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Blood on the Crown [Ild Pass]

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 Marcellus’ stoic expression hid a wealth of emotions behind his set jaw, sharp amber eyes, and pressed lips. The foremost of which was anger. It was not a raging inferno of heat and flames that, once unleashed, would consume the Black Swan and all its passengers. It was not the scorching sun above the dry, desolate Velhatien desert that sucked the moisture of life right from the flesh. It was a cold, bitter anger, the kind that frozen the heart and turned the soul to ice—the anger that lurked behind smiles, handshakes, and revelry and plotted in the twilight hours of the night its cruel vengeance. It was an anger that did not burn, so it could not extinguish—it simply was, and so too would it always be. Marcellus felt it rising up within him, thick and cold like a tide of ink, threatening to blot out all manner of reasonable thought.

The old knight listened to the conversation unfold, displeased with Gabriela’s presentation, though, in a fatherly manner, understanding of it. No longer was she the Black Queen of Orisia—though Raylon’s inclination toward propriety, clearly for the sake of Marcellus’ pleasure, was enjoyable—but Gabriela, a woman in the company of a man she considered one of her closest friends and allies. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to let down her walls, to show this man how much these events pained her? In the end, it mattered not what he believed, for Gabriela ruled as she did—his sworn duty was not to offer criticism, but protect her, come hell or high water. And that was what he would do—the hand still wrapped about the pommel of his sword promised that.

Raylon’s explanation of the events, while unsatisfactory, was reasonable. Valucre was a place rife with magic and all manner of chaos wrought from it. Who knew what the growing presence of such individuals might bring—especially those with the interest of other, certain entities. Unfortunately, an explanation alone would not satisfy the anger and unrest of the Orisian people. Entire families had been shattered and the ruin of an entire generation lay at Raylon’s feet—steeped in rotting piles of bone and meet at the walls of Illyria. There was only one way to go from here, for all of them.

“Forward,” Marcellus said, speaking out of turn. Half-turning to face the Black Queen and foreign king, Marcellus eyed Gabriela. “My queen, if I may?”

Upon her permission, Marcellus weighed in. “The public will not be as understanding or… forgiving as you, Your Majesty. This tragedy makes the Fete Ghede Massacre seem like child’s play.” The old knight studied Raylon for a quiet moment, and then, uncharacteristically, reached out with a hand of emotion. Psions were rare in Atitlan – psions with a pension for empathy, even more so. The hand felt the air around Raylon, reading the integrity of the emotions he displayed as if they were written in brail. “Might I suggest that king Raylon show the Orisia people, himself, that this was little more than a freak accident? That he and his people are not the perpetrators, but victims, as well. It would be wise to establish a joint-effort for the retrieval of our dead, aided by Illyria. Closure can sometimes be the assassin of vengeance.”

Marcellus gestured to the two rulers with an armored hand. “We collect and bury our dead, both Orisia and Illyria, and that should give both nations enough time to sort something of a political landscape out. Those are my thoughts.”

With nothing left to say, Marcellus returned to his post, silent, watching.

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“The death of millions of Orisians and Illyrians came unexpectedly due to some dimensional tears…”

 

Her gaze fell away, it drifted past him to some spot on the wall behind his head. She was thinking, taking in the extent of what he was saying without giving away that her mind was having a difficult time following -- not the explanation itself, but the calm nature in which he delivered it. Even Marcellus did not seem all that surprised. The elder maintained a stoic expression upon his face, though she could sense, perhaps, that his mind was inching in the same orientation as her own. These events were not random acts of fate or chance.

 

“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.”

 

Ah, she thought to herself, so he has returned.

 

She had begun to hear the whispers. And more telling was the growing sense of emptiness that always accompanied his presence within the world of Valucre. She felt it keenly, being that he had tainted her very blood -- that she was his beloved, before anyone else. Of course, she had not been certain of it, and had hoped for the best given the nature of senseless existence. But the good king had confirmed her suspicions without knowing it. There was only one being capable of this much -- mindless, senseless, needless -- destruction.

 

And then she saw it. The hardness that she had espied in Raylon was a facade. The agony writ upon his face broke her heart and made her recoil from her own cruelty. She was a vicious creature, and she loathed herself for bringing even more anguish to one of the very few purely good souls that she knew. The sight of his eyes, moonlight silver, glassing over with tears made her reach for him, to his hands, to grasp them tightly within her own.

 

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

 

“Forgive me for implying such an awful thing. I know better.”

 

“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 manage to prevent more death with the help of some good Samaritans that were present but we were unable to reverse what had already occurred.”

