The Reality Saga Volume I - The Song of Steel

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Chapter Twelve

In Lothanis, much as any other kingdom of the Ten Realms, word spread quickly. The wedding of the King and the Lady Kristina Terwynn was a hasty affair, planned and orchestrated within days of the announcement. There was little time for the usual formalities of such a union. Under any other circumstances, there would have been questions about the throne joining its power to such an unremarkable House as Terwynn, but Atolibus had always been more than a curiosity, and now that his nature as the True King was known, no one thought to question him on the matter.

Three days after the two women had been rescued and the city had been freed, Atolibus and Kristina’s wedding took place in the Grand Hall of the castle, one of the few places that had not suffered in the attack a month past. Thousands of soldiers lined the halls at attention in full battle regalia, armor polished to a mirror shine, swords gleaming in the ethereal light. Torches did not light the room on this day – the fifty remaining members of the Magery had globes of all different colors playing about the ceiling, radiating rainbow lights upon the entire assembled group. Each was dressed in his or her most formal attire. The man in gold thought for a moment to those that were not present to witness the affair – Fantus and the other High Mages, as well as some of the Council members. Inwardly he sighed deeply. Fantus would have liked to be here for this, I know it.

Atolibus stood at the end of the room with Sarcodus at his side, gleaming in the polished white plate of the True King, but wearing the face, his face, of Atolibus Sandrin. He had his power under control at long last, and felt a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He could feel it... even now, simmering under the surface, but what had once been a ravening beast fighting for control was now a comforting, warm Light that waited to be commanded at his will. He smiled, for himself and for what was taking place that day. Fate had smiled upon him, for once. And it seemed, even if only for a moment, that perhaps prophecy wasn’t always a fickle creature.

“You look like you just took first prize in the annual King’s Tournament,” Sarcodus said offhandedly. Atolibus smiled broadly, chuckling.

“Is it that obvious?” he said. Sarcodus smiled, nodding.

“I am happy for you, my friend,” he said. “And don’t worry about the castle or the army – it’s all being taken care of.” Atolibus arched an eyebrow at this, and Sarcodus flashed him a grin of his own. “If the Magus come here in force, they will find a rather nasty surprise waiting for them. Do you remember the Towers of Dread?” Atolibus turned towards him, a stunned look on his face. “Not all of their power, dear spirits, I couldn’t handle that much and live. But a little of it... enough to bar the castle shut, and burn anyone who steps through the gates to a cinder, should the need arise.” Atolibus nodded, facing forward once more. It was a grim deed to contemplate, and it would mean sacrificing the city, but it was necessary.

“I assume that includes the sky?” he asked. “We do have Skyriders to worry about, you know. There aren’t many of them left, and they were never terribly effective in the first place, but what they do have would be enough to cause incalculable damage with the state the castle is in right now. It will be months before the walls are repaired.” Sarcodus nodded to him. “Good. I named you Regent – do what must be done.” He paused for a moment, musing. “It’s funny. Switching roles is a strange thing – I have been the Regent for nearly a thousand years. It feels strange to wear a crown again.” The crown was not on his head at the moment – it was in the hands of a courtesan standing next to where Kristina would soon be standing, resting on a velvet pillow.

“You have always been what you are, my friend,” Sarcodus said, “you merely denied it for a time.” Atolibus smiled again.

A sound pulled everyone out of their conversations. All at once, trumpets blared, and the king’s orchestra began playing a deep, rich melody, announcing the arrival of the bride. Atolibus’ heart caught in his throat as he saw his bride to be enter the hall, and all the lights of the Magery stopped in place, swirling into a single white light that shone down on Kristina alone, illuminating her in her white dress. Schala stood next to her on her right, holding her arm, walking with her slowly. Atolibus smiled to see her with her mother, and had to admit that Schala had never presented herself as thus. Her usual, serviceable armor had been replaced with shining silver plate much in the style of Sarcodus’, with a lavender cloak about her shoulders and a sword at her hip that had jewels set in the scabbard. On any other woman it would have looked a bit absurd – most of her raiment was generally masculine in style, but he thought Schala held it well. They stopped when they were five feet in front of him, and Schala slid aside with a sweeping bow to her rightful king, stepping to the right of where Kristina would join Atolibus. He found himself barely able to speak.

