The morning star lazily woke up and began its daylong journey across the clear blue sky. Odium’s palace glistened and bathed fully in its golden light as a few of these heavenly rays managed to creep through the blinds and into the archbishop’s chamber.
A crystal chandelier, hanging from the ceiling, caught these rays of light and redistributed them across the room, illuminating the illustrated marble walls.
Murals of archbishops past, saintly figures, and legendary heroes clad in white armor were all painted across the walls. No matter where these figures were painted, no matter their status, they were all pointed to the same scene. They all looked up to a man that sat behind a desk, hovering high above them all. He was accompanied by two figures, two teachers, that dictated to him what he needed to write down.
The teacher on his left appeared to be a pale-white young woman with golden hair. Her figure was wrapped in a dark blue tunic with a starry pattern on it. The fair maiden leaned close to the old man behind the table, whispering to him as he wrote.
The figure on his right seemed to be a creature, wrapped in bulky jet-black armor. Upon his head, he wore a horned helmed, though it did not conceal his face which was gray and decaying. His ruby red eyes were locked on the ancient writer as he held a bottle of red ink in his right hand and a halberd in his left.
The old man’s feather was dipped in the red ink as he listened closely to what the woman was saying to him. The figures and the man were all enraptured in yellow light, streaming down from the heavens above them.
These murals were the only creation passed down from former rulers of the Order. The man in the picture was the great founder Argius and his two teachers were the two forces that rule over the mortal plane; the forces of Creation, represented as the pale woman, and the forces of Daemonium, represented by the ghoulish figure.
As much as the inclusion of Daemonium bothered him, Odium dared not to paint over such beauty, as it would be akin to sacrilege.
Opposite to the mural of the most sacred humans stood a large bed, made out of the finest fisbo tree, one of the last of its kind. Its size was big enough to fit at least three more people in it. Cashmere blankets gently caressed the archbishop’s figure as his head lay upon pillows filled with quail feather.
Between the bed and the rest of the room, the archbishop had a fence installed to separate him from those who entered. This fence was about waist high, serving to either trip up the intruder or to slow him down, and it stretched around the bed.
In the early days of his rule, Odium experienced rather unpleasant encounters with some of his visitors, culminating in one man rushing into his bed chambers while he slept and attempting to cut out his throat. He was quickly subdued as the archbishop’s grunts of pain alerted the Sondeliers. In his futile attempt, he did manage to give the archbishop a severe cut on his arm. The wound had never fully healed and it served as a constant reminder of the danger that lurks behind every corner.
Odium’s blissful rest was quickly broken as a booming voice from a Sondelier made him spring up in his bed, still groggy from his sleep.
“Madam Cordillier wishes an audience with your Excellency!” the Sondelier yelled, prompting the archbishop to wince at the sound of his voice.
“This early?” Odium spoke in a bleary voice as he peevishly rubbed the crusted remains of his dreams from his eyes.
“She says it’s urgent."
“Fine, fine, let her in!"
The Sondelier observed him from top to bottom.
“Are you sure milord?” the Sondelier asked, pointing out Odium’s nightgown.
“Just send her in already and don’t waste my time!” Odium commanded, irritated by the guard’s suggestive comment.
“Yes sir!” the Sondelier saluted and hurriedly rushed out of Odium’s chamber.
“The things I have to deal with,” Odium let out a sigh of frustration
A few seconds later Odium heard another knock on his door.
“May I enter?” Isabella’s s smiling face peered out from behind the wooden door.
“Of course you may, my child. Tell me what urgent matter brings you here?” the archbishop grinned widely as Isabella entered.
“Oh, I just got bored so I came to talk to you for a bit. Is that alright?”
“Of course it is,” Odium said gently as a sigh of exasperation escaped from his thin lips.
Now that he could see her full figure, Odium noticed that Isabella was wearing a short dress crudely torn at knee high.
“You do realize that the tailor can make those dresses shorter, right?” he waved his head disapprovingly.
