Rise of the Horned King

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Chapter 13: Perspective

Millicent looked forwards with a serious expression on her face. She sat in the center of the room upon a platform carved into the rock. Upon her lap sat a lyre, which she tuned until she felt satisfied. Millicent cleared her throat, closed her eyes, and strummed her lyre softly. Both served to silence the audience, who’d clamored into the spacious cavern of a theatre until it was full to bursting. Millicent’s first note began low, then rose steadily whilst accompanied by the delicate-sounding strings of the lyre.

In this town, this little place,

Time is held with hidden grace.

Those who call it home are gone,

Yet still the world keeps marching on.

The audience let the solemn lyrics touch their very hearts, and were moved by the melancholy in Millicent’s smooth and melodious voice. By the time she’d finished, every Ghoul in attendance was so moved that even their applause was choked with emotion.

Millicent stood and bowed, prompting the audience to rise and clear the vacuous theatre. As Millicent herself turned to leave, she could swear she spotted a tangle of red hair exiting with the crowd.

‘No, it couldn’t be!’ She quickly did a double-take; only the sea of black hair typical of her fellow Ghouls. Millicent sighed deeply, then leaned unto the rock wall. ‘It couldn’t be…’

As usual, Millicent exited the theatre through a concealed tunnel at the back. Both she and Kalonnde’s other musicians found this the most useful means to move about after a performance; it afforded them precious quiet to converse concerning previous and future performances, but most importantly it enabled them to avoid the crowd. But not so today. Today, the tunnel was lonely and excruciatingly long—giving Millicent much too much time alone with her thoughts.

She was conflicted, torn between competing emotions of affection and hurt. She’d avoided Ephraim for what felt like days, though she had no way of knowing for sure. That was his and Koz’s expertise, not hers. All she knew was that enough time had passed for her anger to clear, and for her to begin to miss him. Still, her desire for Ephraim was flanked by a wave of pain from her wounded heart.

Though she would never say it aloud, Millicent had longed to share more of herself with Ephraim. It would have meant the world for him to attend at least one of her performances, even though she knew he was preoccupied with his treatments. What really hurt was that he’d never thought to ask—even during the good times! Ephraim had never shown any interest in what she did, what she wanted, what she needed. That alone was enough to keep her away, even after all this—albeit indeterminate—time. Then, there was the matter of him wanting to leave… Millicent loved Ephraim, dearly, but could not help but feel brushed aside whenever he made any decisions. He was his own man, sure; she knew this. But her heart ached nevertheless. Millicent thoughts went around in an endless circle, so she put them from her mind for the time being.

When Millicent exited the tunnel, she quietly merged into the Hub’s mundane traffic, walking briskly until she came to the brew-master’s cavern. She entered with a wave to passers-by, then bypassed all of the lines to reach her station near the back. Her cauldron was, thankfully scrubbed clean since she worked last, bringing a smile to her face.

“Now then, where to begin?” she mused. When it came to the elixir, there was always the adventurous possibility of starting from scratch. Although, she’d need to gather more materials than usual, and that would put undue strain on the miners. Thus, Millicent decided to go the usual route of starting her brew with pre-made elixir as a base.

Once the cauldron was lit, and the base poured until it was one-fourth of the way full, Millicent set about gathering the rest of her materials. First came the water, filtered through the Chasm’s mountainous walls; next, earth from the mine, already moist and clumped together; third, various leaves and roots foraged from the surface, then dried and ground into powder; finally, the crystal dust which tied it all together. All went into the cauldron to simmer until the impurities rose to the surface, at which point Millicent would skim them with her long, iron spoon.

Millicent scooped a small amount of her batch with her hand and proceeded to scrutinize it closely.

“Hmm…it has the right color, the correct aroma,” she mused aloud. She then cupped her hand and sipped the contents lightly. “Oh! And taste! Yes, this is ready.” Millicent snuffed out the flames beneath her cauldron, then rung her bell with great excitement. Soon, a small line of her kinsman had formed in front of her, all eager to partake of Millicent’s fresh batch of the all-important elixir. It gave her great pleasure to greet each and every one of them as she filled their flasks; she even conversed mildly with a few familiar faces.

