“My, this is a surprise.” Sir Castine smiles smugly as he sips red wine from his heavy tankard while sitting in an oak armchair in front of his fireplace. Standing on the other side of the room, having just entered through the window, is Corvic. He is wearing his normal dark attire and breathing heavily, having had to scale the side of the wall of Glass Gate in order to reenter the city.
Sir Castine and his family, a ghoul wife and two daughters, live at the very top of one of the corner watch towers in Glass Gate. As one of Lord Glasstien’s head knights he is entitled to quite a few of the finer things in life. It is not surprising that the man has grown portly in the time since he last wielded a sword, at least a decade ago, before either of his daughter’s were even born. “What can I do for you, my good man?” he greets Corvic politely. “Am I to assume things are going well in Sliver Bay?”
“Lord Louwits is a fraud,” Corvic spouts immediately, catching Sir Castine off guard and causing him to spit out his wine.
“What? Are you sure? How is that possible?”
“It matters not. He is also dead,” Corvic continues.
“You can't be serious.” The color drains from Sir Castine’s pudgy face. “I had so many plans. We were to launch the rebellion within the next year. What will I tell my wife now? She never leaves the tower. We can't keep living like this.”
“Your problems are none of my concern,” Corvic is unsympathetic.
“How did this happen?” Castine asks. “Was there an assassin?”
“He was slain by none other than the Violet Champion,” Corvic answers.
“Damn demigods,” Castine curses. “They plan to rid the world of bloodsuckers one way or another. I can scarcely believe that Maumolla would risk upsetting the balance the nine have with the twelve lords though.”
“I'm not so sure it was Maumolla,” Corvic mumbles, more to himself than to Castine.
“Well, this changes everything.” Castine frowns. “We will need to garner support from another source and bide our time properly.”
“Actually, I think now is the time to strike,” Corvic disagrees.
“You can't be serious,” Castine scoffs. “Our numbers outweigh Lord Glasstien’s loyal servants by mere dozens. In a head on fight we would definitely lose to the well trained guards. We need an advantage.”
“Again, your concerns do not become mine,” Corvic growls. “I have been mulling this over since I fled Sliver Bay. My sister was able to drive some sense into my brain. I have been far too sentimental in my endeavors. Despite the fact that now would be the opportune moment to launch an offensive against Iron Grove in Turok’s absence, I have directed my attention elsewhere.”
“What did you say?” Castine gains interest. “Did you say that Iron Grove was undefended?”
“I said that Turok was absent,” Corvic corrects him. “I'm positive there is a ruling force in place though.”
“Where exactly is the Jade Behemoth?” Castine is curious.
“Entombed in Sliver Bay,” Corvic answers calmly.
“Huh?” Castine stares at him in confusion. “Entombed; as in deceased and ritualistically buried?” he asks. Corvic responds by nodding. “Amazing. So one of the nine has finally fallen?”
“By my counts at least three of the nine have. Do you not recall my sister’s servant boy? He holds the power of the Silver Shape shifter,” Corvic reminds him. “And of course the real Maumolla is dead.”
“Their powers still linger in this world though,” Castine argues.
“Those who control them refuse to answer to the nine,” Corvic assures him.
“How wondrous.” Castine is grinning ear to ear. “We have three less demigods to worry about when we finally make our move.”
“Which will be soon,” Corvic urges him.
“Easy my friend. Do not be hasty. Victory always comes at a price and I’d like it to be as diminished as possible.”
“You’ve been planning this rebellion for almost ten years now. I'm beginning to wonder if you may be nothing more than an over inflated egotist with no actual vision for conquest,” Corvic snaps at him.
“I liked you better when you were obsessed with Iron Grove,” Castine grumbles.
“Now is the time to strike.” Corvic stomps his foot. “The nine must be in terrible disarray over the loss of their comrades. And if they know not of it yet, then they haven’t held a proper summit since I ended Genlock. Either way this opening will close quickly. The remaining demigods will most definitely begin to hunt down the three rogue powers. We must use them before that happens.”
“Use them?” Castine repeats in an uncertain tone. “Are you insinuating that these rogue powers will assist us in our conquest?”
“I have no claim to the Violet Champion but I assure you the Silver Shape Shifter answers to my sister and therefore me.”
“Ah yes, you are the rightful head of the Ironglave line now, aren’t you,” Castine recalls.
“Until I hear good news of my missing brother Drogen, yes, I am the head of the Ironglave line.”
