Pathen was pissed about losing the Dragons, but he couldn’t just come out and admit it, and seeing as how Malice had led the revolt on Malaness.
“You cannot banish her?” Marena gasped.
“Who said anything about banishing?” Pathen laughed and returned to his seat. “She will serve as general to the new War Chief.” He grinned, waving his hand for the doors to open, and a cloaked figure stepped in from the shadowed hall. “And here he is now, right on time.”
Both Malice and Marena turned as the figure approached, then he dropped to one knee and bowed his head. “It is always an honor to please you, my lord.” The voice hit them both like a jackhammer, stealing the breath from within.
“It is for such loyalty that you claim your new position as War Chief.” Pathen grinned, eyeing Malice, hard. “And in compensation for the wounds received at the hands of Wa’linh, her master has agreed to serve as your second in your upcoming mission. She feels most horrible about it.”
“I do not!” Malice hissed, but Pathen put up his hand.
“She was under your command.” He replied, “And you were under Marena’s. Should I have her take your...”
“No.” Malice stopped him. “I will serve as his second.” Malice added through gritted teeth.
There was no choice in the matter, she couldn’t let Marena take the fall when she had started the uprising, nor could she let her suffer for Wa’linh’s actions. Malice stood there, her eyes closed and her breathing shallow as she tried to calm herself. No, Marena would stay here, where the Shak’Morikai could keep an eye on her, she would go with Zander, wherever the bastard was going.
If she could just get her hands on that box, the scroll inside would not last the night. Gone would be the orders that bound Malice to that horrid, half-Goblin reject. Marena shuddered at the thought of his grin as Pathen announced that Malice would be bound to him for one hundred years, less a day for every innocent soul she snuffed out. That was damn near thirty-seven thousand kills...
Marena was in denial. She wanted Malice back, badly, but thirty-seven thousand, innocent souls? Not warriors, but innocents? How could she ask for such a thing?
“Marena? Come.” His voice echoed in her head as she watched the guards approaching her on the stairs. “Marena, I said come.”
He was good at barking orders. Take Malice to the armory. Take Marena to her chambers. Take the slaves to the kitchens, find them masters within the keep and make sure those masters work them well. He was a monster. How was she supposed to last one hundred years without Malice?
“You will dress, quickly, for the council meets. I wish you pleasing to the eyes, as well as the senses.” Pathen smiled at her and held out a rather large box. “Go now, put it on.” He grinned. “I will send one of your new slaves to help you.”
The thought of freeing them, only to have him re-chain them, to serve under her.
Still, she did as she was bid, alone and scared in the shadows of her chambers, until a sweet voice filled the room behind her. “My lady, my name is Oz’rah, I have been sent to see you into your gown.”
“He can burn us in it.” To’llan shouted out, heaving the box at the floor.
“My lady, please?” Oz’rah hurried to open it up and pull out the black gown from within. “He is waiting, and it is better to keep them smiling, for their cheeks obstruct what goes on before their very eyes.” She grinned and Marena turned towards the small, doll-like female.
“Oz’rah?” Marena raised a brow. “And where do you come from, Oz’rah?”
“I was taken from the Summer Isles of Samo’ana, my lady. A place so beautiful, only Malaness could compete.” She replied, blushing beneath chocolate brown locks and honey-colored eyes as she hurried to Marena’s side with the gown. “Please, if you would?” She nodded to the frumpy silks Marena currently wore, and she shrugged her shoulders, letting them hit the floor.
“How long did you spend in that dreadful place?” Marena sighed, stepping one foot into the satin underlay of the black monstrosity.
“Eight years, my lady.” She smiled. “And before that, I served in another place, just like it.”
“There is another place like Malaness?” Marena frowned.
“Oh no, this was a place of great importance. A place full of lust, and secrets. Like a manor of sin, and yet they had rules to protect their people, not like Master Pakori.” She shook her head.
