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the Dead Celebrates.

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XBsec0Q.pngA favorite room among guests; a room that happens to best reflect the intellect and personality of its owner. At a young age, Riforte was forced to keep a record of the books she has read to ensure she was occupying her time with worthy works, none of that romanced garbage. As an adult, she kept recording what she has read; the records now consist of old grimoires, tomes, fictions, and non-fictions.

A testament to her passion for reading, the library is lined with walnut shelves housing her personal collection of at least 22,000 volumes. Old and new and unfinished collections, she continues to read and buy works from a slew of writers.

If lucky enough, some books can be caught speaking to one another; others even like to take a spin around the room. Books carrying darker arts will be rude enough to move themselves to different shelves, disrupting the orderliness of the library. Only a few times has she caught them doing such things, as if they have a mind of their own, they decide when they wish to be found in the act. 

The paintings also move, but unlike the books, they're not nearly as chatty. The ones that do like to talk though can be difficult to silence; guests are somewhat of a foreign object in the household, new faces will surely make the entire library abuzz with interest. If any of the paintings are kind enough to let you enter their domain, go ahead and do so, but make sure you don't get lost.

It wouldn't be very nice to ruin a dinner party because of silly shenanigans. 

KQPlM3w.pngHer mother loved to garden, so it's only natural that she also loves to garden.

Just like her books, Riforte has grown accustomed to taking slips and trimmings of plants and their kind from all across Valucre - and other places too. The indoor garden is a changeable thing depending on the season; sometimes there's nothing but roses and tulips, others you'll find succulents and cacti. Overall, there is always something new within the garden, and a majority of those new are dangers and endangered. 

Guests are given a word of caution.

The holiday season is here, so the winter garden is full of greenery with just a few scattered hues of red, and red means extreme danger. Most of the plants are silent, and like their privacy, others are rude. Make sure hands are in pockets and noses are kept at a reasonable distance away, if not, be prepared to lose one or the other, maybe even both. 

If by chance one of the plants or flowers gets a hold of you, don't worry, there are people within the garden to ensure the safety of everyone and will come to your rescue. Try not to panic, as stated before, most of the things inside the winter garden are rare, and Riforte would rather lose you to them, than them to you.


To celebrate the holidays, a 35-foot-tall fir is the tallest tree inside the manor and sits at one end of the table. Hundreds of lights and ornaments adorn it, and hanging above it is a large chandelier that replaces the traditional star. 

Like every year the preparations were extensive, and no detail was left unattended. The Banquet Hall is to show mirth and happiness during the yule-tide season; at the foot of the tree, there are gifts to be given out to extended family (who no longer exist) and estate workers who've dedicated their time to tend to the large manor. 

The table can seat 20 guests, but with extenders, it can seat at least 20 more. In the middle of the table, surrounded by food and drink, is a marble sculpture of a woman so beautiful and lovely. They say the lady haunts the halls, a benevolent spirit who just wants to be entertained and entertain. She doesn't speak often, but when she does, some have said they've heard nothing so pretty and sweet.

At the other end of the grand table is the grand piano that is said to of been passed down from one generation to the next. There's no proof to any of that, as far as records show it's just a piano that had been bought randomly one day to occupy space in the hall. Space keeper or whatever, it is a prized and loved possession.

Edited by Aleksei

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uzvL4CI.pngThey are immediately welcomed by the soft glow of luminaries and holiday lights drowning the towering spruce beautifully centered in the lavish square of land. Behind loftily decorated windows are halls and turns decorated with thousands of ornaments on dozens of Christmas trees; the flicker of candlelight, firelight, and twinkling lights bounce off the glassy faces of the delicate bulbs. An immediate feeling of welcome and home can be felt as one steps foot before the large door decorated in a wreath of berries and snow covered pinecones. 

Excruciating hours went into planning and decorating the home each year. Her mother may no longer wander the halls in physical form, but as a stumbling specter, her love for the holidays shows in each poinsettia, the giant fir in the Banquet Hall, and the miles of garlands throughout the manor. 

This world is unfamiliar to her in the form of a confused ghost who is bound to exploring the now strange home that had once been a place of reprieve to the aching mind. It's not Riforte's right to ask the unfortunate soul to go on to cross over the threshold of this world into the next. There is a reason the ghost sneaks through the level home and by rights, this was her place first, and it is everyone else who is trespassing; whatever the reason that prompts her to stay, it is worthy enough to gain her passage. 

She stays out of sight - for now. Feeling that there is something different this time around, the woman lurks behind books and trees, hoping to see what this difference is. For years the manor has been left to entertain emptiness; Riforte visits every year, makes sure everything is properly in its place, but never has she opened her home to strangers - let alone friends. The opening of the winery and the sudden need for food showed that there was entertainment to be had and the entertained were at the door waiting with wide eyes. It is by popular opinion the manor is beautiful, but above that, it carries a trace of ostentation. These outsiders will see just a drop of what their proclaimed Architect is.

