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The Lord Ruler's perfect capital city, Luthadel, is doing the impossible: rebelling. Skaa half-breeds are being taught the power of Allomancy, something that the Lord Ruler's obligators said only existed in the nobility. The enslaved skaa, with their murderous benefactor, now fight back against a living god's oppression.

So, the Inquisition was formed. The nobles begin to fear assassination from all sides. The times of nobility Mistborn killing each other are over. The Steel Inquisitors look for aristocrat traitors and insurgent skaa, and the skaa try with all their strength to merely survive. The Lord Ruler's perfect Final Empire is slowly devolving into chaos.

Read the full prologue!

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Mistborn Series © Brandon Sanderson
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Member Since 04 Jul 2015
Offline Last Active Oct 21 2018 03:22 PM

Topics I've Started

Lord Alain D'Orsay

31 May 2018 - 01:19 AM

Name: Lord Alain D’Orsay
Age: 56 (b. 862)
Gender: Male
Powers: Seeker
Role: Lord of House D’Orsay, Leader of an Equestrian-Centered Business Empire, Husband to Lady Florence, Father to Constantin, Francois, and Pearce, Guardian (and secretly biological father) to Axelle

Other Pertinent Information:

Lord Alain D’Orsay is a loving father and a House Lord who values honor in his dealings. A D’Orsay through and through he has no fear of working with his hands and getting involved in the nitty gritty of his House’s businesses. He expects hard work from each of his sons and his ward, and he hasn’t been disappointed as far as that’s concerned.

But Alain has a secret.

His ward is actually his biological daughter, born of an affair with a skaa slave. He’s made the required threats to keep this a secret, and he managed to incorporate his Misting daughter into his household with a bit of maneuvering with the aid of his trusted steward and doctor. She was welcomed into the family as a “cousin,” and everything seemed to be working out great.

Until her and Pearce entered their teenage years and he walked in on a romantic encounter that shouldn’t have been possible given their blood ties . . . the ties he had no intention on revealing to them.

So he listened to his wife’s advice on broadening Pearce’s exposure to other ladies, so he’d move on from Axelle. He sent Pearce away for five years. It was difficult, not being able to see his youngest son each day and oversee his education in farriery, but thank the Lord Ruler, the long absence seemed to set his children straight. Pearce had won the favor of many a noble lady it seemed.

The family business was always one of the most important forces in life as a D’Orsay, and seeing that his family was well in body, mind, and spirit, allowed Lord Alain to throw himself deeper into his latest obsession - growing the horse racing arm of the business. Developing that part of things took much of his time and attention, and he allowed other matters to go unsettled, namely arranging the marriage of his sons. He’s planning on attending the social season in Luthadel to wrap up those arrangements while furthering D’Orsay business interests.

Please review the following:
Axelle D’Orsay
House D’Orsay

In terms of appearance, please try to choose a face claim/write a description that mentions the following: blue eyes, brown hair (similar to Axelle).

Approve Before Accepting?: Yes. (Feel free to hit me up on Discord if you have any questions/ideas you’d like to chat through!)

Pearce D'Orsay

27 May 2018 - 03:05 AM

Name: Pearce D’Orsay
Age: 30 (b. 888)
Gender: Male
Powers: Up to the writer
Role: Secret love interest of Axelle D’Orsay, currently undergoing a break up of a hidden affair. Unbeknownst to him and Axelle, they’re actually half siblings.

Other Pertinent Information:
Pearce D’Orsay is the youngest son of Lord Alain and Lady Florance D’Orsay; he oversees the farriery arm of the D’Orsay family business and is an accomplished blacksmith himself. Lord Alain is interested in marrying him off to a noble lady, but his heart currently belongs to the one woman who’s always held it: Axelle, his closest friend since childhood, and as far as he’s concerned, his other half. Even after being sent away for a few years, his love never faded, it only grew. They’ve been having an affair in secret for the last eight years, and have savored every day, but Lord Alain has announced his intentions to find a noble match for Pearce.

Please review the following threads:
Axelle D’Orsay
House D’Orsay

Approve Before Accepting?: Yes.

Jasper Sorelle

29 April 2018 - 06:01 PM


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Name/Handle: Mora
Contact: PM or Discord

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Name: Jasper Sorelle
Type: Noble
Age: 44
Gender: Male
Place of Origin: Eastern Dominance
Occupation: Lord of House Sorelle, Head of Sorelle Building Company
Relationship Status: Widower

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Once a handsome man with piercing blue eyes, Jasper Sorelle’s lifestyle has begun to take a toll on his appearance. His blue hues have dulled. Lines have etched their way into the skin of his face, and are most defined around his eyes and mouth. When at home, there are many days when he doesn’t bother to pull a comb through the dirty blond strands that brush his collar. He seems to be perpetually covered in stubble. His 6” frame is no longer the solid mass of muscle it was in his youth, as he doesn’t go through great lengths to maintain it, but he carries his bulk well.

Jasper Sorelle in the public eye is a very different man from Jasper Sorelle in private. The former takes pains to dress well, ensure his nails are neat, his hair is brushed, and his manner is polished. He makes an effort to be cordial and charming while in the company of nobility. While his dress clothes may vary and alternate, the sapphire and silver ring of the Lords of Lynwood remains a permanent fixture of his dress, since the day he inherited the title of Lord. Though he’s been a widower for many years now, he still wears his silver wedding band.

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Spoiled before his was old enough to talk, Jasper is still very much concerned with his wants above all else. Since the loss of his wife, his wants mostly consist of drinking and gambling and wallowing in his despair - habits that have transformed him into more beast than man. He puts these wants ahead of any of his “duties,” and his children are forced to endure his verbal and physical abuse (as are the few servants they have left). He is mostly absent in the management of Lynwood, making appearances with false smiles for show.

He still has hints of his former self, the cunning, charismatic businessman. But that part of him makes few appearances compared to the animal who sits in Lynwood Manor. He can still be quite charming in person, especially with the unwed or widowed ladies of the realm. He plays the part of the broken-hearted widower - but that much isn’t an act.

Appearances are very important to him, insomuch that he advises the steward to keep the damages to Lynwood Manor and their Luthadel townhome away from public areas as much as possible, and few people are ever invited to either these days. His children are trained well enough not to share anything of their private affairs, and even to look upon him with love in pubic. Yet, his habit of placing Avril in her mother’s old gowns is counterproductive to this goal. It speaks to both the sexist part of him - since he keeps Aric dressed in current fashion - and his sentimental side.

His children are, as far as he is concerned, his possessions, and as such they will serve his purposes, and bear whatever he decides for them. He keeps them close, and is protective in that other people shouldn’t get the opportunity to harm them, or take them away. Jasper has never loved more fiercely than he has loved Ashley; it might be more accurate to say he needs his children rather than that he loves them. He’s more likely to announce his hatred for them - in private, of course - as though each of them had contributed to Ashley’s death. But mostly, he blames himself, since it was childbirth that killed her.