“I am sorry you were forced here.”
“No no, not forced. I volunteered.”
“You what?” Marena was shocked, motionless as Oz’rah fastened the ties of her gown.
“They asked for volunteers, I raised my hand.”
“How else was I to get close to you?” The female giggled. “Without you, there would be no Malaness.” She bowed her head. “You have given those who stayed behind, the power to defend themselves, you have given them strength.”
“I did nothing but offer them a shield to hide their planet.” Marena hung her head. “And it did nothing for those who returned with us.”
“You gave us freedom. Malaness will forever be protected.”
“Then teach them the rules.” Marena smiled. “Teach them to use what they have learned to gather secrets, for yourselves. I will send someone to look after training your new warriors, and a few more to ensure that your planet will never fall under the control of madness again. They will look after you, when I cannot.”
“You are most gracious, my lady. I will send your words to our people.” She smiled, pinning Marena’s hair atop her head. “One hundred years will be nothing.”
Marena hoped she was right, for it had only been three days and she was already falling apart. Malice was gone, with Zander, to a distant world teaming with fur covered heathens. They were to render an alliance, or exterminate them all. No mercy shown, no quarter given, and Marena was now a prisoner of Shadow tower, only ever to leave on the arm of her master, like now.
Tovar growled to himself as he followed Malice and Zander. He was never quite sure of Zanders motives and felt the need to be on guard almost all the time.
“So S, how is our lady doing in there.”
“Oh she is in a snit and so is the thing in her head. They have spent hours creating and discarding murderous plans for that sneak Pathen but they are only filing them away for now. Why?”
“What about this Zander person?”
“Hummm she’s not thinking about him to much yet.”
Her hmmm was almost a purr as the place where she was staying had a young lady petting her fur as she was fed some fresh fish.
’Second to that-that-mongrel?! Insolent wretch, arrogant puppy! How dare he?!” Mar raved and muttered in a cold angry voice.
Malice was in total agreement with her host though there was little they could do without bringing harm to Marena/To’llan. She wondered what game he was up to now.
‘War-leader my ass, Zander couldn’t find his butt with both hands. The obsequious little toady.’ Mal replied in the same tone as she was struggling to keep her face smooth to keep her anger from boiling over as she followed Zander.
She was also angry about the re-enslavement of those that she and Marena had released from the servitude on Malaness. There was one difference that Pathen did not know about. All of Pathen's new play pretties were secretly sworn to her and Marena’s service.
She also had Tovar and the mysterious S the cat. She grinned slightly at that knowing that they could sniff out secrets that no one else could.
Then there was the wily Peiper her second. Zander had better be careful or he might fall victim to an unfortunate accident.
So the situation was not as bad as she thought but Zander needed a lesson as she grabbed him by the shoulder.
“What are you do-?” Was all the mongrel got out before she had him by the throat.
“Let's get several things clear,” she hissed, letting Marolweath have her voice.
“First of all I have no problem following your orders but how I follow or execute said orders and the tactics are up to me. Secondly if you give an order, make sure it’s well thought out. Goblin’s are not particularly well known for their decision making skills. Third, if an order leads to me or my command being harmed or goddess forbid slain, you will not live long enough to give another Wa’linh will see to that, if Marena doesn’t beat her to it.”
Zanders eyes were as wide as they would go, he was turning a strange shade of green blue before Mal released him.
“In other words Zander, treat me with respect and listen to my advice and you might live to see the end of this hundred years. Who knows we might even have some fun.” Malice told him as she slapped him on the shoulder before continuing to follow him to inspect their “troops”.
Mal then started to speculate on how to kill thirty seven thousand people at once. A thermonuclear explosion or an asteroid strike would do nicely. She could even arrange to have Zander at the epicenter of the explosion or impact.
‘How about a good old fashioned plague?’ Mar suggested. ’There always crowd pleasers, the phrase “Bring out your dead.” always gets their attention.”