The door would open for the company, welcoming to the beautiful sight of the reception hall. Once they were all inside, coats and such would be taken by a flurry of well-dressed individuals - maids, butlers, and their kind fill every level of the large home. Everything in order, one particular butler would be quick to exchange pleasantries before leading the group to the Banquet Hall. There the large table was entirely covered in a variety of foods that'd satisfy even the pickiest of individuals; fine wines ranging from red, white, and bubbly occupy a great deal of the table. 

The trees, the table, the overall joyous aesthetic of the room did little to outshine what is considered the heart of the Banquet Hall. It had no name, unlike most prized possessions, for its owner decided it needed no name to be introduced to the company. Polished, redwood case shimmered beneath the lights of the room; a handful of scribbled notes and sheets were scattered atop the ivory keys and the leathered bench, a sign that the piano had use still.

At last the group is instructed to make themselves comfortable and explore the entire first floor at their leisure. Riforte is tending to other matters but will join her little motley crew of ambling skeletons in a few.

Edited by Aleksei

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When the cold winds blow and there is snow on the mountain, the Dead gather like shadows in deep valleys.

“This is the first time our new crew has really gotten together,” said the shadow of Cain, strutting around the room, already buzzed on the morning of the party. “I’m excited!”

Cain’s greater half mumbled something incoherent at his wan likeness in the shadow and grinned, taking a pull of burning liquid from a flask. He was sitting in the bowl of a giant moon chair lined with thick firs and pelts, visibly drunker than his counterpart. The duo exchanged slurred words of anticipation about the party within an office hollowed from the side of Mt. Ichthys. Along all the walls but one were fitted together smooth squares of wood in a gridded pattern. The fourth spilled out on the breathtaking view of a momentous valley cut down the center by a winding river. The river was fed by a waterfall that poured over the fourth wall in a current as smooth as glass.

Cain, in his stupor, stared in serenity over the otherworldly landscape through a conical window of water running over his palm. Somewhere behind him, the shadow gratingly regaled him with excitements for the night to come.

Flicking his hand out of the water after a minute and heaving himself from his chair, Cain balanced himself and turned to face the shadow.

“Alright, it’s time,” he said, hiccuping.

“Time?” said the shadow, laughing nervously. “But the party isn’t until tonight! And we have a doorway right to the estate— wait, what are you doing?” Cain was stalking toward the shadow, staggering, unbuttoning his shirt. The shadow backed into a corner, holding his hands up half-pleading, half-salvaging any humor from the grim scenario. “I know you’re obsessed with me but jeez!”

“Get in,” said Cain, and from his chest emitted a blackish, purple bundle of tendrils that wrapped around the shadow and pulled him in, devouring the shadow with the sickening crack of bone and gore until what remained was just Cain's normal chest. There was no blood or gore, just the absorption of a corpsish husk. Tingling, cold, deathly sensations ran from Cain’s toes to his brain, and then intense grief washed over him as all the heavy pain and sorrow of the world he had woven around himself settled on his shoulders. What hurt the shadow must endure, he thought, slumping into his chair and losing consciousness.

That night, Cain Rose appeared in full fashion. He donned a white suit that bespoke quiet order and a sharp, white half-mask that bespoke the underlying chaos. He arrived on a carriage drawn by two massive shire horses. Out of it emerged the First and Nica Sero, side by side but entirely apart. The First seemed to bear with him more weight than normal. More than a statuesque pile of orders, he had become an individual imbued with all the intricacies of good and bad; humble and prideful.

“Two, sir?” said the valet with slicked back hair. Cain beckoned him to take the rider’s bench with the wave of a gloved hand, leading Nica through patches of guests lingering outside the great manor. Two very dichotomous looks were cast upon him, and then the standard black suited Nica. This man was of mystery, riches and influence; that man was lucky not to be in a jail cell, or worse.

“Are you still drunk,” asked Nica incredulously so that passersby would hear.

“Yes, Nica, I am!” replied Cain jovially and uncaring, even louder, grabbing a dark drink off a servant’s tray.

“Go socialize, Mayor! Enjoy your freedom— oh wait, you’re not a mayor anymore are you? Go put this on the gift table” Cain laughed, tossed Nica a palm-sized box with a red bow, and walked off, headed for the winter garden. Cain was beset with all the childish nerves of the shadow and eager to gain some insight on the habits of the Architect.

Nica, tossing the box up and down in one hand as he approached the table, removed a bulky parcel of his own from inside his blazer. The immaculate “N” stamping it shut had once been his seal with which to rule over all the kingdom of Tia. Now it was just the closed gate to a gift; the most precious in this world that he had to offer. He stood beside the table in the reception hall, rubbing his thumb over the grooves of wax, remembering a better time.