“You look...” he said. She smiled, taking the hand he proffered. He led her to where she would stand, in the center of the hall, facing him, with Sarcodus at his back and Schala at hers, and spoke to her quietly before the ceremony was to begin. “I’ve never seen anyone as beautiful as you are right here, right now. If I had but words...” Kristina silenced him with a finger to his lips.

“Your heart says more than enough,” she said. She sent him a thought with her gift – I can feel everything coming from you, I’m surprised everyone isn’t being blinded by it. Tears streaked down her face. You truly do love me. He nodded. I truly do. Now, and forever, I love you. The next words he said were aloud, and carried to the convened assembly.

“As we stand here before you today, a man and woman in love, I ask for a moment of silence and thought, as we remember those that we have lost in the journey,” Atolibus called aloud. The musicians stopped their song, and he could hear sobs from more than one person, more than ten or twenty or fifty even. So much had been sacrificed in the past months. Not a man or woman stood in that hall that had not lost at least one friend or loved one. After a moment, Atolibus continued. “As this is the wedding of the King of Lothanis, I have asked that the Regent to the throne, the only other man vested with the power to commit the land to such a binding, carry out the ceremony.” Atolibus turned towards Sarcodus. “Lord Arcadia, if you please?” He nodded, and Atolibus turned back towards Kristina, eyes shining with excitement.

“Friends, loved ones, Lords and Ladies of the realm, and good men and women of Lothanis, we are gathered today to commemorate the joining of our great King, His Majesty Atolibus Sandrin,” he said, voice carrying throughout the hall with the aid of magic. The lights that had played about Kristina now shone on him as he spoke, radiating throughout the visible spectrum. “My Lord King, do you promise to cherish her as you would cherish your realm and its people, to love her, honor her and defend her with your very life?”

“I do so promise,” Atolibus said, loudly, clearly.

“Then I ask you to take the crown of the Queen of Lothanis and place it upon your bride’s head, by your own hand,” Sarcodus said. Atolibus turned to the courtesan standing next to him and removed the wrought silver band that would serve as the Queen’s circlet. He placed it upon Kristina’s head with his own two hands as she knelt before him. When it was on she rose, facing forward. “All hail Queen Kristina Sandrin, Queen of Lothanis, Protector of the Ten Realms.” A singular cry rose throughout the crowd, only one word – ‘hail’. “My Lady Queen, do you promise to cherish him as you would cherish your realm and its people, to love him, honor him and defend him with your very life?”

“Until my dying breath, and beyond,” was Kristina’s response. Sarcodus smiled widely.

“I now ask you to take the crown of the King of Lothanis and place it upon the head of your groom, by your own hand,” he said. Kristina took the King’s band and did the same as Atolibus knelt before her. When it was finished, he rose, taking her left hand. “All hail King Atolibus Sandrin I, King of Lothanis, Protector of the Ten Realms and the True King.” Even though the nature of the True King had been revealed as a deadly one, the crowd still cheered – he was, after all, their king, and had delivered them from a certain death at the hands of the Magus. He raised Kristina’s hand with his own high into the air, and the lights overhead exploded as fireworks during Feastday celebrations in high summer. “Hail, your majesties.” Celebration broke throughout the crowd. “Old man, please kiss your beautiful bride and put her out of her misery, she’s been waiting for this moment all day.” Schala laughed aloud as Atolibus swept Kristina into his arms and did just that.

The official ceremony complete, the men and women convened in neat lines began to break into groups, heading for the bountiful food and drink that had been laid out in preparation for this very moment. When Atolibus finished his very heated kiss, they stood together, standing with their backs to the crowd. Sarcodus took a spot next to Schala, head bobbing lightly to and fro with the music that had begun when the royal couple had kissed to consummate the ceremony.

