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Pasion Pasiva

In the Forests of the Night

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It had been nearly impossible to convince Roen to let her go alone with the High Lord into the dark depths of the forest in search of something she could not name to him. But she had come to him with earnest submission and supplication, and devoid of the influence of any outside force, the devil seemed inclined to slacken the leash that kept his chosen tethered to his side. It had been a very difficult conversation because when he asked where she was going and she could not give him an exact location he nearly laughed her out of his study, or rather, what use to be her study. However, a hand upon her chest and her brows pinching in mounting disappointment did something to allow him to listen further to what she had to say. Gabriela explained that she had sent some people into the forest for the sake of the preservation of something very dear to her, and as his crimson eyes narrowed at the tale that she told, she went on to tell that she had not heard from them since their initial departure. He did not understand why she had to go personally, and her distress at this perhaps touched some remnants of the empathy that had all but gone away from their relationship.

 

At long last he had relented, but not without first threatening her with awful consequences if she did not return within the allotted amount of time. There were promises of death, of course, but not the loss of her precious life, but rather those she considered precious -- among which, the devil swore, would be Zenahriel, her beloved Raven. And then, after the threats, he was harsh in his handling of her, as if he wanted to remind her that within the expanse of the island, he could find her without much trouble and he could be by her side within a moment, whether she wished it or not. It was a test, he said, a test of her loyalty and her ability to handle responsibility in a way that would not hurt their union. Finally, he denied her Philippe. She would not be taking their child into the forest, although they both knew the child was growing in strength and curiosity. No, the child would never leave his father's side. And because she agreed, a rather surprised Roen, began to acknowledge that whatever it was she had to do must have been of great importance.

 

Defeated, she simply nodded her head and took her leave of the devil.

 

~*~

 

“Aren’t you taking any supplies?”

 

“Just some things for Shade, I don’t need anything myself.”

 

The stable hand regarded the Black Queen with a perplexed expression, “but you said you would be gone for a week? No food or water, a tent for resting, or...”

 

Gabriela lifted a hand and shook her head, “I won’t need any of those things. I’ll be fine.”

 

Her attention turned from the young man, who still looked rather displeased with this. Truth was he had ordered some supplies for the queen, and the well packed saddle bags were hidden just out of view. It was suppose to show his initiative, and his deep desire to please her, but now it seemed his troubles would go without recognition. This annoyed him deeply. However, the Black Queen was far too busy stroking the thick neck of her mount, a stunning clydesdale with a glossy black coat that looked like wet ink even in the torch light. To make matters worse for the stable hand, Gabriela even refused his help putting on and securing her saddle. She smiled and politely declined, but it was still enough to send the young man stomping off. She hardly noticed, or rather, she hardly cared. Her stomach was in knots about going on this trip and leaving Philippe behind.

 

“Hello boy,” she said softly to Shade, a dear friend of hers who had missed her very much. The massive beast leaned his head downward, and his long face pressed against her chest, nearly longer than her torso. His ears wiggled, and she scratched under his rounded jaws before giving his thick neck another firm pat. “It’s been a long time… Do you think you can manage a journey like this?”

 

She didn’t expect an answer, but she did get one. Shade nudged her with his muzzle and actually managed to move her a few inches back. Gabriela was a small creature, but it took quite a bit of strength to break her stance and force her feet to move. It really wasn’t surprising that such a powerful creature could manage it. She simply laughed, a sweet and genuine sound as she produced from her pocket a small cube of sugar. But before she gave her dear friend the sweet treat, she pricked her index finger on the sharpened edge of one of her fangs. A drop of black blood formed. The sugar cube was dipped into that lovely orb of black, and then laid flat on her palm.

 

“Here you go,” she offered Shade the treat, and after a sniff, he devoured the cube and licked all remnants of it off her hand. The change was nearly instantaneous. The old and dusty bond that linked them together was renewed, and brightened by that single drop of blood. It allowed her to have a distinct sense of empathy, an intimate knowledge of what Shade felt, what he wanted, what his sense of the world might be. But it was a strange sort of thing to read, harder yet to understand, and not the sort of bond that anyone could blindly depend upon. It made Shade all the more loyal to her, and deeply affectionate, which strengthened his trust in her -- an absolute necessity if they were going to delve into the forests of the night together.

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Humming softly, Zenahriel brushed the last tangles from the black destrier’s silver mane. Pawing the ground, the massive war horse whickered in pleasure as the High Lord tossed the brush aside and procured a carrot. The sweet vegetable was one Treasure favored, and ensured good behavior and sparked her loyalty. Without Gabriela’s ability to empathize with the animal, Zenahriel had to make do with other methods that seemed to work just as well; with a crunch, the treat was gone from Zenahriel’s hand. He laughed, patting her muscular neck.

