The Impure Cross

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The Blood Oath

Within the castle doors, everybody scurried about.

The maids, the cooks, and the guards; all prepared for the arrival of the landlord. They heard from a Sondelier that the archbishop would be arriving shortly and thus everything had to be made to appease his Holiness.

To make sure that everything was up to the standards of an archbishop one man rushed through the castle halls.

This man could easily be recognized by his slim and elongated physique, golden locks that flounced on his slender shoulders and large brown eyes that, coupled with his smooth, baby-like, skin, gave off a youthful appearance, despite him reaching his forties.

He often dressed very extravagantly, compared to the other servants, commonly sporting a white, puffy, shirt, covered by a sleek, golden, tailcoat on his torso. White leather gloves covered his hands, which served to keep his soft flesh away from the filth of the outside world and to allow him to assess the cleanliness of his surroundings. Narrow, brown, trousers covered his legs, ending just above his slick, black, leather-strapped shoes. Around his waist hung a silver pocket watch, with a golden cross adorning its lid; a gift from Odium himself as a sign of gratitude for his years of loyal service.

Despite his juvenile looks and flamboyant mannerisms, Harold was well respected amongst the castle staff. Even the Sondeliers obeyed his commands, viewing him as nearly equal to the archbishop. Members of the archbishop’s staff knew to stay out of Harold’s way and to obey his every command or else suffer the archbishop’s wrath for their disobedience.

“Hurry it up, you lazy cows!” the superintendent yelled at the maids, his voice shrill like the shriek of a banshee, “The archbishop will be here any second and I want to see my reflection in that floor or there will be severe consequences!” he threatened as he tapped his feet furiously.

“Yes sir,” the maids replied timidly and began scrubbing faster than before.

He walked through the hallways, peering into the rooms next to him to observe the hard work of the maids. Satisfied with what he had seen, he ventured towards the kitchen.

“How’s that meal coming along?” Harold asked the chefs as he raided the pantry for some camembert cheese and red wine.

“It’s coming quite nicely,” one of the chefs responded “The soup is almost done and the roast has been placed in the oven. It should be done just in time for the archbishop’s feast.”

“Oh really,” Harold said as he placed his cheese on a plate and poured himself a glass of red wine “Mind if I taste the soup?”

“Be my guest,” the chef exclaimed and moved away from the pot.

Harold set down his cheese and wine on a nearby table. He took out a silver spoon from the cupboard and dipped it into the bubbling pot. The chef fidgeted his fingers nervously as he observed the superintended tasting his broth.

As the rich flavor of the soup hit his taste buds, Harold closed his eyes and moaned in pleasure. The chunks of meat and potatoes simply melted away in his mouth and fused with the intoxicating aroma of the spices.

“I am sensing a dash of coriander and just the slight undertone of rosemary present,” Harold said as he swallowed.

“You have quite the refined taste sir,” the chef smiled contently “I added it as per your recommendations.”

Harold grinned widely at those words.

“You have done well Antonio! Odium will be very pleased with this delicious concoction,” Harold exclaimed and patted the chef on the back.

“Thank you for your kind words, sir,” the cook thanked him and continued to prepare the rest of the meal.

Harold took in a deep breath of content and joy. All was going exactly as he had planned.

As he sat down to enjoy a well-deserved glass of red wine and some refined cheese, a sound of trumpets went off.

He quickly put down his glass and rushed to the main hall. He was shouting for everyone, especially the young maids, to drop whatever they were doing and urged them to proceed to the main hallway.

Once every single servant and maid was in the hallway, Harold started to organize them placing the women on the left and men on the right of the entrance.

“Listen to me!” he yelled “The archbishop is arriving and we want to look presentable, don’t we?” he said, his voice becoming more and more frantic with each word he spoke.

Everyone nodded their head.

“Right, right” he nodded his head and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief that had the initials H.S. written on it “Now, when the archbishop comes in, men, you will place your right hand on your heart and women, you will grab your skirts and bow to him, as you welcome his Holiness."

“Why can’t we put our hand on our heart as well,” Harold heard a female voice ask from the crowd.

“Who said that?!” Harold yelled, his eyes bulging out as if they were trying to escape from his skull.

A raven-haired maid peeked out her head and waved at him.

Quickly realizing who it was, Harold let out a sigh of exasperation and rubbed his temples.

“Please, just do as I tell you for once in your life,” Harold hissed through gritted teeth.

“I’ll consider it,” the maid responded with a smile, making Harold more agitated.

