Foreboding, dark stone, ragged, splintered pierce the thick green moss and torture the unforgiving, evergreen trees in the summers in the valleys where the forests go on for eternity into the savage north, hiding monstrous things and even darker masters of that savage land. The higher flanks of the snowcapped mountains cold, grey, dead, desolate, merciless. And that is the summer. The winter turns the north into darkness and a lie of white reflection of snow, only making the dark woods and the stone into black shadows, the panes of snow flicked now and then by quick shapes, hunters, both animal and elf for everything up there is prey for something else.
There will be no official challenge yet as it is a rare traveler that ever even defeats the nature let alone the marauding predators or the hunters of the Drow'ayne. Only until the travel has taken the party deeper amongst the mighty peaks, through valley after valley of roadless wilderness do the first blatant outposts show themselves, high against the mountains, cruel spires like thorns sculpted, teased from the rock, impaling the terrain like impossibly thin lances, carved and jagged, each garrisoning a troop of armed, always armed and armoured here in the wild, Dark kin and quick hunting and riding beasts. Most such keeps are outer holdings of noble families for no dedicated armed forces are ever truly needed in this kingdom for every Drow is trained in death early, a skill never slipping if the Darkling is to prosper. And prosper they do.
Past the guardian posts and the early challenges, the keeps begin to rise, thorny, dark, tall and narrow places, built with craft impossible to the brutal lesser races and not even attempting to fit in the world around them for the Drow do not yield to such simple things as nature. The castles and their spires not built to withstand an enemy from outside the borders of this cruel nation as no army or warmachine could ever penetrate the wilderness but the tall, wicked, lacerating walls are built proof against others of their own kind, the only true threat any Drow would ever accept. Entire familylines extinguished overnight for a single flaw in their defenses, be it susceptible to magic or the subtle force of arms for the Drow do not wage war like the armies of Man or Dwarf do. They strike fast, with impossible savagery for any conflict that ground to a halt would leave both parties vulnerable as then their mighty machines, the Golems would have to take part and the war would be a drain to each house, expose their flanks to a more dedicated enemies and nothing spawns enemies like weakness in this land. A bared throat is a second away from being slit by a knife.
Past the proud, noble keeps, the cruel fortresses of each family and lineage, the mightiest with cities of their own sprawling at their feet like a pit trap of spikes, the cities wondrous, remarkable feats of stone and magic and steel, the spined depths of each city delving deeper than mere ground level, every citizen slaved to the will of its master through lesser lords and ladies and rulers.
Among these city-states there lies the true, precious, dark gem, a merciless lance of darkest steel and stone, spanning an entire valley and branching out like a cancerous growth across the mountainsides, where nature once rules with uncompromising power, the Drow have bent even the elements to their hubris and pride as their seat of government where the truly powerful reside over their bitter kingdom and the dark hearts of their people.
Here, the heart of a kingdom, a combination of all of its cruel aspects. There are the Beast Courts, the pens, the yards, the pits, the embassies of lesser races, the sound of whips and pain the pulse of the kingdom. The Artisans Quarters, vastly spanning, dark galleries of skill and sanctity to beauty, be it the loveliest fleshworks or the most delicate of blades and the grotesquely inspiring Golems, they come from these spiring chimneys and forges and cutteries. The Temple of Murder where the arts of death are sought and taught, dedicated killers trained in their art, the only Drow who are trained in the singular duty of murder and skill of arms, the true, secret military might of the crown, troops sworn, indoctrinated, crushed and rebuilt in the image of a soulless golem but alive, breathing, fast and deadly. Pure. Dreaded. Each house sending a number of their youth here each season, and returned as the best killers and guards, both body and keep but also as hidden blades against clumsy treachery against the throne. There are the temples, the only buildings thriving to reach as high as the central towers, their hubris fueled by their occupants lore of the unknown, of magic and the elements and the dark spirits, worship and finally, the mastery of vile things accepted, suggested for the power and knowledge they can offer.
The entrance to this dark, dangerous place a number of spiring, vaulted gates, each guarded not just those dark elven sentinels but of unliving rock and steel and ice, unmoving statues of the most delicate construct, unmoving but bristling with a hidden power to animate against any threat, open or secret, towering over the uncommon soldier, their shapes pure danger and terror, imposing, unquestioning of their singular purpose. Through those gates the narrow, claustrophobic paths, like walking into a maze of razorblades, both building and living, strangely hued lights here and there only a reminder of the true essence of darkness and shadow and through them all, the broader causeways, larger for the task of allowing beasts of war and the mightier Golems to march through.
And towering above this all, casting them to shadow with its blatant display of might and rulership, the Throne, the tallest freestanding, ground based structure built by the hands of living things, its stone and metal still sheened in the blood and pain of its constructions, a nations worth of beasts to erect it milleniums in the past, a cruel spire impaling the earth, a mark of merciless ownership like a brand of a slaver on this world. Its shadow impossibly tall for a lesser mind to comprehend, its construction marvelous in its purity and dedication not only to form but function as well for only a single gate allows entrance in from the ground and even that is at the end of a narrow bridge. The true nobles never bothering with the ground anyways for their reception as high above, the ramps and platforms, always alive with the sleek, predatory figures of hunting drakes, their slithery hides and the flutter and creak of their wings as they settle and stare down at the city far below with hungering, beady eyes.
Deeper within, stairs, long, winding, both narrow and broad of dark stone, leading to tall galleries, everything here built tall and high but narrow, close, claustrophobic in any but up. Through the forbidding, shadowed halls, the vaulted, narrow and tall windows giving more a dream of light than actual illumination, past more silent sentinels in their complicated plate and before the towering giant machines of war of every living shape perverted is the largest chamber of them all, in height almost a third of the towers full length, centered at the heart of the tower, in its mid-height, the throne room and its singular dark edifice, a pillar of stone from floor to ceiling, in its flared bare, high above the floor, a single seat of power, the throne of the King. Singular, alone for even in marriage of nobles, there is but one ruler and even when the rare occurrence takes place where the two are joined in power, only one will be in presence at any time, the other yielding for that moment, in turns.
He stands there, a noble shadow, a curtain against the light made of lean flesh and powerful height, of layered, dark fabrics and the soft jingle of tempered steel and the jagged hooks of spiritcatchers in their narrow, fine chains. His figure plotting out the evenings remaining rays, centered in the tall window that reaches from his feet to the high, dark, vaulted ceiling, its shape as supple and sharp as its occupants. Golden eyes draw and swallow the lingering, red hues of the light, deepening into amber, his gaze hidden from the arrivals by a lush, rich hair like a funeral shroud, translucent in its pale glisten, more silvery thread than the coarse animal hair of the lesser races, ethereal, almost unreal, shifting in a breeze unfelt by the base flesh of his visitors.
