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Many before...

From the past, and present. They came on the swan rites left for the departing worms of scale and brimstone. Their so-long lived eyes on their merits forever closed off to the reaching hand of the deceased. They lay in bare soils, the last will if those resting in these grounds to be witnessed by any and all. A tale of glory and defeat. The rise...and fall. Triumph and...failure.

All to be seen, to be counted in ways only a dragon may fathom, from one to the next. The old and the new. A story and a cautionary tale. This, their last message, closing their gaze on a world they will never see, the queen of requiem washing their immortal bones of the scale and flesh, poised in the mausoleum, ever expanding, open for those who stomach the travel to watch the prize of ambition...

The queen of the requiem, so thorough in her rites, does she gathers the breath of the passage from this world to the next. Effluvium, gray and deathly, stripping the land of its life, as no wanton destruction, but a place for the passed to sleep, as humans sleep in cemeteries, lifeless out of respect for the dead.

Many before...

The times have brought heights to wishes and desires. From glory, to wealth, to power. Power comes in many shapes and forms. Weapons, spells, artifacts, buildings, continents. Those that fashion themselves guided by destiny, toil on the land of the dead. Countless before, countless today. They brand great signs of power, bestowed upon them by great acts. Rumors and whispers of one of the Requiem Queens' shrouded converging, to one reaching her final age. The die has been cast, the swarm as they did in her grave absence.

They toll with the machinery of jewels and gleam, depicted as famous, wrathful, through the Mists of the bygone, the name attached to this requiem queen's grounds of rites. Their magic pretends to unravel the tainted Effluvium, venturing in the deep confines of her sacred land, to be faced with an inverted castle, built from the stalactites down.

The thoughts of these so-called walkers of destiny hunt but one dream. Power. Power in the shape one in control of what many could substance as death energy, the Effluvium. Tapestries of the woman underneath the shroud that sees her form bloated in leather. A beauty which does not belong in the midst of decay, comparable to one walking among quiet halls. Armed with conviction, they seek to bestow a band of a union on this untouched maiden of rites, beholden as their rights.

The bells toll to her return, the mist acting in her will, immediately warning her of unwanted guests. Her hidden hands carry the awaited sleeper. Her voice is cold and detached "Your presence is unwarranted. Speak now before I depose each from these resting grounds".

Her mind prepares the cycle awaiting the words from the bravest of the wanderers, the land echoing what many have come to desire. One of golden armor takes a step, out of the five. His hand grinds the face-concealing bearings from him, revealing a sculpted visage branded by twin emerald portraying as his eyes. Mason the gilded, arguably the most well-known of individuals daring a trek to this unsavory land. A hand to place upon him, his beating yearn "Mistress! I as many have come to bestow the honor of combat as to demonstrate our worth. Should one prove the better, then you are to relinquish a wish from he who brings his worth".

The glow reaching from beyond the shroud dims in size, a wince from her side. Their wish, like many before, to engage in ritual combat. Combat devised to bring her very person to one of the suitors. Suitors with the rite of might, to best a specter of death.

All fail, as they did after so many have tried before. Their eyes, unable to gaze beyond her tattered shroud, forever blind to what lies within. One scourge of her breath, proving to best the sturdiest arms, the most enduring armors, the brawniest of strength and the mightiest of spells. None can hope to outlast what has been for eons, expelled once more from the Mist of the Bygone...

Then comes one, branding wrath, unlike its predecessors. A weapon alien to the Hazak known as the Requiem queen, such is its unfathomable power, that slowly, she has been fated to fall before its everlasting presence...

His path, cutting a lavender swath through the continent, in search of the unseen...



The path to the graves, far from the lush lands populating this foreign land. A place devoid of life, to tend to the passed away. So long before, they writhed in absolute dominance by death, void of comfort,  shrouded in silence.

Yet now, they breathe the nascent spring of a promising life, a true cycle between the intertwined forces, wrought about by returning tending of those who have passed here as their right given to them by the governor of this sacred resting ground. All of it, displayed by meticulous silk, adorning the posts. Adorning the ground. Adorning the remains of the resting ones.

A pure craft destined for each's behavior in their previous life, crest for those who mourn them, a reminder to drown not in despair for their passing. The silk is a draft to the next life. Their life. Almost unanimously greeted with a soft tap on the back, seemingly from beyond.

The hand responsible for these countless crafts lay deeper in the confines of the land simply known as the Mists of the Bygone. Far inside the dwellings of the inverted castle, his touch is resting, surrounded by walls of tomes reaching to the ceiling of the gigantic caves, forbidden to trespassers, home to the Requiem Queen.

The pale color that permeates his pigment betrays the man's livelihood. Constantly told of his misplace among the dead, this repeated remark had grown into him, always speaking of how reflective he has become to this land for the few allowed to walk among. A reflection long overdue, in his opinion.

His spends the oncoming evening sleeping over the ghastly thighs of another branding leathery wings. The Hazak, also known as one of the many Requiem Queens hidden in sanctuaries for the departed reptiles. A shrouded visage none present across the halls. Instead, her face gifts a humble, yet radiant beauty with a life-breathing smile spreading towards a man dozing on her lap. Bespectacled by a pale and flourished red frame, her sharp and benign gaze traces over the confounded man, resting a hand on his cheek. Another on a tome, sketches of ancient brands for an ancient purpose.

"My poor little weaver" her voice conveys, unlike the looming presence she had been used to portrait over many. It laces with the pitch of a fair maiden humbling her tone in the place of reserved reading "I think you've overdone yourself now. Having a foot in life and the other in the afterlife doesn't quite give you an unlimited reserve of stamina~ Theses last words come choked, an effort from her to avoid giggling while uttering them.

