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vielle

slithered here from eden

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It feels like a concession of sorts, standing at the steps of Quinton Swan’s newly-built villa, hovering in uncertainty and unease in equal measure. Varda glances up at the structure from under the half-shade of her parasol and takes a necessary gulp of air.

It has been several weeks since their last meeting, that fateful afternoon when he had first visited Ravenel Manor, walking out the doors with a part of her she had not known she had given away until after his departure, and Varda is—she is—

She’s been breathing ashes ever since she had first seen him.

It is altogether strange, this feeling that has taken root in the fertile soil of her heart, blooming ivy vines around her iron trellis ribcage. She does not quite fear it, but neither does she desire to nurture it, not when there is still much at stake, the silver ring on her finger still tying her to her betrothed, an ocean and an island away.

Underneath the forest green frocks she has donned for this occasion, she is still healing, still recovering from the attempt on her life; despite her recent visit to House Senaria and the medicines and care they’ve prescribed, Varda senses a deeper hurt, bone-deep and ravenous. She thinks there must have been something in that poison-tinged arrow that even the doctors cannot ascertain, cannot remove even as it digs itself further into her marrow.

But nevertheless: she is here to make good on her vow to a business partner; whether or not she is ailing does not matter.

“I do not like this,” the stoic presence beside her announces, and Varda resists the urge to sigh. Iyalon, of course, has been making his disapproval of the situation very clear ever since he had first caught wind of the business deal she and Quinton had established. “Must you go forward with this—this peculiar condition he’s set on you?”

That insinuation that she is unable to make such a decision for herself cuts deeper than she expects it to. “It is not for you to decide,” Varda answers, and with that quiet, out of the ordinary statement, the knight swivels his head and stares at her in startled disbelief. The Lady is unmoved, however, and so he merely hangs his head.

“As you wish,” comes the stiff, monotonous reply, and no, no, that would not do. Not now.

“I will be fine.” Varda offers him a reassuring smile, brimming with optimism, and what else can he do but back down? With one final nod, Iyalon relinquishes his hold on his Lady’s arm and stands his ground as she moves up the stairs alone, soft fabric trailing behind her in her walk towards the doors. There are servants who come to greet her, and the doors shut behind her with a decisive click.

 

@King

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“Your parasol, Lady Hildebrand?” The young man offers his two gloved hands toward her. He is a native to the lands her family has governed for generations, as many of the men and women hired to tend to her business partner’s villa. He carefully takes the noble’s accessory and collapses its cover, setting it aside in a small alcove near the front entryway. Then, he gestures down the hall. “This way, please. Mister Quinton has been expecting you.”

Like its exterior, the villa’s interior is dominated by large pillars and great arches. The tiled floors are polished to a bright sheen; the walls are painted a warm cream to offset the abundance of green foliage and bright, vibrant flower petals. A modern-day Garden of Eden, highlighted by the man’s more personal tastes.

The man’s extensive historical collection has continued to grow here in the Hildebrand domain, their past now becoming his. In one case there are the shattered remains of a sword, little more than the hilt and several fragments of steel resting on a soft, black velvet cloth. It is said that it belonged to a knight from these parts that, during the Usurping, killed one of the Tyrant King’s great generals. Further down, a bloodied—or rusted—mace sat on display: the great general’s preferred method of killing.

Here, there are the battered pieces of a woman’s armor – one of the first women to be knighted in the realm. There, several tomes said to be linked to an ancient order of witches that used to stalk ancient Ursa Madeum, preying on children found to be straying too far from their hovels. It is a gallery as enlightening as it is macabre, a blending of light and dark, good and evil, which has become his favored representation as of late.

The servant guides the noble lady to a room near the back of the villa. It is a large and rectangular chamber without a southern wall, replaced with pillars instead, commanding an impressive view of the lands sprawling out behind them. These pillars are covered completely in a blanket of vines, leaves, and blooming flowers, top to the bottom. The room is minimally decorated, with a long table of polished dark wood stretching the length of it, lined with pillowed chairs. Situated in one of these seats is a veiled frame, tall as a child and wide as a man. Only a single cabinet adorns the wall, made from glass and that same dark wood, filled with all manners of ports, domestic and imported.