When the last Ghoul bid her a warm goodbye, Millicent stirred what was left of her brew with a heart full of joy. Her work was not yet finished though, for there remained one Ghoul she had never known to leave his room of his own accord—not even for the elixir! And Millicent knew he would need an entire urn of it, at least. So, she lowered the largest urn she had into the nearly-empty cauldron, and filled it with what remained of her brew. She then hefted it with mild difficulty over and out of the cauldron’s mouth, only to quickly set it down. After a moment spent pondering her next move, Millicent bent her knees, inched her fingers beneath the large urn, and lifted it with a soft yelp. Once steadied, she was off within a breath, primed to deliver unto No-Name his oversized allotment of elixir.

When Millicent arrived at the nameless Ghoul’s chamber, she could still hear his hammer clanging against metal, followed by the sizzle of said metal being tempered. For a moment, she considered leaving the elixir at the entrance. After all, she knew Ephraim frequently spent time there, learning what he could of smithing at No-Name’s feet…With a sigh, Millicent’s mind settled on two things: first, that she knew good and well that No-Name never ventured past his forge unless she or the Elder ordered him to; secondly, that even if Ephraim was there, she couldn’t live her life in fear of confronting him. Thus, she stepped past the threshold of No-Name’s room, the large urn tightly secured in her surprisingly strong arms.

“Hello?” Millicent called. “May I come in?” The hammering stopped, followed by a deep grunt—No-Name’s preferred means of welcome. Millicent rounded the corner of No-Name’s cavernous chambers to the nameless Ghoul still hard at work at his forge. Alone.

“There we are!” Millicent said, at last setting the urn down with a sigh of relief. No-Name stared at it vacantly, cocking his head.

“…For…me?” he mumbled.

“Of course! I’d never forget you, No-Name! Drink up, I wouldn’t want you to go hungry.” The nameless Ghoul slowly nodded his head, then placed the greatsword he’d been crafting into the furnace. His hammer he set down on the anvil, before stomping towards the clay urn. He took it up with one massive hand, and began gulping down the earthy contents. It took No-Name but a moment to drain the entire urn. Millicent smiled as he turned to walk back to his forge, energized for yet another long session of smithing.

No-Name slammed his hammer down on the greatsword as if it irked him, bending a stubborn piece of metal from its irritating angle. Millicent sat on the edge of a stone ledge adjacent to the weapon rack, dangling her legs whilst giggling to herself. It was always nice to sit back and listen to the consistent sounds of the forge. More than that, she was glad to see that through all of his dense muscle No-Name still had a heart, and could be annoyed in the first place. But even the pleasant sounds of No-Name at work could not distract Millicent from her thoughts for long.

“Say, No-Name,” she mused. “You don’t think I’m selfish, do you?”

“No.”

“Oh, that’s very sweet of you, but I don’t think—”

“No!” No-Name turned to where Millicent was sitting, his smoldering onyx eyes staring straight into hers. “You…no…sel…fish.” With that, the nameless Ghoul turned back around, held his greatsword aloft, then plunged it into the furnace. Millicent, though shocked by the sudden outburst could not help the smile that crept unto her face.

“Forgive me,” she said. “I give you too little credit.”

The pitter-patter of footsteps echoed off of the walls in a familiarly methodical fashion, sending a slight chill through Millicent’s body. Mere seconds later, a head of red hair emerged from behind the boulder placed at the entrance. Millicent watched Ephraim as he strode towards the forge on his own two feet. She noticed that his left arm, though still noticeably pale, was almost as developed as his right.

