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Blood on the Crown [Ild Pass]

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Marcellus could barely contain the disgust – but more importantly, the shame – as he pored over the report in his gauntleted hands. The news of Antigua’s gruesome demise had come swiftly in the previous days, and likewise, the erection of a new city from its ashes. Pyres stilled burned, blood turned the rivers red, and the mangled corpses of Antigua’s people laid strewn about, or stacked high in messy piles of severed limbs and spilling entrails. By all accounts, it was a nightmare – separated from their paradise by a calm channel of water which, Marcellus suddenly began feeling, was much too narrow.

 “The number of confirmed deaths is in the tens of thousands, my queen,” Marcellus said gravely, crumpling the parchment in his fists. “They say it continues to rise with every passing hour.” The old knight said nothing of the difficulties mentioned by his scouts, for piecing together butchered corpses was troublesome work. “What’s more, there is no telling how many poor souls are yet accounted for. We’ll be sorting through our dead for weeks.”

The knight approached his queen’s desk, a broad furnishing of smooth roahn wood, black as coal, smooth as polished glass. Like the rest of her royal cabin upon the Black Swan, the desk was stylized in the ways of the old world, covered in the elaborate etchings of their history; sigils of houses that had risen to prominence and fell to ruin even before his birth; and of course, at the center, the DuGrace shield paired with the Bartolome sword vertically crossing its bulk. It was a marvelous piece of furniture, and had it been from any man other than Rafael, Marcellus would have likely found it nostalgic.

Presently, it filled his stomach with disgust for the words he was to utter next.

“Still, there are more pressing matters at hand, my queen.” It seemed ludicrous, even to Marcellus, to suggest that any issue might supersede the tragedy that had befallen Ceyana. And yet the knight’s eyes steeled, his jaw set, and his lips pressed into a thin line across his dark face. It was the look of displeasure that marred his handsome features whenever he spoke of the devil, or worse, her cousin. Marcellus held little love for either and, unless called upon for the sake of ceremony, made no attempt to hide the disdain. “I believe that the emperor means to depart, and with him, the Carmine Host.”

From his satchel, the old knight produced yet another scroll. The seal already broken, he pushed it to the center of the Queen's desk for ease of reading. “I’ve noticed since your return from Terrenus that you and the emperor have been— withdrawn, as of late. From each other, I mean. And the less I saw of you two together, the less I saw of him. These deployment orders – rescinding large numbers of the host’s forces back to the mainland – confirmed my suspicion. When the emperor leaves, if he hasn’t already, our military force will plummet to its original numbers.”

There was no doubting the skill of the men and women that took up sword, spear, shield, and magic to defend their home – their queen. However, they were a small, elite force. Whatever had taken Antigua so effortlessly, it was a force well beyond the scope of their management. “If whatever did this,” he lifts the note still in his hand, “were to turn its eyes to our shores, I fear we would not be able to repel it so easily. Orisia might be overrun.” Of course, he’d squeezed the fear out of himself a long time ago.

Death was a long-time friend of a warrior. You knew it intimately. Walked hand-in-hand with the finality of it; breathed it. But while Marcellus did not fear death, he did not actively – recklessly – seek it. He learned from it, kept a respectful distance, until its black eyes turned to him with interest. Until it was his time. As he thought of the possibilities now, there was only one question that crept into the corner of his mind.

Who would take care of the Queen and Prince?

@Pasion Pasiva

@Dolor Aeternum

 

Edited by King

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“The number of confirmed deaths is in the tens of thousands, my queen. They say it continues to rise with every passing hour… We’ll be sorting through our dead for weeks.”

 

“For years, Marcellus -- we will be sorting through our dead, for years,” she replied, though she made no move to face her vampyric knight. She sat with her back to him on a chair set on an iron and wooden frame. It appeared a massive thing, far too large to seat the small frame of the Black Queen of Orisia, but what she failed to fill in size she more than made up for in presence. Without the imposing weight of Raphael, Gabriela had slowly and surely begun to bloom back to some aspect of what she had once been -- a leader. And now, as she sat there, looking out the large double doors that opened to a small balcony overlooking a vast, black sea, she was called to be just that. “We will be piecing together the charred and shattered bones of our people for centuries, all in an attempt to ease the pain of a wound that will never heal. There are people who will never know what became of their loved ones. There are people who will live with the agony of that uncertainty for the rest of their lives.”

 

The hands upon her firsts clenched tightly, they balled up into fists until she could feel her glass-like fingernails biting into her palms, piercing her flesh deeper and deeper, until the hurt of it was too much and she let go -- shuddering. Black blood poured from her wounds and soaked into equally black breeches, hiding the fact. It was only the smell of that intoxicating blood, which would give evidence to the self-harm she had committed. It was a nervous habit she had developed not so long ago. It wasn’t anything that could truly harm her, but it did reveal far too much, and for that reason along she would have to get a hold of herself sooner or later.

 

She heard Marcellus approach above the sloshing of black water just beyond the open doors. The sea was swirling around them, pitch black on this moonless night. Meanwhile, the Black Swan bobbed up and down like some tiny paper boat, rushing towards its demise. Everyone, including Marcellus, had told  her to stay back in Versilla while trusted investigators went forth to try and make contact with the inhabitants of the city that had fallen out of the sky, down to land upon Antigua and to crush it to dust beneath its weight and might. A more aggressive and purposeful call to war had never been made, a more unabashed threat to conquest had not been known. But without Raphael here to command her to do otherwise, Gabriela came to meet this  threat head on as was proper of any ruler.

 

Her heir was secure -- safe and sound in the capital. Her only regret was that she had allowed Marcellus to talk her out of leaving him behind to guard the infant prince. The old knight had insisted on accompanying her, assuring her that whatever happened -- at the very least -- he could secure her life. Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have mattered to Gabriela, at least not nearly as much as the live of those who served her. But Philippe had changed everything. Gabriela had a fierce urge to remain alive, to return to her child, to ensure his safety and perhaps even his happiness.

 

“What an ugly world you’ve been born into, my love…” she said to the night beyond her cabin, to the sea ebbing her little ship back and forth.

 

“... I believe that the emperor means to depart, and with him, the Carmine Host… When the emperor leaves, if he hasn’t already, our military force will plummet to its original numbers.”

 

“The only reason this atrocity was able to happen is because the War Lord has gone with him, skirting his responsibilities here and denouncing his responsibilities. I feel his waning interest, his lack of concern for the islands he once claimed to protect…” she clenched her fists again, but this time managed to keep herself from bleeding. After a rather pregnant pause, she pushed off her chair and stood up -- her rather loose fitting blouse, a black cotton thing that matched her breeches, billowed around her in a sudden breeze. “What’s any of that matter. They’re gone, or at least, they will be soon.”

 

As if to explain to her the very obvious reason why it did matter, Marcellus began to speak again, “...If whatever did this were to turn its eye to our shores, I fear we would not be able to repel it so easily. Orisia might be overrun.”