They shuffle, shift, tread in their places like blunt idiot cattle, unnerved by the alien stillness of their host, even going so far as to cough and clear their throats, barely sufficient for their brutal speech, the rough voice bringing an instantly passing sneer on the smooth face hidden from them, faced towards the window still, lingering there until the last of the evenings rays, finally carved, lacerated, cut by the cruel spires, reaching like mailed talons at the skies, die away, casting the vaulted chamber into a dying murk.
And only then does he turn, in the dark the light still alive in those gilded orbs, the last remaining glow, captured in the depths of his eyes, writhing, seeking escape like a living things until it too succumbs, late from its sisters, that last spark of day, dying in his eyes, eyes that now skirt the shapes of men before him, a smooth, angled face, narrower than theirs, skin smooth unlike the porous, doughy, scarred, blunt visages of the diplomats and messengers of petty kingdoms of Man. Their smells, potent, ugly taking a sharper edge still as he gauges their worth with his gaze and that noble face making no excuse to find them wanting.
Finally, his cool, strange stare unnerves one enough for him to brave a step forward, coughing again, revealing himself to be the one to break that daily moment, his eyes, wildly rolling with a mix of nervousness and fear and indignation as he opens his mouth to mewl and bleat in their coarse tongue, once again rewarded with another souring of that alien face as their host straightens, those strange, golden eyes half closing as he samples distastefully at the words, efforting his mind to wallow in their filth like pressing a struggling face into mud, choking in the blunt tongue, lacking in subtlety, every ugly noise a singular, simple meaning, idiot animal calls.
“Perhaps more light...?”
Soft, lush lips twisting the words out like bitter venom, spitting the syllables, repeating the Mans question to verify he had lowered himself to their level and then facing him with an incredulous look even as his long, slender digits reach up to trace his mouth, certain his lips must bleed pus at aping such savage tongue. His fingers leaving from his mouth clean, almost as a shock to his lingering glance, the subtle motions of his own digits endlessly more pleasant a sight than the three beasts before him, their questing faces irritating as they are ugly, their flaws blatant even in the dimness of the chamber.
“You come, here...” Another sneer of ageless revulsion at basing himself with such tongue. “...to my court, asking, demanding, begging, wanting.”
His slender digits forgotten again as he braves to face the blunt snouts, expecting them to regurgitate and begin masticating their meals at any moment. But all they do is stand there, agape, and for a moment he leans back, tracing the blunt words for any cause for such pause but finding no flaw despite the lilting accent, unable to relinquish the sweetness of his peoples soft syllables especially for these savages before him, the gilded reflection of his eyes making a day of the twilight blinding the Men as he continues to watch them.
Another, his ire finally rising at this alien taunting, secure in the power backing him up to his position steps forward, facing against their host, emboldening himself against that unblinking, amber stare, the closer he came, the more blatant it was that this was no skinny human he was facing but a truly strange being, not wholly of this world or perhaps more so than he himself was, out of sync of the world he knew. This one had witnessed the presence of Elves before, the ones of the trees and the ones of the mountains. But this one was different with its ashen skin, the silvery, wispy hair, alive with a hidden breeze or the golden eyes, acutely strange and unnatural or the pose, too tall, too proud, too certain of itself, too justified in its arrogance, the ease with which the Elf bore its fine weapons even in a meeting with dignitaries or the soft, unsettling jangle of the tiny, narrow hooks in their wraithly chains.
He opened his mouth only to be silenced in shock as a digit, dry, impossible soft, like the belly of a viper fresh from its shed presses intimately against his lips, followed by a sibilant hiss to hush him before that narrow hand eases away again, the manner in which the finger is then meticulously wiped clean on fine cloth unmissed as the elf saunters away, blatantly moving to a distance again, a subtle presence moving in the deepening twilight, that arrogance almost eliciting another, more heated demand until finally their host speaks again.
“You make demands, for race, for creed, for kingdom.” A flash of that gilded gaze again, judging their comprehension of his words.
“You bring trinkets, offerings of gold and precious stones and even brute, blunt artefacts you deem to call weapons.” A genteel hand motioning over them all with a strange gesture.
“Your gifts are not truly precious for you. But your requests, they hold merit.” A gentle, exasperated sigh at having to explain this to these base creatures as he nears to them again, deft hands at the complicated weaving of his belt, subtle clicks and suddenly, the long, lithe blade and its sheath are raised from his hip and elevated to their eyes, a long finger tracing over the grip, the leather pale, blatantly soft, rich, pink, offering it for inspection for the Man who stepped closest with his ire.
“I have accepted your need for more land and also, from each, exacted a price, more fitting. From you, my blades new grip, soft, supple, precious.” As the human stares with a frown and confusion he nods with satisfaction as he eases the blade back down, the hilt held in one hand, at easy ready. “Your youngest daughters skin was perfect as my artisans removed it from her live flesh, to make sure it was freshest possible. I imagine I can almost still feel her warmth there. Naturally, in her coarse skin, only the choicest pieces were suitable for a handle but worry not, I asked my very best to fashion the rest for a saddle for my favoured riding beast.” Long fingers running almost intimately across the handle, the soft skin, smooth.
“-This- is a precious enough a gift...” He looks past the man staring at him with abject horror, mouth gaping and gasping, trying to make sense of the calm words. “And you... You speak for your city, a grand effigy by your standards and kept raising your voice in praise of your people, how pure their blood and how noble their lineage. Last night, we chose one member of every family as our breeding stock for our cattle pens. This is a fitting offering.”
Once more he stepped past the Man stunned into silence, quirking a fine, pale brow at their animated antics and finally turning to the last Man, the coughing, shuffling brute in his apparent fineries, his smooth face wrinkling upwards a bit in petulant thought.
“For you, I will deem the greatest honour of them all, I will grant both your demands. Your people will have their land and you shall have your light.”
Another peculiar motion of his noble hand and the shadows of the vaulted walls come to silent life, halting the wildly mewling man whose offsprings precious, young pelt now covers the handle of his blade, staying his mindless howling with efficiency of trained animal handlers.
“Take the lightseeker down to our boilers and render its fat into candles. I understand that the pudgy ones make for acceptable light. Give it one for its own before you guide it back to its keep.” No longer words of Men, now the soft, sweet song of his precious elvish, lilting, powerful in meaning and expression, free of cruelty and alive with art.
