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STENELLIAN ASCENDANCY | Empress Xue'Daio Nox | "The Edge of the Abyss" Pt I

Posted on 241901.19 @ 17:23 by Xue'Daio Nox

Mission: Lacuna

Apsha as a whole had come to shudder under the rise of change that seemed entirely premature, but chose to blossom into bloom all the same. The celestial blue of the skies and cerulean waters that surrounded the great city of Aleine felt more like a dream that had been dreamt long ago than a promissory note of the coming days. However, even the sweetest memories of summer compilations of white sunshine and the smell of ginger roots pulverized into scented soup, rich as honey, were far surpassed by the low hung clouds and the promise of snow that clung to the royal burghal. Had it not been for the cold, it would have been weeping rain.

The young regent would take the snow.

Her entourage never seemed to falter; they swept swiftly through the villages just outside the city while denizens gazed upon the extravagant shine of six black stallions that had been sent to collect the Empress and her retinue from the docks of Justilfal. Brought there by Ferengi traders in an attempt to appease the late Empress Psy’Daio Nox’s ever growing appetite for finery and newness, the animals had hardly outstayed their welcome. While Xue’Daio had never seen need for them, or what they represented, tradition stayed. Apsha deserved the same beautiful things that Earth held, but alas such things were only learned of through the little trolls and passing lawless wretches that chose to do business with the ever building power of the Stenellian Ascendancy. At least the animals didn’t seem willing to fret about the constant threat of ice or how the labyrinth of streets they loped along seemed to remain encapsulated by it.

So narrow and populated were they that the sun failed to seep down into the unruly cracks – however, the lack of sunlight did little to abate the traffic, and the bitterness only served to cultivate the fine scents of vanilla and peppermint where once had wafted the stench of dying livestock, decaying minds, and rotting bodies. She wasn’t entirely lost to reason, it churned her stomach when she realized they had come so close to perpetuating the caste system and allowing the so called poor to remain in squalor. Had it not been for Maec, for Starfleet, everything she lay her eyes upon would have been a far different description to be painted. It was only just a mere two years ago that peering out of her window at these outskirts of Aliene would have meant watching death and destruction - a struggle for life instead of the bounty of and flourish of life that now beckoned the eye. Some had questioned, and still questioned her marriage to the Romulan. Soothesayers and rabble rousers alike harped that she had let their doom in by the front door, that the Romulans would find a way to tear down the moral fiber she had fought to implement - something that truly hurt her heart to imagine what the core of such ghastly madness would look like… And still… Her faith remained in him. The very thought of which brought the white of her lashes over her ruby eyes and her lips pressed in a faint, sad smile.

She was barely more than a mewling, barely having entered her twenties, and yet she knew so much by way of strife.

Through the bronze flourishes of her carriage windows, she could have sworn she saw the soiled faces of the damned with filth, not heavy snow, tumbled from window tops and splattered onto the uneven ground below. Holding a perfumed handkerchief to her nose, the White Queen set about drowning out nausea the memories of the stench of depravity that had once choked the outskirts of the beloved royal city gave rise to. The cold pink of her eyes seemed to darken and then warm as they fell on the face of a child, no more than a year old, perched upon the step of some shop or another and watching the Princess’s procession with wide eyed wonder. At first she saw grit and grime, a sense of sadness so profound it made her breath catch. Her eyes squeezed shut in a tight blink before re-opening and finding the child again. This time she saw the truth. She saw smiles and grandeur she and Maec had fought so deliberately for in the form of frost kissed chubby cheeks of a well fed, happy child watching in wide-eyed wonder as the royal retinue continued past. History was a black mark, but she hadn’t repeated it by allowing the Romulans to rape and ravage what they undoubtedly thought was an inferior race with an inferior homeworld. "Enough." Xue sighed heavily to herself, closing her eyes as she settled deeper into the comforts of her warm carriage and absolved herself to the rocking motion the horses created.

“Your Grace,” A rider at the carriage side called, plucking the albino from her thoughts with a frown and a sigh. The sound of her silk robes rustling preceded the appearance of her face at the window. “We’re fifty strides from the palace bridge.” He nodded to her, his braided cobalt hair wavering along his back with every laboring stride the massive reptile beneath him took in order to keep up with the stallion drawn carriage. The cold wasn’t their biggest worry, the beasts were strong and bred to endure the climate of Apsha, but Xue couldn’t help but feel sorry for the creatures and the Makta warriors sat astride them. This was their job, their calling in life; guarding the Ascendancy - but this little parade was beneath them, just as it was beneath her.

“I’ll make ready.” She replied, taking her eyes from the warrior and disappearing back into the dark warmth of her privacy and thoughts. With all of the technology and advancements the empire had made, the reason why they continued on with such silly displays mostly eluded her. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the wealth and comfort, quite the contrary; it was that she detested settling for the archaic and being placed on display like a yenkukhu hanging in some meat market window. The Empress wasn’t a withering flower, or some painfully rare exotic creature from another world – she was a warrior. These trips, these parades… None of it sat well with the pragmatic mind of the regent. Before horses it had been the reptiles pulling the procession. Some things had evolved, but overall… Tradition could be damned..