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Belladonna has rather dark memories from before, when the seasons shift in favor of colder winds and snow spills itself down from the heavens to cover the lands in an ivory sheen. Perhaps it is silly, the idea of being so affected by the sight of blood on her hands in a time of winter cheer and festivity, but it persists, burrows deep into her soul with each year that passes, with every kill she confirms on the eve of Yule, or Reverie, or Azatar, or Cothmas, or whatever form of celebration she happens upon around the continent in this time of year.

The Crow, however, had always been a generous mistress. Strict, cold, but undeniably generous with her poison princesses’ lavish, sometimes extravagant ways of living. She just wishes the wealth they have been granted had not been at the great expense it had cost them all.

Wrapping her fur coat tightly around her shoulders, Belladonna makes her way down the path to the manor, admiring the plethora of glimmering lights. She has not taken a few steps through the doors and into the reception hall when she is accosted by a trio of maids who make quick work divesting her of her winter jacket and scurrying away with it to, perhaps, the cloakroom. They do not try to strip away her customary fox mask, and she does not try to take it off herself, even in the seclusion of tonight’s opulent venue.

She rather wishes she had such efficient servants at her beck and call.

Belladonna weaves through the crowd, taking care to keep her gift carefully stowed away in the folds of her forest-green dress, where it is less likely to be disturbed by the jostling of limbs as she strides through the halls.

The red-haired man at the table in the reception hall stands apart from the otherwise faceless sea of guests. It takes a moment to place him, but then she recalls: he had been the mayor of Tia, before its downfall at the hands of the Dead. She has not made the acquaintance of Nica Sero during her time in the doomed city, but perhaps she should strive to greet him, at the very least. There is a saying about making friends no matter where or when, surely?

Belladonna steps forward, comes to stand a few paces away from Nica. “Good evening,” she nods at him, offers a polite, red-lipped smile. “We have yet to meet, I believe, Sir…?”

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uzvL4CI.png"I hate you wearing white."

The words fell from perfectly painted lips, their trill delicately accented with a latin curl that made the sentence warm and disproportionately intrinsic. With no mask and no illusion drowning the tone to what is deemed familiar to the ears of the skeletons, she sounded normal, proper, and impecably human. Years upon years have made the woman a layer of shadows and secrets; no one except for a very, very, very limited few have ever seen the woman as she indeed is. Within the walls of her home she is safe to be herself, so much so she was ready to show her face to the members of the Dead.

Safety, and well, secrets. This momentary glance of freedom was just another notch into a deftly laid plan that has slowly begun to unfurl into full fruition. Soon, secrets will collide with safety, and together they will mesh her slowly crumbling world into one of pure perfection.

"It's hard to look at you when you do, because of your bright hair contrasted with the white - its blinding."

Languid sway of hips carried her forth, causing the echoes of her perfectly polished heels to click and clack against the equally grand floor. There was an obnoxious line of coldness mixed with numbness in her right leg that made her steps exaggerated, dispelling any chances of her playing coy and sensual. Not that it mattered, she could be naked dancing with a cabbage leaf, and Cain would remain entirely obtuse towards her being. 

Pain painted him with strong brushstrokes, creating a canvas that was difficult to decipher and possibly impossible to ignore. When she looked at him, it reminded her that there had been something to this husk of a man. Once upon a time, he had been a slightly insignificant speck flickering at the corner of her eye. Then one day he became a distracting flame before shaping into a raging inferno. She wanted the flame without the burning, but she knew the closer she got the more she would turn to ash.

The more the guilt of her like weighed her down. 

"Next time wear a black suit with a crisp white shirt."

The woman waved away an offered glass of wine. With the events in the past months her body has defected, alcohol made it worse; she would rather not slump before Cain in a heap of damaged nerves and drool. 

She sat down, the tightness of her black dress shaping her form with profound accuracy whenever she moves. Tendrils of glossy black curls danced atop Riforte's shoulders and from these strands of perfection wafted the smell of lemongrass. The glamour of her attire should not be overwhelming, seeing as the Architect in name enjoyed wearing expensive fabrics that hug her like a well-fitted glove. When you have money you are given a sort of freedom that you can afford to upkeep; before the Dead invited her into its ranks, Riforte had known the tastes of the more exceptional things in life. Who she is behind the mask and outside it differs little.

Golden eyes flickered, the speckling of freckles on the ridge of her nose reflected the soft light. 

"I'm glad you came."

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Holidays were never really that important to Shikai, especially the ones that were meant to be celebrated with friends and family gathered around a table laden with food. When you don't have any family to gather, and you can't even remember the last time you had something to eat, such things held little interest. Once he was taken in by his village, he had sometimes taken part in the festivals they held if he wasn't away on a mission. Despite the way things turned out, he still acknowledged that his time in the village was probably the happiest of his life. They were like a family to him, and he had only wanted to protect them. Often times he caught himself wishing that things could have turned out differently...

