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2009-06-22 17:24:18
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The Rose and the Ruin
The Rose and the Ruin: Page 2
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The Rose and the Ruin: A Visit with Shydia
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A jingle of fine chains, the soft whisper of silks, the alarmed, shocked murmurs and whispers of the courtiers and servants as the dark Prince of the Drow`ayne marches through their court, brows shadowed and the look in his gilded eyes intent, unblinking, the set of his jaw dangerous. Their stolen views of the dark Prince thus far like those on an exotic creature, the object of their attention always a calmly smiling figure with a bearing of an absolute ruler with soft spoken words, lilted with a strange accent that made a song and a poem of every word, tall, imposing but beyond of that incessantly sure pose, not the beast of their imaginations. But now, what stalked through their midsts was different. The presence that slips through them no longer that of genteel stranger but that of a wolf in the herd, intent eyes, a predatory face and anger refined into something pure, white, powerful and completely anathema, rage sophisticated into a single point of absolute control.

That control, so very intimate to him, one avatar to hold the blood lust of an entire people in a grasp of iron, within his nations dark ways early on the rulers had found the need for that control for murder could slip into savagery and dark, mindless bloodletting instead of sophistication and, the one thing no other creature could ever truly understand, the love of the act, the intimacy between a killer and a victim, of predator and prey, a fine, delicate balance. And this place, this kin was rocking that balance. That control, that veneer of a society clung to rules, social mores obeyed without doubt or thought, accepted, embraced as civility, manners and coming here,
those were threatened.

But their ways were theirs, unique, different but also belittling of the Drow`ayne ways, a gap of understanding, of mutual language too distant in places to breach in such a short time and once more, the elven reach for purity, for the highest mastery becomes their downfall. His dark, lone thoughts an echo of the ashen faces in his wake, members of his own guard for only of them could he ask what he must now to speak up for his nation, swearing in silence at the cruelty of the visitors advice, faulty, short, too little.

Finally, his determined steps come to a halt in the wake of the lordling guiding their path and the vast doors ahead of them part and the fragrance of this world multiplies, explodes against senses accustomed to metal, to blood and the screams of battle, the whickering of blade and ruptured intestine and the deep, earthy scent of pines. But not flowers. There were no roses in the north other than the petals of the gigantic Iron Keeps, their blossoms made of obsidian razors and flanks of iron and their scents were not the sweet, exuberant life that now flushed over the dark embassy, stilling ready steps, trained features unmoving beyond a soft inhale and a quick exhale and the narrowing of dark pupils in their eyes as keen senses try to come to bear such potency.

The first to face the roses was the dark Prince, the tyrant, the master of an entire race, the lure of even the roses not enough to still the responsibility, the duty, the control. He steps into a dream, a nightmare, a fantasy, his feet feeling the yield of the roses, their stalks and stems and vines accepting his weight with ease and gentle sway, by the second step his balance is returned, finding the natural rhythm of the living floor and as his eyes turn up, to the way the living roof shields the suns, turning the chambers into twilight so fond to him he feels reason, control, calm wash over him, a gentle wave halting his guard from entering even as that tight root of rage, the thing all Drow`ayne are taught to harness and embrace dissipates under his will, such darkness not having place in this sanctuary, his mind soothing his soul until nothing but controlled calm remains, purity of thought and manner and with that, he enters deeper, seeking the Rose among the roses.




The soft jingle of those strange little chains alerted Mura to the Prince’s approach…but not before the Roses themselves whispered of his presence within her sanctuary. The flowers beneath her slender body seemed to move restlessly as Mura forced herself to rise from her sprawled position on the rosebed, fingers restlessly gliding over the velvet of the rose petals. Distantly she felt the silken weight of her cloak sliding down to fall in her lap, nearly forgotten in her weariness. Given only scant moments of rest it appeared blatantly unfair that he should arrive to bother her so very soon after she had left. But the roses whispered to her of a tenseness in the Prince’s step…an agitation in his step…and the presence of his guard waiting outside of her Gardens.

That in of itself simply made his presence all the more unwelcome. A moment of complete selfishness left Mura wishing that she could have one single day of utter rest. Her body was crying for it and her mind and patience felt stretched as thin as they had ever been. Her nerves were frazzled…no matter that she was curled among the one thing in her world which could soothe her. Slowly forcing herself to slide off the bed of roses, the blindfold and cape forgotten behind, Mura forced her weary body to straighten, her chin rising proudly as her shoulders straightened. She did not need to bear a crown for her nobility to be apparent in every delicate line of her slender body.

When Lykai finally arrived, he would find her thus, waiting for him, her brilliant and peculiar eyes bare of the blindfold, her hair, which had been undeniable black when they had been together mere minutes before, a changeling shade between the pure white tones she was rumored to have and the deep black he knew, the color slowly shifting back and forth as the sunlight, barely visible through the leaves above, shakily filtered down upon her head. When he came closer, Mura wasted no time, her control feeling frayed and as if it were about to snap, although her voice didn’t betray even a hint of her deepest desire to not have to deal with the Prince so soon. “You are upset.” It was not a question, and her voice held the royal strength that had been born and bred into her very bones. Now was the time for him to explain why he disagreed with her decisions concerning his Court. She was trying to be fair by allowing him even a chance to explain…because all she truly wished to do was dismiss him and the consequences be damned.




She stood there, regal, a Rose among roses, slight, little but with none of the almost timid, inwards turned mannerisms of his "guide", now a true queen even with the edge of weariness about her, in the eyes, a flicker of privacy interrupted, a truer sign of a ruler than her posture ever could tell, a figment only another one of such responsibility could witness and appreciate and even through the alert peace of his mind there is a quickly snuffed flare of anger at the courtiers expression of her thoughtless order. But here they were, two rulers of powerful kingdoms and unique people, forced into a needless confrontation by nothing more than differences of culture and ways. A confrontation the Prince was not sure how to solve, to reach a conclusion of mutual respect but as his gilded eyes, so very readily adapted to the twilight, finally able to witness her as she should in his eyes, that demand in her statement, the weariness, frustration. It would all colour his peoples fate.

But this was not a meeting of two peers but a forced contact of rulers and she had not greeted him, no respect, only the urgency to solve this, yet another task in a list too long and so he simply eased to stand before her, straight, powerful, unyielding but his face soft, the tense demand of his features that had led him here gone now.

"Upset would only cloud my need for clarity in your orders in the manner in which the Iron Court was to be... taken in to your halls..."

He leaves the words to linger there as he seeks further words and finally coming to some silent conclusion.

"I must show you this, but in privacy, if I may, and even then, I must ask for a sacrifice from one of my own."

He does not speak the remaining words that linger on his mind and cloy at his tongue, words even someone without empathy could read in the silence between, "...a sacrifice that was not needed without your command". But blame was not his to cast, his burden for her great enough without pettiness but the hurt he felt for his own still a shadow over his ashen features from which those golden eyes reflect the scattered shards of light.

With his words spoken, he steps to side and with a soft, concentrated whisper, summons another into her cage of roses, this one a female, the one who spoke with him earlier when his Iron Court arrived, her body still encased in clothing from eyes down, a tall collar hiding her delicate elven features but the tight fit of her garb doing nothing to hide the power within that tall body and silently she yields before her, never crossing closer to her than him, his presence an invisible shield for the Rose, falling to her knees into the vines, her face downcast like a supplicant but her form stiff, her thoughts a controlled chaos that only another softly spoken whisper of her
absolute ruler stills into cool resolution and in silence, she extends her left arm before her.

"I feel I must explain..."

The Princes soft speech, lilting, delicate, poetic murmurs, only for the Rose but soothing to the dark figure supplicating before her at his side finally ending the revered silence.

"Among the Drow`ayne, individuality exists only within the greater whole..."

At this his touch reaches down to the womans gloved hand and gently extend it to the side, the limb yielding to his guidance with blind obedience and absolute trust.

"We are first a nation, then a house, a keep, an order and finally, a family..."

His deft hands remove clasps and buckles across the length of her limb and slowly beginning to peel the straps that tie the cloth in tight to the arm, working with an almost ritualistic serenity and patience.

"We give... only so much for each of those entities... but once we reach our families, we are almost empty... we have nothing to give... but our very selves..."

The leashes wrapped around his own hands as he gently touches her shoulder, reassuringly and then begins to fold back the sleeve, rolling the loose fabric back an inch at a time.

"And we keep our true selves secret from others, for only the family is allowed to witness us so intimately... only they shall learn our form... our skin... our bones... our flaws..."

With every slow inch, more and more of the limb is unwrapped, revealing dark, subtle rods like bones illuminated gently from within with a blue glow, slowly, reverently revealing the metal and tendon structure, a golem creation, an abomination of a flesh and bone limb, an imitation, within the light steel, tiny gems like winters light taken barely physical form, animating the limb revealed until finally the dark Prince gently removes the glove to bare the artificial arm in all of its strange, remarkable craft, metal wrought to elven slenderness and delicate power but hollow, the soft light of the gems glowing through delicate spokes and joints as she moves the limb minutely.

