Dark Voices and Lost Souls

The sound of banging doors quickly awoke Caoimhe from her dreams, the spirits having scattered from the sudden enternace of the elite knight who was making his rounds. For a moment she sat in shock, watching the male shift through her room with a torch in hand before she quickly came to her sences.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion!? Am I not allowed to rest and dream like any other? Your explination better be good...You've just put me in a very bad mood." She said as she glared at the man in front of her, her expression serious and even a bit frightening if it effected a person enough.

To be awakened from such a lovely dream was more than enough reason for her to be mad, since it wasn't often that she was blessed with such happy images in her sleep. She continued to stare at the guard adn wait for an answer, looking a little less intimidating since she looked a bit disshelved, her hair standing up a bit and her nightgown having twisted and slipped off one shoulder, showing that the knight's sudden enterance had done more than make her jump.
Over the safe cover of his apologies, the Knight ducked and bowed, though in so doing took yet another sweep of the torchlit room. With the queen's safety in his mind, he couldn't rightfully write off the impossible, but it seemed that his eyes were playing games on him. Double-shifts would do that to a fellow, the brave man reasoned with blood-shot eyes.

"A thousand apologies, Your Highness. The lamps play with the shadows. I thought I saw a man near your room. I will have the chef prepare your favorite breakfast for my having disturbed your rest." And knowing it wouldn't sit well to continue the offense, the Knight bowed again and left, taking the flickering glow of the torchlight with him.

Only the stray moonlight peeking in from her windows cast a dull illumination over her soft quarters, leaving them comfortably black save for the pair of hellfire eyes that slowly peeked open from the distant wall.
Caoimhe watched the man leave quietly, once more being left to the shadows and darkness of the night. She was rather irritated with having been woken up but she couldn't blame the man, her adviors had been swings and demanding that she be kept safe, since she was the only heir to the kingdom they had. She often wondered how her father never got a woman pregnant even though he was constantly having intercourse with women...she should at least have one or two half sibling by now. Though maybe it was a good thing he wasn't producing any more heirs, they would never be taken care of well, especially with her father nothing more than a horny dog...

The shock from the knight bardging in had made her heart race and filled her blood with adreniline, making her feel more awake than she was before and making it almost impossible for her to get to sleep once more. So with a shuffling of her sheets and an angry grumble, she stood and wandered in the dark, feeling her way to her vanity where she kept her candles. She took a seat upon a cushioned stool and fumbled around, the sound of glass bottle clicking to gether until she let out a small 'aha!', signaling she had found her matches. There was a moment of silence before the characteristical his and the sudden jump of a small flame, creating a dim light that only lit what was within a few inches of it.

One candle was lit, then another, until her vanity was glowing bright with every candle she had in her room. Even with this glowing light filling the room many shadows still remained, making the room have a rather haunting appearance with it's high ceiling and dark corners. It was perfect for anyone who wanted to hide and observe the young woman as she shuffled about her vanity drawers. She eventually pulled out a small ratty journal of sorts, an ink bottle, and a quil before starting to write, her hand moving much slower and with more thoughtfulness than it did on the papers she wrote every day.

However, a feeling of being watched started to crawl up her back, as if she wasn't alone. He eyes glanced up for a second into the mirror before her whole head shot up, there against her wall, was the man with demon eyes, his pale face and long hair just barely getting caught in the candle light. Her head turned so violently that one would think it was going to break off her neck. She just had to make sure she what she saw was right, that she had seen the man with Hellish eyes...
And there he stood, like the physical figure of one of the queen's spirits. A ghost of a man, regarding her with the complete dispassion of the grave, his appraisal cool and chilling unlike the realm from which his eyes got their glow. The longer she stared, the more of him came into view, his fine attire catching the candlelight in the most appealing of ways. Even in shock, startled, she held herself with dignity. And what, a journal? Renault had never read the writings of a queen before, and as the thought struck him, it stuck. The words he could read had probably been long since forgotten.

How embarrassing.

A moment. Why am I contemplating such things? These remain the pursuits of mortals; they have no place in my mind.