“Perish the thought! I am not some harlot that would make such indecent requests!”
Odium just waved his head again and shot her a smirk. That little girl, frightened by the cruelty of the world in which she was born, now had grown into a woman capable of survival in that cruelty. The years have made her beautiful and her nature, which he had cultivated for so long, now had come to bear him fruits.
“What am I going to do with you, my little Izzy?” he thought to himself as tears began to form in his eyes, which he quickly wiped away.
“Do you have anything to drink, Odi?” she asked him looking around the room for a nice intoxicating drink to ease her morning.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit early for alcohol?”
“How am I supposed to have a merry morning without a glass of wine?”
“Top cabinet on the left.” Odium tossed her the keys that he kept under his pillow.
“Thanks,” Isabella said and moved towards the wooden cupboard.
Inside it, glaring at her in its golden glory, was the flask of that intoxicating aphrodisiac.
A smile flew over Isabella’s face as she took the bottle and two wine glasses.
“Do you want some?” she asked the archbishop, offering him the other glass.
“Sure,” he replied as Isabella tore open the bottle cap unleashing the aroma of fermented grapes.
She poured the wine, first to the archbishop and then to herself, with such elegance and finesse that she would have you believe she was from some noble upbringing. The golden drink quickly filled up their glasses as both the archbishop and Isabella took in its beautiful scent.
As the wine hit Isabella’s taste buds she couldn’t hold herself but to let out a moan of enjoyment.
“Truly a drink fit for a king,” Isabella raised her glass.
“I must get better wine then,” Odium said under his breath “Did you have fun last night?”
“Oh, it was marvelous,” Isabella clapped her hands “Lord Claymore sure can move for a man of such large stature. However, his partner was so adorably red I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I think that even he got jealous a bit from my constant glaring at his lady friend,” Isabella clicked and laughed.
“You really shouldn’t be playing around like that you know, at least not when it comes to Lord Claymore. Marcus is a key factor in our plans."
“Relax I know what I’m doing,” Isabella smiled as she sat on the fence and stared in her glass. “So today’s the day, huh?” Isabella took in a deep breath.
Odium could notice how her shaky hands gave life to new rippling waves in her glass.
“Yes, today. Cattanburry and you will go and deliver the proposition to Julius. If he asks why you are there tell him Odium sent you."
“Why can’t you go as well?” Isabella pleaded with the archbishop.
“I would love to, but my duties force me to remain here."
“Oh yeah, that witch. You know the townsfolk are pretty dumb around these parts. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but last week they almost burned down a woman because she had slightly sharper teeth. It’s probably another one of those cases,” Isabella waved her hand dismissively.
“Perhaps, but I still have to check,” Odium said, getting out of his bed with the half-filled glass of Chardonnay in his right hand.
“Well, you do what you have to. I will go and get ready to escort my dear Cattanburry,” Isabella said and then stopped at the door and turned around “Oh, just so I know, when do we depart?” she asked, a bit embarrassed by the fact that she had forgotten such an important question.
“Noon sharp. I will inform Cattanburry as well,” the archbishop quickly said and rushed her out of the door. He didn’t want anybody watching him change.
When he assured himself that there would be no more disturbances, he took off his ugly nightgown and change into his interrogation clothes; a bright red prosecution robe and a hat with a golden cross across on it.
He looked at himself in the mirror and smirked with content.
“It’s time for the inquisition!"
Back at the dungeon, Ayla was just waking up. Demeter woke up a long time ago, but he didn’t want to disturb the quiet and peaceful slumber of his ‘cellmate’.
“Good morrow, madam. I trust you are well rested, now?” Demeter said as Ayla opened her emerald green eyes.
Instead of a response, Ayla yawned widely. Her face grimaced and she began to stretch out her back as the harsh wooden plank that she had to call her bed didn’t do any favors for her.