"Many assume we cast out our injured, the ones who are useless, tended by others, those that would weaken our nations but in truth, we do not have cripples or injured for we simply sacrifice the ruined flesh and accept the flaw and allow it to make us stronger. This is why there are no blind beggars or ruined veterans in our keeps. For we remain strong until we perish completely..."

"And this is why many of my people cannot pass the examinations of your court. To bare their flesh or their limbs to others, not of their family would violate that last gift they have to give."

Gently he eases the sleeve back down and allows his guardian to lower her arm, his gaze lingering on the Rose, the queen, seeking understanding and acceptance in those fluctuating eyes.

"They will do so, for me, but I wish you will not force them to that sacrifice..."




His presence was an intrusion of her privacy. That much was true enough. But she had expected him to come anyway. It was her duty to see to the tasks that she took upon herself. It was simply the expected confrontation caused by her order that had ended with her shortness with the Prince. 

In truth, she knew it wasn’t fair to either him or herself.

So she listened to him speak, her mind a chaos of conflicting emotions, none of which showed upon her expressionless face or within the changeling eyes, which uncannily followed his slight movements. Until he spoke of sacrifice. It was only then that she forced her mind to calmness, the lithe muscles beneath pale skin shifting faintly as worry and doubt began to creep into the very fringes of her mind. The Prince was an unknown…he and his people presented a danger to her. They represented, along with each and every other Prince and Court that had recently arrived, a desire to do nothing but use her and her land for their own gain. It was, she privately admitted, the root of her anger. 

Yet, all the same, Mura understood that they all had come because of a need. Setting aside their duties as rulers in order to leave their lands and enter the strange world of her Court, bending over backwards to adhere to her rules and ways, they had proven that their need was, perhaps, greater than her own desire to deny them her hand. 

Once again her selfishness shamed her. 

So it was that she simply forced herself to listen to his words, the summoning whisper curling through the air with a uniqueness that caught her ear, finally allowing her to note and grudgingly admire the fact that the Drow…for all their murderous ways…appeared to be a strangely quiet race. Almost enviously so, for her world was a constant myriad of sound, from the soft sigh of the wind, creak of limbs, rustle of leaves, to the soft, distant song of her people. 

When the slender woman approached, Mura recognized her by the cadence of her steps and the scent of her skin through the whisper of her clothing. Light and atmosphere tracked the woman’s movements until she finally knelt beside her prince. And as Lykai began to speak, Mura felt herself finally…if only for the second time…listening…fully…to the words that were being spoken. Nevermind the worry that whispered of the terrible scene that could unfold before her. Somehow, even knowing better, Mura nearly expected murder to be committed before her…for the words of sacrifice summoned terrible images within her mind. The severity of his actions only echoed those imaginings. 

But still, Mura held her tongue and stayed her hand, almost afraid of any rash action that could cause more harm than good. Only when she heard and felt the taste of fabric being removed did she force her ‘sight’ to show her what was being presented to her. 

It was a strange spectacle… A limb carefully, tenderly, being unwrapped. The reverent touch of a ruler upon one of his people. And it occurred to Mura that she had never…not once…allowed herself to believe in the possibility of gentleness in the elvine man standing before her. For the first time she was confronted by something that she truly understood…and by the least likeliest source…kindness. It stunned and shocked, stilling the thoughts in her mind as she waited.

"And we keep our true selves secret from others, for only the family is allowed to witness us so intimately... only they shall learn our form... our skin... our bones... our flaws..."

“En Puwe’al’engem”  
Grandmother bless me.

The stunned words were ripped from Mura as light, so very bright and beautiful that it blinded her mental sight, washed over her senses. For a long moment she reeled, her slender body wavering as if she were a sapling in a gentle breeze. Struggling to regain her wits, Mura battled for control as her senses slowly righted themselves and she viewed for the first time the exquisite beauty of the limb presented to her. 

Before her was not an abomination. It was not the war golems, or the death of countless to create something that defied nature’s laws. What she saw was a miracle of magic and ingenuity. A healing that defied even her own healer’s abilities. The limb itself appeared in her mind as if it were made of a thousand miniscule stars, pinpoints of light so bright as if to blind her were she not already so. They moved, shimmered…mesmerized. 

Shame.

It was nearly overwhelming. She could feel the tips of her ears lowering in response…the roses curling in upon themselves as she felt herself drowning in it. Mura found herself moving before she fully realized it. The distance between herself and the Drow were closed. Slender legs folded beneath her weight as she knelt, head bowed before the silent female, her delicate hands rest prone on her knees, palms facing upwards, fingers curled and relaxed even as her back remained straight. 

“You shame me.”

The words were quiet…as sincerely heartfelt as it could possibly be. 

Mura knew that she had been wrong. Her biased frustration had caused an amount of suffering that was deeper than even her own. 

“My lack of knowledge of yours ways is no excuse for my actions.”

And it was true. She was the figurehead of a nation. When she made a rash mistake it not only hurt her, but had the power to harm everyone who looked to her for care and protection. But not only the people she cared for… Her actions also had the power to harm those who were not of her people. What she had inadvertently taken from the woman could not be replaced, and that above all shamed her the most. Mura hadn’t the ability to rectify the damage that had been done and her apology felt hollow in her chest.

“Ah`ne`N'yapere.”

Her inflection was purely Drow`ayne, and she knelt as she was for several lingering moments before slowly, gracefully rising to her feet, face tilting upwards as she faced the Prince fully, her slender shoulders set squarely as she spoke to him.

“It was never my intention to deny your court entrance to the terraces of my City. I spoke unthinkingly and with haste. For that you also have an apology. I meant only to protect my people from the dangers of your war golems. Our children are given the freedom to live their lives as children, and there are times that their curiosity gets the better of their judgment. I worry for their safety and that of anyone else that might venture too close to such things without realizing the dangers, no matter that they are warned.”

Mura paused for a heartbeat as she considered her options. “I will speak to Lord Usol and Akarat unless there is something further that troubles you, your Highness, at which case myself and the Mantis Court is at your disposal.” 

That spoken, Mura gave the prince her full attention, patiently awaiting his decision.




A tender rustle of roses, petals and blooms and vines, other sounds of an elven kingdom, of trees, of people, of life. But within this sanctuary, silence. Stunned shortness of breath, the speeding of hearts, the intimacy of a queen bowed but the moment passes like a dream as she stands once more, no longer supplicant, the violated guard no longer in her attention, leaving but a memory of that strange passing. The dark guard lingers on her knees with her Princes hand light on her shoulder but in that touch, all the strength she needs to keep her back straight, unbowed by such kindness in the wake of such savaging intimacy, a pillar of support for that moment of weakness until it passes from the fore to the distant back, first, the glove slipping back on the agile, flexible digits of dark steel and the long sleeve, loose, fluent over the lithe, twined bones, the tender glow of winter dimming out of sight, the sleeve then, layer by layer bound with the lashes by her tyrant. Only then do those strange Drow`ayne eyes turn upon the queen of roses, pale like the sky, the light of the suns glimmering in their depths like they do in all Drow`ayne orbs, a people that chose the dark with eyes that seem to hunger, yearn for the light. Those eyes linger on the Mantis queen before her dark figure stands, smooth and deadly once more and turns and goes, her steps gentle, silent over the vines.

And then there were two among the roses. Rulers each, a King and a Queen. Rose and Ruin. The lingering, gentle rustle of the roses as they respond to their own, turning to the suns and to their daughter, somehow leaving the Drow`ayne Prince into shadows where only the light captured in those peculiar golden orbs linger as they face the young queen, watch her in silence before a gentle exhale, like a starting note of a quiet, lonely symphony whispers from his lips, the hush a word, followed by another in that tender, lilting song of the Drow`ayne speech, the twilight and the dusk not needing louder words.

"This was not to hurt you, Queen of roses. It was not to shame you or your kingdom."

A pause. The aching whisper susurrates away, the song pauses as an earnest gaze lingers on her, the need to turn that obedience to her nation to an understanding plaguing the Prince.

"To bring my court here was a mistake. Mine to make, my failure. The Drow`ayne are too hard for your world. They appear like a conquering army with their blades and their golems. They seem a blunt weapon to make demands with. And that is not what I am here for..."

And those words, soft, gentle whisper of the Drowvayne way, they leave the question open as to why did he come here. Why leave his kingdom so close to chaos, to a conscious anarchy, to leave, to face threats unknown among a fey people, strange and alien to him.

"I am in part, sent here to fulfill a pact of the past. To court the Rose. To win her hand. But this is not the Drow`ayne way. Ours is the way of respect. And this charade machinated by others tastes of ashes. But you have shown my people mercy and honor and for that, you have my respect..."

