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Promotion II

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“You’ll be moving to the mainland.” Kalmuli had done well in her time as baroness to lift the city of Drakiss from its depression, reinforcing its economy and once again instilling pride in its people and military. In truth, she’d all but rebuilt the establishment from scratch (so terrible had its previous governing body been), albeit with a generous imperial budget. But the time for her talents to be posed elsewhere, put to better uses, had finally arrived. “Of course, the city and all of its assets will remain in your purview, and you alone will decide over who governs the city in your absence.” It was not necessarily the proper way of conducting things, but Rafael had grown accustomed to letting his lords do as they pleased, skirting the standards and laws of the empire, so long as they produced results favorable to his ends. “I trust that you will select someone both capable of reliable.”

It had been several long months since he’d last seen the elf, trying times he’d preferred to keep her divested from. When they spoke via crystal or raven, it was often only of business and the progress of their traveling operations, which had fallen abysmally behind. La’Ruta, true to its nature, had been defiant of the foreign magics, and uncooperative of collaboration. Gabriela’s departure had made the land disobedient and unruly, and though it had come to love Rafael, it was a child with but one of its parents to coax its fears and worries. Orisia listened when he spoke, but there was only so much he could do with his focus split as it was. Fatima was still not free of her curse, and it weighed heavily upon him.

“The artificers believe that the project will prove more stable in Genesaris. The land there is far more inviting to that sort of magic than here, and a good swath still remains under Dominion control.” The empire was, admittedly, diminished, but no less a force of nature. A great deal of the Arcane East still remained under the watch of the Red City, and though their borders had shrunk, the people had swelled—and with it, the empire’s economy. Industrialization of the Cold Mountains had brought a seemingly endless need of jobs, while farmers expanded their range and the need for hands to tend to it. “With any manner of luck”—which, the emperor noted, he’d been in rather short supply of as of late—“they should have operational portals within two years’ time.”

Rafael sat across from Kalmuli in a large, high-backed chair all his own, the same as the first time they’d met. And though he wore a similar suit, black as night and sharper than a blade, his hair cropped neat, his beard oiled and trimmed, there was no denying that the emperor had changed. There were some who thought the empress’ return would alleviate whatever cloud had made its home over his mood, and once again reunite him with the sleep that often evaded him for days at a time—but it had not. Dollya had done well in posing as Gabriela, but all the same, she was not her, and offered little to not contribution in how he might free Fatima, his darling princess. And so his mood soured further, spiraling into an abyss of despair hidden behind a thin, tepid demeanor and royal decorum.

The thought of children turned his attention to another topic of discussion.

“Likewise, because I value you both as a subject and dear friend, I will be candid with you. I know of your situation with Paolo.” Rafael’s blue eyes dipped down the elf’s figure, leveling his gaze on her belly. “There are some in the court that might take issue with that—enough that your well-being has been made a concern of mine.” Dhamphir weren’t unheard of amongst their people, though they were rare. He’d never heard of an elf and vampyre crossing lines, though—the texts didn’t even mention such a thing. “I know you can take care of yourself, but that said, this is something I want to keep a close eye on. You being closer to the Red City will allow just that.” What manner of abilities would the child have? What would it be? The scientist in him bubbled at the thought.

“Do you have any questions, marchioness?”

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When Kalmuli had received an invitation to Kingshill, she hadn't thought over it much other than just to report about how Drakiss was doing or to let them know about some new groups who were interested in making settlements in Drakiss. To find out it was from the Emperor and to meet in Kingshill instead of their usual meetings in Drakiss or the Capital...it must have been important enough to warrant meeting in a middle ground. It was always a pleasure to see Rafael and they had bonded over hobbies and politics that made them good friends and associates. Rafael was always dressed to kill and Kalmuli had chosen an outfit made by her bed mate, Paolo Valentine. It was a black tulle overlay, stitched with beaded moons and stars with a body suit underneath, a pair of polished black boots to round it off. She raised her eyebrows at the announcement. "The mainland..."She mulled it over, folding the layer of beaded tulle in her hand, pleating it between her fingers. Kalmuli would be looking over two territories? She had to question it but he had made it clear what the point was.