Instead of contemplating the duality of this interaction, the man bowed again in his solemn way, an arm peeling away his cape to reveal a gentlemanly pallor. He remained where he was, near the furthest wall, to appear as harmless as possible.

"Of my latest sins, I count disbelief of your claim chief. But you truly do rule this land, do you not?"

Like her father in the distant room, the evidence was -mounting-. A bit of shame would have swept through the tall man, had he capacity for such an emotion.

"If you truly rule, verily if you love your people, you must know that there is something evil afoot within your very walls. Something, as you may surmise through your queenly deduction, that I am here to exterminate." Renault spoke evenly, slowly, tasting each word with patience and practice. Long legs and an easy stride took him closer to the seated woman by her vanity, his stare never breaking from her.

"Know you anything of this matter?"
A moment of silence filled the air after he spoke, his voice hanging over everything, including her heart. Her eyes, wide with surpise, locked onto his questioning gaze. It took a large part of her no to look away from his intimidating orbs, but she dare not seem weak in front of this man...If that was what he was.

What living soul could get away with such an amazing feet? Plenty have snuck into her courtyard over the years and were easily stopped and sent away by her guards. But this man, this man with ghostly skin and beautiful clothes, had slipped into her castle, up to her private quarters, and even was able to hide in the darkness from one of her best knights! That was unheard of! Even she should have noticed another person in her room!

Finally, after a long quiet moment, she closed her journal with one hand as her eyes stayed on him. Her other hand moved a stay strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear gently, her moves smooth and calm even in this strange and nerve wracking situation.

"I told you, did I not? I am the ruler of these lands, I wouldn't be a good one if I did not speak the truth, even to strangers." She said clamly as she slowly stood up from her vanity.

She started to move slowly, elegantly, across the room and she continued to speak to him in the tone she had used before, making sure to keep a good amount of distance between them.

" I know plenty on this matter but I am afriad I can not let you continue on with this extermination of which you speak, it is far to complicated for someone outside kingdom to understand." She said as her steps took her closer to her bedroom door, her eyes still locked with his.

"It would be wise of you to leave like I told you...before you get yourself into trouble."
Composed and elegant. Renault expected nothing less, and as he straightened his shoulders, he reminded himself that he now dealt with somebody comprised of unnatural poise and bravery. Someone who had some connection -one he could not even sense- to the Other side. Sensitive to the dead and dying. Exactly how deeply did the mystic roots run in her veins? What was she capable of? All the more reason to see her safe, to complete his dreadful task and leave.

Lo, but I would gladly depart, Queen. Tis not my choice.

As she addressed him, drawing closer, he mimicked her motion and drifted towards her, his boots nearly swallowed by the fine quality of her carpets. When she finished, his head tilted backward, so he could peer down his pale nose at her, blinking once and only once.

"Your Majesty," he began again, his voice low. "My tower is composed entirely of complications. Of unwanted understandings... lo, of trouble. Your eyes... they tell me what your voice will not. You know of what I speak, and I am bold 'nough to believe you wish it rid forthwith. Only, I cannot place what it is."

Here, he stood just out of arm's reach. A hand drifted slowly, non-threateningly to his shoulders, and with a gentle shrug he unclasped his great cape. It dispersed as it fluttered to the floor, like shadowy rain pooling down the cobble stones of the village. With a muted, nasal sigh, Renault cast a gloved hand through the back of his hair.

"You and I are not so dissimilar, dear Queen. We both walk this world, with a foot in the next. You are connected, and that makes you valuable. Valuable amongst mortals, certainly... but valuable too before the eyes of beings far more sinister. You may live your life as your own, touching the other side as you see fit, but there are beings beyond your ken, both yours -and- mine, whose attentions I vow you do not wish to gather."

Renault frowned deeply, raising both hands in another simple gesture, his palms facing the pretty queen.

"I-I am he for whom the bell tolls. That I am here at all is a very bad thing for you, Your Majesty. Trouble is already afoot; mayhaps it simply hasn't noticed you just yet."
As he closed the distance between them she found herself pinned against her bedroom door, the man having stopped just within arms reach of her. Her face stayed the same though, calm and brave, even as he looked down at her with his hellfire eyes. Her eyes only faultered for a second, to follow his cape as it dissappeared into the floor around his boots. He truely couldn't be human...Not when the shadows listened to his every whim, or so it seemed...