“Give the Men the land they request. We must seed our lands with more game and stock if we are to grow as a nation. And Man breeds fast. They shall make renewable supplies of themselves.”
One last motion and the mewling messengers are guided away, not unkindly but with the certainty of those important if reviled men and women who make it their trade to treat cattle and beasts of the Drow'ayne Empire, the shepherds, their passing unseen, unfelt anymore by the Prince, his mind and thoughts already in the future, the gilded eyes gazing out over the lands that would soon be rich and overflooding with game and prey once more, a delighted smile on his fine lips.
"Despicable old men."
The owner of the lilting, mumbled breath stalked in a smooth glide through onyx and marbled passages of the beauteous palace, dual-colored eyes no longer seeing the grace and delicate finery that surrounded at every turn. Temper and disgust made her soundless footsteps a soft slap of slippered soles against polished floors, the finest cloth of her dress whispering past her trim legs with almost violent rustles. A flurry of pent up energy only barely contained as a slender hand accented the words gracefully.
"They believe they own me? To call for this gathering of suitors to bow and scrape at my feet, humbly offering precious gifts so that they might buy their way into bed bedchambers? If they wish for our Empire to possess a Consort so very badly, then they may marry a prince or two. I would certainly grant them that wish if it allowed me a moment's peace!"
The svelte female whirled around and advanced on the tall, hooded figure of a woman who had trailed her from the Council Rooms, her incessant shadow, nursemaid, and protector.
"I would even allow them to marry you to one of their precious Princlings."
A slender, dark brow arched behind a concealing mask, a subtle gesture that would have been lost to anyone but the young, infuriated female. "Please Fate to save me from your overwhelming generosity, my Lady."
The smooth, even voice partook of no sarcasm, but the Elvine woman knew it was there nonetheless, and her fine, pointed ears lowered even more in ire. "Oh Aye, you would have them wrapped about your finger soon enough, crying for sanctuary from your bedchamber, their virile boy's bodies wasted and lax from your appetites."
Spinning about on her heel once more, the brightening light of the glowing orbs that lit both city and home washed across the stunning birthmark that scrolled across her bared back with the intricacy of an artisan's finest tattoo. Against her pale, flawless skin, the crimson of the rose petals resembled blood upon ivory. Deep emerald stems wound down the length of her spine, small thorns barely perceptible along their smooth lines, and those, each tipped with a drop of red. Io took a moment to admire the strange beauty of her ward's marquee, until the dejected slump of those fragile shoulders and ears made her pause.
"I do not wish to marry, Io..."
The tall female, far taller than any elf, stepped forward, gloved hands settling on the Elvine woman's shoulders gently. "I know, my Lady... But it is what your people expect... They wish to have a Consort at your side, wish to see your children wreaking havoc in the gardens, and pray for another Majere child to lift their hearts."
The hands were shrugged off as Mura stepped away, her face downcast as she spoke over her shoulder. "Aye...but they forget that I am not merely a Queen...I am a living, breathing creature with feelings and emotions of my own...wishes...of my own."
There was no reply...no time for one...as the Elvine female slipped through the enormous glass doors of her bedchamber, pulling the heavy draperies closed to hide her sanctuary from prying eyes, calling for privacy with the need to be alone.
"Prepare the royal messengers. In a month's time the princes of the Elvine nations will arrive. I will see to the Drow personally." Io stood before the council, her slender, robed figure as mysterious as ever, even before the Elves that she had lived among for nearly two hundred and thirty-five years. None had ever seen her face, for a macabre Domino, reminiscent of a snarling Dragon's brow was worn at all times. A hood draped low over hear features most all the time, except for the moments that she threw it back to reveal a long braid that reached her knees, the tail wound into a sharp, double-edged curved blade. Similar blades of exquisite sharpness peppered the wrist-thick braid nearly to her hips, leaving some to wonder how it was that she never found herself pricked and lacerated by the strange fashion.
For the first time, the Council seemed to have little to say. All that might have been spoken was left unsaid as the Lady Io turned and walked from the chambers, a single hand summoning a palace servant to her side, cowled head bent as her low voice lilted in musical Elvish, issuing instructions. The travel time would take over two weeks to complete over land, and her steed would have to be the fastest, sturdiest long-distance mount that was housed in the royal stables. There would be little rest, and the mount would suffer from the numbing chill as they reached the northern borders of the Forest, where the trees grew sparse until they lay little more shrubs within the outer lands of the Drow.
The Great, furred feline was hungry. It smelled prey in every narrow nook and cranny, making the creature whine in a low, keening rumble. Silent, padded feet clicked against the stone and metalwork of the monstrous city floors as blade-sharp claws extended slightly in reaction to the starvation rumbling in its gut. A predator among prey. The Drow smelled of meat and blood. Food. The creature keened again for the woman mounted on its back. But there was no response to its whine as she shifted forward, her weight telling the beast to continue on.
The Majere Mark, the insignia of the Queen herself was emblazoned on the dark green cloak that was cast over the shoulders of the hooded female. It fairly glowed in the dying light as the woman was halted by her escort, marking the time to dismount. Her only words to the handlers as she relinquished the beast were simple. "Feed him."
The lilting Elvish seemed to linger even as she turned away and allowed herself to be escorted deeper into the city...
High Prince Shas'Lykai would be expecting her...
Io's smile was never seen by her escorts beneath her downturned, cowl-hidden visage...-
Golden eyes glitter with amusement as they gaze down from the crowning heights down at the small speck of the feline angrily shredding at the careless Dark kin until its ravening hunger is placated by a passing servant, a pet ravaging another, claiming its flesh for its own to the appreciating murmur of the High Prince. The amber stare still lingers there, drinking the sight of savagery in the depths of his own cruel hell, impassionate at the pain but smiling at the play and frolic of his own kin when a magister guides the elven female in silently, the gilded pupils lifting from the distant scene to gaze at the cloaked figure, his pose unchanging at her arrival, still standing there, tall, proud, certain, an almost gentle curiosity in his gaze, age having not touched that sweet sensation of wonder at the world.
“Neleihl, Leshin” That lingering light stays in the golden glow of his eyes in that ashen face and the deep sockets as he turns away from the light, his figure nothing but a shadow until with a economic motion of his hand, the floor trembles minutely as the walls themselves, suddenly blatantly made of many overlapping slivers of dark stone intermingled intimately with sharp metal, begin to shift to the silken sound of gears and the hum of power, the window disappearing into a shifting forest of tall, narrow panes, light cut, lacerated and finally snuffed out, plunging the cadaverous chamber into murk until from the center of the floor rises, still to the sound of continuing, smooth, grinding of clockwork and subtly harnessed, strangled power, an eloquent dais of gears and metal and clean tendon, a soft, gentle, warm light at its peak, held in articulated, razored hands, suspended inches from any surface, the contraption slowly coming to a halt, a feminine, slight structure, a petite Golem, a lightbringer, integral to the Throne itself.
