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The Manse

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...to the anterior aspect of the pituitary gland by Transsphenoidal surgery through the nasal cavity and sphenoidal sinus. This method of surgery is relatively safe for the aspirant as no other portion of the recipient’s brain tissue is touched. Most complications from this organ arise after the surgery and are hormone related; however, strokes or blindness can occur as a complication of surgery. 

Glancing from one text to another, the Outsider wrote an anecdote in his journal and sighed at the memory. It was not a pleasant one. The organ, gene-wrought in the Lore-Spire, had lethal complications in nearly thirty-percent of the inductees. Cancerous ossification had happened, the greatly increased osteoblast activity imperfectly executed. In other words, aggressive osteosarcoma. He had watched the aspirant writhe much like the others a slow and painful death march as his bones - like some cancerous malignancy - crushed and impaled him from within over the course of several months. 

Roen cleaned the head of his pen on an ink-stained napkin with some solvent and cleaning alcohol, and leaned back in his seat. He was in his study, deep in the heart of his manse in the capital of the Summer Isles. He was dressed simply and plainly, having nowhere to go in this place and no expectation of company, and had by his side the two things he needed to see through the long hours of study he performed in the dead of night: a bottle of dry Orisian Red, a seven year old vintage he found as the particular best, and his tutelary. An androgynous blemish of light that floated near a bookshelf, looking much like a Will O’Wisp of faen folklore, it served at the Outsider’s discretion, much like all of its innumerable kin throughout the manse. 

Gesturing vaguely, the Lord of the Black City indicated the book that lay beside his journal, a thick tome of dusty parchment that was either antediluvian or advanced beyond all mortal ken, pending one’s particular perspective. ‘Take this one back,’ he said in his tired, mellifluous voice. He impressed the book’s origin unto the tutelary: the door of burnished copper, in the hall of ochre glass. It came over without delay, the ball of pale light, and with unseen hands, lifted the tome from the Outsider’s desk and leaving. Another one of its siblings moved up through the floor to take its vacated position. There it floated, humming tunelessly while the Outsider finished cleaning his instruments. 

Turning his head, Roen cast his gaze to the cradle at his side, where Philippe slept soundlessly. The boy’s lullaby had been and always seemed to be the scratching of pen against paper, and the quiet humming of the fiend and his tutelaries. The chair creaked beneath the Outsider’s weight as he leaned over, peering more inquisitively down at his son. ‘I think that’s enough for one night, don’t you think?’ He sighs then, resting against the cradle’s edge. He had dragged it to his side, kept it there while he worked, through it was incongruous to the room itself. The fiend didn’t care. After a moment, Roen nods sagely. Silent though his son is, the boy was nonetheless a firm influence on his father. ‘Oh, I suppose you’re right..’ He says, dragging his gaze away. It flicked over his desk, where there were other, equally large tomes waiting for his attention. 

‘I should get back to work.’ 

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She stood outside the doors of the villa, having walked through the gardens alone after leaving her small retinue of vampyric guards beyond the walls that protected the privacy of a charming courtyard like setting. There were potted fruit trees, in keeping with the Orisian aesthetic, and neatly paved paths for strolling about for those who enjoyed examining the wide array of night flowers. She of course cut straight through, although she did take her time so as to better take in and admire the morning-glories, primroses, and star-jasmines that had come into bloom since she had last been out with Philippe.


It had been nearly a week since her last visit, and nearly a month in all since she had last seen Roen after their disastrous last encounter. Although she had imagined it would be painful to return to the devils adobe after their fight, she found that her worries, fears, and heartache all melted away at the sight of her growing son. The small and juvelant child, who managed always to smile big and bright for his mother, was a most spectacular balm for the bruises and cuts that marred the Black Queen’s heart. And of course, it was for that reason that she was terribly disappointed, once she was let into the large and familiar foyer, when she was informed that the small prince was keeping his father company this particular evening.


The woman who had opened the door stood by dutifully, waiting to see what Gabriela would do -- ready to take the vampyre’s coat and scarf if she decided to stay or to see her back out into the gardens if she didn’t. She was pleasant in both manner and appearance, but vacant somehow. Of course, Gabriela remembered the stuff that these manifestations were made of, and she could only assume that Roen was not feeling up to creating another being with so much an intricate background as his last servant. The memory of the butler and his awful demise caused her to avert her weighed gaze from the servant. It was best not to think about such things less her mind wander to what other sort of unkind and unsavory things the devil did to his toys.


“If you could inform him that I would like to see my son,” Gabriela said, shimming her slender shoulders out of her knee length coat (leaving her standing in a simple off-white shirt, which was neatly tucked into a worn gray pair of breeches), and handing it to the woman who took it graciously and with a smile, “--perhaps he may be willing to grant me an hour or two with Philippe. I am happy to wait if they are very busy, and if not, well…” she felt the muscles in her jaw tighten and a lump of emotion form in her throat. It was thick and hard to swallow back, but she managed it, for she did not want to convey her pain to this poor creature who could in turn remark on it to the devil. It was best to keep a calm and even disposition when she visited the lion’s den. “Well, I’ll just have to come another night.”


“Certainly, your Majesty. Please, make yourself comfortable in the sitting room,” a gentle curtsy, a smile, and a cheerful swing of her short brown hair followed as the servant turned and disappeared into the awful, endless halls of the mansion. Gabriela stood there and watched the woman go, feeling a terrible stab in her heart that she had not been asked to wait in Philippe’s room. Even just his toys, his bed, and the walls that housed him could have provided some semblance of relief to the mounting anxiety she felt. But there was nothing to do but sit and wait, and so with a trembling breath, she went into the sitting room to sit and wait.

Edited by Pasion Pasiva

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'Do you know what a wise woman once told me?' Roen asked. 