 

Marcellus, ever the bearer of bad news. She recalled a sudden, and vivid memory, of him delivering similar news to her father. Or was that just a dream? A made up scenario created by a lonesome child who had runaway from home. She couldn't even trust her memories anymore.

 

“Not so long as I am La’Ruta’s Child,” her arms crossed, the loose sleeves of her blouse hung off her small shoulders making her appear all the smaller against the depthless night that framed her shape. She made her way closer to the double doors, nearly stepping outside, but lingering just within the pale starlight of the night. “I don’t have many friends left… Send worth to Vivian and her husband, Alazar, I would have them come to the capital, as well as Zenahriel. I need to know if I can still count on the support of the High Lords, if not them… then we will truly be without support. Do this at once, and pray…” she glanced over her shoulder, her hair pulled back into a thick, tight braid. “Pray that those who inhabit this new city are just as fucking terrified about what happened as we are.”

 

She returned her gaze out the doors and sighed. Her fingers curled around the inside of her elbows and her shoulders slumped a little. She had to pray too -- pray that these strangers would be diplomatic, pray that they would understand the predicament they were in more so than the predicament they had put her in. She could not appear fearful before them, or even worried. She had to be angry and hide away her heartbreak for the lives lost, the many, many lives that were lost. She couldn't afford to let them know what a bad hand she had in all of this, but she was also gambling with every last cent that she had.

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“Illyrian casualties were limited to those lost near the Tekker Medical Center and the brave protecting the Spire my Light. Our reports indicate the number has barely breached the thousands.”

 

The bittersweet relief of that number underscored how little the spokesman for the Military Division cared for the number of Orisians that were killed or displaced by their arrival. This incognizant lack of empathy was a product of an isolationist view that was held by many and did no one any favors during the sheer destruction that fell upon Antigua and the island of Ceyana that fateful day. A few feet before the spokesman sat a severely conflicted Raylon, fingers pressed harshly into the metallic table before him to the point where sunkissed flesh almost seemed white from the pressure. He replayed the horrors he witnessed repeatedly in his mind, Illyrian and Orisian flesh both charred and mutilated beyond recognition. Severed body parts littering the landscape lest they were lost to this realm due to being sucked in to the pockets that had started this unwanted merger of two worlds full of contrast in so many ways. It took him almost a full minute to respond to the spokesman’s report, his words full of an authority and sense of responsibility that would batter the poor man even though that was not his intent.

 

“You would do well to not ignore the deaths this event caused on those who had called this land home. It is our responsibility to ensure they are treated with the same amount of respect you would give to any Illyrian. I will not allow the weight of they paid to not be shouldered at least in part by us.”

 

The man was not used to how direct the king’s words were, spoiled by the many years of peace that had left their Light free of burdens and therefore full of the bright optimism that inspired them all. Unsure of how to respond or feel about it all, the spokesman simply replied with one word.

 

“Understood.”

 

The room he had decided to field all of the data acquired from each division during what had occurred shone with self-sufficient light. Crystals decorated the wall around them and kept a bright white glow that had only augmented itself due to the darkness that shrouded the skies outside. He was accustomed to the blanketing darkness and combating it with perpetual light, inspired by a mantra he clung to fiercely now. He would not break under the crushing weight of guilt and encroaching fear that attempted to drag him into damaging depths.

 

He needed to remain poised, calm, and clearly in control to avoid faltering on the actions he knew were necessary here. He knew that what had occurred was not anything Illyria could have prevented nor was their any fault to be had from any division here. Having painstakingly initiated thorough investigations and consulted several of his more neutral advisors, the data was clear and absolved him and his kingdom of any blame. It did not prevent him from being inundated with a sense that he still needed to be responsible and could have done more to ensure more lives could have been spared. A small amount of relief soothed him when he thought of how well Luz had mitigated what damage she could have or the fact that he arrived in time to save thousands from suffering like those beside them already had. Such solace was a worthwhile balm he had cyclically applied whenever he was reminded of the pain this ordeal had caused for so many. Raylon stood up abruptly, tired from the barrage of information he was able to stomach for so many hours with minimal sleep or food. He could not act unless he felt he had enough information to come to a worthwhile conclusion. It was while he began walking toward an open balcony that he felt he could act as efficiently as possible.

 

“That is all for now Terrod. Thank you for what you have done thus far. Tell Reyna that I will be taking some time to meditate.”

 

Terrod shot out of the room, glad to lose himself in duty to avoid truly mulling over what his king had said, the doors automatically opening and then closing shut behind him before being sealed by a wave of Raylon’s left hand. The king leaned on to the railing of the wide open balcony to look at the restoration efforts below him. The room he was in was one of the highest within the spire, not allowing him to distinguish who was within the moving masses below. Shelters had been made for the Orisians unfortunate enough to remain stuck here with no means to leave or who refused to leave without knowing the fate of their loved ones. They had been given an ample amount of space to live comfortably but remained heavily guarded as blame could settle in and mark his people as villains when they were not. He sighed out loud and then spoke.

 

“I wish my return here were under better circumstances Irene….”

 

Forced to delay the inevitable meeting he knew he needed to have with someone he considered a dear friend to make sure he could leave without leaving his people and those that had remained here in a state of chaos, he became somewhat saddened and then gravely concerned with the Black Queen’s well-being. They were both thrust into a situation they could not escape or fix swiftly and Raylon’s heart dropped at the notion of having to face her after such a harsh blow had been delivered regardless of his lack of blame in the matter. After so much good will had been given to him on her behalf, he was unsure what this would do to what had been a distant but solid friendship in his eyes.

 

Disrupted from his thoughts by several loud beeps behind him near the door he had just sealed, he found himself smiling at the interruption knowing he had been foolish to think he could peacefully meditate when there was so much work to be done.

 

“Yes Reyna…”

 

A demure sounding voice slipped through well-hidden speakers now.

 

“I’m sorry to bother you my Light. It seems there is a vessel approaching us from the east. Unsure of intent at this time.”

 

Raylon may have entrusted his military division at one time to address this matter, but something told him that a softer response needed to be employed.

 

“Interesting. Tell all divisions responding to wait for my arrival. I will lead the response myself.”

 

“Sir…are you sure? There is no telling who or what is on that thing. Please reconside….er…I mean…please let us respond so you can finally get some rest.”

 

It was an admirable attempt to appeal the fatigue she had already seen in her king but she was already prepared for the response to come so she was already making arrangements for transport.

 

“Appreciate your concern Reyna but I feel this is something I must do….”

 

“Transport has been arranged. You should arrive at the docks within 10 minutes”

 

Raylon felt a surge of anticipation through him though he was unsure of what to expect. There was no way he could tell whether the vessel approaching harbored ill will, admonishment, or a cocktail full of both and more. Whatever it was, he knew his deft approach was necessary no matter who has decided to visit during such a difficult time.

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“By your will,” Marcellus replied, taking a deep bow.  “I’ll return as soon as I can.”

