A basic recap to summarize the current state of things. Matai, Zilak and the Blackwell's story lines have been left out as their stories have been mostly summarized in the previous post.
After assisting Lycaon in Uzgob, Claus heads to Nyhem with his men. Recently he has discovered Katriana is the bastard child of Helyot Remonnet and true heir to the throne of Ellendia. Along with his new position as advisor of war, Claus ponders if he could use this to his advantage. However, little does he know that her presence poses more danger to the steel fist then he realizes.
After losing both the collective and house Thale and her connection to Eli Blackwell being shattered, Lanaya finds herself between a rock and hard place. However, she has recently begun to gain favour with Alasdair De Reimer and per request of the Circle are both to be married if the Empire wishes to gain the mages, they need to defeat the Blackwells, who are now strengthened by Alice’s collective and blood gems. However, the empire has been weakened. Religious rebellions across Formaroth have divided the empire’s forces and Isabel De Reimer was assassinated by the Blackwells. Alasdair has been isolated in his room since her death, while Lanaya’s mental state has been declining through her increasing use of her blood gem.
After defeating Jain and his pirates, Dyril and Arriana head to Nyhem to warn Lanaya of the danger of the blood gems. Meanwhile Kiseo has found another Mao by the name of Ao. She continues to remain at Fishgrove as she grows the Mandrakes necessary for Ignocious’s golem experiments.
Andris continues to grow his forces on Deliverance, using Morian’s treasure hoard to buy mercenaries while using Zilak’s necromancy to raise more undead soldiers. The further Andris falls in with Zilak, the further he falls into madness. After having killed the Mazeltof’s for their defiance, his family now avoid Andris, who is becoming increasingly deformed. The future of house Mandarass looks bleak.
With Rhodanthe and Johannia creating a new faith in the south, the heretics grow stronger by the day, backed now by kings and queens, convinced of Rhodanthe holiness. Meanwhile Lycaon, after defeating and capturing Fenick, returns to Sypius. After Alasdair’s inquisitor, Rendon, tried to have Lycaon killed, Lycaon hatches a plan to oppose the self-proclaimed Emperor and heads to Nyhem to meet him.
The Iba states hold strong against the Imperium and the Sadatake family have gained significant control over the kingdoms surrounding Akaiba. However, the Imperium’s overwhelming forces continue to bear down on Seikatsu and the imperium’s most skilled general Neldor Valur and Arch Sorcerer Kolvar Moorlas marches their army to confront the Iba forces. To make matters worse, De Reimer and Blackwell forces that were supposed to assist in the defence of Seikatsu have been diverted to fight each other. Furthermore commander Inigo Orbino was killed by Keya Mirel and her elite group of elven assassins during a attempt on Sadatake Kanna's life. Now only a small elite force of around 5,000 empire soldiers lead by Julio Orbino will aid Iba in their fight against the elves. Even with the mighty military of the Iba states, Shogun Ayeka may have to look to the kingdoms of Draivim and Naga for reinforcements. Together Seikatsu must stand against the Imperium forces or else risk its people becoming slaves.
Using the information he received, Zilak and his cultists arrive at the outskirts of Mercy undetected. Matai was chosen by Zilak to act as his second in command for the mission, though Matai notes rather strangely that many of the cult's most skilled members were left behind to guard the ships, while those selected for the mission were moderate in skill at best. They soon meet High Magister Alice Budwin, head of the mage collective after uspering Lanaya and now allegedly allied with the Blackwells after defecting from the De Reimer’s. However, it turns out that Alice has been playing both sides, working for Zilak since before she was made a high magister and through him was able to develop the ‘blood gems’. She leads them through a secret passage that leads to Mercy Castle. The passage which was built centuries ago was originally collapsed by Giles Blackwell, though Alice and the collective have secretly uncovered it. Before they head down the passageway, Zilak summons a number of undead that the cultists brought with them and send them off to hide in preparation for the wedding. To summon so many undead and to send them so far away from the summoner is a task that should be considered impossible, with Matai concluding that however Matai got his demi-god like power it could not of been simply through training and natural talent, theorizing there is something else at play.
Meanwhile the marriage takes place in a forest outside of the city under the watchful eyes of both Patrick’s company and Eli’s lords and guards. Drevala watches the wedding perched from a tree in a hawk form. Eli is inwardly nervous about how Noami will behave, though both he and Drevala are shocked to see their sister behave relatively normally. While Patrick is fooled by this performance both her siblings see this for what it is; a pale imitation of her old self. The marriage continues in line with the Blackwell customs and Patrick and Noami are wed. However just after the ceremony is completed they are attacked by Zilak’s undead with panic ensuing. A fight breaks out between the De Reimer and Blackwell guards and a horn is blown to call for reinforcements.
As guards leave the castle for the wedding ceremony, Zilak and Alice take advantage of the chaos and order the cultists to attack the castle from within while Zilak, Alice and Matai seek out Alice’s personal laboratory where the blood gems can be found. Even with many of the guards having left for the wedding, the castle is still full of soldiers and the Blackwell Dragonguard prove to be formidable opponents even against the cult mages. As powerful as he is, Zilak is drained from having to control so many undead from such a distance and is unable to fight the dragonguard at full strength. Eventually the trio make it to the laboratory and Matai is shocked to see a large number of blood gems (around 42), some made from the prisoners and beggars back in Cawaport, other made from ‘death row’ prisoners in Mercy, some made from villagers kidnapped by Alice and her collective loyalists (unbeknownst to Eli).
Back at the wedding the last of the undead have been destroyed or dismembered beyond being a threat. Those present try to figure out what just happened with a brief conflict arising between Patrick and Eli as each accuses the other of somehow being involved with the attack. However, before the conflict can escalate a warning horn is sounded from the castle and Eli, Drevala and the remaining Blackwell guards rush back to Mercy.
Ultimately, Alice and Zilak retrieve the blood gems and hurry to leave via the tunnel, planning to sacrifice the cultists and use them as a distraction to escape. Zilak tries to justify to Matai that the cultists they brought with them would not be strong enough to wield the power of the blood gems, but Matai is not swayed. Matai begins to question Zilak along with what it is he actually wants. Alice, not willing to waste anymore time, summons a magical force to push Matai back, knocking him out. Both escape, with Zilak lamenting that Matai might have made a good advisor when he becomes king. After they escape they collapse the tunnel, making use of Zilak’s undead great eagles to escape to the ships where both the remaining cultists and Alice’s loyalists are waiting.
A few days pass and Eli is in his room mulling over what has happened: Almost immediately after the event Patrick left Alenius with Noami, placing blame on the Blackwells for not preventing this attack but secretly is just as confused as Eli is. Alice and a significant number of collective members (including a number of magisters) have abandoned Alenius with only the original Blackwell mages as well as High Magister Barden and his mages remaining. The blood gem supply has been ransacked aside from two and Eli is shamed to find that Alice kidnapped innocent citizens right under his nose. Only one cultist was found still alive (Matai) and who is currently in the castle dungeons awaiting questioning. A messenger then enters the room and declares that a message from the empire arrived shortly after Patrick left Alenius, along with a sealed wooden box. Eli opens it to find Vivian’s Blackwells head inside. It is clear that the De Reimer were aware that it was the Blackwell’s who were behind Isabel De Reimer’s death and the attempted slow poisoning of Alasdair. The truce is now over and they are at war.
Due the long period of time people have been waiting and general difficulties I have bene having writing this I decided to do a summary of what happens in this post. I may consider coming back with Konan and writing this in properly, but I make no promises.
Eli sat upon his iron throne, the metal cold beneath him. His advisors had gathered to discuss the upcoming wedding between Naomi and Patrick De Reimer. The wedding had already been delayed by several months as the king Cawanor had travelled north to deal with the heretic uprisings in Uzgob. But the day was finally approaching and according to his scouts Patrick and his convoy would arrive by the morrow. He had spent the week prior making preparations for the wedding ceremony. He had tried to get Noami involved considering it was her wedding after all but quickly gave up. Ever since their last argument regarding the wedding she had given her brother nothing but silence. For nearly a year she had barely said more than a handful of words to him and ever since Beatrice's death she had grown even more cold, distant and twisted. She now spent most of her time in dungeons torturing the poor men and women who had been sent there, often to death. He had tried to ban her from entering but she always seemed to find a way in. Those who had once seen her as the sweet princess of Alenius now only referred to her ‘the torturer’. At first he had felt sympathy for his sister, even regretting and questioning his decision to marry her off to a De Reimer. He even tried to reason with her once he first heard about her sadistic activities, though to no avail. It soon became clear that it mattered not what he did, his sister was gone and now all that was left was this amoral, monstrous creature. Beatrice’s death had cracked them all, and Naomi who was already cracked was now shattered.
“The woodland area has been cleared for the wedding and we have guards constantly patrolling the area for any potential assassin’s who might try to lie in wait. Benches and tables have been moved to the location and we have found a priest of notable reputation to oversee the ceremony”. One of the advisors said.
“Good” replied Eli “What is our situation on the food and drink. I do not want the De Reimers and their guests returning to Nyhem telling stories of how boorish we are”.
“We have prepared four courses with six types of meat” Another advisor replied “All meals and ingredients are native to Alenius per your request”. Eli gave a nod of approval
“Patrick De Reimer may be part of this union but this is a Blackwell wedding and it will reflect as such-”. Eli was interrupted by a hawk which flew through the window at such speed he was certain it would crash into the floor. However before it did there was a flash of mage light and soon standing before him was Drevala; naked, exhausted and wild eyed. Eli felt numerous emotions at once. Confusion, concern but above all else anger. After Beatrice’s death Drevala had disappeared without a trace, abandoning him, father and Noami. The advisors stood bewildered and many turned to Eli in the hope that he would know how best to handle the situation. After a moment of silence Eli spoke.
“All of you leave” He said before pointing to one of them “You give her your cloak as you do”. After a quick bow, his advisors exited without hesitation. Drevala took the cloak from the advisor who averted his eyes from the dragonslayer as he did, wrapping it around herself. Personally she felt better in just her own skin but she knew it would make her brother more comfortable.
“Brother-” She started once the advisors had left the room but she stopped speaking the moment she started. After flying all this way at neck breaking speed she realised she didn’t actually know what she was going to say. It had been months since she had left and by the way Eli stared at her he didn’t seem happy to see her.
“...Brother I have-” She continued but was shortly cut off by Eli
“Where have you been”? His voice remained steady but was still icy cold and harsh “It has been eight months since Beatrice's death and you left without so much as a word. Where have you been”? He asked a second time, but this time it was a demand as well as a question. Drevala looked away from her brother in shame as Eli stood from his throne “When I met Alasdair, I told him that my family was united behind me, that the spirit of the Dragonslayer is bigger than Kingdoms. I said it with conviction and with zeal, but what happened? You, father and Vivian all disappeared and left Alenius to fend for itself”. Eli was now face to face with her as she looked up, her eyes meeting his.
“I’m sorry for leaving the way I did, but after Beatrice died I couldn’t just wait in Alenius, stand by and watch as another person I love dies. I wasn’t strong enough to protect Naomi or save Beatrice, so I vowed to learn magic that could keep those who remain safe and brother, I succeeded. I found the Ashwood cult and learnt magic I didn’t even know was possible”. Eli’s face remained unchanged so Drevala pressed on “But recently a man arrived at their, a mage of power so great that it likely rivals a circle leader. He killed the cult’s leader mother Ashwood and usurped control from her. They head here, in search of something though I do not know what. I know this is a lot to take in but I will answer any questions you have”. For a while Eli did not say anything, he did not move, or even alter his expression. Finally he spoke
“Very well” he uttered before turning around back towards the throne “Please send my advisors back in on your way out”.
“Eli, please I know you are angry but you must take my warning seriously. This man, Zilak is a threat”.
“I hear your warning sister,” Eli said as he sat back down, his voice cool as ice. “I will take the necessary precautions to handle him. I believe I know what he seeks. Now please send my advisors back in, I have Naomi’s wedding to plan”. Drevala’s eyes widened
“Naomi is still yet to be wed. But she was betrothed near a year ago”?
“It seems Patrick De Reimer has finally found time away from fighting Uzgob rebels to come to Alenius and wed his betrothal”. Eli replied.
“Then she is still here”? Drevala said with a smile, though her face soon turned to concern. “How is she? Has she recovered? Has the darkness in her soul lifted”? Eli’s face grew hard and it was in that moment that Drevala felt a pit in her stomach.
“Physically she is stable, but she still feels great pain in her abdomen. However her broken soul is now shattered. There is nothing of the girl we once knew left”. The pit in Drevala’s stomach grew deeper as she started to feel sick. “Sister,” Eli continued as his voice grew somewhat softer, “While I am enraged with you, what I say next is not out anger but for your own sake. Do not visit Naomi before you leave, it will only break your heart”.
“I will not leave brother” Retorted Drevala “I have learnt what I need, and I will remain here in Alenius. I won’t abandon you”.
