“It’s her, it’s her, it’s really her.” Kalina is unable to control her excitement as she watches the approaching guests from the courtyard of the castle as they trot over the drawbridge. Grange is less interested in the faces of people he has never seen before. “Oh, welcome to our humble abode Lady Ardine.” Kalina bows in front of the tall slender woman she has been eyeing since her arrival.
Ardine is a woman of almost six feet with prominent cheekbones yet no signs of muscle or fat on her entire body; not that much of her body is visible underneath a blue flowing robe covering shiny silver armor. She is one of the original demigods like Turok, over two hundred years old yet with the appearance of a woman in her late twenties; save for her graying hair, which is a symptom stress and not age. “Who are you?” She sizes up her apparent fanatic with a look of distaste.
“I am Kalina,” the sorcerer with dark braided hair answers with an extended curtsy. “I am secondary vassal to Lord…”
“Ah, you’re one of Turok’s toys,” Ardine cuts her off. “How quaint.”
“Um, I'm sorry, have I offended you somehow, milady?” Kalina’s eyes glisten with dread.
“You need not try to impress the likes of me,” Ardine sighs. “I am merely here as a courtesy to your master.”
“Lord Turok,” Kalina can't help but refer to her employer by name.
“Since when is he the lord of anything,” Ardine mutters as she wanders into the foyer of the castle, leaving Kalina with a feeling of disillusion. She had expected the female demigod to be more impressive and less cynical. Of course she is a woman of over two hundred years in age. By now her sense of interest in people might have waned. They must appear like ants to someone as powerful as her.
“Um, where are your vassals?” Kalina chases after the demigod.
“I don’t have any.” Ardine shrugs.
“You travel alone?” Kalina is both surprised and impressed. “How do you dispatch of ghouls or bloodsuckers along your path without aid?”
“First off, I need no aid from humans,” Ardine practically insults Kalina’s entire race. “Second off, it has been years since I had to… dispatch anything in my travels,” she pauses to emphasize her distaste for Kalina’s choice in words.
“Do you even carry the great Arma Kalo with you anymore?” Kalina is almost saddened by the loss of her embellished opinion of Ardine.
“I see no reason to answer that question,” Ardine grumbles. “Why do you need to know how prepared I am for combat? Are you planning to assault me?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Kalina holds up her hands defensively. “I was simply… I mean… I was curious,” she stumbles over her words.
“Well you shall remain curious,” Ardine’s snobbish attitude persists.
“Yes, milady.” Kalina dips her head apologetically.
“Ah, Lady Ardine.” Turok is waiting at the entrance to the throne room of the castle with his arms spread welcomingly. “What a pleasure it is to see you again.”
“Save it, Turok,” Ardine is no nicer to him than his vassal.
“As abrasive as ever, I see,” he chuckles. “Still traveling alone? Whatever happened to Joric and Pendral?”
“They got married over a hundred years ago and settled down with their children,” Ardine answers with a yawn. “They actually have quite a few grandchildren to carry on their legacy.”
“Has it really been that long?” Turok pretends to be surprised. “I guess I hadn’t really noticed. Been keeping myself busy, you see.”
“Oh I’ve heard all about your side project, ‘Lord Turok’,” Ardine places sarcastic emphasis on his new title. It is obvious she disapproves.
“Oh don’t you start,” he sighs. “I'm merely looking after the territories left without a governor after the late Lord Ironglave’s passing.”
“It’s been five years and you’re still occupying his personal estate,” Ardine snaps at him. “You’ve spread out into the outlining territories as well. I hear you’ve actually taken over some of Lord Dashire’s rice fields. What are you thinking, Turok? This goes against everything we stand for as demigods.”
“Don’t you preach to me about what we stand for; you who hasn’t slain a single bloodsucker for the past fifty years. What happened to you, Ardine? Where is the fire and death your fog used to bring?”
“I grew weary of battle.” She glances away uninterestedly. “Haven't you ever wondered if there was something more we existed for than fighting?”
“I have.” He nods in agreement. “I’ve found it too. I’ve discovered the joys of being treated as a lord. It’s quite relaxing actually. You should try it.”
“Let’s see; abuse my power by scaring thousands of innocent people into obeying my will simply because I am bored. No, I don’t think I will.”
“If you’re so against my occupation of this land then why don’t you stop me? Why don’t you call down your perilous rains or freeze all of my enforcers solid in a thunderous snow storm? How long has it been since the weather obeyed you, Lady Ardine? What about your weapon? Where is Arma Kalo?”
