When the companions had crossed the border, on the first day of spring, seeing the forested hills of Drake’s Run as they brushed to form the skyline beyond, Calminaion Naethermor found himself elated to be, at last, back in his home country and nearing the end of his quest. He had been on sabbatical, as far as his family knew, researching expansion opportunities amongst the frontier settlements and resort regions away north. Having seen neither kith nor kin in nearly two years, the scholar and elementalist kept the lines of communication open, sending periodic missives to his parents, vague though they were, always reassuring the family as to the intentness of his studies and the importance of his research.
The trek had led the companions down from their rallying point in Shagrin well into the interior of Evermore, near the royal hunting reserve known as Deirlyn. The first stretch of the journey had been easy enough. The purposed band had left out of the provincial town in the cover of night and held a course parallel to that of the River Wicked for a great many miles. Traveling by night, the group was able to keep to the road, which, given the surreptitiousness of it all, had afforded them a comfortable if not expedient pace ... expedient at least for those who would travel in secret. But when they had descended the southernmost slopes of the Dragon Bones - the mountain range centrally adjoining all major realms in the north - and having turned southeast for Evermore, the fellowship embraced more fully the clandestine nature of their mission. Calminaion, knowing all too well the hidden trails of the high passes along the border, turned from the north-south highway and led the fellowship into the hinterlands and eventually ... secretly ... across the border and into his home country, Evermore.
Evermore, rich with thousands of square miles of rolling vineyards, lush and ancient forests, and winding streams, was one of the most captivating landscapes in all of Elan, and from the panoramic views seen even before traversing into the storied kingdom from the southern side of the Dragon Bones, his associates now understood that which Calminaion already knew: that is, Evermore was beyond doubt the greatest realm in the West, maybe even the world. From an elevated vista on the northern edge of the realm, they bore witness to the magnificence of the richest winegrowing regions to the south, the high spires of renown universities and great citadels dispersed throughout the coastal cities to the east, the mountainous tropics harboring countless settlements to the north, and a vast sea of dense woodlands spread southwardly along the mountains to the west.
Deirlyn, The Hunter’s Reserve, was accessible only by a secreted road, known only to the family and a select few from among the aristocracy who had garnered enough favor to win entrance into the inner circle of House Naethermor. The pass ended at Lion’s Gap, a natural opening between two mountain ranges that granted access to the valley of the reserve. It was the first day of spring; King Rewthelion would be there leading a small group of his closest companions, most likely his brothers, on the annual game hunt, as had been his custom to organize. A garrison would be posted at and about Lion’s Gap, guarding the entrance to the valley.
Calminaion lead his fellowship up the hidden road where at last they came to the prominent outcropping of a small mountain on the eastern range. Well short, and out of view, of Lion’s Gap, they halted there momentarily. Tethering the horses, six broke off on foot, leaving two behind to watch over the group’s mounts and gear. The six walked not even half of a league through light, winter-burned brush, when Calminaion brought them to a naturally inconspicuous stair that ascended the back side of the mountain. There the companions began the treacherously steep climb that would buy them unfettered passage into the reserve. The son, returning from his two year sabbatical, hoped to surprise the King and join his father in the hunting fields.
The three elves - Rewthelion and his two brothers - knelt over a newly felled hart. They laughed and exchanged demonstrative gestures and spirited chatter, all of it in the celebration of victory over the magnificent creature - a gorgeous red stag of at least twenty-six points.
“Hail father, my king and uncles, Paeris and Alaion, both; how glorious to see you ... well met!” cried a familiar voice.
Rewthelion recognized the voice to be that of his eldest son and started slightly, somewhat taken aback. He stood along with his brothers, turning to face the seemingly lone traveler.
“Tell me I’ve not missed the hunt! I've returned early from sabbatical, just to join you!”
The King was both elated and surprised to see Calminaion - elated to finally be reunited with his son after two years and yet somewhat surprised in the manner of his arrival ... the king was even more surprised by the absence of his personal guards; none of the four had as much as materialized from the tree line.
Calminaion kissed his father in the feign of greeting as he stuck the poisoned blade into the king’s abdomen, just below the rib cage; a breathing slit cut from the tooled leather of Rewthelion’s hunting vest had sufficed for the breach. He left the knife lodged there and turned attention to the uncles. Producing an orb of dark purple and casting it from his right hand without a moment’s hesitation, Calminaion watched as the poisonous vapor subdued Paeris and Alaion; they fell instantly into death’s sleep as the purplish fumes entered their nostrils and reached deep into their lungs, choking the elvish immortality right out of them.
The cold numbness of the poison took hold of Rewthelion’s extremities at once, dropping him to his knees. From there the poison spread meticulously, slowly and steadily, organ by organ, shutting each one of them down in turn. In horror and dismay the father looked up at his son in an unknowing gape.
Calminaion met his father’s gaze with cold sarcasm. “Father ... oh father ... how many times have I begged of you to ware the laxity of your security detail, especially on this hunt--”
“Why?” interjected Rewthelion.
Calminaion looked up, his eyes seeming to track the movement of a passing cloud, as if reaching pensively for an explanation. “It’s for Erien, father,” he answered at last. “Erien, my brother - he is your named, if not rightful, heir. Yet, Rewendir ... it is known all too well that Rewendir is the king’s favored son ... not Erien ... not Calminaion ... but Rewendir! Let’s call this an act of mitigation!” he said coldly. “We needed to ensure that Rewthelion, The Lion of the West, King of the Elanian Alfar, could have no change of heart in the matter of succession. She demanded it!”