Tovar snarled a whisper to Malice “He is dumber than a puppy my pups would have killed him at birth.”
“Easy Tovar she wants us to find out the dirt on this slimy green moron.” S replied not liking the idea of Mal serving the Goblin,
“My pleasure.” He said as his wisp of mist followed closely on the man’s tail.
The blonde young woman snickered at the mist hounds comment. Catching Zanders attention he looked suspiciously at her as they walked out into the courtyard to see a motley collection of beings.
’That's why Tovar the phrase “May your life be interesting. Is the most potent curse I know.”
Mal started down the ranks frankly disappointed at what she saw. While the collection was mostly Goblins, there were Kalvashians, human mercenaries and poor frightened conscripts of various races.
Suddenly a lone male voice rang out giving a command. The command came from Peiper.
Most of them looked confused except for the mercenaries who complied immediately. She could work with them, the rest of them looked like a lost cause.
Peiper then looked at Zander then her rolling his eyes. Clearly indicating he was less impressed than she was. Mal looked at Zander.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do with them? Except for the mercs most of them probably couldn't hold a sword without stabbing themselves in the foot.”
“This wasn’t my idea.” The Goblin reject replied. “Pathen decided who to send you. I suppose we are to train them. Weed out the weaklings before we go on our mission.”
Deep within Mal’s mind a certain cat dug a random memory of Mal training a young woman who was in the beginning completely inept. As she fought with the block she was zapped several times but took it herself Mal only felt a light tingle. The woman turned into an amazing warrior. She sent the memories to the front of Malice’s thoughts.
“Be back in a minute Tovar ” She said as she disengaged and went zipping around the cottage where she was staying trying to disperse the electrical charge in her fur.
The young woman in the house reached to touch her “Wow your wound.” the zap knocked the poor woman out.
However it helped S she went to try to wake up the young woman, her rough tongue slathering across the woman’s nose “Come on I don’t want to leave here yet, don’t die or something will, wake up.”
Alone, in her room, there was but one thing on her mind; Malice. She longed to hear her voice, her body vibrating with need to feel her touch, but there was no having what she wanted most. She hissed as she paced back and forth across her room, her lord’s words swirling like a storm within her mind.
‘You will soon find other things to love.’
So harsh, so cruel. He wanted her to forget the Valkyrie, for now, and to play his games as he twisted and schemed his way through every council meeting. He would promise one thing, his words so sweet the council melted like butter, only to sour in their mouths as his orders negated what had been promised.
‘I assure you, my good friends, this will only benefit us in the end. What is a few thousand good souls when you could all be kings by year’s end?’
Oh, he was good. He knew how to play them, he knew what they wanted to hear and he kept them holding on by a thread. No wonder the Queen had a need of someone to watch over his schemes. The Shadows on the outlying worlds were plagued by a race of fur-bearing giants and had summoned the council for help. Pathen had promised them aid, but instead of soldiers he sent Night-flyers. Night-flyers, hate giants, and without a rider.
Then there was Sha’vek. Pi’lara had requested. numerous times, for more help restoring the temple. Again Pathen had promised to assist, but instead of good, strong soldiers, he sent slaves, young and old.
‘They are more than capable of repairs.’ Pathen had laughed when Marena had brought it to his attention.
‘You sent children, my lord.’
‘I sent able bodies, males and females to serve a purpose, as is proper for a slave of any age.’ He’d growled back and disappeared from her room.
Her blood still boiled, the thought of all those young out in the harsh cold of Sha’vek. Most of them wearing nothing more than the tattered garments and robes they’d brought with them from Malaness. How could he be so cruel?
The lock on the door sprung with a squeak and Marena spun on her heels to face the moody brute head on, but it was Oz’rah who came across the threshold bearing fresh bed linens and a tray of baked sweets.
“Good morning, my lady!” She nodded and smiled, thankful that Marena had taken the tray from the top of her pile.
