They approached a bridge made of glass, above which, sat towers of fluted, spiral stone. Soaring high above them all, and carved completely out of the side of the mountain, was Caer Dan; beside it, the Tower of the White Lady. It was breathtaking to say the least and Gil couldn’t believe he was finally able to see the magnificence for himself. Gone was the buzz of the portal, the wave of nausea subsiding in the awe of these wonders and his legs had regained their strength to carry him further along the path.
A single spire of white rock, over a thousand feet tall, from which they’d carved such intricate sculptures, as if thousands of Valkyries were perched along its mighty walls; always watching above open windows, forever waiting to answer the call. This Fortress was a Dwarven masterpiece. No seams, no cracks in the rock that Gil could see. A tribute to all that Misthaven meant.
In fact, the entire city looked like it had been carved out of the mountain, houses and shops brought to life in immaculate design.
‘Welcome to Misthaven, my loves!’ Mist’s voice lingered in their minds and she gave the wave to carry on. “We will visit with the people of the veil before we enter Misthaven, as is custom after such a long journey.”
“Long journey?” Gil laughed, thinking that only a moment ago, there had been snow falling upon his ears.
He was glad they had packed the cold weather gear for those that were not Valkyrie. Down at the lower elevations the fall weather was cold, but up on the cliffs where they’d departed from, the cold could have been deadly. if you didn’t have shelter or the clothes for it.
Gil watched both Mist and Sif change their attire, donning matching white suits and cloaks to match. He thought of the tales he’d heard and the battles they must have fought in such regal gear, but it wasn’t until they had approached the village that he got a full-scale look at what he was up against; or rather what the enemy would be up against.
“Gil, this is Darrin, master of arms in the veil.” Mist began her introduction before the male was even in sight. “Darrin, this is our husband, Gil.”
“Glad to meet you.” The male replied, donning the same white cloaks as Mist and Sif.
“Gather your men and make sure you keep an eye out for any who follow. They should be here before sundown.” Mist went on and the male pulled a whistle from his pocket, letting out three long blasts, then two shorter ones.
Almost as though they emerged from the trees themselves, two dozen men and women appeared, and formed an escort around them. Indeed, their formation was impressive, as they stepped off across the bridge.
Approaching the village, Gil could see sentries walking the battlements through the crenellations on the top of the walls of Misthaven. The bridge itself spanned a chasm at least a couple of hundred feet deep with a drawbridge at the city’s gates. Pull up the drawbridge and any invader would be stuck. Retreat or die, for there would be nowhere left to go. Gil was amazed at the defensive nature of Misthaven, and even below its mighty walls, he felt safe.
‘Are you alright, my love? You have grown awful quiet.’ Mist asked as she and Sif sensed his mind awry.
‘Yeah, I was just wondering what it would take to lay siege to your fortress. It would probably take an entire mechanized division, at least, to even try. I can see where Orinald gets his creative genius from. No wonder Malice chose to avoid it at all costs. Maybe we can use this village as a staging area?’
‘Patience, my love. There will be time to discuss strategy, but for now, we must share drink with the holders of the gates.’
All of this speaking with one’s mind was leaving Gil with a parched throat and he nodded in agreement. “Lead the way.” He spoke out loud, followed by a cough, and Mist simply laughed.
“It will take time, Lithia. Lady Ashe is not as welcoming as she has been in the past.” Navina sighed, hanging her head as they awaited a reply. “This tavern was once a place of laughter, now look at it, the whole fortress has lost its luster…”
“Not due to any fault of my mother, I assure you.” A female passed them by, then made for a table across the way.
Navina rose from her seat and bid Lithia to follow. “Please, I meant no disrespect.” She let out as she took a seat across from the cloaked female.
“It was not you who has shown disrespect…” Her words wandered off as others passed towards the bar, and Navina knew exactly what the female meant.
It had been Marena who had wiped her ancestors from existence, leaving only her mother, the lady Ashe to walk the desolate ruins of her family’s keep. Her sister had done many a foul thing, but now, after having spent so much time with her Host, To’llan, Navina had seen all the good she had done also. It was hard to believe that she had given it all up just so Malice could be free, and she suffered her punishments well enough; never speaking a word of her secret actions.
“Vasha, what has your mother decided? Are we to meet with her, or not?” Navina pushed aside the guilt that welled within her. “We must speak with her.”
“You claim you have Tisiphone with you, but I see only two of you. Where is she?”
“Her presence will be known once we have spoken with your mother.” Lithia cut in, eyeing the female hard.
“Would you also like to speak with my father, seeing as how you sent him and his fool ahead of you?”
“I am not sure what you mean…” Navina started, but again, Lithia cut in.
“You would claim Loki as your father?” She let out, almost losing her drink. “I fear I do not see the resemblance.” She shook her head.