“So, married at last,” Schala said, eyes wet with tears.

“Do you think this was the right time for this?” Atolibus asked Kristina. She smiled up at him.

“There could not have been a better one,” she said, kissing him again. She ached for more, but knew it would have to wait until they could be alone in their new quarters, adjacent to the royal chamber. Atolibus still did not have the heart to move into the King’s rooms, knowing Lothane had resided there for so many years, but he took a room next to them that was just as spacious and, more importantly, had just as large a bed.

“You’re right, it’s all perfect,” he said, the light of his power dancing in his eyes. A sudden wave of danger rolled throughout him, and he snapped to attention. Kristina looked at him quizzically, curious. “I just had the strangest sensation... like I’ve been here before.” He shook his head.

“Are you all right?” she said.

“Just a passing fancy,” he said. His eyes hunted the people around them. “And yet I know I’ve been here before... this is the oddest...” And there it was – he had dreamed of this months ago during the prior mid winter, before everything had begun. And that would mean... He turned around to face the crowd before him, but even then he knew it would not be soon enough. Mad laughter filled his ears as steel flashed towards Kristina’s back, plunging in and out cruelly, red staining the blade. She fell forward with a cry into Schala’s arms as the assailant turned and slipped through the crowd unnoticed. Atolibus howled aloud, stopping everyone in their tracks, the music dying suddenly and completely. Sarcodus shot him a glance.

“Go after them,” he said. “Schala and I can help her. Use the power of the True King... but for fuck’s sake, don’t destroy the castle doing it. Go.” Atolibus nodded, flashing through the crowd towards the exit the assailant was now running past.

Atolibus sped through the halls of the castle. He was moving at speeds impossible for mortal men, but somehow the person responsible for the attack on Kristina was moving just as fast, staying out of his reach. He didn’t have time to have the gates barred, didn’t have time to activate any of the wards he had in place – doing so would have required mere seconds, but he had less than that before whoever he was chasing got away clean. So he ran, quickly out of the castle and into the city, through the city and out of the front gates in less than a minute. He followed the assailant into the grasslands that sat to the west of the capital city, and within minutes was miles away from any human civilization. It was there that he unleashed his power, bringing up a solid wall of Light yards in front of his quarry before they could make it to the forest a bit further ahead and lose him altogether. Whoever it was had no time to stop and slammed into the solid field of power at full force, knocking them to the ground. Atolibus was at the attacker’s side in seconds, Elysdeon out and blazing brightly with power.

“You have three seconds to reveal yourself to me,” he growled, power raging around him in a storm of magic. He used a whip thin cord of that power to bind the assailant in Air, immobilizing them below the waist. “If you do not I will do it myself, and I promise you won’t like the way I do it.” The hooded figure pulled back their cowl and dropped the shield of magic that covered their face. Atolibus recoiled in horror, sword dropping to the grass as he hit his knees. The face he saw was one he knew intimately well. “No... no... why, Lia, for the love of Light why?” She shrugged, glaring bolts of hatred at him.

“I threw myself at you,” she said, voice low. “Threw everything I had, everything I was, at your feet, and you just stepped on all of it. You threw me away for that little brunette doll back there in the castle.” She spat, a testament to the disgust she felt.

“So you were the ‘old mare’ they spoke of...” he said. “I should have known. You betrayed me, Lia, not the other way around.”

“Do you think they gave me a choice in the matter?” she said. “You know the Magus, Atolibus. Intimately. You know their ways, what they can do. At first, I was with you of my own volition. It was about a month before you set me aside when they first came to me.” The haunted look in her eyes spoke volumes. “The Seneschals... I will not speak of what they did, and of what they promised to do should I fail in my task.”

“And just what was the manner of your betrayal?” he asked, eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as a bright silver glow shone forth.