"...times like now, dummy!" he laughed, flicking himself on the forehead. Today was a new day, with new friends, who wanted him around! No time for sadness, or the burden of decisions past; no, it was time to celebrate the holidays with the rest of the dead.

In preparation for the party, he had gone out and bought himself some clothing more befitting of the occasion than the functional outfit he usually wore. His coat was swiftly taken from him upon entering the manor, though he was allowed, at his insistence, to keep the cane. Once that was settled, he was ushered into the Banquet Hall, where a few of his comrades were already partaking in the festivities. Taking their lead, he deposited his gift on the table, then grabbed a bottle of wine and popped it open with his thumb; taking a long pull from it as he piled dumplings into a bowl. That was when he caught sight of the piano, and moved over to get a better look.

"What a beauty! I wonder if the Architect would let me play it... after I wash my hands of course!"




Edited by danzilla3

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596401327450b4779e6008c2a2e02679d5d9b16e_hq.jpgOh how wonderful. Another event to attend, another party where she had to mingle with people. If there's one thing the Mistress- no, Linda - 'The Madame Linda Linda' -was lacking, it would be her interpersonal skills. Well that was the probably why one of her bodies was out there somewhere in the cold wasteland named Shawnee, mostly in ashes. Her so called friends were rather thorough in mutilating her corpse. Very thorough indeed. Now the Mistress is dead and she had to rebuild her new persona from the ground up. Gods, as if being the Black Head wasn't tiring enough, now she's all alone and without the help of her loving subordinates, subordinates who all left her after her supposed death. Such ungrateful bastards. If there's going to be a consolation in this party, at least she'll be able to make new friends. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Dressed in her usual dress under her usual coat, Linda just now felt rather embarrassed with her chosen attire. This was after all the only set of clothes she has to wear, not to mention most of her assets as the Mistress  has been either been looted or seized by the government/local gangs/local crime organizations prior to her untimely demise. Well she wasn't lacking in land and properties but there was always some allure in living plainly. Not to mention, her living quarters were reduced from that luxurious castle overlooking the infamous Last Chance into a single couch. Yes, she claimed that couch fair and square from that wacky scientist back in Ursa Madeum. Now Linda is missing that funny man.

Upon entering the mansion, Linda would unfortunately have a rather heated argument regarding the importance of her coat to her overall appearance. It took a while, and a few inappropriate exchanges, Linda Linda was lead into the Banquet Hall where she would leave her gift together with the others. Still wearing her prized long coat, the Madame brought a lighted cigar to her lips, her yellow eyes shifting form one familiar face to another. Since this event is for that mysterious organization (she still couldn't remember the name, oddly enough) Linda was more than confident that woman would show up here. Now where is her Bel?



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As the First Officer left Nica to his devices, the smile bled from his face. He could summon joy as easily as he could flip a coin, but the woes of the shadow were upon him and within him. The combination of Cain Rose’s outlandish halves equalled a man whose life had been ripped away from him on three occasions. He was here to make a good show for the others, he told himself, but there was also a reason he’d gotten so intoxicated to meld with his other half. That reason was a void of silent pain that enveloped him when the shadow and him were together. He could ignore the million frightful demons stuffed into his closets, but they were always there.

Immaculate wooden framework encased the winter garden from the rest of Riforte’s manor. This early in the night there were only enough guests to fill the eastern portion of the estate, so that as Cain walked with his hands in his pockets around the enclosed atrium, he found himself on the western doors to the winter garden without ever entering. It was there that he stood, running his finger along the trim and looking through the glass with the feeling of pushing down on his mind, when Riforte’s footsteps preceded her slender, powerful body.

There was no motion of snapping to, or any indication Cain sensed her approach at all really.; except unexpectedly soft, chartreuse eyes shifting one iota to the right. The window’s gleam reflected the exposed half of his face, no longer admiring the majesty of the plants, but a majesty distinctly more human. A majesty that, even with his lips closed, caused his chin to falter and quiver just barely. Cain had always been a vehement non believer in gods, but in all of their grizzly ventures together he now strained to maintain his atheism in beholding her unnatural beauty.

If gods did not make her, she saw the evidence flashing in his eye, then devils of the evilest kind certainly had.

“Are you? Thought I’d come show support for the woman in charge” he said, straightening his tie and smiling at his reflection before turning to face her. In truth, it was a moment of preparation he needed. Beholding her stunning personage sans the meaning of the flaws she imparted on herself was a breathtaking feat when paired with a face Cain swore now he had had never seen prior.