For a moment, Millicent humored the notion that Ephraim had followed her here—only for that notion to fall apart when he walked past her without a second thought, right to the weapon rack. Millicent stared silently as Ephraim reached up with his right hand and retrieved the only weapon suitable to his size: a crudely-constructed longsword from the top. He examined the blade closely, then swiped it in the air. Looking pleased, Ephraim assumed a firm stance, held the sword out in front of him, and slowly reached his shaky left hand to the hilt. When his left wouldn’t stop shaking, Ephraim sighed and turned to put the sword back on the rack. That was when he turned, unwittingly locking eyes with Millicent. He immediately dropped his sword and jumped backwards in surprise.

“Oh! Millicent, I-I didn’t expect to see you here,” Ephraim exclaimed. “My apologies.” As he turned to leave, Millicent leapt from her spot on the wall and ran after him.

“Wait!” she called, covering her mouth. She’d spoken without thinking, much to her irritation. No turning back now. “D-Don’t go on my account! I was just leaving…” Without turning his back, Ephraim sighed quietly.

“You don’t have to keep catering to me, Millicent,” he muttered. “If you want to stay, say so; I can return at another time.”

“I…”

“Forgive me, I’ve spoken out of turn. If you’ll excuse me.”

“No!” Millicent exclaimed. Ephraim still did not turn around, but he ceased his stride. “I’ve already done what I came here to do; you stay.”

“…As you wish.” The meekness in Ephraim’s voice came as a great shock to Millicent, and she found herself extremely puzzled. She’d had her suspicions, but those were presently dashed. Ephraim had his flaws, but he was not a liar; he had definitely not followed her here. Millicent hadn’t realized before, but she’d truly expected him to find her and push the conversation despite her wishes. It surprised her just how pushy she’d thought him; yet here he was, flustered and trying his best to leave her alone.

“Ephraim?” she whispered.

“Yes?”

“Just a little longer… I’ll find you when I’m ready.”

“…Take as much time as you need.”

The two parted to the tune of No-Name’s methodical hammering, each with their own bundle of emotions weighing them down.


Ephraim sat cross-legged in his secluded chamber, with both of his hands clasped together in his lap. His eyes were closed in deep meditation, while the sweltering heat of his magic permeated the entire room. But everything changed when he opened his mouth: his chest glowed like red-hot metal, followed by the heat increasing exponentially. Ephraim’s candles melted until they were but molten wax, mixing together with the liquified metal of their stands. He then held out both of his hands, palms upturned. In Ephraim’s right hand manifested a compact ball of light orange flames; in his left, nothing. He paused briefly, then with a heave of his lungs expelled a burst of crimson fire from his mouth. The crimson flames gathered into his left hand in a pulsating mass.

Without opening his eyes, Ephraim smashed the two very different fireballs into one another. They collided with a shockwave that shook the entire tunnel, then swirled together in a massive ball; yet Ephraim kept his hold of it with trembling hands and a grunt of exertion. He held the flames until they became too much to bear—at which point Ephraim balled his hands into fists and opened his eyes. The spherical inferno dispersed into nothing, leaving him winded and sweating profusely.

‘That should be enough for today,’ Ephraim thought, through labored heaves. He turned his attention to his left hand, which quivered so dangerously that he had to steady it with his right.

“Not yet, huh?” he said to himself with a sigh. Ephraim slowly stood to his feet, still breathing heavily; if he hoped to get to the mines, he’d definitely need his elixir. Luckily, his flask was safely stored at his waist. It’d been a trial of its own to protect it from the flames, but one he gladly undertook. Ephraim quickly opened, then gulped down the contents of his flask like a parched wanderer, then took a deep breath. He departed as soon as his breathing steadied, walking at a modest pace towards the Hub.

As always, Kalonnde murmured with reserved activity, allowing Ephraim to reach the mines rather quickly. He grabbed a pickaxe from the rack, and was about to venture past the entrance when he saw her. Millicent stood between him and the mine’s vast open body, staring directly at him with a serious expression.

“Hello Ephraim,” she said with her cold intonation.

“…Millicent.” Ephraim could still barely look her in the eyes.

“I think it’s about time we talked. But not here.”

“Where would you like to go?”

“Do you remember the springs, where we first cut your hair?”

“Of course.”

“Meet me there, when you’re ready.”