“Sir? My Lord? Do you need anything else?” the stableman said brusquely as he stomped into view. Apparently, Gabriela had displeased him somehow. Zenahriel grinned; he could imagine why.

“Yes, actually,” Zenahriel said. “You packed some supplies, yes? Please bring them here. Your queen might not need them, but I will make sure they are put to good use.”

The stablehand brightened. He rushed off, and in few trips the saddlebags meant for Gabriela were tied to Treasure. The destrier, the pride of the Kethlerin herds, was more than large enough to handle the extra weight. She shook her great head and snorted, as if scorning the fact that any lesser horse might be troubled by the load. Zenahriel checked over the packs; there was food, freshly filled waterbags, a small tent, medicine for emergencies, and a few other odds and ends that might come in handy. He nodded. Everything was ready.

Stepping a few feet away from the eager horse, Zenahriel stretched out his arms. His magnificent wings were added to the stretch, unfurling their great length. The shadow cast by them underneath the rising, waxing moon was astonishing. Zenahriel sighed, and as he did, the shadow shrank as the wings began to recede, sinking into his back. A few feathers scattered over the ground were soon all that was left. Zenahriel rolled his shoulders. The wings would only catch on vegetation and impede him on Treasure’s back, and he would have no need for them on this particular journey.

He took hold of Treasure’s reins and led her out of the stables to where Gabriela stood with her own beautiful mount, a great horse equaling Treasure in size, which the latter seemed to resent. Arazura  horses were a proud and stubborn breed, with unique personalities, and Treasure was no exception. She eyed Shade distrustfully and snorted again, steadying only when Zenahriel chided her gently, placing a hand on her back.

“Are you ready, my queen?” he asked, though already knew the answer. “I am sure you are. It must be a relief to get away from… the castle, for a while.” Grasping the knob of the saddle, he pulled himself onto Treasure’s back. “I am honored to accompany you in such an important mission.”

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“Are you ready, my queen?”

 

Gabriela glanced upward to regard the beautiful creature that had come out of the stables to join her in the night. Magnificent as ever, Zenahriel cut a fine portrait upon his mare, a rather distrusting looking beast that snorted swirls of steam in both her and Shade’s direction. She smirked at the open display of hostility, and lifted her brows curiously as her beloved Raven chided the poor thing. She wanted to tell him not to bother -- if anything, Treasure was probably right to distrust both the Black Queen and her black mount. But before she could say more, her companion answered for her. His voice, his words, his demeanor -- all of it cutting to her core with his seeming renewed vigor.

 

Zenahriel appeared to be a new man.

 

“I am sure you are. It must be a relief to get away from… the castle, for a while. I am honored to accompany you in such an important mission.”

 

Those golden eyes shifted from the winged beauty that sat up high atop his mount, and shot over her shoulder to the imposing outline of the DuGrace castle. In the light of day, she had been told, the castle appeared fairy-tale like. It was glorious and beautiful, a thing of hanging gardens, marble columns, high towers, and stunning bridges. But in the dead of night there was a haunted quality to it. Few windows were lit, and that gave the sense of a death like sleep having fallen over those who resided within.

 

She had a ridiculous imagination.

 

“Not really,” she said quietly, tucking her chin into her coat as if she were cold. “I hate that I’ll be away from Philippe for so long,” she paused, frowning to herself as she resisted the urge to reveal the fact that she knew Raphael would be visiting the small prince and ensuring his welfare. It was a secret she could not reveal, without potentially starting a war. Also, she was still under Roen’s control, and that meant she was still his pawn. The devil required a simple thing from her, and for that reason she carried on the harsh lie that she was suppose sell, even through clenched teeth. But for the sake of Zenahriel, she lied with a charming smile. “And of course, “...and of course, I’ll miss Roen terribly. But this must be done, and I cannot trust anyone else to go and figure out what’s happened.”

 

Taking hold of the black horn on her saddle, and slipping her booted foot into her stirrup, she pulled herself up and threw her leg over and sat high atop her own mount. Now, nearly at eye level with Zenahriel, she went on.

 

“Given such short notice, I am very surprised that you were able to take the time to accompany me. A week away from Raphael must be difficult for you.”

 

It’s killing me.

 

“Will you tell me how he is? What has become of my soon to be ex-husband? And the proud empire I nearly called my own…” she was grinning at him, hiding away the pain of her regret, of her doubt. She was a glowing drop of moonlight here in the darkness. Her dark hair pulled back, a lovely tight braid that ensured not a single strand would escape to case her trouble. She pressed into Shade’s sides with her heels and clicked her tongue. The massive horse drew forward with a jolt that caused her entire body to rock with his movements.