Like it or not, the carriage progressed steadily forth and took a sharp left that seemed so unnatural, but the city before them opened up like a giant, blooming flower. Cloud filtered daylight finally filled the cabin as it reflected off the white and crème walls that followed and hugged the ground’s natural path and fluctuating gradients. The hollows had given way to the bounty of something even greater, a place where people sauntered about with freshly baked flat loaves and the smell of winter had been replaced with that of blossoms and cooking meat. Children ran and laughed in play, doing their best to avoid the unrelenting wave of motion from the horses and goianai lizards. If Xue angled her head alongside the diamond cut grates of her carriage windows, she could see the palace standing tall, proud, and mighty. Long ago the Nox family had built it on the blood and bodies of those they had conquered. The closer they rode, the deeper into the crimson shadow of the palace they were entrenched and the albino couldn’t help nor stop the quivering sensation that rippled through her stomach. Slowing hoofbeats and the scraping of reptilian talons - as they charged across the heavy iron bridge and through the palace’s portcullis - only served as another reminder that home was mere feet away, and the show was about to begin. The albino closed her eyes and steeled her resolve as her retinue yelled and the voices of the aristocracy joined them in announcing her arrival. It had only been four days, granted it had been spent in the company of Starfleet, but the point remained that such a ‘celebration’ was unwarranted and unneeded.

And downright irritating.

This wasn't time to celebrate... It was hollow and wretched return for reasons she'd have sooner chosen to forget and forge back to the awkward conversations conducted with Commodore Ivanova. Anything but what was to transpire. Alas... The motion of the carriage had ceased and all that remained was the rocking generated by the impatience of the young horses tethered to it.

Her nearest guard, an impressive male with skin the color of stone and eyes the color of the summer sea, opened her carriage door and extended a massive hand to her when at last they’d come to a halt and the true procession began.

Xue gave him what he requested.

Her hand was small, dainty, and elegant – and even in his pallid palm, it stood out like a dove against a storm cloud as she descended ever so gracefully from the dark holds she’d ridden in. All around her she could hear whispers, words of how her pallid appearance and the bright pink of her eyes posed such a bewitching aspect to her otherworldly fascinations; so authentically candid yet subliminally arcane. In short, the young Empress was a delicacy for the eyes to savor. “The Senate awaits, Your Grace.” He spoke and received only a nod in return. He’d been of the many she’d sent to ruin in the years her mother had sent waves of men in her direction with the intent to marry. Denying him had been a critical blow to his family’s honor - but in the end he stood where he needed to as the head of the Makta.

Donned in a gown and robes that draped off her body like molten gold, Xue’Daio looked ever the picture of the Empress of the Stenellian Ascendancy. Its sleeves were split from top to bottom, billowing and floating to the ground in length and lined with soft silvery furs, freeing her arms from any sense of restriction and the silk always flowed with her every movement and gesture, using the air to uplift its delicate fibers. Three thick bands of solid gold wrapped about her arms in designated spaces, equal distances apart, and ornamented with patterns lined in glittering precious stones that caught the light and set to dancing and serving to take attention away from the way the garment did little to hide the soft swells of her pert breasts or the evidence of her budding pregnancy even if it covered everything and hugged her neck until just beneath her delicate jaw. Behind her a train of over a meter in length would trail, gliding along the ground and flooring like a golden ocean crawling up to the shore. Her long, winter-hued hair hung partially braided down along her sculpted back until it was freed into thick, undulating tendrils. The side strands that framed her pixie-like face had been pulled back and fastened with jewel encrusted clips into the fashion of flower petals and a magnificent crown balanced atop her noble head. In totality, the young woman was a work of art. Crowds of the more humble Lords and Ladies, as well as a few stray common Makta and Ma’Raydio stood in gatherings, awaiting a glimpse – she could tell by their conflicting expressions that they were uncertain of how to receive her. She smiled to them all the same. Perhaps four days was longer than she’d thought. In that time, of course, the missing Emperor had become more than just an inconvenience, he’d become a liability.

It was easy to understand their trepidation. Xue carried a notorious name and her infamous disgraces and indignities that she’d bestowed upon many were disseminated. They were as common knowledge as her temper, fierce and cruel. The families of the discarded had made damn sure of that, their blood perhaps curdling that their sons had been passed over for sake of a Romulan - and not just any Romulan, the nephew of the Praetor Arrenhe t'Ahaefvthe herself. Worse now was the growing knowledge of the fact she carried a child that had not been seeded within her by the Romulan or a Stenellis, or so the stories - true as they were - presented. It wasn't their business, but it left strain within families that had indeed presented the best of their loins for her consideration... And had them turned down flat.