Standing at the threshold with sleeping Philippe in safe embrace, he cut a fine if not regal figure in his waistcoat trimmed with gold and tucked trousers in high boots. As some of the surest signs of progress, change, and perhaps even flattery, he had seemingly discarded the scarlet raiments that so endeared the masses into calling him the king in crimson, and chose instead to wear what he considered the Orisian palette. All that remained of the ostentatious red was the color of his gaze, and it was on Irene, now. A soft smolder, his eyes were the color of embers, lively and dancing beneath the shadow of his brow. His humours, such as they were, were equally sanguine; there was less of the choleric Outsider in him tonight, and more of the Gentleman Sage, the scholar. Engrossed as he was in his pursuits of the academic, esoteric or otherwise, there was little and less time to whet his ire on brooding.

Stepping into the room, the hard heels of his boots clicking on the hardwood floor, Roen approached the Black Queen of Orisia, and with his approach came the scent of him, mingled with that of the baby's;  a newborn's cleanliness, a fiend's spice, the fragrance of citrus and quenching iron, and the hint of peat. Subtle scents, peculiar, but not unfamiliar, no, never that. To where Gabriela sat Roen went - a supple chair of leather and armrests - and to her waiting arms did he place Philippe, relinquishing his hold gingerly, with a gentleness unheard of, save for in the privacy of familial moments. He let go of the baby with no reluctance. Sighing through his nose, he looked at fondly at Philippe, less fondly so at Irene, then away, his gaze moving through the comfortable sitting room. 

'People are like houses, she said. The more experiences you have, the more memories, the more rooms you have in your house. Some of these rooms are worth revisiting,' Roen mused quietly, his thin lips quirking into the frown wholly suited to his unhappy, aged face. There was more gray at his temples, more lines of worry and laughter at the edges of his mouth and eyes. Simulacrum though he was, he retained the years, it could be said, to mark the passage of time. What a thing it is, it could be said, to be sobered and anchored to life at every mirror's passing. He turned slightly, the frown on his face deepening and the heavy set of his brows furrowing. 'Others.. others are better left locked, boarded up, and bricked over.' He sighed at this, a breathy little gust of air that escaped his nose, as if he was half-amused, half-mocking. He was enamored with this place, this construct of walls and halls and means and wills. More than a home, more than a refuge, he had fashioned this villa of brick and mortar into something far more substantial, yet so far less real. 

It was lonely here, it had to be said. Even with Philippe. So when he was informed that the Black Queen had come calling for her son, he had met the revelation with something of a mixture of dread and excitement, and he did not quite know which sentiment bothered him more. He avoided looking at her, unwilling or perhaps unable to meet her eye or the fullness of her expression. It was enough to glance out of his peripherals, to feel the coolness of her, even here, at arm's length, and smell the quality of her skin beneath the layers of her clothes; all these things so familiar, so utterly, inescapably familiar, they couldn't help but gladden his heart, though he willed it to steel and stone. What were academics, what was ambition and striving, what was the pursuit of vanity in the face of such visceral prompt? Love, and he could hardly call it anything else, so unavoidable was the sentiment, was a dreadful, crippling thing. Just breathing the same air as her was -- terrible, absolutely terrible. 

It was hard thing to do, to loathed and despise, and he found nothing of the furnace fire of disdain that sent her away from him a month ago. It galled him, truly. He had changed over the years. She had changed him. He had, somewhere along the path from then to now, forgotten what it was to hate and how to do it. He had lost his vindicta. It was why she was allowed in these sacred, hallowed halls. It was why she could sit in his presence, unmolested and safe. It was why he didn't chase her from that room with their son. He cleared his throat, shook his head, and found a seat opposite the Black Queen of Orisia. Stretching his long legs out beneath a table that served as a bulwark between he and his family, Roen crossed his ankles, adjusted to accommodate the length and width of his tail, which coiled on the floor beside him, and lifted his gaze to, at last, seek out Gabriela's own. He wanted, after a month, to see the molten flash of sunset. While he had her portrait in his study, and while he captured her beauty in the stroke of a brush and an artist's care, it was imitation and nothing but. 

'It is good to see you,' he said simply, and honestly. He was many things, Roen. He was not a liar. Soft, sweet, his storyteller's voice was modulated low and conversational, just shy of a whisper. The sitting room was a quiet place of waiting, and it, much like libraries and churches, somewhat demanded the lowered tones. 'I'm sorry we haven't talked in sometime. I've been..,' he trailed off, groping for something more substantial than busy. His thoughts went towards Yhi'mi, to the dark forests of Eastern Terrenus, to his foul undertakings of flesh-smithing and techno-advancements in the Lore-Spire. Oh, he was busy, this graying fiend. The alternative was remaining here, grinding the edge of his malice and ill-intent on the stone of dissatisfaction and resentment, or otherwise brooding, as some were wont to whisper concerning his whereabouts. So long as he kept his hands and mind busy, he didn't needlessly dwell on -- he canted his head, the movement sharp, like an errant twitch. He closed his eyes briefly. 

'Mmm, busy. Our aid to the Shadowlands of Yhi'mi are due any day now. I've sent a brave soul to shepherd those men and women.'  He looked at her again, sober. 'What.. have you been doing?' He asks, hesitant. Small talk, this was. He was no adept at small talk. The awkwardness of it all was not lost on him, but more than see her, he wanted to hear her speak. 

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“Do you know what a wise woman once told me?”


His words, and the carefully selected ensemble that adorned his figure, were all finely crafted details that were lost on her. Not the calm and sultry quality of his voice -- thick, dark, and sweet like molasses, nor the cleverness of his sentiment, or it’s sincerity for that matter, could steal away her attention from the sleeping babe in his arms. What had happened between them years ago or week ago, mattered so little after having been starved of her child’s soothing presence. He was a chunk of her heart that had been cruelly ripped out and was currently being housed far from her. Whenever she was away, she felt like half a person, or a spirit without a body, or a shade without it’s source of light. But no sooner had the devil passed through the threshold of the study, no sooner was he cutting his way towards her, no sooner could she see the first soft horizon of pale, baby-soft cheek, nuzzled against a cream colored receiving blanket -- no sooner all of that and more -- than she felt herself finally able to breathe. It was a long exhale, a long and slow breath that had been caught in her lungs since the last moment she had laid eyes on her sweet prince.