 

Raylon was not trembling visibly -- but she could feel the quake in his fingertips. This was a losing battle for the man, and within his eyes, she saw her own agony doubled. He had lost his own people -- God only knows how many -- and along with that, he was now forced to carry the guilt of eradicating so many of her own.

 

“Come, sit down Raylon…” Gabriela ushered him to a chair, even if he resisted, she pulled gently but firmly and stopped only when he was near enough to understand that she would not be denied. Once seated, and as he continued to speak, Gabriela left his side and poured a glass of a strong smelling amber-brown drink. She assumed it was whiskey. This small offering, she gave to the good king.

 

“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…”

 

Gabriela took a knee before him, much to the displeasure of Marcellus -- she was sure. It didn’t matter. She sat there, peering up into Raylon’s face, with one hand upon his knee, a gesture that just a few short months ago would have unraveled her after the tremendous amount of abuse she suffered. But she was healing from all of that, and today she had to be strong for others.

 

“I know, Raylon -- I know.”

 

She saw his glance toward Marcellus, and she could not help but feel the weight of his unapproving gaze upon them. Upon her knees, Gabriela was a vision of compassion. Her brows smooth and devoid of that worried pinch, and her lips a saddened frown. She was about to speak but --

 

“Forward, my queen, if I may?”

 

“Go on, Marcellus.”

 

“The public will not be as understanding or… forgiving as you, Your Majesty. This tragedy makes the Fete Ghede Massacre seem like child’s play. Might I suggest that king Raylon show the Orisian people, himself, that this was little more than a freak accident? That he and his people are not the perpetrators, but victims, as well. It would be wise to establish a joint-effort for the retrieval of our dead, aided by Illyria. Closure can sometimes be the assassin of vengeance.”

 

With her eyes settled on Raylon, Gabriela waitied. She knew the old knight had more to say.

 

“We collect and bury our dead, both Orisian and Illyrian, and that should give both nations enough time to sort something of a political landscape out. Those are my thoughts.”

 

After giving Raylon one last reassuring squeeze, she rose to her modest height and turned away. Pacing, mostly for the sake of appearing human, Gabriela moved back and forth across the floor of her cabin. Of course everything that Marcellus said was sound, and she hoped that Raylon would agree. It was a touchy situation. Their dead lay scattered across what was now the Illyrian territory. 

 

“We will reveal the truth of what has transpired here. All of Valucre will be made aware of this wretched attack upon both Orisia and Illyria. We will do everything in our power to ensure that there is no doubt that Orisia and Illyria remain beloved friends and allies. While you and your people are here, you will be our guests and under our protection -- and we will aid you in whatever we can while you remain upon our territory as refugees.”

 

The word sounded harsh, heavy upon her lips and she knew it might wound the king.

 

“That is what you will be and that is what we will call you -- refugees. People displaced by war. This will give you time to search for a way to return things to how they were, or…” she glanced at Marcellus, she knew he would disapprove. He would want her to think about this longer, but he didn’t understand -- he couldn't. Raylon was her friend, her treasured friend, her sweetest friend. He was a drop of goodness in all the dark and ugliness of her life. She couldn’t and wouldn’t turn her back on him and his people, not after nurturing them in the past. Orisia had been the breadbasket that pulled the Illyrian through a difficult time, and so, they would be so again, or whatever else was needed. “Or, until it becomes apparent or you make the decision, to remain here. We can talk about that when the time comes. For now, I give unto you this title not out of spite or lack of love, Raylon, but because it is not just Orisian’s who will look upon you with suspicion. All of Valucre will wonder at you and your people. You are a refugee, and Orisia has taken you in, and you are under my protection and that of my allies.”

 

What allies, came the dark and awful whisper but was it Tenebre or was it her own subconscious?

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Inundated by the depths of his own sorrow, he had begun to drown in his own sadness and recollection of the deaths he personally witnessed on that day. They were not present. Perhaps they couldn’t even fathom the impact of watching bodies disappear into nothingness thus preventing any closure their loved ones may have had. Raylon absolutely abhorred the weight of what he felt attempting to drag him into a depression that would render him useless in front of his people and his allies. If only he could be as cold and calculating as the elders he governed. To discard this weight and respond with just the sting of fact void of the balm his emotions seemed to provide. Such freedom was not meant for someone in his position whose words alone could spark even more death should they lack wisdom.

 

Alabaster flesh closed in on his own as she attempted to pull him to a chair. Initially he did resist, planted in his standing position without any inclination to move much less be manipulated by anyone else. Gabriela’s persistence gave her the small victory of ushering him to where she desired as he continued his explanation, taking a seat in the chair and leaning forward. Silver eyes took in her form as she maneuvered her way toward the whiskey and attempted to offer him some to which he just shook his head and raised a hand somewhat dismissively but not with intent to offend. What happened soon after would visibly jar the Illyrian king.