“Is it a good morning?” She sighed, placing the tray on the desk across the room.
“It is, indeed.” Oz’rah smiled again and set to work tugging the sheets from the bed. “In fact, I bear news from the Coven.”
“Oh, that would be uplifting on a day like today.”
“And what sort of day is today?” Oz’rah cocked brow her way, wrestling with the pillowcases. “Today is just another day.”
“That is the problem.” Marena threw herself down in a chair. “Another day, without Malice.”
“And another day in which your friends are safe.” Oz’rah piped in.
“Nevelyn and Arden, of course.” She grinned wide and tossed the pillow onto the bed.
That was good news, but for how long? Pathen was relentless, and with that map in his possession.
“Do you know where our lord is?” Marena sighed. “I would like to walk the halls.”
“He left word not to be disturbed.” Oz’rah rolled her eyes. “I believe he plays games in his chambers.”
“Better them than me.” Marena whispered and shuddered.
She’d used her own dull mood to evade his lustful attempts to lure her into his chambers, but again, for how long would she be safe? She’d promised the Queen to use whatever she could to gain his trust, but she could still smell Malice’s aroma upon her skin and she wasn’t ready for his to cover it up just yet. She wanted to savor that moment for as long as she could.
“I will need to take you to the dressmaker, this gown is far too long.” Oz’rah let out. “And I seem to have misplaced my tape.”
“Perfect.” Marena grinned back.
Finally, she would be getting out of her room, and perhaps she could steal a peek at the map while she was at it, maybe even, make it disappear? If Pathen didn’t have that map, he couldn’t hunt the Dragons, or anyone for that matter, but where would she hide it?
‘Find Zander and deliver my orders.’
Gods, Pathen was a dick. Who the hell did he think he was, summoning her from the midst of a fight to play messenger? Wasn’t that what a Ra’vyn was for? Nonetheless, here she was, on the edge of a freaking volcano, relaying the bastard’s orders; or she would be if the reject had bothered to show up. Instead, she spoke of three, menial little heathens.
“Your Chieftain has some nerve.” She growled as they took to one knee.
“We are sorry, mistress.” The first spoke up, a mongrel by the name of Brokus. “Lord Zander sends his..”
“Lord, Zander?” She burst out laughing. “Lord Zander?”
“His lordship sends his apologies, but there is trouble in the ranks, mistress. He hopes to have the problem dealt with before morning.”
“Where is Lord Cranky-Pants?”
“He waits within the Plains of Shadows, a quarter-mile west of the portal. Come sundown it will open and they will make for Terrana.” Brokus chuckled. “We will drink, or we will hunt, either way, it should be good fun.”
“Terrana? A Forbidden Zone?” Wa’linh raised a brow. “They are going to Earth?”
“Yes, mistress, though we know not where. That was to come from you.” He eyed her. “Do you have the information we need?”
“I do, but it was meant for Zander.” She shook her head. “Not to worry, I will find him.” She smiled and turned away.
“But, mistress, you are not permitted through the portal.”
“Then I will have to find him before he leaves. We would not want him missing his final destination. No offense, my friends, but I am already serving a sentence and I will not add to it by entrusting you lot with the information I carry.” She winked and disappeared.
So, Primeria was on Earth. Who would have thought Pathen would go against his most precious treaty and send troops into a Forbidden Zone? She hadn’t, until now. What was it he wanted them to find? Or was it a who? Earth was forbidden for one reason only, its people were far too primitive to ever comprehend what happened above the clouds. They still worshiped false Gods and fought wars over menial pieces of land, but oh, did it have its share of pleasure houses.
A quarter-mile west of the portal? Was that what Brokus had said? It was almost sundown and she had to find that Goblin bastard, or did she? If she missed the meeting, she would have to follow them to Earth, if only to ensure they knew where they were going, right?
