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Aleksei

songs of the devout.

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GMeba2c.pngShe left with no other reason than she wished to go. Kadia has finally exchanged hands, leaving the throne and all its lovely ornaments to her youngest siblings - Connor. There was no reason for her to be against this, not when they had fought beasts and their ilk together, shed blood together, nearly died together, and have given their youthful years to the warp that had almost destroyed Kadia. Through all those moments of near-deaths and near failures, Connor showed that he was the hateful mix of their mother and father, bearing the pride of their mother and the coldness of their father regally. So naturally, the throne belongs to him.

And it should have bothered her. There is a strangeness surrounding her sibling, something she can't exactly put her finger on, but it was enough to make the young lady relinquish her titles to find a life outside the Empire. It bothered her, yet it did not. Failsafes are in place for a reason, mother and father have made it clear they'll be watching from a distance and will step in when necessary. Olympia knows her home will be in good hands, no matter her feelings towards Connor, who has earned his strangeness. Aside from her parents, she understands that Cornelius is also watching with Lyonene right at his side. Kadia is safe - for now.

With that for now in mind, she escaped into the night, never to return.

Freedom is a strange burden. The event in Kadia did more than just age her a handful of years; it made her a little less wary of strangers and the world they inhabit. Her childishness is still worn in her manner of speech: the abundance of each word, the misuse of her excitement, the tone of curiosity. Sheltered for most her life, she can't help but look at the world with wide-eyed wonder, even though she has told herself to play cautious and coy. Weary, sure. Careless? Absolutely. 

It's the freedom flowing through her veins that's making her appreciate the world around her a tad more. It has also made her remember.

Sitting beneath a withering, cold tree, she stares fondly at a rose. Its stem is being spun between gloves fingers, while dark eyes admire the loveliness of the gift that had been given to her some time ago. Rafael, his name echoes through her mind with immense fondness attached to it. If she were home and the devout knew of her like for the man considered less than human, they'd have her stripped and flogged, maybe even brainwashed. Out in the wilderness, she is free to think of Rafael and enjoy the memories brought on by merely whispering his name to herself. 

He had created a new world for a young girl hiding behind her father's legs. He had spoken to her sweetly, given her a gift, and promised her a dance under the moonlight. It was in that moment she had broken her religious fanaticism towards her father's belief; there was no way she could be faithful to his cause when Rafael had shown her in a few gestures that the world is painted using many different strokes. 

Then, just like now, she whispered his name to the stars and spoke to him as if he had always been there. The conversations vary, and the chosen piece for tonight are the fears. Sleep is difficult due to the memories of the warp and what she had gone through; the inability to accept such a weakness that she would struggle with such a trivial matter. He wouldn't judge, she is sure of this, which is why she speaks to the air around her as if it were him with ease and comfort. 

Edited by Aleksei

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Rafael sat alone in his study, an open tome posed in his lap, a stack of others he’d read that week piled high near the corner of his desk, and growing taller with each passing night. With the mutual “civility” between him and his wife proving to be surprisingly well-lived, the elder had found himself with something of an abundance of free time. No longer was there a need to stalk her every move, or play puppeteer, and so to fill that void, he’d once again fallen into the habit of extensive reading.

His latest find, a religious chronicling of the immediate years after Zare’s creation of both Genesaris and its native men, titled The Beginning of All: A History of Man in Genesaris, was cumbersome and dense, but informative to say the very least.

 Rafael—the call seemed to slip through the walls, soundless and ethereal, dancing on the stillness of the study’s air.

What a familiar voice…

It had been well over a year since he’d heard it last, and though there were a great many differences, Rafael’s mind tingled with the stirring of long-buried memories, freshly exhumed by the love and affection of woman still captivated by his allure. Where have I heard you before? the elder wondered, delicately plucking the voice from the sea of others that lapped at the shores of the Faith. He listened to it closely, like a soft melody, searching the depths of his mind for similar tone and cadence, until at long last he stumbled across that which he sought.

