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The Princess and the Paramour

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"Have you decided on a name yet, Your Highness?" Sabine sat on a stone bench, her armor glinting in the light. It was one of the rare times she was at ease. There was a tenderness in her voice, for she was a loyal Knight and Imperator to Princess Raveena.

Raveena walked casually, swathed in pale silks that draped her pregnant belly agreeably. She looked right at home in the Imperial Gardens of Umbra, the way the sun shone through the leaves, the gentle sway of the flowers--this seemed to echo in the very way Raveena moved. Sabine watched her Queen carefully, though the grin never left her. Motherhood suited her just fine, she decided. She wanted to think it was strange, knowing that Raveena had ascended to a higher state of being and yet--this avatar--whatever one would call it--seemed to human and sweet.

"Everett," Raveena replied with laughter and smiles in her voices, "My brave little prince. My wild beast." She paused long enough to cradle a drooping flower between her palms. She whispered lilting, encouraging words in a language Sabine did not pretend to understand--it certainly wasn't any Vaa'denian she had picked up. While Raveena was a Terran citizen, her origins were from a whole other somewhere else entirely. Sabine felt very plain and boring by comparison.

She missed Efrideet--and had hardly given up on her quest for vengeance. Raveena needed her now more than ever with Efrideet dead and Rowan in a coma. Prince Grant was still lamenting his failures in the wake of Hyperion's destruction. "Your son will be well loved, Your Highness. A new Imperial heir gives the people hope that--." She paused abruptly. She knew better than to speak his name. The Moon God had been cast out for killing his brother. Angry that his siblings turned on him, he was set to destroy the Hyperian Empire no matter the cost. Sabine thought back to Rowan's catatonic state and the demonic creatures from his world that attacked them. The God himself attempted to smite Rowan but Raveena had chosen to accept her mantle as Goddess of the Red Plane to even the playing field. Now an all out war between the gods and their champions was set to begin.

The fate of the empire rest on who would come out as the victor.

"I know," Raveena replied softly, sadly. The sun god--foolish oaf he could be, had done many great and terrible things to her through the course of her life. And yet...yet, she missed him. "He will carry and unfortunate burden. Be brave, my heart." She cradled her pregnant belly and began another circuit around the cut out. Just out of view, a retinue of the Daughters of Thaus and the Enforcers patrolled and waited patiently. Their life was to their ruler.

Sabine rose to join Raveena, who casually opted to take to the main path again. Raveena tried to walk side by side with the Lady, but Sabine--by her own virtue--always remained flanked out of respect to Raveena's station in Umbra and beyond.

"I'd like a hatchery," Raveena spoke suddenly, her attention admiring the flora. She would stop sometimes and read the signs, cross to the other side. She would tend to the dying or dead with encouraging words, and praise the living. "Pardon, Your Highess?" Sabine was startled by the sudden thought. "A hatchery? Here?"

"In Hyperion. I will draw up the plans for it. I'll be damned if the South is going to wipe out one of Genesaris' oldest creatures. Oh?" She paused--though this was not to admire any plant or flower. Sabine recognized the look that Raveena sensed something. The Chimera gene was still strong in her, and she perhaps could smell something--maybe even see or feel something that the Lady Knight could not.

"We are not alone." Raveena turned to glance at Sabine serenely, "This requires strict decorum. Five paces behind me, do not look nor acknowledge them unless you are given permission to." She returned her to leisurely stroll through the gardens, and Sabine grinned wolfishly before falling in line and assuming the part of of armed escort. "At once Your Highness."

The Emperor's Paramour was here.

@The Hummingbird

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Prowling the skies, Zenahriel was home at last. Tilting his wings to catch the brisk wind that roamed over the Red City, he watched the citizens of Umbra. Unaware of his vigilant, guarding eyes, they went about their daily business – merchants and mercenaries, hired hands and help, all comprised of nonhumans and humans in great numbers. Soon the streets would be crowded with activity and profit before falling back into a quiet night, when the vampyres would awake and conduct their own peaceful business. Umbra was by no means a perfect kingdom, but from this high up, one could not see the flaws in the tranquility achieved here between the countless races of the world.

Dipping lower and away from the rising warming sun, Zenahriel flew to investigate the less populated grounds of Umbra. It was exceedingly rare to find any trouble there, but he liked to look upon the gardens of Ivory Square. The colorful array of flowers growing there gave peace and a little bit of joy to his heart, and this early in the morning it was often unoccupied, and sometimes, even he liked to feel perfectly alone.