“Why is this the most popular question of the evening?” Ardine glares at him. “I have no reason to show you my weapon, nor do I have any reason to involve myself in your meaningless bid for land and power. I shall do what I always do; wait and watch from afar. I shall let you succeed or fail at your own hands.”
“How boring of you,” Turok sighs again. He almost seems disappointed. “Perhaps Brand will be more sporting.”
“Brand?” Ardine almost does not recognize the name. “Ah yes, Genlock’s replacement. I had forgotten.”
“Oh how I do miss Genlock. It is a nasty pity that he had to die and leave that miserable excuse for a demigod in his place.”
“Haha, very funny. Did you hear me arriving?” a voice emanates from the hall behind the door to the throne room.
“Presenting the holy red warrior Brand,” Grange introduces the third demigod.
“To be honest, I did hear you coming,” Turok snickers. “How have you been, Brand? It’s so nice to see you again.”
“Shut up.” Brand slaps his hand away rather than shaking it. He is a broad shouldered man with thick black hair, a slight stubble beard, bright shining armor and a red flowing cape.
“Ooh, someone’s touchy,” Turok continues to laugh. “How have you been? Are you still having trouble controlling yourself since receiving your new powers?”
“Gall, Prain, accompany the pathetic bounty hunter for a moment,” Brand orders his two trusted vassals to follow Grange rather than staying with him. He does not want to speak freely in front of them.
“They’re nice, aren’t they?” Turok watches as the three of them disappear into the long hall.
“I never go anywhere without Gall and Prain,” Brand answers proudly.
“Wouldn’t want to wind up dead like Genlock, would ya?” Turok starts to mock him.
“I'm seriously not in the mood for this.” Brand’s eyes narrow. He has had a dislike for Turok from the moment they met; almost immediately after he became a demigod ten years ago. Through what is only known as miraculous means, his predecessor was able to pass on his demigod rank and power to him at the moment of his passing, making Brand the youngest of all nine current demigods and Turok the oldest.
Without Genlock to lead the remaining demigods they soon scattered, forming allegiances of their own like Grange and Kalina or Gall and Prain. Now they only meet as allies on occasions like this. “Is there a reason you called me all the way out here?” Brand is still glaring at Turok with distain. “Surely you are not simply trying to brag about your sudden acquisition of land.”
“I called more than you, Brand,” Turok informs him. “Unfortunately only two of you chose to answer that call. I'm actually quite disappointed. I at least expected Wan to be here if not Kifflan.”
“I was actually hoping to meet more of my kin here this evening,” Brand admits. “Again, what was your reason for summoning us?”
“I asked you here tonight in order to share with you a very shameful secret,” Turok sighs.
“Oh this ought to be good.” Ardine rolls her eyes.
“Five years ago I infiltrated this very castle under the intention of eliminating a bloodsucker by the title of Lady Owleen Ironglave.”
“That is common knowledge, Turok,” Brand yawns.
“Perhaps.” He shrugs. “What’s not common knowledge is what I found upon my entry. Lady Owleen was not alone; she had been in hiding long enough to constitute an heir with the late lord. I believe she had three in fact.”
“So there are three bloodsuckers unaccounted for running around; what’s so bad about that?” Brand is growing impatient.
“These aren’t just normal bloodsuckers, fool. These are royal bloodsuckers. They are stronger, faster, smarter and down right more charismatic than other bloodsuckers.”
“Sounds like you speak from experience,” Ardine almost laughs.
“I'm serious here. There is a new breed of these things about. These royal bloodsuckers are harder to kill and harder to track; not to mention the fact that they descend from lords, making it practically illegal to kill them.”
“And yet you tore through a deceased lord’s home to attack one,” it is Brand’s turn to snicker.
“Deceased is the operative word,” Turok responds pompously. “Without the lord around to lay claim to the castle I was entirely just in my decision to invade it.”
“Listen to yourself,” Brand raises his voice. “Do you even realize what you sound like? You are justifying the hostile takeover of an entire territory. The majority of the people may be too afraid to voice their objections but I can name at least one demigod I know who will not stand for this abuse of power, Turok. If you do not wish to face the wrath of Arma Venture then I suggest you…”
“Do not speak of Arma Venture to me!” Turok interrupts him. He is visibly annoyed at the mere mention of the weapon.