Avril’s resemblance to her mother is a source of pain for him, a constant reminder of what he’s lost. It’s also been a source of anxiety for him as when he’s well into his cups, she is Ashley, and he feels attraction to her - which, in turn, both sickens and terrifies him.

While his behaviors are generally destructive, Jasper does have fears. He’s afraid of Aric dying before him, thus leaving him without an heir. He’s afraid of both his children dying before him, leaving him completely alone. He’s afraid of losing Lynwood Manor, and completely destroying everything his ancestors built up, but this fear hasn’t been stronger than his own self-pity. This fear is easily forgotten at the bottom of a bottle. He’s also afraid of others finding out about the state of his finances, and the monster he is in private . . . unearthing those secrets would just make everything even worse.

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Special Skills: Reading, Writing, Dueling, Lying, Negotiation, Charming

While very damaged, Jasper still has some of the skills that had served him well in his younger days including his business sense and ability to charm others. Though rusty, he does still have some skill at dueling, and some brute strength, from a combination of his size and the storm of emotions that rage inside him.

For his faults, he is a very skilled builder and architect. He has a good sense of interior and exterior design,.

Jasper is not mentally stable. He’s been trapped in a deep pit of despair since his wife died, which has led him to take up multiple vices which all serve to make him weaker - drinking, gambling, and whoring. He’s mismanaged his funds for so long that his finances are in ruins . . . and the manor he lives in is literally starting to crumble in places. He’s behind on the majority of his payments, stretching thin the goodwill of multiple noble houses. If any one person were to buy up his debt . . . that person would gain considerable power over him unless Jasper could somehow settle the debt for considerably less than he owed.

His secrets could be found out and used to destroy him. Apart from his financial state, the fact that he abuses his children (and the far older secret about what happened to his brother) would bring his monstrous nature to light, likely resulting in ostracism from society, and the end of his ability to get contracts and keep their house from complete collapse.

He’s also not in the best physical shape. While he still has physical strength, he isn’t as agile or quick on his feet as he once was.

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Jasper Sorelle entered the world on a fine day in early Spring of 874, about two years after his older brother Merrick had been born. A younger sister joined the family a couple of years later. Like many Sorelles before him, Jasper enjoyed a childhood in which he wanted for nothing. He was given the best of everything, (swords, clothes, tutors, etc.) and was more than a little spoiled as a result. Still, he was a charming boy.

The second son born to Vienna and Riordan Sorelle had not been primed for Lordship.
Instead he had been educated in the ways of the family’s main business, of building and architecture, under the tutelage of his Uncle Mason. He had been taught the manual skills along with the design principles and drafting. More importantly, he was taught the arts of being a businessman - cunning, adaptation, negotiation, and when necessary - intimidation. He took to his studies well, and genuinely enjoyed his work. As was expected of the Sorelle sons, he was also trained in riding, fighting, and dueling. Then it was off to the university, a formality, really, as he had already learned all he needed about the family business through hands on experience.

He was twenty when his father caught the chill that killed him. For weeks it was nothing. A cough here and there. But it devolved into something worse. Little coughs turned to all-consuming, painful events, that led to a fractured rib. Eventually he could no longer get food down between fits. Then the cough yielded blood instead of mucus. Wasted away to a shadow of himself, Riordan Sorelle gave up the ghost at the age of fifty-two, and Merrick became Lord of Lynwood.

The perfect son - and Coinshot - had been raised up for the position and the mantle of responsibility fit him perfectly. The twenty-two year-old had the Sorelle charisma and had established all the necessary relationships to continue the family’s work. All that was left was to marry a Lady and sire an heir. Thus, he began courting in earnest as his schedule would allow.

Jasper was at home more than not, now, to support his brother and learn from him as he became the new heir to Lynwood. He conducted much of his business from Lynwood Manor itself. It was how he met Ashley.

She was perfect to his eyes. With skin like milk and hair like wheat and eyes like a cloudless afternoon sky and lips made for kissing and a petite nose absent of any bumps. She was the picture of feminine beauty, with soft curves and a tiny waist and skin as smooth as silk, and a voice like music. Her laughter was like music, too. She calmed his very soul - both when she burned brass and when she wasn’t.

Merrick had the same opinion of her.

But Jasper wanted her more than anything he had ever wanted in his life. Merrick had more than a few ladies to choose for his wife, as the Lord of Lynwood. Jasper made it his business to win her affection such that she would no longer be interested in marrying his brother. He thought he saw something of her affections returned to him when they locked eyes. He made her laugh and smile easily. He gave her gifts. She didn’t rebuff him when he’d offer his arm.

But she became engaged to Merrick anyway. And Merrick became aware that his brother’s feelings for Ashley were not the brotherly type. The two argued. Merrick forbade Jasper from seeing her until after the wedding, and never without him present. Jasper was overcome with emotions stronger than anything he had previously experienced, even after the death of his father. He had never been kept from what he wanted. And he had never wanted anything more.

His social drinking habit became something more serious, as he took to the bottle like it was his lifeline, like it was the only thing that could keep him from breaking his brother’s order. But he found no laughter there. No comfort. The substance only fueled his bitterness and rage. He wrecked his room, trying to expel the feelings that took over his entire existence. He was more animal than man at this time.

The noble soul called Merrick reached out his hand to Jasper, to try to pull him back from the pit of despair. But Jasper wouldn’t let him in. Merrick didn’t fit into the world of self-pity he’d built around him. Unkempt, dirty, drunken Jasper Sorelle did not need to see the pretty face who’d bested him.

Reluctantly, Merrick left his brother alone, in hopes that time would heal all.

But Merrick never got to find out if that hope was true. Just shy of a fortnight before his wedding, he was found dead in his bed, without any signs of a struggle, or any obvious cause of death.

But Jasper knew the cause, because he was the cause, or more accurately poison that had been planted with his own two hands.

The Lordship passed to him.

His distraught mother pulled him out of his wreck of a chamber with the news. There were more important things at stake now than his self-seclusion and misery. He had no choice. He had to pull it together for their House. He had to put one foot in front of the other and lead the family in all matters, mourning foremost among them.

And he did mourn. With his mother and his sister and Lady Ashley. He was strongest for Ashley most of all, Ashley who needed comfort desperately, Ashley who despite being Merrick’s had been closer to him than the rest of the Sorelles still breathing. Ashley who he still wanted and loved. Ashley who Soothed him.

The bonds between them deepened, as she leaned on him for so much in this time of vulnerability. Life continued, the memory of Merrick strong - stronger on some days than others - until they’d made enough memories of their own. Finally, she acknowledged that she shared the feelings he’d never hid from her. They married in the spring of 897. Throughout this time he continued to provide her with the best of all things, frequently gifting her with fine fabrics, and gowns, and jewelry. He felt he never truly filled the hole Merrick left behind, and tried his best to fill it with his love and coin. He put this need above properly managing Lynwood.