This time, there is a minute bow, more a nod at his whispers stillness, that of a worthy opponent.

"No more could I ask of you, and neither shall I..."

The Prince slowly turns, his gaze slipping from her barely clad form, her brazen half-dress strange, unsettling, this little thing he was to desire, was to make his own, to bond with. This alien thing, undoubtedly lovely but so like a Rose, blossoms in sight and thorns hidden from the unwary hand.

But this is a hand of a Drow`ayne. Wary and strong. And if it reached for that Rose, it would hold it, thorns and all. And it remembers the perfect Drow`ayne lilt of her apology, a language spoken only by those of the high North, the murderous, dark kin.

"Rest, Rose, for others will surely task you as my court has..."

And with that, he finally turns and leaves to the gentle metallic whisper of his spiritcatchers, the silver hooks almost like thorns of a rose themselves.


The Rose and the Ruin: Io's Journey


The Prince’s subsequent words and departure only served to leave Mura even more confused than she had been before. Confusion that she was forced to push aside as she sighed, rubbing slender fingers over weary eyes. She still needed to send word to Lord Uthol concerning her change in dictate. There was also the banquet that was to be started in mere hours. But even before the banquet she had a meeting with her council members, who wished to speak with her. 

So many different little things tugged at her mind. The skies above threatened rain, which wouldn’t cause any more issue than it was to unroll the sliding sections of her palace roof over the open edges of the Court balconies. She needed to stop in at the kitchens and discuss the final details of the menus with the cooks as well as caution all of her people dealing directly with the Drow to maintain a respectful distance. At least seven different people wished to speak with her on varying subjects that would take an unknown amount of time. To think that she might have been left alone long enough to gain a bit of sleep had been a fanciful dream.

Inhaling deeply, Mura once more set aside her weariness and allowed the soft warmth to envelope her as she vanished from her Hanging Gardens and reappeared among her people.

….

Eve had finally arrived…too quickly for some…but too long awaited for others as the Elvine princes were all sent an escort to guide them to the vast terrace that was known as the Mantis Court. For the sake of the number of elves that would be attending, the mithril dividers between the Court of Majere and its two neighbors had been dismantled. What was left was nearly a mile of terrace that wrapped snugly around the Grandmother’s broad, three-mile in circumference trunk. Given the impending rain, the pollen of countless plants had cleared dramatically, leaving the air nearly crystal in clarity. 

The food had already been placed on the long tables by the time the princes and their courts arrived. Mithril gating stood along the edge of the enormous terrace hugging Grandmother’s trunk. Countless roses wound in an out of the mithril, creating a living wall of beauty to sit at the backs of those who would sit at the tables, which lined that waist-high wall, leaving room enough for benches and the freedom of movement without feeling trapped or claustrophobic between the wall and the tables. Anyone sitting would have full view of the terrace and those coming in and out of the large, open doorways leading to it. Dividing the long tables in their center was a raised dais bearing another table large enough to comfortably seat twelve. Behind it sat chairs rather than benches, the most impressive being Mura’s own throne. Normally reserved for her own Court, it had been set aside for Mura and the other Princes for the banquet. Each prince, upon their guide meeting and greeting them at the entrance of their quarters, had been informed that they would be sitting with the Queen and that they had the option of bringing one other with them, whether that person being family, friend, advisor, or guard making no difference. Mura herself had chosen the Airial princess, who had already taken her place at the table by the time the other princes arrived, sitting on the right side of Mura as her brother quickly took the chair left to Mura, leaving the other Princes and their chosen companion to take what seats were left.

Mura herself was conspicuously absent until each prince, companion, and their courts had seated themselves. Only then did she make her arrival, her personal guard of six following silently behind her, the first show of any sort of guard or weapons that could be accounted for by the visitors to her kingdom. Unlike the rest of her people, they were covered entirely from head to toe in tight clothing, eerily similar to the standard dress of the Drow`ayne. Armed to the teeth, they paused behind their queen, the muted tones of mottled green, soft black and browns of their dress allowing them to blend in their surroundings, even against the gleaming onyx backdrop of her palace. 

The Queen of the Mantis Court and Forest Empire stood before her seated guests, making her first official appearance before them. She appeared a bright, pale star in the halfling twilight of falling eve and light offered by the multitude of glowing orbs that hovered throughout the Mantis Court; her only color the sapphire/amethyst rose tucked above her slender ear and her brilliant dual-toned eyes. 

Knee-length, glittering white hair was pulled back only by the sides, secured by a simple silver clip. Each strand seemed to pull into it the light and reflect it outwards again, softening her body with an almost internal glow.  

Upon her brow sat a delicate circlet, the secondary crown of her station, which was crafted of fine silver strands that wound together in an endless braid. Within its strands were set various gems of specific size and make. Upon her brow sat the largest, its size slightly larger than one’s thumb nail, Gleaming with it’s blue-black qualities. Tanzanite. From there smaller gems studded the crown. Smokey Quartz, Black Star Sapphires, Azurite-Malachite, Aquamarine, Amethyst, and Amazonite. Each had its own channeling ability, turning Mura’s aura to a light pink, which deepened to a bright red as it spread towards her body. 

All signs of her exhaustion were gone as if they had never been, a short visit to the Rowanwood Bathes and the presence of the crown aiding her in gathering her energy together for the evening’s appearance. She stood before them, her slender body gleaming from the curiously crafted dress she wore. Its neck was high, nearly brushing her jaw, and from there its lines gently settled along her curves, the generous swell of her breasts, hugging her slim waist and pulling over her hips before falling in soft pleats down to her toes. The tight-fitting sleeves were pointed over the backs of her hands, a small loop securing each to her middle fingers. But it was not the shape of her dress that was so very curious, or lack of intricate design. It was the material itself. Rather than woven, it appeared to be linked, tiny shards of an unknown silvery blue material appeared curiously like scales, offering her an almost draconic appearance. Each moved and glittered as she stepped forward and gracefully bowed before her guests, slender hands gracefully spreading outwards in welcome from her sides. Her voice, when she spoke, was pure melody, resonating softly, carrying to the ears of each and every guest of the hundreds seated. 

“Welcome all to the Mantis Court. Those of you whom have traveled great distances to be here, I trust that you encountered no great trouble in your journeys. My people have made every effort to see to your comfort and well being.”

Mura smiled and then turned slightly to motion broadly over the great expanse of the Court. “Tonight is a night for feasting, laughter, and entertainment. After the meal my people have a great many things planned. Anyone who wishes to join in the contests and tournaments is more than welcome to do so. All I ask is that you enjoy yourselves and the things that my empire has to offer.” With that, she bowed to those seated and graciously gave the floor to her Master of Celebration; a slender elf of middling years with a pleasant smile and smooth voice, who spoke, explaining what the first entertainments would be.

As the props for a play were quickly being set up, Mura quietly dismissed her guard, with a nod of thanks, and found her way to her seat, where she settled gracefully. As the first heavy raindrops began to hit the giant awnings stretched over the terrace, the princess seated next to her leaned over and spoke in low tones. “You look lovely, Mura. Who wove your dress?” Reaching for her wineglass, Mura took a sip of her drink and then smiled faintly. “Thank you, Myraes. The dress was given to me as a gift from my aunt when I was a child. I have a few others, if you should like to have them.” 

The princess nodded. “Well it suits you, your Highness.” And then she grinned slightly. “And no, but thank you. If my brothers, either one of them, ever caught me wearing a dress, they would likely drop dead from the shock of it.” And it was true. Myraes appeared to abhor dresses of any sort. Her customary outfits were trousers and a tunic…and even at the banquet she wore just that, albeit a bit fancy, even for her. For once she hadn’t worn a bandana, choosing instead to adorn her hair in braids and gold chains, from which hung small silver disks that jangled and winked in the light. A fine mithril pendant hung from her slender neck, and her green armless tunic parted in a deep V, showing tantalizing bits of cleavage without being improper. Upon her left ear she wore an ear-sheath, from which more tiny chains dangled, the disks hanging from their ends clinking merrily whenever she turned her head. A bright red length of silk wrapped around her waist, and from there her black trousers clung tightly at her hips and loosened into pleats before they vanished, tucked into heavy, finely tanned leather boots at mid-calf. 

Such flashy wear was customary for Myraes. She gave little care for the colors she wore, or even if they clashed, so long as they were bright. It drove her father, mother, and brothers to distraction, her insistence to dress thus…but they had eventually resigned themselves…which was just as well, for Myraes had a deep stubborn streak within her, and a strong will. 

The fact that she had actually dressed the part of Elvine princess earlier that day, to bring news of her brother’s wish to speak to Mura, had been part of a dare. A clever enough maneuver on her brother’s part, for he knew that his younger sister would never have approached Mura on his behest otherwise. 