“Alright. Until we meet, then.” Ephraim crossed the threshold of the mines right as Millicent did the same in the opposite direction. They both looked as though they’d received particularly troubling news.

The day’s mining could only be described as auxiliary, for Ephraim’s attention was quite firmly elsewhere. With every strike of the pickaxe, every heave to remove debris, he would only think of what to say to Millicent. His mind raced with a myriad of what-ifs:

‘What if my decision was never correct to begin with?’

‘What if I lose my temper again, and make things worse?’

‘What if she never forgives me?’

That final thought made Ephraim’s knees weak, so he did his utmost to put it from his mind. Regardless of what happened, he resolved to accept Millicent’s feelings, and respect her decision—whatever those may be. Still, he couldn’t help but pray for favor; every sensible muscle in his body shook with anticipation.

Ephraim’s work, though excruciatingly long this day, came to a close with one, final stroke of the pickaxe. He gathered up the crystals and various other chunks of rock into the metal cart parked adjacent to his dig site, then seized hold of said cart with both hands.

‘Both hands,’ he thought, with a chuckle. Ephraim was so occupied with, well, everything, that he’d scarcely noticed how far he’d come. What before served only as cruel mockery, now enveloped his being in a spirit of encouragement. This was just what his confidence needed, and he pushed the full cart with renewed vigor. Ephraim was off no sooner than he’d brought the cart to a halt at the mine’s entrance, and handed it off one of his fellows. Whatever happened between he and Millicent at the springs, Ephraim determined to remain both strong and steadfast as he continued moving forwards—ever etching his path into the ill-sodden soil into which he was planted.

Meanwhile, Millicent stared at her reflection on the surface of the pool. She, like Ephraim, had a great many thoughts and fears coursing through her being. Yet she did not let them overtake her. She had to do this; otherwise, she may never be sure of herself again. Still, she couldn’t stand waiting, for it only gave her more time to stew in doubt and fear. Millicent lost herself in her thoughts, and was caught completely off guard when someone quietly cleared their throat from behind her. She started, but quickly composed herself; she then arose and turned to meet them face-to-face.

“I hope I didn’t startle you,” Ephraim said, that meek tone still constricting his words.

“No, don’t worry about it.” Millicent herself had a noticeable crack in her otherwise smooth voice. The two stared at the ground in front of them for a moment that was entirely too long for either of their tastes. It was Millicent who took the lead, with a long, sorrowful sigh.

“Truthfully, I don’t know what to feel anymore. You really hurt me, Ephraim…”

“Millicent, I’m…I’m sorry, for everything.” Ephraim could not help getting slightly animated, but managed to quell his more fiery inclinations. “Ever since I’ve gotten to Kalonnde, you’ve been nothing but supportive of me, yet I…”

“I have felt…misused,” Millicent said, her lips quivering. “I…I never did any of those things expecting a reward. But…”

“I’m sorry for taking advantage of your kindness, and your affection for granted.” As he said this, Ephraim went down on his knees and bowed his head.

“What are you…” Millicent had to turn away. Though he’d long shed his title of “prince”, Ephraim remained ever-proud from the day she’d first met him. It was subtle, but there’d always been a sort of need, an expectation to the way he carried himself—as if he didn’t know any better but to receive things rather than give. Unbeknownst to her until this very moment, Ephraim’s pride had sown seeds of resentment in Millicent’s heart; but now, he not only admitted his fault verbally, but knelt before her in complete submission. It was a mixture of shock and the sudden release of her pent-up resentment that presently coursed through her, further complicating her already jumbled emotions.

“What are you doing?” Millicent exclaimed. Ephraim lowered his body, bowing until his face touched the ground.

“There is no excuse for my selfishness. I’ve wronged you, and I don’t know if anything I do can make it right.”

“Stop it! Don’t grovel, who do you think I am?”

“Don’t you see? I’ve never done anything for you, have I? You’ve been so much to me, yet it never even crossed my mind…you don’t deserve that, Millicent! You don’t deserve my selfishness!”