A smoot gentle hand slipped behind her back, gently grabbing the door knob as she watched the strange man befor her, her muscles tense as if she was ready to either strike or flee, which one she did not personally know. Her jaw tightened a bit as she listened to him speak, his words showing that he knew more than she was comfortable with. Finally, almost in defeat, her head bowed and her eyes turned from him but her expression was still on of strenght and calm that not even he could rip away.

"You...are far more observant than a man should be, and yet I can't be angered for it is rare for a man who thinks to enter my castle." She said softly, her voice having changed from on of a queen, to one of a softer, gentler being. One who knew they were conered and needed to speak.

"However, " She said, her voice suddenly hard again and she looked back up into his eye. "I care not if you know of my gift or that we even are similar, as we are both connected to the darkness of the world. I fear no creature that stalks me in the night and wishes to use me to their gain, for I am already a puppet and it would only be a change in the puppetier. You say you are the one which the bells tool for but I care not of that title, it shows me nothing of your character or your faith." She said as the click of her door opening sounded lightly.

Her arm pushed open the door gently, letting it drift away and come to a squeaking halt on it's own. She stood firm in her spot, her eyes locked with him as she held an almost firey determination about her and in her words.

"If you wish for answers from me then you should think your approch over. For I will tell you nothing until I know I can trust you...Until then, leave my chambers...you sullen my reputation the longer you stay..." She said, her eyes still looking at him, waiting for him to make his move.
Bold. Very bold. If her stand irritated him, it did not show in either his eyes or demeanor, both of which remained frozen in place. Transfixed. The Queen had her point; it wasn't very tactful for him to be skulking about the castle, but he had been convinced he could locate and deal with the... problem himself. Now that it was abundantly clear he could not -even more so that she knew something-, he would have to be satisfied with earning her cooperation.

Fortunately, if nothing else, the years had taught him patience. And besides. The castle had stood this long without his interference. What was the rush? The man stood still as death amidst the flickering candlelight, and now the torchlight from the hall beyond, staring at the queen as expectantly as she regarded him. At being ordered, his perfect jaw clenched ever so slightly. She must be allowed her dignity, he realized, and he had probably disturbed her.

"As you wish," he uttered with that dreadful calm, but swiveled about and stalked in the utterly opposite direction from her, towards her bed and window. "One cannot wager without reward in turn; I shall tell you nothing until I am certain I can trust you."

While his determined stride took him towards her window, he reached out languidly over her bed, dragging a gloved finger over the top blanket. Where he touched immediately sprouted black feathers, in a wavering line even up over a pillow. Taking a single step up, he stood on the edge of her windowpane, his head turning halfway to cast an orange glance to the pretty woman at the other side of the room.

"Pray, while you are busy worrying over your reputation, that whatever has consumed your father does not notice you."

And again, he was gone.
Her eyes followed him quietly, wondering what he was going to do when the door was in the opposite direction. Her eyes widened a bit in wonder as the feathers appeard and disappeared twith the simple touch of his hand on her sheets, the silk almost coming to life in a way. She looked back to him quickly as he spoke, his words hitting a chord in her heart rather harshly. A scowl appeared on her pretty face and she opened her mouth to retort back to him but he was gone in the blink of an eye, the only evidence that he had been there was the fact that the window was swing back and forth lightly in a small breeze.

Caoimhe darted across her room and looked around into the night, wondering where on eather he had gone. They were to far up for it to be a saft landing on the ground but she could only hear the sounds of animals, and it was far to dark to see if there was a body or not. For a moment she just stared into the darkness, his last words ringing in her head...They had hurt her, though it was mostly her pride. Even so she felt it, the distain in his voice as he made it sound like she chose herself over her own father.

He knew nothing however, he knew nothing of what this man had done to her...to her mother. If anything she should have had him gutted now and left to rot in his chamber of sin. She showed restriant though, it would do no good if world got out she killed her father without a second thought. It was her duty to heal him if possible and let him to return to the thrown if he was able. A small sigh passed her lips as she grabbed the window gently and pulled it shut.