Malice grinned as S sent the mental image of her and the young girl she had trained. Deidra, if she had remembered her name right, had been a natural born swords woman.
All she could do was teach them what she could in the time that they had.
A couple of hours later found them on the Plains of Shadow’s on a slope of an active volcano which rumbled and smoked occasionally as she sorted out the troops.
She’d separated the Goblins from the rest of the company as she sorted a motley bunch into platoons. She paired the conscripts with the mercs.
Their Captain was a scarred faced old veteran named Rosh who just looked at the conscripts shaking his head.
“Poor bloody fools milady. I’ll be surprised if any of them come back.”
“Tell your folks to teach them all they know, as will I when I can spare a moment from his lordship.”
“If I had my way he’d be the first to die.” The man whispered in her ear making Malice smile.
“I’ll see what I can do.” She whispered back as she sensed Wa’linh.
’Greetings Sister what brings you here. Come to see us off, any news on where the hell we are going?”
Wa’linh eyed the bunch of sods lumbering in the background, their murky eyes on the task before them, as if fear kept them on track. But, who was it they feared? Zander? Malice? Which of these pathetic fools would offer the Valkyrie trouble?
“They will never survive.” Wa’linh shook her head and them embraced Malice. “None of them.”
“Oh, ye of little faith.” Malice snickered. “Some of them have shown promise.”
“I do not trust them, or their in-bred chieftain.”
“Then perhaps you better tell me what his orders are, so you will not have to trust him.” Malice winked and the male behind her chuckled.
“You find me funny?” Wa’linh eyed him up and down.
“No, Ma’am. I was just thinking what a sight it would be if you fought at our side.”
“Oh? And how is that funny?”
“Because, my dear, you cast a veil of fear, far larger than his own.” The male chuckled again. “With you, at least they would stand a chance.”
“They have Malice.” Wa’linh laughed as she reminded him.
“Yes, but two, are better than one; especially when that one, is a half-breed reject named Zander.” The male replied with a nod and a smile.
“I like him!” Wa’linh laughed again. “But sadly, my duties must take me elsewhere.” She growled.
“It would have been glorious.” Malice sighed.
“You have no idea what awaits you.” Wa’linh smiled. “But I assure you, there are far more glamorous things on Terrana, or as the people there call it, Earth.”
“If I remember correctly, that is a forbidden world.” The male spoke up.
“Yes, one teaming with Goblins, Pirates, Demons and the like. You will all fit in so nicely.” She grinned, but Malice didn’t look too impressed.
“Are you calling me ugly?” She let out.
“Hardly, in fact, you could pass as a Queen and there are many lands at war.” Wa’linh started, remembering her own time there.
“We are not permitted to seek out anyone but the Primerians. It is against his wishes.”
“Shut up!” Malice and Wa’linh replied in unison, then Malice continued. “I am not going to leave everything I hold dear, just to sit at his side while he fucks everything up.”
“We are not permitted to leave Primeria.”
“Fine, you will not leave Primeria. Happy?” Malice grumbled and nodded for Wa’linh to follow. “You will watch over her for me?”
“And you will turn the House of Wolves to our side, and return quickly to relieve me from this burden.” Wa’linh eyed her back.
“Burden? Oh no, there are things that female can do to a person.” Malice almost began to drool.
“I am not sleeping with your mate.”
“She is not my mate.”
“Damn well close enough.” Wa’linh shuddered.
“Perhaps Lo’rel can help then?” Malice snickered.
“Just find the House of Wolves and offer them this gift.” She shook her head and tossed Malice a pouch. “Special delivery from Pi’lara.”
“Oh?” Malice grinned wider.
“She found it while browsing the vaults beneath Sha’vek, Thinks it might come in handy.”
“What does it do?”
“Not a clue.” Wa’linh laughed and made back the way she came. “Have fun.” She called out.
“Oh, so much fun!” She growled, looking for a poor, unfortunate soul to test her new toy on.