The knight’s stomach refused to settle as he made his way through the Black Swan. His queen’s friends, they were fickle creatures, as entities of power tend to be. Was there not a High Lord already dwelling on Ceyana, cooped in Brightstorm Keep with his beloved vampiric bride? The Lord of Light, the old knight recalled with disdain. Why then, in Ceyana’s darkest hour, had he not raised his hand and smote the evil that laid siege to the city under the cover of night? Surely, a being of such great power could feel the loss of life as it rippled through existence.

Fickle, Marcellus thought as he instructed two letters to be written and sent – one to Zenahriel, safe in the Red City; the other to Alazar, cooped in Brightstorm Keep. The third high lord, Ryzerus, would receive no plea for assistance. Though ignorant of what had truly occurred between the Black Queen and High Lord, Marcellus had seen her nearly spur her cousin to violence over the mention of his name. The old knight knew, then, whatever it was, he cared not to know.

“We should be able to protect ourselves,” Marcellus grumbled, palming the smooth wooden railing on the deck. “Orisian men and women.”

It was not the first time that Marcellus had brought their underwhelming military presence to the Black Queen’s attention. Likewise, it wasn’t the first time she spurned his suggestions. Orisia was to be a haven for its people, a peaceful, quiet nation in a world marred in war and conflict. Somehow, those conflicts always managed to wash upon their shores. From civil wars to demonic incursions, the world was, as the Black Queen said, becoming an ugly, sickly thing.

How long until Orisia – what remained of it – was swallowed whole?

In his frustration, Marcellus turned his eyes to the distant eastern coast and the towering Cold Mountains that protected the cities just beyond.  What is your game? he thought venomously, cursing the emperor’s name. Why are you doing this? No one controlled Rafael Bartolome – no one. Not tradition, not his cousin, not the fate of their species. That he left – after obtaining all that he’d desired – did not fool the old knight, one of the few still living that knew Rafael from his days in Atitlan. There was something else to this, something more. Marcellus just couldn’t see.

A crewman’s voice stole his attention. “Vessel approaching!”

Marcellus leaned just a bit further, drawing his gaze to the pass. True as night, something was coming toward them.

“Alert the captain,” Marcellus ordered sternly. “Should they prove hostile, we will sink them to the bottom of the Ild. Queensguard, to me.”

Marcellus and four others made their way back toward the royal cabin. While the others took a defensive position by the door, two to a side, Marcellus entered, closing the door behind him. “A vessel approaches, my queen,” he said, nodding his head. “Close enough for me to see. The captain is making preparations.” Be ready to evacuate, he wanted to say, but remained silent.

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Left alone and in silence, Gabriela found a moment to mourn. The rush of sorrow that washed over her was as profound as it was intense, and she found herself leaning heavily against the desk she had stood up to walk around. There weren’t many things that could shake the core of a being such as her, but this -- this horror that happened upon her watch -- cut her deeply, and when met with resistance, seemed to saw at the structure of her very bones with a serrated blade composed of pure emotional turmoil. In this quiet and stillness, she heard the hundreds and thousands of screams, all of them rushing into her imagination and piercing her heart with pin-pricks of pain, until the collection of small wounds left that vital organ of hers nothing more than paper thin. Every beat of her heart, slow and measured as it was, threatened to tear at the weakened valves.

 

And she would have succumbed to it had it not been for Marcellus who just so happened to return in that very moment. It instantly bothered her that he would see her in such a weakened state. She knew where his mind was. She knew that he was disappointed with the current allocation of military force, and that he looked upon the Orisian defenses with all the disappointment of a brilliant general who has been deposed to the lowest of the low ranks. She didn’t want him to see that she herself was a source of such ineptitude and weakness. Gabriela desperately wanted to hide how badly she was hurting from the loss of so many Orisians, and so she snapped when he entered and straightened immediately. What she could not hide were her tears, which she made sure were out of sight by keeping her back to him. Instead she appeared to lean over her desk to examine some of the papers he had left behind.

 

“What is it Marcellus, I do not believe that you've already tended to the commands I issued.”

 

If her voice offended his pride, he did not show it, and she did not so much as pretend to worry. There was a heavy moment of silence, before at long last, the elder vampyre spoke up.

 

“A vessel approaches, my queen. Close enough for me to see. The captain is making preparations.”

 

She could hear it in his voice, that not so subtle edge of protectiveness she often heard in the voice of those who found her capable of great things. It wasn’t a possessiveness, far from the likes of Roen or Raphael. It was the love and the devotion of those who followed someone they earnestly believed in, and the edge in his voice came from the fear of the unknown, and the understanding that her young age made her less likely to survive an onslaught.

 

“We will go down with this ship, Sir Marcellus -- we will go down fighting for every last man, woman, and child that was murdered. But let us be hopeful, and let us pray that it will not come to that…”

 

But what else can it come down to?

 

They murdered more than a million people…

 

Even her bleeding heart idealism could not simply change the sheer magnitude of this disaster. Whether ordeal had been an accident or not, the sheer number of lives that were lost demanded retribution. If she didn’t fight now, she would have to fight when she returned home to the capital -- she would have to fight every last vulture that sat close and leaned in, waiting for her to fail so that they could claim the throne.

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His trip to the docks was riddled in silent musings, attempting to formulate several different approaches which never resulted in the picturesque reunion he would have liked to have with such a beloved friend. The existence of his kingdom here proved to be a catastrophe no one could have ever imagined occurring. Such egregious loss could only have been coordinated by someone so vile and cruel that there was no semblance of empathy present within them. If only he had someone clear to blame and direct this righteous anger he felt so that he could approach the leader of this wounded kingdom with a promise of retribution. Resting his face in the palms of his hands before expelling a sigh of frustration that was unbecoming of the calming Light of Illyria, he heard the door of the small vehicle he had chosen to deliver him to his destination. The sleek silver metal of the door with several veiny pathways embedded into its body slid open and he was met with Luz immediately, her stern gaze foreshadowing the complaint that was surely to come. Luz barely let him step on to the docks before making sure she was heard.

 

“My king, you should let someone from the military division handle making contact with the incoming vessel. Our Light shouldn’t have to extend himself for the likes of….them until we have discerned their intent.”

 

He had begun to increase his walking speed in the middle of her words and the woman matched his pace effortlessly. Readying himself to board the large Illyrian A.R.V that was being manned by a small crew that had worked tirelessly to calibrate the machine for the odd environment of Ceyana as well as the restrictive force that would begin to oppress them out at sea, he turned to regard Luz fluidly as he did not want her to delay his sure departure.

 

“I need you to continue your investigation into what occurred so I have some concrete data to deliver to the council and to the Orisian monarch. Tell those in the military to prepare their defenses should I fail to ensure our safety in Orisian waters…”

 

His last few words caught her off guard, knowing fully well that the safest option they had was to remain within this bubble of influence caused by the horrors of that day that at least kept all of their skill, ingenuity, and technology available for use.

