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It was hard to believe there was a time it was normal to wake up hooked to all manner of machines. Raveena blinked slowly, greeted by a low ceiling in a sparse room.

A medical room, she realized while glancing over at the IV in her arm. Sabine sat the edge of the cot, their hands held, “Good to see you are waking up, my Ladyship. You gave me quite a scare.” Raveena squinting up at the Imperatrix, “Your face…” She murmured and reached up at the gauze covering the Knight's cheek, but Sabine released one hand and gently put the other down, “It’ll heal. I’ve been through worse. You—and your son—are safe.”

It was not that Raveena didn’t acknowledge how tense she was—only that she didn’t realize the scope of it until her body relaxed. “He should be here any day now. He won't stop...changing.” She grunted and came to sit herself upright with Sabine’s assistance.

What happened after the field was a blur. People came and went—and their faces, too. She recalled being carried on a stretcher. She could even remember seeing Lord Zenahriel getting further away from her.

“I need to send a letter to my father, to apologize for endangering Lord Zenahriel’s life.” Sabine chuckled, and Raveena’s brows knit with confusion, “You can apologize yourself in person. He insisted on coming with us. He has been patiently waiting for you to wake up.” She laughed harder when the Queen’s eyes nearly popped out of her head and her cheeks flushed. She winced when she felt her unborn child writhe and turn.

“Where are we?”

“Leaving the Midland’s Airspace and about to pass over Bloodstone Marsh.”

“Which ship?”

Sabine grinned, “The Iris—and I love her so. Put me in touch with Mistress Uhltoria so that I may commission her for one of these? It’s rough around the edges compared to the Laureline and the Bedlam Ridge in design, but the controls are out of this world. We shall have smooth sailing to get you and the young Prince home.”

“I’m sorry, Sabine. Against my better judgement I didn’t wear the Spidersilk.”

“Your Majesty. This is my job, my life, and it’s privilege to protect and serve you. An investigation will launch when we know you’re safe at home and that this won’t happen again. No one could have anticipated the daughter of the Lord Father would be attacked so openly in his most holy city.”

Raveena nodded thoughtfully, “Can you send him in? I’m ready to talk to him, please.”

Sabine nodded and winked, “At once my Ladyship.” She drew a fist over her chest and bowed her head before standing and leaving the queen to her thoughts.

@The Hummingbird

Edited by Malintzin

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Pacing back and forth in the anteroom, Zenahriel looked up as Sabine entered. Brave and devoted, the Knight had impressed him again and again with her composure and command, bolstered only by her stalwart charisma. He could see now why Raveena had chosen her and no other to captain the guard. Indeed, he would have chosen her himself, and regretted the fact there was only one Sabine in the world. It would be a distinct improvement, he mused, if all people had her qualities in leadership and loyalty.

She waved him in and Zenahriel bowed as she left, turning to the door. He gave it three gentle raps before slowly opening it. There sat the Queen, with cords dangling around her and machines flickering with all sorts of analysis and information. Still, though she looked uncomfortable, a little tense, and surely disheveled, she was still quite beautiful. It was that odd quality royalty had.

For his part, Zenahriel never looked better. All his wounds had all healed already; the bandages had come off in the very same day they had been put on. His wings were thick with black feathers dipped anew in silver and blue paint, flowing up to the shafts in elegant fishbone patterns, and his equally black hair was tied back in a neat braid. Donned in royal blue and purple hues, he looked nearly like royalty himself. At his side, he carried what appeared to be an oblong box bound in red, tasseled satin cords.

The tension that had knotted his back and brow for days released when he saw her. The frown that had nearly frozen on his face cracked into a smile as he stepped toward her – not too fast and not too close, for that would rude and all too presumptuous.

“Empress,” he said, bowing low and respectful. “I’m so relieved.” He set the box down, the red tassels sweeping the floor with their fine red hairs. “I beg your forgiveness. My Lord Rafael will be very displeased I let you be harmed.”

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Her hair spilled in a great pool around her, like some inky depths that seemed to never end—as though she wore her own cloak of darkness on her shoulders. Perhaps it was a troublesome black veil that followed her like a wayward spirit.