“Lady Varda,” Quinton says from his position at the middle of the room, near the frame. “I’ve been expecting you.”

The servant at her side bows and excuses himself to continue dinner preparations. Quinton approaches her slowly, eyes dancing over those beautiful details he’d not been able to forget, relishing them once more. There’s something different about her now, though he can’t quite put his finger on it. It’s a feeling, more than anything, familiar and yet foreign.

He takes her hand, her left hand, and thumbs the back of it as a lover might in idle moments. “I’m glad you could make it.” They’re alone now, the only eyes and ears in this home well under his command. So he lifts her hands to his lips, takes his time gently kissing each of her knuckles lowering it from his touch. He holds her hand for a moment longer, their interaction well beyond inappropriate, yet testing her limits, her wants.

Learning her, as he desired to.

“So, what do you think of my home?” He finally asks, throwing his arm wide in gesture to the large structure surrounding them.

Edited by King

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Varda cannot help the curiosity that rises in her as she moves through the halls of the villa, heart thudding soundlessly in her chest as inquisitive roots entwine themselves around the rungs of her ribcage. More than once, she finds herself gazing at the relics encased in glass scattered about, the servant hovering close by as a silent sentry until she makes to continue their walk further into Quinton’s abode.

And then he is there, as dark and handsome as he had been weeks prior, and the Lady Hildebrand takes a few moments to steady herself in the wake of his greeting.

“Sir Swan,” Varda inclines her head, not bowing in favor of her injury, “it is nice to see you looking quite—well.”

The servant takes his leave, and henceforth, they are alone.

Varda presses her lips together at the man’s slow approach, her prior equilibrium swept away from under her feet; she has forgotten the tenuous balance she had acquired on their last meeting, and once again, she is left adrift in that uncertain in-between. When he steps into her personal space, her spine straightens itself out: whether for fight or flight, it is not immediately clear.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

The heady, dark curl of smoke in her belly is offset by the twinge of pain as he pulls at her hand, presses his lips to her fingers: a rather stern reminder of her body’s current weakness. Varda attempts a faint smile, polite and slightly amused, hoping he had not caught the strain caused by his actions.

The ring on her finger catches the sunlight streaming through the pillars. She does not turn to look at it.

“So, what do you think of my home?”

This time, her smile is far more genuine. “It’s quite lovely,” she murmurs, casting her eyes about the space around them, appreciating the elegant aesthetics showcased in the architecture once more. In the sudden silence, Varda casts about for a suitable topic to latch upon. “I see you’ve acquired quite a few artifacts as part of your collection. Tell me; where have you found them? Perhaps I can obtain some of my own to further adorn Ravenel Manor’s halls.”

Edited by vielle

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“Here and there,” Quinton replies, gesturing his hand left to right in emphasis. He has no intention of revealing his secrets to her—not yet; perhaps not ever. The very nature of his business is an acquired taste, and he’s found there are a limited number of people in the world capable of stomaching it. It will be better for all parties involved—decided after their first meeting—that she remains ignorant of the evil growing long in his shadow. “I’m afraid that self-preservation prevents me from answering you further. If I were to reveal my secrets to you, well, you’d have no reason to seek my opinion on these matters any further. This way, I can be confident that I’ll see you again. And please, call me Quinn.”

Moving closer to her, forcing whatever separate personal space might have existed between them into a single entity, he turned on his heels and presented a bent arm to her. “Your timing is quite impeccable, really.” Lightly flicking his chin ahead of them, he seeks to draw her attention toward the mysterious frame, draped in a curtain of black velvet. “Had you arrived a few hours sooner, that wouldn’t have been ready for you.”