“We shall see”.
Zilak watched from the coast as his cultists carried supplies off the fishing ships and onto the beach. Many of his cultists were happy to be off the ship and back onto dry land. Despite trying to intimidate the fishermen who had sailed them here, they had spent most of the journey bent over the side of the ship heaving and retching. Had Zilak not left some of his men to guard their families back in the village they pillaged the fishermen might have attempted to fight back while they were in the middle of the sea. While Zilak had no doubt that he could deal with them if needed he knew that leaving his cultists stranded in the middle of the ocean with no sailors would have hindered his plans. They would be instrumental for later. Zilak spotted Matai in the distance and he waved his hand to hail him over.
Matai swayed from side to side as he approached Zilak. The waves hadn’t done anything to his stomach, of which he was happy, but it had affected his equilibrium. Fortunately, he made it to Zilak without tipping over. “The men have nearly unloaded the ships and have started getting ready. What is the plan for now?” He stood in place, and after the third or fourth time he lost his balance he decided to take the chance of falling out of fate’s hands and sit down on the ground cross-legged, staring up at Zilak.
Once Matai sat Zilak produced a small note from under his belt. “Our plan has been somewhat disrupted” Zilak said with a scowl “I received word from our friend in Mercy. It seems the Blackwells have been told about us and know that we head to Alenius. No doubt the countryside will now be teeming with their forces looking for us. Fortunately our friend has been able to send us their patrol movements, and they assure me that this increase in security will not hinder us in trying to enter the castle, the secret entrance remains unguarded. But actually stealing the magical source will be a lot harder now. Blackwell troops now guard the castle threefold and even some of the famed dragonguards have been diverted from the wedding back to the castle itself. How did they find out about this”?
“Beats the hell out of me,” Matai said with a shrug. “It doesn’t seem that they don’t know what we’re after, though, which is lucky for us. They probably think it has to do with the wedding.” The swaying of the ground seems to have stopped so he tentatively rose to his feet. “You sure seem to have someone embedded deep in with the Blackwells. Not an easy task for most.” Matai turned back to the ships. “Well, there’s been some ideas floating around in my mind for a while now, so I’m going to go write them down before they fade. You wouldn’t happen to know where my notes were packed up with, would you?”
Zilak gave a shake of his head "If you loaded it with the other important things they'll be in the lockbox over there" he said pointing to the pile of supplies that had already been unloaded.
Matai nodded absentmindedly “I didn’t pack it myself, since I was unconscious. Finding the medical journals was difficult..thanks for pointing me in the right direction, though.” He made his way to the lockbox. Sure enough, his notes were in the lockbox. As he grabbed his notes he picked up a yellowed envelope fell to the ground beside the box. The letter was addressed to Mother Ashwood. Curious, Matai picked it up and put it in his pile of notes which he tucked under his arm.
“Something to read later, hmm, Erik?” he said as he looked around for the man in the armour that had accompanied him for so long, but he wasn’t around. “Oh, right.” Erik was in the fishing town, with one of the cultists that had helped him in the infirmary and morgue. What they were going to do wasn’t something that Erik would do, so Matai left him behind, for now. With a shrug, Matai went and found a place he could sit down and jot down his notes, but not before raising a spare skeleton that had been unloaded off the ship and bringing it with him. It took all of three seconds before he was opening the letter for Ashwood and giving it a read.
Bastard had paid off a lot of people to quell this rumour. Luckily, we could pay more to loosen their tongues. Our sources had heard correctly. The kid has supposedly brought his beloved pet back to life in front of a servant. They lined the servant’s pockets to not say a word about the incident. Unlucky for the family, though, because the servant picked up some expensive habits and was out of coin pretty soon. Went to the family to try and get more money, and when refused, started spreading a certain rumour. They were quickly paid to keep quiet and has been given a source of money to keep the drinks flowing. Such a shame they drank themselves into a stupor and choked on their own vomit. I’ll continue to watch the family until I can learn more about them. Perhaps I can get on their good sides somehow.-
“And what is that you have there” Said Zilak who had grown bored of watching the crew unload supplies and had made his way over to Matai.
Matai jerked his eyes away from the letter and to Zilak, a startled yelp escaping from his mouth. “I don’t really know. It looks like a letter to Mother Ashwood on some potential cult member. I have no clue on the age of the letter though. An interesting individual, though.” Matai handed the letter over to Zilak to read.
Zilak read through the letter, pausing at one point to look up at Matai and quickly back down at the letter. He then quickly crumbled the letter in his hand. “Whoever this is they are irrelevant to our current plans. We must get moving onto Mercy, I prefer not to linger here any longer than needed” Zilak said as he abruptly walked away from Matai to ‘motivate’ the rest of the cultists to work faster.
“But I hadn’t…” Matai started at Zilak crumpled up the letter, but the cult leader had already started walking away. “Ah, well.” With a sigh, he started breaking apart the bones of the skeleton he had brought with him. Now that he had succeeded in figuring out what had happened, he now needed another hypothesis to work on, and after previously reminiscing on how Zilak had dealt with Mother Ashwood and Elm, specifically Elm, an idea had come to him, and now it was time to put the effort into his experiment, at least until they had to set out again.
Eli awaited atop his warhorse outside the gates of Mercy, flanked on either side by his dragonguard. Patrick De Reimer and his entourage could be seen in the distance and would soon arrive in a few minutes. From the castle to the streets of Mercy, everything had been prepared for his arrival. While he had no doubt that Patrick would turn his nose up at Alenius regardless, he wanted his men to tell stories of Mercy’s wealth and strength. As Patrick approached the gates some of his men blared a brief tune on trumpets, to which the Mercy guards atop the city walls did the same. Blackwell banners were raised and soon the battlements were a sea of orange and red dragons. Patricks guards started to spread out, themselves bearing De Reimer banners, before Patrick De Reimer himself emerged from the formation. With the exception of his beard which had grown longer and his skin which was darker, he was exactly the same as when Eli had seen him in Telmarion.
“King Patrick De Reimer, I welcome you to Mercy”. Eli announced
“It is good to arrive, the journey from Uzgob has been long and hard” Patrick said as he scanned the faces of those at the gate.
“I hear the Uzgobians have been giving the empire trouble of late” Eli replied, a wry smile on his lips.
“Not anymore they don’t” Patrick replied bluntly as he finished inspecting the gathering. “It would seem my wife-to-be has not come to greet me. Should I be concerned”? He said as a jest, though his tone remained flat.
You have no idea, Eli thought to himself “By Alenius tradition the groom is not allowed to see his betrothal until the ceremony. As per the agreement this wedding is to uphold our native traditions.
“So be it” Patrick said, unbothered for this was nothing more than political marriage and he cared not for how his bride looked. Though if he only knew the truth of how twisted Naomi had become he would likely reconsider the moment he lay eyes on her, for the evil that now lay inside her could be seen clearly on her face for the world to see. Eli was glad that he had kept the rumours of her activities limited to the castle grounds. Gods know what would have happened had Patrick caught wind of them.
“Shall we head inside? I imagine you wish to rest” Patrick gave a simple nod in return and soon they were heading into the city together, side by side. While Patrick’s mounted entourage followed in rows of three behind, the dragon guard flanked on either side. The populous of Mercy had come out to cheer and Blackwell soldiers guarded either side of the streets so densely that it was impossible for anyone from the crowd to break through.
“How fares the empire in these times?” Eli said. He rode tall and proud for his people and Patrick did the same.
“I have received word that Lycoan of Saint Elenor has taken care of the heretic Fenick. With that peace should return to the north and we can finally start rebuilding after the war. The Blackwell’s tribute should help greatly towards that” Patrick said with a cold smile
“Indeed I hope it does” Eli lied “Although I should warn you that Andris Mandarass has situated himself in Deliverance, declaring himself king of the isles”.
“Let him stay there in exile and in shame. He is no longer a concern to us. Should he ever try and enter Formaroth again we will throw him back to the sea.
“It would be my pleasure” It seemed in their hatred for Abbas Mandarass, they had finally found common ground. As they approached the castle of Mercy the De Reimer guards looked on in awe. Even Patrick looked impressed as they crossed the drawbridge into the keep within.
Drevala made her way down into the castle’s dungeons, a place that made her fearful even to this day. When she was a young girl she had once snuck down into the dungeons against her father’s wishes, taking the form of a mouse so that no one would notice. The shrieks of anguish and wails of pain soon scared her away, resulting in nightmares for weeks. Drevala was certain her father knew, the disturbed look on her face more than gave her away. Though she never knew why he never said anything, perhaps he thought the nightmares and trauma was a lesson enough for disobeying him, or perhaps he told her not to go down there knowing she would disobey him, in hopes that it would toughen her. Drevala could never fully understand her father’s reasoning. Now the place she feared most in Mercy was the place her once sweet sister now called home. Eli had warned her against seeking Naomi out, but she had to see for herself. She made her way down the cold stone corridor, past the thick wooden cell doors towards the torture chambers. Most percularily there were no screams, no wails, no pleads for mercy. The torutre chambers remained silent and as far as she could tell each of the rooms were empty. Indeed the once full and overflowing prison seemed completely devoid of prisoners. She had been told by a nervous prison guard that Noami’s torture room was right at the end of the torture chambers. The idea that Noami had been assigned a torture room specially for her chilled Drevala to the bone. As she approached the final room she heard a slow dripping noise from inside the room. She hesitantly opened the door. What she saw turned her stomach and froze her in place. Inside stood Noami, pale and thin with messy blood soaked clothes and hair. Around her were scattered the corpses of several men and women, some hung from the ceiling, some locked inside small cruel cages, while others lay strewn across the floor. From those who hung from the ceiling blood dripped slowly down their bodies onto the blooded stone below. All with grievous and brutal injuries, many of whom had clearly been lashed to death. Some had been so mutilated it was impossible to identify them as human. Naomi turned around to face her sister, she seemed unfazed and unmoved by the sight of Drevala. Almost annoyed she had disturbed her.
“I heard you’d arrived back. From what I gather, Eli can hardly contain his fury”. She was calm, as if she were not standing over the bodies of seven people, covered in their blood.
“Noami...what is this” Drevala managed to utter. As she looked into her sister's eyes she saw they were empty, black voids of nothing. Noami didn’t hesitate in her answer.
“With my marriage upcoming, along with my inevitable departure to Cawanor, I decided to finally finish up my work here before I leave. Chances are I am unlikely to be able to engage in such actions in my new home to be” She answered as if what she was doing was completely normal. There was no remorse, no bloodlust, only a terrifying calmness. Noami opened her mouth to say more, but Drevala turned around and abruptly left, horror finally overriding her shock. Noami didn’t pursue her or call out to her; she simply remained where she was. Once Drevala left the dungeons she darted away out of sight before vomiting onto the ground. The level of violence she witnessed was something that disturbed even her, but that wasn’t the reason behind her extreme reaction. It was her sister’s eyes, they were the eyes of someone already dead, empty and apathetic to life. What Eli had said was true, and she now knew she had lost another sister.
Arianna’s Catamaran sailed gracefully over the sea, flanked on either side by two other Catamarans. Arriana stood atop the quarterdeck, guiding the ship towards its destination. The wind was on their side today, and they were making good progress towards the capital. Her hair was tangled and messy while her clothes were damn from seawater, and she loved it. This was her true self and here amongst the waves, she felt both free and totally in control. Her crew was setting about their tasks below, several of them were mages, though she knew in their hearts they were sailors before all else.
Dyril reflected on the last week they spent at the Summer Isles. Arianna kept true to her word, showing Dyril the sights on the small island cradled in the sea. She couldn't push away the sights introduced to her. Her lips curled into a smile upon remembering student mages doing daily practices. She favored the teacher's more advanced displays of magic, accepting in a bitter way she could never obtain such a gift. One had to be born with it.
Except for the absence of slavery, the Summer Isles could've been part of Beilokias’ adjoined lands to her. At least, those she had read in her books. The mages bent magic and nature to their whims. Shortly into the tour, Dyril found herself feeling strange. None of the taboos of her culture existed there. No one shot her a judgmental expression or frowned when their paths crossed. The sense of being an equal held a surreal sensation embedded in her core even after they started to departing once again.
Realizing she had become distracted, Dyril snapped herself from her memories and finished her current task. She scratched out the last sentence. Placing the quill to the side, she took one last glance onto her written notes.
The very words brought a sour taste to the back of her throat. Her mind recalled the historic body count and recorded effects over their victims. While powerful, it required a dangerously high price. So high, even her birth land had forbidden use of it. Even for academic purposes.
With careful hands, Dyril rolled the parchment up and sealed it into a cylinder container. She placed within Arianna's things before she stood upright. Her feet carried her to the upper deck where Arianna continued to man the crew. It wouldn't take long for the Captain to sense her presence.
Dyril still struggled with her sea legs as she navigated the tilting deck. Her arm reached out and seized the guardrail, steadying her upright. The half-elf inhaled then came to rest beside the woman. She leaned against the wood railing separating her from falling into the endless sea.