Were she born to any other bloodline, Rafael might have thought it impossible. Olympia had been little more than a child when they met, still short and thin enough to hide behind her father’s legs. The voice that dared to beseech him now, it belonged to a woman most certainly grown; and though still somewhat sweet and bubbly, was generously rich with both elegance and seduction.

Let’s see what has become of you, little one.

Closing the heavy tome and setting it down, Rafael answered the child’s prayer.

#

A simple breeze, soft and gentle, but wholly unnatural, swept across the hill and heralded the elder’s arrival.

Rafael appeared not a moment after she’d finished her thought, as if summoned by her longing, standing but a handspan from the tips of her booted feet. He wore black silk that night, a loose pair of trousers and a long-sleeved tunic; both his hands and feet were bare. He’d been cleanly shaven the first night they met, properly groomed for her parents’ wedding, but now his beard was full and luxurious, dark as the hair atop his head. And though his eyes were not quite the same, no longer red but blue, bluer than the ocean at midday, the fondness he’d had for her still swam in their depths.

“I gave that rose to a little girl,” Rafael teased, his accent thick. “And yet, a woman holds it now.” The Melisendes were the strangest creatures, in that regard. It seemed they were so eager to rob their ilk of their childhood. It pained some small part of him that Olympia, and her siblings as well, had been cheated of the opportunity to enjoy that—to simply be. “I suppose it should have been expected.”

His gaze lingered on the blade she carried, a heavy burden, to be sure.

A smile curved his thin lips. “It’s been quite a while, princess, and you’re a long way from home.” He extended a hand, large and pale as the moon, toward her in assistance. “Pleased as I am to see you, as your father’s ally, it would be unseemly of me not to ask… what are you doing here?”

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GMeba2c.png"Rafael!"

It had taken some time for the air to return to her lungs, so shocked she was by his random appearance. Oly was sure her mind had played a trick on her, but when he spoke and then extended his hand, she was convinced that he was very much real. In an instant, she was on her feet and throwing her arms around him, giving the gentleman a rib breaking hug before pushing him to arm's length.

"Look at you!"

The girl turned woman reached forward and pressed her hands against his cheeks; her fingers spread, feeling the coarseness of his luxurious beard that strangely fit his face perfectly. She would keep her opinion to herself, for now, but she preferred his face clean-shaven, especially since the current beams of moonlight would have highlighted the peaks of cheekbones and the curve of his extreme jawline. His beard intrigued her curious fingers that roamed from cheek to jaw - the coarseness, the oddness of its fit, the change it made. The topography of his features has changed, forcing the young woman to realize (momentarily) that he too has grown. 

Still, out of all the hearts she has loved, his is the only that makes her smile. 

"How dare you grow up!"

Her hands glide across his shoulders and down his arms to grab his hands, where they would be occupied, allowing her eyes to roam. Being naturally tall herself, it is a tad daunting to be able to look at the man almost eye to eye instead of peeking at his figure behind his father's legs. Even here though, he is a monolith whose shadow protects her from the sun and provides her company in times of loneliness. 

"Time has fit you well, Rafael. Blue eyes? Tsk, tsk, tsk," she let a single hand go to tap him playfully on the nose. "How are we poor humans supposed to ignore you when you look like you've been shaped from moonlight - stars in your hair, sunset in your eyes?"

Unfortunately, Olympia has her mother's colorful tongue and not at all her father's tact. She spoke to him as one would a friend, and not the damned abomination he is said to be. How could she? Here he stands, meeting her at midnight in the forest of her dreams, looking at her with the same sweetness like from before. Another weakness Connor exploited: weak-kneed and weak-willed and soft-hearted. There was too much sunlight within her soul, someone had told her; she could never hold herself above the lessers, someone criticized. It's not that they were wrong opinions, it is just they had come from very vicious points of view. 

Fully releasing him, she laughed to remove the sourness rising within her. 

