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Laws Yet Inked

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Heavy is the head that wears the crown…

Winter had come and gone in a matter of days, leaving behind a dense blanket of white powder and shimmering ice that even the island’s heavy rains could not wash away. From the grand study of the palace’s royal wing, the capital appeared deserted. Few dared brave the snow and cold for a bit of shopping, and whispers in the city’s corporate circles lamented the dreadful weather’s inhibition on business. But the city’s—country’s—economic issues ran much deeper than just a few days of low numbers, as the Black Queen would soon find out. The real cost of altruism, he thought to himself, blue eyes still surveying the bleak cityscape that stretched on before him. Poverty.

Turning on his heels, the elder vampyre leveled his frosty gaze on his cousin, separated by a desk of heavy, dark-colored wood. He’d dressed her in white this day, as was his wont, a stark contrast to the deep black of his suit, freshly pressed and tailored to his chiseled frame. It was a sleek and fitting dress, one that hugged her and complimented her maturing figure by highlighting the slow swelling of her belly. Just as he’d done when she carried little Philippe, Rafael celebrated Gabriela’s pregnancy, never finding her more beautiful than when she was with child. Her wedding gift, the dripping necklace she’d dashed against the stones of the Umbral gardens that terrible night she’d fled from him, completed the ensemble, its jewels sparkling against her skin as they caught the light of dusk.

Beyond her, situated behind a smaller desk in the far corner of the room, sat one of the court’s scribes. She was a dark-skinned young woman by the name of Nya, with dark eyes, full lips, and a spill of thick curls atop her head. Her robes were simple but elegant, made from fine Orisian cotton, dyed a soft cream, a golden broach holding it together at the right shoulder. Human, of course. She would transcribe the nobles’ will and desires into written law, allowing the emperor and empress to better focus their efforts on the conversations at hand, rather than the stroke of ink and quill.

As with all rooms in the palace, the grand study was beautiful, but in a traditional and minimalist sort of way. Dark wood for the floor and shelves that lined the walls, teeming with volumes of histories and books that Rafael had become fond of over the years. He was a voracious reader, often finding small jewels hidden within their chapters with each passing. Thick, heavy curtains framed the tall, broad window behind him, sculpting the snow-filtered light that poured into the room. There were few other furnishings, no relics or artifacts of value. On the desk between them were some papers, their details ranging from the country’s impending economic crisis to the unsanctioned—and it certainly was unsanctioned—relinquishing of Ceyana, the sister island, to the foreign invaders. These Illyrians, as they called themselves.

“There are some things we need to discuss today; however, the foremost is the consolidation of our lands and resources.” By laws both religious and political, their marriage was legal and binding. Too long had she governed Orisia as though it were an independent nation, without thought or concern to her husband’s—or lover’s—thoughts on matters of state. “We cannot govern our empire from an independent nation. You are the empress of our dominion by law, and just as you must accept that, it is time that Orisia accepts its place as our regime’s seat of power. Signing this into law will help avoid any, mm, political discord in the future. As I’ve told you many times before, we must be unified—support each other. Your councils and lesser political circles will bend the knee when they see it is not just to me, but also their empress.”

Rafael pursed his lips, contemplating further issues. “It will also help eliminate the them versus us mentality that situations like this are prone to breed.” The Ceyana Incident, as it was becoming known as, was a prime example. In spite of their queen’s best efforts and the assurance of the foreign king, there were still many that held soured opinions of the massacre and its aftermath. There was a call for vengeance, a call for blood; one that Gabriela had soundly ignored. Rafael knew why, of course, though that hadn’t stopped him from bettering his position amongst the people of Veelos and the smallest townships on its outskirts. With just a tinge of fear, anger quickly turned to paranoia, and he’d preyed on that—using the humans’ desperation for safety as means to replenish his depleted military in Orisia (having been revoked during his grand scheme months ago), all of whom had been warmly welcomed.

Those that saw the queen’s unarguably brilliant maneuver as soft, or weak, welcomed an embolden imperial presence. They embraced the change Rafael promised, that he embodied with his mannerisms. But they were a simple lot, men, women, and children he would never have issue swaying to his cause. Those with keener senses and more learned minds, however, he needed Gabriela’s compliance for.