"Someone is enjoying herself." Dyril tried to hide her surprise at seeing Arianna, the woman’s tidy and professional air lost.
Arianna smiled at Dyril’s loss of composure. It was sweet to watch the half-elf let her guard down, as rare as it was to see. “This is where I feel most comfortable. Though it seems you still need to take some time to get used to it” Arianna teased.
“You forgot, I was born only next to it and only sailed a few times in my life. Most of them fairly recently.” Dyril didn’t touch on the fact she shared with Arianna.
An individual, nearly completely sheltered from the world, learned quickly or faded into oblivion. She turned to Arianna’s direction, the smile lessening only slightly.
“I have finished the notes you asked for. They are sealed and put away.” As Dyril spoke, she glanced at her ink-stained and calloused fingers. A faint reminder of her excitement.
She continued, her eyes lifted to the sea. “It includes everything from the effect the magic has on humans to the best ways to counter it. Through the latter might not even be needed if you simply find a way to barricade the borders and let the magic consume them. It won’t take long before they start to turn on each other.”
Arianna grimly looked away “Something tells me that won’t be an option. I doubt either the High King of Alenius or our Emperor will just sit idly by for long. They covet the other lands and if they don’t press their claims soon their supporters will grow complacent. Besides I doubt either monarch understands the true threat blood magic poses, non-mages often underestimate the dangers of magic. To them, it’s just another tool to be used in their path to power”. Arianna’s face saddened “You were fortunate that you arrived in Formaroth after the war for the throne. I fear you won’t be as lucky this time”.
“I’m a non-mage and I can recount all the reading fairly well. There’s a reason it’s banned in Beilokias. I just hope the High King and the Emperor are smart enough to realize this. A mad kingdom has no ruler. Just dead bodies,” Dyril pointed out, her sober and sorrowful voice spoke the truth.
“Perhaps, but things are different here in Formaroth. Most people don’t even-” Arianna’s sentence was cut short as her eyes glanced at an unusual ship on the horizon. It’s sails bore no recognizable colours and even from this distance she could tell it was unlike any other ship she had seen in her life. It almost seemed as if the sunlight was reflected off of it.
“What’s that?” Dyril’s question escaped her lips, her eyes narrowed and focused on the faint figure in the distance.
Arianna squinted trying to get a better view of the ship. But after the wreckage she found on her route here she feared she already knew what it was.
"Trouble," She whispered to Dyril before immediately yelling orders to her crew. "Mages take your positions, everyone else prepares for battle. Vasco, signal the other ships to take formation!” Without hesitation mages took their places either side of the ship, weaving spells and using the seawater to propel the ship forward. Now they were approaching their target at almost three times the speed, soon it would be upon them. Arianna turned to Dyril.
"Keep yourself safe below deck. If these are the pirates who I suspect have been raiding the summer sea we will make short work of them.” Arianna wasn't wrong in her assessment, three isle catamarans against a single pirate ship would be an easy victory for even a novice. Still, something made her feel uneasy.
Dyril nodded then began to move across the deck. She stopped occasionally in her haste as the crew scrambled to their positions. With some luck and patience, she finally made it to the door leading down into the ship’s depths. The thoughts that entered her head filled with her dread. If Arianna lost, they would all sink to the seafloor and never be heard from again.
“Vasco, Turn us to flank the ship on the starboard side” Arianna wanted to avoid facing the mysterious ship head-on, the catamarans might have been quick and nimble, but they were also fragile. Both herself and another catamaran proceeded to flank the ship from the starboard side while the third catamaran sailed to flank the ship on its port. As they approached their target her view of the ship was a lot clearer, the black pirate sails confirming her suspicions. It seemed to be an oversized war galley, a most formidable opponent and impressive vessel for mere pirates. Though what caught her eye most was the ram at its front. While not unusual for a war galley to have a ram, it was made from an impossibly rare metal, dwarven steel. Arianna could hardly believe her eyes. In all her life she had only ever laid eyes on one object made from the ever rare metal; the tiny rounded ornament that high magister Joseph hung around his neck, his prized possession that had taken him a lifetime of work to achieve. Yet here these pirates had somehow found enough to make a ram that covered the front of their ship. Not even the pirate king Morian could manage such a feat. Whoever she was dealing with she knew they were extremely dangerous.
“Mages, prepare for a barrage of flame, crewmen arm the ballistae”. Arianna ordered, her voice being heard clearly even over the noise of the waves. Vasco signaled the other ships to do the same. Once they came into range Arianna gave the order.
“NOW”! She shouted, a stream of fire shooting off the port side, followed shortly by ballistae bolts. To Arianna’s horror while the bolts hit their target, the flames dissipated before they even got close to the ship, evaporating into nothing. They had mage’s on board. No doubt it was only around five at most, but still enough to make them all the more dangerous. The pirate ship wasted no time in retaliating, within moments it’s crew started produced oars and started to row, pushing the ship towards the catamaran that had attacked it on its port side. The catamaran tried to move out of the way almost succeeding, but at such a close distance it couldn’t escape. The war galley tore straight through the catamaran deck, the dwarven steel splintering the wood apart with great ease.
“Arianna”! A voice cried. Arianna turned to see the horrified face of Vasco “Do we retreat” Arianna paused for a moment as she considered her options. Before responding with a resounding
“But we do not stand a chance against a such a vessel, not if they have mages” Vasco protested
“We cannot allow this ship to continue to terrorise the summer sea. I am a tidemaster and it is my duty to protect these waters”
“Be that as it may we are at a disadvantage” Vasco said as he pointed at the war galley, the vessel twice the size of their catamaran.
“Not as much as you might think” She replied with a smile “Judging by the number of oars it seems there ship is undermanned and the lack of synchronized rowing indicated poor discipline. We can easily out manveer it. So long as if we keep behind it we will avoid it’s ram”.
“And then what”? Vasco questioned
“Once we get close enough we use our mages to freeze it in place. Then we board”.
“Are you mad? Two catamarans boarding a war galley. Even if it’s crew is undermanned and underskilled that is a risky tactic.”
“It’s a risk we have to take. So long as if there are mages on board our spells are useless and we don’t have enough ballistae bolts”. Vasco gave Arianna a quizzical look, before nodding his head in agreement.
“As you command captain” He said as he started to signal his orders to the other catamaran. With the use of their mages both ships made sharp turns impossible for any ordinary ships. They started to close on the pirate ship, the war galley desperate to turn themselves around for another ramming but failing miserably. Arianna skillfully kept her ship behind the war galley. As her ship passed the wreckage of the shattered catamaran they slowed so her crew could help aboard the survivors who were stranded in the water, holding onto whatever flotsam they could grab. The extra hands would be helpful for the battle to come. The additional mages they saved started to help the other mages propel the ship forward and soon they were bearing down on the pirate’s ship. As they neared the ship a dozen enemy archers rallied to the stern of the ship, shooting and throwing a mix of arrows and spears. While their aim was poor a number of Arianna’s crew were felled.
“This is it” Ariana yelled “Get ready”. They got closer and closer to the galley as a few more of her crew were hit with arrows. Soon the front of her ship was almost touching the galley's stern. With a tremendous roar Arianna yelled
“NOW”! In response the mages onboard casted a spell simultaneously, freezing the water between her catamaran and the pirates effectively fusing the two ships together and creating a rudimentary ice bridge between them. Arianna’s crew drew up boarding planks while others drew daggers and hatchets. The pirate archers drew their bows, ready for another volley. Arianna lifted her hands and conjured four condensed balls of pure force. The balls hit four of the archers, shattering their bones and sending them flying. The archers on either side of them collapsed on the deck giving her crew a chance to lay down the boarding platforms. The boarding party wasted no time and took full advantage of the opening Arianna had made. Within seconds the boarding platforms were down and the crew were across, yelling wild war cries. Soon all who were left aboard was Arianna, the mages, a handful of the younger crew to man the ship and the injured. The cries of fighting could be heard from the other ship, the hull of the galley just too high to see what was happening from the catamaran. Arianna and the mages started to make their way on board. Though she loathed the feeling of hiding behind her crew she knew both she and her mages were too important to lose in the initial boarding. As she and her fellow mages made their way up the boarding plank a bolt of lighting shot over head, sending one of her crew members flying into the sea. A most disconcerting sight. Once she was aboard she was glad to see her crew, though outnumbered, were doing well against the inexperienced pirates. All they had to do was hold off until the second catamaran boarded to give them support. It was her job to find the mages and stop them.
To her surprise only one of the enemy crew members seemed to be a magic wielder, the captain. He was foreign, likely hailing from the lands of Draivim, with black hair and tanned skin. He was armed with a hiltless sword and wore a shabby black knee length coat lined with small hardened steel plates stitched strategically around the inner lining covering vital organs. Most disconcerting was the green glow radiating from his eyes and the wild maddening look upon his face. Was he the only mage on board? Surely he couldn’t have been powerful enough to nullify the spells of twelve battle mages on his own? His next action soon answered her question. Three of her crew members charged the captain, hatchets in hand. In a single movement the captain conjured three balls of fire which engulfed them, causing them to briefly cry out in pain before they were reduced to nothing but ash. The captain lay his eyes upon Arianna, a sadistic smile spread across his face. He raised his sword and through it he channeled lightning through his arm and out through his swords tip. The lightning chained into three streams, the most powerful aimed at her. The two other streams hit two mages either side of her killing them instantly, but Arianna had trained in lighting magic for years, she knew what to do. At the lighting hit her she tried to channel it into herself to redirect it back at the captain. But the sheer power of the spell was to much for Arianna to endure through the pain, instead she choose to allow the spell to bypass through her. Causing it to flow past her, through the back of the ship and hit her Catamaran. Never had she seen a lighting spell so powerful, who was this man?
Below deck, Dyril's fear consumed her heart. Her feet touched the sea-soaked steps as the crew rushed for the deck above. The ship churned then rocked side to side. Her foot stumbled across the slippery surface. She fell onto the floorboards before she pushed herself upright immediately. Chaos swirled about her. Men shouting, weapons clashed, and magic echoed down to her. Her eyes widened in terror at the unseen battle above.
With a deep breath, she began to climb to her feet. She wobbly made her way toward the only safe place she knew: the Captain's quarters. When her figure entered, Dyril shoved the door shut. Her figure twisted about then she felt her knees crumble bring her down to the floor.
It took several minutes before another realization hit her. The ship was sinking. The water started at her heels then began to reach for her calves.
"No, no." Dyril's voice cracked.
She shoved herself onto her legs. Her eyes spotted the canister. The water-proof leather protected the document from water but losing... Dyril didn't think. Instead, she rushed for it. Her hand stretched out and reached out as it fell from the wall. It landed in her palm causing her fingers to wrap about it. Water splashed across her dress, drowning her from head to toe. She coughed while she began to haul herself up.
A small smirk crossed her lips at her success. She secured the canister on her hip then began to trudge back to the door. With a little struggle, she managed to pull the door open. The cloth weighed her down as she moved toward the higher levels. Her hand combed her damp hair from her eyes. Somehow she managed to make her way to the decks above.
When she stepped onto the scene, her eyes caught Arianna locked in combat with another mage. Dread filled Dyril when she recognized her friend's opponent. Jain Surya.
Jain’s glowing eyes were fixated on Arianna “Surrender now Magister and I will allow you and your crew to live '' One of Arianna’s crew members tried to attack Jain but was quickly quelled by a stream of fire. Jain turned back to Arianna as if nothing had happened. “I seek an item of particular importance. A gem red as blood. I’m sure you know of it’s abilities”?
“I will give you nothing pirate” Arianna yelled back, preparing a spell of her own to direct back at Jain “Your attempt to intercept up has been wasted, for we do not have what you seek. Your raids on the isles end here Drai”. Jain’s face flared with anger but as he looked over his shoulder his fury was replaced with an evil smile.
“If we will not give me what I desire, perhaps she will”. Arianna looked behind her and to her horror stood Dyril. Jain’s gaze now focused on her.
When the man’s eyes fixed on Dyril, her skin paled more. She took a step back as if her instinct told her to move or die. In her pointed ears, the water rumbled and smacked against the sink ship’s hull. Already the ocean began to drag the Catamaran to a salt filled grave. The water rushed onto the deck and lapped at her dress edge. Her time gradually was running out.
Dyril inhaled. She forced herself to move, her head twisted about and looked for a rope. A frayed, damaged one caught her eye. She moved for it. Her fingers wrapped about the tight knot as she tried to work it loose. More water rushed onto the deck, the wave caught her foot and pushed her toward the broken railing. Her arm snapped out and caught the rope end. It creaked with protest as it went taut. With heavy effort, she began to pull herself upright once again.