“Anything and everything I could tell them about you, about the castle, and about your magic,” she said. “Something I found within my power to do. You see, I have the Gift, too.” And he could see it, for the first time, beyond what had apparently been a mask of power done so artfully that he had never spotted it. It blazed in her eyes now, and he could feel the heat of her aura. She was quite powerful, though not so much as Schala and Sarcodus, nowhere near Kristina’s potential... but powerful enough to be deadly, and he knew from the look in her eyes that she was quite experienced in using that power. “I hid it from you myself, at first. I didn’t want you to see me for a woman of magic, a potential warrior. I wanted you to see me for me.”

“And I did,” he said softly. “At least, I thought I did.”

“They came to me, in the depths of the night, when their power was at its greatest,” she said slowly, “whispering dark oaths that I knew would be fulfilled if I did not do as promised.”

“Then why didn’t you come to me?” he said, pleading. “I could have undone whatever harm they did, protected you...”

“I tried,” she said. “Oh, but I tried... I was incapable of doing so. Any time I tried, different words came out of my mouth.” And suddenly he understood. The last time she had come to him, earlier in the winter, she had been doing more than laying her heart bare before him. She had tried to tell him the truth... and he had shut her out with cold words and an even colder heart. He cursed himself for seven kinds of a fool for not listening to what was underneath what she was saying.

“I admit I was blind to that, and I am sorry...” he said. “But this assault on my wife... to what end? Surely you know I can’t let you walk away.”

“I know that all too well,” she said, voice heavy with some unseen weight. “That was why I did it. It was the only way... the only way to bring you to me, in a rage, to do what needed to be done. I didn’t stab her in a vital place, and I am certain the two next to her have all ready attended to her wounds. You would not be here otherwise, if you had not believed them capable.” He rose, picking his sword up and clenching it between his fists.

“You want me to end your life,” he said simply. She nodded. Tears rolled down his face as he shook his head. “Do you know what you are asking of me? Do you have the slightest idea?” She tried to rise, but couldn’t with his power in place.

“Do you know what I’ve been through, to get here?” she shot back, hate in her eyes. Hate, he realized, for herself and what she had done, and not for him, where it rightfully belonged. He lamented the follies of the heart, and the path he had set before himself. “There is nothing left for me, now. Nothing. After today, if I am taken... and I am sure to be taken, for they know where I am at all times... when that happens, they won’t let me die. Not quickly. Nor any time soon. I will scream for it, beg for it, but it will go on and on until they tire of playing with me... and the Seneschals never tire of their playthings. I do not wish to spend the remainder of my natural mortal span dying every moment. I am asking you to do what is right, what is fair, and end it for me. You can’t protect me anymore, Atolibus. The magic runs too deep. To try and remove it would kill me, anyways.” She shuddered. “They have ways... ways of circumventing some of your power. Somehow, they know of what you can do, and have devised a counter to it. At least, some of it. How do you think they have been able to assault the castle seemingly at will?”

“I know,” he said. “I knew the day Lothane fell. But I have not yet found a way to undo what they are doing.” He sighed heavily. “I hate to do this... more than you will ever know... but I owe you this. Though it must mean little to you I am sorry, Lia, for what has been done, and I vow revenge.” She smiled, for once clearly.

“I know,” she said. “And I know only you can live up to that promise. That is what I will ask of you, as my dying request. Bring them down, my heart in this world. Put an end to the tyranny and oppression of the Society of the Magus.” Atolibus nodded, sheathing Elysdeon. He extended both hands, light beginning to swirl within them. Lia held her head high, though she could not stop her lip from trembling. “Will it... hurt?” Atolibus shook his head. “Good. And thank you, my heart. I know what this does to you to do this thing, and I thank you from now unto eternity for doing it. Know that I loved you, and I love you still. Goodbye, Atolibus.” Light exploded from his hands, washing the world out in whiteness. When it cleared, Lia was gone without a trace, and Atolibus sunk to his knees, weeping once again. He stopped after a moment, a deep growl building in his chest.