 

The queen lowered herself to a knee and the very sight of it caused Raylon to immediately grab Gabriela, right hand pressing lightly into her elbow while the other slipped under the hand that had rested upon his knee, eyes pleading with her to rise as if he deemed himself unworthy of the affection she provided right now. The force he applied on her arms was weak; a tacit display of how malleable he was to the compassion she wielded at this time. Marcellus’ sudden interjection, however, caused fingers to curl upon her arm just a bit tighter as he turned his head to look at the man. He could feel the scrutiny and sense the testing of every single one of his actions no matter how inconsequential they might seem to someone not as observant as the loyal Marcellus. He made no attempt to veil anything from the man, not that he could with how potent his emotions were currently.

 

Raylon took in what Marcellus’ had to say and as he continued to conjure up a proper response in his head he felt Gabriela rise and distance herself. Before he could begin a response of his own she began speaking again which caused his head to turn again to look at the alluring light of those golden eyes. The beginnings of a smile crept on to his features until he heard the one word he knew his people would not accept.

 

“…and we will aid you in whatever we can while you remain upon our territory as refugees.”

 

The nature of what had occurred brought Illyrian soil within this realm of Valucre and while the man before her understood that meant little within this global landscape, how this was presented to his people would decide whether this current situation would ever be tenable. This narrative that Gabriela presented and the presentation of the threat that outside eyes held was difficult to swallow given the ultimate independence his kingdom had lived with for centuries. Raylon quickly realized he knew little of the political landscape of this realm but to relinquish autonomy could not be something he could truly allow so as soon as Gabriela finished, Raylon spoke with an authority that surged over his sadness.

 

“We have been searching for a means to reverse the damage that has already been dealt without any success. We will continue to search but we are already acting as if this situation is permanent. My scientific division is already separating Illyrian and Orisian bodies, attempting to ensure each person is accounted for, logged, and ready for any funeral rites. I welcome any aid you can provide and agree with the sentiment that a joint effort is a good step forward from here. I, however, have reservations regarding the verbiage that will be presented to my people regarding our current situation. If this is a façade for the other nations, then I can easily spin this but my people are full of unnecessary pride that has already caused some strife for the remaining pockets of Orisians that survived the horrors that occurred. Mentions of being ruled by a foreign party and requiring protection from someone they do not trust will not be received well. All I ask is your understanding on this matter and your help with providing an acceptable solution.”

 

He had begun to stand already while he spoke and shifted to face both Gabriela and Marcellus. Setting aside his own emotions was necessary for this critical point for he would be doing his friend Gabriela a disservice if he did not address this matter as king not close friend.

 

“There are several open areas untouched by Illyria and full of La’Ruta’s influence. We have placed the Orisians that remain there for now but their distrust of my people and their feelings of confinement are mounting. We must address this as soon as possible. I have been supplying them with any shelter and food that they may need and we have begun interviewing those who are willing to speak with us and wish to see their dead buried but conflict has already occurred. It is my belief that they need a familiar face to ease their concerns and ensure their best interests but I will defer to your wisdom on the matter Gabriela.”

 

Silver eyes shifted between Marcellus and Gabriela, gauging their responses and readying himself for what was to come.

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“Are you not their king?” Marcellus was incredulous with rage. There they sat discussing the deaths of millions, of needless slaughter brought on by this tragedy, and Raylon dared speak of his people’s pride? The light eyed vampyre caught his queen’s sharp glare of disapproval, but he couldn’t hold his tongue. He could barely hold his sword. “The blood of Orisians and Illyrians alike turn the Pass red, and you are concerned with he is concerned with his people’s pride? This is madness.”

Is this what had become of the men and women that ruled the nations of existence? Kings and queens that buckled beneath the pressure of the crown, bowed to the ridiculous whims of their people, and wept like children pulled from the teat? It was a wonder any of them had survived, at all. The thought was sickening.

“Now is as good a time as any for you to rein in that foolish, unnecessary pride you speak of. You are their king. If they do not answer to you, they should respect your recourse as their lord. Or is that concept foreign to your people?” It was out of respect for their queen that the Queensguard stood idle, allowing Raylon to pass. It was out of respect for her decisions as their monarch that they’d not rallied what few armed forces they had and charged to battle with the invading foreigners.

They did not agree with her, not always. But they respected her decree.

That is was subjects did.