As if to contest her words from the dreamland, an echo of a reaction comes in the shape of a mild scoff, siding more on the inexistent affront from both individuals. The Requiem Queen's heart flusters never like before, her title no longer bore in solitude, given by one never seen before. Her mind stretches to the far past of her life, ancient and recent. How one who would come to share her life and mastery over the deadly substance known as Effluvium, seared in everlasting memory inside her mind...
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His path traces back to the mercantile court of a small town, away from the well-known. Fringes devoid of danger as well as what many would assume to be potential. A quiet land counting Dudley among the people. A weaver of silk, a crafter of attire. Struck with oddity to some in a world full of powered individuals. His ambition going no further than to tend to the clothes of people, their sigils, insignia...hearts.

His mind gives no thought to what he perceives as trivial matters. His path is set, far from the gravitas of others intertwined in a strife-filled lifestyle, yet close to his simple desire to bring fortune to those seeking his services, small as they can be.

To this end, Dudley has become a rather famous weaver, often welcomed to a brand of personalities and wealth of people. Ragged and unfortunate folk down on their luck, asking for but a simple repair. To them, his hands gift a new set of attire, washing the prejudice from they vilified to appearances as he washes the renewal tides on a dulled color worn for so long.

Others, willing to sacrifice a greater bounty of their purses, his hands bring the summit of what they seek, beauty grafted to their beings, an upcoming from one they were quick to call simple. An error in judgment they hurry to rectify.

Many who come to him, come back. Come often. Seeking him once more on ever-growing renewals. His eyes see the shine in their illuminated faces, drifting in the happiness he sows among the people, humans and monsters, town-dwelling and amidst nature. His ultimate fulfillment.

Such a predicament is what called him to his travels. one day, as a dragon comes to place a foot on the town, set aside in black attire. This vision alone, an anomaly among those living in its bowels. The usually haughty pride her kind is prone to bear down on those witness to their presence, replaced by a downcast melancholy. Her eyes reflect not the piercing glare, but a look of resignation, her pace slow, deliberate.

None dare to disturb her walk, going out of their way to step out of her way, unsure what to make of her. Dudley had been away, drowned in a craft, carrying it to its receiver, stops dead center, noting the quiet that fills his ears. Dead quiet. One people can only translate as if in a funeral.

Turning his sun-tinged irises sets him on a direct gaze with the blackened dragon, who looked back. Not at him, but the sigil he bears on the silk. Traces of worn material, returned to their splendor, that she could devise. Looking at the hands that hold it, she brightens up by a degree.

But by that time, Dudley had folded it away, bowing slightly to her "A welcome to you, ma'am! I can't help but notice that your mood is at a low at the moment. Is there an issue?"

Her eyes, shrouded by the cover of nightwear, glim but barely. her hands reach for the back of her attire, deliberately unfolding an unknown at a slow pace.  So careful is her act that Dudley had, for a second out of it all, allowed his mind to wonder whether she was aware of her own presence.

Such a thought, however, he dismisses, now bestowed with a torn down sigil in drafts of yellow and red. The color, dull through the passage of time. The damage, ever encroaching through its battle with the all-consuming entropy of the earth.

Her voice rises to his ears, equally attuned to her unyielding grief "I'm...I apologize for disturbing you in your time of work, silk-weaver. Alas, I come here with the unsavory need to burden you with more craft".

"Ohh, don't worry about that" he casually expresses, lowering his eyes to the banner "Tell me what you would have of this".

"Well...my direct progenitor has recently passed away, carried away by one of the Hazak as a right to rites, granted eternal rest in her sacred grounds. I walked with her, watched her carry my deceased mother to her final peace, alongside my ancestors. As I laid witness to the scenery, melded with my sisters, our families, I couldn't help but glare at the banner used to wrap the bones of our kind, forever supposed to be the eulogy to their lives. A eulogy, wracked by time..."

Dudley's mind phases with her own, making work of his attuned empathy. His hands reach for the banner, to the ailing foreigner's surprise. To think one would so easily give in to her demand, a dragon, mistrusted by many.

"You want me to fix it, right? Make it splendid again" The weaver's fingers, tuned to years of work, caress the worn banner, feeling its every sunder, every gap missing or damaged, the color fleeting still. A cruel thing entropy can be, especially to the dead.

"My family and I would be grateful for your restorative work. We are ready to part away with--

"I'll do it".

Her eyes widen up in incredulity "What?"

"Don't worry about payment. I said I'll do it.".

"You--you sure? We have much in our name that can be parted with". She argues, trying to keep an ïoda of pride, pretending that the man set before her thought of her a shameless beggar. An outlook blurred by grief, one he is quick to dismantle.

"Pff, like I said, relax about that. I mean, you're not exactly in the best of shape to haggle anything. Trying to weasel you out for some compensation right now would have my conscience bite me in the behind for it".

The grieving lady's eyes brighten for a moment. This instance had her heart prompting her to reach for the weaver in a serenading embrace. Her hands clench in contradiction, unyielding in their stubborn nature, ensnaring her more compassion-seeking side.

Dudley's own hands go for hers, briefly patting them. His touch brings a calm to this stranger, only for her to feel the bare tug of the banner fleeting.  Her composure returns in spite of her grief, with the subtle thought that, perhaps, he was aware of her slight struggle. A line separating the need for comfort and the pride compelling a fierce demeanor. Spiking the attention from it to the banner itself had given her a second wind to regain herself. Words of appreciation, ever unheard, as Dudley had left already, returned to his workbench, to toil over the discarded item.

Noon spends its grain, seeing no sign of the weaver. The hourglass shifts to the evening with the opening door. The banner has been washed from its dull colors. Gold adorns the once-battered edges of the silk, encasing the crimson icon of a primal worm bellowing its challenge to the heavens. Its glimmer scorches the leaking light falling to the night.

He wanders back to the harrowed dragon, her eyes veiled by the grieving cowl washed upon her golden hair. Her unending trouble had corroded her will to walk in the waking world, causing her to seek refuge in the dreamland.