This time, it appeared, would be different.

Seeing the pair long before they might see him, Zenahriel felt the odd sensation of power and blood he did not recognize. It was calm, and so he was not yet alarmed, but still he was wary, for time and past experience taught him that beings who wielded even small amounts of power could grow fickle and then fierce. It would not do, not today and not ever, to harm the gardens and any citizens who sought refuge in them.

Thus, he swooped low and slow over the heads of the pair, letting his shadow linger but for half a second over them. It was a gesture to let them know he was here, that he saw them, that they were warned. But it was also a gesture to let them know he did not intend to attack in stealth, as long as they returned the same courtesy.

He landed a few meters in front of them, his feet touching lightly upon the ground. His wings swept over the heads of the flowers and blooms, the feathers black as midnight shadows. The tips of the primaries and secondary feathers flashed in the morning light, for each one had been carefully bleached and then dipped in gleaming gold. He wore a backless tunic, also black but embroidered in bright blue and silver down the chest, matching loosely fitting slacks that fell around tighter, laced boots.

He straightened, examining the pair, one of who was armored, the other in richer attire. Both were quite catching in appearance, one of whom was beautiful… and the one who felt so strange.

It was unlikely Rafael did not know they were here, but his lack of personal appearance made it clear he expected Zenahriel to greet them, and deal with any wants they might display… or trouble they might give. He hoped it was not the latter.

He stepped forward, spread one wing while the other curved around his body in the manner of an elegant cloak, and bowed. “My greetings to you. I am Zenahriel Zacharias, An’She of Umbra, Second in Command and proud Mate to His Majesty, Emperor Rafael. To whom do I have the honor of addressing?”

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"You grace me with a legendary name I am all too familiar with, An'she. I am Empress Raveena Jhanavi Bartolome Senaria of Hyperion, Princess of Carmine. Your mate is my father." She smiled, amused by the High Lord's introduction and returned the courteous bow with her own deep curtsy. "I am here to visit him before I finish my war campaign." Her entourage obeyed flawlessly and remained bowed before the High Lord, never once looking up to see him.

"I've heard great stories about you and your power. You are the one that made my father the God-Emperor. Your loyalty knows no bounds. I did not think I would ever have the pleasure of seeing you with my own eyes in person. I read, and my father speaks, but...this does it very little justice." He was also a powerful wielder of magic the likes she previously would not have comprehended. Now, she could admire it properly. He was what made her father who he is, and that alone was worth respecting.

"With me is Lady Sabine Kaddar Fenvaris of Patia, Imperatrix of the Order of the Aralim; My second in command to all militant affairs." Though Sabine remained poised and bowed behind Raveena, she was startled by her use of the title Empress. It was something Raveena shunned freely and openly--as though it were a responsibility she feared. Now she wielded the title as though she had been born with it and knew it her whole life.

Though she stared at the ground, her companions' eyes remained closed. Sabine smiled and silently thanked the Sun God and his tricks. Through his deception, he had awoken something within Raveena. Perhaps he showed her something through trial and fire she couldn't see from anyone else. The Sun God had planted his tricks carefully and cleverly.

"My entourage have orders not to disturb us. Be at ease, my High Lord."

@The Hummingbird

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To some degree, royalty and nobles had always interested Zenahriel. Their character, words, and actions were dynamic, always different from one to the other, always changing. Some never ceased to run from their lofty title, seeking to abandon their high station, acting like any middleclass merchant or even a lowborn serf. Others, however, held their status with pride and authority, their government power a natural extension of them as their arm or leg. They demanded obedience and respect, and earned it because of a certain aura they carried with them. It was as if a special light shone on them.

These people were almost always beautiful in some way, subtly imposing and comforting at once. They carried with them grace and elegance, and did not quaver before even a High Lord. As Zenahriel looked the two women over, he recognized this unmistakable, noble nature of them even before the Empress was done introducing herself and her entourage.

He bowed to the latter even as thoughts raced through his head. Rafael never talked much to him about his family – in fact, Rafael had rather neglected to speak to Zenahriel at all these days, busy with the troubles plaguing Orisia and other certain issues that demanded his divine attention. The An’She had not known that the Carmine Empire had a princess, once who perhaps matched or even exceeded his own status. Though Rafael had assured him of his rank as Second, there were certain protocols to follow when the unsuspected ensued.

