As Ayla was dragged to her punishment below, Cattanburry was getting ready above. He put on his cardinal robe and cap and took in a deep breath.
He slowly walked over to his window and gazed across the vast forest. The Sun’s golden rays revealed the luscious beauty of this sacred place, yet Cattanburry felt nothing. Even as a gentle breeze grazed his cheek and smell of freshly mown grass hit his nostrils, he remained unfazed.
“I didn’t think you would let me go that easily,” Cattanburry thought to himself and smirked somberly “Is this truly how you want to enact Your divine punishment? It will do neither of us any good,” Cattanburry said under his breath as he looked up to the sky. The warmth of the afternoon sun washed over him as he smirked wider.
“I could apologize for wishing to engage in a war with You,” Cattanburry sighed and turned to the sky as he got on his knees “However, that would be a lie. I ask not for Your forgiveness in that regard. I only ask that You understand why I cannot yield from this. If You wish to take away my sensations, then so be it. You gave me a free mind and I will exercise my freedom with this decision.”
As Cattanburry made his proclamation, he lifted himself up with his walking cane and proceeded to exit his bedchambers
Outside, superintendent Sulcheim was nervously tapping his foot and checking his watch.
“Where could that no good cardinal be?! He’s making me look bad!” Harold cursed under his breath.
Suddenly he heard footsteps descending from atop the staircase as Cattanburry’s elder figure came into his field of vision. His pale face turned beet red as Cattanburry only smiled at him.
“Lord Cattanburry, you are late! The deadline was specifically at noon and now it’s noon and five,” Harold claimed as he tapped his pocket watch furiously.
“It’s only five minutes, Harold,” Cattanburry’s smile waned “You don’t need to be so upset about it.”
“Five minutes could mean the difference between life and death, cardinal!” Harold yelled as he tapped his foot.
“If you say so,” Cattanburry shrugged his shoulders and passed him.
“Don’t ignore me like that!” Harold yelled and rushed to catch up with Cattanburry.
Soon enough, Harold had not only caught up with the cardinal but had surpassed him as well and sped off to the main courtyard. Cattanburry tried to keep up, but he was no match for the speedy servant.
Odium waited, still in his red inquisitor outfit, for their arrival with two brown horses next to him. Cattanburry’s tardiness worked to the archbishop’s favor as he was able to calm down and relax from his visit to the dungeon.
“That punishment might come later to haunt me,” Odium thought to himself “However, it will provide me with the information I need to confirm my suspicions. Besides, that amount of disrespect cannot go unpunished.”
His thoughts were broken as he saw Harold’s face glistening with sweat and breathing heavily as Cattanburry calmly walked behind him.
“I am so sorry milord for our tardiness,” Harold huffed and took out his handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that had appeared all over his face “However, your guest decided to sleep in and forced us all to be late!"
Odium could barely contain his laughter as he saw Harold’s golden hair stand on its end in frustration and his pale white complexion turn pepper red in anger.
“It’s alright Harold,” Odium smirked “It’s only five minutes.”
Hearing those words Harold’s eyes bulged out and he took in a deep breath.
“Only five minutes?!” Harold’s voice shrieked throughout the courtyard “ My Lord, forgive me for saying this, but you are completely wrong about that. Our world is set to an exact second by the grand scheme of time. If we are late even for one second we are disrespecting the general order of the Universe and thus we would be spitting in the face of the Creator, the Order and all that is good in this world. Our punctuation is the basis of all of our principals and therefore by not respecting it, we might as well be rolling in the dirt like filthy hogs! Quite honestly, to hear such nonsense coming from someone as noble as you, really,” he started to take wind again but was immediately cut off as two hands pulled him from the back.
He was spun around as two brown eyes greeted him warmly. Before he could say anything Isabella pressed her lips against Harold's and kissed him.
Odium and Cattanburry watched on in shock as neither one of them knew how to respond appropriately to the situation. However, their bewilderment paled in comparison to Harold’s as he only stood there in silence.
“Now will you be a good little boy and shut up?” Isabella said sweetly as she let go off Harold from her embrace and fixed the ruffles on his shirt.