Dudley makes quiet steps to her side, intended on waking her up. His kneeling back reflects a saddening prospect to him. Gazing beyond the shadow of the cowl, the craftsman could see how torn the woman had been. Her face ushers in a fierce temperament, scowling and guarded, much like her hands. Much like her wings. A vigilant's cautious sleep...mired by the gentle tears seeping from her golden irises, hidden by her eyelids. Her voice whimpers at a low decibel.

"Sleeping, huh? Losing her arent must have really taken a toll on her..." he speaks to himself at a whisper, keeping said words to himself. He returns to his shed, spending a total sum of ten minutes. Ten minutes gearing himself for a trip.

Far from the first time he had taken the endeavor of delivering an item for a myriad of reason, he tallies this incoming expedition to a board of steady scorches numbering in close to a hundred.

The man walks from his shed, from the dragon now coated to a thin cover, far from the cold touch of the encroaching night, still asleep. Dudley knows where his steps must carry him, yet beholden to none devoid of strength. He is no accomplished fighter, though his skill with an ax is acceptable. magic is a stranger to him, a must for any traveling to distant lands. He knows not what he is to meet on the land, only rumors. Rumors of a gray fog corroding the life essence of men and women daring to step within. Monsters robbed of their life completely, the shrouded beast that claims foot within. The Requiem queen.

Rumors strong enough to foster doubt in the heart of travelers, merchants, warriors, conquerors. Dudley's heart trembles at the prospect of those, yet walking ever forward. His travel carries him far from the green soils of his home continent.

The emerald soil whithers with every distance crossed, falling out in the dull gray. A gray heralding the unending line of gates. Gates stretching out in the horizon. Hundreds gleaming in bleak darkness laced by bare gold. Dudley can see twin lanterns dangling at the whim of the current, lightened by an unknown shade. The same shade fogging out of the gate, as it lays half open, unlike the others.

Between the gates, stone walls radiating the same dullness of the lanterns adorned by dark metal on its outer layers. The wind plays with the substance, shaping it at it will. A warning for anyone tempted to escalate the immeasurable walls.

The current's whispers call to Dudley from the front gate. He takes a great puff of air and sets a foot within. What laid inside the lanterns fell upon his form en masse. His vision felt the physical obstruction, dense as frozen winds of winter, equally as passable. "What is this?" he speaks, slowly walking among the gray land with grayer air. His irises widen, under the rule of accelerated decay festering the evening. The land lies in darkness, beholden to the mist and the moonlight.

"Feels so...unwelcoming" he continues, mystified by what he sees between his fingers. His slow walk remains unhinged, ever focused on the bog that swells around. His course cuts a swath in the form of empty air among the miasma, slow to regroup behind him. Humming in his ears, pretending to people around him.

Continuing, his pace carries him further to a small hill, hinged by the increased thickness of the bog that surrounds him. Voracity is noted to his eye, the density blotting his sight, unlike the miasma that tails behind "This is going to be an issue, not knowing where to leave the banner..."

His eyes make an attempt to pierce the fog that stands in his way, keeping a country-size blanket over the distance. Yellowish lights swelling under the cloak. "Lights, finally! Hopefully, someone is present here!" he spouts in a regain of resolution.

This resolution manifests in a singular step...only for a roar to shred the silence of the night, freezing his blood solid. His resolve, bleeding from the unknown skulking in the darkness, or the miasma. His mind, tolling to decipher what lied at the source of the shriek, found its answer.

Beyond the blanket, all thick and robbing his fleeting sights from the hallowed ground, a disturbance moves among it and from it, despite the fog clinging to the seeping entity. Its presence, reaching straight for Dudley, or at least the hill he stands planted.  Being no true stranger to danger, the tailor jumps back, falling down on the thinner bog, still unsure of what assails him. Sight being difficult for him, his mind suggests mirroring the environmental opacity to his advantage. His body lies from the back, ear to the ground, mimicking the silence that once was, and is following the shriek.

The fog grumbles and washes from him, exposing the man in a burst of air. Instead, it encircles him from a sizable distance. Dudley's eyes look forward, watching it continue its ascension to the hill. Trying to mask himself through the fog, his surprise is instant. The substance recoils from his touch, drafted from his hand.

"What thought moved you to these sacred grounds?" speaks a voice, radically anathema to the shriek once uttered. His ears pick the distinct pitch of feminity in the voice.

Dudley turns his gaze back to the thing which hid amidst the miasma, seeping out of...no. It...she did not. The current bucks and slowly removes itself from her body like servants making space for their master, or mistress.

Dudley's sight fills with a deathly filter. A pale blood cloak-like material runs through the speaker's body, knitted together by a more blue-green leathery skin, the tendrils of wings. Her face shrouds itself in a Gemini state, with two bare holes where eyes should be. A ghastly crimson shines through each one, in this time, directed at the tailor, who was at a loss.

A loss, for her voice swaths him in an accusatory tone. A trespasser, which he was not intended to. Nor a graverobber, his mind returned to him with the rumors of this place being a sanctuary for the deceased.

Convinced of his legitimacy upon these hallowed grounds, Dudley picks himself up, ever dotted by two pale eyes glaring from beyond a hollow mask. His hands reach for the satchel he bore on his back, setting it on the soil. They caress the fabric of the gleaming banner, the sigil he was pleaded to rebuild once before they grasp them.

The eyes which dot him wince barely, lowered and focused on the item of interest, willing to listen to the appease he brings via his response "Very sorry for wandering here. I couldn't have helped but notice the gate was open...saves me a bit of time, really".

"..."

Dudley can feel his words grinding against the beholder of these grounds' patience, putting him at level with people seeking unguarded treasury. A poor introduction, one he is aware of, jittering in his speech "J-just to deliver this, really. A banner, one of your grounds' resident, I think".

"Really?". The only word spurned out by the individual staring him down, a tone muffled in partial bits by the shroud. To Dudley's ears, it fed him the pitch of a losing battle to convince the owner of the land.