Bysaes, overhearing his sister’s words, spoke. “She is right. Myraes wouldn’t be caught dead in a proper dress. And I don’t ever expect to see her in one until she finds a husband.” Mura chuckled even as Myraes laughed, lifting her glass to toast her brother. “I have yet to find an elf who could keep up with me, brother dearest. They run screaming like little girls when they see me coming. As they should.” Bysaes snorted softly at his sister’s words. “You say that now. But the Desert Prince gave you a run for your money. I’m still not entirely certain how you managed to send him home without your hand in marriage.”

The princess chuckled. “He knew I was too much for him. It would never have worked between us. But I rather think he is perfect for Mura…” 

Bysaes appeared to say something just as Mura spoke up. “That is quite enough… The play is beginning…I should like to watch it.” That appeared to silence both of them. But even as they quieted to watch the actors and actresses give their lines…tell the story of long ago events…Mura couldn’t allow herself to enjoy the play properly. Her mind was occupied by too many things…and it was a struggle to not simply fall asleep to the heavy rhythm of the rain falling against the terrace roof. She had almost done just that when a sharp pinch on her thigh brought her back to the present. Starting slightly, she forced herself to sit up straight even as she glanced over at Myraes, who was for all appearances entranced by the play. Setting her wine aside, Mura forced herself to pay attention to the last of the play and applaud when it was all over.

Servants appeared out of the woodwork and cleared away the food and dishes, leaving Mura to realize that she hadn’t eaten a thing. If she had the energy, she would go to the kitchens later on and find something for herself, she decided. The Master of Celebration appeared once again as the last of the servants vanished. The rest of the evening would consist of games, events, and at the end, a special dance for their entertainment. Prizes would be given to winners, presented by Mura herself before the last dance. Anyone who wished to compete was more than welcome to do so. The first of which would be a simple archery contest. To make it fair, it was asked that nobody use magic to gain an advantage. It was to be a contest of skill, after all.

Myraes shifted in her chair as the Master of Celebration asked for volunteers. She almost volunteered when Bysaes stood from his seat, eliciting a cheer from his Court when he stood, prompting several of his own people to also stand and join him down in the cleared area of the Court. Mura leaned towards Myraes. “Why didn’t you go down there?” The princess snorted softly. “And compete against my brother? I’m hardly glutton for punishment… Bysaes was born with a bow in his hand. If he’d been born other than a Prince and as a Forest Elf, he’d likely be the Master of the Hunt. I’ve little doubt that he will win this event.”

And sure enough, the Airial prince won…but not as easily as he might have liked, for one of Mura’s own people, a young woman by the name of Csitri, lost by a mere two points. After Bysaes had bowed to his competition, and returned to his seat, Myraes made it a point to tease her elder brother over the fact that he had almost lost to a girl little more than a child. He took it all in stride, merely agreeing that the girl had astounding talent for one so young. 

The next game, it was announced, would be something of an obstacle course. The event would be timed, the best time being the winner. This time Myraes leapt from her seat. More elves joined that event that the first. The course was quickly set up. The most challenging part of it was a part where the competitor had to use a grappling hook, throw the hook up into the eaves of the awning and swing themselves over a marked area and land on a thin, long board, retrieve their hook and continue on. 

It looked as if Myraes might win the competition when a male Sea Elf completed the course in nearly a third less of the time it had taken her. But the princess graciously accepted her defeat, congratulating the elf with a respectful bow and returned to her seat with a thoughtful look on her face. Even Byraes’s teasing didn’t appear to faze her at all as she merely shook her head and smiled.

The following contest was one of strength. The winner was none other than the Dwarf that Io had brought to Mura’s land. Nobody felt the need to point out the fact that it was unfair to pit a Dwarf against an elf in such a contest…for all that had competed had known the Dwarf would win even as they had done so. 

The test of dexterity was next. The contest was more difficult to judge than the former ones, and in the end it was a tie between a Forest Elf named Pira and an Airial Elf named Kaik. Cheers from both sides resounded as it was announced. 

From there a contest at swordplay and then dagger-throws followed. Elves from every nation but that of the Land Elves competed. The swordplay was won by a young female Drow elf, and the dagger-throws were won by a Forest elf. 

At long last the contests were over, and Mura stood as the prizes were brought out and laid on the table before her. She then called the winners to the dais, where to each she presented them with a gift. For the Bow contest, Bysaes was given a finely crafted bow. For the Obstacle Course, the Desert Elf was presented with a small fortune’s worth of mithril coins. To the Dwarf that had won the contest of Strength, Mura gave a small mithril statue of an upright fist. The winners of the Dexterity contest were both awarded with miniature Wyrm statues. The Drow Elflet that won the Swordplay contest was given a sword which had been crafted by one of the finest Weapons-smith’s known to the world, and the Forest elf that had won the dagger-throws was given a set of daggers crafted by that very same smith. 

After personally congratulating the winners, and then thanking all of those whom had participated, Mura then turned the floor back over to her Master of Celebration, who raised his hands to gain the attention of everyone. His voice was smooth as he slowly began.

“The last part of this evening’s entertainment is a special dance that has meaning to all of us, whether we be Forest Elf, of the Deserts, ride upon the winds of the skies, or drift upon the waves of the Seas. Even those living within the valleys of the Land Elves, or high within the barren North, this is a story that touches all. It is the story of the Beginning, of when the Paramentali, the World Benders, Alchemists of the Elements first arrived…and created of themselves the Wyrm, the Fey, and then ourselves…even the Dwarves and the creatures that live in the foul Wastelands. We, as elves, do not always agree with one another…and over the many, many eons we have parted ways as a whole…but we can all agree that in the beginning of our race, we were one..and tonight I ask that we set aside all of our differences and allow the wonder of what the Paramentali first created to bring us back together as one…as what we were first born as…as nothing more than Elves…before conflict drove us apart. 

We are all taught this dance…as children…no matter our nationality…and while some may find the steps altered slightly between our people, I now ask any who wish to join to feel free to do so. This evening should not just be a gathering of Elves to visit one mere purpose…but a gathering…of Elves…to celebrate nothing more than the fact that we are Elves…and that at long last, no matter the reason, we are together again.”

The elf fell silent for a long moment…allowing his words to settle over those he spoke to. “And now…may I present…this evening’s final entertainment…

The magical orbs, which had lit the Majere Court to a brightness of daylight slowly began to dim until the entire court was nearly at a pitch black, the darkness lingering a long moment as faint sounds came from the cleared area of the Court…until a faint light began to glow in the center of the Court. 

At first it appeared so very dim that it might have been the trick of the mind, wanting for light…but it slowly grew brighter, and brighter as it emanated from one lone elflet, who stood in the center of the Court, her clothing almost sheer in transparency, and the same color as her flesh to further give the illusion of her nudity. Soon, she was before them, appearing almost as bright as the first sun against the surrounding darkness. She stood before them, absolutely motionless as another light began to appear…not white…but a brazen violet…a second sun…and together their light gave witness to seventeen groups of elves standing behind them, each group bearing six elves, entangled together, each group’s costume different. Air, Earth, Water and Fire were easy enough to spot, for their brilliant colors came in white, brown, blue and a brilliant mixture of red and orange. Touch, Taste, Mind, Scent and Sight were a bit harder to define, for their costumes were not as obvious. Hand-like images covered the group representing Touch, Taste was represented by a brilliant array of colors, Mind stood together in silver costumes, their bodies constantly moving, Scent all wore a fragrance that could be smelled by all, and Sight wore costumes with eye-like images similar to the Touch group. Defense, Offense, Matter and Anti-Matter were also gathered. Defense wore costumes that appeared like body armor, while Offense both were clearly armed, Matter both wearing costumes of indiscriminate colors and carrying hundreds of small scarves of green and brown attached to their costumes, while Anti-Matter stood well away from everyone else, bearing hundred of black scarves. Life, Death, Time and Space were all dressed accordingly. Life were dressed in bright reds and green, Death wore black and silver, while Time all bore images of hour-glasses upon their costumes and Space looked as if they were covered in stars. 

As the two elves representing the two Sun of Celtrillus began to move together, their auras casting light over all seventeen groups of Six, the seventeen groups began to split up among themselves. Within each group three elves parted ways together, and within each halved group one elf separated further, those lone elves finding one another and then vanishing into the surrounding darkness as one, leaving four elves of each group left, and even they were split with one partner each. The pairs began to circle one another as yet more elves appeared, their costumes a brilliant blue-silver and crystalline in appearance. They represented the Ice Gems…and as they moved in among the now thirty-four groups of elves, they would reach out and steal a partner away, leaving the remaining partner to vanish off into the darkness as the groups all revolved around one another. 