“My father, complicated man that he may be,” Raveena winced as she shifted and sat up to get a better vantage point, “Has far worse things to concern himself with. I hope, anyway.” In truth, she didn’t know how upset Rafael would be, but she knew he trusted her to be capable of handling what came after. He was everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere with the wrong people, always at the wrong time. Even gods had limits. How much more of himself would he give before there was nothing left? Was he a man, a ruler, a god? Could he be all of the above at once?

Hands came to fold and rest on the swell of her belly, where thumbs danced around each other. “Please, don’t be so formal here, Lord Zenahriel. We are family. Sit, be comfortable. I was not expecting you to join us, but I'm pleased to see you again.” It was pleasant conversation. A distraction. Her back ached, truly—though it wasn’t just the pain of her recovering wound. The ae’ori bond was white-hot to the touch, leaving her body feverish as it did its job. It was a sentient thing, very much alive.

She wondered if Rowan felt pain. That was the cost of an ae’ori bond. Somewhere, alone. Rowan was suffering so that she could live. There were times she slept poorly, where she’d wake up feeling bruised and feeling better. Stabbed, or worse. These were phantom pains. You took the pain, but not the injury. Somehow that was worse.

There were nights filled with empty silence between them. That she would stitch his shame and grit her teeth through it. The needle would stab at her. He would watch her suffer through it—stubbornly so—until her fingers trembled, or she’d falter. Rowan would hold her and soothe her into a dreamless sleep. Always, when dawn came—he was gone again.

That was so long ago…

…it was nearly two years now since he had fallen into a coma. No matter how high or how low she searched.  She read endless books. Sought countless manuscripts. Artamese searched for clues, and when logic turned up nothing, Raveena turned to the divine. Dema held Rowan hostage. A final trump card after their last fateful encounter.

It was a death that was not death.

A life that was not living.

Raveena emptied much of herself out and gave so much away until she couldn’t anymore. Rowan’s quiet place of safety had become his crypt.

No, she decided. Rowan was not suffering somewhere—or anywhere. He was dead. Dead and not. Living and not. It was much easier to make this small and pleasant talk with Lord Zenahriel. The tired smile didn’t reach her eyes when she had greeted him in turn. She had given up her precious mortality to save her family, and still—end in end, there was an eternity of nothingness ahead of her.

"Come, come and sit with me and keep me company. What is that you have there?"

Perhaps she would send the boy away when he was born…

@The Hummingbird

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For a long moment, Zenahriel said nothing, staring at Raveena as if nothing else in the world existed. There was a strong sadness emanating from her, a grief he could not understand yet had seen before in so many others. The Empress had money, power, authority, and a future where the people of the Rising West would fight for her, possibly even worship her. So many would vie for such a position as hers. But her smile remained firmly on her lips, and there all happiness ended.

Briefly, Zenahriel recalled the last time he had seen Rafael. The Holy Father, as his daughter called him, had become so much more, and so much less. Disheveled, bedraggled, unkempt and unclean, Sauriel was a god that had crumbled under weights he could no longer bear. All the mighty power Zenahriel had given the vampyre lord had proved not enough. In truth he had not spoken to Rafael for weeks now, perhaps even longer. His mate rarely had time for him, and Zenahriel knew that the silence would grow longer and heavier. The undeniable link between them had lost its resiliency.

He could do nothing. Some burdens were meant to be borne alone.

Such was the consequence of being royalty, he supposed. Sorrow and pain from too much responsibility, from enemies that resented your power, from forces that scorned the choices you were forced to make, whether those choices were favorable or not, and from a world that relied on you for everything and hated you for everything too. True happiness, idle pleasure, was a rare commodity for one such as Raveena.

What could he say to her, to make her happy?

He drew over a chair, setting it close to Raveena’s bedside. He sat then and reached out to lay a hand across hers.

“It will be all right,” he said softly, as if he knew.

A moment of silence, then he smiled as he took hold of the box. Along with the crimson tassels, it was quite fancy, with light blue designs, gilded, and a smooth satin finish. He laid the box across Raveena’s lap, speaking softly.

“This was given to me by a designer who had come to Umbra to ply his trade. I have no use for it, but it was meant for greatness. I think he truly meant to give it to you, my Queen.”