“People are like houses, she said. The more experiences you have, the more memories, the more rooms you have in your house. Some of these rooms are worth revisiting. Others.. Others are better left locked, boarded up, and bricked over.”


Nothing mattered now that her child was in her arms. Not the unkindness in his father’s crimson eyes, nor the hints of scorn in his voice. As far as she understood this new world, Roen could do little to stomach the sight of her, and of course he had his reasons and she had no justification, but she had not come to see him, and she had not asked to see him. He was here of his own volition, to cause himself discomfort by suffering her presence. She refused to be hurt by it. She had been too long without Philippe to spare even the shortest moment on worrying about devil. So while he worked hard to avoid meeting her gaze, he would never know that her gaze was never intended for him. She didn’t have nearly as hard a time keeping her summerset eyes cast down and set intently upon the sleeping face of her child.


When Philippe was left in her arms, and the devil turned to leave, she melted into her seat and drooped forward over her son. It was a rare sight -- Gabriela overcome by joy, it was a rare but invigorating thing to see beauty moved to joy, true and pure. Gone was the stoic cold, the forced uncaring mask that she wore every hour of every day. Her lips easily curled into a delicious smile as her lips found the child’s cherub cheeks. Her nose was in his hair, wispy curls of brown and gold. She willed herself to fold up around the child, to take him back inside of her so that they could never be apart.


“My love,” she whispered soft and intimately to the sleeping boy, “my little love.”


“It’s good to see you.”


Joy, like blood and color, drained from her face. She was looking up, her gaze piercing but confused, set hard on Roen who sat across from her. The question was clearly written across her face -- Why was he still here? Why was he speaking to her? This was her time with Philippe, rare and precious time. Her brows came down into a pinch, and her expression became that same hard thing, a frozen beauty, a hard thing to love. She regarded him blankly, but cold.


“I’m sorry we haven’t talked in sometime. I’ve been...mmm, busy.”


Slowly her gaze narrowed.


“Our aid to the Shadowlands of Yhi’mi are due any day now. I’ve sent a brave soul to shepherd those men and women. What.. have you been doing?”


“About that,” she said suddenly, spurred into remembering the unpleasant conversation she had with her cousin by this equally unpleasant conversation. “I made promises of aid when I still held command over Orisia and all that it produced. That is no longer the case. Any and all future support will have to be discussed and approved by…”


She had felt so strong going into her explanation. In no small part, she had intended to wound the devil, but had thought better of it as she reasoned that he no longer cared about her. It would be ridiculous to dangle the preparations of a wedding celebration before a man who already saw her as lower than dirt, by reiterating the affair that had broken them. Her sentiments had transitioned to matter-of-fact information sharing, but even that felt unnecessary.


“You’ll just have to talk to someone else about it,,” she finished off, dropping her gaze from his thoughtful face and looking back down to Philippe. He slept on, although he had turned more toward her, pressing his face into the cool of her shirt and breast. It made her smile. He stole the world away and demanded all of her attention, and she was glad to give it. “Someone better suited to making decisions of that sort, I can offer recommendations, but I can’t guarantee they’ll get you much” she went on, giving a small shrug.

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'It was I who made the promises, Irene. You were busy in the adjacent room with Raphael and our son. I will always be thankful for that.' 

Smiling, the Outsider looked at the vampyre with hard, glittering eyes, his expression betraying nothing. There was no judgement in his voice, nor any recrimination. There was only sentiment transitioning into the matter-of-fact information sharing, and delivered with the flat, emotionless tones of honesty. He was a creature of truths, this one.   

Crossing one leg over the other and folding his hands across his lap, the Outsider leaned back in his chair and stared at the vampyre. 'Irene, I only wanted to tell you that I have honored our pledges, nothing more. I am not Yhi'mi's ambassador; I cannot petition aid on their behalf, regardless of who sits on the Orisian throne.' He laughed, quiet and sincere. 'I don't have to talk to anyone about it. That is between you, your newest Lord and Master, and the representatives of that Terran body.' 

Drawing in a deep breath and sighing it out through his nose, some minor theatricality on his part to speak volumes of a man at comfortable ease and pointed deviation from the topic at hand, the Outsider idly twisted the signet ring on his right hand and flicked his gaze down to Philippe, whom he adored. While he saw Irene as something lower than dirt for her blatant betrayal of his trust and frequent indiscretions with her cousin, his disregard obviously did not extent to the young boy in her arms. Rather, he was enamored with the bundle of joy.

It was unfortunate he did not feel comfortable letting the boy out of his sight, and even more unfortunate that he did not trust his mother with him. He had come to hear her voice, but her words, much like her gaze, was impertinent, and the benefit of the doubt he had been oh-so-willing to give his wayward daughter was forgone, and in its stead just the memory of why a month had passed since last they spoke. She was unwanted, as unwanted and as unnecessary as the conversation at hand. With his queries ignored and her small shrug all the evidence of her lack of care, the Outsider sank into the cushions of his seat and watched her and his son with smoldering, unblinking eyes, and said no more. 

He needn't waste his breath on the unrepentant and unashamed, and was content to supervise her visitation. 


Edited by Roen

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“You were busy in the adjacent room with Raphael and our son. I will always be thankful for that...I don’t have to talk to anyone about it. That is between you, your newest Lord and Master, and the representatives of that Terran body.”