 

Off they went, the beginning of what promised to be a strange adventure. She wondered at what point Zenahriel would ask to know what exactly they were doing, what they were searching for, and how he was suppose to help. Her truest love, Zenahriel would follow her to the ends of the world if she made the request -- without ever asking why.

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If Zenahriel recognized the lies Gabriela told so easily, he did not show it. Yet, perhaps it was a safe assumption to say he did know, for he was a High Lord; an old being that existed beyond flesh, blood, and bone. He had lived far beyond generations, had seen kingdoms rise and fall… and a simple lie, however well told, was perfectly within his scope to deduce. He did glance at her briefly as she claimed to miss Roen – yes, it was possible he knew.

Even so, he said nothing. If Gabriela found comfort within her lies, it was not his place to break that peace. He took hold of Treasure’s reins and, murmuring softly to the horse, made to follow Gabriela, letting her lead the way into the forest. He wondered where she meant to go, what business she had to complete. Such important business that not even Philippe could have her stay and let her subjects resolve the matter.

He shrugged as she mentioned Raphael, looking away. The King of Umbra had been rather distant of late. While their bond was as strong as ever, of late it seemed the Blood God had better things to attend to than his relationship with the High Lord.

“He is well. Ambitious as ever, unswerving. A bit… temperamental,” he confessed, and raised an eyebrow at the queen. “I believe you would know why. But the city he rules flourishes, and no one challenges his reign. It is good of you to ask.” He paused, and then said, “He seems to have found a… new empress for Umbra, however. A woman by the name of Rou Ji… perhaps you know of her? They say she is a beauty, a strong and hard woman, but the city appears to be… restless about that choice. As she is no Black Queen, you see. The rumors and feelings are quite varied, I’m sure you would expect," he said offhandedly. 

He stroked back a strand of his hair that had fallen in front of his face, glancing again at the Queen, curious to see how she would take the news. She was beautiful, the Black Queen, serene and proud atop her mighty horse, but she was still prey to dangerous emotions. Of course, he reminded himself, she was strong too. He had seen that strength many times before, and she had not fallen once. Not yet.

The forest opened up before them, a vibrant array of green, emeralds, and the occasional splash of color from verdant wildflowers. The trees were magnificent, old things that had seen much and grew to amazing heights. During his occasional flights, Zenahriel had seen the creatures that dwelt here – elk, birds, wild cats and exotic species of animals existing nowhere else. But this was the first time he had gone for a ride, and at the side of the Her Majesty, no less. He smiled at her as the horses trotted along, their heads dipping to avoid low-hanging boughs. The forest closed, swallowing them up, and the great castle behind them slowly vanished into a distant color, hidden by the towering vegetation.

“You know… you truly look like you belong here, my regal Queen. Will you tell me now what it is you called me here for?”

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758ae52207ac173ae64df48c2ebc93bc--manga-girl-manga-anime.jpgAmaranth followed the voices as she wondered what all the excitement was. She had just arrived in Orisia mere moments and already she was in the forest. Amaranth shrugged. She loved the smell of adventure. Taking apart the hopes and dreams of heroes. 

She enjoyed such tactics. 

Her form bumped into the pair as she stumbled back not knowing she had gotten so close. She smiled a false warm smile, those wild eyes glistening with false pleasanties.

Excuse me. Didn't mean to bump into you. I was finding my way through the land. It's my first time in Orisia. You okay? You seem flushed.

Edited by Rin

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It was good to hear of Raphael -- to know that her loss had not come at the expense of his sanity. She had, for a brief moment in time, believed the vows he made of never ending love, of destiny, and of inevitably. In retrospect, she felt like a silly girl who had fallen for one too many sweet words. But she knew the reality. Raphael had been the source of horrible pain and terrible abuse, she clung to the moments of kindness that he offered the same way that any wretched soul cast out upon the merciless waters amidst a storm might have done when offered some passing driftwood. He didn’t  have to offer much, and certainly it seemed that it had not been too much of an effort to sprinkle loving whispers amidst lashes of violence.

 

She knew better than to miss him.

 

She knew in her heart that it was a clever ploy, this ache she felt in her chest -- a manipulation of her sentiments by the father of all lies.

 

“He seems to have found a… new empress for Umbra, however. A woman by the name of Rou Ji… perhaps you know of her? They say she is a beauty, a strong and hard woman, but the city appears to be… restless about that choice. As she is no Black Queen, you see. The rumors and feelings are quite varied, I’m sure you would expect.”