He was about to tell her off, but there was no time, as he heard the creak of the large wooden doors. His eyes widened and his pace accelerated as he saw the archbishop’s ancient figure patiently waiting for him.

He got down on one knee as Odium extended his ring hand. The great holy emerald shone brightly in Harold’s eyes.

"Truly a ring fit for the Blessed One,” Harold thought to himself as he kissed the ring and welcomed the honorable guests back to their home.

As the archbishop walked by the men on the right would pound their chest with their right hand and say “Glory and honor to the Holy One”.

The women would recite the same, only they were bowing down, ever so gently to the archbishop. All, that is, except one.

Her name was Isabella Cordillier.

By attire she appeared no different than any other maid, wearing a simple black and white maid outfit. However her raven dark hair was unconstrained by a bonnet, as was common for other maids to wear, and her dress had more of a décolleté look to it. This, combined with her alluring dark-brown eyes, often looking flirtatiously at the members of the opposite sex, made her irresistible to most male employees in Odium’s palace.

She was very much aware of how her presence was perceived by both men and women, often flirting with taken men, even in front of their lovers or wives. She thrived on the discord she tossed into their happy little lives as she observed, with a sickly sweet smile, the chaos unfold in front of her very eyes. If one of these scorned women would confront her, they would rarely be seen again. No matter how she behaved, Isabella knew she always had immunity, thanks to Odium. After all, he was the one that raised her.

When she was five, Odium found Isabella wandering the woods near Hell’s End all alone. She was rejected by her parents and was left to fend for herself. By the time he found her, she had already been living among the beasts for a couple of years. Shocked by the cruelty of her parents, but also impressed by her ingenuity and will to survive, Odium took sympathy over the lost soul and gave her his home as her own.

From that day onward, Isabella was Odium’s protégé, quickly growing attached to him as he was the only one that showed her kindness. Still, she did not bow as she did not see fit to grovel under the feet of a man who made her his equal.

As the archbishop inspected other servants, his eyes stopped on Isabella. Her pink, full, lips curled up into a wide smile as she held her right hand firmly on her chest.

“Glory and honor to the Holy One!” she stood proudly, her head held up high and her right hand pounding hard on her chest as she yelled out the oath.

Odium couldn’t help but grin to himself. He leaned close to Isabella and whispered something in her ear. Her eyes lit up and she giggled excitedly at what he told her as others watched in confusion.

As Odium moved away from her, Isabella felt blazing glares of her colleagues directed at her. She couldn’t help but grin wider at the sight of their beet-red faces turning green with envy at her closeness with the Holy One himself.

The archbishop continued on his walk, as if nothing had happened, as Harold quickly rushed to rejoin him.

“I am so sorry for her behavior, milord. I told her how to behave and she just wouldn’t listen” Harold started to apologize as he emerged on the archbishop’s left side.

“Don’t worry about it, my friend. I know how she is after all. Now tell me: how were things while I was gone? Did anything unusual happen?” the archbishop asked, while simultaneously smiling and waving to the huge row of his servants.

Harold’s eyes slightly widened in shock and he bit his lower lip.

“Well, we had some,” Harold explained as he wiped sweat beads off of his forehead “slight problems, but they were taken care of."

Odium shot him a threatening look and then smiled.

“If you are thinking about the little break-in, don’t worry. I have been informed,” Odium said with a smile and slapped Harold heartily on the back.

The blow from the hit was enough to make Harold lose his composure for a moment and made him suddenly cough.

“Might I ask who was it that informed you of it?” Harold inquired, visibly shaken by this news, as he recomposed himself.

“One of the Sondeliers filled me in. However, I was shocked that it didn’t come from you directly. It was quite disappointing, to say the least."

Even though he kept a smiling and cheery exterior, his tone of voice indicated a certain level of severity.

“I apologize for my transgression my lord,” Harold took in a deep breath “I did not see it fit to worry you about such a thing until you have returned, especially since the matter was resolved.”

“So you have captured their leader,” Odium was unrelenting.

“Not exactly, sir,” Harold continued “As it appears their leader was not present at the fight. However, we did manage to capture the man responsible for leading the charge. We have placed him in the “political” section of the dungeon. If you wish you may interrogate him at your leisure."

The archbishop fell silent for a few seconds as he mulled over Harold's words.

“Well,” he sighed “It’s not perfect, but I am still impressed. You have done well to protect my kingdom, Harold,” Odium smiled and patted Harold on the head.

The superintendent let out a sigh of relief and smiled at Odium.