More importantly, the queen did not speak for all her vassals. The Orisian Duke was not as forgiving as his cousin, and though he possessed a quaint military force on Orisian shores, the shadow of the Dominion stretched far. It would be nothing for him, if it were his will, to send orders for his forces to return in bulk—flooding all of Ceyana in blood and destruction as he slaughtered the Illyrians. Or attempted to. Regardless, the outcome would likely be the complete annihilation of the island. Surely, Gabriela realized this.

“If you aren’t refugees, King Raylon, you’re conspirators.” It was a the fact of the situation. “That is how the Orisian people will see it. That is how the world will see it.”

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It was her turn to be quiet and to listen, and so she did. She stood near the small tray of beautiful bottles, all of them filled with liquids of astounding colors -- amber, rose gold, vibrant yellow, rich brown, and even crystal clear, and something that was lime green. She regarded these bottles with their beautiful glass stoppers, and the collection of glasses made available for the consumption of the liquors. Funny how different drinks required different vessels. Oddly enough, she just then noticed that she was still holding the glass of whiskey she had intended for dear friend -- he had refused it. She felt the sting of her ignorance then, and how little she knew of humans suffering. Perhaps offering a drink when he was so full of anguish had been an insensitive and cruel thing.

 

“...We will continue to search but we are already acting as if this situation is permanent...If this is a facade for other nations, then I can easily spin this but my people are full of unnecessary pride that has already caused some strife for the remaining pockets of Orisians that survived the horrors that occurred. Mentions of being ruled by a foreign party and requiring protection from someone they do not trust will not be received well. All I ask is your understanding on this matter and your help with providing an acceptable solution.”

 

She wondered at what could possibly be an acceptable solution. Her people were not particularly prideful -- they were simple, warm, and a little distrustful, but that was due to years of anarchy and horror. Somehow, the twenty years following the attack of the Great North and the subsequent destruction of the government and any government after that, had not taken away the Orisians capability for compassion and friendship. She could still remember the warmth with which she was welcomed when she arrived upon the island, and relative good cheer that was given when she decided and announced herself to be the new ruling monarch of the Summer Isles. They were not the sort of people who fought against greater powers, and that came from the fact that they were such a small territory. They were not cowardly, they were smart and knew how to behave in the best interest of their survival.

 

Orisia had never been meant to be a world power.

 

It was difficult now to think how any of this might have an acceptable solution when she knew that her people, to prevent the imagined murder of more of their countrymen, might easily bent a knee to Raylon and his new government. Brave as her soldiers were, her military was small -- and with the loss of Malice’s support and Raphael’s love…

 

She would have be firm on this matter, and hope that Raylon did not see past her poker face.

 

“...We have placed Orisians that remain there for now but their distrust of my people and their feelings of confinement are mounting. We must address this as soon as possible. I have been supplying them with any shelter and food that they may need and we have begun interviewing those who are willing to speak with us and wish to see their dead burned but conflict has already occurred…”

 

“You’re treating my people like refugees within their own country…”

 

There was a pause, a heavy moment between the two rulers and she knew that she had said too much. The words would wound Raylon, and she regretted them immediately.

 

“...It is my belief that they need a familiar face to ease their concerns and ensure their best interests but I will defer to your wisdom on the matter Gabriela.”

 

“Are you not their king? The blood of Orisians and Illyrians alike turn the Pass red, and you are concernd with his people’s pride? This is madness.”

 

A dirty look had not been enough to shut down Marcellus heated rebuttal to the king, and she could feel the expanse between herself and Raylon growing wider and wider. This meeting was not going how she wanted -- how she needed it to go.

 

“Now is as good a time as any for you to rein in that foolish, unnecessary pride you speak of. You are their king. If they do not answer to you, they should respect your recourse as their lord...If you aren’t refugees, king Raylon, you’re conspirators. That is how the Orisian people will see it. That is how the world will see it.”

 

“The Orisian people will see it as I tell them to see it,” Gabriela snapped, the glass in her small, lovely hand had shattered, and shards of crystal had exploded around her, littering the floor in a glittering display. The smell of the whisky filled the room -- it was warm, spiced, and heady for nearly starved vampyre such as herself. Her eyes, gold and fierce, turned to Marcellus. “Pride is everything to people who have nothing -- you know that better than anyone.”

 

The weight of her gaze spoke of Atitlan -- of his own home land that now lay in ruins, and of the dozens of worlds that he visited after that, following Raphael, the heir to the family he had loathed for so many centuries. Destruction, death, and loss did away with pride, that was true enough, but some remnants of it is what kept the vampyres going after the fall of their kingdom. Surely he could see that what Raylon championed for was not some silly sentiment, but rather the psychological welfare of his people.

 

She understood it -- why couldn’t he?

 

“That is enough, Marcellus… Please, see yourself out.”