Without uttering a word Harold retreated inside, completely baffled by the events that had just transpired. Isabella smirked and walked seductively over to Cattanburry.
“I hope you liked what you saw,” Isabella whispered and winked at the elder cardinal.
Cattanburry felt cold shivers run down his back. Her advances were becoming more and more open as time went by.
“Are you feeling alright cardinal?” Odium asked him, noticing the slight disturbance in Cattanburry.
“As alright as I can be,” Cattanburry responded and walked over to his steed “By the way, how did the inquisition go? Were you able to identify the identity of our prisoner?”
“Well, she didn’t give me any direct answers,” Odium sighed “However, I do have different approaches for the likes of her.”
"If not by grace then by grief, I take it,"Cattanburry noted as he got up on his horse.
"That's one way to put it," Odium smirked at this remark.
“Now, for the matter at hand,” Cattanburry said “May I have the decree? After all, a member of the Triumvirate must deliver such an important document to the king personally."
“Isabella, would you kindly hand the decree over to the cardinal?"
“Most certainly,” Isabella smirked and reached into her bosom to retrieve the document.
“Must you keep it in there?!” Cattanburry sighed, embarrassed by the woman’s actions.
“I like to keep important things close to my heart,” Isabella smiled and handed the decree over to Cattanburry.
“Besides, why is she even traveling with me? She has no business on the king’s court."
“On the contrary, my friend,” Odium interjected, “My little Izzy is a key element in my plans.”
“What do you mean?” Cattanburry asked.
“My young protégé is going on a little exchange course with you. Since king Julius was gracious enough to bless us with Demeter’s presence, I thought I would return the favor and send one of my own students to observe him,” Odium explained as Isabella smirked wide grin.
“And it just happened to coincide with the signing of this decree?” Cattanburry said as pieces of the puzzle slowly snapped into place in his mind.
"How peculiar,” Odium laughed and stroked his beard. Isabella joined him in his laughter as Cattanburry became even more worried.
“If Isabella is coming with me then that will only serve to complicate the situation further,” Cattanburry’s mind raced “A cunning and amoral woman like her is a weapon most dangerous, especially if she is placed upon the king’s court. I might as well be delivering a demon straight to Julius’ doors.”
This realization made Cattanburry’s heart race quicker. He could feel something quite off with Odium’s plan from the very start, but this new revelation made him realize how deep Odium’s plans truly go. He was aiming for the crown itself.
“Even if that is the case, so be it!” Odium tried to convince himself “My mind has been made up already. There is no return anymore,” Cattanburry thought to himself and turned to the heavens. He felt his chest heavily constricting and his breathing became shallower than usual.
“Are you alright Cattanburry? You look as pale as a ghost,” Odium said as he rushed over to his friend's side.
Cattanburry looked at his hands and noticed that their color had been drained.
“I guess I am a bit nervous,” the cardinal chuckled.
“I am sorry if my addition scared you so,” Isabella added as her smile dropped to a concerned expression
“If you’re having second thoughts then it is best you tell me now, cardinal. I need your full resolve after all."
In his grim words, Cattanburry found solace. They had confirmed his every suspicion and he knew that he was doing the right thing now.
“I trust you completely, William,” Cattanburry said as Isabella’s eyes widened. No one had ever referred to Odium by his first name.
Odium let out a sigh of relief and smirked.
“I trust you too, Ronald,” Odium replied and turned his attention to Isabella.
As the two of them talked, Cattanburry suddenly began to feel slightly colder. His breathing slowed down and his sensations dulled yet again.
“Moral is human, honor is godly,” Cattanburry repeated and looked to the skies.
The second his eyes gazed upon the baby blue skies, the cardinal noticed that his senses dulled yet again as a black veil fell took over his vision. His breathing had almost halted as he silently rode his horse with Isabella by his side.
They passed through the vast and luscious forest and exited the walls of Odium’s property, but Cattanburry was still caught in his trance. Isabella made fruitless attempts to instigate any response from him, yet he paid no attention to her.
His trance was broken once they entered the impoverished town of Darion. The heralding trumpets welcomed them as people made sure to line up and bear witness to his glory.