“Well then, let us get started.” Castine seems to finally be convinced. “I shall inform all of my marshals of our intentions. It will take us at least a month to position ourselves perfectly but it will be well worth the wait.”
“Yes, Sir Castine.” Corvic nods approvingly, if not slightly menacingly. “You’re finally proving yourself. I look forward to your results.”
“You, my friend, had better deliver.” Castine points at him accusingly. “My strategy is incomplete. I am counting on support from your rogue demigod. Do not disappoint me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Corvic bows politely as he backs toward the window. The moment Castine blinks the bloodsucker vanishes from sight, leaving the glass pane swaying in the wind.
“Nasty blighter,” Castine grumbles to himself. He has always been unnerved by Corvic; the way he moves, the way he talks and most certainly the way he acts. If he did not need him he would not dare entrust him with anything.
“Where are we?” Kalina asks as she trots along the muddy path directly behind the Lady Ardine. Immediately after severing her connection with Turok, Kalina and Token fled Sliver Bay, with the intention of returning to Massmede. Along the way, they discussed what would become of the Iron Grove territories and decided that Token needed to take command as soon as possible, before any unrest could grow amongst the citizens.
Kalina however decided that she should take a separate path. Despite being gravely disappointed in the Lady Ardine after meeting her in person for the first time, she still held a lot of respect for the demigod and as such chose to seek her out and meet with her at least one more time. It took here nearly two months to find her, wandering by herself in-between Lord Raldwin’s and Lord Madine’s territories.
Although she did not seem pleased to encounter Kalina again, Ardine remained placid, allowing her to accompany the demigod on her travels. They have now arrived in a swamp like area hidden in the marshes on the other side of Lord Madine’s territory. “It’s so serine here.” Kalina glances around with her mouth agape, taking in everything from the low hanging fog to the damp mossy smell.
“This place is called Joric’s Marsh,” Ardine finally answers Kalina’s question without turning around to face her.
“Wasn’t Joric the name of one of your vassals a hundred years ago?” Kalina recalls something Turok said during the summit he held more than a year ago, long before his sudden and unexpected death at the hands of the new Violet Champion.
“Joric and Pendral were my last vassals,” Ardine sighs. “They settled down here together and slowly built a town around themselves, hidden in the marshes.”
“That’s amazing,” Kalina is impressed. She finds everything Ardine says fascinating. Apparently she is not quite over her obsession with the demigod. Had Ardine been accepting vassals ten years ago when she was first found by Turok, hiding in the woods and attacking travels with her magic just to survive, she would have definitely chosen to follow her rather than the Jade Behemoth.
“You seem quite energetic despite the gloomy atmosphere of this place,” Ardine tries to strike up a conversation.
“I love anything related to water,” Kalina admits with a sparkle in her ocean blue eyes. They are nothing like Ardine’s sky colored ones.
“You water mages draw your mana from the moisture in the air,” Ardine recalls.
“And the dew on the grass in the morning,” Kalina adds. “I am always most powerful at night when everything is damp and the sun is nowhere in sight.”
“You would have made a marvelous vassal.” Ardine nods approvingly.
“Really?” Kalina gasps. “Do you mean that? Oh, you don’t know how much that means to me.”
“I wouldn’t have said it if it weren’t true,” Ardine assures her. “I do not do anything I do not want to and I don’t say anything that I don’t believe, understood?”
“Yes ma’am.” Kalina nods vigorously. She can hardly believe she is talking with her personal hero at this very moment. Ardine stands a full head taller than almost any woman Kalina has encountered, six feet exactly. Her face is thin with prominent cheekbones and practically no muscle or fat. Her hair is black with grey and white streaks, marking years of stress. She almost always wears shiny silver armor under a flowing blue robe.
Kalina on the other hand is short, with muddy brown hair tangled in dozens of braids. Her face is round and smooth, not a single blemish in sight, due to the ability to magically take care of her health. She was merely sixteen when Turok found her, making her twenty-six years old now. If she had not already found companionship with Token she would most defiantly be fretting about not already being married at her age.
“Ah, we’re here.” Ardine stops in her tracks.
“Is that so?” Kalina asks with a sly smile as she waves her hands in a circle in front of her, causing the grey fog surrounding them to shift. In a matter of seconds it has risen into the air, clearing their line of sight and allowing them to see what appears to by a town built in the middle of the marsh. It seems they have walked straight into the center of a settlement without even seeing it.