“Nor do I, though my mother mutters of such things as she plays her games. Like him, she loves to play her games.” Vasha chuckled, but there was something in her voice that gave Navina means to pause. “There was also that stable-boy, the one she claims she could not get enough of, and the fisherman’s son, who did such wondrous things with his lips.” She sighed and cocked her head to the side. “In all honesty, it could be anyone.”
“You mother has had her way with many males.” Navina replied. “But that is not why we have come.”
“No, you want access to the portal.” Vasha laughed and popped a sweet tart into her mouth. “And for that, you need my mother’s blessing, though if she will give it under false pretenses…”
“What, false pretenses?” Lithia growled.
“I still, see no sign of Tisiphone.” Vasha narrowed her eye and Navina looked to Lithia.
“We have come all this way, perhaps you should show her?”
“I will not bargain with a child.” Lithia replied. “She can take us to her elders.”
“I will not.” Vasha sneered, rising from the table. “Have fun, storming my keep.” She laughed, raising her hood as she took to the crowd.
“Now look what you have done.” Navina scolded Lithia, who in took, turn great offense to the matter.
“If I let her out of that orb, every male in a hundred miles will smell her.” Lithia glared back. “Or did you forget about that?”
“You could have shown her.”
“My pockets are lined with runes and incantations to keep both her, and us, safe. I cannot unleash what is bottled within, in a place like this.”
“And how do you suppose we get her inside?” Navina rolled her eyes, but even To’llan urged her to listen.
“It has been far too long since last that Host within you was put to work. She has walked these halls before, perhaps she knows of a way into the fortress?”
“You want to sneak in?”
“Diplomacy can only get us so far, it is time to employ tactics that would throw our spectators awry. They expect us to cower to their will, we must not. In the time they wait for us to reconsider, we will find a way in, on our own.”
To’llan seemed to agree with Lithia and was begging Navina to listen. There was a way inside, a few in fact, it would only be a matter of finding them; and once inside they could seek out Ashe and explain their reasons for entering, in person.
’I do hope this works.’ Navina spoke to her sister’s Host. ‘I fear, there are things at work here that we know nothing about.’
‘Fear is a good thing to hold on to, our friend. Let it guide you, not hinder you.’ To’llan replied and Navina rose to follow Lithia outside and down the darkened streets. ‘Up ahead, turn left. There is a path that leads to the gardens.’
‘Thank you, I think!’ Navina smiled and relayed the message to Lithia.
Loki should have been back by now. The Valkyrie known as Skuld had promised to return within the hour and as he glanced at the old, grandfather clock that sat outside Lady Ashe’s study, he noted that it had been three hours and twenty-one minutes. Time was ticking, and with news of a friendly presence at the gates, and then their sudden disappearance, he couldn’t bear to wait any longer. If they truly had Tisiphone with them, and she was still affected by the visions…
He rose from his chair and began pacing back and forth throughout the halls. Where were they hiding? Why was there no mention of Khor? Surely, the male would not let his sister, or his mate for that matter, out of his sight. So, where was his brute of a cousin?
Drawing closer to the door, he could hear the voices growing louder within, and the sudden sound of a glass smashing before said door was ripped open and a rather angry Vasha, emerged shaking her head.
“What do you want?” She hissed at him, causing him to step back and out of her way. “Males, all of you, nothing more than a waste of air.” She sneered, making for the stairs at the end of the hall.
“Pay no attention to her.” Lady Ashe called from within her study. “Come, there is much to discuss.”
“I, uh…” He paused, and she finished for him.
“Could not help but overhear us?” She laughed. “Vasha is not known for her sweetness towards anyone.” Ashe sighed and sipped a blue-tinged drink from her cup. “Nonetheless, even she must learn to follow orders.”
“And what orders was she to follow, exactly?” Markhon inquired as he entered the study and shut the door behind him.
“To bring our guests to me.” Ashe smiled. “I assure you, her attitude towards your, friends, had nothing to do with me. She just, does not trust people.”
“Clearly.” He grumbled, folding his hands into his lap as he took a seat across from her.
“Tell me, do you always follow your mother’s wishes?”
“If I had, I would be sitting in the Great Courts, listening to all the woes of the Verse.”
“Now I serve on my father’s ship, the Vampyr. I am their chief medicus.”
“A healer, very nice.” She smiled once more and Markhon caught a slight twinkle in her eye. “I knew a healer, once. His name was Saylon.”
“And what befell this healer?” Markhon carried on with a deep-seated need to learn more about the Lady Ashe, keeper of the Ghost Throne.
“Who knows?” She laughed, “He too, took up residence in Misthaven and by now, like the others, has surely forgotten me.”
“Then you have no healer here?” He let out, unsure as to why his lips would rebel as such, without even a thought.
The idea of serving in a place like this, with a female as powerful and mysterious as Lady Ashe, was more than appealing; but had he really sounded as giddy as a school-boy in his inquiry?