Cattanburry looked at the dirt-stained faces of people that greeted them. Their unwashed hands all raised up to him, attempting to touch his robe.
As a sign of appreciation, Cattanburry took a gold piece out of his pouch and tossed it into the crowd. He wanted to see how these denizens of a holy town would react to materialistic possessions.
Like animals being tossed a single piece of meat men, women and children all rushed to the place where the coin fell and wrestled, scratched and mauled each other, just to get the small prize.
“Pitiful beasts,” Cattanburry scoffed and sped up his horse.
“Gold piece for your thoughts?” Isabella asked Cattanburry as they exited the city limits and rode on a dusty path that led to a dark green forest.
Cattanburry was silent for a moment before he spoke up
“How do you do it Isabella?” he spoke suddenly. Isabella was taken back a bit by the question.
“So you have finally acknowledge my existence," Isabella leaned on her stallion and cocked an eyebrow.
"I need you to answer my question seriously," Cattanburry's cold words made Isabella straighten up "Please answer my question."
"What do you mean?" Isabella's confusion grew.
“How do you live without a conscience?”
This one simple question confused Isabella even more.
“What makes you think that I live without a conscience?"
“I saw how you act,” Cattanburry explained “You openly lust after me, even though I am old enough to be your father, you flirt with married men only to cause chaos in their lives and you are complacent in Odium’s plans."
Hearing Cattanburry's thoughts, Isabella let out an audible chuckle.
“Aren’t you complacent in Odium’s plans as well?” she asked as they approached the dark green forest that led to the capital of Clomion.
Cattanburry raised a finger and attempted to say something, but fell silent instead. He knew she spoke the truth. He had lost his moral high ground the second he had signed that decree.
“Then again, you aren’t wrong,” Isabella sighed as they traveled deeper into the woods “I have lived without what you call a ‘conscience’ for the longest portion of my life.”
“A sense of right and wrong, or as you call it a ‘conscience’, is a fairly limiting term in my opinion,” Isabella said “It limits our freedom to the point where we have to adhere to ridiculous rules and regulations decided by those that we consider being truly righteous. It is nothing more than a perverse sense of superiority over someone,” Isabella exclaimed and spat on the ground.
“That is ridiculous!” Cattanburry yelled and shook his head.
“Ridiculous you say?” Isabella raised her eyebrow. “I will tell you a story, my dear cardinal, and then tell me how ridiculous my conclusion truly is."
"Alright," Cattanburry replied as he noticed a sudden shift in Isabella's demeanor.
Isabella pulled the reins of her steed slightly, indicating to the beast to slow down. Her eyes, usually ignited by a seductive and lustful flame, now seemed to drop down, longingly, to the horse. Their flames were dimmed down and they were fixated at the steed's mane as she carressed it. Her lips lost their playful smile as they arched down into an expression of nostalgic contemplation.
“There once was a man whose name was feared throughout the Eight Kingdoms,” Isabella spoke softly “This man had amassed powers so great that it took the mightiest sorcerors from said kingdoms joining together to stop him. The leaders of these Eight Kingdoms decided to place this man beyond time and space, beyond the veil of our world and into a dark and desolate place so that his evil may never return."
"There is only one man I know that would fit that description," Cattanburry brought his hand to his beard, "But how does he fit in all of this. Unless..." another piece of the puzzle clicked in Cattanburry's mind.
"However, unbeknownst to them, this man had a wife; a beautiful, raven-haired maiden with eyes as dark as the midnight sky. Her beauty was only matched by her kindness as she cared deeply for her husband. She loved him even as he was dragged away from her," Isabella cotinued to carress the mane of her horse as as her lips curled in a sorrowful half smile "From their love, a child was born and the woman was forced to flee in order to ensure the survival of the said child. This child possessed no powers which made their secret that much easier to keep.”
“How does this relate to you?” Cattanburry interrupted.
“I'll get to it, don’t worry,” Isabella scolded Cattanburry as he broke her train of thought.
“I apologize for my interruption,” Cattanburry said, “Please, continue.”