He jitters more, aware of his detrimental locution, bound by uncertainty "I promise, madam! The only reason I walk among the plains is by customer empathy. Her body's tone displayed genuine distraught at the passing of her parent. And I couldn't allow her to visit this place of mourning so soon. She was asleep when I carried her item afar. I-I just wish to deliver the sigil to its rightful resting place!"

In his panicked speaking, Dudley had briefly forsaken the departure of his banner, lifted by a fragment of the miasma that surrounds the two. A hand raised in his direction, cutting at the throat level, immediately silencing the tailor, his fate now but sealed. His heart beats at an extended momentum, sweat pours down his very forehead. Words can no longer appease to the individual.

"And you speak of her dwindled resolve? The reason why you stand in her stead?"

"Y-yes. That is the case. To make a moderate story short, that passing had, from my point of view, affected her more than she was willing to let on".

"I see..." the woman turns back to the banner for a few more seconds, returned quickly to his reflected look "An odd act to pursue, stranger. Odd, but not unwelcomed. Words shall be relayed to the mourning family".

He sighs, turning back to the gate with a wish not to further damage the first interaction with the owner of the land. His pace is halted by his curiosity. A slight touch on his heart, a feeling all too mild to recognize. His eyes are met by her own, hidden, shrouded, watching. Her stance had softened somewhat, his vision allows him to see it. The last thing he witnesses as his feet carry him outside of her land...
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The new dawn oversaw Dudley taking a late sleeping tour. His traveling distance had become a much greater gap than what he would anticipate, corroding his will to remain in the waking world plenty. His bed found no clash in its welcome ticket to the dreamland.

His dream projected him in a foggy land, devoid of landscapes beyond the scope of his feet. He remembers pacing through the blur, with what stood behind him, devoured by the encroaching fog. Looking down, his eyes are filled with a blank canvas between the fingers. renewed, yet so fleeting. The dreamland began shaking, rumbling under his feet. The further he walked, the more torrential it would become. Before long, however, a sour scream banishes him from his dream...

"!!?" Dudley wakes in a startling gasp, placing a hand on his chest in a defensive posture. Heavy but quick breathing permeates the room in his small domain. A minute passes, seeing his heart rate calm down.

"Phew, some dream that was..." he comments to himself, rising from his bed. A look of surprise masks his face as he looks to the left, seeing his pajamas laying on the cupboard "Looks like I was more tired than expected. Good thing my craft is its own alarm..."

Looking to the right, his irises recoil at the fluorescent light filling their retinas, still bound to the night, day making its stance against this dated perception. Following the time to prep himself, Dudley soars out of the door...

...to another reptilian. Another great dragon. Another set of scale hands holding yet another torn banner, devoured by earth and time. Her attire is distanced from the mourning client of yesterday, though her state is one of silence. Her eyes diverted from the man, both from his shed lying before her, and in brittle pride.

Quietly, he makes his way to his workshop, under her senses. Her mind, meddling in the way to aboard this request. A task made mull as Dudley's voice shatters her focus "I see you standing here for a while. Can I help you?"

Her eyes rise to meet the tailor's slouched shape on the counter, a finger trailing the banner "I see you carrying a piece. Would you like me to take a look into it?"

The dragon takes a heavy breath, unwrapping the tattered silk " If it would mind you not. The proud sigil that has defined our family branch. Henceforth, at this time where my younglings are reaching the age to visit their relatives, I do not wish for them to witness their resting ground as this is. I want them to gaze at proud heraldry, rather than this..."

"I see..." Dudley approaches the requested banner, slowly taking it from her hands, met with a fruitless resistance. He nods while looking at it in detail. The same as the last, a different color and broadly. A cyan body and silver exterior.

"Sure thing".

"Excuse me?" she asks, wondering.

"Work is slow today. This should tie me for the time. I'll fix it".

"O-of course..." she speaks, a bit surprised to see the tailor give in so easily, much like the previous one. She sees him wrapping it back to toll in the inner machinations of his sheds.

The morning passes away to the noon. The noon, to the evening. His time spent, Dudley steps out of the shed, the torn cloth returned to its splendor. The silver shines through the dying light while the silk reflects it with magnificence. A beauty to unravel to the client.

She is missing, like the last one. Some, hearing of her departure, spoke of an impromptu development rising elsewhere with no knowledge of when she was to come back. Another hitch to the land of the dead, it was to be for Dudley. Perhaps this time, he could put the cloth somewhere visible...

Time passes again between the evening and night. Dusk. Once again, the foremost gate is laid open for his to pass through. Only...

"Huh, that's weird. It's more open than usual. Probably a resting's relatives gathering for prayer. A rather common thing beyond the doors". Dudley makes his way through the silver walls across the lanterns, ever brimming with their unwelcoming auras "Yea? Well, I'm not here of my own accord, let me tell you".

He walks through the fog, his feet meeting a hard gray ground with every step, soon feeling the rise underneath. He stops, feeling the hill to be the highest point around. That, and the increased opacity in the fog.

"Ok. Last time I've seen that person? Creature? The lady veiled. Last time I saw her, she was moving from this direction..." a finger goes to point to further along the path, hidden...

...seemingly triggering an uproar. A jagged roar scorching the very surroundings, testing Dudley's resolve as the tremors test his balance.  His instinctual responses kick in in the reflex of his free arm rising forward, his fight or flight response well answered.

The wind rushes with a great calamity, deforming the fog-like substance, giving a few seconds of respite to the ever devoured land, exposing its brown and lifeless tide, festering with what looks to be buried pebbles.

"Goodness gracious, what is that screech?" Dudley asks himself loudly, the foundation of his body trembling amidst the backlash. Perhaps a warning shot dedicated to his presence?

The answer flew to him. Literally. A loud crash, spitting mud all around it, close to Dudley, who turns his back to the mud-fling, his body drafted as a shield for the banner he bore to this hallowed place.