“Orisians, Imperials—these are terms that inspire division,” he said. “They are all our people, brothers and sisters of the same great empire. We need to show them that.” It went without saying that imposing any manner of economic law would be infinitely more difficult if Gabriela continued to undermine him, to paint him as an invader rather than the one, true ruler to stand beside her. A moment later and he was behind her chair, leaning down at the waist to ensnare her in his strong arms. Both his hands rested over hers, cradling them just beneath her navel as he thumbed the hill of their child.

He’d become softer with as he always did, not just in their passion, but in times like these when he wished to shower her with affection. “Do you disagree?” he whispered in her ear, kissing at the lobe.

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“Do not bring your lover into my home uninvited and unannounced again, Irene. The pair of you test the limits of my...The pair of you test me.”


She could still hear his voice -- as clean, clear, and crisp as if he were breathing the insulting implications through his clenched teeth right at this very moment, rather than it being an echo from a memory that should have been growing stale by now. It had been nearly a month since that unpleasant encounter, but the scene replayed itself over and over in her mind any time she found herself settling into silence. It haunted her, in a way no other interaction with the devil ever had. The unabashed loathing in his voice and subtle gestures, it did away with every angry memory, frightening recollection, or semblance of a sweet moment. With a curl of his black fingernails against a leather armrest, Roen had wiped away all of their history and replaced it with hate -- the hate he so very clearly had replaced his sentiments of love with.


And it haunted her and stole her peace.


“...sign and get out, before the snow traps you here.”


From her seat, and from the heavy shadow cast by her cousin, Gabriela glanced sideways out a window. The world was still a frozen wasteland of white beyond the glass, framed by rich, dark panels of carved wood. Everything still reflected the horror in which her mind had found itself frozen and confined to -- numbness, and an inability to break free. Orisia was suffering, and it was because she could not get a grip on her emotions. The sun itself could not burn away the ice forming around her heart.


“I’d sooner self-immolate than subject myself to the possibility of listening to you two rut through the night like the animals you are.”


The ice cracked enough to hurt her. His words, echos though they were, still carried enough heat to thaw pain right out of her soul. Her golden eyes welled up with tears, leaving circles of black coloring the delicate shape of her eyes like charcoal liner.


“Orisian, Imperials--these are terms that inspire division. They are all our people, brothers and sisters of the same great empire. We need to show them that.”


It wasn’t so much the sound of Raphael’s voice, nor his movement to circle around his desk -- or rather, her desk -- to come and stand behind her, it wasn’t that so much as the careful and quiet sound of scratching, of a sharpened quill seeping, crossing, and dotting against parchment -- that was the sound that woke her. While her heart had been flung a great distance beyond the window, to the ice-covered streets of her once humid and vibrantly colored city streets, her entire body had remained here, trapped in this room with the monster she had been abandoned to. She hadn’t even noticed that her hands were settled on the slight swell of her belly, at least not until his hands had fallen over her own. He was holding her, he was draped over her, and he held her pressed to the backrest of the chair, fixed in her seat.


“Do you disagree?”


“No, my Lord.” came her prompt reply. It was the same listless voice, sweet and lovely, but devoid of any of its previous fire. Something had happened that night within the confines of Roen’s villa, when Raphael had stepped in to pick up the broken pieces of the woman who had once been known as the Black Queen of Orisia. Her heart still ached at the memory, because she likened it so much to Kadia -- bleeding away her life on the polished floor of that small courtyard, peering up into a small square of open space, through which she watched the stars in all of their glorious brilliance begin to dim and die away. She had wept then, and cried out for Roen, in much the same way as when she stumbled out of his study. What had she been expecting? That the sound of her crying would stir something in him, something she wished so very much was not truly dead. But it was dead. As dead as she would have been if she had waited for him to show up in Kadia to save her. He didn’t show up then and he didn’t show up in that narrow hallway where her heart was crumbling piece by piece like a shattered iceberg.


No -- it was Raphael who came, yet again, to pull her into his arms and carry her away. Silent, but heavy with sorrow. Raphael’s sorrow was also a clear song from that night, a tragic melody that she could not erase. It was not his sadness that she tasted through their bond, but rather his heavy heart for her suffering. It angered her initially, at times, she still could not understand it. She saw how he looked at her. His eyes were softer now, less demanding, less full of anger and resent. He seemed aware of her heartbreak, and in some way, he seemed to take no joy in it. Would that he did, so that she could properly hate him. But no -- the Blood God of Carmine was just a dark, heavy, and sad shadow who sat by her side most of the time, without word or reproach.


Until now.


This was the most animated she had seen him in weeks.