When he straightened, he turned his eyes fully to the Empress of Hyperion and Princess of Carmine and bowed once again, a shorter submission but not less respectful “Your Grace,” he said formally, his voice utterly devoid of aggression or hostility. “I personally welcome you to your Kingdom, though I do wonder that you enter by way of the Gardens. Is there a reason you come so secretive? For I would ask that we walk as we speak. Surely you've heard the markets of Umbra are like no other?”

He cleared his throat. “You speak of a war campaign, Majesty, but I have not heard of one. If it is not too brash of me, may I ask for details of such?”

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Raveena laughed--and it was a genuine sound. It was not that she laughed at Zenahriel, but she was delighted by him--he was so much more than what her father and books told her of. It was a warm feeling, "Not at all, An'she Zenahriel. My mother was gifted with gardens. My blood people have the utmost respect for nature and its wonders and horrors. So I myself am very fond of gardens. I have very vague memories of my mother and father; I was very little when I lost them. The gardens are one of the purest memories of happiness I can recall and I visit as often as I can."

She would not refuse his request, and so they would walk. Only when they advanced together did her entourage rise from their bowed state and follow--more alert than before. Their wary gazes swept through the gardens--Sabine's more keen than ever. While she enjoyed the conversations with Raveena, she knew when courtesy ended and business began. Her comrades spoke in hushed words, mouthing their interest to one another silently. Paramour? The Emperor had a male mate? Was that an acceptable thing in Genesaris? How did the Empress of Carmine feel about it? Was this a common thing for Vampyres? Weren't the wedded couple cousins as well? Would Raveena marry a cousin if one came along? The silent conversation dwelled from the strange customs of Carmine and shifted to the potential whom their Empress would take as a consort. She was with child with the Knight nobility--but would the council stand for it?

Lord Varren's name came up, a Duke from the Bhokuli region. He had been a favorite noble, who himself had his eye on their fair Raveena. The history of the Bhokuli and the Zeva'srian Matreyans was a complicated one--one that had seen centuries of one being held hostage by the other, for lack of better words. Raveena would be detained at his estates during the lengthy process of arranging their marriage, something that did not stand under the Sovereign City's laws. The Knight family would be dismissed and the child a bastard, no doubt. Sabine frowned, knowing that Lord Varren would put political pressure to bring back old customs and demand they be upheld, despite the reformed laws. He certainly had the political and militant clout. He would attack the laws themselves and dismantle them from within. If he gained enough support, his true motive to usurp Raveena as Emperor would be a certain outcome.

She also knew Raveena would fight it, the way her mother had.

"Would that you could meet my family, but I am here on business and my son is managing affairs in the Ursa Madeum." A hand drifted reverently to her swollen belly, "And I must admit, I'm peckish and my son has decided that the Umbral Markets sound like a wonderful idea. I'm fortunate to be familiar with Umbra. Not so long ago, I was sterilized against my will. That I can be with child again is the magic of Umbra. It will always be home to me. My Lady Kirena Yor lived in my estate here until her marriage to Imperator Athyon. She served in my court as the head of intelligence for the Empire. It's a funny thing; had Kirena not met Athyon, it's perhaps he I would be married to. The world, I think, works in interesting ways." That Zenahriel did not readily recognize her--she admitted--made her feel small. But she had to remember that in the scheme of the Empire, she was small.

Though she had managed affairs in her father's absence before, it was on a temporary basis, out of necessity, and because he trusted her to. It also made her worry more for her father and his affairs in Orisia. She still had not seen the Black Queen since their dangerous night of the assassination. There were plenty of opportunities, yet fate always intervened. She knew there was a child involved--though there were rumors of more than one now.

She pitied her father in that regard. The complicated relationship between the Devil of Patia, the Black Queen of Orisia, and the Lord Father of Umbra were no secret to the realm. She simply wished that the vicious cycle would end and that he'd find some measure of happiness--some measure of peace. Was Zenahriel not enough? He swore he and the Queen would not marry and yet--.