The rumbling ceases rather quickly, the dust clearing from the ground zero. A litany of glint gleaming in gold peers through the dying smoke in priority. It leads the familiar sight of a face for a man, embedded in a golden crown. Though its luster is lessened by the dirt that encrusts it. The downed individual manifests a dazed status, all too confused to allow himself a regain of composure.

His crash becomes but the first, as Dudley's ears acknowledge the audible crash of metal falling flat against a somewhat soft soil long before his eyes can denote the eruption of mud and stone among other man-made craters.

Leaning over the golden warrior still all too dazed to notice his watcher, Dudley raises an eyebrow, noting the now broken sword of the downed man "Intruders?"

"Indeed" echoes a voice from the heavens, landing as a massive beast. The shockwave once again challenges Dudley's stance, forcing the tailor to take on a hunched position, resisting just barely.

Raising his eyes, the tailor is met for a second time with the imposing couture of the Hazak. The Requiem Queen. Her voice is dry, yet bearing scorn "Intruders on this sacred ground".

The lash in her tongue recedes itself as her eyes convey on the man's arms, obviously sheltering something behind "I also see you carry something to deliver".

"Huh? Dudley jests, slow to realize she speaks of his banner clutched in still "Ohh! Right! Hum, hold on..."

Raising his arms high enough to avoid a single parcel of the banner touching ground, Dudley unravels it before the re-shaped Hazak, surrounded by the tattered cloak of leather. The eyes that peer beyond the mask wince under the detail of his reparations "Another heart-wrenched family member?"

"Actually, she stated it was for when her children were to visit their own spot. Apparently, she was needed elsewhere and I thought to make the trip myself" he speaks, trying in part not to let out a giggle over his second return. A detail the queen does not ignore, her voice even more softened "Hmm, I do not recall seeing a courier. Are you sure you the profession you claim to usher in is the right one?"

A strain in his effort not to laugh, his salvation in the form of doubt as to the intent on her question. Regardless, as he did before, Dudley folds the banner again, intended on giving it back. And he did.

Closely.

The Hazak had calmly walked before the tailor in the lapse of second his eyes cut from her. A large stomp sends more mud slinging upward, a geyser of earth and stone. All of it, covering the pained grunts of a man trampled under one of her feet. His gleaming armor sundered and cracked, his struggle, pointless.

Dudley jolts under the sudden velocity of the chain of events, dropping the banner. The Hazak's hands lie under as a safety net for the peerless artifact "Apologies for this rather invasive approach. I do hope not to give fright unto you. He and his cohorts have been a very persistent thorn at my side".

"Of...of course" Dudley does his best to regain whatever composure he lost in the previous seconds past the handling of the banner. Her eyes bleed through the shroud with much less luminosity, almost as if to discard part of the hostility.

They then shine to the crafted banner, small grunts of satisfaction peering through the leather shroud "I shall relay your travels to the concerned. You have my approval".

"Good. I'm glad, actually" more of his calm returns, hostilities ceased and desisted.  Dudley turns from the Hazak, his mind set on going home. His feet walk the walk, and yet...

He turns his head, his heart whispering to him. A whisper he learned so long ago to attune himself to. A whisper that speaks to him with every dishearted man or woman coming to him, the desperation in their minds, nothing to offer, yet with requests for anything. Somewhat blurred, yet its origin, so clear.

Dudley turns, presented with a different spectacle. The Hazak, the Requiem Queen of the Bygone, slightly hunched, glaring elsewhere. Dethroned from the stance of absolute authority, one that dragons are keen to keep at every occasion. The tailor's eye can catch its subtle shift, refined with the hundreds of powerful creature coming to him with laments.

He plunges a hand in his satchel bag as his steps retract on their movement. Whatever hesitation he may have had, burned on the precipice of the empathy that had guided him for so long.

"Hey..." Dudley walks to the Hazak, devoid of any pretense to anything close to nobility or even a demand. In his hands, a small plastic plate. One with the bearings of a delectable meal. A dressing of salad, a presentation of chopped meat, a decoration of vegetable to compliment the dish.

The venerable guardian of the Bygone looks back to the man, her back straightened anew, yet disarmed of any regent tone as she lays her eyes on the meal "What is this? Presentation?"

"Well..." Dudley takes yet another step forward, presenting his cooking habit to the shrouded dragon "I couldn't help but notice your stance. Hunched. You seem a bit hungry. I was packing in case I'd be famished on the way here, but since I grabbed a little something midway, well..."

Her stare lowers from the man to his sublime, yet simple dish. Nothing close to one of an aristocrat, even less than her.

She takes hold of it, deliberately. Dudley watches her take a singular bite. Then a second. And a third. Under the shroud of her mask, he can hear the hungry maws of a hidden devouring his humble dish. Had she not eaten before? Did this duel between her and those intruding in her hallowed grounds accelerated the exhaustion of her life force's reserves?

Perhaps. Dudley's senses gave a hint to this lapse being a little more than mere hunger while being all too blurry for him to precisely place a finger on the true genesis of this panted satiation.

However, this did spark an idea in the mind of the tailor. Being a reject of the coincidence belief, there was a good chance that the next day, or perhaps the days following the dawn of tomorrow, Dudley thought to periodically return here. To return with handbaskets full of culinary wealth for those willing to burn some time amidst his sewing session.

A common idea born from the desperate coming to seek his weaving talents. A small feast to foster familiarity with those facing him.

Work's tide had for a while, simmered under his hand, giving him time in his mind. He now knew how he'd spend those precious coins.

A subtle, yet blatant wave in the Hazak's direction, he folds his bag on his back "Sounds like you've enjoyed that. How about I come back tomorrow? Got a few things I'd love to show you".

"Of course...!" her voice returns as quickly as his, prompting a slight recoil out of her. A hand rests over the section where her chest should be, hidden by the crimson leather. Unfinished, the Hazak resumes, much more composed "I see no issue seeing you wander through the land, so long as you don't overstep your boundaries".

"No problem, I can hardly see beyond anyway. Rather not bump and trip in ever five steps".