Jasper arranged a marriage for his sister, his mother joined their father in the afterlife, and his own family with Ashley grew. Avril came into the world in autumn of 899. The little girl was adequately doted on as the sole progeny of Jasper and Ashley, with fine dresses and toys and a beautiful piano, with lessons, and a fine governess and tutors. Ashley miscarried twice in the years that followed. She was given the best medical treatment Jasper could buy, and professions that his love was not tied to producing a male heir.

Aric joined the family in the spring of 906, filling the void of heir. Life was good. Aric was even more celebrated than Avril had been. Lavish feasts were held in celebration, and before long Ashley was with child again, confident that any difficulties with regards to pregnancy were behind her.

But she was wrong.

She went into labor six weeks before she was due, and spent hours in childbed. The doctors were not confident of the child’s ability to live outside the womb, and were concerned for Ashley’s life, as well. Jasper begged them to save his wife, if it came down to it. She begged the opposite. As she grew paler and weaker and drained of more blood the Lord of Lynwood was carried away and barred from entering the room. She delivered a tiny, stillborn baby boy, who’d been strangled on the umbilical cord meant to nourish him. It was too quiet. Ashley begged to see him. Unsure of what to do, the nurses wrapped the little thing in a bundle and set him in his mother’s reaching arms. Her eyes closed for the last time before she could utter a single word of appraisal, and Jasper had gotten back inside the room in time to hear the last shallow breath escape those lips he’d loved to kiss.

The animal that had been first awakened years ago roared its ugly head again. Everything became about his self-pity, his guilt, his need to forget the nightmare he was living. He continued to spend wrecklessly, but on drink, and on gambling, where once it was gifts for his lady wife. Lynwood Manor’s coffers were already low, due to years of mismanagement. The steward did the best he could to manage things as much as Jasper would allow. The lands around the estate still flourished; it was the seat of its Lord that began crumbling. Jasper raised rents to cover his bad habits. But it wasn’t enough. And soon that money was gone, too. They started selling what they did not need. Furniture from rooms sparsely used. Paintings. Tapestries. Avril’s beloved piano. His little girl fought to keep that one, but Jasper pulled her out of the way by her pretty blond braid. Tears fell from her pale blue eyes, from the force of the pull, or the loss of the piano, or staring in the face of the animal Jasper had become - or maybe all three.

It became commonplace to see carts waiting to be loaded outside the manor. But Jasper never touched anything that was Ashley’s, or that he had bought for her and stored away. Some of the staff was dismissed, as rooms on upper levels were closed off. They worked to keep the outside manicured and the first floor - and some of the second - intact for visitors, such that their financial plight might remain private.

He dismissed Avril’s maid, citing the reason that Avril was a girl, she had to know how to clean her room and dress herself based on her sex alone. And he could do with one less wage to pay and one less mouth to feed.

He had no patience for his children Yet, he wouldn’t just let them stay separate from him all day. They were his. They belonged to him. And they carried some part of the woman he’d loved and lost. He’d see his children whenever he pleased, and most certainly at family meals. Black moods were never far from him, they were always there, sticking to him like his shadow. He didn’t have the energy to keep them hidden all the time . . . It was a wonder he got out of bed in the morning and didn’t pour liquor down his throat every minute of every day.

Naturally some of that darkness leaked out.

A lot of it did. And even as it found its way out of his mouth, through the flat of his hand, and the curl of his fist, there never seemed to be less of it. It was as unending as the universe itself.

Whenever he got loud or agitated or threw dishes off the dinner table, two-year old Aric would cry. Barked commands to stop being a wimp didn’t help things, but he wasn’t a gentle mother or a nursemaid or a Soother; he didn’t have the capacity to calm down the tiny boy. Twiggy little Avril would put herself between them whenever she thought he might harm Aric . . . and the act only enraged him more.

They were his.

His children.

They didn’t get a say in how he chose to discipline them. Or in how he tried to cope with his own darkness and pain.

They just had to bear it.

He was doing the bet he could, Lord Ruler, damn it!

Avril bore the brunt of it. Her fierce protectiveness of her little brother, her insolence in talking back at him, in using her body as a kind of shield only angered him more. He wouldn’t let that manipulate him into backing down, not when lessons needed to be taught.

Beyond his blurry existence of mostly drinking, eating, sleeping, and more drinking, he vaguely noticed Avril inserting himself in other matters, sticking close to their steward, likely trying to make herself useful. That in itself wasn’t a huge problem. They had to do more with less, and she didn’t have a proper governess to instruct her in the role ladies play in running noble households.

The problem came when rules were broken.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given how far she ran her mouth sometimes.

It was like she wanted to get hit. Lord Ruler knew he had more than enough anger coursing through his veins to oblige her. She didn’t make it any easier for him to keep the darkness caged within. She couldn’t just leave things alone.

She was twelve, on the cusp of her teenage years, when he noticed Ashley’s ruby-and-diamond necklace missing - one of the many gifts he’d given to his love . . . he’s given her this particular piece of jewelry just after Avril had been born, to mark the occasion, the miracle of their first child together.

Every dress, every jewel, every piece of embroidery that had been hers . . . were all that he had left. He would sell the shirt off his back before he let go of any of it. He would let Lynwood fall down upon his head, so long as he preserved the things that were once Ashley’s.

And yet this necklace, this confection of white and red, that had brought such a beautiful smile to her lips, that had looked so lovely at her milky throat. Blood and light, that was what the jewels recalled, that was what the child she’d borne was made of . . .

Gone. It was gone. This piece of her. This object tied to memory. This object that had touched her hands, hand graced her neck . . .

He lost it. One moment he was running his hands along her jewels, the next his eyes noticed what was missing, and he felt as though he’d been stabbed in the heart. He fell to his knees, and cried, the sadness and pain wracking his frame.

But as his tears fell, as his agony emerged from his lips in sobs, anger welled up inside him, climbing up from his toes to his crown, until he could only see red. Heved would pay. He’d feel a fraction of the pain that Jasper endured daily, as much as an old man could take without giving up the ghost.

But Avril got in the way. As usual.

The confession that fell from her mouth had the beast shifting his focus to her. This time . . . this time she’d learn not to disobey him. This time he’d learn something, too - if that skinny bitch was more than just an insolent child, if there was a greater worth lurking beneath that milky skin of hers . . . worth that could help him hold on to the things that mattered to him - the things he needed to save.

He dragged her by the wrist, and barked the order for Heved to follow. They climbed up and up the winding steps until they arrived at “the breaking room.” He forced a vial of metals down her throat, and then he broke her. Fury gave force to his fists and his feet, connected with the weak girl’s body, until she could no longer stand, no longer pull her head up to look at him with defiance and hatred in her blue eyes. Her blood coated his fists, filled the thin lines in his hands, dripped onto the old floor that bore the permanent stains of such beatings.