“Oh, we have visitors.” There are people all around them, frittering about in the fog as if it is not even there.
“What can we do for you?” An old woman is the first to approach them.
“I'm looking for the children of Joric and Pendral,” Ardine informs her. “Could you lead me to them?”
“Dear child, everyone here is named either Jeric or Joric. It’s quite a popular name in the Goldfrey territories. So many of them flee to Madine’s land in fear of his strict nature toward even suspected criminals.”
“Child?” Ardine is taken aback. Instinctively she grabs the part of her hair that is graying and strokes it. It has been years since anyone has referred to her as young. In fact, this elderly woman is probably not even half her age. “Joric and Pendral were the founders of this village, are they not?” She regains her composure after a moment.
“Ah, you mean the vassals of the great Lady Ardine.” The woman claps her hands. “Yes, they passed on not too long ago. Their first son Helwin left for Glass Gate a long time ago but their two daughters, Gortia and Mesil are still here. Do you have business with them?”
“If possible, I would like to discuss that with them,” Ardine becomes defensive. She does not seem to want to tell the woman who she really is.
“I'll take you to Mesil’s shop but I can't guarantee she’ll talk to you,” the woman warns her. “The majority of people who originally settled here were worshipers of the Lady Ardine. They hassled Joric and Pendral for details and stories until they’d had enough. It became ill advised to approach the great founders with questions pertaining to our Lady Ardine. If you plan to wake ghosts of the past, I suggest you leave this town right now.”
“Unfortunately I can not,” Ardine spouts sternly. “There is a terrible chill in my bones. I fear nearly all of the nine have fallen. If that is so then my time is not long. I must retrieve Arma Kalo from my vassals’ care.”
The old woman frowns at her, obviously not believing in the slightest that she is the very same demigod she was just referring to. Still she will not know for sure until she takes her to see at least one of Joric and Pendral’s descendents. “Come.” She jerks her head in a particular direction while turning around. “Mesil’s shop is this way. She’ll have a good laugh at you, that’s for sure.”
Ardine and Kalina saunter after the old woman as she leads them through the shanty town. Neither one of them cares to try enlightening her further. They are not here to make themselves known.
Eventually they arrive at a rickety looking shop on a peninsula of land at the edge of the marsh. It looks as if it might slide off into the water at any moment. “Mesil, visitors.” The old woman knocks on the door.
“What? Who is it?” the voice of an equally old woman answers. “Customers? Are you here to buy something?”
“What I want, I'm not paying for,” Ardine spouts while stepping through the door.
“Ah, my lady. You haven’t aged a day.” A skinny woman with grey hair and deep-set wrinkles is hunched over the counter of the shop.
“And you, Mesil; you’re looking… well,” Ardine has trouble sounding sincere.
“Oh, that’s funny to you, is it?” Mesil grumbles. “I'm not immortal like some people. When are you going to pass on the Azure Savior to me?” she demands in a half joking tone. Kalina tries and fails to stifle a laugh. “What’s wrong with you?” Mesil glares at her. “Don’t you think I’d look pretty with blue eyes?” She bats her eyelashes at her, showing off her brown irises.
Again Kalina has trouble hiding her amused reaction. After a moment Mesil’s face darkens though. “Can I assume you are here to retrieve Arma Kalo? You do remember what you promised when you gave it to my mother almost fifty years ago, don’t you? You said you would never wield it again.”
“I'm afraid I must go back on my promise.” Ardine dips her head apologetically. “Something is shifting in the world. I have felt the lights of my fellow demigods fading. It will not be long until whatever has ended them comes to do the same to me.”
“Is there anyone alive stupid enough to challenge the great Lady Ardine?” Mesil is skeptical. “Apart from Corvic that is,” she adds after a moment.
“Corvic did not challenge me. Turok and I sought him out in order to take revenge for Genlock. Neither one of us expected him to best us. We were on our way to a summit in Fort Dedlith when we ran across him. After our pathetic defeat everything seemed pointless. We did not attend and ended up parting company with few words shortly thereafter. We did not speak again until Turok summoned me to Massmede to witness his annexation.”
As Ardine enlightens Mesil to the goings on in her life, Kalina shrinks into a corner of the shop. She is feeling incredibly guilty for the actions of her former master. At the time Ardine is referring to, she was following him obediently. It was not until she met Token that she realized that Turok was not the godlike figure she thought him to be. He had faults just like any human and he paid the price. Kalina witnessed his death first hand.