“T-t-thank you, my lord,” Harold stuttered.

“You are welcomed,” the archbishop said “Now I need you to do one more thing for me,” the archbishop said as Harold’s ears perked up.

“What do you wish, your Holiness?” Harold asked cautiously.

“Send Isabella with my finest wine up to my chambers. Tell her to bring three glasses as well. Make sure she arrives there in about ten minutes or less."

Harold’s eye twitched a bit.

“What if she refuses? She is prone to disobeying my orders after all,” the superintendent groaned in frustration.

“She will obey, don’t worry. She knows you are doing me a favor after all,” Odium said gently to Harold as he and Cattanburry had reached the staircase leading into Odium’s study.

Harold just bowed down and rushed back to the main hallway. As Odium unlocked the door to his study, he and Cattanburry could hear Harold yelling at the maidens and searching for Isabella.

“Why do you keep him?” Cattanburry asked Odium as he watched Harold frantically flailing his arms at Isabella.

“Whom? Harold? His appearance and behavior might be a bit odd, but he is a diligent worker that shows a lot of promise,” Odium explained as the two made their way into Odium’s work chamber.

The room in itself was a huge contrast to everything else in the castle.

Unlike the crimson velvet bedroom in which Odium slept, his study was much different.

Bland, naked, brick walls surrounded this cold and uninviting place, with the only décor on them being large bookcases filled with various literature, most of them containing knowledge on the study of various magical systems used in the neighboring kingdom.

Each wall also had a small, circular, opening, closed off by metal bars, serving as the only source of fresh air. In the middle of this desolate and cold room stood a small table with four chairs, barely able to seat that many. Upon the table, a small oil lantern stood, which the archbishop turned on as he and his companion settled in.

“Well, this place is as cozy as ever,” Cattanburry joked and sat down.

“Minimal distractions allow the mind to focus better on things that are most important to us,” Odium replied as he sat, opposite to Cattanburry.

“If you say so,” Cattanburry shrugged his shoulders.

A few moments passed as neither of them spoke a word to each other. They looked at each other, both attempting, in vain, to decipher what the other was thinking.

“Do you know why I have brought you here cardinal?” Odium spoke quietly, finally breaking the silence.

“I assume it was because of that woman at the burning stake. I thought you’d like to discuss the best way to approach her situation," Cattanburry replied, slightly surprised by Odium's quiet tone.

Odium just smirked and got up. He started to quietly walk around the room, stroking his beard as he did so. Cattanburry followed him intently with his eyes, befuddled by his friend’s reaction.

“How long has it been since we first met, cardinal?” Odium asked Cattanburry as he walked toward him.

“Well, it’ll be twenty years now,” Cattanburry said, still a bit shocked by this sudden mood swing.

“Twenty years,” Odium repeated, with a hint of nostalgia, as he patted his friend on the shoulder. He continued to prowl around the room.

“And do you remember what you promised me after the ‘Hell’s end’ battle?” Odium asked, taking in a deep sigh as he did so.

Cattanburry’s face turned pale. He realized that whatever Odium was going to ask for next would be much bigger than resolving a witchcraft dispute.

“Of course I do. I might look old, but I am not senile,” Cattanburry replied, attempting to keep his joking tone “Why do you ask?” he asked, however, his question would stay unanswered as a sudden knock on the door turned their attention elsewhere.

“Ah, here she comes,” Odium clapped his hands readily and smiled.

As he opened the door, he was greeted by Isabella’s smiling face. In her right hand was a bottle of the archbishop’s finest wine and in her left, she held three glasses.

“Cardinal, I believe you are already familiarized with the light of my life, Isabella Cordillier or as I like to call her ‘the daughter I always wish I had,’” Odium joked and hugged Isabella with his right arm.

“Oh stop it, you are too kind,” Isabella laughed and playfully hit Odium with her left hand in the chest. Odium pretended to clutch his chest in pain, making Isabella laugh even harder at his little theatrics.

No matter how many times he saw this, Cattanburry could not believe it. One of the most fearsome men in all of Clomion, the leader of the Ordo Solo Deus, the man who personally had sentenced hundreds to their demise, was playing around this woman like he was the local village idiot. To say it was surreal would be putting it mildly.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, milady. You look as radiant as ever,” Cattanburry smiled as he kissed her hand.

“The pleasure is all mine, dear cardinal,” Isabella smiled “And you look as rugged and handsome as ever,” she complimented the elderly cardinal and winked at him.

