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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust [Cathedral Mountains]

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The bells of requiem rung out, and end of the House of Estella-Negra was announced to the world.

Slowly, they came, a long march of black clothed mourners, both genuine and charlatan alike, come to bear witness to the long awaited demise of a macabre family. Generations have known this day to come, waiting with baited breath for the strange and isolated rulers to meet their makers. What though shall they find within the eerie, silent passages of the Cathedral Mountains? Nothing they could ever expect...

La muerte no duerme en la noche.

Men, women, young and old, all have come to take what they felt owed to them by the enigmatic family of nobles. With no heir to take power, all of their holdings and their riches will be divided, until nothing is left but memories best left forgotten. Some memories are harder to forget than others...

La muerte no se cuida a la luz.

Greeting them at the door was the black blooded beings known formerly as the living, now called siervo por siempre, and are kept at arm's length from the more lively guests. The servants showed no signs of remorse or sorrow for the deaths of their masters, perhaps comforted by some unknown knowledge?

"The internment of Samuel Estella-Negra's body shall begin soon." Said the former majordormo of the extinct house, following the exact instructions left to him on how the funeral shall proceed, in exchange for a healthy fortune to retire upon. "Please form an orderly line as the remains are transported to their final resting place." Once the rites were completed, then the vultures would descend upon the cold corpse of the once prominent family. Plans were already forming on what to do with the land and property, while many were dismayed at the thought of being gifted the siervo por siempre.

La muerte me ha reclamado, pero este no es el final.

Only one guest was waited upon for the ceremony to officially begin, as it was written by the prophetic leader ages ago. The one who must be in attendance, was the one they all bowed to, the one they all held love for, the one known simply as the Black Queen. @Pasion Pasiva

La muerte es solo el principio.

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They had given her a set of rooms befitting of her station and her title. Beautiful, elegant, but undeniably eerie with their Gothic decor and the general sense of something being amiss. Gabriela was not a superstitious creature -- she had her own ideas about life and death, and maintained a surprising grip on a christian faith that neither belonged here on Valucre nor seemed plausible given the things she knew to be real, such as the multitude of gods she had come to know, and even love -- and devils as well. Still, there was something about this place, this castle, this entire city, which had been for the better part of her short reign, completely isolated from the prosperity that had been introduced by her governing hand. She allowed it, of course, much like she allowed the continual sovereign rule of Solum Irae, the dragon’s territory. Besides that, Samuel Estella-Negra had been an agreeable governor to the mountain city, and he had never failed in offering tribute and truthful updates regarding the condition of his estates and the people under both their care. It was a dreadful thing that he had passed, not only because she never had the pleasure of meeting him but mostly because of the gaping hole in leadership that would be left in his wake.

 

This was not a problem she needed right now, nor the sort of thing she cared to deal with -- but it was her responsibility. So she came, with a modest retinue of followers, mostly guards and knights. The last thing she wanted was to make too much of her presence here, when truly the purpose of it all was to pay respects to the fallen Baron. There would be time enough for everything else that had to follow.

 

“How do I look?” she asked Quinn, who was standing near the door of the sitting room -- a space adjacent to her bedroom and changing quarters. For the occasion, she had brought along a black dress of modest design. And now that she examined her dim reflection in the full length mirror, she wondered if she had not overdone it with the stiletto heels. “Do you think I need some tights? My legs look so pale…”

 

She frowned at her reflection. It wasn’t often that she concerned herself with matters of her appearance -- the simple truth of it was that she was put together in such a way as to warrant relative ease of care about such things. She was stunningly beautiful, and she knew it. But there were certain rules and customs that she wanted to abide by, especially given such delicate circumstances. Poor Quinn looked uncertain, though he did not much show it -- she could tell by the sudden change of his heart, and the slight narrowing of his eyes. He  had a problem with issuing his judgment over her appearance, but she couldn’t begin to understand why. In fact, now that she reflected on the matter, he had looked rather pale when she undressed in front of him shortly after they returned from their evening stroll together.

 

“I am sorry,” she said sincerely, before turning away and deciding on her own that no, she did not need tights. Instead, she concentrated on gathering her hair and pulling it into a loose braid, a task that she was remarkably good at. From there, the thick rope was coiled into a much neater bun that sat at the base of her head, right at her neck. It was simple, but elegant -- and it took the hassle out of having to worry about her wayward hair, which had really grown far too long.

 

There was a knock at the door then, and then the hurried whispers of a servant speaking to Quinn, who had quickly moved to open it just an inch or so. She heard everything as she continued to adjust her hair, and smooth out the skirt of her dress.

 

“I don’t mean to rush the Queen...but the ceremony has already started. Her presence will be sorely missed, and painfully noted, if she does not arrive soon.”

 

“Just a few more moments,” came Quinn’s level response.

 

“Please, hurry.”

 

Gabriela wondered if Roen was going to make good on his promise of leaving this endeavor up to her, or if he would end up showing up at the last minute. He had taken to his role of steward with surprising seriousness. It seemed to be more than just a clever ploy to keep her under his thumb.

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”How do I look?” 