“I can see you are still as observant as ever Demeter.” Ayla teased and rubbed her eyes, still half asleep. Suddenly a thought came to her.
“Hey, Demeter, you wouldn’t happen to have a mirror on you?”
“No, why would I?” Demeter asked, baffled by her question.
“Just in case you have to make yourself look presentable, I suppose."
“Quite frankly, you don’t have to worry about your appearance here. You are a prisoner after all."
“Don’t underestimate the power of beauty, Demeter. A woman's beauty is her most dangerous tool if used correctly," Ayla smirked.
“I know. That’s why they sent me down here."
Ayla let out a small chuckle at that remark.
“How much longer do you think they’ll keep me here?” Ayla asked, quickly changing the subject from her looks.
“Knowing Odium, it shouldn’t be much longer before he comes down here to pass his judgment. Once that is done you will either be released or,” Demeter responded as his train of thought became more and more distant.
“Or what?” Ayla asked, confused by his sudden shift.
“Or you’ll end up like the rest of the prisoners,” Demeter said grimly as he looked out of Ayla’s cell for the first time.
Ayla could easily notice that his mood had swung. As she observed him, she noticed that Demeter bit his lower lip and fastened his breathing. For that moment his attention was not on Ayla.
“Still here!” Demeter heard a loud yell spreading through the moans of the doomed residents of this dungeon.
He let out a sigh of relief and chuckled to himself. Noticing this, Ayla’s curiosity was peaked.
“You must be really close with some of these prisoners,” Ayla commented, hoping to find out more about Demeter.
“What do you mean?” Demeter asked as he sat back in his chair.
“Well, firstly,” Ayla said, mocking his style of reasoning, “You fixed the arm of one of the prisoners, even though he kept blaming you for destroying countless families,” Ayla concluded.
“Well,” Demeter began “I helped that prisoner due to the fact that I knew the minuscule nature of his crime."
“What do you mean by ‘miniscule’?”
“He was trespassing on Odium’s property. For what exact reason, I cannot know, but I would assume it was a challenge to prove himself to the rest of his town,” Demeter deduced “He did not succeed and was promptly caught by a Sondelier. From there he was most likely noncompliant with the guard, hence the guard was ‘forced’, so to say, to teach him a lesson,” Demeter finished his explanation and spat on the ground.
Ayla’s face recoiled in horror as she imagined a six foot, bulky, behemoth crushing the arm of someone a head shorter than he is.
“How are they allowed to do that?”
“They have the blessing of the archbishop. They can do whatever they want to those that do not heed his warnings,” Demeter replied “Considering that the kid is still here, they must have wanted to make an example out of him. I felt sorry, so I helped him."
“Makes sense,” Ayla said “Still, you seemed very close to that young man that hung there. It seemed like he was very important to you."
“As I told you earlier, that is a sensitive matter that does not concern you,” Demeter responded, attempting to avoid the subject.
“Well, you concern me so if that concerns you, it concerns me as well."
“What are you talking about?"
“I can see that his position here hurts you quite a bit and I don’t like to see people who I am fond of in pain,” Ayla admitted and inched closer to Demeter.
Demeter’s lips curled up in a slight smile for a moment, before he restrained them.
“I must see if she can be trusted first,” Demeter calmed himself down.
“How do I know that I can trust you with this information?” Demeter asked, his voice as monotone as he could make it.
Ayla thought for a moment.
“I will answer three of your questions honestly and without hesitation. No tricks, no games, nothing,” Ayla said and held her right hand on her heart as if she were reciting an oath.
Demeter was surprised by her complacency.
“How do I know you won’t lie to me?”
“You’ll have to trust me,” Ayla responded with a serious tone.
Demeter thought about her offer for a bit. He took a deep sigh and looked back at Ayla. He searched her face and inspected her body language for any sign that might indicate that she was trying to deceive him. She just sat there, her face grimly serious as she held her right hand on her heart.
“It seems I will have to take my chance here,” Demeter sighed and extended his hand toward Ayla.