She set down the glasses, making sure to bend a little lower when she set Cattanburry’s glass and sat down next to Cattanburry. She pulled her chair close to Odium’s right hand, making sure they were but a few inches away from each other.

“I hope you don’t mind some feminine accompaniment, cardinal,” Isabella said seductively.

“Not at all my dear,” Cattanburry said, barely turning his eyes to her, still precautious with the tone of voice he used. He was well acquainted with her antics and thus he knew to keep his guard up.

“Back to our earlier discussion,” Cattanburry said, attempting to ignore Isabella, “What is that you wanted from me? It must be quite serious since you mentioned the Hell’s End pact we made,” Cattanburry exclaimed, anxiously waiting for the archbishop’s response.

“Ah, I do believe I kept you waiting for long enough by now,” Odium responded and nodded to Isabella. She recognized the signal immediately and reached into her bosom.

Cattanburry was ready to protest until he saw that she took out a parchment. He was a bit relieved by this and Isabella noticed it immediately.

“Don’t worry; I wouldn’t expose myself that easily. Not in front of Odium, at least,” she whispered into Cattanburry’s ear

Cattanburry rolled his eyes, yet still couldn’t help himself but let out a small chuckle.

“You really are shameless aren’t you?” he whispered back to Isabella.

“Just one of my many charms,” Isabella said back and shrugged her shoulders.

Odium observed closely this interaction with a raised eyebrow. He coughed slightly, returning their attention.

“If you two have finished your little secret conversation, I would like for us to return to more pressing matters,” Odium said with an expression of slight irritation.

Isabella looked at Odium with saddened eyes, like a scolded child would, making him smile as his irritation disappeared.

Unbelievable,” Cattanburry thought to himself and shook his head.

“So what is this?” the cardinal asked as he unfolded the paper.

“That my friend is the royal abolishment decree,” Odium said contently “The only thing that can save this kingdom in its time of need."

As he read through the document, Cattanburry’s heartbeat quickened. His eyes widened, his breathing sped up and sweat beads began to pour out on his forehead.

“According to this proclamation,” Cattanburry said meekly, still in shock of what he had read “You wish that the human kingdom ceases any contact with the “demon-blooded” kingdoms. Furthermore, you wish that all members of demon blood, and their descendants, be exiled from the human kingdom,” Cattanburry finished.

“That is correct,” Odium said and nodded.

“And by demon blood you mean,” Cattanburry's voice was a bit shaky as he could not believe the lengths to which this decree stretched.

“The drakkens of course,” Isabella interjected and scoffed with disgust.

“And the Saaud daemons,” Odium corrected her.

“Of course,” Isabella nodded her head as they both turned their attention to Cattanburry who was now as bleak as a blanket.

“So, what do you want from me?” Cattanburry asked.

“Well, as you know, for a decree like this to be given to the king we have to have at least two out of the required three signatures of the Triumvirate,” Odium stated as Cattanburry had begun to understand the full weight of the situation he was in.

“And you can’t ask Demeter, because you know he will turn you down,” Cattanburry elaborated.

“Well I could, but that would be a fruitless effort,” the archbishop said calmly.

“Besides,” Isabella spoke, disgust visible on her face, “His filthy blood would never allow him to sign such a thing. Such is the curse of his kind. They can’t see the big picture as clearly as his Holiness."

“Be that as it may,” Cattanburry protested, “This is suicidal for me to sign. This thing puts us in direct conflict with the Drakken. They have been our most valuable allies. Without their help, this kingdom wouldn’t even exist!"

Odium’s faced turned grim.

“Where were they in Hell’s End?”

One simple question was all it took to silence Cattanburry.

“Just as I thought,” Odium huffed “You vouch for them as the saviors of humanity, but where were they when we needed them the most? Whose side did they take in that fight?!” Odium yelled and slammed his right fist against the table.

“They didn’t take either side. It wasn’t their fight,” Cattanburry quietly explained.

Odium stared Cattanburry in the eyes.

“Can you tell that to the families whose members were decimated in that battle? Do you remember their screams as the Saauds sliced them apart? Do you remember the Saaud fires engulfing our armor as we fought?” the archbishop flared heavily as Cattanburry sat back, incapable of uttering a single word, “Maybe you remember that one Saaud soldier who captured you and gave you this scar?” Odium grabbed Cattanburry’s robes and exposed his stomach.

A large scar was stretched across cardinal’s abdomen as he quickly took back his robe and covered it up.