Quinn turned his head, drawn out of his gentle reverie by the Queen of Orisia’s accented voice. Regarding her reflection from afar, the man’s eyes went unbidden to his liege’s decidedly pale legs briefly, before flicking back up and away. Fortunately, he had the grace to alternate between blushing and blanching. No, there was no decent way of replying to her question, no matter how innocently asked. Irene Gabriela Du’Grace was a beautiful woman. So beautiful, Quinn felt, that she could walk the length and breadth of the capital’s Guildhall Ward in a potato sack one evening, and by the next morning the Market Center would be full of women paying large sums of coinage for a farmer’s castoffs. 

He cleared his throat and affected a smile, but said nothing out of simple prudence and easy kindness, as if he were indulging a little sister. Still, she had given him a start, and it was with some effort that he was finally able to get the beating of his heart to come down to a steady pulse. There was no word in the English lexicon to adequately convey the Impropriety of his liege, though even that didn’t quite encapsulate what it was like attending to her. Graceful and regal though his queen may be, there was a sort-of indifference about her that was striking, a sense of personal freedom that could be misconstrued, and frequently was.

If he had told another he had seen the queen naked more times than he cared to admit, they would not understand the simple truth of the matter, and label it as slander. The truth was, Irene was a soul that yearned for freedom if nothing else, and clothes and their inherent propriety meant little and less to her, or so Quinn felt after some consideration. It was how he rationalized the way she could strip bare without cause or concern in front of him. There was nothing erotic about it, not after so many times, which helped inure him to it now, at least somewhat. Sometimes he thought she liked to shock him with it, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe she would be quite so vindictive, his strange and whimsical queen. 

Still, this did not stop him from thinking that it just may be appropriate to wear tights. He didn’t say so, of course. Though he may view her as mother, sister, liege and queen, he was not her equal but her lesser, and his opinions, even when asked for, were not to be voiced aloud. Dipping his chin graciously when Queen Irene made her apology, Quinn shifted on his feet and turned more fully towards the door, the plates of his armor clinking with the subtle movements. He wore his ceremonial plate tonight, the ensemble of polished steel, sterling silver, and mother of pearl that gleamed and shined, reflecting in the dim light of candles and hearth. He was resplendent, but instead of wearing his chaste cloak of snowy white, he chose instead the mourner’s garb, a heavy velvet affair as dark as night that clashed gaudily against his armor. 

There was a knock at the door, and Quinn answered it. A servant, looking for the queen. 

”I don’t mean to rush the queen...but the ceremony has already started. Her presence will be sorely missed, and painfully noted, if she does not arrive soon.” 

Quinn’s brows narrowed, as did his eyes. “Just a few more moments,” he said evenly. 

”Please, hurry.” 

Quinn closed the door with a click, offended on Queen Irene’s behalf for the young man’s impertinence. Rubbing his eyes beneath the pads of his doe leather gloves, the knight sighed and walked through the sitting room towards Queen Irene’s inner chambers, and reached out with a gloved hand to knock on the wooden frame. He wouldn’t enter, not unless he was asked to, and even then it would have been with hesitance. Rather, he looked at her with hesitant regret, as if he did not like the idea of pressuring his liege before her time. She was a woman above all else, after all. Women needed an exuberant amount of time to ready themselves, or so Quinn had heard. Pointedly, he was reminded he wasn’t exactly a keen knower of such things. Swords, military matters, monsters, Quinn knew more about these things than many men today, even two together. Women, though, were as foreign to him as the Terrans oversea, even more so. 

“The ceremony has already started, your Majesty. They are asking for you.” He said, quiet and to the point. He didn’t let his dissatisfaction with it inflect his mild, even kind tone of voice. He gave her a small look, a quick glance, before nodding very, very subtly. She didn’t need his approval, far from, but she had asked, and though he didn’t reply, he could at least show she was pretty. Ignorant though he was about the needs and dealings of women, he knew that much, at least. Stepping away from the doorframe, he went back towards the sitting room and waited, his hand on the smooth pommel of his sword, idly stroking it with his thumb. 

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It would not be long before the sun settled in the horizon, giving way to night and all that came with it in its eldritch glory. Though the bells had stopped ringing, one could not dispel the feeling of something in the air, a presence that smothered the senses, in what way it could not be so easily understood. Fear was on the rise, but curiosity, greed and guilt were far more powerful in this place, holding sway over the hearts of the participants where rationality once held dominion. Whether they knew it or not, the macabre ritual of this internment to the grave had ensnared them completely, deceiving their minds towards a more mundane understanding of what was going on around them. How little they understood of the supernatural forces at play, which sought to create wondrous acts which their mortal eyes had never before comprehend in their short lifetimes.

Making its presence known was the enigmatic force of La'Ruta, twisting and curving its way like a creeping cluster of vines intent on swallowing the entirety of the building. La'Ruta was an incredible force, the very life essence of the island itself, and contained within it was the incomprehensible will of a being far beyond the power of most beings on the planet. It was not limited by flesh, blood, bone and sinew, rather it was a true force of nature, unique among anything else that could be found, and it seemed to desire a chance to bare witness of this event, to see the end of the Estella-Negra bloodline.