 

“I have no expectations of dealings that have nothing to do with me,” she replied coldly, perhaps showing more in her reluctance to show any level of reaction than maybe simply accepting the weight of insult and hurt that Zenahriel’s revelation had caused her. However, she knew not what good it would do to languish in the heartache. While surprising, the news was not exactly a surprise -- she had guessed at the reason why Rou was in the Blood City back when she had been made a most unwilling guest. She had even traded words with the thief, soon-to-be-empress. She had supplied the woman with a warning concerning Raphael, and wondered now if her words had been delivered too late, or -- if this was how everything was suppose to be in the end. Rou had seemed, at the time, deeply devoted to Raphael and upset that Gabriela was stealing away his affections. A part of her did not fail to realize that a woman like Rou, with her charms, her whims, and her bountiful gifts could do much and more to please a man like Raphael. She sighed and regarded the path along which they walked, “Vampyre’s are fickle, but given Raphael’s importance, they’ll soon fall into line. My cousin could announce that he was marrying a fucking goat and everyone would have to accept it, regardless of how ridiculous the notion.”

 

That definitely sounded more bitter than she intended it to.

 

Ever the gentleman, Zenahriel changed the subject in his always masterful way, “You know… you truly look like you belong here, my regal Queen. Will you tell me now what it is you called me here for?”

 

“I am a savage at heart, wouldn’t you say?” She asked, glancing at the Raven with a mischievous grin. She was moving slowly, swaying side to side upon her horse as they began to descend into a valley, away from the royal grounds of the DuGrace castle, and into the wilderness of the Ellwood Forest. “I would live out here if I could, in a cottage -- some quiet and beautiful place, by a lake, or a river, or something… As to why I asked you here… there isn’t anyone else I could think of who would so willingly run headlong into danger with me. I am on a mission, beloved -- but it’s a secret, and I need you to promise you will keep it, even from your mate.”

 

And they saw her form, a curious creature that seemed to appear before them on the path. She nearly collided with their horses. Gabriela pulled on Shade’s reins and managed to keep him from rearing and kicking Amaranth with a powerful black hoof.

 

“Excuse me. Didn’t mean to bump into you. I was finding my way through the land. It’s my first time in Orisia. You okay? You seem flushed.”

 

Gabriela could not begin to understand who this girl was, or what she was talking about. Glancing over her shoulder at Zenahriel, she shared a puzzled look before once more regarding the young woman.

 

“You’re very near to private grounds, child… you’ve wandered very far from the city. These woods are not safe, I would recommend you turn around and go back to the safety of civilization.”

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The queen feigned a cold disinterest in Umbra affairs, but there was a bitterness in her tone that told Zenahriel she cared more than she wanted. Inwardly and carefully silent, he sighed in resigned frustration at the wanton conflicts of mortal beings. It was true what she said, at least the latter part – Raphael could wed a goat, and it would have to be accepted. But, Zenahriel thought, the word missing was eventually. Not all would accept so easily, not at first, and he had seen full scale revolts and violent revolutions over less. Far less.

As for dealings that had nothing to do with her?

More than you think, my dear. He was more than glad to change the subject, and it seemed so was she.

The brilliant, bright green canopy of the trees slowly descended over them. Autumn, with its reds and golds and then dreary browns and gray, never touched the Island of Summer. Such colors had already stained the trees of mainland Genesaris, and leaves had begun to drift to the ground. The humid winds were carrying with them the freezing cold and snow of the coming winter too. But here, it was always the warm, soothing temperatures of a glorious, eternal summer in full bloom. Birds had come here to escape the mainland’s promised chill, and animals had no need to hibernate here, so it was always full of life as well.

He smiled, glancing at this paradise surrounding them. It was not flattery he was speaking but truth. She, even in if her favorite muted colors, complimented the beauty of the forest. Her riding gear fitted her perfectly, making her look like a seasoned hunter and traveler. “If you build a cottage out here… invite me, would you? I’d love to visit and keep you company, if you’d have it,” he said, making her wishes sound less like fanciful dreams and more like something one would just have to work at.

Leaning toward her from his saddle, Zenahriel listened carefully to his Queen as she told him earnestly that their mission was a closely kept secret to be known between them alone. He nodded, meeting her eyes briefly but firmly, sealing the promise without words. He was about to voice It anyway, but it was then that a girl appeared abruptly before them. Treasure snorted in annoyance as she reared slightly, and only her tamed and trained nature kept her from striking out with her hooves.

 The girl seemed undisturbed and no more nonplussed than they. She was young, but almost a woman, Zenahriel saw, with pink and crimson hair and pale skin marred with what looked like colorful bruising. Her eyes were striking, one of them a solid red and the other a swirling lavender. All this was telling. Obviously, she was a foreigner, but more than that was what she radiated. To Zenahriel’s heightened senses, this girl was far from the normal woman she otherwise looked like and sounded as.

And he did not like the feeling. Immediately he tensed, and his mare shuffled beneath him, her teeth snapping together.