Raveena sighed. She was irrationally upset over the whole scandal. Was it her job to understand the intricacies of a prophecy? Queen and Child lived when she took a fatal shot. That was the extent of her part in the scheme of things. What a woman did with her two lovers was not her business. "The Lord Father was kind to adopted me into his family. We were close and when I faced an identity crises, he took me in and sculpted me into who I am now. That is why Umbra will always be home."

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Though his expression was inscrutable enough, Zenahriel listened raptly to the Empress as she spoke. In fact, he actually found himself leaning slightly forward, as if her words were whispered lies. He respected those who held the earth in high regard. Men might build and shape the world to their liking, erecting great cities, forts, castles across the entire landscape… but in the end, nature remained eternal and resolute even when Time brought ruin to every kingdom raised. Mankind often loathed to dream it, but nature’s power over them was irrefutable.

Of course, there was much simply to admire as there was to fear about nature, a gentle side Raveena was blessed to know. Zenahriel smiled as he gestured one way with a wing, falling in step beside the Empress. The entourage followed them well, and he could see their mouths moving. With some amusement, he could only imagine what they were saying. Zenahriel was not ignorant though – they would not be the only ones surprised to find that the Emperor had chosen another man as mate.

The troubles Raveena spoke of trouble Zenahriel was well. He tended to take a hands-off approach when it came to lands outside of Umbra, but he looked to all of Genesaris as home, and with the advent of Whispernight and the conflicts between kingdoms and nations stirring, he worried about it greatly. He frowned when Raveena confessed that her child was nothing less than a miracle – who would dare to take a woman’s right to bear away from her, especially without consent? Of course, he was not disrespectful as to ask, and simply nodded as she mentioned familiar names of those within Umbra’s expansive court.

They stopped before the entrance leading into the streets of Umbra’s markets, the many shops and steals open for business. People here traded goods and gold of all manner, displaying the best of their wares to every potential buyer. Silks and lace and handwoven linen, jewelry of glittering gems and silver filigree, exotic foods considered delicacies of faraway lands, even rare breeds of horses and birds were shown and sold here.

He looked to Raveena, a sudden, inscrutable desire to impress rising in him. He could only hope that Umbra could continue to please her with its continuing advancement. The entourage following her were seen and remarked at by several people, and if not for a sharp snap of a dismissing wing, perhaps a small crowd would have formed.

“Your lord father gave me a reason to live and to continue living,” he said after a pause. “I did not know he was the one whom I waited for. Eons came and went. Finally, when he arrived… why, I did not even know him. I believe he called me a pigeon when we met,” he said with a grin.  “I believe I can relate to why Umbra is home to both of us.”  

His smile, though not fading completely, grew formal and serious. “You said you came here to visit your father, and you say too of business. I would give him some time to let him bring order to his duties for the day before seeing him. Until then… I will see to your business personally, Your Majesty, if you will allow it.”

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Raveena smiled warmly and paused, a hand gently resting on Zenahriel’s arm, “Thank you,” She spoke earnestly, peering up at the man with a somber expression. “I wish my father would wash his hands of the drama in Orisia and tend to the one who truly cares for him most.” It was a rare to have someone so devoted, so sincerely and utterly loyal and loving. Rafael was a troubled, dark man—there was no denying that. But it took the right person to make a heart tender. Her thoughts drifted to Rowan and she sighed as they continued into the market and its splendor, “I am to become Empress of the Rising West.” Raveena’s own expression had in turn become serious. It was not a wish, nor a desire—only a fact of the matter.

“We’ve already begun, but these things take time. The enemy is everywhere—and so am I. You’re a smart man to advise my father as you have--what are your thoughts on war?” Shiny, pretty things. The old Raveena—perhaps the Countess Raveena—would have not splurged on such things. There was a certain way to go about things. She would have seen that her people were housed, fed, healthy and able-bodied. These days were past now. Now the Hyperian Empire was flourishing in the Rising West, driving back the last remnants of the Genesar government.

Now she had earned a right to treat herself and those around her. Those who waited on her and Zenahriel wrote down each order as instructed. The Rising West was a pretty, shiny thing. Raveena picked up a brooch. It was a delicate looking thing of twisted gold and pretty, iridescent stones she had never seen before. She could feel her Empathetic power vibrating through its many matrices. Raveena picked up another brooch and turned to inspect how it’d look on Zenahriel.

After some moment of thought, her nose wrinkled in dissatisfaction and put it back, “Takes away from your wings.” She added, absentmindedly.

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