A knock sounded upon the door. Slow, deliberate, and unnaturally meticulous in it's pattern and resonance. No living mortal could make such a sound, and when the faithful knight opened the door, what he saw was indeed not a living mortal, or at least, something between alive and dead.

black-eyed-kids03.jpg

In another lifetime, the woman could most certainly be considered beautiful, a prize to be vied for by hero and villain alike, but no longer. Caramel colored skin now turned cold, the telltale signs of life, of happiness, of true emotional capacity, lost forever to whatever strange magic robbed the icy grip of death of this mortal coil. Her hair, dark and sinful, was tied into a bun, a wispy dress of thinly veiled material made up her attire, showing not an image to be desired or lusted after, but one that told a dark and grim tale of her death. Scars upon her chest revealed what used to be breasts, likely removed due to some malignancy that could only be treated by the severing of the tissue completely. Covering her body looked to be an endless menagerie of puncture holes, the sign of overfeeding by the ones her masters were sworn to serve with all their being. Barely older than twenty, and her life was spent being mutilated, then devoured by overzealous vampire, her body now used as a siervo por siempre, her fate now unknown with the loss of her masters.

Dark lines, impossible to ignore, covered her face, her body, and replaced all color that once inhabited those eyes which now bore into Quinn's, her passive indifference making it appear as if she were a macabre statue instead of a once living woman. A slender hand raised up an ornate pocket watch, wrought in silver and adorned with obsidian, ticking away as mechanically as it's wielder. Closer inspection of her hand revealed that the black lines on her body were in fact her veins, filled completely with a strange, black liquid which occasionally oozed from the various bite marks in her body.

"Humblest apologies." She said just above a whisper. "But Her Majesty is required in the procession. The time is at hand, and the people remain restless of that which remains unanswered."

If the Black Queen desired more time, then it would be given to her, but the servant would not depart until Gabriela was ready. Everything was in order, and it was vital that all the pieces, including the Royal Highness' attendance, needed to be in place for the final prophecy to be understood. None knew better the importance such knowledge than the siervo por siempre, whose mystical connection to the now extinct house spoke of things only they were aware of. Once they were ready, the servant, answering to the name of Serena Cortez, led them down a separate series of stairs, torch in one hand, clock in the other.

Down they traveled, venturing deep into the unfathomable depths of the mountain, the walls sculpted in the flowing decorum of ages past. Countless stories, legends that would take months or even years to decipher, such was the extent of its foreign countenance. Serena said nothing as she guided them, the only sound which came from her was that of the ticking, clicking, noise of that silver watch, counting the seconds until the revelation of countless lifetimes was revealed to all. "We have arrived..."

In front of them were two boxes, both made of exquisite wood, outfitted with gold and jewelry. One was a casket, large enough for a man, the other a much smaller box, fit for holding something round, like a skull. To their right was the Majordormo, to their left was a path that lead towards the infamous wall of skulls, housing every head of the Estella-Negra family, all except for one. The crowd of mourners looked on at them, kneeling before her in respect to her position, even the Majordormo knelt, all except for the black blooded slaves who know of only one master, who now laid in rest inside the ornamental container.

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Quinn’s subtle nod of approval was not lost. But she did marvel at how elegant and how well hidden the gesture had been. Perhaps it was due to how much time they were spending together, or how much time they had already spent together -- but she was learning to read the human knight with astounding accuracy. It was a relatively easy task to know the general inclination of a human, but to guess at their feelings? The spectrum of human emotions was a seemingly endless rainbow of sentiments. Fear came in so many shapes, colors, and sizes, and likewise, joy was like the flicker of a flame or the swell of a wave, never to be repeated or duplicated. But Quinn was certainly uncanny in his elegance, and not for the first time, Gabriela wondered what kind of vampire he would make if only the opportunity ever arose.

 

These strange and simple thoughts were lost the moment Gabriela walked through the doors of her private chambers. Quinn had been ready when she came into the sitting room, and in silence -- without the need of explanation or further prompt -- the gallant knight had opened the door and let them both out into the corridor that awaited.

 

Before glorious golden eyes beheld the creature that stood there, expectantly -- Gabriela had such a terrible sense of dread strike at her mind and heart. There was a heaviness in the hall, a sorrow so profound that she had to stop and catch herself with a trembling hand upon Quinn’s outheld arm. La’Ruta, it always whispered to her no matter where she was. There was always a gentle stream of information, a collection of memories, of sensations, of expressions that filtered into her through the strange mechanics of magic. However, those gentle whispers had now turned into hurried, anxious, and even frightened cries. She didn’t understand it. The island’s magic had never felt this way before, not even in the presence of the Warlord.

 

And then she saw her -- the creature.

 

If the visage that was presented to her was in someway distressing, it did not show. Gabriela had come to grips with the forces at work against her senses. She had straightened and was standing on her own. Once more, she was the image of elegance, standing regally in her impossibly high heels with her neatly fitting black dress hugging her petite form -- and of course, her knight besides her, in his shining armor. But even so, her eyes could not help but draw themselves from the ink-black eyes down the length of the woman’s body, to the ugly display of violence that had been done against her in another lifetime.

 

Gone were the worries of appearance.