“It doesn’t matter if I say it or not, Turok; Lodar is coming for you. He is coming to put a stop to you and your reign of tyranny. Beware, Turok, beware.”
“This is exactly why I called you here,” Turok’s voice is slightly panicked. “I need your help to keep what I have accomplished. Will you not help me hold my ground against Lodar? Will you not stand with me, Brand?”
“I will not.” Brand shakes his head. “What I shall do is watch; watch and laugh when Lodar passes judgment on you. You brought this on yourself, Turok. You have only yourself to blame.”
Turok glances at Ardine for support but she has already lost interest in the conversation. She looks as if she is simply waiting for the best time to leave. “Fine,” Turok spits angrily. “I’ll face him on my own. I shall continue to expand my territory until I have enough followers to stand against him.”
“Do as you wish.” Ardine strides from the room. She has no intention of sullying her hands with Turok’s nefarious plans. She has been removed from all forms of fighting for almost half a century; there is no reason to re-involve herself now.
“Goodbye, Turok.” Brand soon follows Ardine’s example, leaving the angry demigod alone in his throne room to seethe.
“How did it go?” Gall and Prain, his two vassals are waiting in the hall to escort him. Gall is an older man with gray hair and beard whom served Genlock, the previous Red Warrior. Prain is his daughter who only took up the role of vassal when Brand, another former Vassal of Genlock’s, received the blessing of the demigod’s power; a rare accomplishment indeed. With only nine of almost a hundred original demigods left it is obviously not a simple task to preserve the endowed person’s power when they pass.
Brand begins his long winded explanation of all the reasons he despises Turok as he follows his vassals out into the courtyard again. He only stops when something catches his attention out of the corner of his eye. “What is it, milord?” Gall draws his sword, preparing to defend his master if necessary.
“We’re being watched.” Brand gestures to a small grouping of trees in the center of the courtyard. There is a lone figure, cast in shadow, staring at the group of three with an almost menacing glint in their eyes. Their face however is completely hidden behind a white ceramic mask. The difference from actual skin is almost unnoticeable in the shadows of the trees though. “Who goes there?” Brand shouts at the mysterious figure. “Show yourself.”
Slowly the lone observer slinks away from the trees like a guilty child caught stealing food. “Who are you?” Gall demands while brandishing his sword. Instinctively the figure readies a long double-bladed staff previously held on their back. “Identify yourself!” Gall bellows while preparing to charge.
“Wait.” Brand grips his shoulder to keep him still. “I know you, don’t I? I’ve seen that weapon before.”
“You have?” Gall is surprised. “Where?”
“It is Arma Vec,” Brand answers in a soft voice. “It belongs to the demigod Maumolla.” His knowledge of the weapon startles the stranger who continues to point it at Gall defensively.
“She doesn’t seem to recognize you,” Prain whispers.
“That is because we have never met,” Brand admits. “These memories belong to Genlock. I inherited them at the moment of rapture.”
“The moment of what?” Prain does not understand the term.
“The moment of rapture is the moment directly following a demigod’s death,” her father explains. “I was there when my master Genlock passed. I saw the heavens call for his power’s return.”
“Demigod’s power returns to the heavens when they die?” Prain gasps.
“It’s supposed to.” Gall shakes his head solemnly. “If anything, anything at all interrupts the rapture then it receives the power before it returns to the heavens and it becomes the new demigod.”
“You interrupted the rapture,” Prain whispers while staring at Brand with wide eyes.
“I didn’t mean to,” he is overly defensive. “I was simply trying to help Master Genlock. My hand passed through the light as it rose to the sky and I was imbued with his power and some of his memory. In essence I am Genlock. I will carry on his work for as long as I am able. That is my role now.”
“So you do not know me?” the ceramic masked figure asks in a soft feminine voice as she relaxes her grip on Arma Vec ever so slightly.
“I know you are Maumolla but otherwise this is our first meeting.” Brand bows to her. “If you would be so kind as to lower your weapon I shall have my vassal lower his.”
“Ah yes, my weapon.” Maumolla’s visible eyes dart to Arma Vec in her hand. “Of course.” She returns it to its proper place on her back. “I was unaware that the demigod Genlock had passed on his legacy already. I feared he had become corrupt with greed much like Turok.”
