A sigh and the flesh in his hold relaxed, even the killing limb loosening and gently sliding back, the bones moving smoothly to accept the blade back into its nest within the lithe shape, the body suddenly void of life, the corpse slithering down his standing form to land into a unsubtle heap next to the crudely collapsed, crumpled shape of the still assassin, his flesh untouched but by the sheer relaxation of the dead, empty of life now. Empty, unlike the Queen. There, within her, a change, her pulse quickening at her throat, her breath, uncontrolled, a quick exhale and a blindly seeing thrust for him, her light, warm hand touching his but not to reach for his support, not a moment of weakness. She did not reach for a companion in spirit or in body but with a caress much more familiar to him, to his kind. It was a hand reaching to touch a weapon, a threat, a warning. It was one of the first things a Drow learned to read. The unspoken but blatant show, a wordless deed, clear and obvious. He was her weapon. And for her, nothing more in that moment. And like a weapon, for a moment there, a heartbeat, he saw the breast he was aimed at. A writhing thing, an elemental mind, hungry in its alien, distant, uncaring manner, greedy like a child, cruel like only great will and intelligence could be.
That wicked mind meets his unfaltering gaze, promising, dark, vile and powerful until with a last angry lashing of its sinuous presence, it is caged, gagged, bound, locked away, leaving but a small, light hand resting on his arm, soft, hurried words and then the unkind bustle of her guards, harsh, cold, thinking themselves dangerous as they usher their mistress away from him, from everyone. And the chill, horrified looks on him, on the still, dark corpses at his feet and with her gone, the Queen taken, the moment passed, he turns to face them calmly, unblinkingly, devoid of guilt or horror, just to watch them, impassive, distant, regal even as he gently winds back the narrow chain of the rune jangling from his hand, fresh from a kill. Her words still fresh in his mind as he gently motions a single member of his Guard to him, the soft speech of his people voiced out loud for all to hear, instructions on the wrapping and binding of the corpses, to isolate their blood and bodies from this world, to seal away their taint even as the rest of his court was to return to their allotted space.
He stands there, a silent vigil against any unthinking violence that could lead to worse as his people move with practiced efficiency, stripping each a layer or two of their own to cover, wrap the dead, taking special care in slowly rendering the corpse lowered by the construct, the insectoid limbs folding back within themselves, clicking softly, smoothly locking back into the elven figure even with one grotesquely elongated claw slipping from within its kill, the wound sealed in layers of fabric with more coiled around its folding extremity until its dark, tarnished steel frame is wrapped fully once more, the soft, gentle lips and pale skin still in sight as a morbidly fleshy, tantalizing glimpse from within the cloth masking its features. The bodies sheltered so, hidden, their blood sealed within their dead shells and finally, the Drow`ayne move away, four of their dead with them, one left in their wake, an empty shell even before the stripping of his soul, a broken weapon discarded, left behind.
Attempt. They had finally acted. The pieces were in motion. The gears were grinding, moving. And he was here, so very far, isolated, now both from his own land and theirs in their very court. A blatant act, clumsy like an open hand but still, he had seen their eyes, curiously shocked, alarmed, enraged, almost akin to the outrage of prey-species and in their eyes, he saw the success of that act. But not in hers. She accepted the attempt for what it was. And in that, she showed strength above and beyond her sheltered people. They bore their arrows in the hands of silent sentinels and not notched on their own bows. They knew violence but not personally. They remembered the dark times but had not held a dying elves last breath, had not Murdered or even slain in attack or defense. But her, despite her few years had eyes that had seen more than this entire nation together. A darkness in the soul, even in those impenetrable eyes. She knew death and perhaps even understood Murder. She knew it, understood it. But struggled against accepting it. And somewhere, between that understanding and struggle, there lie salvation. An acceptance without succumbing.
But all that was now at risk, taken from him and given to old, frightened, enraged men and a puzzle of a creature, this Io. Her words still lingering in his mind, sounding so very powerless to stop any of this even though she was the true Queen of her people, the mistress of the Roses, the soultaker and yet, his fate was in the hands of others. He did not doubt her words even if he did not understand them entirely, their connotations and her fears real but alien, barely grasped concepts.
A night passed solemnly, a familiar, predatory tension within his court, their attention, carefully guarded always on him, his doors, his Black Guard, but there were no rumours, just a silent vigilance, an expectant, pregnant silence. A voiceless demand of his presence, to justify this isolation, to prove that this was not a blow against him, to gauge his reaction and state and power. But no challenge yet. Yet.
And when the summons arrive, he meets them with silent grace, two of his own dark sentinels in his wake and at the sight of the escorts strained look, he turns to the forest elf, gazing into his eyes, not the gaze of an equal but that of a ruler of a sovereign, dangerous nation as he murmurs softly.
“I am not summoned to this meet as a man but as a Prince, a sovereign, a ruler. And as such, my council, the representation of my nations might shall follow in my wake.”
His tone soft, clean, delivered in that soft song of an accent, like silk gloving a knife, poised to prove the escort as the first bloody victim of an international conflict if he even thought to question him. And with that, he walks to the Council, calmly, at his own will, a Dark Prince to meet a Queen and her petty, lesser men, no host to their fears for if they thought to fear him and judge him, they would first have to learn what it truly was that they were afraid. And if they thought to make a mockery of him or the Drow`ayne, they would learn first hand.