“They must be stopped,” he said quietly to himself. He forced the power of the True King down and let his armor return to its normal golden state. His soft, black cloak adorned his shoulders once more. “I promise you, Lia. I will stop them.”

An hour later, Atolibus returned to the castle with the setting of the sun, heavy of heart. He had walked back at a normal pace, allowing himself time to grieve for what he had just done. He knew it was yet another event that would stain his soul for the rest of his days, and yet he felt strength from knowing that she had died clean and free, in the manner of her choosing. He thought he could live with that, even if it hurt him to do it. When he finally arrived at the castle gates, he found them barred and well manned. He smiled at this – they had wasted no time, he was certain. He was greeted with a salute as the gate rolled up for him. They had it quickly closed behind him, and he strode past them into the castle proper. Immediately messengers sought him out, delivering reports from all over the castle and the city, but he waved them all off.

“The threat has been dealt with, spread the word, call off any regiments that may be readying for mobilization,” he said, stepping back into the Grand Hall. Men and women were still feasting and dancing, and he heard the music playing once more. Forcing down his emotions, he let himself enjoy the moment. After all, it was his wedding day, and for the people to be this joyous Kristina must have been in a good condition. He found her sitting at a table with the silver crown he had placed on her head an hour before sitting next to her, largely forgotten as she spoke to Sarcodus and Schala. Sarcodus saw him first and acknowledged his return with a simple nod.

“I assume it’s been taken care of, since you’re back?” he said. Kristina whipped around with a gasp, throwing herself at him. Atolibus smiled and laughed aloud, gathering up his wife in his arms and kissing her deeply. After a moment they sat down together, smiling.

“We had her patched up in moments,” Schala said, her face grave. “We got lucky – whoever stabbed her didn’t do it in a manner that would have been lethal. It was almost as if it was done merely to draw attention.” She gave Atolibus a quizzical look, and he nodded.

“I caught up to her,” he said, “after a mad dash into the western plains.”

Her?” Sarcodus asked, incredulous. Atolibus nodded yet again. “Someone you know, by the looks of it...”

“Lia,” Kristina said. “It could only have been her. But I have to ask, my love, why?”

“She had been a pawn of the Magus for some months now,” he said. Each and every one of them looked at him askance, as if the world had suddenly turned upside down. Someone that close to Atolibus going undetected for as long as she had sent fear slithering down their spines like a beast out for blood. “Somehow they have found a way to circumvent my power. The same magic that defeated the wards in the castle hid her and her Gift from my knowledge.” He looked worn, the weight of the world on his back, but he said no more. Kristina knew she would have it from him later, but at that moment she simply put her arm around him.

“Are you all right, my love?” she said. He sighed, nodding.

“I will be,” he said. He gave himself a shake, and then continued. “But that isn’t important right this moment. Today is the day of our wedding. I do believe I owe you a dance.” She smiled sinuously at the last.

“Indeed you do, my King,” she said, rising and taking his hands.

“After you, my Queen,” he said, smiling to her, eyes twinkling with merriment.

And so it was that the King of Lothanis was wed, and for a time there was happiness. The joy of the occasion, however, was to be short-lived, for perhaps an hour after Atolibus and Kristina shared their first dance as man and wife runners came dashing into the Grand Hall, screaming ‘Magus, Magus approaching!’ Atolibus took their messages along with Sarcodus.

“This doesn’t look good,” he said, face grim. “A hundred thousand strong, marching in from the south, less than ten miles away and closing fast.” He sighed. “It would appear that I vastly underestimated their tenacity. I really should know better. How they have those numbers this close, this soon...” He looked to his old friend. “Are you prepared to handle that?” Sarcodus whistled appreciatively at the number.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve the fifty remaining members of the Magery here with me, all of them well trained and ready to do what is necessary. But fifty of them and myself, plus a hundred mages from each of the other realms in the land, against a hundred thousand Magus, even with an army of a hundred thousand of my own at my back... it’s going to be a bloody slaughter.”