While Jain had been monologuing Arianna had been building magical force within herself and she wasted no time using. She raised her hand sending out a pure burst of force towards Jain. Jain not expecting such strength was caught off guard by the tidemaster. While he was able to shield himself from the direct blow of the attack (preventing him from being completely crushed) he was still flung back over the stern and directly onto the galleys deck. The fighting on the deck was in Arianna’s favour and her men were starting to push the pirates back onto the main deck. The second catamaran had pulled up alongside the galley by now and was starting to use grapple hooks and boarding planks to jump aboard. Arianna took this opportunity to help Dyril.
“I told you to stay below deck” She shouted at her as she tried to help her up.
“I’m sorry to say, I don’t breathe water and the lower decks are filling up pretty fast.” Dyril countered as she frowned, her hands fastened tightly to her life line.
Her arm reached out to take Arianna’s offered assistance, finally righting herself once more.
Arianna scowled as she saw what Dyril was saying was true. The lighting that Jain had shot at her had made a sizeable hole in her ship. There was no saving it now. How could this man do this much damage and still have magical energy left? Arianna waved over two of her mages.
“Quickly break the ice before the catamaran takes this ship down with us,” Together they weaved their magic and cut the ice cleanly apart. The waves had already started to erode the ice away and breaking it wasn’t difficult. “Now quickly to the deck. No doubt if that captain of theirs can do this he survived that attack,” Her mages obeyed and hurried down to the deck to assist their crew. Arianna turned back to Dyril, unsure what to do with her.
Still struggling with her balance upon the shifting deck, the hybrid gripped Arianna’s arms tightly and fought to keep upright. Dyril noted she needed to eventually find her sea legs when she had more time. At the statement her friend made, she added in her two coins. “I’m certain he did. The mage is high off of Blood Grass. Until that wears off, he’ll keep popping off spells until he collapses or dies. From the green in his eyes, I say he’s had a high dose before the battle.”
"Blood grass? I have heard of such a herb though I know little about it. How are we supposed to fight against a man this powerful when he has no care for his own self preservation. But the time he kills himself from exhaustion we'll all be dead". Arianna said desperately trying to think of a plan.
Dyril bit her lip and thought, trying to glean her brain of any information over Blood Grass. In a few moments something sprang to mind. “I don’t know much about the substance, but I did recall it affected the blood. I think it hurts the body’s ability to heal wounds so try making him bleed.”
Before Arianna could reply a burst of fire from the deck made evident that Jain had indeed survived his fall from the stern. Arianna turned to Dyril “Stay hidden and keep away from the fighting. Find a weapon if you can”. She said before quickly spinning round and running down the stairs to the deck. The fighting had grown fierce atop the deck. While the reinforcements gave her men much needed relief, pirates were emerging from below deck bolstering their own forces. Furthermore Jain was fighting again and inflicting serious damage. But now that he was distracted this was Arianna’s best opportunity to attack. She prepared a spell, but instead of focusing it into a single point she let it flow through body as she summoned blades of wind as sharp as knives and hurled them at Jain. Jain sensed the incoming attack and turned to block but the blades were far too numerous and widespread for him block effectively causing numerous cuts across his body and limbs. The cuts themselves were not very deep but they were big, as was Arianna’s intention. Jain gave out a cruel laugh.
“You’ll have to try better than that” He said as he started to cast another spell before his attack was interrupted by a crewman, swinging his axe widely at Jain’s head. Jain debtly dodged the attack and incapacitated the man with his sword. Before he had a chance to finish him however Arianna had sent forth another volley of wind blades. This time the blades also caught Jain in the face, with one particularly deep one running across his forehead. The crew member suffered a number of cuts himself but was able to scramble away to safety. Jain snarled as he once again prepared his attack against Ariana but once again was interrupted. This time by another flurry of frozen ice shards that cut into his skin. The remaining mages of Arianna’s crew had taken note of her tactic and were following her lead. Jain desperately cast a stream of fire and Arianna who simply blocked it. With the help of her other mages Jain did not have the time needed to cast a spell of any significant power. When Jain tried to cast a spell the mages blocked it. Whenever his guard was let down they cast spells at him, all with the aim of delivering as many cuts as they could. It was working. Soon Jain’s body was covered in blood to the point that his skin could no longer be seen. His clothes were drenched red and the cut above his forehead was blinding his vision, had it not been for the green glow it would be impossible to tell where his eyes were. His remaining men upon seeing the state of their captain and their dead comrades were starting to surrender, throwing their weapons down in an attempt to save their lives.
Jain was starting to panic, he had realised what it was Arianna was doing, his blood loss was making him slow and faint and her crew members were looking for an opening to finish him off.. In a final desperate attempt Jain struck his sword into the deck from which a spiral of fire emerged and quickly grew. He then cast the fire outwards in attempt to kill his opponents in one fell swoop. The flames delivered serious burns to those closest to him including Arianna herself, but ultimately there was not enough power behind it to be fatal. Jain collapsed to the floor on all fours barely able to keep himself up. Before he could even open his mouth to surrender one of Arianna’s crew members had sunk their hatchet deep into his head.
Dyril’s stomach turned when her eyes caught the image of Surya. His form collapsed on the deck’s surface, his eyes glazed over and lifeless. The hatchet’s owner set his foot onto the corpse’s face as he tugged his weapon free. She averted her eyes, her ears caught a cracking sound when the blade released followed by a heavy thump. Her imagination filled in the gaps much to her cringe.
Without wasting much time, her feet stepped toward Arianna and crouched down. Her eyes looked over the charred clothing and minor burns.
“I’m no healer, but you need to get this tended to. Else it will become living rot.” Dyril commented, referring to the Elvish slang for gangrene.
“I don’t suppose you grabbed any potions before the ship when down did you? My crew aren’t exactly skilled at restoration magic.”
“I am sorry to say, I was more concern about drowning. We could possibly send someone down to retrieve them, if someone had a spell for gills.” Dyril suggested.
Arianna gave a laugh "Even with such a spell I doubt we would ever reach the bottom of the ocean. No worries, we will make do until we reach Nyhem. These pirates will have something in their hold to help heal our wounds and at knife point I have no doubt they will be more than compliant in handing it over to us”. Arianna’s face turned to concern as she looked at the now deceased body of Jain Surya.
Kiseo bundled the worn coat to her furred figure. Though she could handle the cold, she felt presenting a normal front would help. Her paws crunched through the pure white snow and left impressions behind her. Yellow feline yellows glanced about the fish market as she walked up to the nearest stall.
The young mao examined the fresh fish. She tapped it gently with a claw and inhaled deeply, a faint mixture of salt and age. Already it had started to break down. Kiseo sighed. She missed the Imperial cities some days.
She attempted to barter with the seller. He waved off her first and lowest offer, explaining the fish's capture this morning. She didn't believe him, but held her tongue. A few days of age didn't spoil it enough to stop another offer. This time, the man didn't push his luck. He greedily took the coin then slid the fish into her hand basket. Kiseo thanked him as she turned away.
About to head back to her small hut, her peripheral vision caught a commotion near the docks. Several fishing men were hauling up a furred creature. Her curiosity got the better of her causing Kiseo to move closer.
As Ao tried to open his eyes he found the rays of sunlight that penetrated his eyes forcing them to close again. Salt water stung his eyes as he tried to make out the voices around him, though it was to no avail. They spoke Formarotian, a language that he didn’t know, nor did his master see value in having him learn it. Eventually he was able to open his eyes and started to take in his surroundings. It appeared he had arrived in a human fishing village, though he still had no idea where exactly he was.
Nearest to Ao, a fisherman jumped at the stir of movement. His figure fought to remain crouched down as he briefly stared. Obviously he had never seen a creature like this up close. A few moments passed before he pushed his long curls from his eyes and looked to the collecting crowd.
"Hey, it's alive! Does anyone know where that cat girl is?"
Kiseo's lips pressed tighter, but she resisted speaking her pain out loud. Instead, she stepped forward and past the parting group. As she neared the other Mao, the man stood up then walked back. Relief seemed to pull on his expression as he continued to watch with curiosity.
The female Mao placed her groceries to the side and met Ao's green eyes. A striking difference from her golden yellow ones. Her eyes brushed along his orange body with splotches of white on his lips, chin, center torso, and legs. Darker stripes were easily noted on his limbs and back. She admired the appeal of his coat a bit too long before she broke the silence.
With a gentle voice, she spoke to him in Imperial common, "Are you hurt?"
Ao was taken by surprise as his eyes lay upon a sight, he had never thought to see in Formaroth; another of his kind. He hesitated in his response as he still came to terms with what he was seeing, unsure if this was real or a salt water induced hallucination. “Who are you” he eventually stammered.
Kiseo smiled. She attempted to look less threatening as she adjusted her posture. Her legs folded underneath and knees pressed into the hardwood, with her tail in easy view. It barely flicked, so he knew she didn't want to pounce on him. Kits often did that during play which some times carried into adulthood. Most slaves were trained out of such antics through harsh means.
She exhaled to release her memories then focused on the Mao before her. "Kiseo, and you are?"
Ao paused a while as he composed himself “Ao, I belong to master Felcen, a merchant of the imperium”.
Kiseo's stomach churned a bit as she watched Ao. His posture retrained a meek and submissive behavior, indicating slavery. His words confirmed what she suspected causing her eyes to soften more.
"Are you hurt, Ao?" With introductions out of the way, she hoped he would be more open toward her.
“I...do not think so” Ao said as he tried to stand. However his legs were weaker then he thought as he stumbled and fell forward.
Kiseo watched him carefully. She didn't rise too far upward before spotting him tumble. Her right arm shot out and wrapped about his shoulder, stopping him from plowing into the dock. With a bit of struggle, she managed to help him stand and adjust his balance.
"Keep a hold of my shoulders and I'll lead you back to the hut. I have a bed, drink, and food. You need to rest and recover." She told him then slowly leaned down to collect her basket before moving toward her home. The crowd naturally parted allowing the two Mao to safely walk through and toward the edge of town.
“Where am I?” Ao said as he leaned against Kiseo, trying his best to keep balance against her. “How is it you are in Formaroth? My master told me I was the only Mao on this side of the ocean”?
Kiseo ensured she kept a steady, but slow pace. Her eyes shifted to her tail, mindful of where it bounced. It kept low to the ground and out of the way. She hooked her arm through the basket's handle before she replied. " You are in a village in Formaroth called Fishgrove." Kiseo's tone held a hint of pride in the village's name as they approached the mangrove fields. Some workers were already pulling out newly ready plants, potting, and storing them.
Two men looked up after spotting, her hand held up. They stared another moment and returned to their work.
"I came with Híril Dyril Elian, of the Elian House. She has been trying to trade in Formaroth for some time now. Right now, she's away on business and left me in charge of the house." She pulled open the door then gestured for him to enter.
“Thank you, Kiseo” Ao said as he steadied himself and walked inside, greatly appreciating the feeling of warm air against his fur.
“You say your mistresses left you in charge?" Ao asked, confused as to why an elf would ever give their slave any position of authority.
“Yes. My mistress had to leave Fishgrove and visit the Summer Isles,” Kiseo pointed to a modest cot she had been using for a bed. The dwelling was unusually humid compared to the outside. Numerous plants had been potted, growing at a faster than normal rate as she set her basket near one.
Her figure moved over to fire and stoked it once, stirring the embers again. She grabbed a bowl nearby then ladled some rich broth into it. Chunks of salted meat floated in the murky liquid as she served him some.
It was only after the offer of food that Aoe realized he was starving. He took the bowl uttering a quick “Thank you” before ravenously devouring the broth without hesitation. The food itself wasn’t anything special, but his current state of starvation made him feel as if it was the best meal he ever had.
"Slow down, you'll choke." Kiseo stated as she served herself, scooping more into another bowl.
She gradually sipped her, savoring the broth and taste. It was basic, but satisfying. Her teeth sank into the meager meat as she chewed. The salt still very strong due to the preservation. Her thoughts turned to the fish she had purchased for her next meal, considering getting more. She had another mouth to feed after all.
"What happened? How did you wash up onto shore?" Kiseo asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. Her eyes studied him intently through the hazy interior lite by the fire.
"My master's ship was attacked on our return from the summer Isles. There was a fleet of pirates that destroyed both our ship and our escorts. Their flagship cut our ship in two. Its front was made of some sort of metal. I've never seen a ship like that back home. Are metal ships common in Formaroth?” Kiseo paled. It showed heavily in her body language and expression. Horror showed on her face and her eyes narrowed on him. Her first thoughts trailed to her mistress.
"From what I've seen in Fishgrove... no. I've never seen one. This is very worrisome. I hope they stay away from here. I do not think Fishgrove could handle another attack."