-Poised upon the throne, Mura waited with the same stillness that she had displayed in awaiting any sign of Io within the vast and tumulus skies of the world. Upon her brow she wore the full crown of her station as Queen. Fine, braided lengths of metal sweeping down from brow to ear with all the delicacy of tresses, only to be drawn back up in the back and fall back down to mingle with the white snowfall of her hair down her spine. Stones, each of the finest quality and cut winked in the given light, bleeding a rainbow of colors when she moved. Upon her left ear an equally delicate ear-sheath had been slid into place, its own chains dangling and tinkling with glee as they kissed, stirred by naught more but her own soft breath. And tucked above her right nestled the expected rose, its dual colors bright enough against the virgin color of her hair as to leave the crown and clothing to vie jealously for attention.
Her gown was much in the same style as it had been the night before. High cut, reaching nigh her jaw without sign of the soft skin beneath, hugging tightly to her soft, slender figure down the arms to come to points across the middle knuckle of her slim hands, and looping around the base of her longest finger. In blood-red glory it skimmed along her entire body until it reached her pelvis, only to blossom out into flattened pleats of material and fall freely as a shimmering skirt down to the white tips of her curiously bared toes.
As the large doors, serving as grand entrance to the Council Room swung open, revealing four figures, three dressed in tight-fitting clothing and bearing deadly menace to their silent steps, the foremost being the guide, whom stepped to the side upon quietly announcing the Prince’s arrival, Mura finally moved to stand, forcing the twelve others to reluctantly do the same. The doors were quietly closed behind the three by the fourth as they stepped further into the room, and Mura then took the initiative and offered the Prince a small bow, as one of royalty to another, once more forcing the Council to do the same, their bows proving deeper in respect to their not being of noble birth or having a claim to the crown.
“Welcome, your Highness, to the Council’s Chambers. Thank you for coming. I see that you have brought two of your own people to this meeting…?”
It was a gentle inquiry for it had been assumed that he would come alone. But in her official capacity, Mura found herself with the chance to perhaps tip the scales in the Prince’s favor, if only for a moment.
“As there are not enough seats, in this unexpected occurrence, two members of the Council might offer their own chairs to his Highness’s companions until more seats can be sent for.”
Her smile was expertly hidden behind the serenity of her station when there was a moments’ pause and all twelve members of the Council slowly stood and looked to one another as if in silent question as to who would give their chairs to the comfort of the Drow. It was almost a comical stubbornness among them until Mura softly prompted them to action.
“Perhaps the two members closest to his Highness’s chair?”
Still, all twelve members of the Council maintained their feet as two of their members slowly slid their chairs away from the table and grudgingly offered their chairs to the two Drow that the Prince had brought with him.
Returning to their original places, the two were left standing, dictating by simple courtesy among the Council that the rest would remain standing as well. It set them, in a way, off-balance from their normal manners and ways for various reasons.
Mura then took her seat, gracefully settling her skirts around her, smoothing them down after motioning that the Prince and his people were welcome to seat themselves in the provided chairs.
“My people, your Highness, are distressed at last evening’s incident. That we have opened our city to you and your Court only to have that generosity betrayed by an attempt on my very own life at a celebration meant to bring our people together has created a certain concern over what else your continued stay might bring. I myself do not hold you responsible for last eve’s occurrence. Yet my Council insists that the people must be appeased and their concerns allayed. I had hoped that we might delay this until the Lady Io’s retur - Ah. The Lady herself arrives.”
Not a moment later the grand doors of the Council Room whipped open, the force seemingly nearly enough to cause a startled jolt from the Council members. In strode the tall, slender, familiar figure of a hooded woman, her long legs carrying her towards the table even as the doors of the Council Room were slammed closed again by some mysterious force. The thick, voluminous robes she wore fairly billowed behind her as she approached, a gloved hand pushing back the deep hood of her cloak to reveal the strange, beautifully grotesque domino she never was without.
“Lady Io. I am pleased to see that you could join us. I trust your trip went smoothly?”
The slender woman never paused as she completed her approach to the large table, halting at its edge with a sudden stillness and with such abruptness that had she moved forward another fraction she would have found herself bowled over by the table itself. Simply standing there, she slowly surveyed the standing Council members, Lykai’s presence and then Mura herself before answering the Queen’s gentle inquiry.
“Smoothly enough. The Dwarves are long in the tongue, but never so quick as to part me from my objective. The success is in that I killed none and walked away with a treasure nonetheless.”
It was then that she finally, if not with purpose, slowly began to remove her gloves, one finger at a time, before gently placing them on the table before her. Mura, in turn, tilted her head slightly with interest.
“Perhaps you might share the details of your success with me later.”
Io ignored that, and went about her business in stripping the cape bearing the Majere Messengers’ symbol from her person, folding it and dropping it too to the table’s surface. Instead, Io spoke of more pressing matters.