"And what am I doing here? What are you doing here! How did you get here? Why are you here?"

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Rafael chuckled at the idea of her, or any mortal, experiencing his age. He was a man before even the eldest of her bloodline were born, and older still before Olympia was finally born. “The winds at the foot of the mountains have become colder these recent months,” he’d answered when she spoke. In the aftermath of the highstorms’ resurgence, weather in the East had become tumultuous. And thought it hadn’t bothered him in the slightest, Rafael had come to enjoy his image, finding it more fitting and regal, befitting of his station. He was an elder now, a pillar of his people, husband at least to his darling Gabriela and father to their child, still growing in her womb.

He’d not shied away from her affection or allowing her to explore him as one might a mysterious puzzle, seeing what resisted her grip like welded iron, and what melded to her touch, shaped by her fingers and palms. “As for my eyes,” he continued as she went down her checklist, “I’ve found peace, or at least, as close to it as a man of my nature will ever be allowed. These are their natural color, a signature of my house. Of all my people, only those of the name Bartolome have these eyes.” He smiled down at her, fatherly and sincere. “If you see red in my eyes, well, then know that my peace has abandoned me.”

Holding her hands, Rafael twirled the girl—tall and slender as a spear—on her toes and wrapped both of their arms around her. He tucked their hands away at her side, holding her back to his chest, his bearded mouth brushing the nape of her neck and his nose buried in the sweetness of her dark hair. “I heard you,” the elder whispered in her ear. “In a sea of thoughts, I thought heard yours, and so I came to you. You did call for me, didn’t you?” The wind howled, and with another twirl, he spun the gorgeous woman away, though kept her right hand captive.

“And the sound of your voice reminded me that I owe you a dance, my darling Oly,” he confessed. “The night of your parents’ wedding, certain events left me indisposed. You’re aware of how, mm, inhospitable your father can be, even to those he would consider his ally. I wasn’t able to see you before I departed from Kadia.” From the frown on his mouth, and the dark shadowing in his eyes, it was clear the situation had—at some point, in some way—weighed on him.

Then he smiled, all tooth and fang, and a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “But I’m here now, as are you. The moon is bright, the wind is singing. Would you honor me with this dance, Princess?” He'd not forgotten her masterful deflection of his inquiry, but decided that could wait. For now, there was a prayer that needed answering.

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GMeba2c.png

Before he had the opportunity to hide them, she carefully poked at a glimmering fang with all the curiosity she could muster. Her depictions of vampires come with terrible caricatures of creatures with skin spread tightly across their frames, and their eyes dead from the lack of life and all its wonders. Rafael is nothing like such monsters in the night; he had the proper airs of a gentleman that is up to absolutely no good. His fangs are possibly the least worrisome thing upon the man.

"I would be delighted," she said with a wide smile.

Olympia had heard through her siblings about what had happened in the gardens, and she was kept from delving deeper into the matter. Her father is a meticulous man who demands absolute perfection from everyone and in everything. She was a child then, curious to know if Rafael and his beautiful wife were alright, but not at all understanding the motives behind all the silliness. It was another day in the life of her family; if someone isn't injured within five minutes of being in their company, it is considered an odd day. 

Not at all forgetting all those boring dance lessons, the two mesh together in a soft dance. Their audience the glowing moon and the curious forest creatures lurking about; in her mind is a song, something she shares with him by humming the notes. Once their feet and hands and hips find their place, she picks up the conversation with timid fingers.

"I talk to you a lot, you know. When we were in the warp, I spoke to you and my parents more than anyone else."

Corvinus offered her words of encouragement, while Leoa gave her words of comfort. There was nothing they could do but wait and hope that Kadia would come out alive, along with their children. It had, obviously, but with immense change due to Connor's underhanded, dirty ways. Olympia was never one for prayer, but when her brother plucked her from her place, she had given the air a heated prayer meant to save all those in Kadia. 