“So you’ve heard,” Brand sighs. “Of course you have. You were summoned by him for this gathering as well, were you not. I'm afraid it is over. You have missed your chance to pass judgment on the betrayer. It would do you more good than I; you who still hold the right to approach a demigod from the previous century. Unless of course your desire is to support him and his reign over this land. If that is so I must express my sincere disappointment.”
“How I choose to address the actions of Turok are none of your concern. As you said I am of the previous century and hold a higher rank than you. I should be more concerned about whether you choose to support the betrayer or not.”
“Me? Of course I wouldn’t dream of siding with Turok. I know my place great Master Maumolla. I yield to your authority.”
“Your supposed loyalty means nothing to me,” she scoffs. “You could just as easily yield to Turok at the opportune moment. I place no trust in you.”
“Of course,” Brand mutters nervously. He is not afraid of Maumolla’s strength or prestige, only of upsetting her and shaming the name of his former master Genlock. “Um, if I could, I would very much like to look upon the wondrous face of the Lady Maumolla with my own eyes,” he asks as politely as possible. “It would be a great honor.”
“Again I must refuse.” She turns away, showing her back to him and revealing a long blonde braid reaching almost all the way down to the tops of her boots. Brand is struck with awe as he draws upon Genlock’s memory. Like bloodsuckers, demigods are amongst the most beautiful faces in the whole world and Maumolla was no exception, according to Genlock’s memory. It seems the gods enjoy blessing beautiful people with power; a reward simply for being born pretty.
“Are you gawking at me?” Maumolla asks in a sly tone.
“I am merely overwhelmed,” Brand apologizes quickly. “If my eyes bother you, I shall leave your presence at once.”
“I prefer watching people over being watched,” Maumolla admits. “It does me no harm though. You may look all you like while I am here, just do not follow me when I leave.” Brand takes the invitation, letting his eyes dance over the well proportioned figure that is the demigod before him. She is clad in purple cloth under iron armor, making it difficult to actually imagine what she might look like underneath. In fact, besides her eyes, there is not a part of her actual body he can see.
“Alright, that’s enough.” She marches toward the drawbridge curtly.
“Wait, where are you going?” Brand is caught off guard. “Did you not come all this way to speak with the betrayer? Will you not pass judgment on Turok for his actions most unbecoming of a demigod?”
“I have already passed judgment on him, but that is none of your concern,” she reminds him. “I have other matters to attend to. For now know that I have yet to pass judgment on you. Show me that you can rise above the greed of your predecessors and become a shining example of what the demigods were always meant to be. Know that if for one moment you falter, I shall be there to take back this gift you were never meant to receive.”
Brand gulps nervously as Maumolla disappears over the drawbridge. This meeting has left him with a different impression than he expected. She seems nothing like the Maumolla of Genlock’s memory; almost like a different person entirely. It is not all that surprising though. Centuries of agelessness have changed many of the demigods, including Turok and Ardine. Fitting in with this group for the past ten years has not been easy on him and it seems it will only become harder as time goes on.
“You seemed taken,” Prain scoffs as soon as the female demigod is out of sight.
“Daughter, do not speak to your master that way,” Gall scolds her immediately.
“I was merely surprised to see our all mighty master bow to another so easily. Was she really all that impressive?”
“What’s the mater, Prain? Are you jealous?” Brand finds his wit finally.
“Wha… na… no,” she sputters as her face turns red.
Brand turns around to face her and reaches up to sweep a few strands of hair away from her eyes. “Do not worry, little one, you are still my favorite girl in the whole world.” She is too embarrassed to respond and simply backs away while twiddling her fingers and staring at her feet shyly. Gall is trying not to laugh at his daughter’s obvious distress. “Well now, it’s time we were off,” Brand sighs while turning toward the drawbridge again, thoroughly pleased with himself.
“What exactly are your intentions now, milord?” Gall asks.
Brand takes a deep breath before responding. “I know not what Ardine intends to do now that Turok has revealed his plans to us but I know what I shall do; I shall alert the demigod Lodar and ask him to pass judgment on the betrayer. If he chooses to stand against Turok then I shall stand with him. This is my decision.”
“But where is Master Lodar? During my journeys with Master Genlock we never once encountered him,” Gall admits. “Will he even accept your council seeing as you have never even met outside of your inherited memories.”A look of concern spreads across Brand’s face. “From what I recall Lodar is a wise and noble demigod. I only hope that has not changed in the many years since he last spoke with Genlock. I shall seek him out and judge for myself. That is our task now.”