Rewthelion, confused and fading, gasped, “We? She? What ... Who else knows you’ve come home? Who else knows you’re here?”
Calminaion drew close to the king, responding in a near whisper, “No one father, no one else knows that I am here ... for I am not here, you see; and I shan’t be here until my announced return, no earlier than two months from now, not until I receive word of your passing, at which time I shall return in grief to my homeland, overwrought, I assure you!” With that the assassin crouched down before the paralyzed king and, face to face, looking into his father’s eyes and reaching to his father’s side, the son reclaimed the knife from where it had been lodged; blood began to pour out from the mortal wound. “But don’t be troubled father,” Calminaion continued. “Dutifully will I overcome that grief and accept the commission - my high calling to serve the newly coronated King Erien, as his Chief Counselor.”
The king’s feelings of dread and desperation quickly receded into that of resignation as his son, and the world, faded before him. His very last thoughts shifted away from his son as he faded from consciousness, murmuring, what Calminaion would have heard to be as, something in regard to the incompetence of the king’s damnable bodyguards. With that Rewthelion, King of the Elves, slumped to the ground and died; his life’s blood poured from the mortal wound and saturated the ground beneath him.
Cleaning his knife in the grass, Calminaion called out, “Come forth my apprentices; the rite has been exercised!” With that, the five companions who had stolen passage into the valley with Calminaion drew out from the tree line east of the field and into the open. They came to him, where the elf stood amongst his fallen kin, in the center of the killing field. Five young women they were, nubile, almost ethereal, and naked as the day, each carrying garments in one hand and brandishing bloodied scimitars in the other. “Ah, my beautiful succubi, did you observe as I performed the rite?”
They nodded in confirmation.
“The hand that felled the stag shall fell no more!” he proclaimed. “Tell me: the four guards, did they put up a fight?”
“No master, they offered no challenge at all; the enchantment you taught us, it worked exactly as you said it would; their desire for us led each one blindly to the edge of the Blue Hole of Deirlyn, and then to the edge of a blade!” one replied.
“And Danika, have they been disposed of cleanly?”
“Their bodies descended swiftly under the weight of armor into the depths of the blue, just as you had said they would, master.”
Calminaion smiled wickedly. “Good, good ... She’ll be most pleased!” he praised them. “Now, put on your robes my sirens; four more will come up at midday to relieve the king’s guards; we must prepare the scene and be gone.” Calminaion understood fully the consequences of today’s reunion, were the scene to look like anything other than a tragic hunting accident, an attack of wild wolves, and the desertion of the king’s guards for fear of execution, having allowed their king and his brothers to be mauled to death by a ravenous pack. Anything else could be interpreted for the conspiracy that it truly was. Her - and more importantly Calminaion’s - plans would be foiled indeed; he would not let that happen.
When the daughters of the coven had finished covering themselves, and having pulled the hoods of cloaks over their heads, Calminaion addressed them for the last time.
“Alas, it is time I break from the fellowship; my part is done. I am proud of all of you; She will be proud of all of you. Danika, you’re the eldest and my protégé, and having the commission of Lesser Priestess ... I’m putting you in charge.”
Upon hearing the words, the girl, clearly bolstered with a rush of pride, straightened to attention, lifting her head, and smiling with a look of depraved sweetness. “Thank you for your confidence, master; I will do whatever is required!” she replied.
“Thank and praise the Mother for this honor, for it’s to Her you must answer if this work’s not completed!” he countered. “Tanadria and Cadriel await with the horses; lead them and the rest of your sisters back out of these mountains. In my stead, I’ve arranged new protection for all of you, agents blood-bound to the service of the coven and led by a man named Jaxxis. Hasten to meet him at the appointed rallying point in Erath Bandur; he and his men will be faithfully indentured to you until the fellowship breaks. When the work is done, see to it that the young ones, Tanadria especially, continue in their training; this is my personal charge to you.”
“I will master ... readily,” answered Danika. “And master, one more thing,” she added. “I will forever remember all that you have taught me in our time together ... and I do mean all of it!” Calminaion took pause knowingly at the implication, and was caught up for a short moment in the incessancy of her lurid smile, harkening back to some shared illicit memory.
“My sweet sirens, my apprentices,” he continued, looking now to all of them. “You have sat under my tutelage for well over two years. I have taught you much of the lore of the Elan and of the Edrak, trained you in the ways of the Elementalist; I have shared of the arcane arts the Mother has passed on to me, I have shared of the High Magic of the Alfar; and as has culminated here today, you have seen the sacred rite and are now well prepared. So go now and leave this place; go and return to your homelands ... return to your respective places in the world ... return to your parents! Today, you witnessed as I exercised the required rite; I did so without fear, without hesitation ... Go my apprentices, go and do likewise!”
Calminaion’s eyes rested wistfully on his pupils as they trekked single-file up and out of the valley. As the band diminished into the backdrop of the mountain, Calminaion relinquished his gaze and turned his attention to the three crumpled bodies on the ground beside him, rubbing his hands together in renewed fervor. The son, now alone, surveyed the bloody scene, impervious to anything that might resemble guilt, looking upon his dead father and uncles with as much indifference as he felt looking upon the felled hart beside them. Wasting no time, the elementalist called upon the arcane power of the Azurian Alfar, invoking a spell of summoning. Within moments a pack of hungry grays leapt out from the tree line, guided by the scent of blood. “Come, my pets ... feed!” exclaimed Calminaion.
As the wolves approached, the assassin slipped away from the scene with a smirksome grin on his face; he had carried out his ploy ... and his pets would feed well.
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