“I felt, during my return, within the wind whistling past my ears a moment of anxiety murmuring within the Northern lands. As the Prince sits here as hale and passing pale in his health and not succumbing to ash beneath Grandmother’s roots, then I shall assume that the attempt on the Queens’ life has been made, and as expected, botched with artistic flair only the Drow can appreciate.”
That announcement caused a stir among the Council members, prompting several to speak at once, all incredulous.
-“You knew of this attempt and spoke of it to none?”
-“To know of such and not try to stop it is treasonous!”
-”It is because his Highness has no control over his people!”
The last was what caused a certain stillness to move over the lady’s form, for all that it had been nearly lost among the rest of the words. Her stillness prompted almost a nervous silence from the Council as Io calmly pinned the accuser with a solid stare of her strange, unnerving eyes, shadowed within the domino.
“His Highness has more control, you bleating beast, in his toe clippings than most any elf that I have ever found myself tripping over in all five of the Nations. To dish such insults would have you throated in a less civilized setting, for all that I find this farce of a meeting of less consequence than a an Orc’s passing gas in the Wastelands.”
“Io. That is enough. You are hardly endearing yourself to my Council with such insults.”
The soft reprimand only garnered a snort of derision from the lady in question.
“The event in which you have gathered here this day to meet and discuss about was naught more than politics, albeit clumsily executed as her Highness still breathes. As you have allowed foreign Courts into this nation, it is only to be expected that they play out their politics. That you seek to fault the Prince for such things is ridiculous.”
Io took a moments’ pause, almost curiously tipping her head as she appeared to scent the air, as if she were looking for a subtle scent before slowly smiling. Her dual-colored eyes slid to watch Mura even as she spoke to the room at large. And before she turned the floor over to the Prince, she spoke once more.
“You have opened your arms to knives, Councilmen. You have no right to find yourselves indignant when you find that they cut.”
The passage to the council-chamber, a silent walk, three steps moving in unison, in a rhythm other than their guides, soft, smooth in the manner of all elves but not the soft step of one that is same with the world but one that stalks across it. Always predatory. And with that walk, there are the eyes, the attention. They do not shift quickly from side to side, they do not respond to quick motions, they do not react. They act. They turn where they do because they are willed to do so, not by foreign, distant instinct. And yet, the people that look back at those eyes see nothing but beasts in their midsts, hateful savages, brutal murderers, killers all. Their subtle, unborn rage like an ugly poison in their gaze, untreated. These were a people unfamiliar to hatred, their natures finding this fear and loathing roiling in their chests difficult to gauge and to respond to. And so, the dark Prince steps through their nation, a murderers brand at his brow, his steps bloodied, his mien hated with a burning rage. And it was only that unfamiliarity to threat, to danger, to hate that stayed their unbloodied hands.
All that, so blatant, obvious, unhidden from those careful, cautious eyes, so controlled, their poise in the face of such adversity almost hurtful to the forest elves, the calm, serene faces mingled with the hard threat of their leanly muscled bodies, their peace, their uncaring attitude to the violence wrought so very recently shocking, enraging the forest nation even further. These people were unfamiliar with violence brought to their homes, within their keeps. And for that, they were perhaps purer, more innocent. They had expected something, anything to take place when the Iron Court arrived, knew to expect some act of random brutishness to validate their prejudices but this was too much, too intimate, too close, too violent. An act against their Queen was an act against all of them. And they all felt as if it was theirs to take revenge. Their innocence was their doom, the dark Prince mused as he let their hostility in, let it grow in his chest, dissecting it with his eyes, tasting it vibrant in the air, new, unfamiliar, freshly hatched. No courtly excitement this.
But they pass through the hostility, their dark mien impervious to mere feelings and angry, hateful glares, their threat now made real, deadly and all the more loathsome. They pass through the court until the great doors of the Council Room and the mighty gates swing open silently to open them up to a new kind of hatred, a pinpoint loathing of elderly elves, an anger not fresh, not new but refined, brooding. This was hatred that would bear grudges, linger on over generations, a quiet flame fanned and kept alive through centuries, milleniums if need be just so it would fuel that one strike against an unprotected neck. These were the true duelists of the Mantis Court, their true force of arms, an expertise terrifying to such as played in their games. But within these walls, inside their own seat of power, they suddenly stand between two forces, neither which play their games in their rules. And those glares tell a blatant anger at it.
“Thank you, my Queen. It is a pleasure.”
Those words, soft, gentle, delicate, like a ushered poem given form in syllables like song or art. From the lips of a murderer, lips that smile as he gently nods to her, one of respect and in his wake the two bow deeper in answer to her. And only her. For only her status is known, blatant, powerful, her worth now known among the dark kin, recognized with ease and respected utterly. But only her. The council, assuming their own power are still like children to the indifferent but not unkind gazes of the Princes companions, their eyes always where his were not. And thus, their attention never lands on Her again.
Now the three stand there, the two extensions of the third, his power and poise so palpable, potent as to turn those two predators at his wing into mere shadows, shadows the Queens demand of her own court deepen, turning what they reflect even more real until it feels as if there is but a woman, a girl in crimson, dressed as if the attempt had been a success and the dark Prince, colour void of his form but for the eyes, the golden rings that ignore the council in that moment, letting her presence burn into his mind. She still lives. And a hope, the cruel, alluring hope, that still remains.