“It's fine,” Isabella waved her hand “Anyway, she hid the child in a small village and they lived a peaceful life. The child grew, got married and started a family of its own. And for a time, it was fine. Their lineage continued for four more generations; four, peaceful, happy, generations, untainted by their past. However, that would soon change," Isabella sighed heavily.
“What happened?” Cattanburry asked silently.
As if spellbound by those two words, Isabella tightened her grip on the reins of her horse, pulling herself to a full stop. Cattanburry followed suit and stood besides her. He could see Isabella's eyes darting straight ahead into the dark thicket. Her grip was stil firm on the reins and her eyes glistened under the afternoon sun.
“I was born."
Isabella spoke those three words silently, almost as if they were nothing more than whisper of the wind amongst the leaves. Cattanburry's pupils widened and his mouth was slightly agape.
Her story seemed to lead in this direction, yet he was still surprised. It was too absurd to be the truth after all.
"What do you mean "you were born"?" Cattanburry asked, bewildered by her explanation.
Isabella slightly turned her head to see the cardinal staring at her as if she were the latest attraction in a freak show. She took in a deep breath and raised up her left hand. Cattanburry's eyes followed her every move intently, unable to pry themselves away from the sight in front of them.
Her eyes closed and purple energy began to envelop her hand. It's form was nebulous, as if a purple haze descended from the heavens themselves and settled around her wrist. It slithered up from the back of her hand, across the tips of her fingers, and pooled in the middle of her hand. It swirled around in the palm of her hand, vortex like in its appearence, before Isabella brought down her fingers at the vortex and dissipated it completely.
She looked expectantly at Cattanburry, fearing his reaction. Noting that he was still in a trance, Isabella snapped her fingers in front of his face. Cattanbrurry shook his head as he focused back on Isabella.
"Welcome back, cardinal. We missed you," Isabella giggled.
"Good to be back," Cattanburry automatically responded as he shook his head.
"As you saw, my blood was tainted by his evil." Isabella returned to her thoughts, "The magic I showed you was a trick I learned on my own. I wanted to surprise my mom and dad with it. I had a feeling they would like it," Isabella's voice quivered slightly as she spoke those last words.
She lowered her head closer to her steed. Her midnight dark hair fell over her face, serving as a curtain to hide herself from the cardinal.
Cattanburry immediately closed in his steed towards her. He noticed how Isabella's shoulder shook and shivered as silent sobs escaped from her dark veil. Closing in he put his right arm around her shoulder and took Isabella by the chin with his left. He slowly raised her head until he could see her tear striken face looking at him with a smile.
He pulled her closer with his right hand and let her head rest upon his should.
"I am so sorry," Cattanbury spoke silently as Isabella's tears dripped down his gown.
"It's funny," Isabella sighed deeply as tears continued to roll down her cheeks, "No matter how much time passes, it still hurts. Even after all these years the memories still sting like a dagger driven through my heart."
Isabella took in a deep breath and wiped away her tears. The memories subsided and she felt their stig lessen with each stroke of Cattanburry's arm.
"Do you feel better?"
"I do, thank you for that," Isabella smiled warmly.
"Though i do have to wonder. What does that have to do with your opinion on morality?" Cattanburry pressed on as they continued to ride their horses.
“That’s just it Cattanburry,” Isabella wiped her tears away “For years I tried to fight who they thought I was. I tried to fight the world’s perception of me for as long as I could, but it was never enough. As a child they branded me as a demon and yet their morality forbade them to kill me. That made me realize the major flaw of morality."
"What's that?" Cattanburry asked.
"It's restrictive" Isabella explained "The limitations it has are too rigid and you can never fulfil your true purpose with it. There is no fun in such strictness."
"Still, our morality takes us on a true path. It guides us to the Creator's light. " Cattanburry argued. "At least, that's what the Order tells us," he still thought to himself.
"And yet those who throw it away profit the most," Isabella retorted "Take it from someone who has been down that road before, anything that restricts you only serves to slow you down."
"I fear I could not live without my conscience," Cattanburry sighed as they traveled through the forest.
“Conscience is overrated. After all: moral is human, but pleasure is divine,” Isabella smiled to Cattanburry.