“You needn’t worry. It wasn’t fishgrove they were heading for, it was the circle”
Inigo awoke to the sound of Helen, his younger servant, throwing up into a wooden bucket that she had kept by the side of her bed. This was her first time aboard a ship. Until recently it had been her first time she had been outside of Cawaport. Inigo had originally questioned Hathorn, her uncle and his other retainer, as to whether it was wise to bring her with them. However Hathorn had told him of Helen’s wish to travel the world and had requested that she be allowed to join. Hathorn had been with Inigo for years and had never asked for anything in return, he felt it was only fair he granted him this one request. Right now Hathorn remained asleep in the hammock above Helen, seemingly undisturbed by the unpleasant noises his niece was currently making. Inigo however decided that he would get no more sleep this morning and arose, dressing himself in his long coat and climbing the stairs to the deck. Many of the crewmen were already up and ignored Inigo as they went about their tasks. Inigo himself was careful not to disturb them and quietly went to the bow of the ship to watch the sun rise as he often did back in Cawaport.
Kanna watched Inigo quietly as he emerged from the belly of her vessel and made his way towards the forward most area of the ship. She was sitting at a small table that was placed for her on the quarterdeck and was dressed comfortably in black hakama with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Since having received orders to join her brother at the front lines, Kanna forgoed any formal wear and dressed in a way so that she can don her armour in a hurry should a situation deem necessary. Strapped to her left hip was her katana and kodachi, two blades that she would carry at all times moving forward unless social etiquette dictated otherwise. Most of her people ignored the foreigner as he moved among them, though he seemed careful not to be a nuisance to their duties. She wondered what brought the foreign commander to her deck so early in the morning as she carefully sipped her morning tea.
Inigo watched as the sun started to rise over the horizon, feeling the warmth slowly warm his face. It was a comforting feeling and reminded him of home, when he used to watch the sun rise from his balcony with his wife sleeping behind him. He felt eyes on him and as he turned he caught the eyes of princess Kanna. Out of respect he gave her a short bow.
From her seated position, the young akaiban noblewoman returned the foreign commander’s bow, as is required by her culture’s rules of etiquette. While most of her countrymen had an indifferent or negative view of the westerner, she found that the man to be pleasant enough and thus far had enjoyed his company. She was surprised to discover that he had come out for the same reason as she did, to enjoy the sunrise, as there would most likely be few opportunities to do so once they reached the front lines. She took another slow sip of her tea, savoring it’s warmth as it traveled through her body.
Just as the sun finished stretching over the horizon, Toshiro appeared to the young woman’s left to tell her that they were approaching the shores of Noiba signaling the end of her morning tea. She sighed softly as she placed her cup on the table's surface and stood.
"Let us prepare to meet my brother then."
Goto Kenji stood silently on the long stone quay, killing swords tucked into his sash at the perfect angle, long blood-red kimono moving ever so slightly as the north wind buffeted him with a gentle caress. A bow was slung across his back in its protective leather case, the string removed, and a bag of arrows hung beside it. Like all samurai he was prepared to fight at a moments notice and would kill without question. That was the samurai way.
Out in the bay, the late afternoon sun bathing two tall beige sails trimmed with Akaiban red and filled with a wind that smelled strongly of the distant mountains. The vessel was being forced to tack back and forth across the bay and Kenji found himself enjoying the sight immensely. There was beauty to be found in all moments, in the shift of the sails, the gentle wake thrown up by the sharp prow, in the way she turned with a perfection that made his heart ache.
On the mainmast, flapping fitfully with the wind, was Kanna-Samas sigil. It was almost identical to her fathers, save for two extra circles in the bottom left corner. A coiled dragon, gold on red, made up the rest of the shogunate seal. None but a member of the shoguns family would fly such a flag. Every vessel she passed, and there were hundreds in that anchorage, dipped their own standard in salute.
He waited as the ship drew closer, unmoving, his eyes fixed on the woman he had come to escort to Daichi. At his back fifty other samurai were drawn up in ranks to welcome the Princess and the barbarian general. It was all that could be spared at the moment. A single Runelord was present but the man seemed somewhat distracted, constantly looking around and staring at the hills that ringed the harbour.
A single pier, one of a dozen, had been quickly cleared, swept, and cleaned for the arrival of the Princess. Everything had been made perfect, even the freshly woven tatami mats that would serve as a path from the ship to the waiting horses. Small flowers had been scattered about the stone, Kannas favourite; a suggestion of her brothers. Three maids waited as well, their heads bowed, hands holding freshly steaming tea and cha; should the Princess and her guests wish it. Yes, everything was perfect.
Kanna herself was not surprised by the welcome she was receiving as she stood by the handrail on the starboard side of the vessel. She wore finely crafted black armour atop similarly colored hakama, her swords strapped tightly to her left side and her fox mask strapped to her right. Steady lungs took in deep, even breaths as she focused her mind on those around her and on shore. She was working on memorizing the life forces of those on land as she was already familiar with the ones around her having spent so much time with them on her travels.
As the boat slowed, seasoned hands tossed ropes to anchor the ship and position the gang plank so that they could disembark the Reaver. Kanna collected herself and left the railing to join Toshiro who had been waiting for her to be ready to descend onto land along with the rest of her party. She paused to speak with Inigo whom she was now confident enough to converse with in his native tongue after spending many long hours with Meredith's teachings during their travels.
"Inigo-san, I have instructed Meredith to be by your side from here on out until you are confident in your understanding of our culture and language.” She spoke carefully and with a light accent. “If you do not have any pressing questions, then I will lead us off the ship.”
“Thank you, my lady” Inigo said with a bow before signalling to his retainers to gather his belongings as he followed Kanna down the plank.
Kenji, the maids, and assembled samurai, all bowed as one the moment Kannas feet touched the stone quay. He stepped forward and bowed again.
“Kanna-sama,” His stoic face broke into a grin. “Welcome home.”
He caught sight of the barbarian general who came behind and bowed, though much more stiffly, to the man. Despite himself he was impressed with how the newcomer carried himself, a confidence that Kenji was not sure he would feel if the roles were reversed.
“Inigo-san, welcome,” He said in stilted Formarothian. “The Crown Prince told me you would be present. I welcome you to this land.” While he understood the words, they were difficult to say, and he found them graceless and without flow when compared to Akaiban; a language whose vowels had a liquid beauty all their own.
The maids, not needing a cue, quickly stepped forward and bowed, offering both Cha and tea to Kanna and her guest. “A refreshment, Kanna-sama?”
Kanna lifted a hand to politely refuse the refreshments , "No thank you, but perhaps Inigo-san would like to try our tea?" From the corner of her eye she could see Meredith explaining things to Inigo as she had once done for her. Turning her focus from her guest, Kanna returned Kenji's smile with one of her own.
"Kenji-san, what a delightful surprise to see you here! How is your family?"
“They are well, thank you.” He beamed, honoured that she had remembered to ask. “They were evacuated west along with all the other soldiers from here, by orders of the Daichi-sama.”
The maids had stepped forward to offer tea to Ingio during the exchange and Kenji wondered idly how the foreigner would react, watching the exchange out of the corner of his eye.
As Inigo walked down the plank he was impressed by the welcome party that awaited them considering how close they were to the Iba front lines. Then again he was travelling with Iba royalty and had it been one of the De Reimer siblings landing on the shores of Formaroth a similar reception would likely be received. Though he did not know his rank of authority here in Seikatsu, he returned a bow to the samurai so as not to risk offence and took the tea that was offered to him, feeling it’s warmth against his hands. As he was about to take a sip from the cup something caught his eye up on the hills in the distance, a flash of white light. As he looked up the flash of white light disappeared and was instead replaced with a red one. In a matter of seconds Inigo saw that this red light was a great ball of fire flying towards them getting bigger as it did. Out of instinct he pushed Kanna with all his strength towards Kenji in a desperate attempt to save her from the fire that would soon engulf them.
Kanna wasn’t prepared for the force Inigo used to push her forward and she went flying into Kenji. Confusion was soon replaced with anger as she tried to regain her composure, her speech reverting back to her native tongue. “Who has lost their mind?!”
“Elves!” The Runelord screamed just as the fireball slammed into them all. He was gesturing toward the distant hilltop. In an instant, the samurai drawn up to receive Kanna exploded into motion as officers bellowed orders. Men leapt to their horses and thundered away toward the distant killtop even as Kenji, off balance from the unexpected body slam, toppled into the water with a curse.
The explosion of the spell sent Kanna into the water as well, which helped to save her back from being horribly burned as she splashed into the salty shallows. She was lucky she wore the armour of her people as she would have never been able to kick herself back up to the surface under the weight of armour from other countries. As the young noblewoman breached, coughing out some of the water she took into her lungs, Kanna began to register the sounds of painful screams that came from those who survived the impact. Using her legs, she kicked herself back to the dock and hauled herself up using the footholds that were bored into the stone blocks.
Kanna was taken back by the scene that met her when she clambered back onto the docks. Where she had once stood at the edge of the dock was a blackened corpse burnt beyond all recognition. The plank that once connected the Reaver to shore was simply gone and a large charred hole took it’s place on the ship. Shiphands laid strewn about the deck, moaning in agony from splinters and burns. Those who remained on the dock that were neither thrown into the ocean or took to pursue their attackers laid on the charred stone. Flecks of fire swirled around the scene as the local winds appeared to have picked up the remains of flower petals and tatami mats.
Pulling herself together, she looked for any recognizable face among those strewn about her and found that she couldn’t find any of them. Kanna wondered if they were thrown into the water as she had been and ran to look into the waters around her.
Kenjis enraged face greeted her a moment later as he scrambled onto the stone quay to join her. His robes were a mess, his armour twisted, his short sword missing. He wasted no time as he looked her over quickly, and then ran for his horse at the head of the quay.
“Protect the Crown Princess.” He snarled at the dozen samurai who had remained before leaping into his saddle and kicking his mount after the swarm of horsemen who were making for the distant hill. The remaining samurai swiftly closed in on Kanna, surrounding her with their bulk and hurrying her toward the remaining horses.
Kanna knew her duty, but couldn’t help feeling torn between leaving and staying behind to help save those who were injured, a by product of her training as a restorative mage. She placed her left foot in the stirrup of an available horse, a beautiful painted mare, and hauled herself into the saddle. “Keep up.” she instructed simply to the men around her before nudging her horse into a full gallop after Kenji.
Kanna stood patiently at the gang-plank connecting her ship to the docks of Nyhem, the incoming winds of the ocean tugged at the fabric of her clothes and long black hair that she had tied back in a ponytail. The black haori she wore was the same one she had on when she made landfall the week before and underneath she wore a simple black hakama over a white kimono. She dressed for travel, her sense of practicality overriding any societal pressure to dress formally, and was prepared to address the issue should anyone question her judgement. To her left stood the captain of her guard, Toshiro, and to her right was Meredith, her translator. The rest of her guard were on the Storm Reaver, preparing the vessel for their long voyage back home. The trio were awaiting the arrival of a military commander whom they were told would accompany them back to Seikatsu and lead the empire’s armies against the elven invasion. The Iban woman was given a name, Inigo Orbino, and a basic description of his physical appearance once she was given the details of the finalized alliance. The rest was a mystery.
“Lady Kanna”? I question came from the crowded docks. Through them approached Inigo Orbino, a tall well-built man dressed in simple yet clean clothes adorned in the De Reimer colours. He was clean shaven with short well groomed hair and approached the boat with purposeful strides “I am Inigo Orbino, a pleasure to make your acquaintance” he said with a slight bow.
At the sound of her name, Kanna turned her attention to the tall Formarothian man that approached them. As Meredith translated, Kanna returned his bow, “Likewise Orbino-san. I hope we weren’t too hard to find as it seems these docks are quite popular. Do you have all your belongings in order? I don’t mean to rush you, but I very much would like to disembark and we can become acquainted on the Storm Reaver as easily as we can here. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
“Of course lady Kanna, I have brought all necessary provisions with me” He said as he walked up the gang-plank followed by two servants. One was an older man with wispy white hair and sunken eyes. Despite his age he was incredibly strong carrying most of Orbino’s luggage. Following behind him was a young girl of 13 years, with long messy black hair and sharp facial features. She was carrying half that of the older man though she was still somewhat struggling under the weight. Orbino noticed this once he stepped on board and as she passed him he took one of the bags she was carrying, lightening her load.
“Take my belongings below deck” he said to the elderly man who gave a nod and made his way below, followed closely by the black haired girl. “I am ready to leave when you are” He said as he turned to face Kanna, though he knew she didn’t understand what he was saying he spoke to her as he would any other noble. “The empire’s armies march to Telmarion and will depart from there. They should land three weeks after we arrive, they will be fully equipped and ready to repel the elven invaders”.
Kanna had followed Orbino’s group up the plank with a stoic expression. She wouldn’t take a high ranking military commander to have a young girl in his entourage, but was pleasantly surprised none the less and hoped he treated her fairly. As they walked up, one of the crew members pulled up the wooden board that connected their vessel to dry land and rushed over to speak with her guard captain.
Toshiro in turn came to whisper in her ear, “He says the tides and winds are with us, we can leave now if you desire.”
“I do. Have them set sail immediately.” She instructed back to him. Their exchange happened as Orbino addressed his own people to bring his belongings below deck. Turning her attention back to her guest, Kanna appreciated that he spoke directly to her. She noticed that many found it difficult not to address Meredith in their exchanges with her and had made a mental note to have Meredith start teaching her their language while they sailed back to Seikatsu.