He gripped a clump of her blonde hair and tugged upward, forcing her to look at him. ”What do you feel?” He asked, his nostrils flaring with the anger still coursing through him, despite how much had been taken out on her. She made to spit in his face, but Heved threw a hand over her bloody, cracked lips, and asked specifically about her stomach . . . what she felt there.

She was able to choke out the words it burns.

As Jasper had decided to try to snap her spontaneously, they didn’t have the benefit of a Seeker to discern what Avril was burning. So they improvised. Jasper threw coins at her hoping to elicit an allomantic response, bit Avril merely groaned as the metal struck her broken body. He taunted her, tried to see if maybe she’d affect him emotionally but there was no obvious result, certainly no newfound calm. Jasper grumpily came to the realization that more time was required to figure it out - he put that responsibility squarely on Heved’s shoulders as he left them in that horrible room to return to his bottle and to his incomplete collection of Ashley momentos.

Time revealed that she was a Pewterarm.

Though she’d been badly beaten, the repeated dosing with metals had accelerated her healing beyond what the average body was capable of.

Jasper had mixed feelings about this revelation. Pewterarms were highly valued Mistings, and this power would certainly give her greater worth in marriage negotiations. But having this ability meant she could become a threat, could more effectively fight back . . . if he let that happen. On the other hand, her enhanced healing was a benefit, given how often she drives him to raise his hands to her; scars would be far less of a concern. He decided the best course of action was to neglect her training, saving him from investing in her financially, and keeping her from gaining an edge when it came to physical blows.

As Avril reached her teen years, life got even harder. She looked more like Ashley every damned day, and it haunted him. With enough liquor in him, he swore she was Ashley. In the worst moment of his pitiful life, he’d forced his way into her room, to her bed, convinced she was the wife he’d lost. But then she’d pulled a dagger on him, and the shine of steel in candlelight brought him back to reality. The sadness and desperation gave way to fury and self-hatred and a sick feeling in his gut, all of which were taken out on his daughter, who had to bring this out in him, who had to look so much like her, who messed up his mind just by existing . . . And his son, his heir had tried to pull him off, away from Avril . . . he couldn’t understand, couldn’t see what was happening, how he hadn’t wanted any of this, how the loss of his wife had broken him beyond repair . . .

It couldn’t get that far again. He would not, could not let that happen. It was one thing to punish the girl for her insolence, this was another. Despite the debt and ever lighter family purse, he knew he had to redirect his funds to the fulfillment of physical needs. More staff was dismissed to make way for live-in whores.

Years passed, Jasper fell deeper into debt and Lynwood Manor fell further into ruin. More goods were sold. Avril had the gall to suggest Aric go live with their Aunt Cristiane, to help progress his development as heir. That suggestion ignited fury within him, and Avril paid for it by way of the lash. He didn’t trust anyone with his heir; it as if the world was out to rob him of all he had left. Aric would learn what he could at Lynwood, within his domain, where he had control, where no outsider could be a threat. Lessons for Avril’s development in the arts - and the art of charming suitors - were out of the question given their financial state. He gave her some dancing lessons himself, and if they were lucky, she would inherit charm and grace from her mother, just like the physical traits that had passed down to her.

Jasper still outfits himself in new clothes when possible, putting it on the steward to sell something, and he does the same for his heir. Avril, however, is hardly ever given anything new to wear. She is directed to use fabric that had been purchased for her lady mother for something new, or to simply wear one of Ashley’s old dresses, which are years behind current women’s fashion. Despite the signs of financial struggle, it was expected that the Sorelle children keep their woes a secret.

Now, Avril is nineteen and Jasper fully intends to marry her off to whichever noble family would offer him the most money to pay down his debts. He’s begun advertising the fact that she’s a Misting, in hopes that will make her a more desirable match.

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Jasper Sorelle didn’t want to be disturbed.

He’d lost all sense of time and place as he’d drifted between bouts of crying and drinking and sleeping. His clothing was rumpled, coated with dried sweat and whiskey. He was finally fading back into the gentle embrace of sleep, his face pressed against Thora’s pale chest, as she slowly ran her fingers through his tangled dirty blond hair, trying to calm him as best she could. She wasn’t as beautiful as Ashley, or even as pretty as Avril, but her coloring was relatively close, and she was willing to put up with him, to share her body with him, and to answer to the name of his departed wife without so much as a blink or a wince. When he closed his eyes, it was somewhat like being with his love again . . . As he was no worker of miracles, somewhat would have to do.

A rap-rap-rap at the door prompted the heavy lids of his eyes to open. He responded with a brusque, “What?”

Heved’s muffled voice sounded on the other side of the door.

“Sorry to disturb you, my Lord, but we’ve spotted a rider approaching.”

Jasper groaned. Thora’s fingers moved to caress his forehead, like she might wipe away the headache that was undoubtedly brewing within at this disturbance. “Tell them I’m indisposed.” He closed his eyes, hoping that was the end of it. Today had not been one of his better days. Or maybe it was yesterday, as he’d lost track of the hour . . . It was the anniversary of when Ashley had told him she was pregnant with their third . . . the beginning of the end of her life. He didn’t want to deal with anything if he could help it. It wasn’t like the rider could surprise him. He was likely dispatched to inform him he was so many weeks past due on some bill or another. Nothing new there.

“It’s um . . it’s just, um,” Heved’s voice sounded feebly beyond the door. He heard the man cough next, trying to clear his throat. “Burgundy on a black horse, my Lord. D’Orsay messenger colors. Given our relationship, perhaps you might want-”


His relationship with House D’Orsay was a positive one; it wasn’t worth compromising because he wanted to laze about today . . . Especially not when Lord Alain was rumored to be looking for brides for his unwed sons.

He let out a guttural, frustrated sound from the back of his throat, and gripped Thora’s hand, stilling it.

“I’m coming,” he replied, irritation in his tone, as he lifted himself up to a sitting position. “Clothes. Now,” he ordered as he moved to the door. He yanked it open and yelled after the steward who was already off and running, “AND GET AVRIL!”

* * *

One of the benefits to having a keep-style home set high on a hill was advanced notice of visitors - provided someone was periodically looking out the windows. The lead time was enough to make Jasper presentable. He’d donned a vest and pants of navy blue, with a crisp shirt of pale grey underneath. His hair and been combed so it fell neatly over his collar. His stubble had been neatened to look like a calculated fashion choice rather than the growth of days spent without a care for his appearance. The sapphire ring of the Lords of House Sorelle sparkled on his right index finger, the simple silver band that marked his marriage to Ashley rested on his left ring finger. He’d never taken it off, even after all this time.

More important than the threads he wore, than the jewelry on his fingers was the smile of welcome that spread across his face as Lady Axelle herself strode over the decorative mosaic floor, the tails of her long burgundy coat streaming behind her. She offered a bow, rather than a curtsy before him, likely due to the fact that she was wearing pants rather than a skirt. It was all rather unlady-like to his traditional mind, but there was something interesting about it nevertheless.