The experience had tired her, having killed the adreniline she had once been trying to lower by writing in her journal. She walked over to her vanity once more and put away her book, ink, and quil before plowing out the candles with a gentle breath. She shuffled back to her bed in the dark, her hands running over the sheets like his had, wondering if she could prevoke the same feathers he had. None arose.

With a final sigh and the shuffling of her sheets, she was once again laying down, her eyes closed as she started to relax and drift off into the realm of deams. She would have to keep her eyes open from now on...especially with that man running about.
They never look -up-.

Billowing, feathered wings holding him at a comfortable hover atop the highest spire, Renault folded his arms again and peered down at the Queen's window, a dry tongue rolling slowly over flawless teeth. The wings puffed out of existence in a plume of black smoke, and he landed lightly on the spire's slanted roof in a comfortable crouch.

So. The king was involved after all. That left far too many things to the imagination, all of which were unpleasant. It wouldn't have been the first time one of his prey had hid behind a mortal of incredible importance, but a king was going too far. There was also the matter of practicality; was the king himself dead, and the -creature- simply wearing the shell that remained, or was it the creature's influence enough to invoke madness in all involved? For that matter, was it a reasoning creature at all? Or simply one of the mindless underlings from beyond, animalistic and striving wantonly after whatever it desired in the moment.

Renault mused further, an elegant fist pressed to his chin, as the night hours drifted aimlessly past. The view was spectacular, but he had no interest in such things. The village cast by moonlight stood as a symbol of mankind's serenity, the distant fields and valleys yawning as far as the eye cared to follow, with powerful mountains rising solemnly beyond. All too common a sight, and with nobody to marvel over it with. An airy sigh drifted from a sharp nose.

Bowing his head, the white haired man simply let go. Of his thoughts, of his body. His thin form lurched and plummeted soundlessly from the highest spire. It was never the fall that killed you, but the sudden stop at the end. As the lawn came rushing up to meet him, he smiled.

Before he could register it, he was laying in an enormous, shadowy hand composed of feathers. It materialized mere inches from the ground and sweet, sweet release, holding him safely aloft. He could have dove into a pile of pillows for what it was worth.

How adorable. It still thinks it can escape.

Scowling at the voice in the back of his skull, and robbed thus of his freedom, Renault straightened his vest and willed the hand of darkness out of existence and brooded his way towards the gazebo, where he would wait for the Queen to come to her senses.
The next morning was one of great dimness and depression as the sky was filled with clouds and stayed a pale gray. It seemed to be official that winter was finally upon the kingdom and many were quickly taking charge to prepare. Husbands wandered off to work as wives feed the fires eagerly, almost making their stoves burst with flame and ash. A much stronger wind than the day before blew in the blews sending young girls skits up into the air and giving any boys a nice veiw if they so dared to openly peek.

Off in the distance a set of darker, more menacing clouds drifted toward the city, most likely a storm that would hit later than evening. Inside the castle, sevent were quickly at work trying to spread the heat thoughout the castle, lighting every fire place there was and filling them with so much wood they risked spilling out while aflame. Chef worked away in the kitchen, knights changed shifts, and one oueen lay in bed, a sour mood already growing inside of her chest.

She had not slept well the rest of the night, left to toss and turn in her own thoughts from her conversation with the stranger who had taken to wandering her grounds. Her eyes had circles around them, making it obvious that she had not gotten the proper amout of sleep that she needed or would have liked. She stared up at the ceiling quietly for a moment as she noticed the dim grayness of the outside from the corner of her eye. Finally she sighed softly and sat up in her bed, placing her feet on the ground gently before wandering over to her wardrobe.

She slipped into another long adn flowing dress, colored a deep green and made from common cotton and wool, ment to keep her warm. It was made of many layers and wraps and carried little detail on it at all. She wandered over to her vanity and with a skilled hand pulled her hair together in a neat and tight bun, pulling the long hair away from her face and showing off her lovely neck. The looked was completed with a simple crown, a silver band with emeralds in it, and some lite powder to hopefully cover the circles.