He looked at Gabriela, let her speak first before he held a hand up for requested silence.

“What is your name? I can tell you are not from here, my dear. But if you are lost, civilization is that way,” he pointed toward the castle, its walls just barely visible beyond the bark and branches of trees.

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The young woman, pink-haired and radiant, did not seem willing or perhaps able to give her name. While Zenahriel saw beyond the mortal coil, Gabriela saw only what appeared to be a young woman in a very vulnerable situation. It was the sort of thing that always got her in trouble, nearly the same situation that nearly cost her and her unborn child’s life back in Kadia just a few short months ago. And while the memory was vivid in her mind, she could not help the mounting desire to help the young woman -- or at the very least to find out if she was in good enough condition to help herself. But nothing came from her, not a word more.

 

Had she been attacked?



Was she suffering some sort of mental trauma?

 

What horrors had she survived within the forest?

 

Once upon a time, the Ellwood Forest had been such a glorious place, she thought with a heavy heart that was quite visible upon her pinching brows. The forest had been full of some of the island’s most amazing, mythical creatures and densely populated by a vast collection of native and imported flora. None of these things had changed, but since the events of that fateful day -- the night of the masquerade -- everything had changed. In certain parts, the dead still roamed within the boundaries of the fields of deadly poppy flowers. That this girl had come from these depths badly bruised and somewhat mystified seemed like a grand victory, the likes of which she doubted the young woman could ever appreciate.


“I can tell you are not from here, my dear. But if you are lost, civilization is that way…”

 

“Follow our trail back to the castle, they’ll lead you right into the stables. There’s a young man there -- Eric. Tell him that the Black Queen sends you there and that you are in need of aid. He’ll see to it that you are taken to a medic, and that you are fed and clothed and given a proper meal and a place to rest.” There was a gentle but firm authority to her voice, the sort of tone that denoted her seriousness in the matter. It left little in the way of choice, especially in the way she tugged on Shade’s reins and pulled him to the side of  the path, giving the young woman ample space to continue moving forward along her own journey.

 

For a while, Gabriela lingered, watching until she was certain that the girl would not lose her way. But after she was out of eyesight and earshot, her golden eyes shifted to Zenahriel and regarded him with care.

 

“We should be careful -- not everything that comes out of this forest can be trusted. I have to be careful with you, beloved Raven, for I do not believe Raphael will forgive me if I allow anything to happen to you.”

 

She offered a smile, a weak but genuine expression as she dug her heels ever so gently into Shade’s side and nudged him forward and into the thickening woods. It wouldn’t take long for both Queen and High Lord to disappear into the blackness of night and the shadows of the forest.

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I'm not going back there. I don't know the way. And even if I did, I don't think anyone would help me. I am Amaranth, a native of Athentha.

She spoke with an accent that sounded the equalivate of scottish. She looked towards the two as she tilted her head. They were concerned for her? Why? She was no mere child, yet it made her laugh inside. 

As they began to ride off, she then jumped upon the back of one of the horses with ease. It felt a bit odd but she didn't mind as the two thought they could just leave her behind. 

So, where are we headed? I don't believe you two told me. Nor your names. Afraid I'm not that easy to ditch. 

She then listened on as they talked.

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Oberyn sighed as he used the poacher’s cloak to clean the blood from the long, curved blade of his dagger. Still, the poacher twitched as the life drained from the slit in their throat, turning the earth dark and muddy.

This one had been difficult to track -- she'd hid well, but few knew the forest better than the warden. Like her fellow conspirators before her, she’d tasted the queen’s justice for the illegal sporting of unicorns. “Count yourself fortunate,” he muttered down at the now motionless body, sheathing the dagger at his waist. “Your death was still much swifter than your quarry’s.”

Closing his eyes, the rogue hunter reached out to the world around him, to La’Ruta, and felt its fury subsiding. It had been an inferno before, scorching through every inch of his being. He thought he might die with all the hatred and anger in his veins. But with every poacher he laid low, it calmed, eased to a heat that he could direct; control. Oberyn was faster, stronger, more powerful than he’d ever been – and he swore to use his newfound power to punish those that hat wronged his home.

New, foreign sounds disrupted his meditation. Voices – whispers – snaking through the forest; making their way to him through the darkness. He pursued their origin like a phantom, moving from shadow to shadow without a sound. How many of your kind stalk these lands? the rogue hunter questioned angrily, thinking of that fallen unicorn he’d found. No matter. I will make sure you all pay for what you have done, until every hunter will tremble at the thought of entering these woods. It was this that curved his lips in a wicked grin, and he strode forward faster.