The soft, even glow, easy on those amber eyes resting on her still, finally reveals the severe space, empty, spartan apart some desks on a far wall, standing height, made of the same, semi-organic look, edges of gears and rails glinting with smooth, oily hardness, nothing in this space soft, comforting, warm, a chamber like the Drow'ayne prince before her, severe to the point of cruel, bladed, dark, even the clothing on the High Prince like segments of steel or insectoid carapace but flowing smooth, fine, its shape almost skintight in the upper body, accenting over smooth panes of honed muscle without the sculpted shape of training but the threatening edge of use, the splintered shards spreading as they leave his hips, flaring down in multiple wide panes, their weight a mystery but the way they slither as he moves, obviously of no deterrent to motion, the dark scales in their oily, mirrored hues gently licked and kisses by the long, narrow chains like spiders silk hanging from his waist and woven into the shroud like hair each terminating in a cruel, wonderfully sculpted hook, thin, narrow, barbed.
“Wel'lour'ne The'rain Drow'ayne” Welcome to the Throne of the Dark ones. A greeting softly spoken but strong in its tone, unforgiving, certain, a voice of rule, a cadence of order but delivered with a slow smile, a subtle baring of white teeth between ashen lips. The words familiar, their pronunciation distant, like a beautiful song, artistic, poem in speech, so strange a manner for such a severe people.
“A time of destiny, now...?” That soft smile turns into a full grin, made even more alive on that expressive face with a quirking of a noble, pale brow, playful almost as the prince of the Drow steps closer to her, that open, gilded gaze tracing over her with a mix of warm curiosity and a cold calculation of her worth, a gaze that delves through the clothing and the very skin, seeking the shape of bone and muscle, a sight that both acknowledges a knowing, feeling being and a piece of meat, simply in its pure, unrendered form, a hunters look of both kindred respect and emotionless abuse.
“Others can deal with the details... retinues, courts, the sort...” a restless motion of a hand encompassing the grand machine of the Throne, both steel, rock and flesh.
“From you, I would hear of the heir of the Majere...”
-She was tall. That would be his first impression of the masked, cowled female that stood at the entranceway to his Throne Room. It was not, however, apparent exactly how tall she truely was until absolutely silent footsteps brought her closer to the High Prince.
The Dark Elves were a tall race. The tallest of all the Elves, in fact. Perhaps only because it allowed them to look down their noble noses at their petite, slender cousins. But the woman that stepped closer was taller than even the High Prince, forcing him to tip his head back fractionally if he wished to meet her gaze squarely. Or, at least, that is what might have happened if she had indeed chosen to venture closer. Rather, she allowed him to step closer, allowed his pale, amber eyes to study her, knowing full well that given her height he would assume...nothing. In those few moments, despite his warm smile, despite the calculating glint in his gaze, she knew full well that she was a living, breathing puzzle for the High Prince.
No Forest Elf was as tall as she. Few Dark Elves could boast her height. She could be mistaken for a very tall human woman, for many mortals were, admittedly, taller than even the Dark Elves. Yet at the same time, the Forest Nation would not have sent one of Man as a royal messenger. And certainly not as a messenger on the Queen's personal behalf. Thus, the conundrum. He would be enlightened...but only when Io chose to do so.
As it were, her eyes had only briefly flicked over the Dark Elf's slender figure before turning away to scour her surroundings. The deep, grinding click and whir of massive gears and the rumbling of the floor had not appeared to put her to any discomfort, for as the Golem emerged, Io left the High Prince to his own devices, shifting towards the object, a gloved hand extended towards it.
She never touched the Golem. She did not need to. Her head was tipped towards the High Prince, giving him the impression that she was certainly listening to his words as noiseless footsteps led in in the smallest whisper of cloth around the dais that the Golem stood, examining the petite figure, hand ever outstretched with palm extended towards it as she made a complete circuit. Only then did her palm drop to her side and did she face the Prince, his demand barely dying so sweetly on his lips before Io was on the move again, this time approaching the Elf with a single-minded intensity that should have put the hair on his neck on edge if he had any sense of self preservation at all. The hand that rose from her rose was a flash of lightning-quick dexterity, stopping a hair's breath from his lips, a single digit extended. "Shh."
Even through the glove, her hand positively radiated a strange chill. A chill that could be felt throughout the entire Drow'ayne Empire, but was all-too often over-looked for the blood and mayhem that masked it. It was Death. Pure. Simple.
There was no violence in her supple, lithe form. No emotion in those shadowed eyes. The hand vanished from its position so very close to the Elf's lips, returning from within her robes to bear the sealed invitation of the Forest Nation for the High Prince's inspection. There was no give in her. No softness. In her eyes, the Prince could imagine himself the prey. Eyes, their color masked from the light by the shadow of the macabre Domino that formed to her upper features, and further shadowed by the low cowl that settled over her brow.
Those curved, lush lips then smiled.
"But where are my manners." It was spoken in quiet, lilting Elvish.
The female stepped back, making space between herself and the High Prince, her lithe body bending slightly at the waist. "Lady Io, High Prince Shas'Lykai. Personal messenger for Cel'Muralasa'Majere." Formal introduction given, she straightened, addressing his last request, or command, depending on how one viewed it.
"From me, High Prince, you have recieved the invitation of the Forest Nation. I have done my duty, as you shall do yours. Cel'Majere is better experienced than spoken of. I am to be your escort into the Forest Nation within a week's time. Until then I will stay among your people."