"Hnn---!" The Hazak holds an arm to her face, rubbing off the tip of what should be her chin. Or at least, it looks as if she's doing this. In a very forced manner, using her entire hand. Looking down, Dudley can see her other on the place where her hip should be. Trembling just slightly.

He smiles "Looks like I've scored a muffled giggle". Another hiccup,  invaded by a lower tone. Another attempt to stifle his confirmation.  

"Alright, alright. I'll be back tomorrow" he finally departs, making sure to walk as slowly as possible while keeping a reasonable pace. Obviously content with the goosebumps seeping from the ever hidden Queen of the hallowed trying to remain undeterred by this humble zinger. His steps never the less carry him far from the Bygone...

...at least to the next day.

Dudley's march is set in the early dawn, his basket filled with exotic assortments from places as distant to the kingdom as they are to each other. Dishes, pastries, candy, all given or bought from those coming back as recurring patrons to his craft. Recipes entrusted among the fruits of his labor by the more grateful, for those people had devised over time of his love for culinary arts almost as much as his weaving profession.

Dudley steps in front of the main gate amidst its sibling, ever unwelcoming. He makes little of it, having walked through twice before, now thrice.

Immediately, a grumble quakes the land, docile in comparison to the previous days. His movement across this strange fog seems to be the source of this shake, considering the burst of air formed with every movement.

Dudley continues his pace, all the way to the hill where they've met, barely higher than the terrain. Soon enough, a form swells across the thicker fog, sweeping left and right.

The form spreads its leathery wings over the hill, not all too far from Dudley. The Hazak looks to the tailor, seeing a pretty heavy hand basket adorning his arm.

"As promised, here I am" he declares, dangling the basket in his arm "Got a whole assortment of things to make you taste".

"Ohh?" expresses the woman's voice in a surprisingly high pitch. Her stance is lowered, febrile. All of it, given to subtlety...

...were it not for her wagging tail failing to hide its excitement among the fog "You really did come. Things? I'd love to--

She stops speaking, hands covering her shrouded mouth in surprise. Her back returns to its elegance, though with short hopes to keep itself as such. Dudley walks to the Requiem Queen, discarding this grandiose sense she's trying to keep. A game he was all quick to discover.

With a smile, he unravels his basket, watching the Hazak's hidden eyes gleam in ferocity over the myriad of pastries vulnerable to her hands. He sends a harmless jab at her reaction "Hey now, remember, I gotta showcase each and every one of them to you. Can't have you munch them without savoring the handiwork".

"Ho-hold on! I'm no glutton as you may have thought!" she spits back, no hint of true hostility in her voice. This spasm comes mostly unprepared, an outrage to hide the rising yearning to devourer every piece.

He had brought almost every piece of pastry he could think of fitting in. Cakes, muffins, cookies, milkshakes, edible sticks, ice creams encased in a miniature frozen crystal, anything and almost everything.

Dudley can read her like a book, having dealt with mighty dragons before, and recently. He knows when to avoid pulling certain strings, not that he would to puppet them. In this case, however, a sly fun rushes to his side. A well-intended need to tease the guardian of the Bygone, to see this somehow easily blabbering side to her.

He pulls out a cookie and starts describing it. Slowly "Now, I know you probably have heard of this one. Let me give you a brand new flavor. This. This is an inverted cookie. Its flesh is vanilla, the bits, chocolates. Merged in a symbiotic mix, as soft as a breeze, yet strong as a tide of flavor..."

He'd continue to 'educate' her in this manner, watching her body language giving in to her hunger time and time again, only for her hand to snatch the pastry from his hand with no resistance from his end. Watching her biting into it with a sense of wonder brought with him his own wonder. It was almost like she didn't get all too many of these around.

Of course, countless times, the Requiem Queen would try to regain her regal composure. Countless times, she would fail. Horribly. With every new pastry.

Again.

And again.

And again...

Until the night falls to the outdoor. Only at this darkening sky, did Dudley realize he had spent the day here, meticulously explaining the process for making every piece, enjoying her subtle reaction spurned out of character. Or, it did look out of character.

A faithful promise to return, Dudley walks away with the basket, his senses telling him of the Hazak's insistent regard on him, even at the dark of the night. Her eyes gave most of it away...
-------------------------------
The cycle repeats, the tailor coming once more with the same basket, this time, filled with main dishes. Steak, chickens, ribs, anything steaming with heat. Apparently, one of the reptilians' favorites.

Once more, he repeats the same process, well-versed into Henrietta's ever increasingly flustered response. A name he would come to know as she welcomed him into the hallow grounds herself, thinking to take a step ahead. Seems like she knew his teasing game, and thought to regain control of this harmless joust.

She thought wrong...

Henrietta did not expect to be faced with a meaty feast, things dragons of all sorts came to enjoy the most among the dishes. The Hazak's act was less a regent of the expressionless tombs and more like a woman unprepared for a flirt. Try as she might, every description of Dudley's presented dish corroded her will to remain composed. Yet, she did not fight it truly, her body closing in by inch to the tailor.

At night, he'd be the one surprised to feel her lean against his own body, slowly consuming the goods he had brought to her. The image of her as the fear-mongering dread guardian had been shifted. Shifted to a shy woman quietly eating a mix of cooked flour decked with meat slices, cheese, and tomato, all blended as a sliced marriage.

Looking at her, Dudley was afflicted with a twist. The shroud, burnt away for his viewing pleasure. Instead, a pale red garnish of hair ended at two twin braids on either side of her face. A small falling on stray strains just over her eyes, now revealed by the shine of the moon to be bespectacled, with the back amassed as a knit.

A beautiful sight to behold, the pale pigment somehow compounding this beauty. A deathly maiden, pouting with crimson lips equal to the frames of her glasses. Even if the rest of her body remained shrouded, his gaze lingered on her very face, enthralled, enticed.