"Are you able to hear everyone? Do people pray to you and you answer their prayers as well, or am I an outlier?"

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“I hear them all,” Rafael said, beginning their dance. It was to a soft and gentle melody, one that only he could hear, with easy and simple steps befitting such unfriendly terrain. He kept the young woman close to him, one of her small, delicate hands in his larger one, the other resting safely at the center of her back. “Any that believe and would beseech me, I can hear. Whether I choose to listen, though, is another matter entirely.”

In the lull of conversation, he would twirl her with a flourish, or dip her low enough that her dark hair swept through the ankle-high blades of grass. “It was overwhelming at first. Just the voices of the San’layn nearly drove me mad.” Or, perhaps they had—if only slightly. There was no denying that Rafael’s ascension had changed him, in many ways which had been unexpected. “As they Faith expanded and more adopted its truth, the multiplied. They became louder, more desperate. Always begging, pleading, or demanding something from me. But eventually, you learn to tune them out. Not silence, but quiet them to a whisper.”

It was a harsh lesson he’d been forced to learn alone, without his enigmatic raven—without worship and largely unknown—to educate him. Fortunately, intuition was not something the elder had ever lacked, and it hadn’t taken him long to realize that he was both the prisoner and jailer, trapped within a cell of his own design but also possessing the keys to free him from it.

“But,” he added at the end of another flourish. “It also makes it easier to hear the right kind of voices. Like yours, Olympia. When you spoke to me in the Warp, I only received bits and pieces of it. Fragment. That hellish realm was likely the cause of the interference, but knowing your family, I’d simply thought it was some manner of device or another.” He smiled down at her, keeping her moving to his rhythm. “This was the first time I’d been able to hear you clearly. You can imagine my surprise to find a beautiful, grown woman before me.”

The dancing slowed, but it did not end. “What are you doing here, Olympia? Surely, you haven’t come all this way and prayed to a heretical entity for the sake of one dance.”

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GMeba2c.png"And what if that were the case? I don't see it odd to want your company."

Oly had been taught to dance at a very young age, preparing her for the future demands of her title. A young girl who understood she was to marry through an arrangement, that her title is a great thing that goes back to the roots of her father's rule and it was far more critical than one would think. She never considered the weight of her responsibilities, never once thought them to be burdened, only mere opportunities that would make her someone worthwhile. The pride and glory woven into her very being have kept the woman afloat in times of ... annoyance.

Perhaps if she had more coldness in her veins, she would not have folded against her brother and his conniving ways. Naive in the eyes of her people, Olympia agreed with them through her actions of leaving and promptly abandoned the title she had previously worshiped. Connor had been comforted by his win against her, knowing well enough she would not go against him immediately.

She knows how to dance with her feet, but not her tongue.

"I'm not the only one that grew up in the warp. Connor, my youngest brother, is a man now ... and Emperor of Kadia."

The woman smiled sadly. She wanted to celebrate Connor's ascension to the throne, but the bitterness daring to overcome her hindered the want. 

"You're dear to me so I won't lie to you Rafael," she said, giving his hand a squeeze. "I ran away after Connor dethroned me, and my feet took me here. He had built a case against me in a very underhanded way, pushing the people to see me as irresponsible and unfit to rule."

She and Deiter had been disgusted that Connor would go so far to get power. Perhaps it was shock, maybe even anger, that made the SoulSeeker back down with ease and removes herself from the place she had nearly died for. Deiter attempted a few times to get her back, and each time she ignored him, knowing that it would only cause more issues in an already fractured Kadia. For now, she should hang back and watch from the shadows as her brother allows his pride to poison her homeland. 

"He is capable, Rafael. I just fear that his pride will get in the way of ruling with clarity."

Realizing that this could paint her as an opportunist, the young woman froze, stopping their lovely dance beneath the moonlight. "I did come here to see you! I don't want you to think I have an ulterior motive, but that makes it sound like I have something up my sleeve, but I absolutely do not!"

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