 

It was harsh, bold, and cold -- she had never spoken to him this way. But she realized that it had been a mistake to bring Marcellus in here, and that it would not look very good to the Illyrians who awaited the return of their king. Not only had Raylon set foot upon her ship, it was with her knight and her counselor that he had entered a cabin with in order to negotiate. The numbers were not fair.

 

This should have always been a meeting between one queen and one king.

 

She made a pointed effort not to meet Marcellus’ eyes. She knew how much he would disagree with being excused. It was not only unsafe, in his eyes, to leave her alone with the foreign king, but it would look terribly improper. Gabriela was not often left alone with men, at least, not without getting into trouble. Still, if Marcellus practiced what he preached, then he would be moving out the door.

 

There was more to say, but she wouldn’t speak until her beloved knight had done as commanded, and when he finally had and he lingered close, beyond the door, as she knew he would -- listening, she turned to Raylon and spoke once more.

 

"We will find a solution to this, my friend... we will find a way. I will come back with you, I am the  face that the Orisian people need to see -- I am the face that the Illyrian people need to see. But you must be by my side. And we must show them that we are friends. We must put them all at ease."



 

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There was no offense to be taken by the Queen’s command. This foreigner was no friend of his, no “brother” or ally, as she had so aptly described herself, and so the line he walked was clear. He served his monarch first, and then his people, a close second. Gabriela’s relationship, however, was naturally more complicated than that—as always. This was someone that she trusted, someone she held a history with, and so it was easy—albeit disappointing—to understand how she might stray from the path, opting to wade through muck and foliage.

“My Queen,” Marcellus replied, nodding his armored head. The knight removed himself from the room with a series of prompt steps, stepping beyond the cabin’s threshold and out into the hall. The door remained open, however, and his gilded form well in view.

Hopefully, Raylon would see how a subject should behave under their monarch's oversight.

Gabriela’s Queensguard regarded him with a curious look, rightfully perturbed by their queen’s blatant disregard for her safety. She was too trusting, they knew, and far too eager to martyr herself. But they noted their captain’s change in posture, in stance: how his armored hand now rested on the pommel of his blade, how he seemed to stand on the balls of his feet, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

Even with the brief distance between them, she was safe. There’d been few swordsmen as accomplished as Marcellus in Atitlan, with some praising him as the best of his generation. While his position may not have been as ear-grabbing as devil king, or emperor, becoming the Captain of the Queensguard was not a matter of political savvy or a path one could tread lightly. Each step was marred with strife, each page of that story inked in blood.

The Queen did not know what the men and women that surrounded her had endured, had survived, so that they could protect her.

But if the foreign king sought to bring her harm, she would see.

Edited by King

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Harsh words were delivered by Marcellus which drew Raylon’s attention away from Gabriela immediately as the potency of what was being said hit the king hard enough to incite a desire to respond to explain himself. Enforcement had never been an issue for the man that stood before them. While he knew his own capacity for instilling a fear within his people that would motivate them into submission, it came at a price he did not want to pay at the moment. That did not mean that Marcellus’ words did not provoke inspiration and urgency. The venomous delivery, however, did not provide any benefit to this discourse.

 

<”So you are going to stand here and let some unknown challenge you? Has the blinding light of Illyria dimmed so much that it will be covered by the drivel of this foreigner?”>

 

Havoc jabbed relentlessly within the recesses of Raylon’s mind and soul, attempting to get a rise out of the kindhearted king that would only exacerbate this tense situation. Raylon had believed himself ready for the responses that had been delivered but he was utterly wrong. The Queensguard’s words chipped away at some of the stability he had admirably maintained, his right hand balling up into a fist.

 

“You’re treating my people like refugees within their own country…”

 

Gabriela’s words cut the deepest, reaching delicate depths that had Raylon’s silver eyes flare in surprise. He had not come here to let them hack away at him and was quickly beginning to wonder if this peaceful, malleable approach needed to change. The jarring sound of glass shattering drew Raylon out of his own thoughts to look at Gabriela. The authority in her voice was something Raylon had never truly witnessed himself but it was a balm that managed to soothe the nicks and cuts this dialogue had given him.

 

“Pride is everything to people who have nothing – you know that better than anyone.”

 

He could sense the weight of her gaze directed at Marcellus and knew those words spoke of something he knew nothing about. He stood there as a frozen spectator watching a queen oust her protector in favor of a foreign man. Raylon didn’t truly believe himself worthy of such a display nor did it seem practical but the gesture evinced where he stood with the Black Queen.

 

“We will find a solution to this, my friend…we will find a way. I will come back with you…”

 

He turned to completely face Gabriela now, lips parting almost immediately after those words but he allowed her to finish.