Quinn guides her toward the mysterious piece, larger than a small child by far. There’s no hurry in his pace or eagerness in his steps. Rather, he appears to enjoy having her by his side, their bodies in stride alongside each other, more than the gift itself. He uses the time to gauge her, to measure how her body works when guided by his, learn her in these meticulous ways that are only possible in the ephemeral encounters so many dismiss. She’s a beautiful woman, regal and lithe, with strong values, a powerful name, and sterling reputation.

Yes, she will do quite nicely.

“I hope you like it.”

Pinching a corner of the cloth with his free hand, he tugs it away with a grand flourish. The gilded frame is sleek and angular, shaped into clusters of orchids at each of its four corners. Inside is the rendition of her likeness, as if he’d reached into the past and imprisoned the memory here. It’s the first time she smiled at him, the blush she’d hoped gone still on her cheeks, a bouquet of white roses in her hands. Every detail, perfectly in place.

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He tells her to call him Quinn, and it is a frightening enough thought, the idea of such intimacy so casually afforded, that Varda forgets he had not given her a precise answer. Furthermore, any thought in the name of her previous query immediately flees her mind when Quinton steps forward even closer, a sliver of space all but left between them.

It is only a small matter of hesitation before she loops her fingers around the crook of his arm, and they begin to move forward, a graceful unit across the stone floors.

“Your timing is quite impeccable, really. Had you arrived a few hours sooner, that wouldn’t have been ready for you.”

“Sorry, what wouldn’t be?” She asks, all gentle curiosity, when the man tugs on the fabric covering the frame before them, and then all the air abandons earth for a frozen moment in time.

It is her.

"You—you made this?" Even as she asks the question, she is already terrified and amazed of the answer in equal measure: terror, that such a man is capable of such impeccable memory, rendering her down onto the canvas in perfect mimicry; amazement, that such a man has given her such attention, such focus, that he can replicate her image this well. He must've spent more time studying her than she had first observed. "If so, you are—quite talented, Sir," it behooves her not to choke on her words this very instance, trying to say his name the way he wants her to, color rising to her cheeks in the same manner as the painting had illustrated, "um—Quinn."

It does not quite come out the way she had wanted to say it, but the slightly-squeaked moniker will have to suffice; she cannot turn back time to deliver it differently.

Varda continues to babble despite herself, clearly flustered by this artwork presented to her. “No matter who has painted it, it is quite a lovely work of art, even as the subject is not very,” her bravado quails, and a lightheaded feeling creeps its way to blur her vision for a split second. Varda coughs, trying to dispel both her embarrassment and her vertigo, casting about to find the proper words to finish that statement and finding none. “Well. You know.”

Edited by vielle

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Quinton nods, neither smiling nor smirking. “I did. Growing up, I wanted to be—”

His dance with the past is interrupted by his partner’s brief dizziness, more prominent to his keen senses than she realizes. He feels the slight squeeze on his forearm, the abrupt shifting of her balance, and then the way it all snaps back into place when she regains her wits. Yes, there’s certainly something different about her, and this has planted the seed of a creeping suspicion that it’s far from positive.

Well. You know.”

Quinton arches a dark eyebrow at her. “I do?” Ah, yes, he thinks to himself after a moment of consideration. Of course, she does not see her own beauty. “Oh, you mean to say that you’re somehow not as beautiful as my rendition of you? Well, I respectfully disagree, Lady Varda.” He looks are her directly, lets her feel the weight of his gaze. “I have traveled from one side of the world to the other, from the poorest slums to the richest palaces, seen people of every race and creed, and I can say without hesitation or doubt that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on.”

He reaches across with his free hand, placing it atop her own. “I do hope that, over time, I’ll help you to see the same thing.”

After a few more moments of lingering there, Quinton guides her further into the room, toward the end of the table where they are to dine. “Dinner will be ready shortly,” he says, bringing her to her seat. “But, in the meantime, I hope you won’t think me too forward, but are you all right?” He pulls her seat out for her as they separate, lingering beside her as he unpacks his question. “Just earlier, you seemed, mm, dizzy. Is everything okay?”