“We are leaving port now. I hope to be home before the fighting starts, but in the event that we don’t, I am positive my people can hold until they arrive.” Kanna braced herself as the boat started into motion, free from the ropes that had bound it to the docks. “I hope you don’t mind if I watch the city pass by before we go below deck? The cathedral was quite eye-catching and I hope to see it again.” She motioned a slender pale hand towards the railing that ran along the port side of the vessel.
"It truly is a sight to behold my lady. No doubt I will find equal intrigue in your homeland. I am very much looking forward to seeing your nation's capital" Inigo replied with genuine excitement but still maintaining his professionalism.
"There is much beauty to be held in Shinkyo.” Kanna stated simply as she walked towards the railing. “Though spring is my favorite time of the year…” The sun was setting behind them, so the coastline was illuminated in the soft fiery glow that reflected beautifully from the white walled city as they sailed by. It would be only a few more moments until the cathedral was in view. She wondered how the stained glass windows would reflect the rays of the setting sun.
“A shame I visit Seikatsu under such dire circumstances” Inigo replied “It pains me to hear how the imperium has ravaged your homeland. I dread to think what they might do to Formaroth if we fail to defeat them, rest assured we Formarotians are just as eager to drive the elves from your shores as you”.
"I hope you do not take offense Orbino-san, but I doubt you have the same drive as I do. While I am sure you are eager, until you are in my position it will not be the same." Her expression darkened slightly as she gazed at the foreign shore. Her mind drifting to the impending battle ahead and the wrath she would inflict upon the invading soldiers once she joined the fray. It was then that the cathedral came into view, it's stained glass windows reflecting a symphony of colors as the last rays of the day's sun hit them. It was a sight beautiful enough to calm her emotions, at least for a time, softening her expression once more. "Regardless, I am thankful to be bringing back with me the help of able bodied soldiers and your military experience."
“Of course Lady Kanna. If there is nothing else your wish of me I will head below deck to join my retainers”? Inigo said, it had been a long day getting everything ready for journey to Seikatsu and he wished to rest.
She turned to face Inigo, giving the Formarothian the full weight of her gaze. “My apologies for keeping you Orbino-san, I’m sure you are in need of some rest. Would you be taking your meal in your quarters as well? I can instruct the chef to have dinner brought to you and your subordinates.”
"That would be appreciated, thank you" he said with a bow, before heading below deck.
Kanna returned his bow before turning to her captain, relaying instructions to have their guest's meal brought to their quarters. Releasing Meredith from her duties, the young noblewoman left the ship's railing herself to return to her own rooms and gather her thoughts. The journey ahead of her will be a long one with the high possibility to be filled with the loss of everything she holds dear.
The last puffs of evening wind showed a distant sail standing out from the Akaiban mainland. The massive might of Sadatake Castle could be seen glowing in the final light of the day but Inigo and his men were destined to never see the Forbidden City. The little junk, bore down quickly upon them and a single Samurai could be seen standing amidships, swaying easily on the deck as the crew bustled about without disturbing him. A square banner displaying the cipher of the Shogun snapped in the wind above its lonely mast and the Storm Reaver quickly came up into the wind. Only a messenger of Ayeka himself would fly such a flag and, in these waters, his word was law.
The samurai sprang to the side of the Storm Reaver as the smaller vessel came along side; hurrying up the side with all the skill of one used to long service at sea. He bowed first to the ship's Captain, and then to far more deeply to Kanna. For the Formarothian he spared a small glance and short nod.
“Kana-sama. Your father sends his regards and orders you to proceed immediately to Noiba. Daichi-sama has won a great victory, but it will serve only to slow the barbarians, not halt them.”
Kanna returned the samurai's bow and spoke quickly, "We shall change course immediately, but first I have something that must be brought to the castle. Are you to accompany us to the battlefield or will you be returning to my father?"
“I will be returning immediately, Kanna-sama. I have no orders to join you.” The samurai glanced about him for item she had mentioned. “I have no orders to return with any item.”
"I had sent word ahead of me of what I carry, but I guess it can't be helped given the circumstances..." Taking note of his questioning glance about the deck, her voice took a more stern note, "You will not find it here as it is below deck. If we are not to make landfall here then you now have orders to return to my father with an item of most importance. Have you men with you?" Kanna turned away from the man and headed towards the passageway that lead into the hull of the ship, leading the warrior to the cargo hold where a large plain wooden box awaited them amongst the supply crates. She had walked with purpose, never questioning whether or not she would be followed and placed a gentle hand upon the sanded lid. She had hoped to be able to accompany the armor herself back to the castle, but it seemed her father had other plans for her and she would dare not risk it's return.
She turned to give the samurai the full weight of her gaze before speaking. "As you can see, this is no simple parcel and I doubt you could carry this by yourself."
The samurai bowed at once and shouted toward the upper deck. Several other samurai immediately sprang from the small vessel and joined the two. They asked no questions as the box was carefully lifted and carried above deck. A block and tackle was quickly rigged and the box slung over the side where it filled the majority of the small vessels open deck.
While it was secured the samurai turned to Kanna and spoke quietly. “The box will be delivered to your father as you command. Do you have any other messages?”
Kanna thought for a moment of what else she wanted to say to the shogun, raising pale fingers to soft lips as she racked her brain. She could ask for him to wait to open the box as a family, but war was upon them and any one of them may not live to see the end of it. He might as well lay eyes on something valuable while he can. She decided on something a little more sentimental, but not overly so.
“Tell my father I am sorry that I couldn’t find a stone for his garden.” she replied softly as a small smile spread across her lips, remembering the last conversation she had with him so long ago.
“It will be done, Kanna-sama.” The samurai bowed deeply and then swung expertly down into the small boat that bobbed dangerously low in the water. It cast off immediately and swung toward land with and the small sail shot up as it gathered way and raced across the waves until it vanished amid the swarm of shipping that filled the harbour.
After she had returned the vassal’s bow, Kanna realised that she needed to bring her guest up to speed. She assumed he had some questions about their exchange and since they are needed at Noiba, they will also have to prepare appropriately. Kanna made her way over to where Inigo and Meredith stood, mindfully out of the way of the commotion that had just occurred and offered him a slight bow, “Orbino-san, I apologize for the commotion that just occurred. I have been given orders to change course to Noiba, so we will not be making landfall in the city.”
Though he didn’t show it, Inigo was disappointed. He had read much on the impressive cities Iba and Draivim with Shinkyo being the crowning jewel. According to explorers it was nearly three times the size of Nyhem and it’s architecture made even the great city of Vine pale in comparison. Though Inigo knew he such disappointment was selfish; he was here to do his duty and drive back the elven invaders, not to sightsee. “I understand lady Kanna. In which case a message will need to be sent to the troops back in Formaroth before they board so that they know of the change of plan. Do you have the means to achieve this”? What Inigo really meant was whether they had a shapeshifter who could fly far enough to reach the Formaroth from Seikatsu. Only a handful of shapeshifters in Formaroth would be able to maintain their form for such a distance and Inigo hoped that at least a few such people might also live in Akaiba.
Kanna paused for a moment, understanding fully well what the foreign commander was asking for and knowing it was a resource that had to be used if they were to guarantee additional support. After nodding her head in confirmation to Inigo, Kanna turned to her guard captain. "Bring me Akihiro-san", she said softly before returning her attention to Inigo while Toshiro disappeared below deck to bring the samurai she asked for.
"I hope you have a means to help your troops identify an ally quickly, as I would hate to lose Akihiro-san during our time of need."
“So long as his form is of a bird native to Seikatsu I am sure my subordinates will identify him as a friend” Inigo replied.
"I will have to take your word for it then. They should be returning shortly, do you have your written message?" Kanna asked.
“Allow me to write it for you know” He said as he signalled to his elderly retainer who in a matter of seconds found a quill, paper and ink amongst the mountain of supplies behind him, carefully bringing them over the Inigo. During this time his younger retainer dragged over a chair for inigo, trying her best not to scrap it along the floor. Once the chair had been brought over Inigo sat down and started to write his letter on a nearby crate. The splintered wood made it difficult for Inigo to write, though despite his difficulties his handwriting was as neat as it could be. Once he had finished he handed his letter over to Kanna. “Apologies for the wait. This is addressed to my subordinate and my second in command, captain Pedro Atres” Inigo said with a smile “A headstrong and passionate man but one with a good mind for battle”. Inigo's face turn stern "Though I must warn you, it would be best to keep him away from the Blackwell forces when their own forces land, it may lead to conflict".
Kanna accepted the letter and rolled it up gently with slender fingers. When the men returned, it would be placed into a secure vial that would be tied to Akihiro as he traveled. She was still apprehensive about sending him away as there were only a handful of shapeshifting madoushi in Seikatsu, but Kanna had to put her feelings aside for the best of her people. “I shall keep that in mind, thank you, though I am sure you can keep him out of trouble better than I can. These Blackwells are the ones that have caused much strife in your country, correct?”
Inigio fell silent as he considered his answer “While it was Andris Mandarass and his supporters that started the war, the Blackwells have done little to help maintain the peace in Formaroth. As of now the empire has an uneasy alliance with them, though in truth I do not see it lasting. My nephew, Pedro, has more of a personal grudge against them” Inigo replied.
“I see…” Kanna replied, “I apologize if I spoke out of turn as I am still learning about your history and culture. Your country is as much of a mystery to me as mine is to you.” As she offered Inigo a slight bow to accompany her apology, Toshiro had returned to the deck with Akihiro, who was dressed plainly in a black kimono and hakama. Toshiro offered her an empty glass vial and she in turn slid the written note into the container. As her guard captain sealed the letter inside the vial, Kanna approached Akihiro.
“You will need to travel back to Formaroth and deliver this message to Captain Pedro Atres. It is very important that they learn the change in our plans and meet us in Noiba.”
“Yes, Kanna-sama” he replied, offering her a deep bow.
“Orbino-san, will your army be docked at the same port we left from? Or does Akihiro-san need to travel elsewhere?” she asked.
“They will likely board at Port Marrion, a port town located off the coast of Telmarion. You will find captain Pedro there”. He replied.
Akihiro bowed deeply to Kanna before taking her note and tucking it into a small pouch on his waist, then offered bow barely in keeping with proper manners to Oribino. “I hear and obey, Kanna-sama.”
He stepped to the railing and several runes glowed brightly across his body before, after a few seconds, he had changed into a beautiful red tailed falcon. A minute followed as the Falcon flapped its wings, opened and closed it claws from the rail before at last launching itself into the air without a sound. In a moment it was high above the ship, riding the warm thermal winds blowing from Seikatsu. It circled once, twice, and then shot away westward toward Formaroth.
Dravala watched as the waves below her crashed upon the hard stone cliffs. She was perched atop the branch of an oak tree that stood atop the peak of the cliff, it’s roots desperately clinging to the side of the cliff least it collapse into the sea below. Even from up here Dravala could feel the water spray against her feathers. After her feelings for Lanaya were rejected Dravala made no hesitation in heading to Akki to join the infamous Ashfall cult. All her life Dravala had heard stories of Mother Ashwood and her dark cult of mages. Alenius was full of tall tales and legends of the immortal necromancer and the dark rituals she performed. It wasn’t until she trained at the circle that she learnt that the stories might have had more truth to them than she first thought. Every now and then she would hear stories of rogue mages who travelled to Akki to find this cult. Normally they would be caught before they even lay foot on Akki soil. But sometimes they would go missing without any trace, with the magisters concluding that they must have indeed found the cult and potentially become members, or sacrifices.
Dravala had spent months flying around Akki, stopping at the backwater towns and villages that scattered the kingdom in search of any rumours that led her to the mysterious cult. In the end it was the cult who found her. One night when she was camping outside of a town called Rumshore and group of cultists had tried to sneak up on her when they should she was sleeping. She had immediately transformed into a bear and almost clawed out the heart of the first cultist who approached her. Once she realized who they were she transformed back much to the relief of the terrified cultists. It turns out that her months of searching and questioning had caught the eyes of the cultist members who had proceeded to seek her out. After presenting her skill in shapeshifting to mother Ashwood she was immediately inducted into the cult without hesitation. The fact she was a member of house Blackwell had seemingly also improved Ashwoods attitude towards her.
During her search she had to be careful that she transformed out of sight though; now that her family ruled Akki she didn’t want word getting to Eli that a shapeshifter was travelling around Akki searching for the Ashfall cult. Though part of her wondered if he would even bother sending people after her. Did he care about her anymore, did anyone in her family? Regardless she had failed to protect Naomi, failed to save Beatrice, it was now her duty to ensure she could defend those of house Blackwell who remained. That was why she was here in the first place, to learn new ways to keep her family alive and repair whatever damage her enemies might do to them. She had already learnt so much.