“A thousand mages... a hundred thousand men... where did you find such numbers in so little time? That’s the kind of strength of arms we had before all of this started,” Atolibus said to him. Sarcodus smiled.

“You didn’t think I’d spent the last three days planning your wedding, did you?” he asked, smiling. “I have a few tricks of my own up my sleeve, though I’ll admit it cost me most of what I had stashed away. Devices and magic from days long before, items that cannot be remade. I’ve been here and there, taking matters in hand, employing magic that I picked up from your library before I burned it to the ground. That helped.” Atolibus glared at him hard, rage beginning to build. “Relax, my friend. The prophecies said that the castle would fall, and I did the only thing I could to protect the magic stored within. There was no other way. Think about what would have happened if that had fallen into Magus hands when the castle fell last month.” Atolibus nodded, sighing. It was a hard thing to do, but Sarcodus was right, and it needed doing.

“Very well,” he said. “You’re right, my friend, you’re right, it was the only thing you could have done.” He made to leave the hall, to gather Schala and Kristina and head out to the fight, but Sarcodus grabbed his arm.

“Your place is not in this fight,” he said. “Let me handle this. It’s why you made me Regent and Supreme Lord Commander in your stead. You have a job to do. Elvina. It must be the three of you together facing her.”

“I don’t remember mentioning the Lord Commander part,” Atolibus said to the other man. Sarcodus flashed him a bit of a grin, and the man in gold found himself laughing as he nodded. “And what about the Egg? We’re still missing half of that, and I don’t have the slightest idea where to look.” Sarcodus smiled.

“Another useful bit I picked up while I was out in my travels,” he said. He withdrew something small and glimmering from the folds of his cloak. Atolibus’ eyes goggled at the sight of it. “I have been a busy, busy lad for the last three days, and I think I’ve gotten perhaps three hours of sleep through all of it. But you can thank me when this is over.” He handed Atolibus the double fragment and the latter man drew the unfinished half from parts unknown. The two fused together, and the whole mass slid around in a slight reconfiguration. All that was missing were the top and bottom pieces to cap off the Egg and make it whole. Atolibus could feel massive power when he held it in his hands – it was yet unfinished, but it was close to its goal, and he could sense the potential. If this fell into the wrong hands...

“You are full of surprises, old man,” Atolibus whispered, eyes taking in the ethereal glow of the Egg in his hands. He wrapped it with his power and hid it once more, waiting for when the time was right. “That just leaves Elvina’s location.” Sarcodus shook his head.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know where it is, but I think I might know how you can find out,” he said. Atolibus looked to him expectantly. “It’s a question of need. Your power alone has the ability to hunt her down, if used properly. Your true power, now that you’ve managed to reconcile the rest of it within you.” Atolibus pondered over the matter for a few moments. He had given thought to it many times over the years, but the true how of it had eluded him, and there had always been other matters that demanded his attention. Sarcodus made a gesture with his hands and Atolibus turned to see Schala and Kristina standing behind him.

“It’s time, isn’t it?” Schala said.

“We’re going to go after Elvina, aren’t we?” Kristina added. Atolibus nodded to both ladies. Kristina sighed, giving her wedding dress one last look. “I suppose I need to get changed out of this thing, then. It’s a shame I won’t get to wear it again. It’s such a nice piece of work.” Schala laughed.

“Come on, dear, let me help you out of that,” she said, taking her daughter by the shoulders. “We’ll be back when we’re prepared, Atolibus. Give us about fifteen minutes.” He nodded, and both women strode out of the hall.

“That should be enough time to do what needs to be done,” he said to himself. “Thank you, Sarcodus, for everything you’ve done.” Sarcodus waved him off.