“Enough! Enough…” Millicent fell to her knees, sobbing. “All I wanted was for you to care…for you to return even a shred of the love I have for you!”

If Ephraim could sink further into the ground, he would have without hesitation. He already knew that this was what Millicent wanted, what she needed. But hearing it out loud…that made him weep like a newborn child. Millicent herself sobbed into her hands, shaking uncontrollably. A solemn moment passed, full of nothing but the bitter tune of two youths pouring out their hearts with great despair.

With everything laid so bare, Millicent could no longer help the affection she still held for Ephraim. She instinctively went to comfort him, only for Ephraim to hold out his hand to stop her.

“No…It’s my turn to comfort you.” Ephraim rose from his spot on the ground, and embraced Millicent closely with both of his arms. That was all Millicent could take. She clung to him like her life depended on it, and nuzzled into his chest while her sobs grew more and more frequent. She let all of her emotions of doubt, resentment, affection, and desire flow out of her with each heaving sigh, until there was nothing left unbound. Meanwhile, Ephraim kept his own tears to himself; this was about Millicent, not him.

“From now on, I’m here for you the way you’ve always been for me,” he whispered.

“I love you, Ephraim!” Millicent sobbed.

“I love you, Millicent.”


“So these, visions you have,” Millicent said. “You think they’re real?”

“Yes, though I’m not completely sure,” Ephraim answered. The couple sat facing one another, still surrounded by the serene pools of spring-water. Ephraim scratched his head in puzzlement. “They’ve always been so vivid, and felt so real…”

“Hmm…and this is why you want to return to Elinwynn?”

“‘Want’ isn’t the word I’d use. If I had my way, I would stay here; there’s nothing for me in Elinwynn except blood and ruin.”

“Then…why?”

“It’s hard to explain, but Adelinda and Kimshoko are calling to me. And I have reason to believe they’ve put all of their strength into telling me where to find them.”

“Are you sure it’s wise to listen to them?”

“I don’t know. I have no idea who or what they are, but every time I see my reflection I’m reminded of how similar I am to them. What do you think?” Millicent put her hand on her chin, while Ephraim continued scratching his head. After a moment spent pondering, both of them exhaled with mental exertion.

“I want you to stay,” Millicent offered. “But it’s clear this means a lot to you.”

“What should I do? Like I said, I don’t want to go, but I feel I have to or both guilt and regret will hound me to my grave.”

“Then…” Millicent stared into Ephraim’s crimson eyes, returning their look of bewilderment with an added layer of concern. She then placed her hand over his, and smiled warmly.

“I know what you have to do,” she began, letting out a sigh. “This is the final vestige of your old life. If you don’t go, you may never be free to live your own life.”

“That’s what I was afraid of…I’m sorry you keep having to forgo your own desires for my sake.”

“Oh, don’t worry; we have plenty of time for you to make it up to me,” Millicent joked, reaching up and ruffling Ephraim’s scarlet locks. “Both before you leave, and after you return!”

“Is that so? How about this?” Ephraim leaned forward and kissed Millicent on the forehead, causing her to giggle and playfully tackle him to the ground. She then planted a kiss on his nose, followed by even more mischievous giggling. Ephraim joined in with his own deep laughter, and it was not long before the two locked eyes. They simply stared at one another, as if each was in a state of pleasant disbelief.

“So, what would like to do first?” Ephraim asked, sitting up. Millicent sat beside him, her hands clasped in front of her in a quaint manner.

“Well, I do need to practice for my next performance,” she said, meekly.

“Hmm…would it bother you if I tagged along?”

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited for those words…Of course you can come!”

“Let us be off, then! I’d like to hear you one more time before my next treatment.”

“One more time?” At that moment, Millicent grinned like a cunning feline about to pounce. Ephraim went positively red with embarrassment.

“I-I-I don’t know what you’re—w-what are you implying?”

“Oh, nothing,” Millicent giggled, clasping her hands around Ephraim’s right arm. The couple exited the springs in tranquility, having at last settled their differences.

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