 

Suddenly, Gabriela wasn’t so sure if she should be here alone.

 

“I apologize for my tardiness,” she said to the creature, and then with a motion of her head, she urged her forward toward their destination. “Let’s not keep the others waiting.”

 

Serena seemed to agree, wordlessly. In silence, she guided them the rest of the way. Strange and peturbing as everything was, Gabriela was ever the curious child-queen that the devil accused her of being. While the enslaved creature took them on, she often turned her head to peer up at the walls, to examine the fine furnishings, to glance at the foreign shadows that clung to the corners of every passage and every room.

 

“We have arrived…”

 

Double doors opened to reveal a vast chapel-like space, a gallery in size. They had come into a place that very much resembled the catacombs of the DuGrace castle, where many of her own family members lay deep in slumber, and others, in death. She had heard of this place, and so was not so very much taken aback by the wall of skulls. What did make her nervous was the kneeling figures, many of them complete strangers. She had not done enough to spend time in this region of the islands -- she didn’t know these subjects. But, perhaps more disturbing than the kneeling people, where those who did not kneel, and who instead, remained turned toward the casket and it’s smaller, matching box.

 

After taking it in, drinking the strange sight of it all, she moved forward and stepped into the chapel. For now, beyond the clicking of Serena’s watch, there was the click of the Black Queen’s heels as she made her way toward the golden boxes.

Edited by Pasion Pasiva

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Though Quinn did not say it, he was reminded of Ellwood Forest. Not as it was known presently, though. Today, Ellwood Forest was a place of peace, with high elms that filtered kind, soothing light through their foliage to warm the dirt below, making those woods earthy and inviting. They were not so when Quinn first came to Orisia. In those days, a dark power had held sway over those dark woods, and he remembered all too well the fright he and his companions had endured, on their way to the capital. The deathless had sought and found them, and hounded their very heels with the relentless of the undead. 

Here, now, looking at this pale, mutilated shape that was to be their escort, Quinn was reminded of that dark and forbidden place of years long since passed, and repressed a shudder that might have gone unnoticed, buried beneath layers of steel and silver and cloth. Though time and distance put a divide between Quinn and his religion, he found himself thinking a small and private prayer to send to his wayward Maker for deliverance. Here stood something that had once been human, but clearly no longer was. Keeping his opinions and feelings to himself lest his sovereign sense his discomfiture and so send him back to her rooms out of misplaced kindness, Quinn assumed the hard, uncompromising face of the well-trained paladin he once was, and nodded stiffly. 

When the deathless thing caught his eye and a wealth of indifference he supposed only came from those who were dead or just on the very threshold of it, Quinn did not balk. When it offered apologies in one breath and made demands with the other, this, too, he responded to in the nonplussed way he possessed, which wasn’t very much at all. He compartmentalized, he set his anxiety, his fear aside, and became as stone, while his viscera whispered seriously of danger and paranoia. He was her majesty’s keeper; paranoia and trepidation, these sentiments were part of the detail. Ironic that she thought to take a paladin into a place of darkness if not evil. Perhaps it was calculated on her behalf. 

Though pretty and striking in her dress and heels, Irene Gabriela Du’Grace could be shrewd, when opportunity arose. Holding his arm out for her to take in the likelihood that she lost her balance on heels he found impossibly tall, Quinn guided his queen along while his eyes, slate gray and flat, like two chips of dirty ice, took in their immediate surroundings. He wasn’t as curious as she, the man of practicality, but the halls were inherently fascinating, and even he could not avoid taking proper ganders. Serena’s time piece clicked in the harmonious way those intricate devices did, while Queen Irene’s heels striking stone made swift and punctual counterpoint, a rhythm of sorts. 

Quinn was not half so graceful in these halls so intent on capturing sound. Careful as he was, his armor sounded like a muted ironworks on their way down the stairs. Spurs clinking, armor grating, the stairway threw these noises all around them, making Quinn hard pressed to keep from apologizing. He should have left his armor behind, he groused to himself, already starting to sweat beneath gambeson and plate. He sighed inwardly, and did not complain. There were none here who would particularly understand. 

”We have arrive…”

Soft and sibilant, Selene’s words passed just loud enough to move between the trio. Quinn lifted his eyes, feeling the way Irene Gabriela disengaged herself from him and stepped forward to meet those who knelt in front of her majesty. As discreet as he could, the paladin moved on and towards the side, near the neatly stacked rows of macabre skulls that watched and appraised all, grinning their strange, toothy grins. Ranging from the bleached white of horror to the yellow, parchment color of age, the skulls seemed to follow Quinn with their empty eyes, and he frowned, unhappy. Death was a sacred thing, he felt. Muted, gray, it deserved reverence as much as it did formality. These skulls, though, struck him as obscene. An entire wall of them, each a heavy and potent reminder of the great beyond. So many lives, the paladin thought as he looked at them. So many bodies. Where were the rest of the bones, he wondered. Where were they interred. Did they know they would go headless in the end? 