When she found Ardine and told her what had happened, it was more than enough to scare the solemn demigod. Now she is retrieving the weapon she swore never to use again with the intention of fighting the so-called Violet Champion. Whatever this mysterious warrior is, she is enough to frighten Ardine, which is more than enough to terrify Kalina.
“What are you doing? Don’t touch that.” Mesil startles Kalina out of her thoughts.
She is reaching for a metal rod hanging from the wall of the shop. It is silvery grey with several jewels impeded along its length with a loop at the end. “What is it?” She continues to stare at it in awe.
“Not quite a staff and not quite a scepter.” Mesil shrugs. “It was found in the possession of an insane man who came to our town a few years ago. He claimed to have been given it by a great master.”
“Right,” Kalina scoffs.
“Oh, we didn’t believe it either… until he showed us what he could do with it. Apparently it was created with the forbidden techniques, just like all of the Arma. According to the man, who was deemed unfit for our society and banished, there is a great master somewhere deep in the Kalon desert in Lord Drakefist’s territory. She has forged forbidden weapons by the dozen and given them to anyone she deems worthy of wielding them.”
“Do you honestly believe any of that?” Kalina remains skeptical.
“Why don’t you try it out yourself,” Mesil offers. “You seem knowledgeable. I’d have to assume you are either a sorcerer or the apprentice of one.”
“I am a full-fledged sorcerer, thank you very much.” Kalina puffs out her chest. “My element is water and is extended through ice.”
“Ah, very impressive.” Mesil claps. “I'm more of a nature mage myself. I do cauldron mixing and communing with plant life but I don’t have the aura for combat. Perhaps we could compare teachings at some point in the future.”
“If you live that long,” Ardine mutters under her breath.
“There you go again!” Mesil shakes her fist at her. It seems she has rather good hearing for an elderly woman. “You act as if you’re younger than me because you’re stunted,” she accuses her. “You haven’t aged a day mentally. You’re still ten years old, aren’t ya?”
“Ten?” Kalina raises an eyebrow.
“Ah, yes, that’s me.” Ardine nods. “I was merely ten when I received the power of the Azure Savior. It went to work changing me right away. I grew to look like I do now in seven years; taller than any other girl in my village and stronger than any boy. People used to say it was such a waste because I’d never find a husband who wasn’t intimidated by me. I can't say I cared. Men never really interested me.”
“That’s because you’re still ten inside.” Mesil pokes her in the chest.
“Um, excuse me, was I going to be able to try this thing out or not?” Kalina interrupts them.
“What? Oh yes.” Mesil had completely forgotten what she said a moment ago. “Not that you can, but don’t break it unless you have eight hundred gold hidden in your creepy robe.”
“Eight hundred gold?” Kalina’s jaw drops. “That’s worth a four year stay at a fancy inn. That’s fifty purebred horses. That’s two hundred of the most expensive potions I can think of. What exactly is this thing?”
“What would you pay for an Arma?” Mesil asks while standing up on the shop counter and retrieving a large metal bow with spikes guarding the handle from above the fireplace.
Kalina watches in awe as she hands it to Ardine. “So, so that’s really Arma Kalo,” she gulps.
“The one and only.” Ardine nods while striding out of the shop. Kalina follows behind her quickly. She is just in time to see the demigod snap the metal wire bowstring, sending an arrow made of pure blue light straight up into the sky. Immediately a bolt of lightning strikes the ground directly outside of the swamp village, causing a tremendous thunderclap.
“I never thought I’d live to see it.” Kalina is holding back tears.
“God, that still scares me.” Mesil shudders. “It puts a creak in my bones that I just don’t like.”
“It’s the most effective way to kill bloodsuckers,” Ardine responds coldly. “I can sometimes make it strike a dozen enemies all at once.”
“It’s the most spectacular thing I have ever seen, milady,” Kalina praises her.
“You haven’t seen much, have you?” Mesil scoffs. “Show her the rain, Ardine.”
“Are you sure? It’ll clear away your protective fog,” Ardine warns her.
“It’s not like we’re in danger of an impending attack,” Mesil is not worried.
Kalina is already holding her breath in anticipation. Ardine pulls back on the empty bow string again, creating a line of blue light out of her demigod aura. When she releases the string, the blue glow is launched into the air faster and further than Kalina’s eyes can follow. “Does it ever come back down?” she asks stupidly.
“It’s merely mana that has been transformed by my aura. It will dissipate into the air eventually,” Ardine informs her.