 

“You can’t be serious. No…”

 

 

Before she could finish, his smile silenced her just long enough to allow him to have the men start the amphibious reconnaissance vessel’s journey into the Ild Pass. The vehicle was littered with all sorts of defensive features and minimal offense as it was just a research vessel they intended to use to learn more about this world they have been dropped into. He considered it a perfect option to confront whoever laid in the vessel, even more so that the mechanical aspects of the vehicle would allow him to enter Orisian waters and avoid being swallowed by the sea. The size of the vessel was not much smaller than the Black Swan, emanating a piercing light that would be seen from behind the invisible threshold that marked the beginning of La’Ruta’s influence for his people now. He stood in the forward section of the vessel, clad in official Illyrian robes that began to hum ever so slightly as he began his approach.

 

“My Light, are you sure you want to continue further? We will be rendered nearly inert in a few minutes and utterly defenseless should they decide to attack.”

 

“Yes. I will ensure our safety should they unfortunately wish to attack instead of engaging us peacefully.”

 

 

Raikoh suddenly appeared near its master and hovered behind him as silvery eyes stared at the Black Swan with a growing resolve and optimism that this all would end well somehow. He would turn this tragedy into fruitful promise for everyone.

 

The A.R.V entered into La’Ruta’s influence, causing the blinding light of the vehicle to flicker several times before immediately shutting off. The speed of the vehicle’s approach was hampered almost immediately by the oppressive energy and the sound of several ancillary devices shutting down would be heard. The crashing sound of the waves colliding with his vessel was all he could hear as they finally closed the distance enough that those aboard the Black Swan would see several Illyrians dressed in black military garb rushing around the boat to begin manually controlling the ship. The distinct white robe he wore would likely stand out in the sea of black and he began initiating several hand movements that took several agonizing seconds to complete before ramming Raikoh into the ground. The staff resonated and provided him the platform he needed to speak to whoever was on board. His voice amplified itself over the sound of the waves and the propulsion of both ships.

 

“Welcome, Orisian vessel, this is Raylon Tekker, king of Illyria hailing with the intent to come aboard. Please provide a sign of acknowledgment.”

 

Those who felt they had more nautical expertise than their king cringed a bit as the king revealed himself so plainly to be on board when there was a vessel before them they knew little about that held the capacity to initiate an attack. It would be a worthy blow to decimate the king of what they may consider an invading force to execute some sort of revenge for their loss. Despite what they knew were amicable relations between their Light and the Vampyre Queen, they wouldn’t expect her to care about that when slighted or in self-preservation. For that reason, the men and women aboard the ship worked feverishly to keep this vessel afloat and man whatever stations were still operational should things go awry. They failed to sense their king’s superfluous optimism and the hope he held that everything would turn out well. Was he but a fool tempting the ire of a fair-weather friend?

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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Captain Raiser Truth II

Unlike the wide majority of people that called the kingdom of Orisia home, or the dwelt in the Carmine’s dominions, Raiser never became comfortable with the idea of being surrounded by vampyres. And while fangs comprised more than of his crew, and he captained the Black Swan, a ship in service to the Queen of Vampyres, there was always an uneasy feeling whenever he caught sight of their pale, perfect skin, their razor-sharp fangs, or their vibrant eyes that skewered you like blades.

He once described it as a stag being friends with a wolf. No matter how glorious its antlers, the stag was food to the wolf and its pack. Did his men see a captain – did his queen see a captain, a man to be respected and honored, a man they could trust? Or did they merely see a glorified steak, wrapped in bacon and seasoned to perfection?

The thought made him shudder.

Some were worse than others, of course. The captain of the Queensguard, for instance. Raiser couldn’t remember his name correctly – something with an M – but he recognized the man’s hard, cold stare. Dealing with vampyres every day of his life, Raiser had come to learn their looks better than most. He knew when they were interested and looking inside you, trying to figure out how you work; when they were bored, looking through you, imagining something more entertaining.

The Captain of the Queensguard had a look that Raiser had never seen before, the kind that, even though you might be standing directly in front of him, said you hadn’t yet registered in his perception. He always seemed to be looking into the far off distance, at some place invisible to the naked eye, someplace that only he could see – perhaps the past, Raiser wondered?

“Captain Truth,” a smooth voice called out to him.

Raiser lifted his hat from over his eyes, but remained comfortably sunken in his hammock. “What is it, Salem?”

“Vessel approaching,” the first hand said, failing to look worried. It must be hard for vampyres – being so beautiful and perfect. “The fancy knight said to get ready for battle stations in case they’re hostile.”

Shit, Raiser said, fighting to stand.

“They flying any colors?”

She shook her head. “No, just approaching.”

Raiser nodded, straightening his hat and fetching his sword and flintlock. “Well, do as the Cap—as the Queen’s knight said. Have everyone at the ready.”

Salem nodded and vanished in a blur of speed and momentum. Fastening his equipment to the leather buckle around his waist, Raiser stepped out from his cabin and made his way to the deck, grumbling about the old, stern Queensguard captain and him giving orders on a ship that didn’t belong to him.

 

Marcellus, Captain of the Queensguard

“Forgive me, Your Majesty, but we will do no such thing,” Marcellus argued, lifting his chin in defiance. “You are not a seafaring captain. Nor are you a soldier.” He knew the Black Queen was not helpless and by no means defenseless. While perhaps less powerful than her cousin or the suitors that vied for her hand, she was more skilled than some of the finest human soldiers he’d ever seen.

“You are a queen, deserving better than an unmarked, watery grave in the Pass.” Marcellus stepped closer, eyes narrowed, voice stern. “I prepared for this moment before we left the capital.” He reached into his satchel and procured a small vial, filled with all manner of reagents. “Should the worst come to pass, I will activate this and you will be transported to safety. You are the child of La’Ruta, the heart of Orisia, and our people need their queen. If these fiends and abominations turn their hungry eyes toward our shores, you must lead our people to salvation.”

He tucked the vial into the sash around his waist, and turned from his queen for what might be the last time. “We will avenge our people, one way or the other.”

 

Captain Raiser Truth II

“Welcome, Orisian vessel, this is Raylon Tekker, king of Illyria hailing with the intent to come aboard. Please provide a sign of acknowledgment.”

“A pretentious lot, aren’t they?” Raiser murmured, earning a chuckle from Salem at his side.

Who were they to welcome an Orisian vessel in Orisian waters? These foreigners, sailing their waters – proclaiming royalty, as if they were owed. Were these the olden days of honor and piracy, the ‘king’s’ poor choice of words might have ignited a feud on the choppy waters. There was only one monarch Raiser recognized, one ruler of all the Orisian Isles – and she was in her cabin aboard the Black Swan.

“He comes alone,” he said to Salem. “Or they can anchor on the flank, and he can speak to the Queen across the water. Makes no difference to me.”

Salem nodded and vanished, springing down to another deckhand.