That was all the more she spoke as she finally, openly examined the High Prince, this time for his benefit, her silent perusal as cold and unforgiving as the Northern landscape. "You will do, Princling. You will do." Nodding, again for his benefit, she shifted her pose faintly, her body language suggesting that it was time for him to offer her quarters in which to stay so that she might retire him his presence.-
Every day, an hour past twilight, there he would be, silently expecting her company outside of her assigned domicile, a lone, cruel thorn separating from one of the lesser keeps within the Beast Courts, the shifting walls no proof to the bestial sounds of suffering and fear beyond in the pens and the pits and the slaughterhouses and the breaking yards. He would stand there, his attire shifted, subtly, at times armoured in fine, narrow plates of dark steel, burnished to glistening sheen at peaks and rises, others in long, snugly embracing clothing woven of the hairs of a hundred slain beasts, the only constant the ever present thin chains and the delicate hooks but each day in minutely different lengths, poses, attitudes, their subtle language glances and respected by the other Dark kin, marking everything from station, duty, hidden wards, signals to allies and warnings to enemies, alliances, treacheries. And always at his side a blade or several, sometimes long, at others narrow and personal but never hidden even though his plate and his cloth always shaped to leave the wrists and forearms hidden
Daily the High Prince would escort her, through the darkness of his city and keep, leading her through the dark wonders of his people, his tone and expression never boastful, merely expressive, honest even, his own opinions, thoughts never in sight but his demeanour still polite, flirting on warm but completely empty of reverence or fear of her. For every Drow the only enemy worth fearing is another Drow for outsiders, the prey species, the other Elves, their manners strange or base, simple or convoluted, their designs meaningless, their plots moot but a fellow Drow is a guaranteed threat, a sure kill at a moments weakness. And in a city of the Dark kin, fear itself is an asset.
He would show her around the Beast Courts, pointing out the more curious catches or the stranger physiques as they were revealed, one long, skilled cut after another in the skinneries, the live prey writhing in their mute meaningless agony on their killing hooks, keeping their meats fresh, hot with their fiercely pumping hearts, the breeding pits where the handlers were guiding two drugged creatures in a wild rut, a male and a female of Man, smiling approvingly at the soft skinned pups the bitch would one day breed and the fineries that could be fashioned from the tiny little bones. In another part, the riding beasts, scaled, hugely jawed monstrosities of the Draconian project were being trained to accept their harness and plate, their tempers irritated by the incessant pain of their spinal hooks, freshly swapped to larger caliber with their growth and the dying out of the nerves despite the gentle unguents applied in the open wounds to regenerate the sensitive membranes.
On another day the Temple of Murder, a massive edifice with its ever shifting walls, each a killing blade, the movements unkind, random, unforgiving, halls pitch black, others blisteringly bright by Golem Light and always the whickering sound of blades, weapons, arrow and harpoon but never a cry, pain a fact, not a weakness. And the silent vaults, a shocking shift from the clash of the war-chambers, as they pass through, not a soul in sight, only darker, long dried liquid spots spattering the floor, here and there a sign of the lethal arts learned here.
On the following day, on their leisurely passage across the dark, twilight streets a passing Dark kin, without breaking his stride extends a blade through the cool air where the Prince walked a split second before, the royal, ashen hands already within the reach of the weapon, guiding the thin, noble limbs to hyper extension and with a shocking, wet crack, ruining the joints before his gliding movement terminates over the falling figure, pose smoothly evolving into a loaded spring and before the blade escaping the limp hands ever touches the hard floor, his hand snaps down like a piston of a weapon, another wet crack from the explosively collapsing temple of his would be assassin and a thin spray of arterial red misting down from the ruined, empty eyesocket as he collapses, wet, dead, a broken husk where a noble kin lunged a mere second ago.
Shadows shifting, moving at the edges of thought, soft whispers of blade meeting thin, ashen flesh and accomplices, witnesses, an alliance of murder falls dead where they stood, momentarily paused by the artistic violence of their liege. The dark prince stands, the gilded eyes tracing the shadows and nodding passingly at the gentle, thin rivulets of blood slithering across the streets, his Guard capable, quick, a shadow easing from a living wall and bowing as it offers a pale, empty cloth for her masters hand, meticulously, with practiced ease, the proof of kill to be delivered to the deceased murderers failed house, at the same time a nod of appreciation for the honour of the attempt and a warning to improve their efforts.
“N'yapere” The gilded gaze finally turning to his guest as he gently motions her to continue forward on their way to the beauty of the Artisans Quarters.
“They are getting sloppy in their hurry for they fear that their Prince will be untouchable in the Forest Court and even more so if the Heir chooses to accept the Drow'ayne and then, the Iron Crown for then they shall not make an attempt on an individual but a nation, a figure head. And such a kill must be immaculate and the seizing of power absolute or it will lead to uncontrolled, messy period where the entire nation shall suffer.” His soft, peaceful voice, devoid of exertion or shock over the instant nature of the kill, the act almost a mechanical procedure, his amber eyes calm and alert as always as he shares his concern of his people.
-Each eve, as she stepped from her quarters, there were no words exchanged. She would bow, ever so slightly, her only concession to his status as High Prince of his people, and allow herself to be guided on tours through the dark city by the Prince himself. An honor, for most, yet there was little doubt that it was only his curiosity about her that led him to abandon the high, wicked tower of his Throne, and mix among the common, leaving himself vulnerable to attack, even with the dark, noiseless shadows of his Guard dogging every footstep, their presence mere whispers in the shadows, yet menacing enough of the common Drow that the streets narrow, dark streets were nearly empty wherever they went. He was curious...about her...about the Queen that he was forced, by his people and the contract of peace, to court. Perhaps he believed that he could win her hand, believed that he would marry the Majere Heir, and unify both nations under his precarious rule. If only it were that easy. Change was in the wind...and it had nothing to do with Muralasa's Incarnate brother-in-law...
The Prince was honest about his views, his people, and their ways. Of course, he had nothing to lose by showing her the manner in which his empire operated. Granted, many of the Elves might have recoiled a moment or two did they see with their very own eyes the manner in which living beings were mutilated under the carving knives of butchers, and how their skins were tanned into useful hides to grace the weapons and tools of the nobility. Yet it appeared to have no effect on the silent woman by his side. The sheer, overwhelming stench of blood should have turned her stomach sour, at least earning a gag.
Yet she appeared to pause, for a brief moment, at the sight of the reptilian Winglings, bastardized by magic and inbreeding to provide mounts for the Drow, by both wing and land. Still she made no comment as she approached...in a manner strangely similar to the way she had approached the Golem in the Throne room, gloved palm outstretched towards the glistening, scaled hide of its flank, only this time she touched the creature, causing it to flinch. Flat, menacing, reptilian eyes swiveled to stare at the female as it's long neck twisted, staring at her, its anger at the ill treatment and pain causing large, inverted fangs to snap together. But even as she touched the Wingling, the flatness of its eyes seemed to soften, the Draconic pupil, for a brief moment, almost glistening with a higher intelligence until suddenly the moment was gone, and the creature, with a reptilian shriek, snapped viciously at the garbed woman, who had by that time moved away with a simple, stunningly quick step. Once more nothing was said by her as they moved away, but for the subtle, consistent rubbing of her fingers against the palm that had rested against the beast.