Quinn rolled his shoulders, more to stifle the chill that ran up and down his spine than for comfort, and chanced to look back towards Queen Irene, watching her from afar. When she made for the golden boxes - one as large a man, the other much less so, he moved to join her, a shadow that hovered at the shadow of her heels, close enough to intercede on her behalf, but far enough to satisfy etiquette. He was her knight, no more and no less, and he knew better than most the distance that was needed to be decent. Still, she looked pale in this dark and dingy place, and somewhat unsettled. It was hard to forget that though she was a daughter of darkness, the shadows were never too much of a delight to the queen. It was moonlight she drank and thrived under, never this. 

They had arrived, yes, and neither pomp nor ceremony. They were quiet, all was quiet, and though it was proper, it was still deeply, unhappily distressing. He hoped that once her obligation was completed, Queen Irene would take herself and him from this place, and back to the capital where she belonged. 
 

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As the ceremony began, the majordormo of the now extinct house began to speak, the words so easily rehearsed and filled with unremarkable formality. Once this grizzly business was done, he resolved to himself, he would take the money he was promised, and go as far away from this place as possible. He would retire somewhere with light and joy and happiness, a place that didn't reek of death, despair or foreboding. On that day, he would gladly forget his experiences here, and the eldritch blasphemes he was forced to bare witness to on a regular occasion. Hopefully the nightmares will be easy to drink away, he thought while saying the rites of final rest.

"On this day, we say our final good byes to perhaps one of the oldest families to reside upon this island. No matter who was in power, Estella-Negra had proven it's loyalty time and time again, their faith never wavering in good times or bad." The motivation behind their unbending will to serve had always been a topic of heavy conversation for many of the other noble houses of the island nation. Why go so out of their way to prove themselves, even when it nearly cost them dearly for such acts of contrition? It was hard to find the gain they acquired from such moves, harder still to find the rationality behind their relentless efforts to keep their true feelings of it a secret. Getting one of the Pale People of Orisia to speak of their mystical prophecies or their enigmatic founder was a puzzle within itself, oftentimes the questions were deflected with cryptic answers that made strange assumptions to things no earthly being should speak so casually of. Truly the only thing that wasn't mysterious about these people, were that they were up to something strange, stranger than anything a sane person could imagine.

"Now we show our faith unto them, by putting to rest their legacy, and to hold their memories close to us in our hearts." Candles were being lit, bringing light to the dark crypt around them. The dead servants were careful to light only a few of the candles though, bringing a strange equilibrium of light and dark to the macabre event unfolding. One could only guess as to the reason for such intentional actions, their true meaning to be deciphered later in the ritual.

"Samuel Estella-Negra was a bright man, loved by many for his works in music, art and charity. His presence shall be missed, but he will now be returned to the company of his family, as befitting a true member of this esteemed house. Now we shall open the box, and add his skull to the others who have lived before him." Opening the box revealed the skeletal visage of the last remaining member of the mysterious noble family. Like all the others before it, it was cleaned until immaculate, the pearly white bone nearly shining in the soft candlelight. However unlikely it seemed, one might have the feeling of kindness and compassion from gazing upon the remains, as if cordially and warmly greeted by a friendly person. Even in death, Samuel Estella-Negra did not cease from being the well mannered, kind hearted man that he had grown to become, before stricken so suddenly by disease.

"When the skull is placed within its rightful place, we shall speak the ceremonial words of internment, sending off his spirit into the Great Beyond, before placing his body into the crypt of his ancestors." Many a spectator let their breath go in relief, glad that their time here was nearly over. The sooner it was finished, the sooner they could go on to scavenge what was left of the family's riches and estate like the vultures they were.

Gabriela was directed to the spot in which the skull was to be place, indented slightly to take in the curve of the naked bone. Once placed, it could not be removed, grasped by strange magic, by La'Ruta itself, it appeared. With that done, all that remained was to speak the words, and leave this place to its silent fate.

"I ask that everyone in attendance please repeat these words after me, as best as you can."

Nostrae vitae, et mors vitam.

Reliqua iisque eodem lumine umbraque constaret.

Est clarissima stella tenebris ea cursum dirigit.

Licet teneat lucis tenebris succedebant ortu solis ortum.

"I return once more to the land of the living..."

Surprise rippled through the crowd, the voice echoing outwards from the impossible depths of the shadowy caverns. From the wall of skulls, dark lines crawling over the bones of the fallen, creating intricate designs of a strange and alien origin. Where once there was a soft, pleasant feeling from Samuel's skull, now replaced with an expression of solemn resignation to an unseen power. Then the ground began to shake, and what came next served to scar many of those in attendance for years to come.

242718e2afe0e87bd55ea5cfe8de383b--cherri

In the darkness of the caverns around them, the sound of stone being upended could be heard, with footsteps coming towards them slowly. They were methodical in their approach, having not done the act in some centuries before, but was quick to be reacquainted with the process. Emerging from the shadows, cloaked in darkness, came Jeremiah Estella-Negra himself, shocking the entire procession, except for his deathly servants.

They bowed to their master then, just as his bones rattled to move towards the Black Queen. "Your Grace...it is an honor to be here with you today, for the rebirth of my Noble House..." His voice was just as strong as ever, the same as it always had been, even without any lips or tongue to form the words. "I hope my servants have made your stay...comfortable." Looking towards Serena, he gestured for her to come to him, hearing the ticking of the clock in her hands. "My...how time flies when one is dead..."