She then slipped on a pair of matching shoes and left her room, making her way to the dining hall to eat her breakfast. As the knight had said the night before, all her favorites had been made, fruit salad and fresh bread with honey and butter, warmed light and served with a cup of tea. The food was enjoyed, though it did nothing for her mood, and her thanks were given to all involved, even the knight who disturbed her slumber.

However, instead of turning toward her office she made her way to the court yard. She did not have the mind to work that morning, her brain whirling about with worry and curiosity. This man had turned out to be more than she suspected, leaving her to wonder what intentions he had in her kingdom in the first place. He claimed to be after the demon that controlled her father, but it was intirely possible he was just going to kill him before killing her and then he could take over the kingdom. And what of this claim to be of darkness? He said he was like her, but she saw no connection. If anything, those gifts of his made him more of a demon than anything else.

Even so, something told her that maybe this was her chance, to finally have this heavy burrden off her back. She would not get too excited though, she had had this feeling before and even then the atempt had failed horribly. Even as her garden came into sight her mood seemed to be even more sour than before, thinking about past failures was not the best idea on her part, especially when she was already cranky from lack of sleep. She would just relax for the monring, let her mind drift to something other than the problems that just kept popping up, and then return to her office to work until supper.
As the queen dressed herself in the height of elegance and grumpy grace, the man in question called out once, twice, thrice and HEAVED.

"HEAVE! HEAVE! One more should do it!"

The side of the road leading to the fields had faced erosion from wind and autumnal rains, and with winter's first storm looming overhead now was no time for Harris' plow to get stuck in the trench. Four fellows gathered around the heavy piece of equipment and through a good deal of grunting, shoving, wriggling and lifting managed to aright enough of a vast wheel to allow the oxen to pull the rest.

"Whew-ey! That was a close'n. Rounds on me t'night fellas!" Harris, patting one of his oxen on the rump, started off towards the fields, a pair of his crewmen in tow. Those who had come to help laughed and wished him well before turning on their own course. Amongst them, with a sickle cast over his shoulder, Renault tipped his simple bumpkin hat and frowned thoughtfully.

He had adorned himself in workman's attire, simple trousers and a linen long-sleeve, with a thick overcoat and fingerless gloves. While he had figured to await the queen's missive, he had overheard the workers moving to their fields, and figured what better way to waste time than with friendly mortals? Patience was a virtue, of course, but he had done enough standing around and waiting for nothing over the years.

A fraction of the plot still needed harvesting, and he, along with a couple of other young men from town, set to the task with all the energy and determination of youth. The villagers worked methodically, at an easy pace, but one that would undoubtedly cover great distance in little time. With that rusted scythe, he carved a swath in the wheat; collectors ran and gathered up vast armfuls of the once golden strands, and turn them over to the binders who would then pile them in the back of a wagon.

With the rim of his hat nearly concealing his eyes, and despite his slight build, nobody stopped to ask Renault exactly who he was or where he was from, engaged as they were with the work. Only when the work was complete did they actually start to notice him, to ask questions. On the walk back in-village for lunch, he was nowhere to be seen.

Satisfied for the time being, Renault could again be found loitering near the gazebo, presently adjusting a shadowy glove and smoothing out his unfashionably long hair. How much longer would he be kept waiting? How much longer could he tempt the fates? His mark was bound to sense him eventually, and that would simply become tragic. The man sighed with air-less lungs, blinking with a scowl up at the queen's window.

As soon as her eyes landed on the gazebo, a rather unattractive scowl slipped onto her lips. There was never a moments peace for her it seemed, as the last person she wanted to see was standing their as if he had been waiting this whole time. She thought for a moment about returning to the castle to leave the man to just stand there until he froze from the blowing winds, but the idea of locking herself away in her office and having papers shoved down her throat was just about as pleasent as running into her current irritance.

She'd have to accept it and move on, as she did with everything else in her life. She continued to approach teh gazebo, not looking directily at the man the loitered there much to her dismay.

"You just have to be everywhere, don't you?" She said, her tone obviously irritated as she looked up at the pale face and hellish eyes.

