tilt his head upward to lose himself briefly yet again. These simple seconds were refreshing and he could not contain the joy that surged through him in this moment. Silvery eyes shone that much brighter, an unseen radiance of tranquility coating his entire body as he allowed himself these few moments before dragging himself back into the reality that he will have to endure here. He was still very much a foreign king within a realm of dark politics he knew little of.

 

Even though he held a bond with Gabriela of considerable depth, he remained largely oblivious to her plight given the distance between them. Now forced to also investigate the machinations of those in power around him, he could no longer live in the isolation that Illyria afforded him. Concern weighted him to the floor of this structure now and Charlotte’s next words seemed timely as his mind became grounded.

 

“You spend so much time here in the capital, even though I am sure your country must need you very much….”

 

His smile quivered as it threatened to leave his face but he found himself endeared to Charlotte’s following actions, watching her expression of immediate regret regarding her words though he did not receive them bitterly at all. Shifting to fully face her, the rain providing a sort of misty background behind him he listened to her attempt to pivot her words into a more favorable light.

 

“What I mean to say is you must be very taken by our Queen to manage to make time enough to come and see her.”

“Have you met her baby? Little Philippe? He’s absolutely the most stunning child I’ve ever seen..”

 

The calm king’s eyes focused rather hard on the golden eyes that were nothing like the queen Charlotte spoke of. Had it not been for what he had regrettably done before by touching her, he might have responded with a bit more humor than the soft words he chose to let escape.

 

“Your Queen’s benevolence toward me and my people’s struggle forged a friendship I do not intend to end any time soon. Still, my visit was more of a courtesy given our current predicament. It would have been rude of me to not visit when Illyria now resides so close to the beauty of Orisia.”

 

A rather safe response had been given despite how fortunate he felt he had been to have been able to see Gabriela yet again and how he would have gladly made some time away from his people to enjoy her presence for just a few moments whether it was a diplomatic endeavor or not.

 

“Yes I saw him. He was definitely a sight to behold with very intriguing parentage.”

 

One could tell that there was much more within that statement that he could divulge but he decided not to. A slight hum was now heard before his staff abruptly appeared near his robes. His lack of surprise as he shifted his head to look at the staff hopefully prevented Charlotte from becoming startled. The hovering item decorated with an assortment of jewels slowly began to move its way toward the king until it nudged him harshly as if scolding him for some false abandonment. His hand rested on the top of the staff’s shaft before he spoke.

 

“What are your plans after this rain subsides? Is it interrupting any of your training?”

 

Casual conversation may have been something others with his concerns would have avoided in lieu of more pressing matters but this king seemed unconcerned at least for now. Whether it was an evasive maneuver to avoid the hardships to come or tacit confidence that all would be resolved was something no one else would ever know.

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The King was childlike in his wonder for the natural world. Charlotte found herself smiling at the genuine display of pleasure that overcame Raylon as he extended his hand and caught raindrops upon each and every one of his fingertips. While a mere mortal may have sensed his aura of tranquility, she actually saw it. The same silver hue of his eyes seemed to engulf the whole of his form. It was like he was wearing a halo of gentle light that came down and around him. It could have been a trick from the suddenly visible sun that peeked through a parting in the rain clouds, a single ray that shone down upon the good king and reflected off of the coloration of his skin -- it could have been anything really -- but she knew better. There was something special about him, something internal and inherent that made him beyond special. 

Charlotte felt very little and entirely inadequate to be entertaining him. She lacked the decorum, the grace, and the tact with which to speak to someone of such importance. She was fumbling over her words and saying things that were borderline offensive. And now, as her earlier words sank into him, Charlotte could see the physical manifestation of his discomfort. His smile quivered, and it seemed as if he might lose it at any moment. 

"Your Queen's benevolence toward me and my people's struggle forged a friendship I do not intend to end any time soon. Still, my visit was more of a courtesy given our current predicament. It would have been rude of me to not visit when Illyria now resides so close to the beauty of Orisia."

