Lady Maria walked up the stairs to the castle slowly, thinking about what she planned to say to Annalise. She felt hopeful about her request and figured that things were moving in a positive direction since the queen had agreed to an audience with her in the first place.
A pair of servants opened the double doors for her, bowing slightly as she walked in. She noticed that there weren’t as many servants as before. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw who was descending the stairs—the Bloody Crow, which was a formidable nickname that he had earned based on his fighting style.
Maria knew him by his real name: Diocletian, or Dio for short.
“I-I can’t believe it… you came back, too!” she shouted excitedly, running up the stairs and throwing her arms around him.
He breathed in the scent of her hair as he hugged her, savoring the curves of her body against his. When they released each other, they were thinking about the same thing:
I’m sorry, Maria, I’m sorry! Can’t you ever forgive me?! Look, I’m getting on my knees, I’m on my knees—
Let go of my hands, you’re hurting me!
NO! You have to hear me out! I was drunk, I was stupid, okay?! I don’t even remember her name—
LET ME GO!!! she had shrieked, kicking him until he finally released her hands.
All right, all right, I’ve let go, Maria…
They had stood several feet apart, Maria sobbing uncontrollably.
It was agony seeing her cry like that, so he reached out to touch her one last time, but she turned and ran in the opposite direction…
“I mustn’t be late for my appointment with the queen,” she said softly before ascending the rest of the stairs.
“Look what they gave us for the expedition,” Maria said as she gave a slender pick to Annalise, who turned it back and forth in her hand.
“What is it for?” the queen asked, handing it back to Maria.
“To examine the skulls of the villagers at the hamlet,” Maria replied quietly, looking at the pick solemnly.
“How?” Annalise asked with disgust in her voice, placing a hand over her chest.
“It’s very simple,” Maria said sarcastically, “you just stick it through the person’s eye socket and rattle it around in their skull until you find the eyes on the inside.”
Annalise just stared at Maria with her hand still over her chest. “By the Great Ones… they call us vile?! … when the blood was in our control, we never did such atrocious things!”
“It was Willem’s idea. He’s so obsessed with transcendence that he’s blinded by the greed to attain it… that’s the irony of it all…” Maria paused momentarily to pick up the goblet of spiced blood and rum that she was drinking. She moved the goblet so that the remaining liquid swirled around. “As much as I want to be back here in Cainhurst, something tells me that I should go back to try and stop them.”
Maria sighed then drank the rest of the bittersweet concoction, setting down the goblet with a bang. “Let them be cursed. I’m not getting involved.” She said the words with finality, but Annalise could see the shadow of regret on her face.
“Don’t let the gods hear you,” Annalise said solemnly, placing her hand gently over her niece’s.
“I don’t know what to do… I just came back yesterday and now… no, NO and NO!” Maria stood up suddenly, pacing back and forth. “But if I don’t do something, it’ll be the same as drilling holes in the heads of those villagers. Oh, I don’t know how I talk myself into these things…” She looked at Annalise for an answer but all she got was a shrug of the shoulders.
“Chérie, you have to make this decision, not me,” Annalise said gently, getting up from her throne and walking towards Maria. She hugged Maria then walked with her to the door. “But I will say this one thing—as much as I would love to see you stay, I would just as soon see you stop those deplorable men from committing such a heinous act.”
“All right, you convinced me,” Maria sighed, although it wasn’t one of resignation. It was of determination. “I’ll go see if Dio wants to come along and if not, then it’s just gonna be little ole Maria against big bad Gehrman.” She hugged Annalise one last time before leaving the throne room.
Diocletian was waiting for Maria at the bottom of the stairs, his arms crossed over his chest. They had dressed formally for their individual meeting with the queen. He was dressed in a dark suit with a waistcoat that showed off his trim physique, his wavy chestnut hair loose around his shoulders. His green eyes roamed over the shape of Maria’s body-- she wore a tight fitting crushed red velvet top and skirt with pumps that made him want to cry; he could only dream about those legs being wrapped around him now. He knew that he had to stop thinking about her as the best woman ever and move on.
“Just say it, Maria,” he said to her, noticing how she kept staring at him and opening her mouth partially to say something and then shutting it. This happened three times.
“I-I want to go back to the hamlet. Will you come with me?” she asked hastily, instinctively reaching out to place her hand on his arm.
“What are we going to do at the hamlet, my dear? Put an end to a crusty old man’s schemes? He’ll only pick up where we left off,” the Bloody Crow stated succinctly before laughing.
Maria slapped him. Hard. Then she turned and walked away.
He caught up with her just before exiting the castle, grabbing her and pushing her roughly against the wall. He pinned her arms at her sides then dipped his head for a kiss, biting her lip. She struggled against him, unknowingly making it easier for him to wedge himself between her thighs. “God, I love it when you fight me,” he breathed against her lips, moving his hands so that he tilted her head back. He kissed her deeply, feeling her relax against his body. Just when he thought he had won her back, she disentangled herself from his powerful grasp and slapped him. Again.
“I’m going back to the hamlet. Alone. Don’t you dare come after me,” she said fiercely, pointing a shaking finger in his face.
The Bloody Crow was resolved to get Lady Maria back, no matter the cost.