His hard stare, and the sharp glint within it, were met with a meticulously executed expression of nothing -- disconnect. Her face was a beautiful facade of white stone that revealed nothing of the turmoil and agony that swirled, merely a hair’s width, beneath the surface. The subtle jabs at her betrayal and her not-so-new relationship with Raphael hacked at the frail remnants of her self worth, but she did not give it away. The ache of her broken heart was one of the last things she owned, one of the few precious things that no one could take away. Once upon a time, though she fought it bitterly, Roen had won her and had her -- and she had been inexplicably happy then. The thought of exposing the hurt of having lost it and the more importantly the regret, and being mocked for it, robbed her of her courage and reduced her to a silent, pretty coward.


The devil settled down, watching her while the echo of his dead laughter reverberated across the room. Through her blank regard of him, hidden safely away in the depths of her mind, she looked at him closely and tried to imagine him as the strange, magical, and dangerous creature that had visited her when she was freshly crowned. He'd been an irresistible distraction then, and then quickly became a torturous obsession. He'd wanted her the way she wanted fame, glory, and prestige -- and to this day she was still uncertain if she found it frightening or flattering. So she looked at him and imagined that somewhere, beyond the same smug and uncaring expression that he wore that he was also doing the same and reflecting on the same -- who she use to be and what she use to mean to him.


She was not the same girl he had fallen in love with…


Her gaze flickered from his face, because at this thought her eyes did mist. She had made her peace with the death of their relationship by consoling herself with the knowledge that it had been an unhealthy obsession on both their parts from the very beginning. From the fruits of their many mistakes, and failed attempts to love and hate, they had produced the only good thing that either of them could ever hope for. Philippe was the summation of impossible odds. He was perfect in every way. But it was the loss of her own self that she was struggling to cope with. She had just signed away Orisia’s sovereignty, and because of the small life growing inside of her, she knew that her dream of freedom was nothing more than a distant dream.


“I am sorry,” she said -- her voice cutting away at the memory of his previous laugh, which in her head sounded mean and mocking in nature. It was good to chase away the ghost of it, and replace it with idle chatter. “I didn’t answer your question. I have been busy.”


She rose from where she sat and rocked the sleeping child in her arms. The soft lul of her arms produced a happy, dreamy smile across the infants lips along with a luxurious stretch of chubby limbs. The babe twisted and turned until he was settled comfortably on his right side, with his face buried against her breast. Though memories of her being his mother were growing distant, he still loved the smell of her.


“I am facilitating the transition of power. I am unfit to rule, so…”


Though she was pretending not to care what he thought of her or how he viewed her, she found it hard to admit to more while facing him. So to the best of her ability, she moved away and turned her back to him under the guise of swaying the baby across the room.


“So that’s been keeping me busy. But it’s nearly all done now. Hopefully, I’ll be coming around more frequently to visit with Philippe.”

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Once upon a time, before the advent of betrayal and the breaking of hearts, the Outsider would have raged against the inevitable and demanded the rescinding of plans. Now, though, he was silent. Silent, and accepting. The Summer Isles were not his home, nor had they ever been. He was not conceived of on its shores, nor born and raised beneath it's roofs. His present and his future lay elsewhere, in far and distant Terrenus and the cold and bleak wastes of the North, where the Black City lay in anticipation of it's monarch. However, as he watched the current Queen of Orisia turn away from him with the Prince of the Summer Isles in her arms, the Outsider contended with thoughts of the future and their son. In bleaker possibilities, a disinherited prince would seek to claim a throne that was rightfully his. Roen closed his eyes, his expression sad and his humours turning towards melancholy. Perhaps the boy would forsake the ambitions of his father and embrace the contentments of his mother, and choose a humble life. Life was never so kind, though. Life was never, ever so kind. 

'Hopefully,' Roen replied lowly. 'He misses you.' 

A platitude, perhaps, or meaningless flattery. In truth, the Outsider felt he had little else to offer. His words, such as they were, did not come easily to him. There were many a night he had sat down in his chair and considered what he might say to Irene. What fantasies those considerations had been, what imaginings. Reality was ever so disappointing, however. Irene had not spoken the words he had imagined, even hoped she might have said, and he had not felt as he thought he might when he laid eyes on her again. There was no rousing of his spirit, no quickening of the blood and the loins he ever oft experienced in her company, no delight. There was only trepidation, and the ache of the broken which would never mend. But the view was the same, though. That never changed. As he looked at her hind aspect and saw how she could not bear to lay her eyes on him anymore than necessary, he felt at last some semblance of normality. Many a night he had spent with his hands on her, threatening and cajoling and at some times begging to be looked upon. Be with ardor or kindness or hatred and resentment, just to be looked upon was enough for him. 

But no, he was not easy on the eyes, the garrulous fiend. He was not made beautiful as she was. Where beloved was shapely and bright as polished marble, his shape was cast in rough, craggy stone. Both without and within, his was a coarseness that was not so easily endured, nor worthy of love. Indeed, the truth had been presented to him many a time over the years by her gentle hands, but ever was he too stubborn and proud to accept it. Raged, he did. Rage for her affection, for her understanding, for her unasked for touch. But the truth was present, here and now, and it was in the subtle life that grew even now in her womb, a life not of their making but of her choosing. What bolder declaration of lovelessness for him, her paramour, he had never known, but so loud was it now he could scarce ignore it. He believed her, the Outsider. At long last, at the sight of her hind aspect and inability to look him in the eye, he believed it when she said she bore him no love. So many times it felt like death when she renounced him in the past, but how strange it was to feel only a minor pang now, like the ringing of a cracked and muffled bell, to understand to finality of this last and greatest defeat. 