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Gabriela longed to reach behind her and take Quinn’s hand. She knew he was there, a moonlight shadow at her back, outlined in holy silver and ready to guard her body and mind as well as her soul from any and all peril. Though she had abandoned her throne and left without so much as a goodbye, the man remained loyal. And while she could never hope to understand it, the gratitude she harbored for his seemingly endless patience and devotion might just prove a weakness that would interfere in his ability to fulfil his duties. For indeed, though he was at her back and she drank from his essence a heady brew of strength and determination, she would have sent him away in a heartbeat had she known how uncomfortable he was.

 

He was her only friend in this place of dark and strange shadows, thieving vultures, and dimly flickering candle lights. She knew it. Quinn knew it. And it seemed that every other soul in this room knew it. Suddenly, she wondered if coming to this thing had been a wise idea. What did she really know about this strange house -- this family, which was heavily shrouded in mystery.

 

The licks of La’Ruta, the pull of it now as the mourners and worshipers gathered together in dark prayer -- it caused a dread to gather in the pit of her stomach that she could not put aside. Where she had been curious and relatively good natured about this whole ordeal, she now wore  firm and pensive frown on her noble brow. Her golden eyes watched keenly as all the moving pieces of this macabre ceremony began to shift and settle.

 

Dark La’Ruta…

 

This was the sort of thing that the War Lord was responsible for, the supposed Dark Father, but the coward had fled and gone away to serve under her treacherous cousin. Though she had received the news of his departure with grace, dignity, and poise, internally she had struggled with the overwhelming sense of disgust that developed almost instantaneously.

 

Now it was up to her to uphold the prophecy of the Mother and Father as a single parent. Being here was a requirement, especially when so much of the island’s power was concentrated in a single place and for a single event. She had come into this not understanding why, but even before the echoes of the enchantment spoken from free and enslaved lips began to settle (words that she did not speak herself), she knew what it all was for. It wasn’t necessary for her to voice the incantation, merely being present had lended her strength and influence to the ordeal. So even before the rattling of bones could be heard, and just as the intricate design light up the skulls on the walls, she turned and shot a desperate glance at Quinn, only to find his eyes set steady and furious upon the thing crawling forth from the darkness, birthed into the world by the Black Queen’s ignorance.

 

Unflinching, she followed his stare and saw the thing that drew such a reaction from her loyal knight. Death walked forward, blatant and hideous. Death was a strange thing for vampyres to grapple with because they did not understand their own mortality. They were beings of long life, such long life in fact that no one actually knew how long a vampyre could live. At a certain age, in the case of nearly all elders, they began to grow impossibly hard, until they day they simply ceased to move. Like statues, they held their form in perfect and peaceful stillness, but they were not dead. Of course, any vampyre could be killed by conventional means -- but that hardly satisfied the wonder and fear surrounding the Old Ones, those who had turned to stone in place of dying. So to see death walking towards her, a skeletal figure with gaping black holes for eyes and a perfectly straight line of teeth that chomped up and down as the thing spoke -- she felt herself sway.

 

“Your Grace…it is an honor to be here with you today, for the rebirth of my Noble House…”

 

Was it the sight of death or the fact that her energies had been depleted? She shifted unsteadily, and like Quinn hand guessed earlier, tilted against him and leaned on him for support. Though human, he supported her better than any sword or shield, and kept her upright in a way the maintained her dignity, until she could get ahold of the swaying room.

 

“What is this?” asked the queen, her gaze shifting from the robe-glad skeleton before her to Serena, “--who is this?”

 

“My… how time flies when one is dead…”

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"A beginning from an end. Nature taking its course, all to your glory." Selena said in a flat, monotone voice. There was nothing more to say of this, as it seemed as natural to the unliving servants as the sun rising and setting. 

"It is much to take in, but I assure you, there is no malice in this thing." Jericho said, looking first to his queen, and then to the frightened masses before them. "Perhaps a more palatable form, before I fully explain who I am, and how I have come to be." Standing so perfectly still, the darkness that robed Jericho now covered him completely, if only for a moment.

When the inky void dispersed, what stood before them all was the form of Jericho when he was still alive. Looking upon him was akin to that of gazing at a time long in the past. A rugged, stone chiseled chin framed the face of a man who knew a hard day's labor, though his skin was now ghastly white, his eyes a milky pale. Where Gabriela looked to be a shimmering bastion of life, Jericho was a clear instance of death itself. Inspecting his newly made flesh, he immediately understood the why of this circumstance. 

"It appears there is no hiding who you truly are, even with the best of magic." He sighed and looked upon his Queen and smiled. "My name is Jericho Estelle-Negra, and I have returned from the grave to serve you, my queen. Officially my title is Maestro de la Tumba, others may know me as a lich, but none of that matters now." He motioned to his servants, who began directing the trembling, awestruck people back up the stairs. "For now, I believe it is time to send our guests back on their way, so that we can speak more privately."