“Nica is in the other room, he stole my black suit.” Cain said as he came to her side, offering his arm. “Shall I go rip it off of him?” he finished with a quiet laugh. The tense silence that stretched after was as palpable as a stretching rubber band, the urge to say something building and building until something either snapped, or the tension was released.  “You clean up into a real beauty, you know? You don’t need to rip any clothes off of anyone looking like that.”

Another laugh, but this one self-conscious. Strange, coming from Cain.

Meanwhile in the reception hall, Nica had just placed his parcels in unassuming spots on table so that, he thought, nobody might realize they were his and Cain’s. Funny, how the little details and their implications mattered most to him. After all, his meticulousness had been the vehicle for Tia’s booming success all those years. Even if his puppet’s strings had pulled him in a sinister direction or two, his heart was still pure. It ached for the things Cain had made him do. The lives he had unwillingly churned into the machine. Randomly, as Belladonna made her approach, his somber expression morphed into a smile as he told himself that this was a party, and he must smile.

“Hi!” he said, eyes trailing off to the side as he spoke. Bel was beautiful, and it saddened Nica even more. He was wholly convinced that all which held beauty for him in this world, Cain would make him destroy. “No, I don’t believe we have. Unless you toured any jail cells in Tia right before it fell.”

Nica knew that everyone here was inevitably an agent of the Dead, he little more than a vassal by which their will was done. But he was smart; in fact, he fancied himself the smartest person in the manor. Whether he was or was not, he had acquired the attitude through many dark nights spent reading and poring over what had been done by Cain and the Dead to destroy his promising political career.

Eventually his green eyes found themselves on Belladonna again.

“What found you in the company of these ah.. Movers and shakers?”

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The man offers a smile at her approach, even as he does not personally extend his name, even as his gaze skitters away once he finally voices his greeting. Belladonna does not begrudge him this movement, this moment of recollection for his thoughts or otherwise.

“No, I don’t believe we have. Unless you toured any jail cells in Tia right before it fell.”

Her lips quirk in a half-smile at this, remembering the night she had taken part in the ruination of a megacity. There is a sense of superiority creeping in her thoughts, the idea of her partaking in something beyond the means of the organization she had left behind, the family she had betrayed for greatness. When she thinks of her matriarch at this very moment, reminded of the achievements she had obtained for herself, there is no small hint of pride fueling her train of thought.

See, Mother, how glorious I can be?

Nica shifts his gaze back to her, glittering emerald under the kaleidoscope lights, and her attention returns to the conversation at hand.

“What found you in the company of these ah.. Movers and shakers?”

Belladonna tilts her head, considering the query with the weight it deserves, for all the actions she has taken thus far to arrive here, surrounded by pretty colors and opulent fixtures and companions both devious and deadly but beautiful, yes, just like the sisters she had forsaken. “I found in myself a thirst for something beyond what I had, in the beginning, and in these people, I seem to have finally quenched it,” she chuckles, gesturing about the room, the sea of people shifting and twisting around them. “Thus far, at the very least. It seems to me that this want can become insatiable, grasping for more and more should I add fuel to the flame.” Belladonna hums, extends a hand to brace herself against the table, gaze wandering away from the man beside her. “I imagine I cannot hardly match up when compared to an enigmatic individual as yourself. Have you been enjoying the night thus far, Sir?”



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To say she comes prepared is an outright lie, to a celebratory extent. Parties and gatherings are not uncommon to her save for in this manner. Holidays are usually a time she spends working. Keeping to the darkness that is her life outside of the Dead. Not sashaying into it with vigor as she could be in this moment. Hesitant steps bring her towards the door. The want to spin on her heels and return to her ride saturating her. It isn’t fear that causes it, and is instead a lack of want or need for such an occasion. However, promises are binding. And the Apprentice refuses to fail the woman, by any measure. Besides, there is more to being here than just enjoying the decorations already on display outside the manor. Riforte is expecting her presence, and her presence she will receive. Not only that, the opinions of the woman regarding her choice of outfit for the festive evening would have to be discussed. Since the colors were of Riforte's doing.


For one evening, she entertains the chill of the season allowing it to pinken her naked cheeks. Whether she can actually feel its bite or not. As is her normality, she carries nothing visibly in hand. Save for a particularly special gift wrapped in iridescent emerald green paper. As the custom was dictated her she made sure that the receivers name was scrawled neatly onto the folded tag and that hers is not. However, there is a very creatively sketched image of a mask with a hooked beak in black ink on the other side. Not one to have given a gift that she can remember, it had taken a great deal of time to decide on what it should or could be. The person it will soon belong to an enigma she has not yet been able to wrap her mind around.