Embarrassed at her own presumptions, Charlotte felt a splash of a blush color her cheeks. For a brief moment jealousy had gotten the best of her, and she had assumed the worst -- or rather the best -- of his working relationship with the queen. Raylon's response had been perfectly clear and perfectly diplomatic, regardless of how much need Gabriela may have had for a man such as him in her life, he was not there for her sake. Charlotte was both relieved by this (a fact that shamed her), but also intrigued. She had all but forgotten about the great catastrophe that had ended the lives of nearly a million Orisian citizens on the island of Ceyana. Of course, it wasn't like her to ignore the plight of so many people, but with the degree and sheer magnitude of the event, Charlotte had selected to keep her distance. She had seen enough death and horror for a hundred lifetimes. 

"Yes I saw him. He was definitely a sight to behold with very intriguing parentage."

Charlotte's golden eyes sharpened, a trait that appeared somewhat odd upon her gentle features. She regarded the king with suspicion now, as if the comment were meant to pass some unspoken judgment upon the babe of its mother. But before she could speak in defense of the queen against an imagined slight a very curious thing happened.

A bejeweled staff suddenly appeared

While the King behaved as if it were perfectly normal for a staff to just appear, Charlotte was very obviously started. She was sitting upright and slightly back, with a hand to her chest, clutching at her thin cardigan, pulling it closed over the swell of her breasts. 

"What are your plans after this rain subsides? Is it interrupting any of your training?"

She was regarding the staff with the same distrusting gaze she had given the king just a few short moments ago. The magical item just hummed and spun gently, and pressed close to Raylon as if it had a mind of its own -- so very catlike. Behind the king, the rain clouds were breaking and now she could only see speckled portions of rain coming down, spreading open like curtains here and there. 

"Oh, no... Today is my day off, I can rest. I intended to have my lunch in the gardens and then head into the city eventually, I have some things I need to pick up from the market. Tell me, King Raylon, have you had a chance to walk the streets of Versilla?"

She climbed to her feet and smoothed out her dress. It was still quite wet and managed to cling to certain parts of her body, like her thighs and the rounded curve of her bottom. She fixed these issues as best as she could by tugging on the skirt until it hung more comfortably and modestly. Though her words had not been an explicit invitation, she hoped that he might reply that he hadn't seen the capital yet and that he would very much like to. She operated with that in mind as she cleaned up the mess from their meal. When she was done and had stood by and walked to his side, she nervously regarded the king.

 

"A word of warning, King Raylon," she said in a whisper -- her bottom lip blood red from having been bit down upon in her nervous consideration of what to say. Now, as she paused to think on it one last time, she chewed on it rather viciously in her nervousness. "I would not go around mentioning the little prince's intrusive parentage. I am sure you've met the Queen's husband, I am sure you realize he is not the father, and I am sure you've seen firsthand how defensive he can be..." Charlotte lowered her voice all the more, and leaned even closer to the king, "I am afraid our Emperor can be quite unstable, and it might prove a risk to both Queen and child, to mention the obvious."
 

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<”Just run away now before you get too attached oh great King. We both know where this will end…”>

 

Havoc’s biting attempt at prophecy bothered his host briefly though there was no physical manifestation that Charlotte would manage to see as Raylon’s back still faced the woman at that time. The silvery aura she witnessed would suddenly become intertwined with a scarlet hue that would display, at the very least, that there existed some other force within Raylon that fought to corrupt the tranquil properties that Charlotte considered special. That gentle light fought bravely to suppress the abrasive red that wished to burst outward only to fade after some time. Having pivoted to face Charlotte as he had explained some of his nebulous relationship with the Queen to her, his hand gripped his staff rather forcefully before setting it against the barrier behind him where it jittered a bit until freezing itself in place as if it understood what Raylon wanted of it. With this possible nuisance neutralized, he seemed more poised to stare at Charlotte, somewhat surprised by the shift in her eyes he had noticed as he offered his own take on the new Prince.