The man hurried to the edge of the boat, totting a small horn in his hand. Lifting it to his lips, the man breathed deep and blew. But what came out was not a bellowing roar. “Well-met, foreigners. The captain agrees to your boarding under the terms that you come alone and unarmed. Should you find these requests unreasonable, anchor on the starboard side, and you may discuss terms from the comfort of your vessel.” The sound died, and the words hung in the air for a moment longer before breaking apart over the waves below.

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“Forgive me, Your Majesty, but we will do no such thing. You are not a seafaring captain. Nor are you a soldier.”

 

At some point, at the beginning of Marcellus long-winded speech, Gabriela had turned her back to him. She did this, mostly to avoid disrespecting the elder vampyre with the sight of her golden eyes rolling. Her fondness for the man was too great to risk injury to his sense of importance by way of a mere glance -- how did that line go?

 

And in themselves their pride lies buried,

For at a frown they in their glory die.

 

No, it was better to keep the disillusionment she felt over his words private. There would be time enough to show him -- to make him trust her. Although he considered himself different than all the rest who had served her, the reality was that Marcellus was just as doubtful of her abilities as anyone else. It was duty and honor that bound him to protect her. Whatever lingering respect he held for her father all but forced him to be loyal to the King's offspring, but his trust and his confidence would have to be earned. She understood this. But if they were going to have any sort of meaningful conversation she was  going to have to control the direction of their relationship.

 

“You are a queen, deserving better than an unmarked, watery grave in the Pass. I prepared for this moment before we left the capital…”

 

She turned to him now, eyes narrowed.

 

“You prepared for this?”

 

Did he think so little of her that he had come prepared should the situation turn dire. Of course it made sense, of course she understood -- but she didn’t, not really. It was his job to ensure her safety. It was his duty to ensure she lived. Managing her hurt, and smoldering anger, she returned to her desk and opened a drawer, she didn’t bother sitting. Instead, she set one of her booted feet on the seat and produced from the drawer a dagger. It was all silver metal, with a three inch hilt and a three inch blade, in perfect balance. She tucked this into her boot and then did the same with the other.

 

“Should the worst come to pass, I will activate this and you will be transported to safety. You are the child of La’Ruta, the heart of Orisia, and our people need their queen. If these fiends and abominations turn their hungry eyes toward our shores, you must lead our people to salvation.”

 

There was one last dagger -- the third of the collection. It was like it’s sisters, save that for some unknown reason, it was Gabriela’s favorite. This blade, she regarded with affection for just a moment, before securing it in a hidden holster along the small of her back, under her coat. When she was done with this task, she walked around her desk and came to a standstill before her Knight.

 

“I am La’Ruta’s child, I am the Queen of Orisia -- and I don’t think those things mean what you think they mean.”

 

Marcellus towered over her, as most people did -- men or women. Gabriela was a petite thing, a creature of elegance, stealth, but not much height. She tilted her head back to look into the vampyres eyes, but did not lose an ounce of her authority.

 

“Gone are the days of Orisia’s queen being a passive player in the nation’s future. My people need to know that I am not only willing to rule over them, but that I am willing to die for them.”

 

Without another word, she reached out and caught the vial of liquid that Marcellus had shown her. She saw his flinch, and knew his intention had been to rip it back from her grasp. He struggled against that inclination, but gave up and stood still. She could tell it was just about the hardest thing the old knight had ever had to do. The vial was held up to the light between her small, pale fingers -- the liquid inside frosting over, icing up just from her touch. It’s a strange occurrence, one belonging only to Gabriela, and to Luca, her father before her. There’s no vampyre with blood cold enough to do such a thing, willingly or not.

 

“You better start acting like you really believe that I am a savior.”

 

With that she tossed the vial out the open doors, beyond the small balcony at  the back of the ship. The liquid, safe in it’s glass container, quickly sinks under the choppy waters. And Gabriela, not wanting to see his reaction or wait for his criticism begins circle around to her desk again, until…

 

“...this is Raylon Tekker, king of Illyria hailing with the intent to come aboard.”

 

She heard what would have been impossible for a human to hear. She was gone then, with Marcellus close behind her no doubt. Moving at that pace that only vampyres can achieve, she was upon the deck no more than a second or two after hearing the proclamation. When she stopped, appearing suddenly upon the railing of the ship, near where Salem and the captain stood watching, she was already speaking although it wasn’t to either of them.

 

“Raylon is my friend and ally. He will be allowed upon this ship with whatever retinue he feels is necessary for his safety.”

 

There she stood, the sea breeze catching wisps of her dark hair and pulling them free from her braid. She forced herself to reach out and hold on to a nearby rope that hung from sail to pole, for the sheer look of it, so that others might think her more normal -- more human. The truth was she would never lose her balance on that rail, regardless of how violent the seas could get. But what could knock her sideways, at any moment, was the revelation that Raylon may have actually been behind this. Dark and terrible thoughts crossed her mind, the worst of which was a sense of dread and guilt. Was she responsible for this? Had she invited the wolf into her field of lambs and thereby allowed their slaughter?

 

Oh Raylon, what have you done...


 

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“Well-met, foreigners. The captain agrees to your boarding under the terms that you come alone and unarmed. Should you find these requests unreasonable, anchor on the starboard side, and you may discuss terms from the comfort of your vessel.”

 

“They must be out of their minds if they think we will allow our Light to board alone. Scheming dark creatures….”

“We didn’t choose to be dropped into their world. If they want to make those demands then maybe we should have let them dock our land. We are not relinquishing any advantage to….them…”

 

With a spit of disgust and majority agreement, the men made the assumption that their Light was in agreement but Raylon simply stared out into the watery abyss before him, furrowing his brows and bringing the pad of his thumb and index finger just above his right eye as he juggled his possible options within his burdened mind. It would be foolish of him to blindly trust anyone on that vessel and place himself in a position where he would be forced to defend himself.

 

The men behind him continued to work to keep the vessel afloat, tweaking several subsystems to maintain buoyancy and power should they need to activate any defenses. The captain of the vessel spoke plainly to his leader.

 

“So what are you going to do my king?”

 

The struggle of maintaining strength when debilitating guilt and anguish aimed to drag him down made Raylon hesitate as his silver eyes stared blankly at the Black Swan as if he could extract answers from staring alone but he did not. Instead, he dug deep into whatever reserves he had and relied on instinct to provide his next option. He regretted leaving Luz back on shore now as her particular set of skills would have been all he needed to mostly comply with their demands. His only other regrettable option was to rely on someone he would rather leave suppressed than ever allow any agency to.

 

<“Just board the ship whelp. You know you have the strength to make them regret any underhanded tactics. I will ensure your survival.”>

 

There wasn’t a hint of care or protection laced within the words Havoc provided then and Raylon immediately became suspicious of the deity’s willingness to place him in danger as if he knew what might happen already. Raylon turned to his men and finally delivered his directive regardless.

 

“I will board the ship alone. Stay vigilant and follow your captain’s orders…”

 

The captain, wide-eyed, immediately objected.

 

“I cannot let you do this alone. Let me come with you. They cannot possibly deny at least one person…”

 

A hand firmly landed on the captain’s shoulders.