The next day witnessed a slight shift in mood for the Queen's messenger. Within the Temple of Murder, the silent, tall female seemed to bloom. The clash of swords, the silent poetry of death's personal dance a sight she seemed unable to look away from, occassionally sighing with a whispered breath as an Elf would complete a complicated step, or as the edge of a glistening blade would neatly touch an opponent. It was there, for the first time, that she let her hood drop back to lay between her shoulderblades, the Domino is full relief of the light as her slender body swayed slightly to the metallic ring of blades, eyes almost drowsy with sheer pleasure. She lingered...almost reluctant to leave, until it became apparent that the tour would lead on. And lead on it did, the pleasure slowly dying from her stance as her eyes looked upon the fouled floor and walls, the dried blood, and the careless manner in which the Elves treated their Temple. For a split second disgust seemed to shimmer there, in her frame, beneath the concealing robes. But it was likely missed...for the falling of her cowl revealed, for the first time, that the woman who the Prince escorted so dutifully, was certainly no Elvine female, as no long, slender ears split the hair carefully arranged into a braid that vanished down into the robes.... She said nothing, however, for the blood-fouled Temple...and continued to say nothing as slender, gloved fingers pulled her hood to shadow her features as they departed and she was eventually led back to her rooms.
The last eve, unto the present, there was never a word. Indeed, it seemed as if she had fallen mute since those few, brief words within the Throne room, for even the quiet, violently ended assassination attempt appeared to draw no gasp of surprise or even comment until the point that he led her away, his apology and thoughtful, quiet words passing like a wistful lyric from his lips. Only then did her gloves hands fall from wide, enveloping sleeves, and her hood was once more pushed back to bare her masked features for the Prince's perusal as she tipped her head to the side, lush lips appearing to purse for a moment as she openly studied the High Prince and contemplate his comment. Finally, it seemed, she chose to speak, the language of the strange little beings that lived within the Mountains to the southwest of his nation. The language of the Dwarves.
"I suppose, as High Prince of your people, you were groomed in all the languages, dialects and mannerisms of the world's nations?" The question was moot, for she was well aware that he was familiar with the Dwarven tongue, even if he had not employed it since the days of his schoolroom and tutors. The point of it was simply that none but the highest learned of the Drow would know the language, and she cared little to have her words overheard and repeated by spying ears and waggling tongues. And it was then that she slowly, deliberately stripped from her fingers, a single glove, proving to the High Prince, at least, that Forest Nation's musings that her entire body had once been scarred by a terrible fire, were at least partly false, for her skin was smooth and almost translucent in paleness...rivaling his own ashen cast. "May I...?" Even that request was almost rhetorical, for her fingertips lifted his chin the inch or two necessary for her to stare into those gilded eyes, allowing him for the first time to see the odd coloring of her own irises. The left was gray. The iron cast was cold, flat, only bright shards of icy gray-white cast throughout the iron shade lessening the distant, menacing glare of that eye. The right iris was ringed in a bright, vibrant ring of blueberry encircling an area of luxuriant turquoise which faded to a deep clear sapphire blue as it neared her pupil.
Her fingertips were cold. Bone-chilling cold. It would creep, she knew, from the light contact under his chin, crawling and slithering throughout his entire body until it slipped and curled into the deepest recesses of his soul...eventually snuffing out the bright fire of his spirit, leaving naught but an empty shell behind to, in a short time, crumble and join the dust of the ground. He could feel that chill...despite the fact that all Elves were immune to all temperatures of nature but for the most extreme. Her gentle touch did not stay long...only until her strange eyes apparently found what they were looking for, allowing her to drop her hand and replace the glove with a graceful tug as she nodded in approval. "You have a strong spirit inside you, Shas'Lykai. That alone makes you almost worthy of the Queen's attentions..." The tiny smile curving her lips was nearly teasing, and would have thought to be even brought on by a spurt of humor if not for the severe austerity in her pose.
"You will find the Forest quite a bit brighter than your lands, Your Highness." From within the thick, voluptuous folds of her robes, Io withdrew a long, slender box of metallic make, it's lid of a simple sliding design, and within, a thin, clear, gel-like substance. Offering it to him, she continued. "This is an unguent, of Dwarven make, and you will not find anything quite like it. The Dwarves, whatever you may think of them, are ingenious creatures, and also quite fond of the darkness within their Mountains. During your stay among my Queen's people, I advise that you rub this into your eyes, for it will allow you to see without the strain of squinting against the daylight that would normally hinder your shadow-loving vision. It would not do to stare at the Queen, narrow-eyed and menacingly as you attempt to court her." Once more, her tone might have hinted at a faint vein of humor, but for the unyielding stance in her slender frame. "Do not fear, Prince, I do not mean to leave you blind or sickened by a strange substance. If I wished you harm, my presence here would never have been so blatant...as your brothers discovered..."
After that cryptic statement, she turned slightly, as if to allow him to lead her further on their tour. Again, she spoke. "Your safety in my Queen's court is assured. There shall only be one attempt on your life, by one of your personal Court, but you will route him quickly enough." To speak so bluntly of knowledge leading directly to the treasonous attempt of slaying a Prince, to his face, was likely not the wisest course an emissary could take...but Io seemed unconcerned by her words. "Another attempt will be made, by the Drow, on my Queen's own life. They do indeed mean to sabotage your courtship, Your Highness. Again, the plot shall fail, and you will discover the secret behind your sire's insistence that you be given the chance to wed a woman he considered to be below even the common Drow." The fact that she knew of secrets, of plots, concerning Drow'ayne treason and history, would leave the High Prince puzzled beyond little doubt. She was offering to him, of her own accord, insight on events that had only the night before been planned, teasing him with details of secrets his Sire had taken to his cold grave, and laying it before him as if she spoke of naught more than the day's passing weather.
"And now, Prince Lykai, before I return to my rooms to prepare for the morrow's journey, I wish to discuss a barter with you, for I have heard much concerning your talents in haggling and compromise. Man whispers you name in quite the most endearing affections." In this, there was no doubt whatsoever that she was mildly humored, for the Dark Prince's name was only reserved as the vilest of curses in Man's coarse tongue. "Would you hear my proposal, Your Highness?"-
The touch, cold but with a chill that touched deeper, a lightest caress to urge his noble eyes to hers, echoed by the delicate whisper of steel to hilt, edges glinting in the shadowed dark, hungry for the limb so brazenly reaching for their lord and prince, greedy, their desire and acuteness unblunted by the soft murders mere moments past. A cold that promised an easy death, gentler by far than the many threats and dangers that the Drow'ayne promise and with that, a promise worthless as too gentle to accept but the High Prince stands there, facing the strange female and her curious eyes, gazing into them in cool thought, fine digits raised a moment to pause the blades from ruining her.