'It's no wonder I hear so many with a wish to wed her kind'. His mind is full amazement of her visage. Of course, Dudley was in no delusion of his own. A queen of the resting, beholden to none than another of her kind, or their god. A sole keeper of the dead, power unfathomable to ones such as him. He stows whatever thoughts of her away. After all...

...why would the princess seek the cobbler?
-----------------------------------
Time and time again, Dudley comes back, with him, a basket of an ever-expanding assortment of pastries for Henrietta to taste and ponder.

Time and time again, the distance between the two cuts short with every hour, seared into each other's shoulders, the faint feeling he had sensed since their first contact returned just a bit stronger. A tingle in the deepest corners of his heart and mind, deep enough to yet be blurry.

He burns those feelings, his own, with the brand of reality, casting their ashes far from his mind. The delusions that seek refuge in his thoughts with every visit find themselves rejected and exiled as those seeking the Hazak's hand are, denied and expelled.  

Week after week, the same choreography, closing in. A growing unease festering within the Requiem Queen, easily noted by Dudley. The return of the suitors, hiding in every nook of her land, a possible path for that pent-up impediment.

Regardless, the weaver lifts his face to the heavens, looking back at the glow of the moonlight. How deep stands the night as opposed to the previous evenings. The fog swells strongly, subtly. At his side, fiercely tethered to him. So embalmed in their time together that Henrietta only now sees it dance in its micro level over him, around him.

She stands with sudden strength, blowing Dudley from a few centimeters. Her voice, clear as crystal "You must go. Now".

"Go? Why so? Did I offend you?" The man is admittedly confused at the impromptu turn of events "Was there something I did? I mean..."

"Heed my word, tailor..." Henrietta speaks once more, the tone of an authorial landlord spreading her law "...your presence here at this moment is unacceptable. Remove yourself from this land at once".

Confusion swells around him as the fog does, biting deeply. Reprehensive conduct? A word misspoke? He does not know, but her stance in unmoving. Her stare, glacial, returned to the shrouds.

He stands, blind to whatever act he may have done. His back turns on her, pacing the distance between the two. Dudley is assailed by bewilderment, yet powerless to contest it. Slow is his walk, further from the Requiem Queen. The haze follows quietly, subtly, hidden. Akin to an apologizing puppy aware of a wrong-doing, yet it eludes him.

He breaches the gates, a sigh following his walk as he disappears from sight...
-----------------------------
His return is...partial. Part of him must have left him back. His dreams are haunted by a persistent haze, washed everywhere his dreamscape carries him. Voices whisper in his sleeping ears, talking about that expulsion. The doubt in her voice, the wavering in her eyes, the shivers in around her body.  Regrets.

Regrets compounded by the hailing whimpers among the winds, ever carried across the Bygone, in his dreams, at least. He ignores them, unconvinced of their veracity, going by the days. This was a first for him, his mind split between the work he carries and the thoughts that refuse to be washed away. A civil war in the deepest bottoms within.

A war conquered by his everlasting empathy, as they unleash their mightiest weapon yet: a lucid dream. One seeing Dudley wander through the Bygone, alone. A blur in the winds, reaching his ears. His steps bite further in the simulated soil, remembered to the smallest stone, so often was his visit marked in repetition.

The winds unravel their true form: whimpers. Laments. An anchor on his heart he cannot afford to ignore. Yet, with this purpose revealed, the blurred dream shakes and quakes. The meaning has been deciphered, leaving the dream weakened, dying, in spite of his persistence.

Never the less, Dudley presses on, his footsteps carrying him to the thicker border. A moment of hesitation crosses his mind, as he knew not of the fog's intensity. For reasons unknown, his instincts had always beseeched him to avoid walking into the haze.

The winds, however, seemed to plead for the opposite, the quiet whimpers carried ever more to his delicate ears. Surely the Hazak wasn't in danger, but, something else was amiss...

With a singular inhale followed by an exhale, Dudley takes a step within the mass of fog. Immediately, the fog makes itself presence beyond his sights, behind his back, crawling on his skin. An almost choking hazard that could easily leave him gasping for air. But it didn't. The air, while thinner, was still enough for him to purchase currency for his lungs.

He goes further, and further, walking through the brume, his ears acting as a path following the soft sobs that permeate the Bygone. Eventually, Dudley finds himself gazing at the entrance of another gate, even more, massive than the one stationed outside, which was in itself, a gigantic construct of silver, stone and unknown arcane.

Peering through the screen, Dudley can see a kneeling shape beside it. Shrouded in pale crimson leather, the revered Requiem Queen weeps. Her words are devoid of the power she mustered on his depart "Why? Why must I be tormented with the radiance of a different individual?"

Her plight resonates through the mists, echoing her lament in more jagged whispers through the thick air. The bones submerged underneath rattle as if trying to emulate the very words "The one being who braved the cross to my land with an eye beyond the shallow surface others have come to claim, yet, I cannot force his stay. If this my fate? To be eternally mocked with the promise of a true mate? To be besieged by arrogance veiled under a thin sense of nobility?"

"So, all you wished upon was some company..." His voice cuts through the swath of lamentation straight to her ears. A veil of lament and sorrow, likely responsible for her blatant disregard of detection. Or perhaps, was it the lack of maniacal rampage he was fond of taking through the fog unlike many of the more powerful suitors Henrietta had grown to endure.

Regardless, the queen's eyes sharpen in disarray "Tailor?! I warned you off the lands! What seduced you to intrude once more?! IN the darkest of the hour, no less?!"

Her voice had regained the sovereign authority, rattling the land in a much more grave quagmire. The immensity of the fog pool around them, shaping as gray blades taking the form of spears. Yet, for all the power they could gather to intimidate and destroy, the former would prove to be non-existent upon Dudley, for his eyes lined solely on the wide-winged woman "My dreams..."

"Your dreams..."

"They spoke to me. Spoke of the loneliness you bear this night. Seeing the myriad of repeated and new people seeking to bind you hand in a wedding had given me the scale of this solitude".