He stood, straight and tall, all mass and presence and foreboding, and crossed the wasteland of furniture and tasteful decor between them to stand behind her, as he was ever wont to do whenever she presented the opportunity for it. And he as he stood and as he walked and as he assumed the position of protector just behind, the Outsider took in the full of her as perhaps he had never done before, but was compelled to now. She was shorter than him by far. Just up to his chest did she stand at her fullest height, so slight of build and diminutive was she. He admired this disparity between them and looked at it kindly, just as he looked kindly at her then. From the glossy sheen of her hair to the smell it breathed when warmed by his closeness, to how she stood just so with her hip cocked to balance the baby - their son - in her arms. Wherever was there a way to stand more perfect than this, he had never seen before. She was perfectly composed, perfectly placed, perfectly appropriate -- had he not loved her already with a fierceness that shamed the very word it sought to capture, he would have fallen for her again, regardless of circumstance. One could not look upon Irene Gabriela and not feel love, the Outsider thought to himself as his hands raised. She said she was not fit to rule, but how wrong she was! Never were a soul more fit when she could unman with a glance and command with a quirk of limb. 

But he digressed in such thoughts and in such gestures, for Roen stopped himself before his palms alighted themselves on her shoulders to seek again the comfort of her coldness against the pain and heat in his hands. He wanted to touch her, the fiend. He wanted to hold, to take, and squeeze and proclaim against impossibility that she was his, that family was all. What sweetness such a lie could be if it were accepted, that he cared not for lands or kings or rules or decrees, that infidelity and betrayal were but petty concerns when weighed against the beauty of a son in their arms or the joys of familial smiles between them. But that was a lie, and he, the Outsider, was incapable of such things, though he desperately yearned to. No, there was only truth in him for her, and so it was with truth he laid into her now, quiet and sincere, with the weight of a broken heart cleverly concealed. 

'As I miss you,' he whispered, so close now to touch, yet so hesitant to do so. Her hair deserved kisses he could not give, her shoulders deserved touches he could not bestow. Indeed, she and the baby both necessitated the warmth of his embrace by stint of being the only family he had ever known, but he could not, would not. He was repelled, and it could not be overcome. The truth, he thought. The truth. 'I've missed you so much,' he reiterated, quieter, with a catch that bespoke volumes of a knot in his chest that could only be of the grief of the stricken. And that, too, was truth, and while he knew that too much truth could ruin a thing, it was also true there was ruination here that no words could ever hope to surpass. There was desolation here on a scale hitherto unknown. I will love no other than you, he thought, looking on her noble profile insofar as he could from behind, savoring and capturing the view for this night and all nights to come. I will hold no hands, unless they are your own. I will take no wife and father no more sons, unless it is you and they our's. He leaned, breathing down her neck as if he were wont to kiss and touch as a lover might, but didn't. She smelled of home, Irene. She smelled of peace, and happiness. He would love no other, unless it was loving her, he knew. She was his, and he, he was her's, from bone to marrow to flesh and blood, he was her's. 

Forgive, forget, claim and possess. How easy it would be to say the words, how easy it would be to.. 

He drew his breathing away, recoiling from the precipice of embracing Irene and whispering in her ear the madness and hopes of love forever more. Never would he breathe a lie, but she was not entitled to honesty, and honestly, had she turned and spoke and offered a miser's penance for the wrongs that were wrought, he would have knelt at her feet and pledged an eternity by her side. If she had turned and looked at him kindly at all, he would have kissed her, held her, and promised even more. 'It is time for you to leave,' he said, stepping back and turning away, searching for other things to gaze upon, other things to love. But there was no beauty if it was not her, and he could not fix his eyes on anything worth more than a glance. He composed himself, willing hands to relax and jaw to loosen. Peace, he forced into his humours. Peace, and tranquility. 'You should take him with you; he hasn't left this hole for months, it will do him good to spend time with his mother.' 

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He did not allow her time to react.


Since the day they had met, he had become like her shadow -- sewing himself onto her in a way that did not allow for escape. No move, regardless of how illogical or precise, had given her the freedom she so vehemently proclaimed to want. And now, he stood behind her and made her feel just as small and insignificant in the shadow of his presence and confession. And while his soft spoken confession had not come as surprise, it would one day astonish her (in retrospect), just how heartrending the words were as they passed his lips and blew at a few wayward strands of hair that curled along the length of her neck.


If Raphael was the immensity of space, and all of its terrifying emptiness, and the High Lords, all in one, the bright sun that commanded the wider sphere of her orbit, and Malice and Desmond and all the other strange and magnificent creatures that existed in her life took up the roles of other such celestial bodies -- well then, she would name herself the pale and cold moon and would lay upon his brow the crown of earth. All of the vast universe pulled at them in some manner or another, but they danced alone somehow. When he was near -- when he lingered this close, the swell in her heart and the ebb of her blood was a powerful and heady sensation. He pulled her in by virtue of his very existence, even as the rest of all of existence tried to pull her away.


Would that she could say these things and give life to sorrow in her heart so that he could hear it. She had her own confessions to make. But he would not hear it, and so he silenced her before she ever had even the chance to express a desire to speak.


“It is time for you to leave,” he said as he pulled away creating a sudden and violent vacuum in her heart, which crushed her entirely before he even uttered the ending of his thought, “You should take him with you; he hasn’t left this hole for months, it will do him good to spend time with his mother.”


Little Philippe’s mouth fell open and a soft and happy sigh left him -- a breath of contentment that somehow managed to exist and survive in the soupy density of emotions that existed between this mother and father. The little boy roused Gabriela from the heartache that was threatening to pinch and crush her esophagus completely with the sheer force of her withheld sob. How simple, how easy, how appropriate it would be turn around and tell him that she too missed him -- that she missed him so much. But she didn’t know what that would entail, or what more she might confess.


Truth, she felt her blood sing, truth and nothing else -- nothing more or less.