 

“We have invaded their home. No matter how much deniability we know we have, they cannot possibly know that we have not come to declare war. I will do my best to ensure you and all of our people do not suffer any more than we already have. We must approach with humility…not arrogance. Now bring us closer.”

 

The captain clearly disagreed but followed orders regardless, slowly bringing the vessel closer before beginning the boarding process. Several of his men darted angry glances over to whatever crew was visible on the Orisian ship, wary of all of them no matter whether they were vampyre, human, or any other race. Raylon decidedly left Raikoh on the Illyrian vessel, the staff humming and then shaking uncontrollably as if it disagreed with its wielder as well. The Illyrian Robe that he wore vibrated violently, especially as it came closer to Marcellus or any vampiric crewmember. He rose to a point where he could finally see most of those aboard the ship and then found his lips parting in surprise at the one person he had not expected to see so soon.

 

“Irene…”

 

His eyes began to water significantly and then his gaze became downcast for a few brief moments before he breathed in deeply and finally stepped foot on the Black Swan. He lifted his head and then his silver eyes never lost sight of the golden pools he remembered so vividly though her countenance denoted a gap between them thick with confusion. If she kept her gaze on him she would notice the absence of that familiar smile that had never wavered in their previous meetings. This confrontation was something he had begun to dread ever since he arrived in what was previously Antigua that day. He had tried to prepare himself for it, but the sight of her small frame battered him to the point where it was simply a struggle not to allow the pain and sadness he felt for her people lay waste to him right then and there.

 

He could not speak right now for fear that his voice would evince how utterly unprepared he was right now. His mind struggled to find out how to approach this but he feared he would not be able to adequately prepare for this no matter how much time he had to collect himself. There the Illyrian King stood, staring helplessly at the Black Queen of Orisia, mouth parting occasionally as if he wanted to speak but he just couldn’t for what seemed like eons.

 

She deserved better in this moment, however, so it was after a few moments to gather himself that all he could muster were these next few words….

 

“I am so sorry Irene….”

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In all his years, no task had ever been as frustrating as his service to the Black Queen. He loved Gabriela as if she were his own daughter, and there were times he nearly forgot his station. The Child of La’Ruta, the Black Queen, and the Ruler of Summer – what had any of these titles mattered in the past? Powerful as she liked to believe she was, there was far too much evidence in support of the contrary. All the power that rested at her fingertips, she had never cared to harness it, to learn to wield it, and Marcellus feared that her negligence and pacifism would cost them.

Gabriela’s bravado did nothing to quell his worry, and if she expected her trusted knight’s support, this was the night she would not receive it. He would not apologize for being prepared, for putting her life above his own, as a proper knight ought to. What would become of the young prince, of their home, if she were cast to the bottom of the Pass, a blade through her heart? Yes, it sounded glorious and honorable – fighting to the last man, going down with the ship, but it was not realistic.

She’d read too many stories, foolish tales that romanticized death and the loss of life.

All the same, Marcellus knew better than to reproach his monarch. After all, he was but a knight, noble and true. He would leave the verbal sparring matches between the queen and her tailed lover, or her devious cousin. You nobles are always so proud, his eyes said as he looked at her, crossed and irritated. Let us hope that you’ve not sealed the fate of our nation with this foolishness. Though, he suspected it might not be so bad – the dead feel no pain, and know no shame.

It wasn’t until she spoke next that Marcellus could no longer hold his tongue.

Raylon is my friend and ally. He will be allowed upon this ship with whatever retinue he feels is necessary for his safety.”

Marcellus stepped forward, waving his hand sharply at the nearest crew member. “My orders stand.” Glancing at her from over his armored shoulder, Marcellus narrowed his eyes. “Her Majesty’s ‘friend and ally’ is associated with the slaughter of tens of thousands of our people. If he is innocent and means you no harm, then his safety is not in jeopardy. We are not senseless butchers.”

Fortunately, before the situation could devolve further, the foreign ruler crossed onto their deck. The Queensguard formed a tall, armored wall between Raylon and the Black Queen, with Marcellus at the head. Their hands rested on the pommels of their blades, ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

Irene…

“Your Majesty,” Marcellus corrected him sharply.

“… I’m so sorry, Irene.”

The old knight proved unmoved by the foreign murderer’s heartfelt confession, his teary eyes, and inability to find the proper words to convey his shame. How could he? These people had brought death to the Summer Isles the likes of which had not been seen since the Fete Ghede Massacre, a wound that had only just scabbed over. There was nothing Raylon could do or say that would make amends for what had transpired.

Gabriela stood at the precipice that would, for years to come, define her rule. Would she be the Queen of Orisia or the friend of Raylon?

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“Her Majesty’s ‘friend and ally’ is associated with the slaughter of tens of thousands of our people. If he is innocent and means you no harm, then his safety is not in jeopardy. We are not senseless butchers.”

 

They were surrounded by people that would never understand them. They were two floating islands in a vast sea of hateful people and yet they had somehow managed to cross paths, link arms, and remain connected. Somehow they found each other and became friends -- somehow they found solace with one another. Of all the world, they were two who understood each other better than most, perhaps, best of all -- for who else could be said to carry such responsibility, to try and embody such ethics, and to be haunted by the deviousness of ancient and bored deities?

 

She felt the tension in the tether that kept them bound to one another as they stared at each other, people swarming around them like maggots trying to devour flesh that was not yet dead. They were alive -- Gabriela and Raylon -- they were two living creatures being pulled apart by death, being forced onto opposite sides of that great ocean.

 

“I’m so sorry, Irene.”

 

Her heart ached for him.

 

There were tears in Raylon’s silver eyes -- his moonlight eyes, and her own, summerset and warm, were full of compassion and love for her friend. The loss was so much worse than what Marcellus had just commented. Millions. She told him that by the end of everything, that when all the bones were collected and all the bodies counted -- it would be millions of lives lost. The weight of that guilt, she saw every last ounce of it carried upon the broad shoulders of a man who had no equal in regards to kindness and empathy. And through all of the animosity, in which they floated now, she could not help but wonder what he must be feeling and how he could possibly be coping.

 

Queen or friend? That was what this defining moment was suppose to ensure. The men and women who stood around them, watching and waiting, would go back to their homes to tell stories of what had transpired. Her own people, lusting for blood and vengeance and his -- terrified of the implications of being seen as invaders. But she didn’t know what had happened or why. More importantly, she didn’t know how many people they had lost.

 

The world is watching… Came his whisper, dark and alluring -- promising protection from the repercussions of the major fuck-up that she was expected to make of all of this. Though he was a mocking force, she knew that there was the promise of protection in his arrival. He was back, returned from the self-inflicted banishment. He was here to save her -- to sweep her away into oblivion where she would be safe from every possible pitfall.

 

It was such a temptation.