Pen shells were not a common mollusk in the seas of Genesaris, and the silky filaments they used to cling to the sea bed were rarely more than half a foot long. These filaments were extremely difficult to harvest, requiring fine control and just the right amount of care and strength. Once obtained, they were treated with lemon juice, turning them a golden color that would never fade. Prized for being warm, light, and extremely rare, finding these valuable golden threads for sale at any esteemed shop at even the greatest of metropolises was a laughable idea.

Even so, inside the box was a pile of it, a great soft mass of glimmering sea silk.

“Did I do good, your Majesty?” Zenahriel finally smiled.

Edited by The Hummingbird

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Choice.

They were supposed to be the maker of their own destinies. And yet…

Choice was a luxury Raveena wasn’t often afforded. When it was presented to her, she did her best to make the soundest decision that would better the livelihood of a civilization that fell into her lap. It was funny, she decided. She had had so much about Zenahriel. This great and powerful person who stood by her father’s side as much as possible. There were relics and artifacts. Whole religions. The Carmine Dominion simply wouldn’t exist were it not for Zenahriel.

That he sat by her side trying to comfort her, asking if she had done well—it was endearing. When he touched her hand—he’d feel the coldness of it, the strange tingling of ethereal power. Still, she didn’t succumb to slipping into an Empathetic Stasis—and she wondered if her son had something to do with it. Rowan was capable of being a psionic buffer. Did their child share such a thing? Was it possible?

Nothing was off the table in this world, she realized.

"It'll be alright. "

“I have no choice.”  Was all she could muster at first. No choice but to be alright. No choice but to make things alright. No choice but to push on. Raveena squeezed his hand in response but looked away for a moment; maternal depression was not an attractive look. She was drawn back when he placed the carefully crafted box in her lap. from before. Her brows knit in confusion as she glanced at him for answers.

"This was given to me by a designer who had come to Umbra to ply his trade. I have no use for it, but it was meant for greatness. I think he truly meant to give it to you, my Queen.”

Raveena reverently ran her fingers across the gilded design, taking her time to admit the intricate knotting of the tassel. She was reminded of Weland as she lifted the lid and carefully set it aside—as if it might fall apart if she didn’t handle it with the utmost care. “Weaving is the dominant skill of my people,” Raveena murmured in awe. A flourish of her wrist and the silk elegantly wound and wove its way into the air, suspended and floating.

“It’s everything we do. When we dance, we weave magic. By dancing together, we weave a stronger bond. Look at this,” The Empress ran her finger along the length of the floating panel, “You can see where this was hand woven. This sort of detail for this kind of finery. This…is no easy gift to pass up, Lord Zenahriel.” It would be an insult to refuse, but surely, she could give him the chance to rescind the offer for such rare material. There were a lot of things that could be done with silk this fine.

“My husband was gifted with spidersilk. It is often used as protective clothing. I should have worn it. Sometimes it’s hard to look at.” There was a soft knock on the door and Sabine poked her head inside, “The time is approaching, Your Majesty.” The silk suddenly piled into the box.

Raveena frowned, “Is there time? I’m sure I can do it from here.”

Sabine clicked her tongue and grinned, “We can take the ship down. It will delay us getting you home but I know how important it is for you.”

Raveena glanced at Zenahriel, “Have you ever greeted the dawn, High Lord?”

@The Hummingbird
 

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To give a gift was always a risky endeavor. There were many customs and traditions that differed from land to land concerning an offering – what was right and what was wrong, when and how to offer it and more. The best kind of gift is one that comes without expectations, without the want of something in return. That was what Zenahriel had heard, long ago, and had secretly harbored that Raveena would feel she had to give something back. But as he watched her marvel over the silk, he knew that not only did he give the right gift, he had chosen the right receiver as well.

There was a slight change in gravity, a subtle transferal in the distribution of weight as the ship dipped and turned. Zenahriel’s wings spread a little to accommodate balance, the long pinions sweeping across the floor as he considered Raveena’s question, an odd one to be sure.

He was not an angel who sang at the rising of the sun, or any creature who rejoiced at the birth of each new day. However, he did revel at the touch of daylight, feeling a small relief when winter relinquished its hold on the world, allowing the days to grow longer and warmer once more. Spring was his second favorite season, when the storms of rain and lightning came to nourish the earth in preparation of new growth. But summer was the first, when the sun shone brightest and the skies were the most beautiful as it rose above the horizon.