“I cannot apologize,” she began after a significant pause that would surely giveaway to the devil that she had no intention of leaving, at least not yet. Slowly, and meaningfully, she turned to look after the man she had broken, her brows pinched in such an expression of despair, conflict, and determination. She did not look upon him with disgust or distrust, she believed his words and she did not hate him for them. There was no pretense now -- no attempt to deny the reciprocation of his longing. But still, there was a restraint and it was as magnificent as it was devastating to observe, especially when it was restraint from throwing herself into his arms. Would he see it? Could he understand it -- or would it be like another betrayal and well-delivered wound unto his badly broken heart?


She loved him, but not enough.


“To apologize -- to express regret for what has happened, for what I did,” there she struggled -- she strained with giving a name to her betrayal. There was a faint brushing of color across her cheeks. She could not hide the shame, though she was trying to deny it. “To do any of that now, even for the sake of your love -- would be a betrayal to this child growing inside of me. And he bares no fault in the choices I have made. To say that he should have been ours -- that he should have been yours -- would forever damn him to bear the weight of my own reproach.”


She was grasping for something, perhaps a better way to explain. But she was blind and seeking in a dark room, there were no appropriate words to say what was in her heart. Would that he was the old devil who did not need words to know what was true, the one who was so certain of his worth and regard in her heart that he would do anything and everything to keep them together. Sadly, that man was gone, and she was responsible for his death -- for, love never dies a natural death. They both knew it, even as they stood with such a small distance between them that felt like a growing chasm. He was not that self-certain man willing to fight both heaven and hell to return to her side, and she was far from woman he had met out in the gardens once upon a midnight.


“I am unfit to rule, unfit to love, and unfit to mother,” she said finally as her summerset eyes dropped from his face and moved down to trace the delicate and beautiful features of their son. The little one was sleeping still, with his small hands balled up into loose fists and his precious lips half parted as he snored ever so soft and sweetly into her face with his baby breath of milk and honey. “I believe it is time for you to leave -- to go far away from this place and to take Philippe with you. I made one mistake with Lucis. You see, my vanity commanded me to have his caregivers tell him who I was. While I knew I could not properly raise him, I also could not sever the cord that bound us. I wanted him to know who I was, and it was a grave mistake. I will not repeat such a mistake with Philippe. You’ll take him far away,” she looked at him with tears brimming in her eyes -- crimson in color and ugly in sight, “--to some place where he will not be two halves of something, but rather one beautiful and wonderful whole. You’ll take him, and you’ll tell him that I loved him, and that I loved you, and that I died a good death. And...” her breathing was labored, she was on the cusp of openly sobbing but she was managing somehow to keep it together. It was a fragile facade that was cracking like thin ice under foot -- quickly. “And he’ll never want for me because he will have you and you will tell him only the best about me, only the good -- only that we loved him and each other.”

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And if his seed did not quicken in your womb, would you have told me? Or would have it been secret, as I suspect many of his visits have been? I didn’t want you to apologize for life. I wanted you to apologize for the little death. Betrayal, betrayal, traitor..,

Roen closed his eyes slowly and tilted his head, jaw working and chin jutting in the heartbeat’s moment of a man desperately struggling to stifle an emotional wound that, had it been life’s blood, would have spurted and made more of a mess than that which was the ruin of them. He was not a man, though, and had not a man’s will or capacity to persevere, or be reserved. Roen never let an emotion go half-felt, not ever. The sense of hurt and grief he felt then, the shamelessness of it all, made him cringe and turn, as if she had a lash and had struck him grievous injury, and forced him a step back. He yielded before her, this Lord of the Black City. He yielded the ground, and thought to flee while she fought the reins on the compunction to seek his arms. The juxtaposition, had it ever been known between them, would not have come as a surprise to either. Star-crossed, their paths so seldomly reconciled. 

‘Gabriela..,’ he began, his once-so casual, clipped gestures becoming furtive, now, in piqued despair. He opened his eyes, looked at her, pleading for the impossible and the unknown while his hands lifted and gesticulated, then dropped, helpless and hopeless. He wanted her to stop, to go, to stay and to hold. He wasn’t paying attention to her, not really. His gaze was turned inward, touching and fingering and prodding the growing, cancerous hurt that spread, unspooled by a conversation he had long fantasized of but prepared so little for. She talked, he listened, and as he listened, he struggled to comprehend. She was telling him to leave, to take their son with him. Perplexed, even stunned, he could only compress his lips and cock his head, uncertain. 

She was talking at him, some dumb, distant part of him commented. Not to him, but at him, and probably to herself. He shivered, chilled. Of mistakes and vanity there was aplenty, but she named things he had no cause to attribute to either, but she was talking faster, moving through ideas and sentiments and words almost too fast, too low to hear. She told him he had to go. Not where or whence, but to go anywhere, somewhere, so long as it was away from here, and while he heard her, he could not believe. Still gazing inward, Roen argued quietly, fumblingly. This was his home, sentiment said. Not the Black City, not the home of Terrans and their vast, splendid continent, but here, the Summer Isles. Home was the cicadas, home was Orisian Red, home was the scent of orange blossoms and gold, molten eyes.. 

Gabriela was looking at him. She arrested his gaze and drew it to her, and he quite forgot about everything in the face of her misery. It was so palpable, now. It was so obvious. He had never seen her so contrite before him, he realized with a pang of anxious regard. He had never seen her on the verge of weeping for him. Not because of him, but for him. It was revelatory, and his impulse, such as it was, was to go to her. It was not an urge, the need for her. It was not want, habit or will. It was causality. She was beloved before all else, and when beloved wept, even if only on the verge of it, he was her’s. Totally, inexorably, he was her’s. There was no alternative. His arms went around her and child both to have and to hold, and he squeezed if the strength in them alone could hold in the grief and sobs. No, he could not hear her weep, not here, not before his eyes. He could not shoulder such a burden. His own grief, his own hurts, those were paltry things that were regularly nursed on and indulged, truer companions to his weary heart than any. Her grief, though, he could not abide, no matter the circumstance. It would kill him, he knew, if he did not comfort her. It would kill him, and that would be the end of the Outsider. 