He mirrored her motion with a bow of his own. “Welcome to Lynwood, Lady Axelle. It is an honor to receive a message directly from your own hand. Your client must be an important one indeed.”

Axelle smiled in return, the expression reached all the way up to her blue eyes, as she reached into the folds of her coat and pulled out a letter sealed with gold wax. She extended it toward him and he took it from her casually, no hint of worry on his face.

“When I saw the message was addressed to you, Lord Sorelle, I snapped up the job for myself. It has been too long since I’ve set eyes on the beauty of your lands, and the soaring towers of your home . . . The first grand party I’ve ever attended was after the birth of Lord Aric. To this day, it’s one of the best I’ve been to.”

It had been a grand event. They’d been so, so happy. If he could go back, he wouldn’t told her it was enough, that two children were enough, that a spare was unnecessary. Things were perfect just the way they were.

“Speaking of grand events,” he made himself say with a twinkle in his eyes. “Will we be seeing you at the Luthadel balls this season?”

“You shall,” she said, inclining her head, still the picture of happiness and light. Ashley had been that way. It was as though she moved about the world finding little jokes here and there built into the very fabric of it. Jokes that were clear to her but invisible to many others, himself included.

“Then I may beg a spot on your dance cards, though I suspect they might be overfull, already.” He had to play the game. Had to flatter. Had to be kind. Even if he wanted to bury himself under the covers and drink himself to sleep. He was going to Luthadel to find a way out of the hole he’d made, and he’d need to dig his fingers in and climb, even he split nails, and broke fingers. It had to be done. He could do this.

“Come now, Lord Sorelle,” she said with a laugh, “we both know I’m beyond my prime.”

He shook his head lightly. “Only if the young Lordlings do not know the meaning of the word. Prime is not a number, my Lady.”

Avril found her way down the stairs then, clad in a simple day dress of robin’s egg blue, her blond strains partially tied back with a ribbon of the same color. She came to stand at his side, and curtsied prettily for Axelle.

“You must be Lady Avril,” Axelle said, her blue eyes flickering with recognition. “ . . . You look so much like your mother,” her voice was quieter, softer, heavy with memories from twelve years ago. “When I first met you,” her lips formed a soft smile, “you were just a tiny thing. A tiny girl with a maternal instinct, fussing over your baby brother.”

Lord Ruler. He hadn’t expected her to remember, to bring it up . . . He was even more conscious of the holes in his heart, now. It took so much more to keep from breaking down, to focus on the impression he was making. He knew Axelle would report back to Alain, mention her thoughts on his daughter as a potential match . . .

He glanced to Avril, to her light blue eyes, to hair like palest gold, to the delicate facial features, and back to Axelle, moisture pooling in his eyes as he couldn’t help but compare the girl beside him to woman who only lived in his memories.

“My Avril has turned out beautifully,” he said, “just like her mother.”

Axelle D'Orsay

24 April 2018 - 03:02 AM


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Name/Handle: Mora
Contact: PM Works

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Name: Axelle D'Orsay
Type: Noble (in practice; half-blood in reality)
Age: 28
Gender: Female
Place of Origin: Port Tresteau Outskirts, Southern Dominance
Occupation: Noble; Riding Instructor; Lead of D'Orsay Messenger Service
Relationship Status: [Officially] Single; ending a secret affair

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Type of Powers: Misting
Metals Used: Tin
Degree of Skill: Advanced
Status: Hidden

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More often than not, those blue eyes are filled with laughter and energy. Axelle has a hunger for life and it is obvious to most who get a look at her eyes. Smiles come easily to her pale pink lips, the expression giving her a warm, approachable air. While her sunkissed face is attractive by conventional standards, her wrappings aren't generally considered such as she's more likely dressed in a shirt and slacks when at the family manor or working with the horses. Her upper-back length deep brown hair is often tied back in a braid or twisted into a bun while working, but she tends to set it free and finger comb it when pursuing leisure activities. A true D'Orsay, she keeps her nails short, and her hands are rougher than expected for a noblewoman.

At 28, she's fully settled into her face and body, the changes of youth behind her, but still years away from wrinkles and age spots. At her full height, she's 5' 6.5", neither tall nor short. Her build is slender, but shapely, her small waist a point of contrast to the curves of her hips and chest. She isn't particularly modest, or embarrassed of her body but she generally doesn't make an effort to play up her curves. She hasn't had any reason to. She prefers an easy, effortless style.

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Being adopted into the main branch of House D'Orsay gave Axelle opportunities to grow and develop in a way that she might not have had otherwise. Growing well into womanhood without entering into an arranged marriage also had a big impact on who she is.

Whispers of "old maid" don't begin to do Axelle justice.

And they don't ruffle her either.

Her twenty-eight years is a matter of fact, like the fact that her eyes are blue. She's accepting of it. It isn't something she's ashamed of or something she'd change. That time allowed her to grow into herself and, more importantly, to grow comfortable with herself - her personality and her appearance. She's not afraid to speak up and say what she thinks (with one key exception: telling Lord Alain how she still feels about Pearce). Her silver tongue might win you over to her side in an argument or win your admiration with a bit of charm. She's also a capable flirt. While she can't sense emotions like Soothers and Rioters, her burning tin allows her to notice the tiniest twitch of lips, movement of the eyes, or change in posture - helping her read people.

Like the rest of the D'Orsay family, Axelle is rough around the edges compared to much of the nobility. She's pragmatic, capable, and not afraid of rolling up her sleeves and doing hard work - even if that means pitching in on something beyond her skill set. She takes great pride in her messenger service, which includes discretion as part of the package. While she can be very serious about work and family matters, she also has a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.

She prefers her riding clothes to dresses and stuffier frocks. She also knows how to have fun, and isn't as inhibited as ladies who are worried about getting wrinkles in their skirts or having a hair fall out of place. Thankfully, those aren't things that bother most D'Orsays, and she isn't considered improper by their standards. She enjoys bucking some aspects of convention, especially as a woman - she knows she lives freer than many others.

Axelle is confident in her abilities as an equestrian. She loves the feel of the wind on her face when she rides; it's the closest thing to flying she's ever felt. It's one of her favorite things to do. Her tin has given her an advantage in reading and communicating with the horses as she can notice even the tiniest movement or sense of hesitation on their part.

She has a sense of duty to her family, of being indebted to them for taking her in after the death of her parents. She is loyal to them and wants to always be a contributor to the family, rather than a drain. She loves each of them, and feels loved by them in return.

But her love for Pearce is the strongest force in her life. Despite being forbidden from having a romantic relationship with Pearce, she's been unable to deny him. They've been having a secret affair for the last eight years. They've managed to hide their feelings for each other in public, and they learned how to sneak about their manor over time.