“Tell me what you want me to do," she pulled her hands free from under his, but did not remove his in doing so. She wiped at the tears that had formed, clearing them from her eyes before they could draw any attention, or worse yet, spill free and stain the pristine white fabric of the skin-tight dress that Raphael had dressed her in. In some aspects, her cousin hadn't changed at all. 

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Indeed, the bond they shared was ever a double-edged sword.

The sense of loss she harbored for the death of the love she shared with the devil, murdered by his hatred and disgust, wormed its way into the elder vampyre’s heart and mind. They mourned in silence—she, a widow weeping for the loss of her beloved, and he, the widower. Her sadness found a home in him, made itself into his own as it brewed like a storm; quickening, strengthening, before it lashed out across their bond and returned to her. The cycles, their people called it, this torrent of extreme emotion that rebound between a linked pair. It was easy to become lost in the haze of it, pleasure or pain, withering away into nothing as you sunk further into heat or cold.

They were both of them fortunate that Rafael was significantly older, more aware of himself. That her grief was able to affect him on such a level was a testament to its overwhelming strength. And so, his eyes softened, his knowing grins became sober, and Rafael did what he could to comfort his beloved in her darkest hour.

Tell me what you want me to do,” she said to him.

Rafael thumbed beneath her navel for a final time and then paid a soft kiss to her head, just behind her ear so that he could breathe deeply of her thick, silken hair, before he stood to his full height behind her. He gestured to the scribe in the corner with a flick of the wrist, and she posed her inked quill in hand, ready to write. At his command, the scribe brought his words life, staining the parchment with laws that would govern the lives of men. When her work was completed, the elder plucked the page from her desk, inspecting its contents. The integration of courts would begin immediately, with Rafael’s sovereignty recognized by the Black Queen—now Empress—as her Lord and husband.

Coming around her left, Rafael presented the document to her. While she busied herself reading it—perhaps surprised to find no hidden commands, no turns of phrase to further his agenda—he procured the quill from the corner of his desk. It was a large-feathered thing, shimmering with an unnaturalness that whispered it was no ordinary raven’s feather, and its end seemed perpetually stained with shadow and ink. It wasn’t until Gabriela was finished reading, satisfied that it needed no revisions, his hand danced across the soft page, marking its end with his signature. Then, as was common in the ways of old, he bit the corner of his thumb and smeared a thumbprint of his blood beneath it, bright red against the tired paper. “This is the first step toward unification,” he said, peering down the bridge of his nose at her. “Sign it.”

Despite the words, it was not a command, as it might have been some months ago, but a calm imploring, for in his heart of hearts, Rafael believed this was the proper course of action. It was no secret between them that her pregnancy often brought out the best in him, but now, it was far more than simple care for the wellbeing of their offspring. She had endured much over the course of her young life, more than any woman he knew—but she was not indestructible. It weighed on her, he knew as no one else could, and could feel the levies bowing now beneath the pressure. And if they broke—he feared nothing would survive.

Once the document was signed, he set it aside, beginning a pile at the core of a dark leather binder. At the conclusion of their meeting, it would be shuttled to the palace’s hall of records, encased in a spellbound vessel, both securing and preserving the document. In the coming days, those vaults would be guarded more heavily than prior years—paranoia was not a guest one could easily expel from the mind.

“Following that,” he said, gesturing to the document, “The most pressing matter we need to address is the state of the crown’s finances.” Walking again, Rafael resumed his place opposite of Gabriela, his delicate fingers shifting papers, looking at some and discarding others to piles deemed insignificant. “I managed to acquire your financial records from the vault a few days ago,” he said, eyes poring over the file he’d been looking for. They were the latest statements she had, merely weeks old. How he’d managed to acquire them, he left to her imagination. “It says that while you were away in Terrenus attending that summit, you pledged a considerable amount of money to… Yh’mi?”

While Rafael didn’t doubt she remembered, still he turned the page toward her, so that she could see with her own eyes the ridiculous sum she’d promised those foreigners. “Did you forget that there is still a great many things that need tending to here, at home?”