“Don’t worry about it, my oldest friend,” he said. “For what I did to you, it’s the least I could do.” A specter of pain passed across his eyes for a moment, and then he was himself again. “I will handle the Magus. I’ve had the Mages spending the last two days shielding every man and woman that can wield a sword against Shadow magic. It’s taken a good deal of their strength, but it worked. No mere Magus will be able to touch them with the Shadow, at the cost of the Mages being unable to call their power for some time. It’s going to have to be sword to sword, our men against theirs. I alone have the full use of my Gift, but something tells me I should save my own strength.”

“You do know that whoever heads this army is likely to be very powerful,” Atolibus said. Sarcodus nodded heavily, the grim look returning to his face.

“Gregor, without question,” he said. Atolibus’ face went blank at the mention of his ancient nemesis. He gave Sarcodus such a forlorn look that the latter man felt tears sting his eyes. “Worry not, my friend. I can handle him. You look to your own troubles, and let me deal with mine.” Atolibus nodded, pulling his oldest friend into his arms in a friendly embrace. Sarcodus nearly jumped in surprise, but he returned the hug with equal warmth. Clasping the man in gold’s forearms, he spoke. “Show her no mercy. Do not stop until the job is done. I know your heart in this, old man, do not let your feelings get the best of you. She must be put down like the rabid dog she’s become – everyone who lives and breathes is at risk until you do so.” Atolibus nodded. The man in gold stepped aside, striding out of the Grand Hall, seeking his old chambers in the inner ring of residences. It would be there that he did what needed doing, there that he sought the inner calm necessary to find the stronghold of the Magus.

Sarcodus sighed to himself, watching his oldest friend leave. It was very likely he wouldn’t be seeing the man again soon. He knew Solara’s power, and more importantly he’d heard through his sources that the man had risen to the rank of Grand Magus in Elvina’s stead, something he hadn’t told Atolibus. It wasn’t necessary for the man in gold to know any of the grittier details he had learned. What he had said was true – the men were protected from the Shadow, and he was fortunate that most rank and file Magus were unable to wield anything but that power. A few among them, Lord Captains and Lord Generals, would be able to wield other magics, but Sarcodus would be there to counter their power.

It was Gregor Solara that worried him. He would die taking him down, and if that was all he could do, then the world would be served well. The thought of death left him as apathetic as it always had, but it pleased him to know that for once it could serve a useful purpose. When ten minutes passed, and Schala and Kristina returned, he waved both of them down. Schala was in simple service plate, nothing glamorous but looking a hundred times deadlier with a bow and quiver slung about her back and a sword at her hip, and Kristina was in simple brown and white linens with a dark earthen cloak hanging around her, cowl tossed back. She had her sturdy quarterstaff in her hands, a device Sarcodus thought would serve her well in the battle to come.

“Ladies,” he said. “Atolibus is in his old rooms, preparing a spell that will hopefully teleport the three of you straight to Elvina’s stronghold. You look ready. I want you to promise me something.”

“Try and stay out of his way?” Schala said, grinning sarcastically. She had never felt so ready for a battle in her life. Her entire body itched with anticipation. Time and again she had felt the fury of battle take her, but this time was more important than any of those, and she relished the adrenaline that was coursing through her veins. She would taste vengeance, on this day. Sarcodus shot her a glare that cut off any grinning she was doing, however.

“The two of you must be there at his side when Elvina falls,” he said quietly. “I cannot tell you why this is, only that I know it must be so. For everything to work as it must work, both of you are needed. Do not let him out of your sight when you get there. Especially when you come to Elvina. I know him, he’ll want to face her alone. Don’t let him do it. He needs you two.” He drew both of them together in a fierce hug. He had an ominous sensation that one or both of them would not be coming back. He prayed for Atolibus’ sake that if either fell, it wasn’t the woman he had just married, for that would surely drive him over madness’ edge. Kristina and Schala pulled away, nodding their assent, and both women made for Atolibus’ old chambers. Sarcodus sighed to himself. “Then it’s time... time to do what must be done. This never gets any easier.” Sighing again, he himself left the Grand Hall, left the joy and the merry making, to attend to matters at hand.

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