When it comes to skaa, she doesn't have strong feelings. She doesn't hate them for being born into their class or race. On the contrary, she can appreciate their work as she has an appreciation for hard work and the fruits of those labors.

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Special Skills: Reading, Writing, Horseback Riding, Keen Observation, Basic Self Defense, Navigation, Silver Tongue, Sneaking

Axelle is confident, and self-possessed.The opinions of strangers on her age, appearance, or lack of husband don't matter at all to her. Verbal barbs about her external traits won't cut her. She's not afraid to be different or to go against the grain of convention.

She also has no expectations beyond being able to continue living with and working for the main branch of House D'Orsay. She isn't going to Luthadel in search of a husband, so she isn't carrying any hope or anticipation on that front. She's accepted that the rest of her life will likely be a solitary one. This belief has freed her from the idea that she needs to go out and impress people beyond showing off the equestrian skills of her House.

Her skill has a Tineye has made her very good at reading people, based on detecting the tiniest hints of their feelings on their face, bodies, and in their voice. This has served her well in interactions with others both inside and outside of her family.

Above all, Pearce is her weakness. Her love for him has pushed her to defy her guardian, to sneak around and put on a false front. She finds it very hard to deny him anything, but she knows their time is coming to an end . . . and that is a great source of private pain and sadness. Though she's accepted a solitary future, she has yet to truly experience that in practice. She knows that will be hard . . . and it will be even harder to watch Pearce love another.

The secret of their affair is a weakness . . . if it gets into the wrong hands it could ruin their family.

The guilt that comes from it is also an issue for Axelle. She feels she owes her guardian so much . . . yet she's repeatedly defied him day after day. She feels indebted to her guardian, and family, and would do almost anything for them, including putting herself in harm's way.

While Axelle is willing to defend herself in a fight, she hasn't had extensive training in how to do that. She has a basic grasp of self defense and generally needs to rely on her speed - and that of her horse - to get her away from an unsafe situation.

Even though Axelle is unaware of her true parentage, the fact that she's actually a half-blood is also a weakness. If that knowledge got out it would put her and Lord Alain in danger . . . and even if it didn't reach Inquisitor ears, it could certainly shake her identity. The fact that she's actually Pearce's sister rather than distant cousin is the kind of knowledge that would cut deeply . . . maybe even destroy her.

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In the frigid dark of a winter's night in 890, the blessed sound of a newborn's crying cut through the sounds of pain, struggle, and hushed anticipation to bring a moment of relief and joy, to the group of skaa workers huddled together in a hovel on the D'Orsay holdings in the Southern Dominance. Mace, a tiny boy of one, was introduced to his baby sister. He reached out and touched her tiny fingers, even smaller than his own. Shortly after, all the skaa clustered together there were clapping Rian on the back and congratulating him on the birth of his second child, while Faye nursed her newborn daughter.

But the celebration of new life was short-lived.

Lord Alain had been keeping tabs on Faye, watching her belly swell with his child. He did not see her in the fields as usual. He asked after her and learned of the girl's birth the night before. Lady Florence had extended a few days of rest to all new mothers following her own difficulties with childbirth; Faye was taking advantage of her generosity.

Alain made his way to the hovel, where he promptly found Faye, the newborn and her one year-old. He ripped the nursing child from his mother's breast and beheld her tiny face whilst she wailed in the heartbreaking tones, and her older brother mirrored her pain with tears of his own. Faye stretched out both hands and begged for her child back, but Alain barely heard the commotion.

His. She was absolutely his. She was scarcely a day old and yet he saw the D'Orsay features there, beyond the dark brown hair and blue eyes, the shape of her lips, her chin, her tiny nose and even her eyebrows had the marks of his bloodline. He had a daughter now.

His lips spread into a smile, whilst the crying and begging continued. His seeker's senses felt something more. Burning. The newborn had been sufficiently traumatized to snap. Gently, lovingly, he tapped her nose with his index finger.

"You are special, little one," he crooned into her red, crying face.

"M'Lord, please, please, she's hungry."

"So she is," he glanced back at his sometimes lover. She looked both exhausted and terrified. Not at all the enticing piece of flesh he knew she could be. She'd bounce back, like she had after her first child.

"You may feed my child," he said, handing the baby back slowly, reluctantly. He smiled as the crying faded into quiet as the child sought nourishment.

"Her name is Axelle," he declared, gently touching the top of her little head. Faye didn't argue, she just looked at him, breathing, trying not to cry. "I will be back for her before the Mists come."

"Please," Faye stretched out an arm and grabbed a tail of his coat, full of the motherly instinct that urged her to hold onto her little one. "I promise I'll take good care of your daughter," her words were wracked by sobs.

The nobleman turned back to the young mother, he brushed his fingers down the side of her face, the path of his touch not unlike that of the tears falling from her eyes.

"You know I can take better care of her," he said softly, "that I can give her everything she could ever want." He pressed a single finger to her lovely, trembling lips. "You should be thanking me, Faye, not fighting me. Our daughter will have the best I can give."

Later that afternoon, Lord Alain arrived by coach with his trusted steward, and the family physician. The child was again ripped away from her mother, hidden in what looked like the large case of instruments the doctor always took with him. Then she was away, placed in the carriage that had bought the nobles, her mother and brother wailing again.

Faye was warned not to talk. To let it be. To agree on the story that her newborn hadn't survived her first days, that she'd been sleeping soundly, chest rising and falling with breath, until it just stopped, as sometimes happened to newborns . . .

That was the only way. For Mace's own safety. For Rian's. And for the child she hadn't properly named, but called "my" over and over from the time Lord Alain had left her home until he came back and took her.

My daughter. My baby. My, my, my . . .

Faye couldn't hold out under the pressure, for when she seemed hysterical, for when she looked like she hadn't unlearned the truth, Lord D'Orsay reminded her of the power he had over her life. That she was kept under the same roof, on the same estate as her husband because he allowed it. That her son also resided here because he had no wish to separate them. And the truth, the ugly truth hovered over her, even though she didn't like it . . . Her daughter would be spared a life of hardship and heartbreak . . . she'd never have to give up her own child one day because she was born with the wrong kind of blood in her veins.

So Faye shoved the lie down her throat and swallowed it, so she'd be able to spew it again and again and again.

Three nights later, House D'Orsay received an unexpected visitor, with news of a carriage crash, and the loss of distant cousins on their way to visit . . . and the unexpected rescue of a baby girl.

Florence melted immediately at the sight of the child, and took her into her arms as though she were always meant to be there. The daughter she'd never had. And so it was with no resistance that Lord Alain's illegitimate daughter became his ward.

True to his word, Lord Alain treated Axelle like he treated his legitimate children. She was given first class private tutors alongside her "cousins," and trained in the trades and customs of their house. In true D'Orsay fashion, Axelle grew up more likely to wear pants than dresses, and completely comfortable getting dirty out in the fields or on the track. Her talent for riding became apparent while she was still a small child, and she grew into one of the finest - and fastest - in the family. Her gift as a Tineye also wasn't overlooked. Lord Alain had her trained in that art as well, bringing in a practiced Misting from one of the lesser branches of the family.