"What?!" Her voice booms in an outrage "You think I shun my edicts on the sole reason of company?! I should---How dare---What gives you the thoughts to--" It loses the strength of outrage, meddling in the stark inexperience of romantic manners. Her voice quivers and wavers and should her face, not behind the leather of her own, she'd be mired in cherry blush against the pale skin of her being.

"I came because the dreams I've had. they all spoke of your loneliness. Every night I've had was the same. It also spoke of the fog that surrounded you and I. It's danger..."

Dudley looks at his hand, submerged by the very thing. He can feel the surface layer of his life slowly waning. His eye turns back to a worry-striken dragon agitating the fog beside "This is why you wanted me out, is it right? The legends speaking of this fog, your fog. The Effluvium. Bacteria-Based magic said to consume the flesh of those wandering within for too long--

"Yes! My domain which you are intruding upon. The very same washing over your skin should you not leave!"

Dudley makes a slight laugh, one basking in the unbelief of her words "I am no warrior. I am no mage. No hero, no man with a purpose beyond catching those who fell on a hard time with the skills of a tailor. But, I am no fool, my queen. I know this brume you control will not take the life of a sentient individual, as it did not those who present themselves as suitors".

"What?! You doubt my power?! Should I-- Her voice quiver still, as does the fog recede from the two of them, attempting to eliminate the trace fro his skin.

"You fear to wrap a man in this fog. To have him bound to you in undeath. And thus, you walk in solitude, one of the worse fate for one such as you. No man seeking you could claim to see you as a ruthless individual, but a stern while considerate madam..."

"You--you really feel this way about me? In the span of the month, we've met..." Her voice lulls down to a whisper, separated by the hope of his forwarding as well as the dread of binding him to undeath, with the latter always standing out.

Her lips open underneath the leather shroud, seeking to emulate those dissonances. She would never get to, as her outer layer was braced by the warmth of a living man "I can no longer leave you as a lonely queen among the deceased".

Her eyes widen in stark surprise "What are you doing?! Tailor, unmake yourself form me this instant! You are but accelerating the process of my Effluvium on your flesh!" She struggles, but not really. The yearning she felt for countless centuries, to be embraced by arms of a man, manifested in this instance, enfeebled her dissident strength of rejection.

All his might, he presses on this hug he places upon her, discarding the notion of a queen, a guardian of the dead, a governor of the afterlife. All he saw, as a man who had danced so many times with the unfortunate, was yet another starving entity, perhaps the most of them all so far "I can no longer think of walking away from the lady I have come to know. Let me be the window to your outside view. Let me deepen the bounds we have only started to build. If it means spending the afterlife with someone who has much to offer, then let this Effluvium consume the life they seek".

"But--but--! You will--your people--

"I shall tell them of my relocation. They will understand. I wish to stay by your side. The moments we shared has made me addicted to your company".

But I---but I---but!" Henrietta can no longer speak, her voice overtaken by cries. Cries of relief. Cries of happiness. A singular man, devoid of strength, devoid of power, of destiny, offering but his skill as a repairer of silk, had offered so much more than any carrying the previous in the span of a month. And now, he sought her presence, as she sought his. A door, closed for untold eons, now opened via the connection he has. She couldn't let him go. She didn't want to let him go either.

The shroud of leather masking her body severely rescind its mark upon her body. Nothing and no one was present besides the two. Henrietta wanted to let loose her monster instincts, long shackled by duty and loneliness.

To burn the image of her regal body in her upcoming mate's eyes.
He was mesmerized by her eyes, her face, her lips. Her body dances at the center of his stare, sight unseen by any and all.

To breath the love she had come to fester in him by the month of the joined company, with all the tease, the experience of novelty, their closeness. All of it, sealed with a kiss. He was enthralled. The softness, the taste, the inexperienced side of her. It all bound Dudley to her,  by sight and touch. Feel and taste. The gaze into eyes of a solitary woman burning away this solitude is an experience he would never forget.

And thus, they were joined. An absolute authority over life and death and the afterlife with a meager tailor. And she couldn't be happier for the fate...
----
Her mind thins out the meager details of the following train of thoughts. Be it the training to control the Effluvium she had bestowed control in his hands. Or the re-learning process of his body now splintered between life and the afterlife in which she had a great deal of time 'teasing' him back for the constant giggle he musters at each new experience he offers her.

The night he made her a woman, however, would be one to remember. One she'd gladly count to her unborn offspring. One that persists in her mind despite the years passing by. What were centuries of solitude to the delight of becoming a mother? It was all worth it.

Of course, the egg of their offspring laid in the deepest chambers of her sanctuary, the only thing she shelters more than the bones she was sworn to guard. The same Dudley has spent the time to re-tailor, often overestimating the endurance of his new body, pale aggrandizement of his former. Literally.

Henrietta's eyes are washed over her husband with love, so much that the tales of intruders walking on her sacred grounds mattered little, for now, she had finally given herself to the extent of her powers. Many, including human women and monsters, had taken to worship her, to the point of gifting a shard of their very soul, to be called by her hand should she need of them.

Having someone to care for, and an uncracked egg of her child to look after, the Requiem Queen had now made the pact fulfilled. Horrid news to the band of suitors who stumbled in her land.

One of the undead maidens had come to her, dressed in a war panoply reminiscent of a specter returning from beyond the shroud of a peaceful afterlife. Her voice depicts such union of a soul returned to the mortal plane "My queen, you have intruders on your land. Would you have us expel them?"

Henrietta lifts the hand holding her book in a decree "Yes! Remove their presence from my domain!"

"It shall be done". A torrent of energy whirling as a vortex comes forth, consuming the maiden into the outside. She and her brethren rise out of the ground as living undead, filling the Bygone full of shrieks from the would-be suitors who had no expectations of their presence.

A true door sealed to their aspirations to be wed to the awaiting mother, the summoning of long-parted oath takers a definite bar to the door of those promises. One that will slowly expand to other Requiem Queens...