 

“People of Orisia,” she called, though her voice did not raise by much. Everyone was silent already, but still she wanted to make sure their eyes were upon her. Her own eyes shifted from Raylon to those upon the other vessel, those who looked at her with distrust even though it was through her and their king’s efforts that they had been fed once upon a time. “People of Illyria...The world is watching...Let us not be moved by base instincts of vengeance or tribalism before we have even attempted to gain an understanding of the tragedy that has befallen us -- all of us.”

 

From her position on the railing, standing above everyone else, she commanded attention but when she jumped down she was nearly lost amongst the crowd. She was a small creature, petite in every way. Still, the people shifted and opened for her, leaving a trail that led directly to Raylon.

 

“Come, my friend...my brother...tell me what has happened,” she motioned for the Illyrian King to follow, and she did not wait to see if he would do so. She needed to get him out of public -- he was barely hanging on. The good king needed her to be his friend now more than ever, and that meant giving him the proper cover and safety to express his sense of loss and to explain exactly what had happened. So she took the lead, she was the strong and brave one. She stood up straight and pushed forward, even as hear heart grew heavier and heavier.

 

So many had died.

 

They would be counting bones for years.

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<”Weak….utterly weak. This was your opportunity to stand tall and impose yourself but you chose humility. Will I have to save you when they aim to devour you and your people?”>

 

Each time the deity forever tethered to his very soul spoke chipped away at his mind, forcing him into a position where friendship clashed with regal responsibility. The people he left on that vessel were glaring at the group that surrounded him as well as the Black Queen, itching to have just one single reason to defend their Light but they would not allow their composure to falter. Illyrians did not allow their initial impulse to govern their actions but it did not mean that they would allow any foreigner free reign against their Light or their people.

 

Raylon’s gaze shifted downward but slowly elevated itself to regard Marcellus, the slight film along his eyes disappearing after several blinks and a deep breath. The suspicion and rage that lingered upon the group that stood between him and their queen was palpable but he did not cower like some guilty messenger. His understanding of their desire for vengeance and retaliation urged him to stare at Marcellus first before letting his silver gaze traverse along this armored wall that was created. It was oddly comforting to witness the loyalty and confidence of those in service of the Black Queen even when faced with the threat they posed to him at such a proximity. His arms lifted slightly and hands stretched out to confirm he had come unarmed but that did not prevent them from noticing how his robe reacted to their closeness. The fabric was laced with enchantments and symbols from a variety of different types of magic and none of them agreed with the men before him. It was clear, however, that the robes were decorated with regalia that tacitly spoke of his position. Whether they cared to acknowledge its odd characteristics would be completely up to them.

 

Gabriela’s voice stirred him out of his perusal of her loyal knights, turning his head slightly as soon as she called to her people…and then his. The diplomatic approach she employed immediately pulled him out of his own self-imposed prison, reminding him to focus on the tangible sensitivities present here and allowing him to collect himself in this moment. Teary eyes began to dry and his head rose up that much more prominently as he was approached by Gabriela. She opened up a much needed avenue for him that allowed him to comfortably begin moving, gaze shifting between the guards that had comprised the armored wall.

 

Meanwhile, the men confined to the Illyrian vessel near the Black Swan began discussing amongst themselves.

 

“She wasn’t at all what I expected.”

“She was almost beautiful and her words seemed genuine….”

“Nonsense. Nothing but glamour and deception men. Don’t let her get into your heads!”

“Just trust in our Light and prepare for anything. We have endured far worse….”

 

Raylon did not address his people before he left, electing to be efficient with his time and begin following the petite Queen. He expected a litany of scrutinizing eyes and hovering movements from those who wished to protect her so he kept himself at what he considered an acceptable distance. Each step was calculated, fueled by an empathy for their plight as much as a respect for the responsibility he held to make sure this meeting did not end poorly. He needed to match the strength of the woman before him as much for her sake as his own.

 

So many had died.

 

So many more could should this go wrong.

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Gabriela’s senseless praising of her long-time friend made the old knight’s stomach twist in disgust. Keep your blades at bay, he understood. Let us speak first before we offer more blood to the Pass, still red and murky near the coast of Ceyana from Antigua’s slaughter, he understood, as well. But to call this man her friend, her brother, rather than address him with the formality of a foreigner walked a dangerous line. Indeed, Marcellus felt the tide of whispers rising, slow and steady, weighting the air surrounding the Black Swan.

Orisians were, if nothing else, fickle. They breathed loyalty to the Queen in one moment, then cursed her name the next. They were her people, the devil’s people, the emperor’s people, pendulous as they swung from lord to lord. With the Battle for Versilla still so fresh on the mind, and the slaughter of Antigua’s people not a week old, this had been the Black Queen’s chance to assert herself – to show her people, the world, that her friendships and relationships with beasts, demons, and self-righteous racists did not supersede her duty to the them.

All it would take is one whisper, one skewed accounting of what transpired on this ship, and their home would once again be plunged into chaos. And that was something Marcellus would not stand for.

“Captain,” the old knight called out.

Raiser tilted his head. “Hm?”

“How well do you control your men?”

The question earned the knight captain a horde of queer looks.

“As well as any captain,” Raiser said.

“Then ensure they understand that any mention of what transpires on this ship concerning the discourse between our queen and the foreigner will be taken as an act of sedition,” Marcellus said coldly. “And I will see to it personally that they are met with the full extent of the Queen’s Justice.”

Raiser raised his hands. “There’s no need for all that, Ser. We serve the same queen you do – every single one of us, and have no desire to stir up any trouble on the home front.”

“Good.”

The Black Queen and her guest had already retreated from the deck, and Marcellus was quick to follow. As he passed the others of her Queensguard, orders were whispered, and all at once, six pair of sharp, cold eyes turned to the Illyrian ship. The knights remained unmoving, hands on their pommels, awaiting the first signs of trouble. Glamorous and deceptive though they were believed to be by the foreign butchers, their blades were unquestioningly honest.

Inside the royal cabin, Marcellus stood to the left of its threshold, his hand wrapped firmly around the hilt of his blade. Gabriela might not have a desire to request Raylon’s life, but if she were to change her mind, her oldest knight, her truest protector, would become her executioner and deliver Raylon’s head with a flick of the wrist.

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Beloved king and beloved knight were both lead back into her spacious quarters. Yes, the Black Swan was a relic of ancient naval capacities, but along with its age, it offered an old world charm that very few modern vehicles could ever hope to replicate. Her chamber was outfitted in dark woods, which had been polished and well oiled. There was a rich aroma, something akin to tobacco and whiskey -- something undeniably male. But somehow, the petite Black Queen appeared right at home amidst the elaborate wooden carvings, the hard lines of the interior, and dark shades of brown, burgundy, and weathered copper. Without saying a word to either of them, without commenting on what she heard Marcellus demand of the captain, or the whispers that Raylon’s people were still spreading back and forth -- without concern for any of that -- Gabriela entered her cabin and walked straight across the room to a high-backed, wide-winged, black leather chair. Rather than relax into the overly stuffed chair, she leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees and cupped her face in her hands. For a moment it looked as if she were weeping, until she sighed and pulled herself up and straightened.