Even when angry her face held a grance and beauty that most did not, though that still did not change the fact that there was a frown on her lips and a tightening in her jaw as she kept her usual cool. She passed him and moved into the gazebo, kneeling next to the same box she had pulled the candles out of the night before. This time she removed a pair of gardening gloves and clippers ment for plants, with the intention of preparing her own plants for the soon arriving months.

She slipped on the gloves quickly and neatly before grabbing the clippers and waling over to her plants, wilting slightly from the approching winter weather and their growing seasons ending. She started to snip away at the branches and stems, leaving them as stumps that would come back to life in the spring. She looked over at him quietly as she trimmed her lovely but dying plants.

"In a moment of truthfulness..."

Snip. Snip. Snip.

"I thought I would find your crumpled body outside my window this morning..."

Snip. Snip. Snip.

"I was relieved to find out that wasn't the case..."

Snip. Snip. Snip.

"It would have been such a nasty mess to clean up."
Renault laughed. It was a mirthless, empty sound, like leaves scratching over a tombstone. He leaned comfortably with a shoulder dipped against a column that supported the gazebo, a hand on a hip and the other drifting casually through the air as he spoke.

"Mind your wooing tongue, Queen, lest I believe you have grown fond of me."

As she trimmed, he watched the still-elegant woman with a muted degree of curiosity. A queen who mirrored the care and caution of the very people she ruled, here she was tending the land as eagerly and willfully as the workers beside whom he had started his morning. Of course, this time he would not interfere; even in life Renault was disinterested in plant keeping, and frankly he wasn't entirely convinced that the girl wouldn't turn her little shears on him.

With an air of arrogance, he reached up and retied his neck-scarf, the frilled plumage protruding comfortably beneath his throat in stark relief against the gold-lined obsidian of his garb. Renault acknowledged somewhere in the back of his mind how well the emeralds, white and silver played well with the queen's hair and complexion, words perhaps a few centuries too late to be of any actual use.

"Worry you over a single man's spilled essence, imagine the mashed remains of a dozen. That is the sum of your Royal Knights, is it not? One dozen? Add a king for that matter. One would imagine the janitors beside themselves with such a... 'mess'... as you said."

Perhaps it was a bit harsh. No. It was harsh. But Renault stood behind his words, behind a mask of neutrality and burning eyes. The queen had to hear them. The queen had to understand the very dangers near which she had been sleeping but one night before.

"You can feel it, can you not? Know you fear? Your Majesty has seen the Hunter; can you not see the horror that is the Hunted?"
She continued to groom her garden, moving from one bush to the next with her shears and trimming away the twigs and dying leaves until only pointy looking stumps of bushes were left. She stood and moved a bit before kneeling again in another spot, treating the plants in that area the same as she had been treating the others, quickly and effortlessly. She held her tongue at his comment of what danger she was putting her knights in, knowing better than to let her emotions seep through into her voice.

She understood what he said, in fact, deep down inside, she felt the same way, but she could not let this man near the demon or the king when she knew so little of him. She turned to him completely not, still sitting on the ground, her clippers in one hand and a lone rose from the bush she had been trimming in the other. It was on it's last moments, petals fall at the smallest flinch of her hand.

"You speak such harsh words ,Hunter. Shouldn't you use a kinder tone when trying to get information out of a queen?" She asked, her tone heavy with thought as his words sunk deeper.

Her eyes feel from his and looked to the rose, petals falling lightly into her lap as she twirled it in her hand, her expressing rather blank as she sat silently, seeming as if she was thinking of what he said.

"For the longest time...I have wondered what mistake I made in the past ever brought me to this strange and demented future. Where I, the one who rules the land, have become the pawn of an evil spirit...I understand the risk that I put me men through...That I put myself through...But I cannot easily make such a choice in the matter." She retorted softly as she set the rose down and turned back to her plants.

"To you it is nothing more than a relationship of Hunter and Hunted, of man and beast. For me, there is so much more. It is a bond between I and a victim, it is a relation between my men and a tainted being, and is it a loyal connection between my people and a tourtured soul. You could easily destroy those things, could kill them in an instant, crush them like they were only flowers. I do not tell you what you want to know not because I am stubborn, but because I do not feel comfortable giving you, a stranger, the permission to destroy such fragile things."