She does not dwell on such thoughts and eventually finds her fingers reaching for the door, which opens to admit her without so much as a touch. The entrance is as welcoming as it is warming and light. The brilliance of such an ornamental display twinkle in the reflection of her eyes. Absolutely beautiful. Astonishing really. It brings her to a pause as she steps inside, caught quite of guard by the affection placed on this...this Christmas holiday Riforte had explained to her. Something new and obviously wondrous. A feeling she hasn’t felt in many a year.

It takes a moment for her to gather herself and walks further onward. Nodding politely to those who will never truly see or be able to remember her face. The wisps and distortions did out of protection for them all. Had she thought it unwise, she might have worn her mask to deepen the shadows of her outward life but did not do so at request. It isn’t until now that the young woman understands why. It just wouldn’t be fitting to have such darkness in so luminescent a place. If not for the stature of her counterparts she may be able to recognize them. Their frames scattered here and there. Catching her attention merely by mannerism and mode of speech. The pitch and twist of their syllables, even with a different tone, somehow call to her ears.

“I’ll take that for you, Miss.” A well dressed and polish gentleman extends his hand for the gift held ever so gently against her chest. It takes a second or two before she decides to hand it over with her own appreciate additive.

“Thank you. Please….be very gentle with it. It’s such a fragile thing.” As fragile as she envisions the person to receive it. Delicate, but so very full of life.

Without further adieu, she begins her adventure and steps past others in order to wander about the first floor. Not entirely sure what it is she is hoping to find. Just another guest, dressed for the occasion and lost like the shadow she chooses to be. Highlighted by the fact that her heels never truly touch the floor, ending each step she makes along the hallway as deathly silent as she is.


Edited by -Lilium-

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uzvL4CI.pngAre you? He asked in such a tone that made her skin crawl, causing her to be briefly offended that he would look so softly complacent with her compliment about his presence. Though, beneath her raw nerves and sensitive heart, the question could have been more of an assertion, to see if she truly meant it or if she was merely putting on airs. If the latter, someone who has worn many faces and has changed many times, he ought to know when the truth is spoken or not. She was happy to have him there, but a part of her wished he would continue to stand at arm's length. 

It wasn't written in the stars. He turned, and she caught herself staring openly with honesty that turned her golden hues to a dark, sweet honey hue. When it happened, she could not remember. The guilty part of her infatuation comes in two parts; the first she keeps buried in the nook and crannies of her beating heart, but the second part is something the two share. In a way, it's a bridge between them, where she stood in the middle overlooking the river of memories flooding in the forest of the past. Cain was still standing on the other end, far from her touch and too close to the water. 

Hesitantly, she takes his offered arm. His self-conscious laugh was mixing with the nervous beating of her heart; a beat she's sure he can feel pour from the tips of her eager fingertips laced around his arm. Riforte wondered if this is how Chloe felt or if it was something different, something that was written in stone and the stars, felt only through those brief moments of death and undoing. Chloe, her closest and dearest friend, is gone from this world and it's been an accepted fact, just not a happy one. Caught in the thought of that time when everything was fine, Cain has never departed entirely from the past. It scarred him.

There is a reason that he's still standing and it's not for her, may not even be for himself. 

"I'm not in the sport of ripping anyone's clothes off, but if it had to be Nica ... I suppose he would do."

Buried in his bones, there are those memories where familiar touch and love can be found, like little treasures scattered across a deserted island. Her decorated fingers squeezed his arm, the bubble of anticipation and uncertainty threatening to pop underneath the pressure of her selfishness.

"I don't want you to lie to me, Cain. You don't have to pretend if you don't want to."

It's wrong to love someone who had belonged so entirely to a friend and comrade. 

"It'll hurt my feelings if you do. At least for a moment, trust me enough to be okay."

The corner of her painted lips drifted up in a tactical smile meant to strike the heart. But she had forgotten that underneath his too white suit and manufactured skin; there are only demons and skeletons - his heart, it was left with another. 

Embarrassment not being her thing, the woman turned her attention to the garden that had been elaborately decorated for their celebration. The array of greenery distracted her momentarily, allowing her to gather just enough pride to stand by what she had said to him. It wasn't a love confession; it was merely a friendly hand for him to grab when needed. In business, those are the kinds of things you do with your partner: ensure their health as it provides the health of the organization.

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It had been such a long time since he had experienced anything other than utter darkness. The shrewd imprisonment he had suffered something between a fever-dream and a nightmare. Any human would have found that endless span of suspension in ancient arcane restraints maddening...it would have broken them. It was good, he supposed, that he hadn't been human in quite some time. It had all been taken from him the day those government buffoons found his teachings and proclivities for forbidden magics 'dangerous'...well they were long dead by now and here he was, late for the first party he had gone to in eons so what did they know? It seemed that most of the guests had already arrived and were just beginning to 'enjoy' themselves as best as a macabre group like this could. It was quite a good thing they had invited Reginald to help brighten the mood!