They ease down to their grudgingly given seats, smoothly but merely at the edges of the seats, their bodies with an easy rigidity tall on their own accord, not succumbing to the lure of the backs, their hands and elbows not seeking the support of the Council table, at ease and yet, their alert attention complete, despite their attire seeming more a shield than an invite, their behaviour is open, curious almost, not closed in or dark, listening her words. And none flinch or blanch at the loud boom of the doors being swung open, their only response is the quiet smile on the Princes lips as finally inclines his attention away from the Queen and nodding in acknowledgement to the powerful mystery that has entered, allowing a moments pleasure at the clear discomfort of the Council, their power and influence in this meeting eroding before their very eyes.
The gilded gaze, muted now turning from her to the Queen once more, drawn to her, inevitably, the elemental presence at their one side and the elven, petty rage on the other slinging words at each other but their insults and praises lost, meaningless prattle of things great and small, akin to the wind in the trees arguing with the rustle of worms in the soil. Through it all, his gaze remains on her, this dreadful possibility, so easily taken away, so out of his own control, that lauded control moot in the face of her, those young hands holding the future of him and his people.
But to have even a chance of her in this all, he would first have to silence the mewling fools thinking they can control and harness true power, a power she had touched him with in the brief instant of killing.
And finally, the dark Prince of the Iron Court stands from the useless comfort of the chair, moving to face the Council of the Mantis like a Drow, on his feet, tall, proud, unbowed, sure, the golden rings of his gaze now turning to the old men of power, unflinching, unimpressed, to their benefit, none flinching in their righteous indignation as they face the dark killer in their midsts.
Knives in the court indeed.
It was time to let them see the edge, hear the whisper of unseathing. And it was up to them if that hiss would end to the soft rain of droplets.
“This meeting of our nations was a fact long before any of us had any say on it. A fact beyond any power you or I wield. The first time after the fall of your Mad King would a member of the Drow`ayne openly walk beneath the great boughs of the Grandmother, unshielded by guile or threat.”
He allowed that thought to cut into their plots and plans, to truly understand that they had always had knives in their midsts.
“You were powerless to stop it, just as you are powerless to stop all that will follow in its wake. Another has unleashed this storm and no elf can hope to stem it, least of all those proponents of inaction. This is an avalanche that is beyond your ken and if you stand before it, you will be crushed. You are no longer in control.”
The dark Prince pauses, standing tall there, before the Council until he turns from them, his attention shifting openly to the elflet dressed in crimson up to her neck, the colour of elven blood, an unsubtle choice but a barb guided to which chest, he could not device from her.
“But I have broken against you. This... attempt... against your Queen, your head of state...”
That golden gaze lingers on the Queen, finally shifting from presence to her eyes, meeting them with a moment of silence, staring at Her.
“I have broken against you, for I knew there would be an attempt on her and I did naught to stop it. For many reasons but I will not justify my inaction in allowing it. I allowed it... in greed and in ambition for before I came here, she was but a concept, a consort to be courted... and tested.”
He can feel that ugly silence, pregnant with protest, outrage, righteousness but he does not let them burst that bubble before speaking again, his strong voice full of control, power, a voice that commands killers, absolutely, a military voice, trained, angled just so to hit every baser nerve even in the noble elves but never do those eyes slip from her.
“She has shown that she can defend herself. Shown it to Them, proven it to You... and Knows it... in herself. And those lives she has taken last night will save innumerable more.”
There is a fleeting smile, for her, a smile that sees a Drow worthy of his attention before him now, no childqueen coddled stupid by a degenerate, soft nation, no mere puppet for old, hungry men to control, not this one. And with that smile, he turns from her, his strong, broad back to the council as the dark Prince faces Io, gazing into that mask, that smile turning into ice.
“But it was not for me to allow such burden on her, to place such risk on your nation. And as lady Io will testify, the Drow`ayne trade in... true price...”
Finally he makes a full circle and faces the Council, his objectors and judges, feeling their assumption of power in their eyes and postures, such subtle hints only a mind trained in seeing men and women as machines could witness. Dangerous men, such, when faced with a challenger but subservience was not the lot of Ruin.
“I bring to you, my price for my inaction, my cruel decision. I threatened your Queen and thus, I give accordingly.”
Silent steps, only the gentle discordant whisper of silver chains at his hips and down his back making any noise as he moves to stand behind the two Drow`ayne, his closest advisors, his wisest men, his trusted, loved family, so few in numbers already, his generals and lays his hands on their shoulders, a touch of bared hands over cloth, allowing each to feel his hands warmth seep through the layers of ashen weave, their eyes turning to him, one by one nodding to his price, their gift willing, their sacrifice thought, measured, conscious.
“You wish for me to pay a price. That price I pay willingly.”
Those golden eyes, filling with a silent depth of emotion turn inwards even as they gaze on the Council, seeing the horror waking in their stares as something that was to be their empowering moment, their chance to sneer at this savage, make a mockery of their northern cousin and then feel good and strong for it was turning into something different, horrifying, the calm in which those pale hands move over the two Drow, the two gentle, strong smiles that meet them until slowly a change in the air, a cold sensation of life that was there now softly gone, like a whisper in the background, silenced, even their mute senses feeling the gentle passing of anothers soul, no violence in display, no breaking of bone, the deaths simple, gentle, unseen, only felt, drifting away with love and necessity, not hate, their hearts willing it, their last sensation the warmth of their lords hand and his affection and honour of them. Gentle for them and just as importantly, gentle for Her, their passing nothing more than a silent dream.