 

“…But you must be by my side. And we must show them that we are friends. We must put them all at ease.”

 

He nodded slowly and took a few seconds before responding to those words.

 

“Yes we must. Solidarity is what is needed. My people will finally be able to see the beautiful benefactor that saw them through years of hardship.”

 

He managed to smile as eyes stared at the shattered glass upon the floor and then slowly returned to look into the golden pools of his friend. The heady smell of the whiskey combined with the lingering smell of the sea as he focused on the Black Queen silently for a few more seconds before continuing to speak.

 

“I appreciate this concession you have made for my people. I only hope that our people are capable of receiving the beauty around them and work together as they have in the past.”

 

Illyrians had always been aware of the Orisian aid but there were always the worry that the dependence would last for too long. Dependence suggested deficiency which Illyrians could not stomach. He was all too aware of this so letting Illyrians play to their strengths throughout this whole ordeal was necessary. He needed to give them tasks to accomplish so he fished for some more.

 

“It would be selfish of me to move on without asking if there is anything else you need for me to do for your people or you?”

 

The question was genuine though internally he knew it was more self-serving than anything else. He had to redeem himself from this anguish he felt somehow.

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“It would be selfish of me to move on without asking if there is anything else you need for me to do for your people or you?”

 

Gabriela’s attention had turned to her hand, which upon inspection, she found to be bleeding. She hadn’t noticed it right away. The fine crystal glass that had shattered under the pressure of her silent anger had pierced her flesh and sliced her palm open. The blood that seeped through the porcelain skin was black, and moved slowly like tar, gathering and dripping as she examined the wound, which was already healing.

 

“Just a better explanation of the events that have transpired,” she said after her interest dwindled and her eyes returned to Rylan's face. A few steps brought her back to her desk, and after rummaging through a small drawer, she pulled out a small, white handkerchief. She busied herself with bandaging up her hand, while she continue to speak. “I apologize if I came off a certain way -- emotions are running high for all of us right now, which unfortunately is not a luxury we can afford. We must be critical and logical. If the land upon which your city now stands is not Orisian soil, then it is very well not my land, but that simply means your land is right, smack, dab in the middle of Orisian territory, which only means we have another more problematic issue upon us.”

 

The Black Queen shook her head, a dismissive motion as she walked around her desk and came back to Raylon -- to be close to him, or as close as the king might allow. She was a petite thing, it was easy to forget that she was not human, that she was not as frail as her femininity made her appear to be, after all, she looked like she weighed little more than a hundred pounds. Gabriela could be disarming, save for the glow of her eyes, which was always simply unnatural.

 

“I will not pretend to know what has occurred, I beg only that you allow my people to access to whatever results you come by and the means by which to test any hypothesis of their own. The stakes will run high for us all, we must at least allow for the appearance of transparency. Other than that, I am ready to go when you are and will submit myself to your rule when we cross into your territory, your Majesty.”

 

She stood there looking at him. There was a collection of men who would have killed for the pleasure of hearing those sweet words roll past her lips in regards to themselves -- that she would willingly submit to them. It was a dream come true for some of the most notorious tyrants of Valucre. No one would ever know of the occurrences of this small cabin, and she couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of it. For the time being, no one beyond these two boats, and a few other souls, even knew about this meeting. So she wondered if Raylon knew the value of her words, of this moment, and of the journey that they were about to embark on -- she wondered if it mattered to him.

 

He had only ever seen her kindness in his silver eyes, with gentle warmth, and a sweet disposition that she often longed to see in the eyes of those who swore love and devotion for her. But it seemed that love could not be kind, nor could it be gentle or good -- at least not when it came to matters that involved her. It was a bitter truth she had come to accept.

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“Just a better explanation of the events that have transpired,”

 

Raylon internally grimaced at the notion that he could not provide a proper explanation to stifle the doubts and anger that naturally arose with the calamity of recent events. Nevertheless, he had to be truthful for anything less would be disrespectful to the worth he placed on his relationship with the beauty before him. The title of queen and the stigma of being a vampyre were drowned by the potent affection he felt compelled to provide whenever she stood before him. As she tended to her self-imposed wound, Raylon felt an urge to assist and it only took a matter of seconds as she approached for him to close in and extend the warmth of his hands toward the bandaged hand all while he began to speak.

 

“You needn’t apologize for being an advocate for your people or sharing their sentiments Gabriela. The gravity of this situation and the implications for everyone involved are considerably heavy burdens that I hope we can shoulder together.”
 