* * *

While Axelle had a good relationship with each of her cousins, her relationship with Pearce was special. Rather than acting as a protective older brother, Pearce, two years her senior, was her best friend from the beginning. They two of them were inseparable, playing tag throughout the manor, racing through the fields, and horseback riding along the trails. They grew into teenagers together, and the changes that came with with those years altered the course of their relationship. They experimented together, discovered together, and they ceased looking at each other as just friends.

Some of those feelings must've found their way to Pearce's face, because Lord Alain took notice. He started paying closer attention to Pearce outside of his studies, and his training in the farriery arm of the family business. It wasn't long before he caught them. Axelle had warned that she'd heard someone coming, but Pearce brushed it off as skaa stablehands going about their work. One minute he had Axelle pressed to the wall of the hayloft, his lips moving along her neck, his fingers unbuttoning her blouse. The next, he was ripped away by his shirt collar, his father gripping the garment with both hands and screaming into his face over and over, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

Tears fell like a heavy rain down Axelle's face, as she scrambled to fix her shirt. Half-choked, Pearce told his father they were in love. Lord Alain yelled that she wasn't an option, that he would marry to further the interests of their house . . . and that they were cousins, besides. Pearce spat that they were distant relations with barely a drop of blood between them. Then Alain started to ask how far things had gone, but he didn't need to finish the question for Pearce to defiantly reply that they'd done it. He had thought admitting it would help the case for their eventual marriage.

Enraged, Lord Alain punched his seventeen year-old son in the face and broke his nose, whilst screaming that Pearce had "ruined" her. The shock of red on his son's face kept him from landing another blow. Spitting blood and unable to speak properly, Pearce said that he wanted to marry her. Alain ordered Axelle to go back to her room with the assurance that they'd head back shortly. She'd never seen him so angry in her life. In that moment, she was too shocked to argue, so she obeyed the man who'd taken her in and given her everything.

Lady Florence came across the shaking Axelle in their main hall, and soon the details were pouring out of her. She was apologized repeatedly and begged her other guardian to calm down Lord Alain, to send her away, to do whatever it took to make sure Pearce was okay and that he was forgiven. She told her she feared for his safety, that he needed his nose looked at, that her Lord had never been so angry.

The Lady of the House sent Axelle to her room, but promised that she'd take care of everything and that Pearce would be fine.

True to her word, Lady Florence did calm her husband down. She framed the situation just as she saw it. Pearce was a young man, with the normal, healthy energies and urges that came with growing up - not so different from Alain himself when he was younger. Axelle was the only girl around his age that he spent a lot of time with. He merely needed his energies and attentions redirected and the problem would fix itself. He'd get over his first love, learn to manage his lust, and follow through on whatever marriage arrangement they eventually made.

Lord Alain thought his wife's assessment and advice were wise. Over breakfast the next day, he announced that Pearce would be doing an apprenticeship in farriery with one of the lesser branches of their House, in the Western Dominance. They'd leave tomorrow. He'd travel with his son and see him settled in before returning home.

The news hurt them both, but the fact that they were being separated wasn't a surprise. The surprise was that Pearce was the one being sent away.

That last day under the same roof wasn't spent the way they would've chosen. Pearce was occupied with packing, his father personally overseeing some of it. Her other cousins went riding with her, presumably on her guardian's orders to keep her busy . . . and away from Pearce.

But before the red sun started its descent in the sky, he made his way to stand near the stables. She was a ways off, with Constantin and Francois riding at her sides, but there was no mistaking the shape of him. She burned tin, like he knew she would, and she could see his face clearly, and she could hear the whisper meant only for her ears.

"I love you. The distance won't change that."

She wanted to cry. But she wouldn't dare. Not with her cousins beside her. So she put a hand over her heart, even though he probably couldn't see it.

* * *

Life trotted forward. She missed Pearce constantly, but being a D'Orsay meant working hard everyday. She couldn't just lock herself in her room and wallow in her grief. She started giving riding lessons to noble children and teenagers. She also gave riding demonstrations and participated in horse races as a jockey; her smaller stature and lighter weight gave her an advantage over riders like her cousin Constantin. Along the way, thanks to her speed, she started running messages for her guardians. At the age of sixteen, she had turned it into a business, her own little piece of the D'Orsay portfolio. Constantin led horse breeding and training. Francois led the design and construction of carriages, carts, palanquins, and saddles. And over in the Western Dominance, Pearce led the work at the forges.

He wrote to the family every week in a single letter meant for all of them. He seemed to be doing well, working hard, but also attending various social engagements, where he met a long list of blue-blooded ladies. It bit at her, but she didn't let it show. She tried to swallow it down, to accept what her guardian had said, that she wasn't an option for Pearce in the first place. But she remembered his parting message of love, and her own feelings never faded.

Axelle grew up with the belief that her worth was tied to her contributions to the House - to their businesses, but also to the family unit itself. Even though she was a ward, she was loved and treated as a daughter, and mirroring that love and appreciation through respect and obedience was important. Despite that word uttered in anger, she didn't feel that her worth - or that of her cousins - rested on a marriage contract. She recognized those arrangements as tools to further their standing and expand their businesses, but she saw that their true value rested within each of them as individuals.

There was something freeing about that.

She didn't fret about making herself look as attractive as possible. She didn't cast off her riding clothes to wear the latest fashion; she dressed for the task at hand. She learned her own mind and felt free to voice her opinions in open family discussions. She developed a sharp tongue and a quick wit. As she aged, she developed a quiet confidence that came with knowing she was loved just as she was. She accepted her flaws and recognized her assets as well.

* * *

She was twenty when Pearce moved back home. In those five years apart he'd transformed from a slender youth to a solidly built man, the effects of his work at the forges apparent in his broad shoulders and muscular arms. He'd only grown more handsome since she'd seen him last, and setting eyes on him brought back all the feelings she'd tried to bury. But she kept control of herself. She was a grown woman now, and she was determined to be a good ward, as she'd already caused too much pain.

Pearce was also on his best behavior. The reunion dinner passed without incident, without any indication that her childhood sweetheart had done anything other than move on. But when she'd returned to her room, he was already there, waiting for her.

"If you are here to tell tales of your conquests, I think Francois would be a better audience," she said taking off her stud earrings and dropping them into a small crystal bowl on her dressing table with a pair of clinks. She looked at him, with steel in her eyes as she willed herself to be strong.

He didn't shrink under her gaze. Instead he approached, his eyes unfaltering.

"I'm here to tell you that nothing has changed," he took her hand in his and kissed it. "Except that I've learned how to love you better." He moved in closer, unafraid, unintimidated. "If you still feel the same."

Her heartbeat took off, her emotions flowing through her like a rushing river.