Soon enough each ‘Ice Gem’ possessed various amounts of partners. Some possessed a partner from Taste, Touch, Mind, Life, Matter, Scent, and Sight…and others merely possessed one partner, as did those having chosen Death, Anti-Matter, any of the Four elements, Space, Time, Defense or Offense. Still, they spun together, the ‘Gem’ elves having only one partner flickering in and out of sight on the outskirts of the provided light while the ‘Gem’ elves having seven partners spun in the center…until suddenly they exploded away from one another, a new elf dressed in wyrm-like clothing, bearing a mask, flew from their scattered center, dancing outwards with graceful abandon. The scattered elves drew together again, only to explode away, over and over again giving birth from to a wyrm-dressed elf from their midst. All the while the gem-dressed elves bearing only one partner continued to circle the others until they were suddenly attacked by a group of seven, the four groups each containing an Element elf all being swallowed, along with the gem elves dancing with the partner representing Death. Together, they continued to circle, with the wyrm-dressed elves flitting in around them. 

Suddenly the groups containing two ice gems exploded outwards, giving birth to a new type of elf, one bearing wing-like appendages…the Fey. Again and again it was repeated, each new ‘Fey’ a different sort. Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Death… From the shadows more of each Fey slowly appeared to dance among them as the initial groups containing the two ice gem elves appeared to lose certain partners, such as the element elves and the Death elf…

The Fey Elves and Wyrm elves, meanwhile, began to fight, continually colliding into one another, forcing either fey or wyrm to spin off into the darkness until there were few of either… The two types of elves began to warily dance around one another…until without reason one Fey and one Wyrm suddenly came together…and neither was sent spinning away… Rather, they paused…and bowed…each reaching for the other, suddenly dancing together rather than against. The other dancers soon followed suit. 

Meanwhile the elves dancing with their gem-dressed elves suddenly exploded again…and gave birth not to a wyrm or Fey…but an elf. This continued again and again…and that was where the elves sitting at their tables were welcome to join…to be ‘born’ into the world of dancers. 

In the darkness around them, music had been playing since the very beginning…but as elves began to appear among the costumed dancers, actual singing began and the music changed… 

Soon elves were dancing with elves…revolving around the Fey and Wyrm-dressed partners…as even more dancers soon appeared…some dressed as Dwarves…and others appearing as Orcs or Goblins, the latter two dancing by themselves, occasionally reaching out and plucking elvine partners from the floor even as they were occasionally plucked by a pair of elves dancing together. 

The groups still bearing gem-dressed dancers vanished from the floor as more and more elves began to appear. The birth of Celtrillus’s creatures was at an end…but the dance could continue… And Mura found herself being tugged up and out of her chair by Myraes. Laughing softly, she allowed it, wanting to dance among those already on the floor as much as Myraes did. 

The magical orbs which had provided the light from before slowly began to light…bringing the court into sight once more as Mura found herself spinning on the dance floor, flitting between partners. When she found herself partnered with a Fey-dressed elf, she laughed, allowing herself the luxury of bringing her wings into sight, the sudden appearance of actual Fey wings, so very rare among the elves, bringing a burst of applause by those who witnessed it. A change of partners later found Mura face to face with Bysaes. He didn’t smile…merely bowed and took her hand, drawing her with him as they spun among the others. This continued for a few moments until her partners changed again, and Mura found herself dancing with the Sea Prince. How either prince had managed to find her among the many elves dancing around them was anyone’s guess…but Mura didn’t allow herself much thought on it as she danced, allowing herself to enjoy the flowing glide of steps, even as her partners changed yet again. 

She was relaxed…dancing with an elf she had never met when it struck. With the force of a physical blow. Sharp. Unrelenting. A piercing agony deep inside of her gut. The slicing torment sheered her attention away from the intricate steps even as her mind spun away from everything that she understood as present and reality. Dizzying. Sickening. It was a disorienting sensation that she understood well. Mura faltered. But retained only the presence of mind to gracefully excuse herself of her partner’s presence and slide out of the group of dancers, finding her way, blindingly, to a place away from the mystical dance that her people were presenting as entertainment. There, she stood, as if observing them from her abandoned corner of the Court, too near the tables holding agitated Dark Elves and too far from her personal guard for them to be of much use were ought to go wrong. Still, the vulnerability of her person was the farthest thing from her mind as time and place melted away under the onslaught of new sensations. 

It was a dark place…as it always was. But this darkness stole her breath. Smoke so very thick it choked the life from her body. Scents unlike anything she had known before. The screaming heat of charred skin flayed her senses. Something tugged at her intestines. A serrated jerk. Fresh agony flared through her tormented body as she felt herself being flung away. Spinning, crumpling, the ground cold, hard, but quickly warming as if a trough of warm water had been spilled onto the ground beside her even as her body began to grow leaden, cold. But still she felt herself moving…crawling…as the warmth turned into something more definite through the thick, coarse clothing she wore. It was slick, eventually tangling around her knees and legs even as the tugging sensation in her gut continued behind the agony. 

She gave a frail kick and screamed as the pain in her gut became tearing. Rolling away from the pain, onto her back, she reached for her stomach as she curled into a fetal position and there, she felt, a sensation that she knew all to well from her years of butchering swine and cattle for food and leather. Hot, slick, soft and squishy. Long ropes of it trailing from her belly. Her mind was in too much shock to fully accept that she had been gutted as nothing more than the creatures that she had butchered throughout her entire life. The ropes tangling around her legs were her own intestines, and the kick had only served to rip them away from the lining of her abdominal walls. There was no surviving such an injury, she knew. And even as she accepted that, her body grew too heavy, too cold; the pain was too much, and the knowledge that her entire family had been butchered in that exact same manner was simply too final for her body to want to continue. So she lay there, smelling the sharp scent of her own burnt flesh, the odor of her own excrement leaking from ruptured intestines, as she allowed herself to die.

In that moment of death, Mura died with the poor, hapless human. His or her pain was Mura’s pain…and even in death, the mortal’s shade clung to Mura’s spirit…lost…confused…leaving Mura herself nauseated and swaying on her feet as she finally shook herself free of the soul and found her mind slammed back into her body. Down her spine the blood-tipped thorns of her birthmark dug in with blinding pain…each a miniature brand burning into her flesh. Disoriented, she struggled to regain a sense of time. How long had she been simply frozen there? It could have been minutes…death could come so very quickly…or it could have been longer…for the will to live could stave death off for quite a time… But still the thorns dug, the backlash from her Gift in its most uncontrolled moments… Soon, she knew, the weakness would set in…the rapid heartbeat…the shaky muscles and dizzying nausea coupled with a nigh debilitating headache. There had to be a price for uncontrolled magic…and it took its toll all too often. Yet it was a price that she had long learned to live with and function through. 

Schooling her features into their most serene state, Mura, by force of will alone, steadied herself on her feet. Her Fey’s wings wrapping tightly around her body with the all protection a cloak might provide. Only the rigid set of her spine, the muscles of her back in the throes of frozen agony could have told her story, were it not for the thick veil of her hair falling gently down to her knees. Only…but for the roses…which would broadcast her distress to any who knew…and so few would…for the depth of the link between Majere female and roses had been forgotten by the general populace during the years in which only male Majere had been born. 

It was a sad fact that the Elves had begun to think of the link between Majere woman and her roses only a fanciful myth…a myth they believed that the few females that there had been perpetuated simply because it was part of their heritage. Thanks to Thalmaat`Majere, Mura’s grandfather, nearly all the records pertaining to the Majere females and their abilities had been destroyed when he had publicly disavowed his only child, Mura’s mother. He had destroyed countless scrolls…priceless history…knowledge that had died with him and the elves that he had twisted with his corrupt magnetism. 

The roses gave her away, their brilliant violet and blue colors waning away as she felt the bud above her ear close tightly against the physical discomfort she was experiencing. With a nearly physical effort Mura forced herself to relax. Forced the magical bond between her well-being and the reaction of her roses to lessen. She channeled energy she didn’t have into bringing back the lush bloom and color of her roses. Color she could sense but had never seen. The bud above her ear seemed to loosen…to bloom slightly…but the wicked thorns that had spread would not be soothed. They stood outright, angry, ready to draw blood if tested. 

The dance was drawing to a close… If she could maintain self control for a bit longer, Mura knew that she could escape…flee to her bedroom sanctuary and give herself to the wracking weakness threatening to rip her in two. She had only to last a bit longer… So she gathered her resolve with a short, shaky breath…and drew on reserves of strength that she had long ago depleted.





The arrival of courts into the celebration and official welcome of the Mantis Court and her queen was like watching rivulets of rivers and streams coming together in a pit, each a different hue and feel, among the first the Aerials, pale, blue, silver, ephemeral and flighty, easily mingling with the other streams, like particles lost into the skies reaching and clinging to the ground, yearning for that gravity even as they slip from one guest to another, stranger and kindred both, bold, brave, unfrightened. Easily flowing to their colours but with deeper hues and alien eyes and attitudes, the kindred of the seas, deeper blues, strange greens and pearlescent pinks and silvers mingled with the darkest blacks of the ocean depths, their demeanor proud, strong but distant like a storm that influences all and yet cannot be influenced in turn.