‘Shh..,’ he whispered soothingly, tilting his head to rest his cheek in her hair. She was cold, cold as death itself, but he loved her for the chill, for the comfort her very nearness could push into his weary, aching body. He pulled her that much closer, like it was the first time he ever had, or the last time he ever would. But he could not hold her for long, there was a child between them, and before there was a chance to smother their boy, Roen drew away. Not a lot, no, never that, but enough to tilt his head back up and glance down, quickly looking at the little miracle between them before he looked back up, seeking Gabriela. You’re breaking my heart, he wanted to say, but couldn’t. It was already broken, and breaking more and more with each passing moment. What a wretched life they had made for themselves here, what a terrible ordeal this was, no matter how it might end. 

Before the silence grew uncomfortable, the devil spoke. ‘If I go..,’ he said slowly, quietly. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and lowered his eyes. He was unable to meet her gaze, not in that moment. Too bright, too red, too full of the suffering he felt so sharply. It was an ache within, a hollow that would not recede. A weighty hollow, he could not help but feel, for it pressed horribly within, threatening to choke his words before ever he had the chance to issue them. Screwing his eyes tightly together, the fiend grimaced. ‘If I go,’ he said again, his voice stronger through determination and determination alone, ‘I am taking you with me.’ Brows knitting together, the Outsider swallowed more than just a knot, but his pride and his grief and his outrage, too. He swallowed them all, and burned each before they became a sickness within. ‘We go, together. Tonight. Now.’  

Bold words. So bold, he could not help but be inspired by them. They gave him enough character and strength to open his eyes to look at her again. If he was going to suggest such a thing, she had to see it wasn’t caprice. He meant it, and possess a willingness to weather the consequences, good or ill. ‘We’ll go far away, together. A family. Or we can stay here, right here, forever.’ Faster, now, his thoughts struggled to keep up. Whatever he thought, it was caprice, but the sentiment was true and as honest as never before, and in the rush of expression, he laid himself out bare and vulnerable. There was nothing he would not do to be happy with her, and he felt no shame in that. ‘He’s two beautiful, perfect halves. He’s us, don’t you see? You’re not dead, you’re not. You’re alive. You’re alive, Gabriela. You’re right here!’ He hissed. He was leaning towards her, almost frenzied, as if he could argue her into the submission he could never achieve through force. 

‘You’re alive.., so live. Live, Gabriela, live for yourself. Live for me.’ His eyebrows contracted, just as a sharp pain did in his chest, and a moisture that was gathering at the edges of his eyes finally spilled over. ‘Live with me,’ he stressed, choked. He closed his eyes and shook his head, and shamefully turned to wipe his face on a shoulder, though to little avail. He swallowed. ‘I don’t care about anything else,’ he confessed, quiet and severe. ‘It.. it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. I will not go, I will not run. I do not run,’ he seethed, incensed and angrier at tears than all else. ‘Nothing else matters, only us.’ He looked at her, pleaded with her. ‘Only us,’ he whispered. He paused, then, searching her face for answers that did not come as fast as he hoped. ‘I love you. I love you more than anything in this world.’

A pause, then, quieter. ‘..Are you going to leave?’ 

Edited by Roen

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She would have said yes. She would have thrown everything away in that moment and gone with him anywhere, or everywhere -- to the end of the universe. Whatever it took to keep them together. She would have done so in a heartbeat, because she wanted to, because running came naturally and the mere thought of doing it with him thrilled her almost into giggles, and because being with him felt like a relief, a profound and wonderful relief. 


But of course she didn’t.


She saw the doubt in his eyes. The hurt. The betrayal. The moment of anger that lit like a fuse and then fizzled out just as quickly, as if the material had been damp. He was a broken man, and there was no repairing him. She had apologized for the wrong thing, but he didn’t realize that it was the only thing there was to apologize for. A sad and small miscommunication perhaps, but one that would not allow her to ever run away with him. 


He thought there may have been other times.


He thought of her a certain way. 


All of a sudden she was reminded of the night in his study. Her beloved devil, he was hot and cold -- but when he was cold, he burned the worst of all. The memory of it was still debilitating. The sheer hurt of it, still caused her chest to ache and for her entire body to turn from him just slightly, just enough to guard her heart source of all her agony. He could wound her with a look, and tear a piece of her heart off with a word. An eternity with him while he festered with doubts about her fidelity....


She was too weak for it. 


There was a reason she was pregnant, now as opposed to before. She had given in. She had given up. She had despaired, and felt alone, and surrendered to the affections of another. The evidence of her betrayal was growing in her womb, and would soon push out and separate them further. 


“You’re alive…, so live. Live, Gabriela, live for yourself. Live for me. Live with me. I don’t care about anything else. It.. it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. I will not go, I will not run. I do not run. Nothing else matters, only us. Only us.”


It should have been moving. Feeling his fingers burning into her arms, feeling how they curled into the tender flesh of her upper arms, as he shook her with force enough to make her hair spill out of her braid, or escape from behind her ears. Soon her face was framed in wisps of dark waves, while he bunched up her small shoulders between his wide hands. His face, twisted with pain, was hard to look at. The sight of his tears made her knees weak. She nearly spilled onto the floor, nearly fainted there into his arms. She loathed how much power he had over her, how much the sight of his pain actually hurt her. 


But it isn’t real.


It isn’t real. 


Of course it matters. It is a child. It will not just disappear. It is going to grow and be born and exist, and remind him forever that you willingly slept with Raphael. Knowing that you parted your silky white thighs for your cousin, instead of him ripping them open and bleeding you up like he normally did is going to eat the devil up. And really, what kind of sick consolation is that? You better run, you better run far away from this one, and fast.