Good deaths, both.
And the price is payed, in full. And only the crushing silent of a bereaved Drow`ayne Prince remain.
A moment of shocked silence followed the soft, twin thuds of bodies slipping to the gleaming onyx floor. No time for Mura to shout her denial. No time for the implications of the Prince’s words to soak in before the deed was done. Only silence followed…until Mura rose from her throne, her voice nigh breaking.
“Io. Stop this insanity!”
The Lady in question did not, at first, appear to even hear Mura’s impossible demand as she closed her eyes behind the shadows the macabre domino and slowly exhaled, her tall, lithe body almost swaying, as if moved by a symphony none but she could hear. Only after a long moment, the Council still standing in collective shock, did Io finally respond to Mura’s distress.
“And what, your Highness, do you propose that I do? I am no god, no matter that I am bonded to one of the like. They died good deaths…and I will not ruin their sacrifice by raising them anew and denying them the honor of being the recompense for recent events. No matter that even did I recall their shades, they would no longer be as they were, but beyond anything you or even the Darklings are capable of handling.”
As cryptic as her words were, the tone implied things that sent a little shiver through those that called themselves the Council. Murmurs of sorcery and witchcraft were breathed to life. The dark magic that struck fear into the very souls of elves and hovered in the depths of the darkest shadows. But Mura failed to heed the Lady’s words.
The Death Fey’s hand suddenly slammed down on the table, causing the enormously heavy piece to shudder ominously and sending several of the elves to jump back, startled.
“Absolutely not. Do not push me on this, Muralassa`Majere. If I wished a Coterie, I would have chosen them long ago. I would have conditioned them, guided them, taken the Turns of training and effort it takes to ensure all is right before bringing them into the Halflife. That is the only way of it, and I will not change the Way simply because you are being a silly little elf child whom has no understanding of what she asks.”
-”She is the Queen, and you will be respectful of her station!”
The Council member who had the audacity to speak out of turn was rewarded with his defense with a quiet sneer.
“Do not presume to think yourself with any power here, elf. Your sweet, bloodless stench offends me nearly as much as your hubris. -”
-”That is enough!”
The attention was suddenly shifted from the escalating scene between the Lady Io and Councilmember back to Mura. She took a moment to gather herself, reaching forward to splay her hand upon the table as she spoke.
“We are not here to squabble. We are acting like children…myself included. Io, I apologize. I had no right in my demand.”
Io seemed to think on the apology for a moment, and inclined her head. Apology accepted. From there, Mura continued.
“His Highness Lykai has offered recompense for his people’s actions, which is what this Council was seeking. Two lives for one is more than fair, I believe, among his people. We seem to forget that he is a ruler in his own right. His people and ways are far different from our own. I cannot justify the murders committed here…nor can I accept such a brutal mindset.”
The Queen seemed to be wilting before their very eyes, even as she elaborated.
“You all know of my Gift. I am a Majere woman. It is my birthright and duty to see the world through the eyes of others. Countless times I have witnessed suffering, death and innumerable atrocities committed through the eyes of the violators and the victims. I suffer with them until the end. That is my burden to bear. But it has caused me to seek to protect my people from such things. Within my lands we do not have sickness, do not lay in our beds in the evening fearing for our lives. There is no hunger and little strife among us. Perhaps this has caused us to turn a blind eye to all that goes on outside our borders. Certainly we have failed to take into consideration the fact that our brethren the Drow`ayne live their lives far differently from the way we do. They took a different from path from us and now are seeking to join us again as Kin. Whether I marry his Highness or not is, again, not the issue. As he said himself. That was decided long ago by others. I must say now that we, as a nation, have no right to judge the Drow`ayne wrongly for having vastly differing ways and protocols. The attack last eve was not aimed at myself or even our people. It was meant to cause strife between our people. And if you insist on sending his Highness back to his people because of this, then you have allowed the conspirators their victory. As such, I ask this Council to take into consideration that if you choose to send him away you are doing naught but harm. What ruler can rule when their power and respect has been stripped of them? That he knew of the plot only means that he was in a better position to prevent it. And prevent it he did. Courts are full of plots and ulterior motives. This is simply a small part of every nation. Even now I do not doubt that there are those who would have my crown if they could find reasonable means of accomplishing it…”
Mura was immediately interrupted by a loud denial from the Council, prompting a wry, is not slightly bitter smile to cross her lips.
“’Tis true enough, and we all know it. If we send his Highness home then we are as good as stripping him of his crown for those in his kingdom who wish it. I said before that I do not condone the murders committed here…and I cannot accept them. But their lives were offered to this Council with fair enough intentions. I told his Highness that I could not defend his actions to you. I do not defend them. I simply seek to explain them so that you might see him not as a monster, but as a ruler whose life and ways are beyond our comprehension. He and his people at least deserve, as elves, the chance to be understood by us, and the chance to understand us in turn. Aye?”
