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“Well this turned to shit,” she said aloud to her quiet companion.


Marie was standing before the Black Queen’s throne, looking at it with a narrowed gaze that was pregnant with meaning that was far too complicated to decipher. She realized, after a moment that she should be more guarded of her expression -- especially in these parts where dear friends could end up becoming bitter enemies. That narrowed gaze softened, and her blue eyes shifted to the woman who stood not very far from her. Angrily, Marie reflected that even the bonds of blood were being undone in this mockery of a court that Raphael Bartolome had created, a relic brought to life with the bits and pieces of the past that had been found strewn about the universe. It was a deformed and unhealthy thing, one that would see their entire race undone before too long. But she couldn’t complain, and she most certainly could not pretend to take the moral high ground. She was betraying her Gabriela, the promised Queen she swore to obey and protect since before her conception had ever been imagined.


What a silly thing this had all become.


She meant to take a step forward, but the sensation of water sloshing under her heel and then dripping caused her to stop midstep. Her booted foot dangled from her bent knee, listlessly as she examined the puddle that had formed before the dais of the throne.


“I guess in all the excitement -- they simply let the snow melt. No one thought of cleaning it up. Can you believe that?” She felt her lips unraveling from the severe, straight line they had been forced into most of her life. When she wasn’t thinking about it, her mouth naturally curved into a soft, mischievous smile of sorts. “Write that down, the the red carpets will have to be replaced. But this is a blessing in disguise. Make note that the new ones will be golden, to better highlight the DuGrace shield and also to brighten the place up a bit.”


Marie chewed the inside of her cheek, a nervous tick she had developed centuries ago. She had perfected it now so that no one could see what she was doing. Her face remained unmoved -- so much like stone. She was pondering this decision -- this small rebellion against Raphael. He would insist that it should have been obvious to her that his colors would be selected to adorn the throne room, especially if he decided to make this room the seat of power of his entire Empire. He would be annoyed at this lapse in judgment, but she would play it off and in her heart of hearts, she would savor whatever time was given to the DuGrace banner.


What a terribly silly thing this had all become.


“Have them clean in here -- thoroughly,” she added with a pointed gaze at her companion, who was busily jotting down notes. “They’ll need to throw the windows open and air the damn place out, it sticks of rot in here. Also, find out who was in charge of cleaning this place up last night and have them severely punished for this infraction. Something ridiculous and humiliating. Something that will get Raphael’s cock all hard and wet -- you know what a sick bastard that son of a bitch is.”


She paused. She looked at her companion -- had she said too much? Shown too much? They were best friends, they were family, they had always watched each others back in Atitlan. But she knew better than to believe things were still the same. If Raphael could make her bend a knee -- if he could bring Gabriela to heel, then really, there was no one safe from his influence. Still, she didn’t regret her words. It was a lovely sight to see such foul language spoken so eloquently and from such an elegant looking vampyre.



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“Golden carpets - to brighten up the place.” Kylie repeated as she inked the details in her notebook, the omission of her aunt’s comment about the DuGrace shield deliberate. It was a loaded reminder to Marie not to be too open about her opinions while they were within earshot of others, a note that she knew her aunt would get, and then pointedly ignore.

She loved her for it. 

Things were different now, as Marie had noted. It was as dirty as the brownish water that squished under their feet as they stepped on the waterlogged carpets. One portion of it was redder than others. Even in their hurry, the fleeing citizens had avoided stepping on the spot where Desmond had squirmed. Kylie was sure that Marie could smell the lingering scent of his blood in the air as well as she did. 

“Air the room thoroughly, decorate with fresh flowers,” she said, transcribing Marie’s crude words into politically correct sentences. “Capture the person in charge of cleaning. Administer the whip in public, ten strokes or till death-“ Kylie paused, and looked up at Marie with blue eyes that reflected her aunt’s own. She grinned, and the light touched her eyes briefly, assuring the older vampyre that she wasn’t the only one with a distaste for Rafael. Especially not when both of them knew what underhanded methods he used to get his way.