Suddenly, her smile faded as a look of pure concentration was on her face.
“What’s wrong?” Cattanburry asked as he saw Isabella sniffing the air like a hound.
“I can sense their putrid stench. They are around us,” Isabella spoke as a malicious grin spread over her face.
“What are you,” Cattanburry tried to say, but a shadowy figure crossed his line of view.
He was now aware of the danger they were in.
A loud animalistic growl came from the trees above as a creature appeared on one of the tree branches. The beast stood at five feet tall and was covered in sharp, brown, fur. It's shadow has dissipated revealing a biped with sharp, eagle-like talons firmly dug deep into the bark of the tree. The hands of the creature ended in five sharp and curved claws while from its back sprouted two, large, leathery wings. Upon its head, the beast had two curved horns making its appearance akin to an imp from old fairy tales. The beast’s beady, black eyes focused intently on Isabella as she slowly got up from her steed and approached it. The creature unleashed an ear piercing howl as it swooped from the branch and moved towards the raven-haired maiden.
As it approached her, a purple light began to envelop Isabella’s hand. Before the beast could realize the error of its way, Isabella extended her arm towards the beast and released a piercing ray of purple light right through the creature’s skull.
The beast fell limply to the forest bed as Cattanburry watched in shock.
“What was that?”
“Seekers, nasty little pests,” Isabella concluded as she watched over the corpse of the slaughtered beast “And where is one, there are bound to be more,” Isabella said and rushed to mount her horse.
Multiple shrieking howls could be heard coming from the forest while Isabella and Cattanburry sped through the grove, trying to reach its edge.
“We have company,” Cattanburry yelled as the beast moved closer, almost grabbing his horse.
“Stay low!” Isabella yelled and shot a larger, yet less stable beam of purple light.
Cattanburry ducked down as fast as he could as the beam broke off into three smaller ones, all of which mortally wounded the nearest three demons.
Noticing the bodies of their fallen comrades, the other Seekers shrieked even louder, causing Cattanburry to cover his ears in pain.
“Let’s lose them,” Isabella said and rushed towards the trees, attempting to make sharper turns through the woods. Cattanburry followed her example quickly rushing through the trees as well.
At first, their tactic had some success, as more than a few of the flying demons flew right into the thick trees around them, causing them to fall to the ground. However, these efforts soon failed since the Seekers were accustomed to this terrain.
“Just a few more feet and we will be in the open”, Isabella screamed, noticing the vast green meadow in front of her.
Once out, Isabella stepped off her steed. A hoard of winged imps closed in on her, however, they stopped. The beasts had sensed a sudden shift in power and were now trying to back away, cautiously.
Isabella’s black hair and pale skin had become encased in a purple aura of light as her eyes turned a golden shade. Isabella took in a deep breath. She focused all of the energy she could muster into her hands as a glowing orb appeared between them. Her aura began to slowly fade away as it was concentrated into the orb.
“Release,” Isabella exhaled as the Seekers attempted to flee from her attack.
From the orb, widespread, purple, flames were released as they devoured all of the Seekers that attempted to flee from her grasp, leaving nothing more than just scorched land in front of them.
Cattanburry stared, in shock, completely unable to grasp the full scope of the situation. As he watched, he noticed Isabella began to waver on her feet, before falling down to the ground.
The cardinal quickly rushed towards her and helped her to get up.
“Are you alright?” he asked Isabella as she woke up.
“Never doing that again. It seems I still have to learn of the recoil of such a widespread attack,” Isabella spoke groggily as she wobbled on her feet.
“Looks like we will have to set up camp here for the time."
"Nonsense!" Isabella protested as she stood up "See! I feel fine!"
Cattanburry looked at her in disbelief for a few moments before she fell down, face first, in to the grass.
“Grass...so...warm,” Isabella barely spoke as she laid down on the soft, green, grass and slowly drifted away to sleep.
"This woman's powers are undoubtedly terrifying. Her flames alone were enough to decimate those horned demons that were following us!" Cattanburry thought to himself as he dismounted his steed "Odium, just what in the hell did you get me in to?!"