A long pause followed Mura’s dialog… The Council seemed to look at one another, Mura, and the Prince, a silence consensus being formulated between them as they considered her words…and slowly they began to give their judgment. When the final Councilmember proclaimed his judgment, it came to a grand total of nine “Aye” and three “Nay”. So the Prince and his Court would stay. Mura inclined her head.
“Welcome to the Forest Nation, your Highness. Last eve’s incident will be explained to the people in full. You and your Court are in no danger here, and have free reign within my nation but for those places previously listed. On the morrow there is a Hunt planned for all of the Courts. Anything brought back will be prepared for tomorrow eve’s dinner. If you or any of your people should like to attend then there will be a guide prepared to lead you to the Stables as the suns rise. And if you or your Court should need anything, or desire something, then the Lady Io will be residing in a room adjacent to the wing in which you are housed. She will serve as your attendant. As for myself, we will not see one another again until the official presentation at the end of the week.”
She stepped back, folding her hands neatly before her as she offered a small bow to the room.
“This Meeting is adjourned. The Lady Io will escort his Highness back to his rooms so that he may send someone to see to his people. I bid you all good afternoon.”
With that, Mura reached up and lifted the crown from her brow as an attendant appeared. Handing it to her, she slipped from the large room, leaving Io, the Prince, and the Council members behind as she sought refuge elsewhere.
And as the Council members began to depart, Io lifted the gloves from the table, slipping them over her slender hands, and moved to stand next to the Prince. “Come along your Highness.”
With that, Io would lead the Prince back to his rooms, leaving him the chance to discuss any of the events that had occurred in the Council Room should he wish it, or simply be guided in silence if he did not.
Inwardly, Mura sighed. She had hoped that she would make it to her rooms before she had been spotted by anyone. The weariness and exhaustion pulled at her mind heavily. Too long she has abused herself, and she knew it, even as she knew that if she were to give her people her very best, she needed to care better for herself. But there was always something. Or someone. While most of her people slept, she was awake, often preparing lists, schedules, seeing to the smallest and largest details of running her kingdom. Certainly, there were others who could do such things for her did she ask, but she had always been of the opinion that it was her duty to see to such things. After all, the Council had long ago decided that they would oversee the more political side of running her empire, leaving her feeling…useless…until she had discovered that there were so many smaller details that she could gladly bury herself in. And bury herself she did. For all but a handful of hours each and ever day she found herself busy beyond belief, with hardly a breath for herself. Of course, she preferred it that way. When she rested, she dreamt, and when she dreamt, she suffered. So rarely did she sleep without seeing the world around her in all its shades that sleep had become something to hate.
Io was little to no help. For all her wisdom, she could not identify with the abilities that Mura had found herself shackled to. What she would give for a day’s peace. Because the dreams never helped. They left her reeling; confused. And more often and naught there was an element of horror that haunted her long after they had passed. There was no control within those dreams. No understanding of their reason or location. Blind, she could no see through their eyes, so where sight might have been key in the past, there was nothing but…nothing… Too often the senses were too dulled, too overcome with sensation, for her to make much sense out of what she was experiencing.
Mura wondered what it was to look up…and see color. To witness the miracle of a smile. The depth in another’s eyes. She had but her wyvren’s sense…the sense of light and lack thereof. In its own way it was far superior to sight, she knew, she nearly always knew things, sensed things, long before those around her did. All the same, however, the knowledge that she lacked lingered in the back of her mind.
That lack was only underlined when she overheard her people whispering of the Dark Elves. The Prince, she had heard, had the strangest eyes… Amber…gold…glowing eyes…eerie…and offset of pale skin and even paler hair, only to wear clothes of black. They spoke of him as…unnerving… And Mura was left at a loss. Gold…black…shades of color meant absolutely nothing to her. She was going to find herself married…bonded…to another…and she couldn’t even say what they truly looked like… She would have children someday…and she would never witness, as others did, her children’s first smiles…
It was unbearable. Selfish.
In the corridor behind her, Mura heard the grand doors to the Council Room open, heralding the departure of the Prince her Io. “Walk with me.” Mura guided the servant along with her as she began walking along the hallways, sensing Io and the Prince a mere minute or so behind them as she spoke in low tones, responding to the servant’s questions and suggestions concerning an affair that kept only a fraction of her weary mind attentive.
And as she walked, Mura began to feel her mind slowly closing itself off…compartmentalizing…one section at a time…until she barely had the sense to dismiss the servant. She knew that she was approaching the large foyer located in the center-most part of the palace…the wide hallways circling the Grandmother Tree at the outermost edges of the terraces where the Courts were held, separated from them by a mere wall…just as her light-sight flickered away. Left in a void of nothing, Mura simply stood where she was, finding herself, for the first time in many years, completely and utterly lost… Even the subtle grooves cut into the onyx stonework beneath her feet made no sense, and she was far too weary to even summon the concentration needed to simply thrust herself through space and time and being herself to her rooms.