He glanced at Sabine, then back at Raveena. When he had touched her hand he had felt it, the life within her, impatient to be born. A son, perhaps, a new prince to raise with love and patience. He eyes rested on her womb for a moment, as if seeing past the flesh and the restless infant inside. He returned his gaze to Raveena and smiled.

“Yes, but not this kind of dawn, Your Grace.”

He hoped the birth would go well. The last child to be born he had known of had died, breaching the world lifeless and still, and the mother… well, he did not know what became of her, only that she was gone, running from the grief. Raveena was a different woman, of course, but there was always a heavy sorrow when the life you carried for months never came to be.

The ship was lowering, the wings shifting as it prepared to land. He took Raveena’s had in his and kissed it gently. “Allow me to bless your child when he comes into the world, Empress. It would be my greatest honor.”

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The day always began with a prayer to the sun. A ritual bath—a cleansing of the body so that it was fit to greet the sun. It was meant to pay respects to Arun’daeraa, the Hyperian Sun God. And so, the ship descended when it found a meadow half a league away from Bloodstone Marsh. In that time, a flurry of attendants and ladies in waiting began to prepare, leaving Zenahriel mostly to his thoughts until Sabine briefed him.

“We’ll dress her and escort her out shortly.” She lumbered to take a seat across from the High Lord, her one arm bracing against her thigh, “It is a custom we’ve had since the death of our god several years ago. It is considered respect for the dead.” Leaning back in her seat, Sabine peered out the window, “I admit I didn’t understand it at first. But if I were in my Lady’s shoes, and she was the one was dead, there would be no end to the mourning festivals.” Sabine sighed heavily. Reaching up to her chest she brushed the crest of the green shield and the silver dragon—her Enforcer emblem as a Captain.

“I owe her my purpose. For that, she can greet the dawn even if we’re traveling through hell.”

There was a gentle knock on the door. A lovely swathed in colorful silks and gold filigree leaned his head in, “She is fussy, but ready!”

Down, down the ship descended, until it came to land in a broad field. Before they could even disembark, Sabine had scouts secure the perimeter to ensure the entourage’s safety. They were out in the middle of nowhere, so safety became the number one priority. The Queen was waddling, but she looked splendid in her own maternal gown of spring green and gold. It draped elegantly over her swollen belly.

Six Ladies in Waiting followed her with measured patience as the Queen was escorted onto the grassy stretch of meadow. The sky was getting lighter, a lovely indigo—as if a living artist let ink flow and meld into other blues and purples and violets. There was the distinct jingling of anklets as the Ladies—who would dance for the Queen while she prayed. They carried in their arms rolls of colorful rugs, many of which they had made themselves. They found their places in the  rolled out and dancers took their place.

It began with one of the ladies taking the lead in prayer, an eerie cadence in the voice. Not quite a trill but alluring in its sound. The other ladies joined her in a harmony that always left Raveena’s skin rippling with goosebumps. It was nothing short of perfection.

They moved with practiced grace. There was something in the way they let go. Let go of their senses and let their bodies move for them, guided by their faith in the gods. Here there were no drums, no audiences to cheer for them. Only their eerily beautiful chorus of prayer and the ethereal swirl of their silk dresses. The jingle of their bells set a steady tempo that matched the blended seamlessly with their singing. As their singing progressed, Raveena felt more relaxed. There was nothing to take away from the discomfort of pregnancy when you were due any day, but dancing was—in of itself—a comfort.

The sky was getting paler and paler. The indigos were fading to pale baby blues, pinks, oranges and purple. The ladies turned elegantly and whimsically. A twist of the torso, the flourish of the wrists and bend of the arms. They were there and yet they were spirits dancing around their Hyperian Queen. Raveena gently tapped two fingers to her forehead and nodded due north. She pitched her voice loudly, the lilt of her Matreyan accent curling her consonants, her vowels puncturing the sentences sharply, “Saa grieevos daa!” It is that I too greet you! She called out into the wilderness, her feet sweeping across the soft grass.