Just then the silhouette of a bird against the sun caught her attention. Upon closer inspection the shape of the bird confused her. Though her confusion soon changed to horror at it drew closer. The bird itself was massive, with a wingspan of around 15 meters. Only the great eagles of Deliverance were said to reach this size and they had been extinct for centuries. Upon the eagle’s back rode a man, hooded in a black cloak who flew the eagle straight towards the cliff. The entrance to the cult’s sanctum was built into the side of the cliff face beneath a waterfall. A narrow ridge, marked by the oak tree, was the only passageway in or out of the cliff, unless like Drevala one could fly of course. Unless one knew of the entrance it would be near impossible for one to find it. Yet this traveller flew directly through the waterfall into the sanctum. Whoever this was they had been here before. Drevala decided her time for reflecting on the past was over, it was time for her to investigate who this mysterious stranger and whether he was a threat.
The body on the table opened its eyes. Its face twitching as the eyes roamed around the room. They met Matai’s, and for half a second, he could see confusion in them. Then the light faded and its face went slack. It sat up stiffly, the false life in it attempting to overtake the rigor mortis that had started to set in. With a sigh, Matai waved his hand, the body on his table fell back. It made no sense. He had been aware for far longer than that, and Matai had been years younger and less experienced.
Matai paced around the room, his hand covering his mouth as he thought. His experiments have turned up nothing. The imitation of life that Necromancy creates is inefficient. They could follow simple commands, but self-awareness was just out of grasp. There was something there. If only-
The sound of hurried footsteps down the hall outside his room snapped him out of his thoughts. Matai stopped pacing and opened the door. Two guards were making their way in the direction of the entrance. He caught whispers of someone finding their way into the sanctum without having been led there by one of the cult members.
“Well, this is interesting.” Matai looked back to the man in a suit of armor sitting on a chair in his lab. “What do you think, Erick, should we take a look?” The helmeted man uncrossed his arms and stood up without speaking. “My thoughts exactly,” Matai said under his breath as he opened the door and followed the men. Erick following behind silently.
Zilak entered through the waterfall, barely noticing the cold water against his rotting skin. Even after all these decades the cave looked the same, with barely any changes from when he last left. A fact that disappointed him. Numerous cultists emerged from the stone passageways that led to the entrance, all on guard with weapons or undead warriors. Zilak almost scoffed at the shameful display. One man emerged from the crowd; unlike the others he was tall and muscular, summoning at least ten undead. An impressive feat, for an average necromancer that was. His name was Janusz and was Ashwood’s second in command.
“Who are you” He spoke firmly “How did you find the entrance to our cave. Speak! Or I will have our undead warriors tear you apart”. Zialk was not intimidated.
“My name is Zilak, or you might know me as Father Cio, I have business with Mother Ashwood, take me to her”. While Janusz remain unfazed, the cultists around him all started to murmur. They had all heard of Father Cio; the Necromancer who had first started the cult over a century ago and taught Mother Ashwood everything she knew. For years Ashwood had foretold of his reappearance. Though no one believed her. Even more impressive was that this man was riding an undead eagle, one that was bigger than a horse. To summon such a creature, was a tremendous sign of his skill.
*** Matai had to stand on his tiptoes to try and get a look at the man who had entered, but the heads of the crowd in front of him blocked his sight. For a moment, he thought about pushing his way to the front but decided against it. Soon, whispers rippled through the crowd. Supposedly, the man causing this commotion was the Father Cio. Now that was worth the break from his experiments.
Mother Ashwood was paranoid about everything, but Matai never thought that the Necromancer that taught Mother Ashwood coming back to the cult was real when all she was was a set-piece.
“Things are getting interesting,” he whispered to Erick, who as usual, made no response.
“You claim to be father Cio, but give us no reason to believe you” Janusz replied sternly. To this Zilak just sighed,
“If you prefer I could just kill all of you and be on my way. But I would prefer not to waste such ‘gifted’ necromancers. Or you could just take me to mother Ashwood and she can prove who I am”.
Janusz did not believe for a second that Zilak was capable of killing them all, despite the stories Mother Ashwood had told. However if this man was father Cio and they killed him, Ashwood would not be happy. Even if he wasn’t Cio Ashwood would not be happy that they potentially could have killed the man who’s return she had been waiting for over a century. “Very well, follow me. It should be fun to watch Ashwood rip your flesh from your bones”. Zilak dismounted his undead bird and followed Janusz into the caves, with numerous cultists following behind. Unbeknown to him a raven had flown through the waterfall and into the cave. Drevela quickly transformed and landed next to Matai.
“So who’s this?'' she said playfully, hoping her sudden transformation might scare him.
Matai shot a glance at Drevela. If this hadn’t been the fifth or sixth time Drevela had seemingly targeted him for a scare he would’ve jumped more than a flinch and reacted to her post-transformation lack of clothes with more than the tips of his ears turned red. It didn’t bug him much, though. In fact, It was refreshing to have an upbeat personality in the macabre cult of Necromancers. He had managed to get her back for her first scare, though. Perhaps that was why she tried to scare him every possible chance.
“That man claims to be Father Cio.” He jerked his head towards another passageway. “I know a shortcut so we can get a better view of what’s going to happen. Janusz will probably lead him the long way to her so she can be alerted to his presence here.”
Drevela followed Matai through the passway, transforming herself into a wolf so that she would have an easier time travelling through the low ceiling of the passageway. After making their way through several branching passageways they reached an opening overlooking the hideouts core chamber. The floor was made of cold stone and the walls of earth and roots, with four crumbling pillars at each corner. Pits lay at the sides of the room filled with skeletal remains to the point of overflowing. On the far end sat the crippled Mother Ashwood atop a throne weaved from tree roots. From what Drevela had been told she had not moved from that throne in over a decade and the roots that made the throne had started to weave around her and even into her skin. As always her rotting face was hidden by a moldy cowl with only her decomposing hands showing, with many of her fingers having long fallen off. Next to her stood a gaunt, pale woman known as Elm. She was an unpleasant woman who had been in the cult longer than anyone else, with the exception of Ashwood herself. She was always found at Ashwoods side and the only person other than Janusz that she trusted. Though Janusz, Zilak and the others had yet to arrive it was clear Janusz had sent a runner to inform Ashwood of her former masters arrival. She had already summoned thirty skeletal undead, powerful display of her necromancer’s power, though Drevala knew that this was only half the undead she could summon. No doubt Ashwood was the most powerful necromancer currently alive in Formaroth. The door to the room opened slowly, creaking as the aging doors struggled to open. The first to enter the room was Janusz followed by Zilak. Behind them the other cultists sheepishly walked in; many of them still unnerved to be in the presence of Ashwood.
Janusz walked forward and knelt before Ashwood "My mistress, this traveler claims to be -" he was soon cut off by Zilak who rather then wait behind Janusz had continued to keep walking
“It has been a long time my dear Ashwood” He said almost mockingly, only stopping to walk once Ashwood’s skeleton warriors pointed their chipped spears towards his neck. Janusz was visibly annoyed by what had just happened but knew better than to make a scene in front of Ashwood, instead choosing to stand up and keep alert to any plans that this Zilak might be planning. Ashwood leaned over to Elm and began to whisper in her ear. At this point Ashwood was barely able to speak and required Elm to listen closely to her muffled words and relay them to the rest of the cult. Soon Elm replied in her typicalically high and piecing voice
“Mistress Ashwood demands to know why you have returned to her sanctuary” She said looking at Zilak with venomous intent.
“Your sanctuary”? Zilak laughed “My dear Ashwood, if I remember correctly, I told you that I always intended to return. The fact you have made such a fuss over my arrival must mean you knew it to be true” he said with a smile. Elm’s look turned venomous.
“Speak more softly if you value your life” she hissed. Though the warning did not perturb Zilak
“I am happy to see that you have looked after my little cult. But I have now come to take back what is mine. I am sure you have no objections” He said with a sly smile, murmurs coming from the cultists behind him. Janusz gave a cold laugh, it would seem he would get his wish and watch this arrogant man be slowly torn apart. Once again mother Ashwood leaned over to Elm, whispering in her ear.
“Ashwood rightly states that you have long since abandoned this cult, this sanctuary is rightfully hers and you are nothing more than a unwelcomed guest”. Elm replied smugly
“This has always been my sanctuary, and you nothing more than a caretaker”. At this fury flooded Elm’s and Janusz faces.
“HOW DARE YOU” Elm exploded, not noticing Ashwood’s feeble attempt to calm her
“Mind your tongue outsider” Janusz said sternly. Despite the ferocity of their words Zilak ignored them, he had not come all this way to deal with Ashwood pathetic servants
“Look at you, you truly believe yourself to be my successor? You are a husk of a once great woman, who like this cult you have allowed to wither and stagnate”.
“SILENT” Elm yelled. Zilak continued, growing increasingly annoyed by Elm’s interruptions
“I had such plans for you, I had once hoped you would stand by my side once I took the throne of Formaroth and name myself the undead king. But look at you a cripple who hides from the world, quivering at the return of her old”.
“I SAID SILENCE” Elm continued to yell now hysterical. Zilak had had enough of this woman. In the blink of an eye Zilak used his magic to lift a broken shade of bone from one of the pits and sent it flying through the air towards Elm. The shade impaled her straight through the eye killing her instantly, at the same time he let loose a shock wave that instantly immobilized all thirty of Ashwoods Skeletal warriors, scattering their bone’s and weapons across the room. After he processed what had just happened Janusz immediately prepared to attack, casting fire from his hands towards Zilak. With barely even a flick of his fingers Zilak transformed the fire into lightning, redirecting it back at Janusz and instantly incinerating him and five other cultists who had run forward to help him. The rest of the cult stood dumbfounded at the power they had just witnessed. Both Janusz and Elm were considered to be as powerful as circle magister’s and this man had killed them as if they were nothing.
Matai’s eyebrows shot up at the display of power from the newcomer. “Well, I guess that leads credence to him being Father Cio,” he whispered with a glance to Drevala. “They either underestimated him, or overestimated their own power. Perhaps both.” A thought struck him, and he scratched his chin idly. “I had been wanting to try my experiment with a strong-willed corpse. Perhaps one of them would suffice.”
He turned to Drevala “My money is on this cult getting a new leader.” Drevala gave a low growl at Matai. While he was seemingly more concerned with his experiments, Drevala was shaken. She had trained at the circle and was certain that not even the high magisters could achieve what this Zilak had done with such ease. Such power shouldn’t have been humanly possible. She watched as Zilak walked towards Ashwood,
“As you can see I have grown far stronger over the past decades. You were right to fear my return” He said with sheer glee in his voice. It was then Ashwood finally started to move, her face seemed to be uncaring of what had just happened, though it was difficult to read considering it looked more natural on a corpse. Then something happened which surprised Drevala even more than Zilak’s display of power; Ashwood spoke.
“I am not surprised that you have grown in strength, my old mentor” She said, her voice was almost a groan and barely audible, as if every word she spoke caused her great pain. But behind her old ancient voice could be heard a mocking tone. “However I did not fear your return, I was hoping for it”. She replied with a toothless smile as she raised her deteriorating hands. A stream of blue light shot towards Zilak who tried to counter it with a magical barrier, only for it to pierce straight through and hit him in the heart. He fell to the ground with a groan, the steady blue stream of light now flowing back towards Ashwood. “I have been preparing for you ever since you left and now you return to me with even more power than I could ever have hoped for” Soon Zilak’s already rotting body started to deteriorate further and the once disabled and withered Ashwood stood up with her wounds and rotting flesh healing. “I have waited so long for this, finally I will have the power you hoarded for yourself all these years” Her apparent joy was soon cut off by a cruel laugh from Zilak, who after initially collapsing to the floor had stood up now unaffected by Ashwood’s spell.
“I am impressed you were able to discover the secrets to such magic, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, you were once my student. Unfortunate for you then, that I mastered such magic decades ago”. It was only then to Ashwood's horror that she realised that the stream of light had been reserved and her body was once again decomposing. She tried to disengage the spell but it was of no use, Zilak was in control now. “WAIT PLEASE” she managed to cry out as her body deteriorated to a state worse then before and continued to worsen. Eventually her limbs began to crumble and Ashwood opened her mouth to scream, but there was no sound, only dust. The dust that was once comprised Ashwood’s body scattered, the magical light faded and where the once decrepit and rotten Zilak stood, now stood a youthful and healthy man.
“Now that was a neat trick, must be great for the skin.” Matai muttered under his breath before he chuckled, shaking his head. He turned to Drevala. “ I want to make sure that Elm doesn’t get taken away before I can run my experiment. Are you coming along?” Matai didn’t even wait for a response before dropping down from their hiding spot. He made his way to the crowd, pushing his way through the horror-struck and fearful cultists to the front of the crowd.
“It seems that Mother Ashwood’s paranoia wasn’t unfounded.” Matai bowed his head as he spoke to Zilak. “This place is yours now, right? So I would assume that you would be who I would ask to make use of Elm?” He asked as he pointed towards the corpse of Mother Ashwood’s advisor.