Time for a promotion. To Marchioness no less and a new city to build from the ground up.

"Mm...that would make the most sense. There's much in Genesaris that Drakiss lacks...and I think it would prove to be a great benefit. Especially with how much development is already happening...there can be a true and proper research capital of the Empire."Kalmuli pondered the options. Considering there was much that they didn't know of the lands and energies there, she could find herself deeply immersed in understand it. "It's too bad it hasn't been quite stream-lined yet. I'm sure with a place where I can focus on studying how to advance things further for the Dominion itself...We could have magics more advanced than the rest of the world would ever know."

Rafael's eyes were on her belly. She was for months along and the black clothes hid some of the bump but soon she wouldn't be able to cover herself up. Paolo designed many of her new garb to keep her pregnancy under wraps from the public eye as long as she could. Kalmuli had to fight from rolling her eyes at him. "Paolo knows his role in my life...he's familiar with working with nobles. In fact, many of the kind gifts I've received and some of the Empress' own gowns were made by him. I'm sure a few of your suits as well."She said with a smile, softening when she spoke to the Emperor as a friend. "Manners make the man...and the man makes the clothes of Kings. I trust he'll serve me well."

Kalmuli would rub her stomach, feeling an excited swirling in her stomach. What would become of this child? One whom she'd love so much it might as well have felt overbearing. She would shake her head. "I know your expectations of me...and I'm sure that this new land in the Arcane East will be of benefit to you and the Empire as a whole. If it makes you happy, My Emperor, it makes me even more so."She said, putting a thoughtful hand to her chin. "Does that mean Estian will have an 'Uncle Emperor Rafael' watching over him as well? He's going to be the most spoiled child in Valucre."

She would lean forward a little bit. "Also...where do I sign?"

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“So it seems.” Though known for his seemingly endless paternal instinct and mannerisms, Rafael’s intentions were hardly pure at that moment. What the elven beauty carried within her was something unique, and the emperor could not afford to risk damaging or losing it, or having Kalmuli spirit off to some foreign dimension. Whatever the child’s development, it promised to be interesting. “More than that,” he continued in a softer tone, “It will be nice to know that one of my only friends will be closer to me. It would seem that I’ve run on short supply lately, and I am in desperate need of good company to chase away this loneliness.”

There was a time, so recent that the emperor still remembered the days, when he took no issue with the solitude his position invoked. By day he would hone his craft, and by night, scheme against those who had dared wronged him. But now, his nights were haunted by the regrets of his failures by day. How could he run an empire, rule his house, love his family, when his daughter remained cursed? It was welling up inside him, for to admit his incompetence—even to the likes of Kalmuli, whom he knew would forever keep his secrets—was impossible.

And so, Rafael continued to drown in his misery—slowly, silently.

“I took it upon myself to have all of the necessary documentation delivered to your personal study. The signature is obviously just a formality for the scribes at the archive. You know how they can be,” he teased, clicking his teeth in a bite. Bureaucrats, yet fearsome and tyrannical enough that even their emperor abided by their rules for order. “I’ve also brought with me a modest hiring of laborers to assist with all of the packing and shipping. It should help to alleviate some of the stress, yes?” Though he’d never experienced it himself, Rafael had heard stories – often from mortals – that moving, especially long-distances, could be a dreadfully painful experience. “I’ll not have you overdoing it.”

 But where was she going?

“Do you know of Altus Arcanium?” Rafael waited a beat, though he had his doubts of her knowledge pertaining to the old ruins. “It is little more than a tower now, surrounded by ruins, but it is said that Altus Arcanium is the reason the Arcane East is known as such. Many believe that the tower was built on a particularly powerful leyline, and that, for generations, it served as a focus for the greatest sorcerers of all time. I believe that this fount of power is still active and could be… fruitful to our endeavors.” Posing his elbows on the knees, and joining both hands beneath his chin, Rafael leaned forward, his eyes sharp, keener than they’d been just moments before. “You will go there and renovate the area, bring life to it once more. But your primary objective will be to unlock whatever secrets may be lurking in that tower. You will report any and all findings directly to me. No others.”