There wasn't a knock at the door or carrier pigeon bound to burst through the window, but rather a distortion of air followed by a swell of bright purple and blue magic accumulating into a portal. A man immediately spilling forth from the arcane machination in a bit of a fluster. The portal shortly closing with a wink of periwinkle glimmer. The man quickly recovering as he dusted himself off and ran a lithe hand through his curled violet locks. "Forgive me everyone! My trajectory was slightly askew, hopefully I didn't leave any marks!" he said, quickly looking back at the floor nervously before sighing in grandiose relief. Reginald had met a few of the members of The Dead, but still felt it necessary to adorn one of his disguises. His form having no place in a formal setting, besides this one was far more accommodating! The mage giving an apologetic bow before rest of the guests as he realized he had nearly opened the portal In the tree the staff had likely painstakingly step for such an event. 



"Reginald Baldric Omeyya Thaydrenn Lockheed The Third at your service! I am but a rookie among such esteemed members of your organization and it is an honor to be invited to such a soire! forgive my tardiness" He said, giving a gracious bow as maids immediately went to remove him of his cloak an unnecessaries. "You are too kind, please, as gratitude and apologies for my rudeness" he said to the few who took his cloak, and cane. A rotund pair of Sapphires being presented to the two; giving them away without a second thought as he looked onto the rest of the gathering with a wide smile. Eyes like the very gems he parted ways with; pulling from his sleeve an elongated present box with shifting prismatic wrapping paper, tucking it under the tree just like he read in those instructional books he had been catching up on. 

He now finally had the freedom to take in his surroundings, and he could hardly believe how astounding this manor was. He could scarcely remember living in a home much like this one...he could feel it's mysticism and wonder practically calling him to every hall and balcony. Was this where the mysterious Riforte lived? He had heard that between her and Cain, they were the runs who orchestrated The Dead's activity. He loved a mystery in the chain of command! His fingers tracing the tree as he felt each bristle and strand of tinsel. It was all such a new experience...everything has such care put into it for an event. He was still quite new to this group, and could only hope he could earn such confections and joyous merriment. 

"I know not where our hostess is, but her eye for detail has not be wasted on that I can assure! I can feel the winter solstice coursing it's mysterium through my four humors! I have long dreamed in my long days of silence to once again experience the pleasures of comradeship and Life's grand design. From the bottom of my heart I must thank you for giving me this opportunity! I won't let my superiors down!" Reginald giving another bow before using this time to lean into a passing maid, pointing at the tinsel

"Excuse me madam, but some of this customs are still foreign to me...can I...eat that? Is this tree decorated with brightly colored food for a reason? I don't believe ive ever seen a charcuterie like that before!"

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Shikai looked at the new arrival with a raised eyebrow, "Well how about that? Always nice to meet someone weirder than me!"

Now the Zombie's eyes focused once more on the beautiful instrument on display in the room. The shinobi looked upon the amalgamation of wood and ivory with an almost longing gaze; as though he was looking upon a long lost loved one. His love of music was something that few people were close enough to him to know about, but oh, did it bring him joy! Admittedly the piano was not his primary instrument, but he was decent at it, and his fingers were practically itching to touch the polished keys on display. Surely one song wouldn't hurt? 

"Eh. Better to ask forgiveness than permission right?"

The pale man turned to a nearby waiter and deposited his empty dish and wiped his hands thoroughly on a towel the man held, and then sat at the piano. One quick song, and then he would scurry off to stand in a corner somewhere.


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Near the entrance, a maid named Brinda intercepted Reginald moments after he arrived. In classic style, nobody was unattended for long in the great estate. One difference between the staff coursing through this place and the typical manor, however, was a trademark of all the Dead. A little bit of sass.

"Excuse me madam, but some of this customs are still foreign to me...can I...eat that? Is this tree decorated with brightly colored food for a reason? I don't believe ive ever seen a charcuterie like that before!"

“Why yes, sir, the tinsel is quite edible! How perceptive of you.” The black and white dressed Brida watched Reginald in excitement for the result of her sass.

It is only those who are able to be successful out of dark places, on their own, who find themselves in such masked, illustrious company as the Dead— mostly those who, by virtue of the fact, prefer to work that way. Interspersed with this lone wolf mentality, woven into the very nature of the organization’s existence as a greater entity, sits acknowledgement that these people can grasp even greater success together. The degree to which you are capable to succeed alone or with others, and that to which you want power and fame in any capacity you could wish; these are the two sides of the scale that required balance to work with the Dead. Foresight is the characteristic that grants someone the power to balance them.

Foresight was the characteristic that brought all these people into the shadow behind shadows to begin with. The Dead was a machine that churned out scapegoats of the public to serve its operators gathered here. When a scapegoat went down, the Dead graciously provided another. It was foresight, and the ability to really use the Dead’s limitless capacity for freedom, that made a good Skeleton. A good Lieutenant. A good Captain.