Zilak initially ignored Matai’s question, taken aback by his reborn body. If he remembered how good it felt to be young, he would have left Deliverance years ago if only to drain the life of another. He turned to Matai. He was different compared to the other cultists, not fearful like those in the crowd and yet not as zealous as the cultists he had just incinerated. Perhaps he could make a useful pawn.
“Finally, I receive some respect. What is it you desire to do with her body”?
“I’m trying to recreate an event that happened, what was it, twelve years ago. I was attacked and my guard died protecting me. We were found by the cult. I was nearly unconscious and my guard spoke to them before he died, again.” Matai started to pace as he talked.
“I would have chalked it up to my imagination, but I was very familiar with death even before I ended up joining the cult. There was one more bandit left, gravely injured but he had enough strength and anger to make his way over to us. Terror had me grasping for something, anything to…” Matai stopped pacing. He looked at the spot where Mother Ashwood had turned to dust, then to Zilak.
Until this day, Matai hadn’t even given thought that what happened between Zilak and Mother Ashwood was possible. “You-” Matai began, but stopped with a cough, his mouth had gone dry. “You looked like you recovered three or four decades from Mother Ashwood. Can...can I take six months from you.” Matai had made his way to Elm’s side. He knelt beside her and held one hand over her body. The other he held out in Zilak’s direction in a clawed position. “I’m pretty sure you can stop a mid-level Necromancer from taking too much.”
Zilak considered Matai’s proposal. Giving Matai six months worth of magical energy wasn’t a problem, he could give him a decade and it still wouldn’t matter. Zilak could easily extract the life force from any wandering peasant if he needed to. Besides he had perfected the art of necromancy and his body was now unfettered by the decay of time. However he didn’t know if he could trust this man or his intentions. Though what he said was right; his power wasn’t even a quarter of Ashwoods, if he tried anything Zilak would be able to stop him. Furthermore, giving him what he wanted now could be a good step to obtaining a loyal servant.
“Very well, I shall give you the magical power you need. Let us hope it doesn’t mutate you” he said with a laugh. As Matai readied himself Zilak raised his arms and cast the same spell that Ashwood had cast on him on Matai; not even waiting to ask if he was ready. Power flowed through Matai as he focused all his energy on the deceased body of Elm. First her hands started to twitch then her head, then her whole body. Eventually the eye that hadn’t been impaled shot open, full of sheer terror.
“WHAT HAPPENED” she shrieked, unable to comprehend what had happened “WHERE….MOTHER ASHWOOD HELP ME” She said in one finial yell of fear before the life drained from her in an instant causing her to slump back down.
The silence in the chamber lasted for several seconds before a chuckle forced its way out of Matai’s mouth. Twelve years. Twelve years he had been trying to recreate his rescue. It hadn’t been his guard at all that killed the last bandit, it had been him. The chuckles continued, gaining strength before they turned into cackles.
His body was almost on fire with the energy he had been given. He had spent most of it on Elm, just using his body as a conduit for the power, but some had still absorbed into his body. It was intoxicating. A fraction of what he was given and he felt so powerful.
It was too much. The rational side of his mind broke through the haze and his laughter stopped. He held his hand out to Elm, forcing his power into her again, but this time just as he was trained to. Listlessly, she rose from her position on the ground. That had taken most of the extra power, but not enough. He reached his hand out to one of the many skeletons that rested around the room and slowly they started gathering together to form a body.
Halfway through the forming, he had used most of the power, so he released his hold on the skeleton and Elm. Bones scattered to the floor and Elm crumpled to the ground. By the time everything had settled down, Matai was panting heavily.
“My...experiment is complete.” He managed to say between his ragged breaths. “My... hypothesis that the dead... can retain their consciousness for at least a little while has been proven true.” He swayed from side to side for a second before deciding to sit down. “My next step will be to determine the exchange rate from life taken to how long the consciousness lasts.” His vision started creep towards the center of his vision. “This could be a great step towards reducing the stigma around Necromancy and be a way to offer our services in a way to bring closure to families of lost ones. I’ll be sure to draft up the-” Matai’s eyes rolled back as he lost consciousness, falling backwards onto the cold ground next Elm.
Zilak was impressed with what Matai had done, though had little interest in his apparent motives. Still he was a skilled necromancer and would serve him well.
“Take him away and see to it that he recovers” Zilak said as he waved his hand at the other cultists, none of whom moved still fearful of their new leader. Zilak snapped his head around “Now” he commanded as a few cultists snapped out of their fear and ran forward to carry Matai away to the healing chamber. As they did Zilak walked toward the crowd behind him who quickly parted to let him through. “The rest of you prepare to leave by tomorrow evening we have a lot of distance to cover and not much time. Mummers erupted amongst the cultists
“What do you mean, where are we going?” One cultist asked, immediately shrinking back as Zilak looked at her.
“To Alenius, I will discuss my plan as we travel, but for now you do as I command. Pack everything that is essential. It is time my cult left this sad little sanctuary” he said as he left the room.
Upon the mention of Alenius Drevala’s ears pricked up and her heart filled with dread. She didn’t know what this man’s intentions for her homeland were but she was certain that they were not good. She needed to leave the sanctuary and warn her family and she needed to leave now; it wouldn’t be long before one of the cultists plucked up the courage to tell Zilak that the daughter of Giles Blackwell was here. Besides, she had already achieved her purpose of coming here.
Alasdair was pacing back and forth across his chambers. He had just received news that Isabel’s condition was worsening and that the mages had done all they could. Now all he could do was wait and hope the gods would be merciful. Though if they were they wouldn’t have put his sister in this situation in the first place, Alasdair thought bitterly. The alchemists had left her in a comatose state, stating that if she were woken the pain would be excruciating for her, with the stress caused likely to worsen her condition. Alasdair was exhausted yet he was too worried about his sister to rest. He had asked one of the alchemists to give him something to help with his insomnia though it had done little to help his sleepless nights. Alasdair felt helpless but there was nothing he could do. He had brought in the greatest restoration mages, surgeons and alchemist from Hartland, Cawanor and Telmarion and they had all said the same.
It was then a thought occurred to him; their were restoration mages in the circle who had far greater skill then could be found anywhere else in Formaroth. By their own rules the circle did not involve itself in Formarothian politics anymore than it was absolutely needed to, hence why he hadn’t asked them before. Even as emperor the circle would turn down his request without hesitation. However with Lanaya’s help he might be able to convince them to help him, maybe even to send magisters to heal his sister. Ever since his last conversation with Lanaya, Alasdair had been avoiding her. He had constantly been questioning if he had been right in allowing her to live, let alone still work for the empire. But now he had no choice, his sister’s life was on the line. If she were to die, knowing that he hadn’t done everything he could to save her, Alasdair might as well through himself from the keep ramparts.
Lanaya was pacing back and forth in her quarters atop the keeps tallest tower. The mages tower, once Aurelia’s home, was now the gilded prison she confined herself to in the name of salvaging her political career. Every day had been a struggle in this place. The balcony was not locked, she was free to step outside, and from there, she was sure she would be able to shape shift and fly away before the guards could catch her. Every day she considered doing just that. She yearned to be free, to feel the wind in her wings, prance through the forest, ride the waves and sing to the sea. Yet it seemed that was not to be her fate. She would not make an outcast of herself for such petty desires.
And so, she paced. Paced, and plotted. Her options were few, but she could not help it. She had to keep her mind busy, and this was the best way she knew to do so.
As Alasdair approached the door to the mages tower the two steel fist guards who had been assigned to shadow Lanaya stood at attention.
“Inform the lady Lanaya that I wish to talk with her” Alasdair commanded. In response the corpsman on the right sharply knocked on the door before announcing “Emperor Alasdair wishes to speak with you, make presentable”.
The moment she heard the guard declare that the Emperor had arrived, one thought went through Lanaya’s head. Finally. She found herself suddenly quite excited - at long last, the playing pieces would move, the board would change, and maybe, just maybe, she may be able to act. She swiftly and carefully wove a spell over herself, and in a moment the light, plain dress she wore was covered in swirling patterns and color. Then, she called out in a pleasant voice.
As Alasdair entered the room he made his face and posture as prentable as possible, despite his current sickly appearance.
“Lady Lanaya I was hoping to have a word with you regarding the circle” Alasdair said, trying to seem as affable as he could. Despite still being wary around Lanaya after her betrayal he had to ensure he didn’t insult her, not now that he needed something so desperately from her.
“Of course, your grace.” Lana replied, keeping her voice level, free of the mixture of excitement and frustration she felt so strongly right now. “I have kept in touch with them via correspondence, despite my current… predicament.” She was careful not to let any resent in her voice, she did not wish to come across as blaming Alasdair for her present restrictions.
“As you are aware my beloved sister is...her condition is not improving” Alasdair said trying not to dwell on Isabel’s current state. “While I have ordered every restoration mage worth their title from central Formaroth, I can’t help but wonder if the circle might be better suited to help her cure her aliment”? Alasdair continued trying to keep desperation from his voice, “I have heard that their are magisters there who specialize in restoration who have been able to cure conditions previously thought to be untreatable”?
“There are indeed restoration mages of superlative skill at the circle. I cannot promise that they would be able to treat Isabel’s ailment…” Lana said tentatively.
“Surely there is someone”? Alasdair asked unable to keep the desperation in his voice anymore “If the cost or travel time are an issue for them I can promise they will be well compensated”?
“I’m sure the gesture would be appreciated.” Lana began, in a conciliatory tone. “I know this is important to you your majesty. I will write them as soon as possible. If it is a request from a Magister, they will be more inclined to respond quickly.” She turned away towards her desk, but then paused for a moment. Turning back, she looked directly at Alasdair, and spoke, her voice genuine. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I cannot be of more help. I know how much your family means to you.”
Alasdair was happy to hear that Lanaya would write to the circle, though in his heart he knew there was realistically little she could do. While he did not have much knowledge on the inner politics of the circle Alasdair knew that Lanaya was not popular among their hierarchy, particularly after the incident with the collective.
“Thankyou Lady Lanaya, it is kind of you to say. Tell me, have you ever had the misfortune of a loved one suffer grave illness”?
“Illness… No.” Lana began, trying to sound sympathetic. “Much of my life was spent on the Summer Isles in the Circle. Illness is rare there… And I am rather lacking in family members. I’ve lost many friends to war…” She thought better of mentioning murder, not wishing to remind Alasdair of Aurelia. “But I cannot say I know what you are going through.”
“There is no feeling worse, not only to have one that you love suffer but to be utterly helpless in alleviating their pain” Alasdair paused for a moment wondering if he should speak so casually in front of Lanaya. Though he decided that after her confession any sign of emotional weakness on his part would pale in comparison to what she had already shown him. Besides Alasdair was desperate for someone he could confide in and as of now Lanaya was his best choice. “I know realistically there is little that can now be done for my sister” He said hating the words that came from his mouth but knowing them to be true all the same “but even if it is futile, I must do everything in my power to save her”.
“I know how important family is to you.” Lana began, here tone sincere. “I… won't pretend I know how you feel… But I will do all I can to help. You saved me. Perhaps I can repay that kindness by saving Isabel. You cannot give up hope so long as she yet lives.” She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, in the hopes that her touch might prove reassuring.
Alasdair had not been expecting a show of such affection from Lanaya, let alone a physical one as small as it was. Though his first instinct was to pull away or brush it off, he found it strangely comforting. It had been the first time since his sister had fallen ill that anyone had shown some degree of compassion. Even if it was from a traitor Alasdair welcomed it. “Thankyou Lady Lanaya, I would be grateful. In repayment I will now permit you to be able to travel freely throughout Nyhem again.” Alasdair paused for a minute as he realised he was being too generous, for all he knew Lanaya’s affection could have been nothing more than a farce. He didn’t think it was; Alasdair was good at reading people and could easily tell the difference between the noble sycophants who feigned concern and the surprisingly real concern Lanaya showed. Though he had been wrong before. “In the company of the imperial guard that is” He added.
Lana smiled when she heard Alasdair’s statement, barely able to contain her excitement at the prospect of flying again. Though, it quickly dimmed to only mild joy when he added the caveat… No guard would be able to accompany her through the air or the sea when she shape shifted. Still, it was a significant improvement from being confined to the castle.
“Thank you.” She began, her voice clearly joyful. “Thank you very much.”
“Continue to prove that you are indeed loyal to me and I will further extend your privileges” Alasdair continued, once again allowing a more formal attitude to surface “Do not delay in sending your message, I am unsure how much longer my sister has”.
For a moment, Lana considered pointing out that the fastest way to deliver the message would be to fly herself, but quickly thought better of it. It would likely be pushing her luck just a little too much.
“Of course your grace. I will see to it that the message travels by air as soon as it is written.”
"See that you do" Alasdair replied before heading towards the door and opening it. He took one step towards leaving before stopping, looking back at Lanaya and said a simple but genuine "Thankyou" before turning back and leaving the room.