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There are a fair few things that spell disaster for any self-respecting woman, and with these things enclosed in a handsome package that she imagines can allure even the most obstinate of wills, Quinton is a force to be reckoned with. In the wake of his devastating words of compliment, cutting deep below into the heart of her tangled-string insecurity, Varda can only breathe in deep and pray the flush of her cheeks does not make her look like a tomato.

When her shattered equilibrium is brought to his attention, the man is gentle with her, quite at odds with his severe appearance, the darkness simmering along the edges of his brow, his jawline, and truly, it is all—rather unfair. Here she is, struggling to find her stability in the midst of faint echoes of ache and a fragile disposition, and there he is, calm and composed, as casual as ever.

Perhaps Iyalon had been right after all; she is not well enough to face Quinton and not splinter to pieces before him.

“Just earlier, you seemed, mm, dizzy. Is everything okay?”

Varda sinks into the chair he has pulled out for her; she cannot show weakness, not now. Not when she does not yet know where she stands with this man before her. “I’m—I’m fine, I am,” she pauses, shallow breaths whispering up her throat, not fine.” The room begins to shatter into nothingness along the edges of her vision, and her chest clenches tight. Breathing becomes a struggle.

No, Varda thinks, no, not now.

“I am sorry,” she murmurs brokenly, her grip on his sleeve slackening as the world grows dark and swallows her up into the black void.

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Quinton doesn’t panic as the woman faints, and quite effortlessly positions himself to catch her in his arms before she can topple from her chair. “Not well at all, it would seem,” he murmurs to his sleeping beauty. She’s put him a precarious situation, this man that walks both in the light and dark, each one of his days a struggle to maintain the perfect balance. It would be easy for him to have his men slay the guard outside his villa days whilst he spirited her away to some distant land. Once there, she would learn to play her role, and play it well.

But, there is a part of him that had become fond of her. A woman grown, yet so very much a shy, impressionable child ignorant of the affections she deserves. It is her innocence, he realizes, and the desire he feels growing inside him is that of a man that wants nothing more than to protect it. So, rather than calling for Athos, Aramis, or Porthos, he calls for D’artagnan instead.

He is a thin man, this D’artagnan, with bronzed skin of foreign ancestry and a clean-shaven face. His hair is dark, his eyes darker, and he carries himself with all the regality of a young lord. His deep navy suit is sharp and freshly pressed, giving him an almost gangly appearance. He moved across the room without a sound, as if he holds no weight.

“Sir?”

“It would seem my guest is ill. Take her to my room.”

Quinton lifts her from the chair as he would a princess, depositing her into the young man’s awaiting arms as if she were made of glass. “I suspect the culprit to be occult in nature. Have one of the Seekers look her over while I inform her guard.”

D’artagnan nods and turns on his heels, exiting the room with smooth haste.

Without missing a beat, Quinton follows, parting ways in the hall to approach the front of his home. The servants there are quick to respond, but he eases them with a placating wave of the hand. He opens the door and studies the knight only for a moment, trying to gauge what manner of man he might be. “Ser,” Quinton says in an unnaturally even voice. “It would appear your Lady has fallen ill. Come with me.”

Quinton waits for the knight to move, his promptness appreciated at this moment. As they walk together, the gracious host elaborates. “We were in the middle of discussing dinner and she simply fainted. I had her brought to my room as the guest rooms are not finished, but for propriety’s sake, I felt it would be inappropriate to have her treated without you present.” The last thing he cares to begin here is a scandal involving his future intended. Her sterling reputation is equally as important as her innocence.

“I’m no doctor,” Quinton says, “But I do believe the source to be arcane.” He notes the guard’s curious glance, but not willing to divulge his secrets, simply shrugs. “I have a pension for these types of things. After a while, you develop something of a sixth sense, you could say. I’m currently having a Seeker – a female doctor – inspect her at this very moment. Has… anything happened that the doctor might need to be aware of? Has Lady Varda been experiencing these symptoms for an extended period of time.”

Edited by King

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