 

His attempt to divert Charlotte’s attention briefly with his last question regarding her plans and lift the burden of this increasingly heavy dialogue had been done selfishly, the king unwilling to stifle what he considered to be a light protruding through his dark circumstance within Orisia. He optimistically hoped that he had been successful but he soon found himself constantly reminded of his plight even as she asked her next question.

 

“Tell me, King Raylon, have you had a chance to walk the streets of Versilla?”

 

He was sure the beauty of the capital city had escaped him, despite this day not being the first he had stepped upon Orisian soil. Tourism had been a luxury he had never decided to indulge in here given the urgency that drove him into the presence of Gabriela so many years ago as well as now. The marvels that were likely present there were nothing but a blur he would have trouble recollecting. The golden eyes of the Black Queen, the power and poise housed within her small lithe frame, and the benevolence she gracefully wielded were what he had wished to tether to the mention of Orisia. That was all that had been necessary for a foreign ally who was not expected to be a frequent visitor. The calamity within Ceyana had changed all of that. Raylon visibly frowned for a few seconds then, unable to maintain a smile considering the deaths and the pain his presence now caused despite his faultless involvement. It was enough to cause his eyes to briefly water, the bright silver glow they held not letting him hide it at all. A few blinks and a shift in stance was all that he needed to recover for now.

 

“Unfortunately not with the attention to detail I would prefer. Perhaps one day I will have the luxury of giving Versilla the attention it deserves with a guide who can endure my many inquiries”

 

His smile swiftly returned as he stared into her golden eyes as Charlotte stood. Raylon did notice how the wet fabric Charlotte had to endure clung to her thighs and the curvature of her bottom. The beauty of her form was not something he could ignore but he could see her attempting to recover some lost modesty so he made a concerted effort to keep his gaze fixated on her face despite how perfectly alluring her moist body was in his eyes. As strong willed as he was, however, her decision to move closer to him made it increasingly difficult to avoid seeing how the tops of her thighs could be seen as she walked toward him, or how the fabric clung to her abdomen slightly despite her best efforts to detach the fabric from supple flesh. These glances, however brief, only enhanced the pleasure he felt interacting with Charlotte. Once Charlotte reached his side, he shifted a bit to face her completely, his proximity to her a bit more intimate than it likely should have been though he made no sudden movement as he listened to her warning. As Charlotte leaned in even closer, he reciprocated the movement, finding his warm cheek just inches away from her own as he listened to her whispered words of warning.

 

“I would not go around mentioning the little prince’s intrusive parentage…”

“…and it might prove a risk to both Queen and child, to mention the obvious.”

 

Raylon had met Rafael briefly though that was enough for the Elder to provide an impactful first impression. Though he did not consider the man unstable by any means, he could sense a volatility that he did not see within the Black Queen despite their physiology. Gabriela had always been a marvel both physically and behaviorally whose intricate layers he enjoyed uncovering upon every visit. The complexity of Rafael was likely no different so as Charlotte offered more insight, Raylon was appreciative of what she had to offer though her mention of the capacity to harm Gabriela and the child saddened him to some extent. The thought of Gabriela’s own husband harming her and the child she cared so very much was a repulsive thought that quickly stained his thoughts of Rafael but not to the extent that it called for any action. He responded to Charlotte with the same volume she had offered to him.

 

“I appreciate the warning Charlotte. I will be sure to keep my curiosity at bay. The Queen has enough to consider already I am sure.”

 

Raylon’s head tilted slightly to look out and notice the rain slowing down to a light shower. There was a brief disappointment in that realization though his smile did not shift at all before he realigned his gaze on to Charlotte’s features. His damp follicles would lightly touch her cheek before he slowly began to move his face away from hers.

 

“Seems like the worst of it has subsided. Are you ready to….enjoy the rest of your day off?”

 

A rather simple question really though his method of delivery clearly lagged in the middle as if he wished to prevent the inevitable conclusion of their conversation. As he stared into her distinct golden pools, he truly did…

 
 

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