“Are you offering your services, my good friend?”
The way she’d replied, hinting in favor of keeping him around, yet there were no words to clarify her wants, or needs. She simply…
“Enjoys your company!” She finished for him again, plucking his thoughts from his mind.
“One’s mind is a private thing.” He hung his head and a jolt of guilt ripped through him.
“And yet you leave it open, inviting…” She paused. “Unless, I have misread you?” She rose quickly from her chair. “Please, excuse me.” She added, hurrying from her study.
Alone, and slightly confused, Markhon’s chest felt tight and the warmth inside grew hotter. What did she mean, she’d misread him? His palms began to sweat and his thought spun like a whirlwind inside his head. Unable to focus on anything but the sound of her voice, the smell of her perfume, the sight of those large, luscious breasts, barely hidden behind her blouse…
“Well, well, well!” The voice tore through the room, sending Markhon into a frenzy as he tried to rise from his chair, only to see himself land on his face at the male’s feet. “And they say I have my way with the women.”
“Loki, you son of a…”
“Careful now, I would not want you offending my mother!” Loki chuckled back.
“Do you even know who your mother is?” Markhon choked out, rising to his feet once more.
“No, but that is beside the point. I do, however, know Lady Ashe, and I can assure you that you are nowhere near ready for her.” The male grinned, running a hand through his slick, black hair.
“Then, you are Vasha’s father.” Markhon laughed, but Loki’s hand across his face left it feeling quite tender. “What the fuck?” He growled.
“That matter, is not up for discussion, Not here. Not now. Not ever. Do you understand?”
“You don’t even know, do you?” Markhon huffed in surprise, thought he still held an image of the mighty female in his mind.
Oh, how wondrous she must have looked in all that armor, ready for battle at a moment’s notice…
“Hey, I can hear you!” Loki grumbled. “And we are not going down that road, you hear me. Not happening.”
“Fine, then perhaps you could explain where you’ve been for the last…” He paused, finding another grandfather clock, identical to the last, behind him. “…four hours?”
“Places.” Loki grinned. “We must send for Tisphone and the others…” It was his turn to pause, as Markhon hung his head.
“They are already here, somewhere.”
“They arrived this afternoon and were to be brought before Lady Ashe, but…”
“But what?” Loki growled. “Where are they?”
“No one knows!” Markhon explained. “Vasha met them in one of the taverns below, but they…” He stopped to catch his breath.
“I can imagine.” Loki shook his head. “She is so much like her mother, it is scary.”
“Well, no one knows where Lithia and Navina have gone now.”
“Just, Lithia and Navina? No Tisiphone? No Khor?”
“Just the two of them, though they claim Tisiphone was nearby, and not one mention of Khor.” Markhon shook his head. “The guards have been out searching, but so far, nothing.”
“Then we must help them.” Another voice entered the room, and as the figure appeared, Markhon damn near lost his shit.
“You, are Hippolyte.” He managed to choke out. “No on has seen you in a thousand years!”
If he’d been giddy before, he was absolutely, one-hundred percent floored to be in her presence. This, like Mist and Malice, was a true legend of old. A magnificent warrior, to which, there was no comparison.
“Thank you. I am honored.” The female smiled back at him, her hair in braids and covered in tiny little beads and chains, and the armor….
“Yeah, he has a little problem with keeping his mind closed.” Loki sighed as he approached Markhon. “And his mouth.” He added, using a finger beneath the male’s chin to do just that.
“I am in awe…” Markhon squeaked “She’s like…” He stopped again. “I just can’t believe she’s still…”
“Are you feeling alright?” Loki teased. “First Ashe, and now Hippolyte?”
“When in the presence of great beauty and skill, how can we not?” Markhon had, somewhat, come to his senses and the first of all Einherjar began to speak.
“You said you needed our help?” She turned to Loki. “Where is this daughter of Malice?”
“She is presumed to be with two friends, Lithia and Navina.”
“Then we search for three females? And their descriptions?” Hippolyte inquired with the same, sly smile.
“Lithia is about your height, with long, jet-black hair and eyes like stars, usually dressed in black.” Loki replied.
“Hair like dark-chocolate, long and wavy down to her hips, and eyes like emeralds, shining so bright…”
“She is Kor’Mhia?”
“Yes…” Loki let out quietly, as if remembering something. “…you knew her sister once.”
“Marena?” Hippolyte gasped and turned back to the shadowed nook in the corner of the room. “Send word to the others, I will be bringing home guests.” She spoke as if someone was there and Markhon watched as the female with snow-white hair emerged from thin air.
“As you wish!” She replied, and a moment later, she was gone.
“Was that…?” Markhon started, but Loki held him back.
“Take me to this tavern you spoke of.” He eyed the male hard. “We must find them.”