Stranded, she simply stood where she was, afraid to move a muscle…waiting…frustrated nigh to the point of tears by her mind’s betrayal, until she felt it… In the distance. In the air. The sudden, laden pressure weighting every molecule of her body down… The wind picked up without warning, growing stronger with frightening intensity. A gale-force gust whipped through the palace at that moment, sending tapestries and curtains billowing, sweeping past, and through, Mura as she stood still, tasting the rain it promised.
It was to be a storm… And not just any storm, for the skies had been clear when Io had arrived. This was to be a special storm…one of the rarest to sweep over the world. A storm that forced even the Airial Elves to batten down their hatches and anchor their ships to land. A storm that blotted out even the suns, turning the world as black as the darkest nights, and embraced the world of Arillus in its fury.
The storms, such as the one approaching, swirled through the upper-most strata of Celtrillus, moving with terrifying speeds and caused unimaginable destruction. Even as Mura took a deep breath, drawing the wild scent deep into her lungs, she heard the sweet, rich sounds of the horns spilling out across the city. Suddenly, every elf in the city seemed to be moving…each and every citizen of the Forest Empire seeking to close shutters, tie down loose ropes, securing doors and anything that wasn’t held down in efficient grace. Children were ushered indoors and even as the horns began to die down, the world gave a reflexive shudder, causing the palace to vibrate faintly in sympathy. It would only be minutes now…Mura felt her heart begin to race in anticipation…
She lived for these storms…
Forgetting the fact that she was bone-weary…forgetting the fact that she was Queen…just for an instant, forgetting all but the deep, primal pleasure bubbling up inside of her until she felt as if she were going to burst, Mura started forward, dashing up the large staircases, her pulse all she heard, drowning out the call behind her; Io.
Io had no more than a glimpse of the young royal as she suddenly leapt forward, her slender body bounding up the grand staircase a mere moment after the palace had shivered. For a moment it seemed almost as if the Fey might have felt a sliver dread as the slip of a girl vanished from sight. Surely there was the faintest of sighs, although that might have been the wind, before the Prince’s champion lengthened her stride, long, slim legs eating the distance between the vanishing elf and herself. Once more it appeared as if the Prince had been relegated to a secondary place in her attention as she ascended the stairs three at a time, leaving him with little choice but to follow her as she stalked after the young Queen.
Up, up, up and up they went. Taking stairs until they reached the palace roof, along steeply coiling walkways as they spiraled upwards towards the very tips of Grandmother’s uppermost branches, the growing wind buffeting them, tearing at hair and clothing, snatching at the branches and leaves with a greedy violence, trying to rip everything that it confronted away and into the growing fury of the approaching storm.
The skies were black as the deepest nights, clouds miles thick racing across the atmosphere as the winds grew even stronger. And finally, there, at the very upmost of the spiraling walkways there was a small, flat, almost courtyard-like structure built. No more than an acre or so across in each direction, only a delicately wrought railing promised to keep a visitor safe from being swept over the edge to plummet to the earth miles below.
Even as they reached their destination, and Io caught sight of the Mura, her hands clinging to the railing, her head tipped back, exposing her face to the storm, the wind ripping at her slender body, pulling her almost with enough strength to sweep her away and growing stronger, Io called her name again, only to have her voice stolen away on the rising gale and the first, stinging raindrops hit them a split second before the skies opened up and released all of its rage down upon them.
Mura appeared completely entranced…her pale face suddenly cast into brilliant relief as the skies fractured into a million tangled strands of light, thunder crackling so loud and deep that the entire world was jarred. Rain fell, soaking them in seconds as again and again the blue and gold nets of lightening wounded the skies, the wind buffeting them so violently that it was all that Io could do to keep herself anchored to the railing, despite her superior strength, and fleetingly wondering if the Prince would be swept away by the storm.
Her voice -finally, seemed to be heard as the woman-child turned, apparently unconcerned about the wind, the deadly lightning, the chance of being knocked from her precarious perch at the edge of the low railing. Indeed, her entire face seemed to be lit from within, a brilliant, wild glow was could be described as no less than a primal joy at being in the heart of one of Celtrillus’s most deadly phenomenon. Her entire body was soaked to the bone, her long, unbound hair whipped around her violently in ghostly tendrils, caressing and wrapping around her almost like spiritual lovers. Even her eyes seemed to glow with each peal of lightning.
But before Io could say aught else, Mura released her hold on the railing, lifting her arms to the sky, and spun as lightly and frivolously as an overjoyed child, her delighted laughter cutting through the wail of the wind and the static of the violent rain with the ease of crystal being tapped in the midst of a noisy dinner party.
How it was that she wasn’t swept away by the wind, it was impossible to say. Certainly Io or even the Prince might have been if they released the railing, but the small slip of a woman-child seemed to spin as lightly as a leaf, absolutely unconcerned about the danger all around her as she spun, giddy, soaking in the violence with open arms. And even as she did so, the distance, in more than a few places, began to glow orange, the scent of smoldering earth and plant easily carried on the wind as lightning struck and fire caught despite the wind and rain.