"What of all the fine ladies you've mentioned in your letters?" she inquired, with a raised brow, her face still absent of hope and affection.

He let out a low laugh. "None of them are you. Many shied away from picnics in the grass, afraid to get dirt - or a bug - on their skirts. Most think horses are dreadful, smelly beasts. Some can't take a joke. Others try too hard. Everyone I've met has only reinforced how perfect you are."

"Am I not ruined?" she asked, the word like lead on her tongue, her eyes shining.

His smile faded faded at that, his voice turned serious. "There is nothing that could ruin you for me."

Bold hands found her waist, like they'd never left, and he pressed his nose to hers, breathing her in.

"You'll be married off to someone else," she whispered, as though either of them had forgotten Lord Alain's words that night.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Father doesn't seem like he's in a rush to finalize those arrangements. But even if I am . . . it wouldn't be for love. Most people . . . they don't ever get to feel this. But I feel it, and I know you feel it, too. We should hold on to it for as long as we can . . . And if we're lucky," he brushed back some dark strands that had escaped her braid. "If we're lucky, that could be forever."

All the strength she'd gathered to resist him drained away, and as important as it was to obey her guardian, to respect his wishes, she couldn't pull back. Even though she knew forever wouldn't be theirs, she couldn't refuse him now. When he brushed his lips against her own, she melted, and kissed him back. Pulses quickened and kisses deepened, as they began to express five years of missing each other.

With some effort, Axelle managed to pull back, panting. "We can't get caught."

"We won't. I will not wear my heart on my sleeve. I will not give him any reason to suspect."

He moved his face closer to hers, but she quirked a brow. "And?"

"And when my Tineye says someone is coming, I will listen," he smiled.

Axelle smiled back. "Good."

* * *

They had eight years of loving each other in secret, and of drinking herbal tonics to ensure their secret never impacted more than the two of them. But Lord Alain has decided to take the family to Luthadel, to find suitable matches for his unmarried sons. Axelle has been tasked with helping find ladies who would make them happy, and burning tin to hear the whispers, as Lord Alain works on the politics and business associated with the decisions.

Pearce still hasn't given up on the possibility of remaining with Axelle.

Axelle's heart is breaking, but she is trying to focus on gratitude for the year's she's had with Pearce. It is her love for him, and for their family, that motivates her to help find the best match possible for him . . . someone deserving of him. For her own part, she has no expectation of ever being married as societal standards are not as kind to older unwed women. That doesn't bother her or rattle her confidence as she doesn't need a husband to be a whole person. She sees her path as continuing to serve her family, and contribute to their businesses.

* * *

Unbeknownst to Axelle, her mother has taken ill. Believing she is not long for this world, Faye told her family the truth about the daughter she'd lost and communicated her dying wish: for one of her children to tell Axelle, and for Axelle to be brought to visit her bedside before she breathes her last.

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Riding lessons complete for the day, Axelle made her way back to her rooms. She entered and shut the door, breathing for a moment as she pressed her fingers against the dark wood. Pearce came up behind her, nuzzled his nose against her neck, and then planted a gentle kiss there. He started undoing the braid in her hair, setting wavy tendrils of brown hair free to flow down her upper back.

"You can't do this when we're in Luthadel," she said softly, her blue eyes watery with the knowledge that this might be the last time he greeted her this way, the last time she felt his hands on her. His hands moved to her hips and she laced her fingers through his own.

Lord Ruler she loved those hands. Rough, hard-working hands with a gentle touch.

"We're not there yet," he whispered in her ear, his breath warm on her skin. "We should try to get our fill of each other." He kissed her ear, the sensation flaring across her body, far beyond the spot where his lips and tongue touched her. "Even though such a thing isn't possible."

Axelle was sure it wasn't possible. She'd been trying to for the last few years, as each day, each week, each month took them closer to the day he'd eventually be married off to someone else. She'd never grown tired or bored of him. Never wanted his hands anywhere but on her.

She mustered what strength she could, slid her hands from his own, and turned to face him.

"That won't make this easier on either of us."

Looking up into his handsome face, his laughing eyes, she knew they were both far beyond anything remotely easy. They had leaned into a doomed relationship, and their love had only grown with age. Easier was long gone. It might've never existed at all.

"Then run away with me." He was smiling, his eyes still full of laughter, yet she knew he meant it. It wasn't the first time he'd made this offer.

"We can't," she said shaking her head and covering her eyes with a hand.

"We have skills, we could get jobs. We won't be beholden to my father," he gently pulled her hand away from her face, so he could see her. He knew she was weak when he looked at her like that, with his heart on his sleeve. He didn't let go.

"We already are, Pearce. He is your father, and he has been one to me, he's given me a life - my whole life. I owe him everything." It wasn't a new response. She'd felt indebted to Lord Alain since she was a small child. It was a feeling that would never go away, no matter what she did, no matter how well she served the family. It was the reason she walked with guilt weighing her down every single day. Because she knew she was disobeying him with every breath she took, every thought of Pearce, every secret smile, every kiss . . .

She couldn't get in the way now, when he'd decided to make the most important decision of Pearce's life . . .

"He gave you your life so you could live it, Axelle. Not so you could give it away, so you could be a martyr for his cause."

She had to help instead. To do as she was told. To help locate someone who could make Pearce happy, give him everything she was forbidden to.

She swallowed. "He asked me to help find someone suitable for you . . ."

"You're still intent on accepting his will in this, in us?"

"I don't see a choice," her voice was brittle, but determination hardened her face. They'd always been on borrowed time. They knew that from the moment she'd found Pearce in her room, after he'd finally returned home after five years.

"There's always a choice, Axelle. It's a matter of accepting the price. I am willing to give up my name, my title, my ho-"

He'd been so devoted. Through everything. After years he returned to her with even more love in his heart than when he'd left. She didn't want to give him up. She was horrified at the thought of seeing him with someone else, with watching another woman make him happy, make him smile . . . bear him children. She imagined it was like shards of glass being forced through her still beating heart. She already felt the sting just thinking about it.

"I'm doing this for you, Pearce. I'm saying no, for you. Because I love you and this is what is best for you, because you shouldn't ha-"

He closed the gap that had opened up between them and interrupted her self-righteous speech with a deep kiss. She didn't fight against him or pull away as the seconds slipped away, and his hands found her waist.

How on earth was she going to give this up? Give him up? She wasn't sure where she'd find the strength.

His breathing was heavy when he moved his lips from hers.

"Then be my mistress. If you have given up on me as a husband, consider remaining my lover."

Axelle opened her mouth to object, to say no, she wouldn't, she wouldn't do that to another woman, that she'd just be grateful for the time they'd had, but he put a finger to her lip and said, "don't answer, just think about it." Then he was kissing her again, and tugging off her jacket.

He was too close too see the tears pooling in her eyes.

Just this once more.

This will be the last time I get to love him.