“But Aunt Marie, you know that the Queen would be opposed to such a punishment. Though I suppose she wouldn’t be here to object.” It was one thing after another, the events of the past night. After being chased out of the coronation, people hardly had time to go home before the alarms went off, and news spread that the Black Queen had been kidnapped. There were many speculations about who had done it. The Devil of Patia, who had tried to start a fight as a distraction? Some political enemy, who had taken the chance to sneak into the castle? Or even the fearsome Malice, after his fall out with the Queen? 

“Do you think.. he did it?” Kylie asked under her breath. There was no doubt which ‘he’ she was referring to. By staging a kidnap at her coronation, Rafael could prove that Gabriela was too vulnerable to take the throne, and further cement his influence over Orisia. “And after you’d planned everything too. It’s really too bad.”

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“But Aunt Marie, you know that the Queen would be opposed to such a punishment. Though I suppose she wouldn’t be here to object.”


“It’s just as well, Kylie. Better that the Orisian’s start coming to terms with the reality of the man usurping as their ruler. They’ve been deaf, dumb, and blind for too long.”


Marie knew that Raphael was working heavily under the radar when it came to the delivery of Orisia’s new law and order. Along with his rule came punishments that far exceeded the scope of the initial offense -- but people didn’t notice. Instead, those deemed responsible for crimes against the crown were spirited away in the dead of night. Some were lucky enough to be returned to their families, but they were far too shellshocked to speak about what had happened to them and all evidence of their terror lay written across their skin in the form of welts, bruises, and sometimes, festering wounds that required amputation of limbs. Some poor fools would make their way home only to die surrounded by those they loved. And all of those were the fortunate ones for there was still a greater number of individuals who had yet to be accounted for. But no one seemed to question the occurrences, and that was probably because Raphael had brought more stability to the island than it had had in a long time.


It was a frightening thing when people traded liberty for a sense of safety -- but it revealed humanities cowardliness, and Marie could not much be troubled for them. It was her loyalty for the DuGrace name that pushed her toward these subtle but dangerous acts of defiance against the Emperor. Perhaps, Marie reasoned, if the people saw what a monster Raphael was they might once more rally behind the Black Queen.


But she doubted it.


“Do you think.. he did it?”


For the first time in a long time, Marie did not turn to give Kylie a meaningful look. Instead, she kept the weight of her heavy thoughts settled on the black throne set before her. Her blue eyes, crystal-like in hue and clarity, had a way of hiding the depth of her consideration behind a sort of airyness that most confused as vapidness. There was a reason that old saying existed -- blonds have more fun. It was those wide, blue, clear eyes that became the perfect mask for genius, for beauty and intelligence did not often go hand in hand, except to those with a particular gifted sense of perception. But it had been many centuries now since that had bothered Marie. It didn’t take her long to fully realize the potential of her appearance. Still, it amused her to no end how the slightest tilt of her head -- and inclination away from the light -- could cast the shadow of her brows over her eyes and darken them significantly. How such a small thing added weight to her gaze, and turned her from a pretty thoughtless thing to a creature of dangerous depth.


Appearances were always deceiving.


More than anything, in that moment, Marie wanted to answer her niece with sincerity. She wanted to convey the suspicions that had been forming in her mind for some time now. Raphael was beyond obsessed with the DuGrace heiress. It had become more than just a political move to ensure his union to the runaway princess from so long ago. He called it love -- and as with any extreme within the vampyre realm, love was a dangerous thing. Too many tragedies had befallen Gabriela in too short a time, from disappearance shortly after the Tethering Ceremony back in Umbra, to the recent assassination attempt against her that nearly killed her child when it was still in the womb, to this -- a kidnapping plot that unfolded under the nose of the Emperor himself.


Did Marie think Raphael was involved?


Without a doubt.


But did she trust Kylie enough to admit to this? Unfortunately, she did not. Besides, even if the young vampyre was totally innocent, even her loyalty to Marie and to the old ruling family was the worst of her crimes -- she knew Raphael could and most certainly would use the girl against her.


“Of course not. Our beloved Emperor is committed with all of his heart and soul to his wife and his child.”


Now she regarded Kylie, her pale and thin lips a straight line that spoke volumes more than her words.


“Let’s leave the punishment at ten strokes and avoid adopting command over life or death, or we may well end up sharing the person’s fate out in the public square.”

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