And the moment passes, her contact shifting away to a slightest, amused smile across his soft lips, feeling his own strength once more filling the void of her touch, depleted but not in any meaningful way but leaving him richer still in knowledge, another piece in a puzzle that his people would garner of this one. Her words make that smile linger a touch longer.
He accepts her gift quietly, unwilling to sully his tongue with the peculiar speech of the stout ones whose language is as rough and short as their statures, deft hand measuring the small container with experience, weighing it, rolling it gently, the hand feeling for hidden mechanisms, traps, latches, locks before slipping it in a lithe pouch at his belt, certain that not a drop of the substance would ever kiss his eyes but once his alchemists would render it down, it might prove valuable for certain elements of his court, the ones not already secretly accustomed to the light for he did not face the sun every day without purpose. His destiny was laid bare to him years past, the day the strange female had arrived in his sires court and proven potent and made a pact. Mere light was not to be an insult to him when he had a number of his own kin before him, a vaster challenge than the discomfort of the sun.
In the wake of her gift, she moves, the High Prince shifting to step with her once more, leading their passage through the dark angles of his cold city. His smile lingers, cloys with her continued words, such plots and attempts like breath and bread for the nobility of his kindred, a life spent in safety, coddled and soft worthless, a silk that dulls the blade, fit only for the prey species for only through constant, building challenges would a Drow'ayne perfection be honed. And none other but perfection could ever rule this people, a nation of murder and threat. His people. The Ruin admits a moments pleasure and pride at the knowledge of such attempts at his life, his rule, even at the life of the heir of another nation for his acts were an open challenge to others, a revelation of the jugular or the soft side, a lure. And her words gave him pleasure to know that his people had the edge to attempt it. The ultimate murder. Regicide.
He did not question her knowledge of things coming to bear for even with their details, they were merely things to expect that any with an understanding of his Drow'ayne would see in the future. The only time the peaceful, golden gaze shifted from the perusal of the streets and the edges and the shadows slipped back to her was when she spoke of the pact between the past ruler and the potent stranger but still he does not place demands on her knowledge into such things for she obviously could hold such information from even his extractors for too long to be of any true use.
And suddenly, her words spring forth a gentle, delicate laughter, so blatantly unfitting of the morbid surroundings as she speaks of his negotiations with Man, his teeth showing as a slender finger caresses the soft, smooth knots of leather adorning his blades grip fondly, quirking a fine brow at her with a lingering grin.
“I will hear your words, fine guest, and we will see what sport we may find in the barter and trade...” For her humour, he graces her by basing himself with the harsh croak of the Dwarven speech, the guttural speech of rock and the dark, like the very voice of mountains themselves, the glottal pronunciation a perfect mimic of a voice long dead, a born speaker of the tongue, the mimic eerily drawing out even the harshness of the torture it took to lure the words from the captive, a smiling face, gentle lips and fine teeth uttering words as through ground, shattered teeth, a broken jaw, but still deliciously defiant in suffering. The manner in which the nobility as taught their languages, from the source in attending such renderings.
Hhhhh...hhhhh...hhhhhh... The sound of hurried breaths rang in sensitive ears. The runner's heartbeat beat strongly in accordance to the adrenaline pumping through young veins. But if the runner could hear her heartbeat and own breathing, she knew her pursuers could as well. Pausing, she slid behind the veil of leaves, listening carefully as her darkened skin blended with the shadows. There were four...nay...six. So they'd upped the anti, had they? Fine, slender ears twitched faintly as she listened for their footsteps. But they were good. Among the best. Hunters. And they had nearly been upon their intended prey when she'd caught their scent on the winds. Idiots. They should have known that her sense of smell was keener than their normal prey. Or perhaps it was that they did know... And yet they hadn't caught up to her...leading her...a trap!
Suddenly it was clear. They weren't interested in killing her. They were pushing her into a trap. Eyes narrowed as she resisted the urge to growl softly. Pathetic. As if she'd fall for such nonsense. They weren't the first to try to kill her. Nor would they be the last. But worst of all...they weren't the best. An insult. Peering around, the runner took note of her surroundings, calming her heartbeat and evening her breath to no more than the faintest whisper.
She'd begun the night quite safely. They'd surprised her, surely enough...and they should have killed her when they'd had the chance. Walking the bridge towards the palace, the arrow had nearly come upon her when she'd sensed it. Keen senses. Far more so than most were aware. It was thanks to her cursed father...the man whose blood had despoiled her mother's pure bloodline. But her senses and instinct for survival were far too strong to allow a simple arrow to do away with her. She'd lept from the bridge. An unexpected move, to be sure. Below there had been nothing but empty space and miles of limbs that should have torn her to shreds at the speeds she'd fallen. Yet...she'd been fortunate enough to catch the nearest tree limb and swing herself to safety. Her arm still ached from the force of catching herself in such a manner. From there it had been a game of cat and mouse.
They'd followed her...for nearly two miles. She was fast enough to stay ahead...but with her wrenched shoulder and without weapons of any sort, she could neither climb easily, or take her pursuers down. Silently cursing, she listened for their movements...but heard nothing. Damnit. They were staying put, waiting for any sign or sound that she might make. But she was smarter than that. She'd been avoiding such Hunters her entire life. As first, as a child, she'd had only one to worry about. But as she grew older, and her abilities manifested, there grew to be more. Sometimes one...sometimes as many as ten. She never knew when they would strike, and knew only that when she slept at night she was safe from them. Always aware of her surroundings. Always on guard. Her very life depended on it. And because of that...she'd gone well out of her way to ensure that she was not left helpless in her own forest.
It was all because of her birthright. And the Dark Elves that hid themselves from the sun in their frigid northern lands. They very nearly worshipped the concept of murder. They believed that taking life made them stronger. Yet it made them weaker. Life was short enough as it was, even for the Elves...yet they constantly strived to shorten it further. Any weakling could kill. Any coward could flee. Her eyes closed. Damn them for forcing her into such a ridiculous position...