Looking to the crowd, Jericho addressed them one last time. "Thank you all for attending this event. It means so much to me, and I hope your trip back to your homes is a safe one." Whether they liked it or not, the onlookers would not be allowed to continue to observe what went on here. "There is much we still have to discuss, Your Grace."

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“My name is Jericho Estelle-Negra, and I have returned from the grave to serve you, my queen. Officially my title is Maestro de la Tumba…”

 

“Master of the Grave -- how fitting,” Gabriela echoed the title aloud, translating it into the common tongue. They shared a native language, and she wondered if they may not share a native world as well -- but that question, as many others, seemed better left for another time. There was a murmuring sea of whispers all around them, one that swayed and swirled all the more now that the skeleton had taken upon itself flesh and the guise of a man, and had gone so far as to give himself the name of long deceased noble. She could hear fear turning into disdain as the vultures, whom had come to pick the carcass of this great estate clean of its vast, hidden wealth, began to grumble their discontent. For they all had distant, and questionable claims, to the Estrella-Negra estate, which they had come to make good on. Her golden eyes had to depart from the sight of the alabaster miracle before her in order to take in the sight of the men and women who were begrudgingly being ushered out of the chapel like gallery.

 

“Thank you all for attending this event. It means so much to me, and I hope your trip to your home is a safe one.”

 

From above, as the people continued to be led out, one brave man could be seen resisting just long enough to turn and raise a manicured fist into the air, which was richly adorned with thick golden rings set with gaudy polished stones. “The Estelle-Negra line died with Samuel! That man is an impostor. I am the only legitimate heir to this estate, your Majesty -- I implore you to…”

 

Roughly, the man was silenced and pushed out with the rest of the crowd, among sounds of gasps and cries of half-hearted surprise. It seemed like everyone was playing up the dramatics in order to ensure they caught the queen’s ear. 

 

“...There is much we still have to discuss, Your Grace.”

 

Meanwhile, Gabriela had not done much in the form of moving. She remained standing very still, with her hands collected before her and her eyes still set in the same direction where the people had been taken out. She did not put much stock into what the greedy noble had shouted before being elbowed into submission by the ghoulish servants of the newly risen Jericho, for she knew well enough the magic she had felt moments before to be true enough. But that hardly meant the creature standing before her could be trusted. Least of all, to be left alone in his company. Even so, she was tired of appearing as a coward. 

 

She nodded her head, “Yes, indeed.”

 

Jericho very much seemed to be one of La’Ruta’s special creatures, and as La’Ruta’s child, she knew that she could deal with whatever came of this meeting. And so she glanced over her shoulder at Quinn.

 

“Please, wait for me outside.”

 

Once her trusted knight was away, and only when they were alone, Gabriela loosened some of her pretenses. Her shoulders dropped slightly and her head tilted as she began to examine Jericho. Eventually, she began forward and the sound of her heels echoed as they clicked on the stone floor. She moved around him, looking him up and down. 

 

“It’s rather magnificent, how long have you been dead? What forces resurrected you?”

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He could certainly admit, there was something pleasurable about being inspected, with each facet of his being looked over and judged by the critical eye of his Queen. Knowing how interested she was in him, how he was able to come back to this world after so many years. It gave him a certain measure of pride, like a school boy about to be complimented on his work by the teacher. Such things bode well for their relationship together, and so he divulged as much as he felt was prudent to allow.

"I have been dead since before you came to this island, since before your cousin set foot upon this world. As for how I accomplished such a feat, well, it's difficult to explain in words." So many sacrifices, so many countless nights spent poring over old tomes, all excentuated by nights of mad visions wracking his body. It was difficult, to say the least, but in the end, it was worth it for this moment.

"I trust you approve, My Queen? It has been so long, wandering these halls as nothing but a shade, watching tragedy befall my family, knowing that in the end, it would all lead to this." He looked upon the wall of skulls beside them, a grim reminder of what it cost to bring back the former patriarch of the house. "Family is integral to House Estelle-Negra. Without them, I would not be here today, on an important mission, a mission for you." 

Walking over to the collection of bones, he placed a hand upon one, seemingly at random, but to him, was more important than all the power in the world. "You have the potential for greatness, My Queen, but you require a teacher, someone to temper your power, and to help you achieve power beyond what even Rafael could imagine." He looked to her again, not as just his Queen, but as an equal in something greater than politics. 

"Through La'Ruta I have heard the whispers about your life, Your Grace. At every turn I wondered. Would these tragedies have happened if she could use the full potential at her command? How confident would her enemies be at challenging her if they could see what she was capable of? I wept at every downfall, rejoiced at every victory, and when I heard you had died I..." Dread crossed his face for a moment before he stowed it away. "It is good indeed that you are here, and that if you are willing, I can show you the ways of La'Ruta no one else can or will, because they want to keep you weak." Greatness was always in her reach, she simply needed someone to show her the way so she could grasp it fully. 

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She wondered if she should believe this man, or rather, if she should believe the powerful gut feeling that seemed to command her forward through her interaction with this man. From his reanimation and revival, although she had felt the light shroud of fear cast over her shoulders, there had also been curiosity, wonder, and a warmth that could only be described as affection. And now that he was flesh and blood, and now that they stood alone among the bones of his great family, she heard the honey-sweet words that spilled from his lips and she wondered at it all. 