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Once upon a time, his affections had been unbearable. They were a constant reminder not only of what she had lost, and what he pretended to be (a loving and doting husband), but they flew in the face of what she wanted for herself -- freedom to pick from whom she accepted such gifts. Now, with little to lose and much less to gain by fighting him, she felt neither disgust nor comfort at his caresses or kisses. There was simply the notion, somewhere far in the back of her mind, that he was trying his hardest to be kind to her, and that he was trying to make things easier on her, and that he cared about her sorrow. Even in her despair, she could not overlook these things, especially not when they appeared to be so much in contrast to how Raphael had behaved in the beginning. Still, she could not do much in the form of reciprocating such attentions, and so she did not even attempt it. That one fleeting night of passion that had brought them to this point, and had swelling soft and gentle with his unborn child, seemed a thing of the past or at least, a thing she considered to have been an obvious mistake for it was not repeated since then.


She was grateful when he departed from her at long last, leaving her with one enduring caress along the underside of her slightly protruding belly. While he was busy overseeing the appearance of the laws he sought to bring to life, she shifted uncomfortably in the tight, white dress he had forced her to wear. Although many things had changed between them, other fundamental things remained the same -- he still dressed her, and his prefered color remained white. It was not just troubling, but deeply distressing, to think he might keep up this ridiculous way of dressing her as her pregnancy progressed. The short hem of the dress, the tight fit -- it lacked any sense of dignity.


“This is the first step toward unification. Sign it.”


He had delivered into her hands a parchment with a series of neatly written lines. The lettering was exquisitely executed and petite, enough so to fit all of his important laws, or at least the gist of them, onto one single document. He even provided her with a long raven’s feather, it’s sharpened tip pregnant with black ink -- ready to used. And although she had just been the one to suggest doing whatever it was he wanted, she found herself now unable to put quill to paper. He had already signed, both with shadow and blood, a testament to the old ways that she oddly enough could still remember.


Deep, sapphire eyes were bearing down on her -- watching intently and expectantly. She held the quill and the document, and fought the tremble in her wrist as she neatly set the writing utensil down, clearly implying she was not going to sign.


“I need to read it carefully,” she said, looking up at him at long last. When the gold of her eyes met his, she could see the storm brewing just beneath the surface of his hard glare. She hardened herself for what was coming. There was only one man alive whom she would sign blindly for, and he no longer cared about her or her well being, and that had been in fact her last act under his command -- a signature to grant the disillusionment of his guardianship over both the islands as well as her sovereignty. She was alone now, playing at politics with a creature that outclassed her by thousands of years. Time, she needed to stall just long enough to gather her bearings. “I just want to read it,” she corrected herself -- making it more of a request than a demand, hoping to soften Raphael to her desires. “Have a chance to suggest changes if they are necessary…”


He did not seem pleased, nor did she get the sense that this was finished, but for some reason he let the matter go. Perhaps he would come back to it from another perspective. The air between them was changing. She could feel the tension rising slowly and growing thicker. He wasn’t about to yell or strike at her, but he wore about him an air of authority that suggested she wasn’t going to leave this room without giving him everything and anything he wanted.


“I managed to acquire your financial records from the vault a few days ago.”


The numbness, the distance, the sorrow in which she had been lost began to lift like a mist. A new focus came into her gaze as she tilted her head and regarded her cousin with a touch of confusion and a touch of disbelief.


How did you…”


“It says that while you were away in Terrenus attending that summit, you pledged a considerable amount of money to… Yh’mi?”


How is that any of your…”


“Did you forget that there is still a great many things that need tending to here, at home?”


Silence -- the tension was most definitely rising.


Upon her lap sat the document of laws and the black quill, awaiting to be used by her hand to sing her name, and to grant him equal rights in rulership over Orisia. Over this document, her small hands curled into fights.


“Of course I didn’t forget. I did not pledge a monetary donation. As you well know, Orisia is the breadbasket of Genesaris. We enjoy an overabundance of vegetables, fruits, and most importantly, grains. This years harvest was particularly good and there was more than enough to provide for our charitable contributions to a neighbor in need. Transportation was not an issue, seeing as how Roen ensured that everything was flown across the great sea -- saving us a fortune on shipping.” She made a show of pushing the document away then, of leaning forward and setting it on the desk along with the quill and devoid of her signature. She looked at him pointedly. “How were you able to get your hands on private documents concerning my finances? It is treason, as I am sure you understand…I may be the Black Queen in name only, but you have yet to rob me of my sovereignty. You cannot just waltz in here and help yourself to private documents concerning the running of my country.”