“I love you. I love you more than anything in this world.”


Until he remembers what a little whore you’ve been.


Gabriela withered in his arms, disgusted with the words she heard in her mind. Little Philippe stirred with his mother’s turmoil as she struggled out of his father’s grasp. She pulled and twisted until she was out of his hands and stood at a distance, clinging to the little baby. Her eyes shut tight, as tight as she could manage it, and she rocked and soothed the child quietly.


“Are you going to leave?”


“Yes. I am going to leave. I am not coming back. I am not ever coming back.”


She said the words, she whispered them -- she yelled them. She choked back on the sob that was rising in the back of her throat. In her arms, the sweet child woke up with a fuss and squirmed and whined, and this was too much for Gabriela. She held the baby as tightly as she dared, very much knowing she wouldn’t get the chance to do so again. Her nose pressed into the child’s shoulder where she breathed in deeply of his sweet smell, a breath that she swore she would hold in her lungs until she could no longer bear it. 


“I love you,” she said aloud, and her eyes opened looking across the room at the devil, “I love you more than anything in this world.”


The words, they were for them both.


Philippe was delivered back into his father’s arms, and before she could be convinced by the weight in her heart to stop, or to stay, or to turn around to look at her own flesh and blood one last time, she turned and  made for the exit. Her heart hammering in her ears so loudly that she couldn’t hear if Roen said something, or if he just stood there weeping, or worse yet, it was Philippe who was crying for her.

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'Gabriela, please.' 

Philippe was in his arms, as little and as delicate as his mother before him, and Roen did not need to look down to see how the baby reached for her with small, curling fingers. It was a gesture he might have made himself, had his hands been free to do so. Instead, all he had were his words, and the last, desperate resort: pleading. He had never plead before, the Outsider. It was strange how easily it came to him, now.  As he watched Irene turn to leave, deaf to the life and love she was turning her back on, the Outsider stepped forward and issued one last appeal to her, a petition from one breaking heart to another: please. The grandiloquence was pressed from him, choked the heaviness in his chest and the strangling in his throat. How deftly he had made himself to feel, this creature. It was art, great art that he could feel the prelude of tears start as a tickle at the nose and a burn at the eyes; a great masterpiece that sorrow could be so weighty it threatened to make him swoon and sway. But his words, no, those weren't works of art. There was no eloquence in the plea, no great rising crescendo, such as he had delivered just a moment prior. 

No, all he had as her name on his lips and the asking for a reprieve. Please, do not go. Please, do not leave. Please, please, please. He could say no more, though. Just the whisper above the click of her heels and the rustle of cloth and the sharp, aching knocks of a guilty heart twisting in his chest. His words were lost in the cacophony of departure, though, and if she heard them, he saw -- well, he did not know what he saw. His vision swam, prompting him to blink and feel wetness on his cheeks that quickly dampened his beard. He wanted to retch, and felt the stirrings of a dry heave threatening to double him over, but he resisting. The crying he might have done, the weeping he might have given into, couldn't be indulged, at least not allowed. There were tears, but he saw, when he finally could see, that they were falling on Philippe, and Roen's shame became so much it was near unbearable. As he had tried to comfort Irene before, Roen leaned and brought his lips to the top of the baby's head, and breathed out soothing whispers. 

"Shh-hh-sshh..,' he issued, but breath did not come easy. He hiccuped grief in the attempt to comfort, and made, all unintentionally, a low-pitched whine to compensate. His teeth chattered unbidden, and it was with a great effort of will that he clenched his mouth shut against those tremors. Again, he issued soft, quieting noises, and started to walk. It didn't matter where, so long as there was movement. Cradling the babe in his arms and swaying, Roen walked around the room and rocked his son, much the same way he had seen Irene rock him. Fussy, unhappy and wanting, Philippe continued to cry, but Roen was persistent, if nothing else in life. He continued rocking the baby, continued to soothe and to comfort until the memory of familiar cold faded and the delicious heat of father calmed.  The crying became snuffling, and Roen took a linen out of his breast pocket and carefully, diligently cleaned Philippe's face off.  Dark green eyes peered up at him, and Roen cried anew at their accusation. It was too much. He took the little prince over to his crib, and laid his son down in the soft sheets and pillows, where the boy started to cry again. 

The wailing crushed whatever reservations the Outsider had concerning grief, and he fell into it, hard and heavy. Finding a chair and slipping into the cushion, Roen buried his face in his hands and rubbed stiff, aching callouses into his burning eyes and damp, course beard, and wept. Softly, with quiet heaves, he let it consume him. There was nothing dignified in it; he was shamed, and shameless in his suffering. He knew this feeling well, this terror, this pain. He knew the heartache, the hollowness and the brokenness and the despair of it all. He supped on these things before, over beloved. Whenever they parted, whenever the paths diverged. When he thought her fled, he grieved. When he thought her dead, he suffered. Now she had turned from him again, and the tragedy crept its way back in. He wasn't thinking about infidelity, the devil. He wasn't thinking about the babies, the world, or of the sickness of resentments. 

He was only thinking about her, and what she had meant to him. He was only thinking about what he had lost again. He had lost, and now was lost, and losing himself to that, was threatened by the great melancholia that was both crippling and debilitating. It had happened before, of course. The last time was at an empty grave, where he had -- he hadn't moved in days, or weeks. Even months. He might have stayed there forever, had she not come back to him. And she had, and he had grabbed her and he had held her and he - they - had kissed. Years ago. Lifetimes. She said she was leaving, though. She said she would never return. She was a liar, but he believed her, tonight. He believed her when she said she was leaving. He believed her when she said she loved him. The memory, so harsh and fresh, was like a knife in the mind, and his wept more bitterly in unseemly quiet, and shaking shoulders. And that's where he sat, the devil. That's where he remained. 

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