The eyes of her Enforcers were on her now as she finished their prayer song with the rest of the prayer, “Se grievous vineera!” It is that the moon greets you. The Queen swept her arms out dramatically as she walked forward still, “Se grieevos daaat ma’keezir daer!” It is that the great sky greets you! Her pace slowly, until she felt she had gone before enough. Still well within the site, dancing had ceased. The ladies knelt at their rugs, their heads bowing as they murmured prayer. “Se grieevos daat avic’aa!” It is that the world greets you! She raised her hands up, up into the air as the first rays of light crested over the horizon. It was a wonderous site, feeling the golden rays of sun stretch towards them,.

“Saa grieevos data arun.” It is that the sun greets you. She murmured with reverence, squinting against the sun’s brilliance. She was a strange and radiant site, the golden ichor of her goodlihood seeming to glow in the light, her golden eyes like molten pools. Slowly her arms dropped to her side and she turned to return to the group, all smiles.

It was hard for their escort not to clap. The ladies giggled and clapped and swarmed around her, but Raveena was already tired. Walking hurt. She hurt. She needed a meal and a bath, that much her and her body agreed on. There was a distinct and strange sensation. As if a bubble inside of her popped. She grabbed the nearest lady and halted.

Vaa’raa mani stos, Laa’zera?” What's wrong my Queen? Raveena’s brows were furrowed as she tried to register the question? What was wrong? What was wrong? Then another of the girls gasped in shock, “Aan’breka! Aan’breka vas meera na Laa’zera!” Dawnbringer! Dawnbringer is coming, My Queen! “I’m going into labor?” Raveena was dumbstruck at the notion her water just broke. Sabine was already springing into actions and shouting orders while running on board to fetch the wet nurse and prepare.

There was a raucous flurry of movement, the handmaidens shrieking excitedly that the young prince would be born. They had already chosen their given title for their future Sovereign. To them, a prince born at dawn was a favorable sign from the gods.

He was Aan’breka.

The Dawnbringer.

@The Hummingbird

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Listening to Sabine in silence, Zenahriel pondered the idea of greeting the dawn. Worship of the sun was a common thing, for it was that celestial body that gave life and nourished the earth. It was the sun that gave its light to the moon, so that even the night had its own mystical beauty. But he had never heard of worshiping a dead god, and never seen people dance or sing to such. What could the purpose be, praying to a deity that existed now only in the hearts and minds of people?

Perhaps, Zenahriel supposed, it was to maintain hope… faith, in something greater…

He did have much time to finish the thought when the ship’s engines shifted and roared once, driving the ship to a smooth landing on a grassy field still dark with night shadows. The queen exited her room, and she was the very epitome of beauty and elegance despite her awkward walk. The colors she wore complimented her smooth skin and left nothing to be seen but the shape of her almond eyes, the contours of her body and the darkness of her hair. Zenahriel smiled as he followed her and her ladies outside, keeping a respectful distance as the prayers began.

It was perfection, the way the songstresses wove their art. Their lilting voices matched their movmeents as they danced and sang to the approaching sun. The sky grew bright and brighter with gold and pink hues, with indigo shadows fading away as sunlight began to wash over the meadow and set afire the reds and brighter colors of the dresses and cloths swirling about. Zenahriel watched them with something akin to awe, for he had never seen anything like this, anything approaching this kind of elegance and grace created for the pleasure of a god. His eyes drooped slightly as he took in the dancing, the twisting and curve of bodies, legs, and arms, and listened to the lovely voices joined in utmost harmony, bound together in revenant purpose. His body loosened as he relaxed in the scene, and the sun breached the horizon.

“Saa grieevos daa!

A shiver passed through Zenahriel as the queen greeted the sun with a strong, resonating voice. The rising sun flashed in the queen’s molten eyes, and for an instant Zenahriel felt a strong love for this Empress who stood in the light of the dawn. A figure such as no one had ever seen before.

How many things had he never seen before? Zenahriel wondered. How many more things did he not know of till now? Lord of Darkness, Lord of Nothing, he mused mirthfully.

All too soon the prayer was done and the sun was sent well on its way, its golden rays flowing over field and hills, brilliant as they washed over the sky that began to turn a bright and blinding blue. But it was then that the Queen halted, an abrupt, jarring movement that caught Zenahriel’s eye. He turned toward her, alarmed, and saw it.

The prince was coming.

The queen looked shocked, standing still. Zenahriel was at her side in a moment, offering support where it was needed, shouting commands for help and aid.

As the sun’s light bathed her in warmth, chilling with apprehension, the blessed prince was coming.

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