Into this mix of sky and ocean a horizon appears, like a ghostly mirage of a fevered sailor, moving on steps unheard, like whispers and rumours, their arrival barely seen or felt but their presence unmistakable, a court of tranquility, their name in others tongue now almost a jest as their unearthly host less so arrives as solidifies in their midsts, their elven features somehow less so, like merely a single step on a path instead of a lifetime and their colours the myriad of hues of the world, taking the aspects of others, their earthen colours strong but blatantly no more than a shell over the layers of wispy, strange breeze.


And finally, the two nations, each somehow more rooted to this world than any of the elves before them for each draw lines in the sand and the mountains, claim kingdoms, shaping the world around them instead of becoming one with it just as their presence enters into the fold, pressing others away, the pale shrouds of the desert barely hiding the bristling rage and power like only born and bred survivors could muster, their gazes a mix of challenges and caution, like a whipped dog that instead of yielding throated its master and shall never bear the collar again. And unlike the heat of the southern deserts there is a chill of murder as the bleached greys, like funeral shrouds, a worship of death and sorrow the Drow`ayne slip among the other guests like knives into silk, hard eyes, lean, powerful builds, tallest with their militant backs, erect poses, head held high not from pride but with conviction, a strange chill of death and blood their banner as their serried ranks smoothly melt into the pooled elves, evenly spreading among them like a hunting pack of wolves.


And from within the crux of the arriving shadow, like the hidden fulcrum of murder impersonified moves a tall shade with singular drive, the dark prince of the Drow`ayne, the eerie, offputting syncopation of narrow chains and the dangerous, threatening glint of razorsharp runes and hooks, their silver distinct over the smooth layers of dark, ashen cloth, like a dead stain among the riot of colours, a muting touch, silence and chill, the winter, in this company of hundreds, thousands of elves of which a mere handful his own his flesh girded almost completely, high, snug collar crawling his skull and jawline and his hands cast in sheathes of fabric and metal, only the final two joints of his fingers and his noble, lean face a pale accent over the layers upon layers of cloth, straps and leashes that bind it all skintight to his upper body and leave the long spread of layers to blossom almost to the floor. All of that crowned by the lush winter of his hair, there, among the thin chains like jagged ice rising from snow narrow tines of burnt steel or corroded silver like a morbid crown or extended collar, a mark of his office, the first stage of the Iron Crown.


There, among the other nobles the darkling prince sits, by his side a silent sentinel, one whose face is half-hidden, the soft lips and mouth and the fine line of the jaw the only thing visible from within the archetypal Drow`ayne attire, when the queen of the Mantis Court and the forest kingdom finally arrives like a star, her halo like motes of ash and dirt in the form of her warrior guard, their guises unmissed even in the presence of her glow, luxurious and beautiful in her strange, immediate and yet distant way. And despite the alien nature of this kingdom, its vast distance from the cool and the quiet of the north, his heart and soul sick with the light and the colour and the texture and the smell of here, the sight of her pacifies that, something about her a soothing presence and for a quiet moment he allows himself to ignore the grandeur and the light and the volatile presence of so many dangerous things within such close proximity to simply let his mind slip to that moment among the roses where for a weary moment there was no Queen or Prince.


He lets that moment, memory linger in his mind even as his body moves to the needs of the court, rising and bowing to their hostess, the Majere heir, her words slipping past even as her voice triggers a moment of doubt once more, the sheer impossibility to view her in the same light that his entire life to this point has seen this elflet. This was no tool, no simple way to pacify his blooded people, she was not the liberation, not the saviour. She was a young girl, scared and so very painfully powerful, a living, breathing creature in her own right and that thought more than any bring a silent despair in the breast of the Dark Prince. That shock of realization hidden behind that subtle mask of patient calm, a mockery of the storm within even as he against his judgment turns once more to her, a gaze dead of anything but a violent turmoil of light twisting and roiling in anguish in the traps of his eyes, seeing her once again not as the courtly figure but as a woman, a girl, lovely, strange, her emotions exposed like a wild, naked hurricane, dangerous, fleeting, unpredictable. And even as she sat there, chattering with her friend, openly, no hidden codes in her manner or words or hands or dress, a ruler, so very young, the throne still chill beneath her, the power fresh, something about her terrifying, exciting.


Finally, with a sudden burst of shame at his indecent stare tearing his immediate, obvious attention from her, letting his eyes fall on the play, his senses on the delicacies paraded, allowing the predatory instincts steel his mind once more in observation of these other Princes and rulers, gazing at them each in turn but there she still is, gravity, drawing at him, the fate of his nation in the hands of a little, fleeting thing and the enormity of his hubris lays like terror in his heart, such doubt a moment of alarm until his nature finally draws up and there, with the intimate hold of the first splinter of the Iron Throne, like liquid steel pouring in his veins, his external calm no longer a lie but truth, the death of all emotion like a flick of a switch, behind his eyes the sudden flood of the world, hundreds, thousands of visions, of power, of cool, cold steel, the close connection of each and every Winterstone that has been whispered to life with the Drow`ayne song and in the distance, in the dark cold the throne speaking soft words of power, greed, horror and death, the very spirit of his kindred, a soul of his greatest nemesis, corrupt, dark, wicked, so very much like the mind of the Great Tree, wounded by the madness of others.


Somewhere, far away in another world, the games begin and the Dark Prince looks out in hundred ways at them, a subtle shift of his hands, the way slender digits gently draw the thin silver chain of the rune wrapped around his hand, a pose, the angle of the jaw as his form apparently alert to the festivities a subtle but clear reminder to his court of their place here. This was not the dark city and this was no subtle battle, the code clear and hard as the steel among his court. And these warrior-poets, killers and murderers each watch in silence, some with fresh eyes of learning, seeing the joy in the faces of the participants, childlike but strangely alluring, tugging at their captive spirits to join in games that not even the young among them did, the lessons early and cool, the joy of them in the intense relationship of parent and child, of the safety and warmth of kinship. Not this simple joy and laughter in clear display in these sports. Other eyes watch, move a little too rapidly, flicking from one shape and form to another, flitting between targets and threats, cold, calculating, each game and sport a chance to witness an enemy, to see their very best in action, to gauge their mettle against the Drow`ayne. And finally, the judgment of blades comes to bear, expectant eyes of the other kindreds subtly fleeting to the Drowvayne, knowing this to finally be one challenge that the distant northern Court could not yield.


At this the Dark Prince frowns, a subtle tension in his features as he withdraws from the Great Machine of the world and its million subtle ambassadors, this want, an almost base blood thirst among the others, the desire to see their dark kin expose their bestial nature a sudden hurt in his heart, an injury repaid in kind as another subtle whisper of the silent poetry ushers a young maiden, slight, small, frail by the Drow`ayne views, still blossoming to the fore to challenge the best and the brightest of others. Let them test their mettle against an infant. Let them see the naked skill of his people even in the hands of a child and let them tremor if such thrill is what they seek of his people. For a child such displays would come easier, the understanding of such circus no injury. The child does well, her manner almost perfect with just the hesitation of strange opponents in her steps as she dances with them, the rules of the conflicts easier for her to comprehend, simply another one of the endless challenges demanded of the Drow`ayne children, even committing to an arrested jugular slash to one of the sand, the sudden merciless flash in the eyes of her defeated opponent not missed by a single Drow`ayne eye. Her subtle failure with the thrown blades casting a darker menace among the other younger Drow`ayne, a flaw in their competition, a potentially terminal act or a subtlest of all ruses, the dangerous feigned weakness to lure a fool for an example in blood.


Knives upon knives. The Dark Prince gazes away from his own finally and observes his distant kindreds, their joys and defeats obvious but more often than not, strangely celebrated for the efforts and the joy of safe conflict, a pleasure of games, their deep differences meaningless in such bouts of arms and tests of strength and agility and wits and eye and there, for a moment, his prey-sight slips and he witnesses the life, the breath, the emotions so blatantly in dizzying display, even despite all their courtly games, posturings, cliques, power both subtle and blatant over others, this conglomeration of the elven kind even beginning to force such even across the nations, even the injured silence of the sands offer smiles and accept this camaraderie with but only one standing to side, isolated even when mingled, wary, cautious, reserved, always dangerous. And even through the polite smile and a nod for the winners, that silent despair for his people grips at his heart, as he sees that divide, that dreadful, predatory attitude even here, among those of their own blood.


His bleak musings interrupted by the failing of the light, the darkness suddenly alight with hundreds of circular dots of light that blink out in moments, the gift of the Drow`ayne, those captive eyes shedding that revealing light, all of them but one pair that will not yield to the darkness, will not accept that cloak of shadows, the golden rings of the Dark Princes pupils lingering there, in the dark, alone until finally the lit creatures of creation arrive to, colouring the hue of that softening glow with their own lights and slowly, one by one, the dark kin accept the soft light of the dance into their eyes as well, watching in awed silence at the display of the creation, the very making of the world and the races, secrets of each race untouched, hidden but roiling in the hearts of every witness, tarnishing the purity of the scene until the moment the dance envelops the guests, claiming their reverie to the sweet release of their movement, thought discarded as bodies join to that story in motion.


