Trial by Fire

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Calm Before the Storm

The room was deathly quiet. Boreit had already moved in between Xilo and Poppy, his face serious. After a few more seconds went by the door crashed open and four humans launched through the doorway weapons at the ready. The first was killed instantly as Xilo lunged and stabbed him through the chest. Poppy killed another, jumping on top of him and slashing his neck. Boreit killed the last two before they could run, splattering their bodies against the wall with his hands.

Nike remained seated. Xe grabbed the bark on Onyx’s arm.

“Sit, please.”

Onyx was puzzled but found it almost impossible to object. There was something that fogged his brain and he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

Tulip stood up and walked towards Boreit.

“Princess, it is not safe here we ha-”

Tulip interrupted Boreit with a wave of her hand.

“Stand down. Go back to your seats. Our guest has just arrived. Xilo, Poppy, splendid work, please sit, I will make you two some chairs.”

As everyone reluctantly went back to their seats Tulip sat back down in her chair and put her hands together.

“Come in, Slade.”

The man hiding in the shadows just outside the door objected.

“Ma’am, with all respect, you have to give me a stronger guarantee of safety than a welcoming.”

Tulip slumped her shoulders, deflated.

“You are ruining the moment.”

Slade slowly stepped into the doorway. All eyes were on him as he made his way through the threshold. He looked with glee at the mangled mess of a man that was stuck inside the remains of the door. He was still alive, the bubbles and gurgles of blood still escaping his mouth as he looked wide eyed at Slade. Slade bent down close enough for him to hear him whisper something to him. Then he swiftly turned around and addressed the group of confused Erodeseans.

“Hey uh, how are we? Hopefully a bit better than those boys.” He motioned to the men dead or dying.

“You had no issue with the death of your kin?” Riven asked.

Slade shrugged. “A necessity. I need to prove I was kidnapped by the other ones. Plus I wasn’t too fond of that guy.” Slade pointed to the man still gurgling.

Poppy suddenly got up, alarming everyone except Nike and Tulip. Slade held his hands up and looked to Tulip.

“Hey hey! You said I’d be protected! We have a deal, uh…”

Poppy whisked by Slade as she slit the throats of those who were still living. She walked back to her seat after wiping off her dagger.

“Oh, yea.” Slade tried to laugh off what just happened.

“Tough crowd.” He put his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat. Fluorescent orange veins ran down the dark skin on his neck. They filled and drained with his heart beat as if they were worms that threatened to leave his body at any moment. He looked around and whistled, then caught the stare of Luko.

“Nice crown man.”

Luko scrunched his face up, rage building. Tulip spoke before anything could transpire.

“Slade, how about you introduce yourself. We’re all dying to meet you.” Tulip said sarcastically.

Slade nodded.

“Very well. I’m Slade, Prince of the Trynt, the Northern Empire. Kind of weird to be all the way out here in the forest, not going to lie, we don’t have much of those left.”

Luko interrupted.

“Because you rape and pillage the forest at will. You create products for selfish use and indulge in the slaughter of your own people for nothing other than material greed.”

Slade shrugged.

“Well, you got me there fella. Though, I didn’t come all the way down here to debate the morality of my species.”

Slade looked to Tulip and she nodded for him to continue.

“Ah well, I get it that y’all are in some sorta bind? Anyone care to tell me how bad it is?”

Riven spoke.

“We are beset by our enemies, the Lunu. They are like us, but they harness nature. We’ve been living in the shadows until recently, their leader Cassius formally declared war on us a little over a year ago. There is us, the Rema, or vampires, the Nami, what your kind often calls zombies, and the Lunu. With the Nami defeated, we are all that stands between the Lunu and their plan of racial domination. For every Rema, there is ten Lunu. We can’t win in a conventional fight, and a prolonged siege will undoubtedly end in their favor.”

Slade raised his blonde eyebrows. His hair was densely curled, also blonde, and was undoubtedly his most important asset. The flesh that was visible was riddled with scars, his short nose and plump lips only slightly misfigured from a long cicatrix. He stood around six feet tall, much shorter than most present. He was muscled, medium build, and armored from head to toe in dark steel, its polish glinting off the energy-light.

“That’s quite the predicament. I also need some help and I think y’all will like this one.” He paused before saying, “I want you to kill my family.”