She finally finished with her garden and stood elegantly, turning to face him once more with a look of calm, relyable royalty. She placed the shears under one arm as she tugged the gloves from her small hands, placing all the items together before she walked back over tot he gazebo and stopped in front of him for a second to look into his bright firey eyes.

"Besides, what kind of queen would I be if I just let any old soul learn my secerts and see the unseen by all, even my closest knights and advisors? If I must continue to put my life, as well and others, into danger than so be it. But I will never give a man such a right, until I am certain that he is loyal and ture, that he is worthy of my trust, and that in the end the best choice was made for all."
"When my blood was warm, in a time of magic and honor, my name was Renault Illance Vintora. I was born to Alfred Peter Vintora and Cindy Helena Vintora. I grew up in a village much unlike the very one seated around your castle. And that is where the normality of my tale ends."

Renault folded his arms and straightened, stepping over to where the rose petals had dropped. A frown slowly creased his handsome features, a pale brow knit with open, human pain.

"I knew love, but never its taste, its warmth. I was but a boy, and she a mere girl, but I would spend my days watching her through the fence, and my nights whispering her name as a mantra of devotion. I learned the sword, and grew confident. I grew confident and loud, so that she would see me. So that she would see my love. In my arrogance, I claimed that Death itself would bow before my blade."

The man's gloved hand extended a single ebon digit, which he slowly twirled in a lazy spiral. The fallen rose petals caught upon an unseen zephyr and began to float about the air, turning lucidly this way and that.

"Death heard my claim. She came before me -yes, she. For only a woman could be so sinister and cold- with the mocking smile of the grave. 'For a man of death, from death herself, a wager. If you win, eternal life is yours; if I win, your soul is mine to do with as I wish.’ Foolishly I accepted. With sword and spell, we clashed toe to toe. The world trembled at our unleashed powers. I met her with such fury and might, even Death herself was taken aback. I toppled the Master and she granted my reward.”

The rose petals slowly started to alter in color, becoming black as night as they spiraled aimlessly before him.

“She did not renege on our wager. Death granted unto me the kiss of eternal life… but for my arrogance and pride tempered it with a curse. I perceive constantly the unseen evils, the agony of their victims becoming my own. I have wandered the land for centuries, searching to slay the horrors that haunt my sleeping world. I have suffered endless wounds, but will not die, and as this eternity has rolled on I have craved Her touch. My eyes, dear Queen, burn with Her hellfire. My veins with Her poisonous power."

The rose petals, one by one, fell to the gazebo floor, and Renault twisted to affix the queen with a dreadful leer.

"When She appears to me, she is bare, clothed only in the rot of the grave and her terrible cloak. She took the face of my beloved and stitched it over Her own, to mock me. Her voice is always the same, false lips unmoving though the teeth beneath them grin devilishly...

'Let it not be said that I am without mercy; there shall be an end to your curse. If all the beasts of the dark are slain, then you may find rest.'

"She guides me towards these abhorrent, supernatural evils like some prized gladiator, and claims the souls I wrest from them. All in the name of Balance. Of order. You are right, Your Majesty. To me, this seems no more than a Hunt. But it is so much more. This is but another step to my -freedom.-"

Renault turned away from her, gripping the column upon which he had been so carelessly leaning. Cape less, his shoulders slumped and his back arched slightly, his head bowing. For that moment, he exposed himself to her, a man who was tired, terrified, and miserable. A minute passed, maybe two, before he composed himself, breathing a ragged sigh. When he turned to stand elegantly before her again, it was with a teary streak trailing one hellish eye.

"It has been seven hundred thirty six years, three seasons, four tendays. You are the first human I have spoken to on this matter. What more will it take for your trust?"
For a moment she said absolutely nothing, her face holding no expression at all as his story and actions sunk deeply into her. Nothing he had said had been lost to her, every word and tone had embedded itself into her mind and even into her heart. It was almost shocking, a man who stood taller than her, stronger than her, was hunched and weak with his own depression and stress, a feeling which she could understand. She took a soft step toward him. Then another. She walked to him until she was almost touching him, only a few inches seperating their bodies.