 

Should Gabriela allow him to hold her hand as he motioned toward it, the warmth of his hands would increase ever so slightly as he began to infuse some healing magic meant to accelerate what he knew was an already superhuman healing factor. The gap of space between them would be minimal, forcing him to lower his gaze in order to meet the alluring golden he had learned to see as a comfort rather than a jarring reminder of her ancestry. What she was hardly mattered when compared to who he knew her to be. As she used words such as ‘beg’ and implored for transparency, Raylon simply smiled knowing that he would never think of employing subterfuge when it came to the respected Black Queen. She deserved to be treated respectfully and it was this belief that decorated his next words.

 

“Your people will be given access to whatever sites they can easily access and wish to explore without interruption or contamination of any Illyrian presence. Should they wish to access any of our restricted areas then I am sure we can arrange a proper escort as well.”

 

After the honorific she provided upon her last words, his smile only widened that much further but not because he felt conquest had been achieved. He understood the humility it took to express those words and his appreciation could not be properly expressed with words alone.

 

“I will ensure your first visit to my home ends successfully….my queen.”

 

Perhaps it was a horrible attempt at introducing some levity to this situation but he simply could not allow himself to wallow in guilt or anguish any longer. Action needed to be taken and a king in low spirits would not do his people any favors now. Instead, he opted to move forward with optimism and with steadfast solidarity with this woman he fully intended to force his people to see in all of her true splendor instead of the shadows they allowed their past to conjure upon her. Pivoting and distancing himself from her, he fully faced the door out of this cabin, ready to escort her toward his vessel but waiting patiently for her to act first for this vessel was still hers to command and he silently let himself be subject to her rule as long as he was on it.

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Gabriela stood on the precipice of something that was not wholly unknown, but did for the most part feel unfamiliar. It was a relief that Raylon had untangled himself from her and moved away, leaving her in longing of the gentle warmth he had pressed into her open palm. It seemed that every male creature in her life commanded a power over heat that stood in direct parallel to her intimate existence with the cold, but his was the first to come about softly and full of tenderness. And now that he moved to stand by the door of her private cabin, waiting on her to be ready to exit and to make known to the world the plan that they had concocted together, she felt lonesome for the simple comfort of his touch.

 

When was the last time anyone had touched her like that? Without any sort of expectation, without the violent grappling of possession or the threat of domination. It was a constant struggle with everyone else, with anyone else -- touch. Yes, something as simple as touch, felt like a minor, but monumentally important, aspect of the power politics that took place on the battlefield that her body had become.

 

It was with shock and no small serving of embarrassment that Gabriela realized she did not remember ever being handled so delicately. And now, as the tender mortal warmth of Raylon’s caress and his strange magic, which somehow cut through the core of La’Ruta to reach at her flesh and blood, began to fade away, she was left alone to weigh the merits of this decision.

 

Much and more would be said about her ability to rule from this day forth. How she handled herself, how she handled her people, how she handled Raylon and his -- while some cried for war and others for peace, and hers was the only voice that mattered -- all of it would be remembered. But she was alone, abandoned by friends and foes, and these decisions were her own and she had to be at peace with them, willing and able to live with them for the rest of her life.

 

With tragedy so freshly suffered, and pools of blood still soaking the earth -- both Orisian and Illyrian -- now, more than ever, was the time for peace. She stalked forward, stretching the fingers upon her newly healed hand, and plucked from the back of her desk chair a heavy coat. It was unnecessary protection from the elements, but with its dense and dark material, its straight lines and wide, polished metal buttons, it gave her an air of military authority she hoped she could pretend to possess. Adjusting the garment around her petite figure and ensuring an elegant fit, she turned and joined the Good King Raylong.

 

“Let’s be on our way then, we have no time to waste.”

 

Beyond the closed doors, where Marcellus waited, and had been hearing, she saw his disapproving face. It didn’t matter -- her mind was made up, as she imagined, was his.

 

“Have my will be done, these waters are to remain still and calm until my return. Orisia will not play antagonizer to our new neighbors, less suitably provoked. I expect your most trusted men in charge of making that decision, Marcellus -- what constitutes suitable provocation. Do I make myself clear?”

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“Crystal, my Queen.”

Unlike her cousin and even the devil that frequented her company, Marcellus was a true servant of his monarch. Whether he disapproved of her administration or affairs didn’t matter, and he believed she found a certain comfort in that fact. He was not a man that would lecture her in the privacy of her chamber, nor a man that would exact any sort of vengeance for a perceived slight as she exercised her command. Instead, he single-minded in his service to her, and would fall upon his own sword was she to command him to.

Marcellus was fortunate enough that such loyalty awarded him certain privileges in his tenure. Privileges that other knights, other members of her Queensguard did not possess. It was not for her safety that she refrained from ordering him to stay amongst the sailors, for she appeared quite comfortable with the foreign King, her “brother”, “ally”, and “closest friend” as she had called him. It was for her knight’s benefit, for his peace of mind, that she allowed him to accompany her – and he thanked her for it with a nod as she passed.