 

“I trust you approve, My Queen? It has been so long, wandering these halls…”

 

Death held a strange place of importance for most vampyres. Many of her kin worshiped the very idea of death, and their strange and violent rituals were the tragic results of their poor interpretations on the matter. In this regard, she did not consider herself better than the others, for she could not assume know the true weight of what was in their hearts and the depth of their belief in the strange things they stated as truths. But she was different. Death had no allure, there was nothing romantic about the notion, she did not feel herself intimately entwined with it simply because she was born a predator. 

 

But recent events, and recent losses, had turned her mind toward death. Loving had become a costly commodity she simply could no longer afford, but in that same respect, she could not so easily do away with the feelings that were already well seeded and growing in her heart. She feared for the life of a precious few, and having the power over life and death meant gaining a significant amount of leverage over those who would seek to manipulate her with the threat of loss. 

 

“Through La’Ruta I have heard the whispers about your life, Your Grace. At every turn I wondered. Would these tragedies have happened if she could use the full potential at her command? How confident would her enemies be at challenging her if they could see what she was capable of? I wept at every downfall, rejoiced at every victory, and when I heard you had died I…” 

 

“Did you mourn for me, Jericho? You -- the man with the power over life and death? If I were truly dead, wouldn’t you be able to restore me?” A question, a test -- the Black Queen sought to know his usefulness from the beginning of their relationship. Once upon a time, she may have sought death out. She craved it. But now the thought of death, at least before her time, disturbed her. There was much she had to do, work that had to be finished, and no one else who could complete it. 

 

“It is good indeed that you are here, and that if you are willing, I can show you the ways of La’Ruta no one else can or will, because they want to keep you weak.”

 

“And what will be the price for your mentorship? You’re noble house is in ruins -- you yourself are nothing more than a reanimated corpse, while the last living heir of your name has been lain to rest. Help me achieve my goals, Jericho, and I will reward you by bringing your family back to life in the only way that actually matters. A wife, a child, a new legacy for a nearly forgotten name.”

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9 hours ago, Pasion Pasiva said:

“Did you mourn for me, Jericho? You -- the man with the power over life and death? If I were truly dead, wouldn’t you be able to restore me?” A question, a test -- the Black Queen sought to know his usefulness from the beginning of their relationship. Once upon a time, she may have sought death out. She craved it. But now the thought of death, at least before her time, disturbed her. There was much she had to do, work that had to be finished, and no one else who could complete it. 

"I would have torn apart the heavens, the earth and every hell in existence to get you back. You don't know the value you have, not just in the small things like politics, but in the grander scheme of things as well." Greater forces than empires were at play, and he couldn't allow something like death to put an end to the meticulous planning he had been putting forth for this moment. 

Her offer was intriguing, a sly thing that he knew would benefit the both of them dearly. "A new chance at starting my family again, to give them a proper life, a new beginning..." 

Bowing, he accepted her offer. "I am yours, Your Grace. As both mentor and servant, I will do all that I can to ensure the prosperity of both our houses, this I swear to you." 

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“...You don’t know the value you have, not just in the small things like politics, but in the grander scheme of things as well.”

 

Gabriela regarded him again with that same weighted and thoughtful expression. Once more, there was that edge of study behind her sharp expression. Her thoughts, though private and unreadable, seemed to play across her face in a breathtaking display of consideration. It was truly a wonder to see this woman think, to watch her reason, and in turn, examine the subtle changes in her countenance as she weighed his words. 

 

Finally she released him from her arresting gaze and turned her sights toward that wall of death. Skull by skull, and bone by bone, she took in the macabre sight of this display of death and the worship made unto it.

 

“I’ve been hearing that all of my life, but this is the first time I believe it. Maybe I am finally ready. Maybe I just want to believe it.”

 

Her small shoulders shrugged. 

 

“I am yours, Your Grace. As both mentor and servant, I will do all that I can to ensure the prosperity of both our houses, this I swear to you.”

 

“Get your affairs in order, Jericho. Ensure your house is settled and under your control -- fully. When you are ready, present yourself in the capital and we will get started. I must return, I cannot be long away from my son.” 

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"Yes, go and see your child. Family is always important." Especially the ones you have lost, he thought to himself.

As she left, Jericho waited for some time, hands behind his back, thinking on the future. Events were in motion now, and he would make certain they reached their conclusion. So many countless years of waiting would not be wasted, not after so many have died to make this happen. 

Bring him to me. He commanded, and in but a few minutes time, the one who shouted his protest was brought to Jericho from an unseen side entrance in the cavern walls. Gagged, blindfolded and bound heavily, the upstart did his best to shout against the cloth which silenced him, only to create muffled noises that could not be translated. "I do not remember you in my family tree." The ritual would not have worked had there been another member of his family alive. With that, he knew this man to be an impostor. 

In an instant the man grew still, no longer shouting, but his heart still thundered with fear inside of his chest. "There is no need to fear. I am a reasonable man, so long as you remain reasonable as well."

He nodded, and when he was freed, he asked uncertainly. "So what happens now?"

He grinned devilishly. "We talk business, you and I."

fín

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