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“Don’t do that,” Rafael replied dryly, unamused by her poor attempt at bravado. “Me, mine, my—you like to throw those words around when it’s convenient for you. I’ve enough memories in my blood alone of you throwing away your claim, because you’ve wanted nothing in life but to run around the woods like some fairy or sprite.” There was no need to bring up old Atitlan, though the accusations rest just behind his thin lips. It was a scar that still burned, still ached, and her insolence brought his attention to it keenly. “And speaking of memories, it was those same memories that I brought to both of our councils—because of how fickle your memory can be, you understand. Say what you will, but we are married, Gabriela, and it has been recognized by the nobles and lawmen that matter.” He studied her for a moment, then rolled his eyes, like blue tides turning over. “Yes, even those in Orisia. So, you can see how ridiculous it would be to call a husband looking over his wife’s finances treason.”

Gabriela had been too busy in her sorrow, drowning in her ocean of despair of love lost, for Rafael to confide in her these things of import. She’d left him no choice but to go over her head in these affairs, as she often did, and secure the stability and infrastructure of her first son’s inheritance. Someone had to be the adult, messy and unsatisfying a duty it was, and Rafael shouldered that task with both pride and unwavering dedication. “Besides, even if it weren’t my business by right of marriage, it most certainly became my business when I was forced to start paying the palace staff this month…” On top of the paper she’d made a show of pushing away, which he most certainly would return to, he laid another—her direct financial statement. “…because no one could explain to me why you hadn’t.”

The information on the page was plain as day, irrefutable proof of what her cousin had suspected. Gabriela, the Black Queen of Orisia, was broke.

“You’re free to ask them, of course,” Rafael continued, neither amusement nor venom in his calm tone. It was neutral, the same way a banker might deliver this grave news to a client that suddenly—and literally—no longer had value to their establishment. “They nearly walked out on you when they realized they’d be working pro bono. There were some who insisted they would stay, of course—mostly vampyres that have been loyal to the family for ages, some humans too—but the lion’s share were already looking for employment elsewhere.” The elder vampyre stood there looking her over, frustrated with how childish she’d been—moreso than he’d ever expected of a ruler.

“You can imagine my disbelief,” Rafael murmured, tapping his fingers on a small stack of papers. “How could this happen? Where did it all go?” The next page he handed her was not so scathing, and he did so without quip or reprimand. “The last chunk of your fortune went out the window with repairs to the capital. Manpower, resources, et cetera, and compensation for those injured and unable to work. But before that?” These pages, he handed in pairs, triplets—extravagant events like her Winter Ball, her masquerades, things of pomp and no merit. “I don’t think you truly grasp just how expensive your little celebrations are. You paid for it all out of pocket, which I suppose is admirable, yet had no means of refilling them.”

His hands danced across the desk, elegant fingers moving to the next papers. “There were also renovations across the island, a considerable amount, that you paid for.” Compared to the other neat piles on his desk, this was the largest stack—from minor potholes in main traveling routes to ghettos and slums for the island’s poorer population. Lifting his gaze from it, he looked at Gabriela, curiosity heavy there, and a tinge of knowing. “Did you ever think to actually go out and see these repairs? Or to even send agent you trust, just to ensure they were completed? Or did you just assume that the men and women you placed in charge—your precious humans—were so loyal, so dedicated to their queen and country, that they would see your will done?” They both knew the answer to that.

I am the Black Queen, she loved to say. The people believe in me and I believe in them. They are my children, she would spout endlessly. No one knows Orisians better than I do.

“You mentioned treason earlier,” he reminded her as he passed her several more documents, these being the largest affronts to her wealth. “Stealing from the crown is a grave offense, is it not? All of that money you’ve given these people, they’ve used for their personal gains, Gabriela. There are places on this island that are falling apart at the seams, starving, all because you blindly trusted these people you know nothing about.” A fourth page came. “I thought you’d simply neglected Veelos for all that time after the Massacre,” he explained regretfully. “But, it turns out the previous regent began siphoning large amounts of the funds you’d been sending after he realized there was no royal oversight. You just kept sending money.”

“The food you gave those people on the other side of the world, that have contributed nothing to our home, is money the crown desperately needed. That you desperately needed. There isn’t even a proper tax system in place,” he lectured, not angrily, but as a disappointed father might the daughter he expected so much more from. “Did you think that well would never run dry, with the way you spend money?” Clasping his hands behind his back, squaring his shoulders, Rafael imposed a great and intimidating shadow over his sitting cousin. “Say what you will of me, Gabriela, but I am trying to help you. I could have gone behind your back and handled this myself, kept you in the dark as I’ve done in the past. I’m doing my best to change, for you, for our child.”

For our future.

“Let me.”

Edited by King

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