Again, he waited a beat.

“Our transportation project will provide you with adequate cover in this mission. In time, we will reveal our intent to others, but for now, I feel as though it would be best that we keep some of our agenda unspoken.” Closing his eyes, he nodded – both to her and himself. “If you have no questions, I do think I will retire for the remainder of the day.”

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Kalmuli could read him fairly well...He wore his stress like a thick velvet cloak about him that was warm and weighted. She could see the exhaustion, see the frustration. As much as he wanted to be a ray of sunshine, right now things were hard. She would always sit smiling warmly, listening to his woes and hopes in the same breath. "Well...We're going to be parents together and right now, it makes more sense to be closer to the Capital than out in the middle of nowhere. Alone by the sea is no place for a child."She said as she rubbed her stomach, feeling uneasy butterflies. "Of course now if you need me to model for paintings now or trade books, I'm only a short carriage ride away. It will be more fun to see you more often and easier for me to get the things I need closer to a bigger city."

Rafael was overly generous as always, giving her even the men and necessities to move her things to this new place, as the Emperor called it, Atlus Arcanium. That would be her new home now. A small citadel of research and magics that she could hole up in for a long time, studying the way these leylines fell in Valucure. "Passing knowledge in old tomes here and there...but it would be my first time going there. If it is such a powerful spot, then I'm sure what I can learn from it will be of benefit. As running a small seaside city is fun...my heart is more in magic and researching it. Something I'll put my full heart into."She said, touching her chest  a moment and patting it there. 

Kalmuli would rise to her feet, a little unsteady with the extra girth around her waist but she would move over to him. She placed a hand on top of his head. Few could get close to him let alone touch him...but Kalmuli had befriended him in such a way, she treated him as one would a dear friend. Especially one who had much on his shoulders and few to talk to about it. He kept himself buttoned up and to himself, something that had concerned her for the last four or five months. Kalmuli would stoop, not too far considering their height distance so she could look at him eye to eye. "I know you are dealing with a lot right now...and I will do all I can to help. Now that we'll be practically neighbors...please don't hesitate to send a raven when you need to talk right away. No secrets will pass these lips of mine. Even if I'm in labor, I'll be there."She said, stroking his hair and the nape of his neck. The elf would place a kiss on his crown and stoop down a little lower so she could look up at him. "Rafael...if you need me, I'll be here in Kingshill until tomorrow. I'm only a short walk away...but I'm here. Enjoy your respite the rest of the day...okay?"

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Rafael had taken to hiding his face behind the palm of his head, nursing his temples with long in the shade provided. He welcomed Kalmuli’s touch against the nape of his neck, yet for all his pleasure, could do no more than sigh to convey it. There was not a soul in all the world that could understand the difficulties he’d faced in so little time, or the gravity of his current undertaking. But he would be successful, even if it killed him. “You are a better friend than I deserve, Kalmuli. Thank you for being there for me, for supporting me when all the world has forsaken me.” Closing his eyes, he slowly sank into his thoughts. “It is a kindness I will not soon forget.”

It wasn’t until she lowered herself to one knee that their gazes met, as she’d cornered the emperor in his pose. “I will do my best.” Rafael smiled, hollow and weak, though it was not forced. “Now be on your way, woman. My mind has many a place to wander, and it cannot begin its journey with you providing such distracting company. You have my word, as ruler and man, that I shall send for you the moment I am in need.” Leaning back and away from the elf, Rafael assisted her to a full stand, and then gently sent her drifting away. “Come, come, do not make me beg. Enjoy your day.” Kalmuli’s study became his for the remainder of that day, and per his strict orders, he was no disturbed.

And in his loneliness, Rafael wept.

 

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