“I’m ready.” Xue fortified, feeling a hearty shudder of confidence and zeal seize her body. Even though the frigid beams of noon blinded her as its earnest light bounced off the ice and bathed upon her skin, she held herself with a sense of savage nobility that refused to falter. Flickers and gleams of copper daubed over her delicate face and dared to further turn her speckled skin to marble, however it was the winter light’s reflection of her dress that had set her exterior aglow without the aid of shadows or nightfall.

Looking on ahead, the great doors were opened wide, yet darkness loomed within and two armed guards stood to either side with their eyes beckoning her forward and with a commanding stride, Xue’Daio progressed. Her own retinue followed, keeping a distance between her and all of those that would dare to try and come to close or make a play to end her life. A grey shadow passed over her rose eyes, and from there everything seemed a blur – clarity refusing to reemerge until she came before the throne room, her entrance into the great hall was all that her mind had truly registered since exiting the carriage.

The space was crammed and heaving with the highborn dressed in various colors of silk and fine satin, and despite the already obscenely swollen capacity, the spectators still parted way – offering her a direct passage down to where the gilded thrones lay empty and waiting. Just off to the right of those high seats, a guard thumbed the butt of his spear against the hard black marble floor and crowed with a stone face; “Her Royal Majesty, Xue’Daio Nox, Queen Dowager of Aliene, Queen of Apsha, Empress of the Stenellian Ascendancy!” and she could feel the pace of her heart quicken into a frenzy, though she remained unfazed by the gawking eyes of those around her and managed to maintain the unabashed swing in her stride as she strode past the first of the throne room’s great marble pillars. They stood in almost violent contrast to the shine of the black stone floors, beige in color and ornamented with green and red jasper verdure encasing the vast cylindrical formations. Her pace was brisk, her eyes refused to leave her targeted destination. With her chin slightly tilted up into the air, her neck was straight and her shoulders pronounced as her posture held her back taunt and her head high and gaze focused leaving her mostly blind to the way daylight streamed in through the colorfully stained windows, casting an angelic hue upon her gliding procession. In the happenstance that she caught glimpse of a bystander, she could see the gold and silver shimmers embalming their skins and her dress glistening in their curious eyes. A child of the stars, the winter light worked to highlight her and cast her glow across the symbols of the old Gods that tread beneath her delicate footfalls.

Religion had played little part in her life. The galaxy harbored so many religions that she couldn’t say which she favored nor which she’d choose for herself. Instead she simply chose to believe that there was something out there greater than herself, a creator that had chosen to bless the universe with the existence of life. In her mind, religion was merely a deception to encourage the destitute to endure the hardship inflicted by their superiors in order to be rewarded with glory in the so-called afterlife. It was merely a ploy, a ploy to embolden false harmony. Instead, she drew nourishment from the world around her and felt not the need to adopt some divine concept to cleanse the condition of her supposedly dark little soul. The thought of it all was nothing more than a ploy of its own, one designed to keep her steadily moving forward with nary a trace of her insipid inner thoughts until at long last she once more claimed her throne. The empty seat beside her, however, set her jaw to tightening and her heart felt squeezed within her tightening chest. All of this was because of that small flaw in the operation - Maec was still missing.

Within seconds, all around her stood men adorned in the white cloaks of royal guards, garbed in golden armor with exquisite chainmail and finely crafted shoulder plates that tucked so neatly into the robust and ornate chest plates that fastened to their torsos. Each was wrapped with a sword concealed within a sheath, yet the hilts all glistened of telltale auburn copper nonetheless. Supposedly they had all been hand chosen as the finest warriors from the five ruling families, the bravest and the boldest – all Xue saw were over-prized bodyguards; little boys dressed up in pompous costumes. While they looked the part, and they may have had noble intentions, there was a notable lack of deliverance – though, her pre-determinations were solely based on the fact that she’d bested them in the years prior during her training with the Makta. One in particular shone brighter than the others, like a brick of gold pressed latinum oppressed within a poorly brick wall. His armor harmonized flawlessly with the golden glint of the Empress’s gown, completed with a long, tarnished haulberk, covered in mother-of-pearl scales. He was stood higher upon the platform, closest to the Empress and he indeed looked like a knight – a true knight, complete with an air of gallantry imbuing his demeanor. Just like those of the sweet tales her mother loved so. Xue couldn’t help but noticed his charming looks. His golden hand had long ago plucked at her mother’s prudence and stolen himself a seat deep in the royal family. Kiv’Watt, the valiant golden knight, was none other than her own father.

Peacock proud and with eyes like a hawk, the man regarded his daughter with nothing more than a subtle nod of greeting and acknowledgment. It was a comfort, one she would never admit to needing even in the face of what was to transpire between herself and her senate council. The question of the Emperor, or rather his disappearance, was one she wasn’t ready to answer or face given that even she had been denied details - but with her father standing protectively at her side, and his men at the ready, the young Empress gazed upon the court and simply nodded that they may come as the tides simply must.

To Be Continued...

Xue'Daio Nox
Empress of the Stenellian Ascendancy
Queen Dowager of Aliene
Queen of Apsha


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