Her moment of internal disdain almost caused her to miss the soft, nearly imperceptible sound of something moving against a thick bushel of leaves. Hah. They'd made their first mistake. Long, slender fingers pulled a thin strip of cloth from around her waist. Aside from that one strip of cloth, her entire garment was naught but a long length of material that was draped in it's center around the nape of her neck. Intricate folds turned the cloth into a decorous criss-cross brazier that then wrapped down on each end around her waist, falling loose of its folds as the ends wound once around her hips and buttocks in opposing directions and met high on her left hip in thin strips that dangled downwards to brush her left knee somewhat like scarves. The garment left her legs, arms, most of her midriff and her entire back bare. But then, that was the way of the Forest Elves. Their clothing was modest by their standards, but guaranteed to offend any mortal highborn female and most human noblemen in their sheer lack of cover. Mortals. Their so-called sense of modesty and society utterly baffled her. But then...they were just that...mortal. She did not pretend to understand why their females covered themselves in layer after layer of cloth. Or why their men strutted and posed, seeking praise for their odd, so-called 'fashionable' outfits that made them, at times, appear to be closer to appearing as an entire roasted tricolored boar with all its dressings, than actual sentient beings of two legs and thought. So strange.
Regardless, she required her attention focused on the events at hand.
While moving away from her pursuers, she'd managed to pluck the long, three inch spines from a Cortel Tree's leaves. Also, she'd found a large fruit tree in her passing. It's fruits were the size of a balled fist, with the outside nearly as tough as leather, often making the fruits the plaything of the Empire's children when they were at leisure. Withdrawing the spines from one of the folds in her garment, she quickly speared the fruits with the blunted ends of the thorns. What she had in result were three sharply spined balls, with the blunted ends securely entrenched against the fruit's large inner seed. Makeshift weapons which could maim, and even kill, if they were launched with enough force at a victim's more vulnerable body parts.
But in that moment the soft sigh of cut air was heard. A hit. Struck. A blade sliding deep into the soft, tensed fibers of muscle, cutting flesh and striking bone with jarring intensity. Pain. White-hot. Nay...agony. The land blazed white. Nay..not the land. Roses numbering in the billions. In that instant, from bright purple and sapphire blue they flashed. White. The forest turned white in the pitch blackness. She began to fall...not even a whisper of her pain emerging as she crumpled from the tree's limb. "Io..." And for her, everything became black.
Beside the Dark Elf, the tall, slender female's head tipped back, turning as if to look in the direction of Mura's woodlands. "Io..." The soft thought resonated in her mind, as well as the bright flash of pain that followed. She seemed to exhale softly...and if he blinked...he'd miss the heartbeat in which Io's body seemed to expand upon itself, a shadowed aura that separated and flew away from her with a speed far too quick to capture with the eye's sense. Death would not come to the falling woman child. Not this night. But it was Death that caught her in insubstantial arms and bore her upwards until they passed through the brightly lit Elvine City which was in an uproar over the sudden bleached appearances of the roses. Through the City, a sigh unseen, a sound unheard, a breeze unfelt and a sense unsensed until the woman-child was lain upon a great bed in the heart of the gleaming palace, the blade removed from pale flesh, and the wound sealed by the girl's own body. The bone would take time. but the flesh, at least, was whole once more. There was only so much that the girl's father's blood could do for her, after all...for she was not of the Immortal Family and her mortality clung to her like a cloak of frailty.
It was done. In a span of time far too short to make note of, and Io was turning towards her slender, amber-eyed host. "Where...-ah yes. A barter. Very well then. To begin with, I shall offer my part. During the days within the Court of the Mantis I shall be your champion, for you shall be in need of one, and will not win the Rose without it. Also, I shall bestow upon you a gift which will aid you in your efforts. Furthermore, if you choose to accept, I shall give within your keeping the missing verses of your Magi Guild's precious Paramentali Texts. The key which, if you manage to unravel its mystery, will allow you the secret to unlocking the power of the Ice Gems, and fulfill your people's dreams of bringing back the Great Wyrms. The Key in of itself, however, is useless without the Majere child, as your father correctly deduced."
Io shifted away from the High Prince's side. "The price for my aid is high. If you insist on regarding me as a lesser, than that is your mistake. Your people and empire, for all their glory and blood, are still ultimately mortal and can be brought down to the status of those humans you despise so greatly. You deal now with powers far beyond your understanding and thus I bid you to take care how you move forward, Prince Lykai. Your position is precarious, at best, and even your pretty looks would not save you if you crossed me or the daughter of Light and niece of Darkness."
There was no smile. No latent threat in those cool words. "Now for what I shall receive. You will give under my protection a Dwarf whom was brought to your Beast Courts three turns of the violet Sun ago. You have broken his body, but his mind and spirit remain intact. Bring him to me alive, Lykai. Nay poisoned or on the verge of death. Alive, as he is at this very moment, for if he dies, or is broken, he is of no use to me...just as his death will leave you useless to your people. I have plans for Master D'Durisun'Urt. Also, I will take ownership of that bastardized wyrm that you showed me. He shall be my mount on our trip to the Mantis Court. Thirdly, I wish the company of your best, unbonded assassin for this eve's entertainment when I return to my rooms. I prefer that he be a tall elf, for your people possess a height greater than most...nearing that of Man. But take care, Prince, for if he is not the best, he shall not return to his family in the morn when we depart for the Mantis Court."
Io paused. "When we arrive at the Court, I shall leave you in the care of attendants. I have business to attend to within the Black Mountains, but I shall return before you are to meet the Queen with the other Princes of the Elvine Nations. Naturally, you will be expected to offer the Rose gifts at that ceremony, and I am sure that you have already chosen what you will present her. But I offer a bit of advise. When you arrive at the Mantis Court, bathe in the Roanwood baths and ensure that all your weapons, particularly those made of the bones and flesh of living beasts are never within the Queen's presence. The Roanwood baths will wash the stench of bloodied violence from your body. The Rose possesses senses greatly heightened, and she would smell you coming leagues away. There are no weapons permitted in the Queen's presence by order of the Council, except those whom serve as her guard. Finally, I suggest that when you present her with your gifts, you choose items of magical aura or scents. Anything that can be held or is strangely pleasing to the touch are also wise choices. The Rose has no interest in riches, jewelry, weapons, or flashy items that might catch the eye. There are times when even items as simple as flower garlands please her far more greatly than a chest of jewels or bolts of finely woven cloth."
Taking the time to tuck her hands into the deep sleeves of her cloak, the Royal Messenger allowed her words to take roots, and then she spoke. "Now then...do you agree to this barter, Prince? The Dwarf D'Durisun'Urt, the wyrm, and the company of your finest, tallest unbonded assassin?" Strange requests, surely. But then, what he would receive in return were things truly priceless to both him and his people.-