Confused stares were shared around the room. Slade smiled.

“I take it the Princess knows a little about offing one’s family.”

Tulip slyly put her head on her shoulder.

“Careful Slade, my temper is a little bipolar today.” she said as she motioned to the broken table.

Slade cleared his throat in discomfort and got serious once again.

“Ah right, this is what I have to offer. To my knowledge, the zombies are doing just fine. I don’t know where you are getting your intel but those other um…”

Nike helped him out.

“Lunu, they are called, Lunu.”

Slade nodded towards Nike.

“Ah, thank you ma’am, I forgot is all.” Nike scrunched up xyr face as Slade failed to recognise xe was a two-spirit.

“Those Lunu made the Nami surrender and they aren’t alone. The Eastern Kingdom is rallying behind their banners with the promise of all of your wood after you are exterminated.”

Gasps were heard around the room. Riven yelled to no one in particular.

“They unite with humans! They hate their own enough to side with the Great Enemy. By the Great Star.”

Her fright was shared by everyone, including Tulip. The Princess worriedly looked at Slade.

“Can you prove this to be truth?”

Slade nodded and took his hands out of his pockets. He proceeded to create an apparition in front of his audience. Tulip turned to Nike.

“Two-Spirit, is this apparition true?”

Nike nodded. “Yes Princess, it is.”

The apparition shifted and twirled until finally it settled. It showed a host of humans sharing metals, information, and specially made weapons with Nemaak, Cassius, and many other members of the Circle. The apparition skipped and sputtered as it faded away.

“Our situation is dire.” Denisun said.

Slade agreed. “That it is.”

Xilo asked the next question.

“If I may, Princess?” Tulip nodded.

“Even if we choose to ally with you, what are our chances of winning against the combined arms of the East, Nami, and Lunu?”

Slade sucked his bottom lip.

“We have better arms, trained officers, more sophisticated technology, but less men than the East. I’d say we have a chance of a pyrrhic victory, at best.”

Luko crossed his arms.

“Then you must really need our services. I can speak confidently for everyone when I say there is no love lost with your kind. You want to take control of your ape empire for yourself? That’s fine, but sending your men to fight for us afterward, why? Why would you return the favor, waste resources and the lives of your people for a war of wood?”

Slade clapped his hands together.

“Two things! Love and vengeance. Defeating an army in the East would prove my betrothed’s parents that I am indeed as much a statesman as I am a warrior. Cementing a lasting alliance with the West is essential for trade, not to mention protection against our enemies. I can show proof of this relationship, one second as I retrieve the apparition.”

Luko shook his head.

“No, no please. I do not wish to have my memory burned with the coitus of ape people.”

Slade nodded.

“There is also the problem of Thrax, one of their generals.”

Luko shook his head.

“Thrax is from the East. Why would you have dealings with him?”

Slade smiled

“Let’s just say the Easterners have their hands in many different places.”

Luko looked back to Tulip as she nodded in affirmation.

“So, Tulip?” Slade asked.

Tulip stood and surveyed the room.

“You will accompany us to King Pirius’s tomb, where we will slay the demon for good and consume his heart. During that visit, Xilo, Poppy, and Tootsie will exterminate your family.”

Slade protested.

“Ma’am, you expect me to travel through this dreaded forest alone? How can you guarantee my safety? And how in Talesia will your warriors know where my family is located?”

Tulip got up and slowly walked towards Slade, the man looking up at her immense body. Tulip gently put a massive hand on his shoulder.

“My love, you were followed the entire way. Humans wouldn’t make it two feet in my forest without an escort. Now, come with us, we’ll show you to your quarters.”

Tulip motioned for Riven to come near.

“You will be staying here, in case things go wrong. If we do not return in a week’s time, burn the city, leave behind whatever you have to.” As Riven led Slade out of the door Tulip motioned for Denisun to follow, then addressed everyone else.

“We move out in three days time. Xilo, Poppy, and Tootsie will be accompanied by a small scout team to their objective. You will return with all of their ring fingers. Do not dare come back without them. The rest of you will be coming with me to King Pirius’s tomb. We will meet here at dusk. Dismissed.”

Those who were part of the House stayed, those who weren’t departed for Kilo. In all, there was a dim sense of hope that maybe this was all possible. To the two Erodeseans named Onyx and Nike, it was time to put all their training to the test.

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