Close on their heels, Marcellus paused only to relay the orders to those under his command. Keep the waters still and peaceful, unless clear and intentional harm would come to the Orisian lives they defended. She seems confident it will not come to that, he thought as he looked upon the furrowed brows of his brothers and sisters, their growing frowns, their suspicious glares. “We will return as soon as we’re able to,” he said. “Keep these men in line.”

Eduardo, his second in command, nodded firmly. “Yes, sir.”

Marcellus resumed his place behind his Queen and the foreign royal, a tall, quiet sentinel of chiseled ebony that towered behind her as they walked. His honeyed eyes swept over the nearby vessel, assessing those he could see, judging any threats they might pose to his noble.  With any luck, none would give him a reason to draw steel.

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As Raylon emerged with Gabriela and listened to her command Marcellus, the king was cautious concerning his previously jovial expression. Raylon’s expression shifted into a much more focused one as he began formulating what he was about to tell those that were aboard the vessel that had surprisingly waited patiently for their king’s return or so he thought. The Illyrian king slowly started to advance further, moving faster to pass both Gabriela and Marcellus once they reached the section where he had boarded the ship. Coming into view of the Illyrians still on the boat, a crescendo of chatter soon commenced.

 

“Leave it to our Light to board a vessel full of vampires and emerge unscathed…”

“The stress was killing me to be honest. If any of them decided to bite him, war would be unavoidable.”

“So what do you think happened?”

“What do you think happened? Our Light does not falter in the midst of their darkness…”

“Wait…why does the Black Queen and her knight look like they are about to board?”

 

A few Illyrians who still held some magical command readied their hands as they were swallowed by suspicion and anxiety. The slow descent only made the tension that much greater until they saw how calm their king was. Still, they all remained frozen in thought as they knew the threat that beings of the particular physiology of Gabriela and Marcellus posed and how their king gave his back and exposed neck so willingly. Silver eyes shone intensely in the middle of this darkness, silence soon drowning out what had once been colorful chatter. Some didn’t realize their mouths were still agape at what they were viewing and others seemed ready to find any excuse to act. The crashing waters against the vessel became the only thing they could hear, each collision drumming their senses until their king finally spoke, directing his words to those he left in charge.

 

“We are returning home with her majesty and her knight as esteemed guests.”

 

A myriad of sounds erupted from the crew but mixed with the sound of the waters around them it was hard to discern many of their words. A few brave souls were about to voice their opposition to their king but Raylon’s voice muted them immediately.

 

“I trust that with her help we will be able to make sense of the tragedy we have all suffered through and navigate this world that is foreign to us.”

 

Motioning to the captain of the vessel, the king continued speaking.

 

“Once our communications are restored, send word to Luz to gather all of our findings and records from that day. Also have them prepare for a broadcast soon after we reach the docks.”

 

“Yes my Light.”

 

The captain quickly pivoted and began spurring the others into motion.

 

“Divert all power from our defensive systems to the engines until we can sense the usual air saturation again. Let’s move everyone!”

 

The captain pushed a few that had lost themselves in thought at what it meant to receive aid once again from the Black Queen though this time she was no longer a figure in the distant shadows. Now they witnessed her ethereal beauty and the sight of Marcellus only highlighted the types of formidable people she governed. Raylon moved further down the deck of the A.R.V which revealed a slant that led downward toward a pair of transparent doors. Raylon turned to Gabriela and Marcellus to speak again.

 

“We have some time before we reach Illyrian shores so let us discuss what will be said further while we wait here.”

 

The transparent doors would be open manually until they finally entered the space where Illyria’s saturated air began to disrupt La’Ruta’s influence and the A.R.V would come alive again with vibrant lights and energies surging through the entire structure of the vehicle. Assuming Gabriela and Marcellus willingly followed, the king would move at a moderate pace into the room and wait for them to enter. The room was void of any true accent save for the movement of magic throughout the walls, the sterile choice of coloring diminishing the awe that may have been inspired otherwise. Beckoning Gabriela and Marcellus into the room, Raylon started speaking.

 

“I will ensure that every single Orisian has the opportunity to be present as we address our people. While we wait for our arrival, the matter of housing for your people is something I would like to tackle now. You know your people best your majesty. How would you like us to proceed in ensuring they can return to some semblance of normalcy?”

 

Keeping them restrained and limiting their access to Illyrian interests had already proven itself untenable. The king feared that if some sort of plan was not formulated and Gabriela did not voice her support for it then it would only cause more unrest.

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