“I remember how you looked back then,” Odium said somberly “You were passed out when I found you. A second longer and you would have bled out completely. Your pleading eyes even begged me for death as your tormentor would not grant you even that much,” Odium continued as he noticed Cattanburry holding back tears from that painful memory.

“I remember it all,” Cattanburry sighed.

“Then you know that if the Drakken had intervened none of this would have happened, but they didn’t. They abandoned us. And those who would abandon us that easily cannot be considered allies to the human kingdom. No matter what the king may think,” Odium finished his tirade.

“Even if I agreed with all of that,” Cattanburry continued “It still would not guarantee that this proclamation would pass. It would still need to pass through the Council of Eight and they would be heavily opposed to it."

“The Council should not concern you, my friend. I will deal with them personally,” Odium stated calmly.

“And if that doesn’t work, I can always use my feminine charm to persuade them into seeing our side,” Isabella said as she played with her raven locks of hair.

“What about the king? Surely if Julius even caught a glimpse of this he would be outraged beyond belief,” Cattanburry attempted in vain to find a way to get out of this mess.

“If there are two signatures from the members of the Triumvirate, the law will go into the consideration of the Council of Eight. Even if he finds out what’s in it, he won’t be able to stop it,” Odium continued to disarm the cardinal.

“It’s going to reach him eventually!” Cattanburry yelled, “Then what?!”

“Oh, but haven’t you heard?” Isabella interjected “The king is rather old and he has a very weak heart. It’s not unlikely that it should give away any time soon.

“Isabella!” Odium yelled as she quickly silenced herself.

Cattanburry felt as if the entire room was spinning around him. His stomach turned and he felt weak as he tossed the parchment on the table.

“I am sorry, but I don’t know if I can go through with this,” Cattanburry said and raised his hands away from the desk.

Odium sighed.

“I understand your concerns,” he spoke paternally “You fear war and you fear the king’s repercussions. I know it well. However, what I am offering here is for you to be a part of a revolution for our Creator. These demons have harmed our land for long enough. It’s time we took a stand against them and the kings who have protected them!” Odium's spoke with a fanatic flair as he slammed his right hand against the wooden table.

Cattanburry looked down at the paper and then back at Odium. The archbishop’s words sounded enticing, but he was still wary.

“Do as your honor commands from you,” Odium whispered into Cattanburry’s ear.

These words rang in Cattanburry’s ear. Odium’s words worked like ravenous worms and ate away at the cardinal, infecting his thought process and inserting their poison into his mind. He knew that if he refused, all that he had worked for his entire life would fall to pieces. The choice was now as clear as day.

“Alright I will do it,” Cattanburry sighed and signed the parchment right beneath Odium’s signature

“Excellent!” Odium smiled as he saw the ink dry on the paper “Now, Isabella, pour us some wine to celebrate this wondrous moment.”

“Right away sir!” Isabella replied with a smile.

“So what do we do now, my friend?” Cattanburry asked as he sunk into his chair.

“Tonight we shall celebrate the signing of the new declaration. I have arranged for the most influential men in our land to come tonight for a little get-together."

“Tonight? “ Cattanburry asked with a raised eyebrow “So you knew I would sign this even before you brought it up to me?!”

“I had a hunch that you would see my side, that’s all,” Odium smiled as he clicked his wine glass against Cattanburry’s.

“Well, I will have to be excused then,” Cattanburry said as he barely got up from his chair.

“Aw, but can’t you stay for a little while?” Isabella grabbed his hand and looked at him pleadingly.

“I am sorry to disappoint you milady,” Cattanburry spoke gently as he retracted his hand from Isabella “However, I am feeling quite weak and weary from this whole ordeal. I am afraid that I wouldn’t be much fun tonight,” Cattanburry said and excused himself from Odium’s study.

“Well more drinks for us, milady,” Odium said and raised his glass as Cattanburry left.

“Indeed” Isabella replied, but still looked after the cardinal.

She couldn’t help it, but to be very fascinated by him. His position, his finely aged body, which appeared more like a body of a young warrior than an elderly man, all of these elements combined with a touch of the forbidden fruit, made Isabella more and more interested in this man.

Sure the same could be said for the archbishop, but she never saw him in that light. He was like a father to her, a rock beneath her feet. Having these thoughts about Odium was just sickening to her mind.

However Cattanburry, well he was another tale altogether.

Oh well,” Isabella thought to herself “I am getting rather bored of this easy prey. He might be more of a fun challenge. After all, they don’t make them like they used to anymore,” Isabella chuckled to herself as she sipped her wine.

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