Yet there she danced, bliss, joy, a satisfaction in being part of the storm so blatant in the constant glare of the lightning that for a moment the Fey was caught between a faint, and impossibly unlikely, feeling of guilt for having to take the Queen back inside, and her sworn duty to keep the child safe. And for a split second she actually wavered between each. Yet only for a split second. There was no question as to what she was to do, and with a grim tightness to her lips, the Fey worked her way over to the dancing woman-child and captured her wrist, tugging her towards the walkway where the Prince waited, and that which would lead them back down to the palace.
Immediately Mura resisted, pulling away. Wanting. Needing to stay out in the storm, to fill her soul with its fury and beauty to the brim. Needing what the storm offered her. Because back down there, in the world of elves, she was a prisoner of circumstance. They expected her body, mind, spirit and soul… But the storm expected nothing…it asked for nothing…and gave her the one thing she wanted, in that moment, more than anything.
Io was unrelenting. She tugged on the girl’s wrist again. And for a moment, in a blinding flash of light, the Queen’s expression was depicted, just for that instant as she struggled to keep her face tipped upwards for the storm. Heartbreak. A yearning so deep to simply be allowed to be exactly where she was that it seemed to stem from the very core of her soul. And then the light was gone, and Mura was escorted out of the worst of the storm to the roofed walkway where Io had indicated that the Prince stay.
But they were far from the danger the storm represented. For even as Io dragged the resisting elflet beneath the flimsy cover of the roofed walkway, the entire atmosphere seemed to charge with electricity. Even weighted down with water, Mura’s hair stood on end, haloing her delicate, pale face an instant before Io wrenched on her arm, dragging her into the shelter of her body even as her long reach snatched the Princeling against her as well, and not a split second too soon, for the entire world lit in a blinding shock as lightning flung itself from the skies and down onto the wide platform, snaking across the tiled floor, leaping and curling, sparking small flames wherever it touched, scorching the mithril railing and tile as it skittered along and struck the tall, slender woman whom used her own body as a shield.
And just as quickly as it was, the lightning was gone, leaving Io stunned, her thick cloak smoking, flame flickering from the scorched hole in her robes. But that was not the worst of the damage, for the macabre domino that she had favored since long before her arrival to the Forest Empire had shattered, nigh exploding away from her face as the lightning had struck her. As she released the two elves, her body appeared to flicker dangerously between flesh and an ethereal form, a dark, misty wreath appearing to surround her body as she threw off the smoldering cloak and stepped back, her eyes glowing with all the power of the world’s two suns, showing the two elves in their light.
Yet even all that was not as impressive as her face. Her face -- a work of beauty such that it could rival that of any other beauty upon Celtrillus. And indeed, it did. For the Creators had shaped the Love Fey with bodies and faces with the intention of seduction; their forms meant to ensnare and enslave those they chose to take as their own. But the Death Fey had been created with a beauty, stark, cold, so raw it was both mesmerizing and painful to look upon, for that, in the minds of the Creators, was what Death truly was; unforgiving. Beautiful.
Only thanks to Io’s grace had both elves survived the strike, unharmed. But as she straightened to her full height, her stark features bore a cold, grim set. Her pale body gleamed in the flashing light when it wasn’t fading into the black, wreathing mist that coiled around her. Mura never witnessed, even with her strange sight, the danger of the slender hand arcing upwards to fly, backhanded, across her mouth. The elflet tasted blood even before the stunned pain caused her to cry out, stumbling back into the Prince as her hand flew to her stinging face. Her body was rigid with shock, and perhaps she had every right to be surprised, for Io had never struck her before.
The Death Fey’s voice was flat, unemotional, only compounding the insult by its lack of feeling as she spoke. “You stupid elf-child. If you must see yourself dead by your own foolishness, then do not do so whilst I am within means of protecting you. Your death would displease your aunt, and I will not be the target of that displeasure for any reason.”
Those magnificent dual-colored eyes then turned to bathe the Prince in their light. To him, she said only, “You will not breathe a word of what I am, elf.” --no threat, no promise of harm. Ionen’Szelemaurae’ae’linera’nen, a powerful Fey possessing both Death and Air essences binding her spirit had no need for threats, had no use for warnings. It was not arrogance that made her issue commands and expect them to be obeyed. It was a simple knowledge that Elves had been created to be guided by the Fey, and the Dark Elves were the sheep that her people, the Death Fey, had guided and shepherded for ages, and as such, they would do no other than what she told them. That the Prince might disobey never occurred to her. That he might resent being given an order was, again, beyond her reasoning.
Turning away to scoop up the sodden cloak, Io noted how dramatically the rain had suddenly lessened; how the sky was growing lighter as every second passed, the storm flying by and quieting as quickly as it had begun. In the distance, where the tale end of the storm ended in clear skies over the forest, fires from the electrical ferocity of the storm had hit, and beneath the constant rumble of the passing clouds, Io could hear upon the wind the crackling, creaking groans of the Leshii as they began to move towards the fires, intend on containing and allowing the fires to burn only what needed to be burnt within the forest to ensure new growth and life.
She slipped the cloak over her body, ignoring the fact that the material was soaked and cold, drawing the dripping hood far over her features as the glow of her eyes dimmed to nothing. Her silence and stance indicated that it was time to leave; for her to escort both Prince and Queen back down into the palace where Mura would ensconce herself in her rooms, and the Prince would see to it that his people left within the Council Chambers were seen to…