It was then that she did something out of character, that most men would shudder and blush at the idea of such an action. A single hand, soft and gentle, reached up and stroked his cheek, wiping away the tear that had slipped as he relyed his tale to her and brought back such painful memories of his past. Her other hand reach up as well, letting the gloves and clippers fall to the groud with a soft thud. She stroked it carefully, the sensation filled with so much that even he could feel it in his cold flesh.

There was care, a feel of understanding, that finally a connect had been made between the two that Caoimhe could accept and learn more about. Her eyes were warmer now, though the look and power of royalty still remained, a constant reminder that even if she opened up and showed herself there would always be a part that was uncertain, that was ready to quickly jump and change back to the once calm adn stotic queen. Her hot fleash burned his cheeks as her hand remained, like a mother patted and stroked a childs hair, so did she for this man who's foolish actions brought him such suffering.

"To earn all my trust, not only must you tell me your story...but you must listen to mine." She said softly as she finally pulled her hands away and stepped back.

She leaned down and picked up her gloves and shears, returning them to the box before glancing to him once again with soft and curious eyes, the gleam of understanding in them.

"However, I do not wish to speak my tale out in this cold, your body may not be warm or effected by the chill, but mine is and I am certain my bones can take this cool breeze no longer...Let us continue this conversation in my office, where it is warmer and where wandering ear can not hear." She said, her tone kind and lovely, showing respect for his openess and truthfullness.
To her approaching hand, he nearly flinched. Despite his power of memory, he could simply not remember the last time a hand was turned toward him that wasn't meant for beating. In the space of a heartbeat, his gloves balled into fists, and the raw storm of absolute power crackled somewhere within him, but it was seared away by the burning sensation of flesh - real human flesh! - pressing to his frigid cheek. He had long ago forgotten what warm felt like, but what he could sense was vastly different from the norm, and this in itself was something beautiful.

It would take more than a pat on the face to undo all of the ruin that dwelt within his shattered being, but the connection was undeniable. Confused by it, afraid of it, Renault embraced it, his hellfire eyes closing for each instant she held his pale, sullen face. Renault did not shudder, Renault did not blush. In all honesty, when she was withdrawing that heavenly touch and even stepping back, he didn't quite register what she had said, but nodded all the same.

Twin suns watched her place and replace the box of tools, so very full yet so very devoid of emotion. Straightening his shoulders and again adjusting his neck-frill, he frowned thoughtfully at the Queen.

"Verily. Shall I await you therein? Or mayhaps I aught to remain by your side; with me in tow, there exists no safer place on Gaia."
The elegant hands that had once been on his face folded in front of her politely, a calm queenly expression once more on her lovely features. She stepped passed him and walked onto her path with grace, her dress flowing softly behind her as the wind blew and the air became colder. She looked at him again over her shoulder as she waited for him to join her on the walkway, her figure standing stright and tall like a supporting pillar.

"It would be best if you stayed by my side, it would do you no good if you startled my gaurds by suddenly appearing." She said, looking away from him once more as she began to walk again toward the tall castle.

"However, if you choose to meet me there then so be it, either way we will eventually speak to each other."
"Better that you needn't lie to them, nor be caught in scandal. Adverting myself from stray eyes is no novel trick."

With a final, expressionless stare at her retreating form, Renault flicked his tongue against his teeth and closed his eyes. Reaching into himself, into Her power, was as natural for him as a heartbeat and required about as much effort. It always felt the same; like allowing a monster into one's bed, or turning a vital weakness before an ancient rival. He laid himself bare to Her in those instants where he called upon Her might, and always the vulnerability hollowed out more and more of what remained of his soul.

Death, the Queen of Order, at least had taste. Things would always please the only way they were capable under her reign; visibly. Renault was the paintbrush used by the ultimately Unfeeling to express herself. So when he altered his magnificent, tall body into that of a simple little crow, it was with a crash of black electricity and an eruption of misty black feathers. The crow cawed once, twice, before preening an errant feather or two and tilting its head to place a single burning eye on the retreating woman.

Whenever she should deign to return to the window lining her room, the crow would be perched therein, standing as straight and patiently as the man himself.