And through it all, in the draw of some brazen elflet and another, the Dark Prince’s glowing eyes linger on the small figure of the Queen as she flits among the dancing figures and feeling his heart throb tighter as her wings suddenly flare out draconic and yet not, like those of the Fey, the first beings destined of this world, those that shaped the races they each adopted and made them to their own perverse image, warped them, turned them and then left them without understanding of their doing, blind to their passing. And there, here, their last child dancing with the simple joy of life even as she fleets past mortal danger. His gaze on her until suddenly, the little things cast from his arms replaced by the stronger, more powerful leanness of a Drow`ayne, cloth smoothly stroking over cloth as hands guide eachother to their places in the dance, his gaze flicking down on the member of his court, his gaze met with a cool pair of almost equally glowing eyes and a smile, the Princes prey-sight slipping over his thoughts in that instant, seeing that deep dread of this one, a sacrificial lamb thrown to slow down their lord and master.


The powerful, lean figure of the Drowlette in his arms suddenly lost, forgotten as his stare flicks out, powerful, efficient as it flicks through the crowd and witnesses the void there, a path of subtle turmoil and the dark shapes slithering through the press, all easily moving to a single point in the nooks and shadows. And that dreadful sorrow, the weight of his peoples crimes like a stone in his heart as his face blanks and his mind reaches into the dark light of the distant Throne once more, the Crown suddenly biting, a living, breathing thing across the back of his head, unbridled power, hidden, secret, dark and in that moment, he can feel the dark steel within this one, the close proximity to her metal intimate, potent, like a scent, like a hand filled with soft, yielding flesh. And with a passing thought he lets that hand of his mind squeeze, the metal locked deep in her bones and tissues suddenly coming to live, twisting, turning to a wet, rupturing sound of the infinitely weaker bone and meat as they yield from their moorings, the bones of her limb, a sign of her sacrifice to her nation now betraying her grotesquely but even then, in her eyes there is that stubborn defiance against her lord, admirable if his mind was not in the gears and cogs of the vast, distant machine and without ever uttering a word, she folds down, succumbing to the pain but never letting herself become prey.


He moves then, subtle, strong, whispering through the throng of his peers, their scents, their warmth, their very flesh brushing against him in the throws of their dance, a lure even the dark, cool kindred of the Drow`ayne release themselves to. His powerful hands guide each willing partner to other arms, their faces, their presence meaningless now for his mind is nothing but cogs and gears and prey, in his wake, a darker shadow still, his second in the table, moving with him until with an unseen, unheard whisper, he moves to the side, their slowly building attack splitting, already isolating the impending assault into segments, trajectories, preying on the predators. But somewhere deep, that dread is growing for the shadows seem empty of her, only the menace of the threat.






“My Queen...?”


A soft whisper, hesitant to impose and finally, a gentle, calming, soothing hand, gloved in the intricate way of the Drow`ayne pausing at her shoulder, offering strength and kind, delicate support to her blatant trauma, letting her know that she was not alone, a pair of those gilded rings gazing at her in the darkness of the shadows, lush white strands like bleached spiders silk cascading richly down shoulders clad in that fitting bodyglove that flared from the waist down, a powerful figure standing her like a strong pillar, unyielding, silently letting her lean against that solid, tall frame, safe, quiet, in control, standing there with an almost familiar comfort, the soft song of his words still whispering for her, only her.


“What is of the matter, my Queen?”


That gentle, soft song of his words, for her ears alone spoken in the same cadence as the other arm moves by his side, unseen, secret, shifting, changing, the long metal bones splitting aside a central blade, building tension in strangely fleshless tendons, a dexterous, lean limb slowly constructing into a weapon and finally, fingers splaying and that powerful frame of his body shifting minutely, freeing that moment of distance between her and him, the final words gentle, soft.


“I apologize for the pain...”


And the weapon launches, the sleeve suddenly split along the length of his forearm as like some strangely articulated preying mantis, the entire length of the limb unfolds from within itself, a long, gleaming blade, pure and clean of her own roses water flicks faster than the eye can see, all of that terrifying force coiled within the complicated tendons suddenly released to spear her like a butterfly, the power enough to slip through her body like a thin, narrow spike and then exit her body in an explosion of bone and matter as the unfolding piston chassis follows in its wake.


But her body standing there, inviolate, a mewling sound of arrested motion twanging within that black, monstrously insectoid limb constructed of lithe, beautiful, elven hand and arm and its tendons, the blade halted before her, vibrating, trembling in the light of the shocked eyes staring at her, the whine of the tendons like smooth springs rising in note, almost hiding the presence of a dark figure, so similar to that of the would-be assassin but crowned in black, tarnished metal, that cool minds command the only thing between her and the Murder, his presence heralded by the final wet, rasping gurgle of one of his prey writhing at his feet, the fine, subtle length of silver thread joining his hand to the choked throat of one of his own kin before his foot lays gently on the shoulderblade of the assailant and his hand gives a strong tug, a wet pop of spine violently hyper-extending ending the soft, choking breath.


Somewhere, in the dark, a figure clothed like a Drow`ayne but unfleshed, its limbs extended, hovering like on stilts, elevated on three thin extensions, unfolded limbs each, the last terminated inside the body of a third, the entrance of the bladed limb subtle, almost gentle, not a drop of blood spilled as the body hovers there, a few inches airborne by the dozen hooks unfolding inside him from the Golem-structure no longer faking the elven shape, the deaths and the kills silent, savagely, brutally efficient, the Drow`ayne way. And with silent steps and the soft, gentle jangle of his spirit traps, Lykai steps over the still warm body, stepping nearer, a distant gaze in his eyes as he begins to whisper that sweet, beautiful song of the Drow`ayne into the ear of the stilled assassin, the words and the phrases just so, a sudden calm washing over the alerted features of the killers face and his eyes almost closing.


Almost closing.


Just a flick of the lids and the soft glance of those glowing rings the betrayal of the final member of the cell, this one not of the guests but a dark, silent figure moving along the pillars and the mesh, through the roses like a snake, a body wrapped in the dark ways of the Drow`ayne but the skin showing through the wrappings tanned, the gold of the forest and with just a rustle of the roses, the figure is born aloft in the silence of his leap, a lean blade in hand, the final lunge. Too late the Dark Prince lifts his eyes even as his will demands of the dark steel of the golem limb to flick past the young Queen but its edge too close to her, impossible to pierce the final assailant without passing through her small figure. And in that moment he knows failure, the betrayal of his people hot in mind and his anguish causing a tremor in the north as the Throne bucks in intimate communion, the trees and animals and Drow`ayne shaken, and even the white peaks of their mountains weeping snow down their flanks from eternal glaciers, a mark of their rulers dread, a fear for the first time slipping into his soul, never for himself but for her, the Mantis Queen, the singular chance of his peoples resurrection.




A sudden presence at her shoulder came as little surprise to the lone woman standing upon the outskirts of the celebrations. Yet for his shame, there was little to disguise the fact that he was nothing more than a puppet of another’s wishes. His light, his scent, his concern washing over her and beneath the myriad conflict of murderous intent. And then came the touch upon her shoulder. A comfort of little consequence for all of his darker purpose. The elf was no Prince, and his touch only served to send Mura’s senses further awry as he offered himself, open in his purpose to see to her disposal. In that moment, his life lay before her mind, his hesitation in how to go about seeing to her death. Yet despite it all, she saw no personal vendetta against her. A puppet. And an instant later she felt that shift, waited for the piercing pain, the world a myriad of light and shifting life as the true Prince moved to her defense, his presence and control acute within the elflet’s far-flung senses. Death clung to the soft rain-stirred breeze, and as she was given knowledge of those dying upon her Court’s veranda, so to was the one at her back also added to that count. That was the least of her concern, her strange mind turning curiously enough to the one flitting through the roses as a thief in the evening, his blades well and truly blooded for all of his bronzed skin, the odd blankness within his mind lending to the knowledge of a life lived uselessly. And as he leapt from the roses, Mura realized herself with a choice in how to deal with the political nightmare lain before her feet. 

Did she allow a Drow to see to his own? Or did she take four lives into her own hands and do as she had been instructed by custom to do as per her position as Queen to these people whom had born her? There were others to do as she could do… To return the light back to the world far beneath her feet in order to watch it flourish anew in the future years. A small duty bequeathed to the responsibility of every elf born within the borders of her empire. 