“But not before it uses Arma Kalo’s special ability to change the weather,” Mesil assures her.
“I don’t quite understand how it does that.” Kalina tilts her head.
“Arma Kalo is made from something we call a thunder beast,” Mesil informs her. “A terrifying creature that can summon lighting from the sky at will. With enough mana, supplied by Ardine’s aura of course, it can even change the weather outside.” At that exact moment, as if to illustrate her point, it suddenly starts to rain. Again there is lightning and thunder but it is far above in the sky.
Kalina quickly raises the metal rod she is holding up above her head like the handle to a parasol and uses a minor spell to force the rain away from her. The water is spreading out around her as soon as it reaches her head, making sure she can not get wet.
“You really are a water sorcerer, are ya?” Mesil nods approvingly. “Show us what you can do with that scepter, go on.” Kalina ponders for a moment before waving the rod through the air, halting the rain’s descent entirely. “Well done.” Mesil claps. She seems pleased to no longer be pelted by the water.
“I'm not done,” Kalina grunts. With another wave of the rod, all the water drops hanging suddenly freeze solid. Mesil watches in awe as they all begin flying at a particular spot on the ground. In a matter of seconds the soft moist dirt has been riddled with holes. After a while the holes spread and become deeper, almost like a small crater.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Mesil has had her fill. “I can see that you are a sorcerer trained for combat. I can only guess what kind of trouble you are planning to encounter, Lady Ardine. I fear for both of you and the unfortunate souls who you meet.”
“Don’t mind her, she’s always like this,” Ardine whispers to Kalina. “She is an outspoken supporter of peace.”
“From your recent dis-involvement in the world, I presumed you were a supporter of peace as well,” Kalina admits.
“When you’ve been alive for as long as I have, you see things you never wanted to; death of old friends, lives lost to wars, things long forgotten or simply accepted after a generation or two. I’ve had enough of it. I know I can't stop others from fighting but there is no reason I should involve myself needlessly.”
“So, I assume there is a sudden need?” Mesil frowns at her.
“We’ll be off now.” Ardine turns to leave. If she is annoyed with the younger yet older woman she hides it well. She seems merely indifferent.
“Might I ask you a favor… in exchange for that scepter of course,” Mesil calls after Kalina before she can follow the demigod. “As you know, All Hollow’s Eve is fast approaching. Would you be interested in playing the role of the witch?”
“You’re referring to the tradition where they tie up a witch and burn her at the stake to bring good fortune and divine favor upon the town,” Kalina confirms. “Why don’t you do it yourself? You said you had dealings in magic.”
“I am a member of this town so it won't be authentic. You know full well we no longer actually burn the witch, we merely dance around a bonfire wearing masks and calling out insults. It helps the authenticity when we have a real witch and she is never seen in the village again after that point. Last poor girl to be chosen was mocked for weeks afterward. The other children threw stones at her daily.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Kalina argues.
“Actually, I’d rather like to spend some time doing something apart from fighting,” Ardine disagrees. “With a life as long as mine, you find yourself trying to partake in as many memorable experiences as possible before you lose those close to you. We have only just met, sorcerer Kalina, but I would like to spend time getting to know you even if our time together is short.”
Kalina frowns at her as she is reminded of Turok. While in his service she often felt that he cared for each and every one of his vassals. Even after they died he would remember them, though he never shed any tears. Death had become a part of his long life. Hearing Ardine remind her of what demigods actually have to live through is making her partially sympathetic to her apathetic master. “Fine,” she finally gives in. “I assume you’ll make all the preparations.”
“I'll make the wanted posters advertising you as a witch.” Mesil nods. “All you have to do is dress like one… well you already look the part quite well actually. Then what you should do is show your face around town and see how many people recognize you from my posters. On All Hollow’s Eve, the villagers will come for you with pitchforks and torches. Don’t struggle too much or someone could get hurt. We’ll bring you to the town square where the festival is being held and you will be allowed to partake in the festivities. At the end we shall light the bonfire and you will go on your merry way. It’s purely for show,” she assures her.“Naturally.” Kalina is trying to appear indifferent but she is actually looking forward to getting to show off her prowess as a witch. If only there were time to summon Token from Massmede they could enjoy the festival together. Of course he is far too busy trying to control the citizens of Iron Grove. He has no time for frivolous behavior, making Kalina feel slightly guilty that, in the midst of everything that is happening, she and Ardine will be fraternizing in a random town. That will not stop her though.