Dressed in his ranger’s gear, marred with mud and the blood of previous hunts, Oberyn was all but invisible among the leaves of the canopy above. He watched the two mounted poachers, one of which boasted a proud set of wings, with a curious eye. There was something familiar about the woman – the smell of orange blossom, a taste of La’Ruta. A memory dared to begin surfacing from the depths of his mind but was quickly swallowed by the heat and rage of the island, of that one fallen, butchered unicorn.

I’ll deal with you first.

Adjusting his bow and notching an arrow, Oberyn waited a beat, letting the pair entering a narrow clearing. He let the bolt fly, cutting through the air with a soft hiss. The crystalline arrowhead shattered as it hit the ground between the two horses, shattering with an amplified crack! As the beasts panicked and began sprinting in opposite directions, barreling through brush and foliage, Oberyn quickly set on the trail of his prey. He kept himself high off the ground, prowling the canopy, notching another arrow as he followed the woman from afar.

It wasn’t until he was certain that her horse had put a healthy amount of distance between her partner that he let another bolt loose, this head not crystalline, but sharp and steel.  It quietly raced through the space between them and sought purchase in the back of her right shoulder.

Already, he was readying another.

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Had he not gone to check on the traps, Aien Trerora would have died alongside his comrades, at the hands of his now mad captain.

Traveling through the thick forests of Ellwood wasn't easy, but for a warden such as him, it felt as natural as breathing. Sometimes he felt as if the trees themselves shifted out of their way to better clear his path, knowing that the elf was on a noble mission to protect their most sacred treasures. Ever since he was given the chance to turn his life around, Aien has always felt a deep sense of pride about his work, no matter what the circumstances of his conditions were. Rain, heat, none of it mattered to him, all that was really important was protecting the majestic creatures that wandered this beautiful island. For that privilege, he would easily give his life.

His mission, as mundane as it was, was very important for the protection of the unicorns. Many of them were designed to ward off the unicorn's natural enemy, the red bull, but a fair amount were also created to ensnare those who would kill the magical creatures for their own greed. The elf was aware of many who lusted after the magical power of the unicorn, and for a shameful part of his life, he hunted them for the chance at earning mountains of gold. Now instead of their hunter, he was their protector, and he had a knack for making certain any spot used to stage an ambush would not be a healthy option for a hunter.

Before fully entering the campsite, Aien signaled the watcher, perfectly mimicking the joyful noise of a songbird. When no reply came, the elf shifted back into the shadows, knowing full well what that meant.

Their camp had been compromised, and they were under attack.

Who could have taken them by surprise? That was the question on Aien's mind while he made his way towards the rendezvous point they had planned should something like this happen. Captain Oberyn told them to meet at an isolated location, so they could regroup and figure out a strategy to defeat whatever was attacking them. Whatever it was, he hoped dearly that there were survivors of the assault.

What he found instead has haunted him to this very day, as he discovered the mutilated remains of one of their comrades. Had he been only a millisecond slower, the arrow his captain had fired at him would have surely pierced his heart. It was a trap, set for a ranger, by a ranger, and it was Oberyn who was now hunting him.

Evading the madman was difficult, but he did so, only to watch even more of his fellow rangers be slaughtered by the one they trusted to lead them. Helplessly he watched, knowing that ever means of trying to communicate with the others would only be intercepted by Oberyn, insuring his demise. Tapping into every fiber of his being, he found the will to survive, to evade his murderous captain, and to keep watch while he attempted to find others who might have survived as well. The days were harrowing, but they had molded him into something even wilder than the ranger who first entered this place with dreams of heroism and valor. Now he was savage, as wild as any animal, and he was waiting for his chance to put an end to the Game Warden, no matter what it took.

Trees swayed softly in the breeze, and Aien Trerora was ready to end his former leader. For days he had been tracking him, waiting for him to leave his guard down, to make just one mistake, to hesitate for even a moment. That's all it would have taken to end the nightmare once and for all. It would have gone perfectly, had the Black Queen not made an appearance, and thrown the entire operation into chaos in just moments.

At the mere sight of her, Aien lowered his bow for just a second, uncertain if what he was seeing was real. Sure enough, just below his vantage point atop a small hill surrounded by shrubs and trees, she rode upon her horse, accompanied by the High Lord Zenahariel, and another he did not know. Had he just a second to react, he would have warned them about the danger lurking within the forest.

An arrow struck a tree, frightening the horses and snapping Aien back into reality. By sheer instinct he aimed at the direction where the first shot came, firing back as he called to his queen. "Into the trees my queen!" He fired once more, dashing away to find new cover. "Quickly, before he finds you!"

Another arrow fired, his heart pumping like.mad, his senses focused on one thing and one thing only. Escaping the area before Oberyn finds him.