“Do you really want to know? I feel pretty terrible. My kingdom is gone, and now I’m a prisoner in luxury.” For a moment, it looked like that was all Nica would say. Then he went on. “I’m really shallower than you think,” contemplating the youthful wonder of aspiration, he thought he was surely treading on his final dusk. He wore white, cotton gloves with three black seams along the back. Grabbing a glass of white wine as its tray oscillated past, Sero leaned one of them on the gift table and looked at the strangely intimate gathering; particularly Cain and Riforte, who were just rounding a corner into visibility through a pane of glass separating the Reception Hall from the Winter Garden.

“But there’s more to that man, over there,” he gestured with disdain, meeting Bella’s eyes over the glass tilted to his lips. Savoring the sweet, vaguely sour of pinot grigio, he paired taste with sight and drank her in; as if he used Cain to distract her so that he could enjoy her for the first time, unhindered by her watching, seeing, him look at her.

“You see, everyone is here because of a thirst for something. This is a particular celebration for those who know how to get that something. My case, however, is that I was a means for somebody to attain something. I may look like that man over there, but I had in mind a world free of people like him.”

The soft noise of fabric on fabric drew attention to Nica’s pacing his hand across the gift table. Nica was smiling a smile not of resignation, as may seem fitting for his words, but one of something secret. One that showed there was still something for which he had thirst.

“Cain found me because I could do great things. He let me do quite a few of them, but he also used me to do some things in the pursuit of power that I never would have dreamt.” Downing his drink, he raised the empty glass in an imaginary toast. “But hey! It got me on top of the world for a while, even if I had to go into hiding for all the threats on my life.” Setting the glass down, he looked at Belladonna now unashamed, whether she was looking or not. Whether because of the alcohol or the company, he was sinking into this conversation.

“Speaking of thirst for something greater. You look like a sweet girl, and it makes me wonder even more. Do you think what they do here— what we do here— is a good thing, or a bad thing? Do you care, as long as you can taste this something greater?”

Pleasantly ghoulish piano music plinked on as conversation amongst guests rose to a comforting murmur in the red hued light.

Walking among the green on the edges, the First and the Architect walked beside one another. The First Dead had seen a few Architects, but never before walked so connected with one. Tickings this way and that of Cain’s eyes as they walked among the foliage signified his computing of the veritability of this scenario— his mounting motives to justify it. Had not the Dead once been a marriage between his love for Chloe and his love for power? Was it fitting, now, that two loves share the same vessel in her aftermath? Cain didn’t have to revel in silent revelry; Riforte knew him as well as she had known Chloe.

"It'll hurt my feelings if you do. At least for a moment, trust me enough to be okay."

“That’s just it,” he said, looking at her, searching for the truth in her eyes that even she may not yet have admitted. “Is it fair to be okay, after everything?”

Cain felt that it was a different question depending on who you asked. Flashes of the years past filled his mind and, if Riforte knew, hers; of Cain carrying Chloe’s lifeless body from the ashes of the Cabal and demanding Faustus stitch his power into her so she could live on; Riforte and Nefarious clutching at the Full Deck as it swarmed with Cain’s undead, watching as he rocketed through the ceiling with Chloe in his arms a moment before the ship slammed head over heels down onto Casper. Of Cain, standing at Tia’s helm for a decade, alone, tortured. Connected to everyone, and at the same time entirely separate. With the fraying and snapping of the string that had connected him to Chloe, Cain had taken the proverbial plunge off the deep end of his humanity, and now he stared up at Riforte from the depths of immeasurably despair.

“If I take your hand, will I only drag you down?” he said quietly.

They were in the garden now, walking the enclosure’s pathways arm in arm.

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If not for the strike of keys against the board of the piano Ina may not have noticed Shikai right away. More so because she wasn't intentionally set on seeking him out. Upon her short travels around the hallway, the bowing of her chin with a politely placating smile to each person she engaged, she at some point stopped to listen to the excitement of his fingers dancing across the ivories.

Like others in their troupe she has many passions, music being more of a silent one that she releases on rare occasion. Mostly when she doesn't realize it. And for now she takes the time to enjoy it. Walking toward him just as he finishes playing to see him make a hasty getaway. For such an enthusiastic player, and speaker when working, it surprises her that he tries to alight from the immediate area as fast as he does.

Not as quickly, but just quick enough to slide her fingers across the arm of his shirt as he passes by. “Entertain me with a dance?” the same hand flips over, palm paralleling the ceiling as the small slender fingers wait patiently to see if he'll accept their open invitation. It's true to say she isn't one to engage others on a regular basis, the same going for many of them. But for some reason she cannot deny the evening nor Riforte's wishes for them to enjoy this Christmas Holiday. They're all together, so they might as well make the best of it. Ina included.


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