In those seconds as the assassin leapt at her back, Mura puzzled over her choices, and became aware of the anguish of the Prince before her. It struck her deeply as any blade could have. It was too late for her to keep this attempt in the knowledge of only a select few as she heard the horrified cries of elvine make rising to the wind as they discovered the horror of the construct holding the body of a Drow aloft with an insectoid stillness. Two more bodies would be quickly discovered. Answers and demands for justice on the behalf of this attempt would abound. That was to be expected. 

“There will be no pain…”

A soft, weary whisper offered to the wind as Mura’s head bowed and the light of innumerable elves cast themselves out before her sight, their souls each flickering brightly for her until they swirled around her, refocusing into four fading lights, and the fastest approaching light of a fifth… In that moment she gently exhaled, and as if blowing out the flames of five candles, she snuffed the lights, stealing away their light and life; staining her soul with death and the burden of blood, however bloodless such a thing was. Their lights became hers, and she felt the shift in air as the body at her back fell forward, its momentum, for all its lifelessness, hurtling it towards her until at the last moment she shifted to the side and felt the brush against her skirts and the empty thud of the body rolling forward, its muscles still twitching as the body struggled to realize the lack of life left within its shell.  

Within her, five lights struggled for release…souls…all confused and crying for peace. A part of Mura’s mind giggled…an insidious glee crawling through her. It was her curse as the spawn of one born from light that she craved the exquisite sensation of devouring the souls. They could make her stronger… That power… The Light Wyvren in her howled for that opportunity. Power. It was greedy for it. Greedy for the life, the souls, roaring and thundering at the gates of her weakened control to be given the opportunity to show just what sort of destruction it could create of five simple souls. She felt her hands tremble as she brought them up and clasped them to her abdomen. The Light was burning…offering to consume her morals. The Wyvren snorted in derision at her perceived weakness. So much power…the light…

Mura exhaled shakily as she reached out and touched the cool darkness, plunging herself into that darkness, laying hands on the darkest creature she could find. As she touched Lykai, the Light Wyvren recoiled, and snarled softly…subsiding into the deepest corners of her being with the intimate promise that next time she wouldn’t be released from her duties to that part of her nature so very easily. Its intelligent mind finally subsided as she closed the mental doors and chained the beast, leaving her to the reality of her situation, fingers lightly gracing the Drow Prince’s forearm.

Within the crowd, the shadowy figures of her people racing to her side might be witnessed if one thought to look. It appeared that she was safe…and word had not yet reached any that might be capable of reaching her in a faster means than by foot. 

Her voice was soft, for his ears only as but a moment or two was all the more time with just the two of them left. “Gather your Court, your Highness. Take them back to their rooms. Retire peacefully. I understand that this was not about me, but my people will see it otherwise. On the morrow, Io arrives. She will be your champion before my Council. I cannot defend you, but I will not see you unmade before your people if I can prevent it. Now go before any more die due to misunderstandings between our people.”

She found herself suddenly swallowed by her guard, parting her from any more words that she might have departed.

The rest of the night was naught but a blur of tensions as word spread across the nation that the Drow`ayne had made an attempt on the Majere Heir’s life. Rumors abounded…some saying that the Prince had been a party to the plot, others swearing that they had seen him with a knife at her throat before her guard had dragged him away and thrown him into chains. Still others whom had seen the incident defended the Drow`ayne Prince, saying that he had protected her. Yet despite it all, the general mood of her people turned from generally indifferent towards the Drow, to downright deadly. If not for the guard Mura ordered posted at the entrances of the Drow rooms, there might well have been a bloodbath in her name that evening.



The morning arrived with bright suns, the storm having passed in the early hours. Mura met the dawn with an exhausted sigh. Once more there had been little to no rest for her. Burdened still with the souls, she awaited Io’s arrival with a keen sense of anxiety. They weighted her down heavily, teasing the twisted portion of her nature that she had long kept under lock and key. And it only sorrowed her more to know that she had never been meant to bear the burden of the Light Wyvren. In the little it had been explained to her as a child by the frightening woman whom had rescued her and her people from certain annihilation, Light Wyvren did not bear their seed to the same caste. Such a thing had been unheard of within her long-dead world. Nor did the Dark Wyvren bear children of the same. That Mura had discovered that nature hidden within her would have caused a great deal of worried rumination upon her prolonged lifespan, of that she had little doubt. As such, it had always been one of Mura’s best kept secrets. A trial to face on her own, for she had seen the destruction that her father had wrought with naught but words and insidious suggestion. She refused to become that thing, however limited by her overbearing tendencies otherwise. 

Foremost of all, she was the Majere Heir, and her responsibilities as such dictated no room for error in the way of evil, for the Balance of her world was delicate enough as it was. So it was that Mura stood within the highest Watch Spires, staring off into the vast skies towards the shadowy Black Mountains. Immobile, she stood as perfectly as a statue did, her strange two-toned eyes barely blinking, despite their innate blindness. 

She had ordered that the Council did not convene to decide the Drow`ayne Prince’s fate within her kingdom until Io arrived. But despite her orders, they had indeed convened, even as not in an official manner, already set within their minds to disgrace the Drow, if only to show to the world that her people would not put up with such things. Their minds pressed against hers, wishing to not await Mistress Io’s return, for they were no idiots in thinking that the strange woman, whom they had always been careful to avoid in the past, would not somehow disrupt their glorious plans to send the Prince and his Court away in ruin.

Ruin… His was such an odd name… Why, Mura wondered, would a parent ever name their child a word for destruction? It confused her mightily at times, the ways that she had learned of about the Drow`ayne. They were without any doubt a powerful force to be reckoned with, even if they runed themselves against the magic that was so innate within every elf. Yet for all their danger, they were far from infallible. Fragile. Perhaps as fragile as her roses. Wild. Beautiful in their own manner. If grown too closely, her roses choked one another until only the strongest and largest survived, careless of little else than its own survival. And if one was plucked, the thorns upon it could well draw blood if they were raised in ire. Yet for all of that, so very delicate in life. Upon plucking, within any hands but her own, the rose would eventually die. It could not survive without its lifeline in some form or another. For the roses that was their roots, drawing life directly from the world itself. And for the Drow`ayne, Mura supposed that lifeline was within the Iron Throne itself.

If one cut the Drow from their Throne, they would fall into disarray and die, scattered to the Eight Winds if they did not find a way back to their roots. 

Lykai represented that lifeline, for all that Mura suspected that few Drow truly understood that. Yet she could not like him. Respect, certainly. Understand at least in part the delicacy of his position, of course. She was far from ignorant, and her Gift had often led her into the dark, frightening world of the Northern Lands. But she could not like him.

Her soft sigh was stolen by the winds, and carried off away. That each and every elf she had ever encountered wanted at least one thing or another of her was something she had long grown accustomed to. It simply irked her at times that none could look to her for the simple pleasure of her company rather than for a request or service rendered. It was, however, a fact of her life…one she daily struggled to accept.

And as she stood there…high within the Watch tower, facing the west, her mind carefully mulled over the events soon to come. She would not allow the Council to convene to its purpose until she could be sure that the Prince had proper representation. Io, given the nature of what she was, was in Mura’s mind the best possible champion that the Prince could ask for, as the Council was unlikely to listen to either her or the Drow Prince if they were allowed to defend the Drow in their actions the night before.

So hours passed as the suns rose together, brightening the skies and world in their white-violet glare, until towards mid-day Mura finally sensed the presence that she had been so patiently awaiting, gliding swiftly on strong currents through the sky. An approaching darkness that could only signify the presence of a Death Fey, carried on the smoothly scaled back of a bastardized wyrm. 

Exhaling a soft breath, Mura spun on her heel, striding towards the spiraling stairs that would take her down the Tower’s steps. Upon reaching the bottom platform, she unlocked the door and stepped out to find her Guard awaiting her. “Send for the Council. We shall convene in an hour. Also request the presence of his Highness the High Prince Lykai of the Drow`ayne in the Council’s Chambers. One escort for his Highness, Kira. Simply to show him the way. After that, you will rejoin me in my chambers as I ready. Lady Io arrives shortly. Send word to the Stable Master to ready for another riding beast. Ensure that she is informed that her presence is also required in the Council Chambers. That is all.”

And with that, Mura made her way back to the Palace and her own quarters. There, she ordered a bath and made ready to join the Council members.

….

The beginning of the next hour found her Highness convened within the spacious confines of the Council Chambers, poised gracefully upon her throne at the head of a large wooden table, inlaid with delicate mithril scriptings and carvings along the edges and down the legs. Beside her a slightly smaller throne sat empty. The Consort’s Throne. From there, on each side of the long oval table sat six elder Council Members, and at the other end of the table, saving longways directly across from Mura sat an empty chair, usually reserved for Io, or whomever wished to be present. In the current case, however, the seat had been reserved for the Prince, who was expected at any moment…




The Rose and the Ruin
The Rose and the Ruin: Page 2
The Rose and the Ruin: Page 4
The Rose and the Ruin: A Visit with Shydia
The Rose and the Ruin: A Visit with Shydia: Page 2
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