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Here in the center of Orisia, where La’Ruta ruled and the power of the High Lords all but nullified, Zenahriel nevertheless caught the flash of a sharp crystal edge. It was still too late; it cut through between the Black Queen and High Lord, and shattered against the trunk of a great oak. As the crystal arrow broke apart against the wood, the sound it gave was like nothing else – loud and piercing and sending the horses into a panic.

Treasure reared, bellowing and dashed in one direction even as the queen’s steed galloped in another. Neither pulled reins, skilled handling or harsh words could calm the warhorse. As it gained distance, Zenahriel, with his keen avian eyesight, caught another familiar flash. The angle of the light, and the general knowledge that he was not a likely target, was all he needed to know in that one, deadly moment.

He let go of the reins and Treasure dashed from beneath him. For a single instant he was falling, arms spread out, one leg drawing close.

Obsidian black wings rimmed In midnight blue and deep purple streaks burst from his back. A single beat was all it took to rocket him back towards the queen. He caught her under the arms, pulling Gabriela off her mount, intercepting the arrow that never faltered in its course. He felt a queer impact somewhere on his neck, and when his wings angled to take them to the sky... they seemed heavy, frozen, and he fell to the ground in a cloud of feathers, Gabriela rolling from his arms.

“Quickly, before he finds you!” a voice shouted.

Zenahriel wanted to say the same, but for some reason he couldn’t speak. He did see blood – a lot of blood, bright arterial blood, hot and bright and streaking over his shoulder down his arm.

How absurd. No one has that much blood!

He thought he heard someone else... something else... scream, but he couldn't tell who or what it was from.

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She heard the whizz of something before it’s breaking. She knew it was an arrow. The way the fletching spiralled and how the pointed arrowhead split the cool, night air. But even with all of this knowledge, the sound of it -- of it shattering like fine crystal -- it rang with such a high pitch that it hurt her ears terribly. Before she could even think to lift her hands to cover her ears, she had doubled over and pressed her forehead into Shade’s strong neck. He was frightened, that much was obvious by the sheer force of thundering blood that was rushing through the thick veins in his neck, and between her thighs, the forceful lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub of his heart pumping.

 

They were off and running through the dense woods. She maintained some semblance of reason and was able to clutch at his reins while pressing her body down and close to his neck. She knew better than to sit up now and try to regain control. Shade was beyond her reach and instinct was in full control. She had to trust that he would get through the woods without hurting himself, and by extension, her own self. So she pressed into him, she leaned with him, she tucked her knees up closer to her body and tried to make herself small so as not get caught on a low-hanging branch.

 

And it was working -- it was going well, it was going to be over soon, until she heard that telltale whizz. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Suddenly she was back in Kadia, with the only advantage to that situation being that she was no longer pregnant. But here she was, her life on the line yet again. And there was just one distinguishable feeling that she could cling to -- an unsatisfied, and angry sense of “why me?” However, there was no answer to that question. Even with all the time in the world and not mere milliseconds to consider, there would never be an answer to satisfy her morbid curiosity. Whether it was her position in life or her perception of life, her very existence was an affront to many and that made her a target.

 

Given Shade’s trajectory through the woods, given the possibility of throwing herself off, of trying to gain her footing and seek some cover within the shadows -- given all of that -- the risk was too great. She could end up impaled, and without the proper resources, more than likely dead. So she  would have to wait for that arrow, and she would have to pray that the aim was not true. But then she was in the air. Arms locked around her from behind and plucked her off of Shade as if she weighed little or less. And more fearful than the secret assailant trying to end her life with a bow and an arrow, Gabriela was infinitely more terrified of being lifted up into the air and suddenly -- quite suddenly -- dropped back down to earth.

 

She and Zenahriel landed roughly, though he mostly broke her fall with his wounded wing. The smell of blood blossomed, sweet and familiar but mixed with it, in the dense, black air of night, was the blood curdling sound of fear and pain. It was such a horrible sound, a mixture between a scream and a snort, something purely animalistic -- followed by panting, bellowing, and pathetic whimpers. Her heart was immediately torn in two. She knew that her Raven was badly wounded and needed care, but the sounds  of Shade crying out in agony pulled drained her strength and pulled her away. Up and onto her bottom, and then rolling forward onto her knees, crawling across the wet earth, the rotting leaves, the sharp sticks and twigs to her horses side. To her horror, he was trying to stand, and thrashing about on three strong legs and one… one that was broken at a ninety degree angle, which hung limply from the place where it had bent and snapped. It zapped her -- it took everything she had left, it was one thing too many.

 

“No!” she screamed -- she squealed, it was a shrill cry of rage and hurt. “No, no...no!”