Pensively Ayla took her right hand off her heart and grasped Demeter’s hand. As their hands touched, Demeter could feel Ayla’s grasp was much firmer than he had expected.
“That’s quite an impressive grip you got there,” Demeter complimented Ayla.
“You too,” Ayla returned his compliment “So do we have a deal?”
“We most certainly do,” Demeter responded with a smile as they shook.
“Excellent!” Ayla clicked “Whenever you are ready, you may begin your questioning,” she looked expectantly at her jailor.
Demeter thought for a moment as he tried to find the perfect question to ask her.
“Well, let’s start with an easy one,” he smiled “Was I right in my earlier assumptions?"
Ayla let out a sigh of frustration.
“Really?! That’s the way you want to start this?! ”
“Just answer the question, please, “Demeter shut her down.
“Fine, suit yourself,” Ayla threw her hands up in the air “Yes, you were right. I am of noble descent, I do have fairly strong magical capabilities and yes, I am from another kingdom,” Ayla stood up and bowed to him mockingly, before lying down again.
“Now was that so hard?” Demeter asked as a smug grin spread across his face.
“Careful, you have already wasted one question. I could dock you one more just for that remark,” Ayla wagged her finger at Demeter.
“Oh, the question wasn’t wasted,” Demeter began “Now for my next one; what is the purpose of your visit to the human kingdom?”
“Now we’re cooking with fire,” Ayla said and rubbed her hands eagerly “My visit to your humble kingdom was simple. I am somewhat of an observer of rulers and I wanted to see how the powerless kingdom of humans was run and then to compare and contrast the differences between my kingdom and your own."
“How interesting,” Demeter said and rubbed his hairless chin as he thought of something.
Ayla tapped her feet nervously as she waited for his last question. Demeter stood up and walked closer to her. He lowered himself to her eye level and looked into her irises. Ayla’s breathing quickened slightly as she noticed Demeter so close to her. She could feel a slight heat rushing to her face as her bronze cheeks turned red.
“What are you doing?” Ayla asked as she moved her head away from Demeter.
“You are a Drakken, aren’t you?” Demeter whispered, just audibly enough for Ayla to hear.
Ayla’s heart sank and her eyes widened in shock. She felt as if time slowed down for that one moment that question was uttered.
Her smile soon returned to her face as a realization hit her.
“How did you know?” Ayla asked with a wide smirk on her face.
Demeter got up and began his walk around the room.
“It fits the description given to us by that old man,” Demeter explained “A blinding light of that proportion signals the end of a Drakken's transformation into a human. The sudden release of that much magic has to manifest itself somehow and you did confirm you were a powerful magic user after all. As an added bonus, the Drakken kingdom is the closest one to the human kingdom, making that possibility that much more likely,” Demeter finished his conclusion and looked back at the smiling Ayla.
“So I assume you know who I am then?” Ayla asked calmly.
“I have an idea,” Demeter said and got closed to Ayla’s ear “Your Highness,” he whispered into her ear and returned to his chair.
Ayla closed her eyes and smiled contently. She felt an odd calm wash over her as she heard Demeter utter those two words. Her identity has been discovered.
“I must apologize to you, for it seems I have truly underestimated your sharp mind,” Ayla said serenely “So what happens now? Will you report this to Odium?"
“I think I will keep it between us for now. I want to see what he will do before he realizes the truth,” Demeter winked at Ayla.
“My, my, aren’t we wicked?” Ayla smiled.
Now that he realized who it was that Odium had imprisoned, Demeter could rest at ease.
“Well, you found out my secret,” Ayla said “Now how about it? Will you tell me all about that man we saw a couple of cells back?” Ayla asked, her voice becoming a bit more hesitant.
“Well, I might as well. We did have an agreement after all,” Demeter exhaled and leaned forward in his chair “The man you saw back there is named Samuel Juna, but we all call him Sam for short. He is a member of a group known as the Regis Fidelis."