 

“The stories coming out of Ceyana are absolutely harrowing,” her golden eyes lifted and settled on Raylon -- they had never looked so dull. Whatever light lived within, it was flickering and threatening to extinguish. All of this, it was simply too much heartbreak. “Indescribable terror, unimaginable horror. Millions of my people slaughtered in a fashion so grisly that I cannot bare to repeat it, and an entire city -- a whole city made up of schools, of markets, of museums, and homes, hundreds of homes -- gone. Simply gone.”

 

She leveled these accusations out into the open space between them, but never laid them at his feet. She couldn't do such a thing. Regardless of what she had heard, of what witnesses were reporting, she knew in her heart that she had to give Raylon a chance to defend himself and his people. But things didn’t look good. How could they? His people were distrusting creatures, and it made her wonder if they had any idea of the good that Orisia had once done for them -- which would mean that Raylon did not share his experience with them. The thought that the Good King had perhaps not done everything in his power to convey to his own people the depth of their friendship was an added ache in all of this misery.

 

“I was both, glad and worried when I saw you standing opposite to me upon that ship, Raylon. But now I don’t know. They tell me that great walls of metal have risen out from the ruins of Antigua -- they tell me that all of a great country had fallen and landed, and crushed beneath it my people. How is that possible? Can it be…”

 

She was up and out of her chair. Gabriela moved across the room, she disappeared from view only to reappear before Raylon, employing that heightened agility and speed that her species were so well known for. It wasn’t necessary, and it wasn’t a tactic to cause him fear -- rather, it was a slip on her part, a sudden descent into her true nature. And just like that, rather suddenly, she was standing nearly toe-to-toe with him, peering up into his equally worried face, trying to decipher the bewilderment in his silver eyes.

 

“Raylon, what happened...Did you do this? Did you do this to me?”

 

Once upon a time she had found Raylon to be a handsome man. It wasn’t that the attraction was gone -- Raylon was a good looking specimen -- but rather that it had transcended with the strength and longevity of their friendship. But now, when she felt that quaking, and their bond slipping, she found that his face was once more unfamiliar and simply handsome, even as it was etched with internal pain. She wondered what her own face appeared like to him. She was so cold, so perfect -- beautiful but without much in the way of emotion. Gabriela was stone, a perfect marble statue. It made her hurt all the more to think she could not convey her suffering to him, or that perhaps her eyes were simply too beautiful to reveal how anguished she was inside.

 

“Please tell me you didn’t do this,” she whispered -- no, she pleaded.

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Raylon’s nose was assaulted by the aromas present on board this vessel, the combination of tobacco and whiskey things that were not particularly pleasing to him at this time especially with how honed his senses had become due to stress. Comfort was something he was struggling to achieve and it was clear with how methodical every single one of his movements became. The king kept himself equidistant to both queen and knight, keeping his arms free and his stance such that he could see both threatening blade and burdened beauty. Not offered a seat amidst the confusion and tension, he kept himself at a stand, silver eyes regarding Marcellus briefly before he turned his attention to Gabriela as she cupped her face in her hands. The brief silence that embellished that moment struck him harshly and he could not help but sigh almost in unison with the Black Queen in that moment though his was more subdued and likely drowned out by the words that followed.

 

“The stories coming out of Ceyana are absolutely harrowing,”

 

The golden eyes that flickered and tacitly displayed the diminishing of their usual vigor made this moment all the more saddening to the king and it was in this moment that Havoc took the opportunity to inject himself yet again.

 

<”Here it comes oh once great king. A comparison of suffering that you will clearly fall short in. What will the mild-mannered Illyrian do when the weight of Orisian hate comes upon him?”>

 

“Indescribable terror, unimaginable horror. Millions of my people slaughtered in a fashion so grisly that I cannot bare to repeat it, and an entire city….”

 

Some of the queen’s words were drowned out by the mounting sadness that she had managed to pile on him as she voiced out the impact of what had occurred for her people and he couldn’t hide it, attempting to stand there calmly but finding tears trickling down his cheek all the same. She might not have delivered those words in accusatory fashion but he knew it lingered. He knew the question would come and he could not blame her for seeking confirmation. He wanted her to simply launch the inquiry right then and there but instead she provided him more insight into her thought process which caused fingers to twitch as he itched to respond yet he let her continue. He then felt his robes react to the sudden proximity of her form and couldn’t help but look at Marcellus soon after making sure his hands were visible to the knight as he took just one step back to receive the question he had been waiting for.

 

“Raylon, what happened…Did you do this? Did you do this to me?”

 

Even though he had expected the question, his eyes still widened as they stared into the confronting gold before him. He couldn’t let words escape him this time and he definitely could not let himself be vilified. The king stood there burning with concern and utterly imperfect yet he did not allow the burden of his emotions to hinder the confidence of the words that he delivered now.

 

“The deaths of millions of Orisians and Illyrians came unexpectedly due to some dimensional tears that originated from what I now know for certain was the eastern portion of Ceyana. Whoever or whatever caused them had to have a device with energy reserves unheard of by any of my people or be an entity capable of creating and maintaining an exorbitant amount of energy. Levels that have only ever been seen when confronted by gods or titans.”

 

His composure was crumbling soon after his explanation despite it being an admirable attempt to remain logical and not allow his emotions to flavor his words too heavily. He had made it a point to deliver the facts first before expressing the depth of the pain he felt now.

 

“I would never dream of harming one of our most critical allies…”

 

Raylon looked at Marcellus yet again before turning again to stare at Gabriela.

 

“your Majesty. What occurred in Ceyana is a tragedy neither one of us could have foreseen. I arrived with my people just in time to halt any further damage as soon as we confirmed were able to cross into your world and managed to prevent more death with the help of some good Samaritans that were present but we were unable to reverse what had already occurred.”

 

His expression was an ugly mess of sadness, pain, and embarrassment now at being incapable of somehow making things right. He hesitated to continue, assessing the inadequacy of his attempt to clear him or his people of any blame but in the end he resigned himself to understanding that he could craft a formidable defense but it shouldn’t stop Gabriela or her people from remaining suspicious or even hostile. He only had the currency of the good will he had shown in the past and the depth of his friendship to back up his claims but would that ever be enough?

 

“Illyria has been forced into existence here against the will of me and my people. Those walls of metal and crystal are their homes. A currently irreversible occurrence that only serves to make the deaths that occurred that much more painful…I know.”

 

Raylon made it a point to stare long into those golden eyes now, his voice full of a myriad of tones and emotions.

 

“I did not mean for any of this to happen to your people nor mine. Were I capable of restoring what was lost to you…”

 

Raylon looked at Marcellus quickly before focusing on the queen yet again.

 

“I would gladly do so. I do not expect words alone can mend these wounds that have been delivered but I am here to begin figuring out where we go from here.”

 

He breathed heavily and then simply waited, replaying his words in his head, sure of the imperfection of his delivery in his own eyes and preparing himself for a rebuttal that would let him know where he stood with the beauty directly before him.

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