 

She was there, she was pulling Shade down. Nothing else mattered, not Raven, not Orisia, not anything in the world -- not the arrow being drawn back on the tant string of a bow, aimed at the space between her shoulder blades. With all of her strength she pulled him down, she dragged him to the grown to keep him from thrashing because there was a sense about  it that it seemed undignified and ugly. He was a regal and elegant creature, he was the best horse she had ever ridden -- he was her partner in crime. Upon his back, she went forward into the depths of perdition more than once, and had somehow returned upon each occasion. And it was all over. She knew it. There was no coming back from this -- and she hated all of the world for it.

 

There was more happening now, but all of it was background noise. Zenahriel was gurgling, drowning in his own blood, and someone was at her back, shooting an arrow back toward her assailant.

 

“Into the trees my queen! Quickly, before he finds you!”

 

Trembling -- she was shaking all over. On the verge of a mental break, she pointed back without looking. “Get him out of here, save him -- he is a High Lord of Genesaris, guard his life with your own.”

 

She knew there was no time and she would be damned before she abandoned Shade to his agony. The thought that he might suffer through this indignant death alone made her so angry. She couldn’t leave him to suffer, but that also gave her no time, no space in which to say her goodbyes. It all had  to happen quickly. Her strong arms, which were still wrapped around his thick neck, began to squeeze, and just as the twisted to break the strong neck, she let out a sob that was, as Shade’s cries had been, pure agony. And then she was lying over him sobbing uncontrollably, and then whimpering like some lost child.

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Fresh blood!

Oberyn had underestimated how quickly the winged one could move. The dense vegetation and dangerous web thorned vines and branches proved inconsequential, and in two beats of a mortal’s heart, he’d dismounted his glorious horse and swept female poacher clean from her horse. But, he hadn’t been quick enough, and the game warden saw as the arrow cut clean through the side of his throat. The blood splattered over his wings, gushed down his shoulder in deliciously thick tides.

The warden was abound in the canopy, his arrow notched and ready to fire, when he took note of the bolt coming his way. Where—? It was too late for him to avoid the retaliatory shot, for he was already mid-leap. Quickly, his eyes analyzed its path, followed it back to the origin of the shot. Another poacher, he realized, noting the devil’s colors. I missed one from earlier. A mistake that would prove costly, it seemed.

The arrow might have struck him in the shoulder and thrown him off course, but Oberyn’s love of the hunt was only matched by his talent with the bow. With minimal adjustment, he loosed his arrow, and the bolt collided with the other in a rain of sparks. He vanished into the thickness of the canopy a second later, landing his feet without a sound, barely rustling the leaves.

Get him out of here, save him -- he is a High Lord of Genesaris, guard his life with your own.

A High Lord? How fortunate for Oberyn, then, that those winged fools held no power in the realm of Orisia. He would pay for his arrogance and treachery with his life, and the world would be better for it. However, not willing to risk his operation further, the warden pushed forward with urgency. The poacher – a fellow vampyre, it seemed, by the way she snapped her wounded horse’s neck – was vulnerable, in the heart of a clearing, more distraught over the loss of her horse than worried for her wellbeing. Now you know my pain, he thought venomously, throwing his bow over his shoulder. The pain I feel for every poor creature you lot have slain!

Oberyn appeared in a flurry of wind and leaves, descending from the canopy above Gabriela with a long, slender blade drawn in his hands. That she’d showed some compassion for the loyal mount had earned her, at the very least, a swift death. She’d not see him, her face buried in Shade’s black coat; she’d not hear him over her own sobs—but she would feel the length of his sword as he plunged it through the base of her neck, down to the hilt.

His eyes, bloodshot and wild, burned through her. “Die!

Edited by King

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The deadly dance had commenced, and the stakes were high as commands were given to protect the High Lord. A decision reared its ugly head in the mere seconds that Aien had to make. If he didn't decide soon, then people would die, and it would be his fault.

Living with the deaths of his fellow rangers was difficult, and at nights, nearly pushed him past the brink of despair. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of putting an end to Oberyn and his madness. Through all the hardships, through all the fear, the anger was what kept him going, and now it was what made his decision for him. Running through the trees with the grace afforded his people, Aien disregarded the order given to him, instead going to make certain that Queen DuGrace was okay.

Everything happened in a flash. His blood drunk captain burst from the canopy, a blade in his hands, meant only to kill and destroy. He had to stop it, he had to save his queen! There would be no more death in this forest!

Without him realizing it, Aien had jumped, flying through the air with the wind in his face, his sights set on the man trying to slaughter their beloved queen. Coming in hot from the side, Aien took out his dagger, intending on tackling Oberyn to the ground, and stabbing him straight through his treacherous heart. This is for all the rangers you killed, he screamed in his mind before dealing the killing blow.

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