“And let me guess you are also the member of that group?” Ayla asked as puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place for her.
“I am the founder and leader of that group,” Demeter admitted silently, much to Ayla’s shock “I found it so that I could keep Odium and the Order in check."
“Why would you need to keep Odium in check?”
“Because I can see how the Order is slowly pushing the king out of his position and inserting themselves in his place,” Demeter said through gritted teeth “I was placed in the Triumvirate for that specific reason and this group helps me to fulfill my duties to the king."
“I see. I’ve known a few pious vultures like that myself. Such instability needs to be quelled quickly or else it will take over."
“Unfortunately, Odium already has his iron claw firmly grasped within the hearts of a lot of citizens around the kingdom,” Demeter sighed “We are merely keeping him from reaching even more. Though after this defeat, it might be too late,” Demeter’s voice became grimmer as he said those last words.
“What makes you say that?” Ayla pressed on, her voice becoming quieter and losing its optimistic tone.
“Sam’s team consisted of ten people; three of whom were women and seven were men. They were all young like him and were some of the strongest warriors within our troops,” Demeter spoke as he felt a heavy pressure being placed upon his chest “They wanted to locate a dangerous decree that Odium had constructed. One of our men is within the Order and he found out about it when he overheard Odium talking about it with a raven-haired woman."
“What was in the decree?”Ayla asked anxiously.
“From what I heard, it was something about the banishment of ‘demon blood’ or whatever he called it. Basically, an invitation for a war with the Saaud since the Order already saw them as demons,” Demeter scoffed.
“Why would he instigate such an event?”
“If I knew, I would tell you,” Demeter shrugged “Sam wanted to stop it by taking the fight to Odium, even though I heavily disagreed with it. I was afraid they wouldn’t even get to the main gate,” Demeter said as he felt his chest tighten harder.
Ayla couldn’t speak. She only listened to him in silence.
“Anyway,” Demeter continued, “I told him it was a dangerous idea, but he wanted to do it. We got into a big fight over it which ended with him and his friends leaving our group to fight this battle. I ran after him and tried to ask him to return back, but Sam was relentless. He can really be stubborn at times,” Demeter said as his lips curled up into a bittersweet smile.
“What happened then?” Ayla asked, snapping out of her trance for a moment.
“I stopped pushing,” Demeter said silently as his eyes filled with tears “I saw that he was going to do it no matter what I say. I gave him everything I knew about Odium’s palace, the protection around it, and wished him good luck,” Demeter said and bit his lip to prevent his tears from overflowing.
He suddenly felt Ayla’s soft, gentle, hand firmly grasping his own. He looked at Ayla and saw that tears glistened in her eyes, resembling small drops of morning dew on a green leaf under sunlight.
“Why are there tears in your eyes?” Demeter asked, puzzled by her reaction as she grasped his hand tightly.
Ayla quickly wiped the mist out of her eyes and smiled back. However, it wasn’t the same smile to which Demeter was used to.
It was a genuine smile of empathy; the type that can only be given to someone when reassuring them that everything will be alright. Demeter returned her smiled and caressed her hand in his for a moment. It seemed to calm him down quite a bit.
As they sat in silence, Demeter suddenly sprung up. He let go of Ayla’s hand and rushed to the bars.
“What’s wrong?” Ayla asked in a panic.
Her answer was quickly given to her as a shriek echoed through the halls. Demeter knew very well where it came from.
“Stay put!” Demeter commanded, quickly unlocking the cell door and rushing out into the hall. As he reached Sam he was shocked to see two Sondeliers giving him a rough beating. Sam curled up in a fetal position and his hands shielded his face from the flurry of punches and kicks that the Holy Guards administered.
“Let him go!” Demeter screamed as he placed himself between them and Sam.
The Sondeliers stopped as Odium walked up from behind them.
“And why would they do that?” he said with a content smile as Demeter’s face turned pale.