In the Shadows

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Chapter 23

There was a collective intake of air as the wind whipped around the camp. Threatening to rip tents from their place, putting fires out, and sending people scattering. Asmodeus stood his ground, ready for a fight. Calnonern landed among the cascades of tents her head poised for attack, smoke billowing forth slipping between her teeth. Fresh blood shone on her teeth. Her eyes sparkling with excitement. She arrived with murderous intent. Her sights took in the situation before her. Calnonern decided then that he would die.

Calnonern pulled her lips back towards Asmodeus who simply laughed. “Are you really going to attack me with her on my shoulder?” Iselora did not like the taunting tone he was using. A growl erupted from behind Asmodeus. He turned to see Cerberus sulking in the shadows beside him Svila’s armor gleaned even in the darkness. Asmodeus smiled, they were there to join in his fight. Svila had manifested her spear, but this one was a little different than the one she had before, this spear had rubies delicately decorating the handle. Asmodeus turned back towards Calnonern with a sly smile. Calnonern growled further at his expression. Iselora looked back towards the two slinking back in the shadows, locking eyes with Svila. Iselora displayed her disappointment in her friend’s choice of alliance. Svila raised a solitary finger to her lips, indicating that Iselora should keep quiet. Curious about her motives, Iselora did as she was told. Without making a sound Svila and Cerberus emerged from their hiding spot, eyes trained on Asmodeus.

Iselora understood then that they were there to stop him, not aid him. Asmodeus was too far gone into his ego that he failed to notice. Svila raised her spear, ready to halt any movement that Asmodeus would make. Her goal was clearly Iselora. “Asmodeus,” Iselora called, “Put me down. This is your last warning.” Asmodeus chuckled darkly, “What are you going to do if I fail to do so?” Iselora looked towards Svila, who took the final step towards Asmodeus, placing the point of her spear against his neck. The tip of the spear pricked his skin, blood forming around the point of penetration. Asmodeus looked towards Svila through his peripheral vision, frowning at the betrayal.

“What kind of knight goes against his word?” Svila made a point of lacing each syllable with venom. Iselora stayed silent, feeling his already tense body tighten further, then loosen. His shoulder sagging under her weight. Without a word, Asmodeus raised his free hand as his symbol of surrender. Svila did not remove her spear, waiting on Iselora to be released from his grasp. Cerberus was the only one to make a sound. A soft whine towards his master. Asmodeus sighed before gently placing Iselora on her feet, who immediately corrected her shirt that had ridden up in their scuffle. Svila placed herself in between the couple and began backing Iselora away from Asmodeus, her spear and eyes still trained on his every movement. Iselora refused to look at him.

Svila backed Iselora all the way into the protection of Calnonern. Iselora’s eyes trained towards the ground. If she met his eyes, her internal struggle would be lost. Her emotions swirled, not allowing her body to feel anything definitively. Svila reached behind her, placing a hand on Iselora’s arm. “My lady, please join your companion. I shall accompany you in a short while. It would be best for you to distance yourself for now.” Asmodeus flinched at the words, but stayed silent. Waiting to hear Iselora’s response. Iselora was silent as she raised her head, meeting Asmodeus’ gaze. The contact sent waves of anger through her body. Asmodeus’ expression was pleading, for what Iselora did not know, but that was it. It was here that Iselora realized that Asmodeus was not apologetic for his actions. He had humiliated her, used her to ease his own selfish insecurities. Iselora found her strength in her anger. She would not run away, instead she was going to face him in full force. “Yes, that worm needs to be put in his place.” Calnonern whispered in her mind. Svila broke her watch of Asmodeus to look back at Iselora. Her hard expression betrayed by her eyes, concern pushing its way forward. Iselora met her gaze, it was then that something clicked within Iselroa’s body. What was she doing? Here she was, hiding behind someone, again. She could not believe herself. Calnonern’s words echoed in her mind. She was the rightful monarch and here she was, allowing other people to fight her battles.

Iselora righted herself, she had not realized that she had been so deeply crouched behind Svila. Iselora stood as tall as she could, meeting Asmodeus’ gaze with such conviction that he flinched. “Iselora I -” Asmodeus spoke before he was cut off. “I will not hear anymore of what you have to say. I placed my deepest trust in you and this is how you treat me? I am Iselora Cyrras, rightful Queen of this land. You will treat me with the respect I am due.” Iselora’s voice resonated with power as it vibrated through the camp. She had not noticed her aura had shifted, a red hue caressing her skin. She was no longer the fragile girl the Minders used in their wicked games. She was royalty and will be treated as such. Everyone stopped in their motions and stared at Iselora. She radiated power, compelling those in ear shot to bow before her. Svila was the first, she lowered onto her knee and bowed her head. In truth, she held the appearance of a runner waiting to start a race. Calnonern only slightly bowed her head, the movement would have been missed if Asmodeus had not been watching her. Asmodeus’ expression grew dark, he had never experienced someone that commanded him to do anything, let alone a woman. Svila and Iselora were crossing a line that few survived.

Iselora did not care what excuses Asmodeus would spew forth, she wanted him to understand her pain and humiliation. Instinct became her driving force as she stepped away from Calnonern’s protective stance. Svila stepped to stop her, but Iselora simply held her hand up. “I will deal with this. I thank you for what you have done this far.” Svila’s expression still held her concern, but offered no further protest. Iselora began her trek towards Asmodeus, ignoring the protesting that occurred in her mind. Asmodeus watched Iselora in skepticism, but she did not waver in her determination, stopping right in front of Asmodeus.

The two stared at each other, attempting to read the other. Iselora was the first to break her eye contact. Iselora closed her eyes and took a deep breath, Asmodeus’ scent assaulted her senses, calming her on reflex. “What happened to create this person? He is a stranger to me.” Iselora asked in a low voice. Asmodeus’ mouth gaped open at Iselora, his mind blanking. There was no sound for several minutes. Iselora looked into Asmodeus’ eyes, searching for any indication of what was going through his head. Relying on instinct, Iselora reached her hands forwards to hold the beautiful face before her. The contact sent sparks through both of them, images flashed across their eyes. Images of their respective pasts. Asmodeus saw her happiness bleed into the mentally and physically fractured being that stood before him. He also saw himself, at how his treatment of her had brewed animosity, and for the first time in his existence, he felt guilt for his actions. His trance had broken before Iselora’s, but he dared not move. He did not want to risk the consequences of breaking such a powerful force. So, he just stared into her eyes, wishing nothing more than to take back the past few acts he had committed.

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