Mal was waiting patiently, perched upon a rather large boulder, watching the horde when the Cat appeared again. Unsure of whether the feline was in fact real, or just a figment of her imagination, Malice cocked a brow. Whatever this, thing, was, it had made a number of feeble attempts to turn her from her purpose and when it spoke of causing her pain, Malice’s head turned to the side.
“Are you, threatening me?” Malice said in a deadly whisper as she confronted the creature and found herself with one of her Human minions, groveling at her feet.
Malice grabbed hold of the fool and threw him a good five feet as he sniveled. “M-mercy, Dread Lady?”
This constant barrage of mental attacks from the feline was messing with her senses. It had to stop. “Get me a wineskin and be quick about it!” Malice roared, now fully armored with claws of her own as she decided to confront this pest.
Closing her eyes, she projected an image to the interloper, an image she had seen in a dream of her own. A Shadowcat, swift and strong. Quick and cunning, she tore through the shreds of her mental inventory looking for the Cosmic intruder, following the growl of no ordinary housecat. This was a feline of power and Malice was intrigued.
It hadn’t taken long, just a few short breaths before Malice felt the warmth upon her skin and looked up at what had to be the Cosmic Critter in all her glory. Muscles rippling beneath waves of multicolored fur and eyes that stole into one’s soul. She was magnificent and mighty, a champion in her own right, and Malice had to figure out this ‘helping’ business before she got too close to the creature. Others had claimed to want to help her, even before she’d been condemned, but they had each had their own selfish reasons for doing so and Malice wanted to find out what the Cat’s reasons were.
“No one, does anything for free. Pathen and Loki taught me that lesson all too well.” She sighed, then laugh, shaking her head at the thought of having an actual conversation with a figment of her imagination. “Who are you and why, would you help me?”
“Why would you ask such a question?”
“Because my own kind spit on the ground that I walk on. They left me in a void to rot, to wither away into the shadows.” She snarled at the Feline. “So, tell me, oh Cosmic Wonder, why?” Malice asked again, crossing her arms over her chest as she waited for the creature to answer.
Silence followed for a time and Malice found herself creating a mental construct, similar to what Human’s called a baseball bat, and let her mind expand. The thing was nearly three times its original size and the Cat still wouldn’t budge. Fine, it wanted to play hardball. Malice was okay with that and created a large box instead, containing the beast. Nothing but the sky could be seen with walls so high, and right inside was the Cat. If the creature really wanted to help her, it would have to prove its loyalty.
“Others have tried, before you, and all of them have failed. Why, because I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be saved or freed. They left me there to rot.”
“I, am not the others.” The feline finally replied.
“But you’re here, like they were, contemplating the same things and hoping for the same bloody outcome. So, why should I trust you? Why should I let you help me?” She chuckled, “I doubt you can even help yourself, but prove me wrong. I want to see you let the Cat out of the bag.” She laughed and stood back awaiting the excitement with wine-skin in hand.
No doubt the Cat would try to jump at first, but those walls were forty feet high. She could try knocking the box over, or claw away at the sides, but both would leave her exhausted and vulnerable. “So, little Kitty, how are you going to get out?”
“Ah, a challenge!” The Feline was grinning as she circled the interior of the box.
Malice believed herself to have won this little charade, but in her haste, she’d forgotten to do one little thing; her homework.
Had she taken the time to observe and question her opponent, she may have learned that the Cat had some hidden talents of her own. She couldn’t make a giant box appear, but she could pop out some rather delightfully colored wings. Sprouting from her back and fluttering like a Butterfly’s, she began to flap them hard and the box began to shudder. To the sky she floated, gliding to a stop just out of Mal’s mental reach. “In all honestly, I am not going to drop you like a hot rock, we are one and the same. Trapped.” The creature tried to assure the Valkyrie. “I am going to help both of us escape this horror, even if it annoys you!” The Catterfly shrank to the smallest of sizes with a speed to rival light, annoyingly flying around Malice’s head.
“Knock it off!” Malice choked out, trying to smack the little beastie out of the air.
The creature ducked, fluttering about, trying hard to stay out of swatting range as she hummed softly, a tune from Malice’s childhood. “I know you and I are the same, so let us be free, together!” The cat sang out as if it were part of the tune, setting herself down in the shade and panting from the mental strain; but she wasn’t going to give up.
She was far too close to her goal to quit now. After all this time, everything was falling into place.
Lady Ashlyn had arrived on Samo’san that morning and had made her way down to the southern shores of Samo’ana. She was heading for the chapterhouse and it had been a long while since last she’d graced the Petals with her presence. The Guild held many memories, both of joy and despair, but this, she could not refuse. Mist had called for all hands to fight. Her daughter, her progeny, and yet to call for arms against her own sister? Ashlyn had hoped like hell that her daughters would somehow again fight as one, but as it stood, one held control over a vast Goblin horde and the other waited for said horde to lay siege to her keep.
Even in her dreams, the war Malice waged against Mist left Ashlyn in tears and the night before she’d left the Null, she’d woken half the keep in a startled mess, covered in a misting of cold sweat and gasping for breath. She knew then that the worst was yet to come and she had no choice but to heed Mist’s call.
Shaking her head, she focused on the path up ahead and she armored. Not out of need, just habit. The road to the chapterhouse was long and winding and she dared not stray from it. The Petals were always practicing with their traps and no one truly knew how many were out there.
‘Be careful, Ash!’ She heard the words Ellaria had spoken the day they first set foot in Malice’s prized creation.
The Guild was more than a chapterhouse, it was thee, chapterhouse. This was where every single Petal was trained, the base of the Black Rose operations; and yet without its headmistress it seemed to have lost all luster.
‘You left so quickly!’ Ellaria’s voice filled her mind once more, but it was not from memory, the female was close by. ‘I know the ache that fills your heart, my friend, but it shall soon be at peace. The time is almost near, I can feel it!’
With that, her voice disappeared and Ashlyn felt a wave of warmth wash over her. In all of his victories, Pathen had obviously forgotten how strong a bond was between a Valkyrie and those they’ve deemed most loyal. Just as Ellaria could find Ashlyn so far from the Null, their essences entwined with one another’s, so too could Malice reach out and seek shelter in the minds of those she trusted most; the key was getting her to remember Mist and the others so she could actually reach out for them. She was trapped in darkness, her mind twisted and plagued by the enemy: but Pathen had made a very, serious, mistake. One that Ashlyn hoped by the infinite she could exploit.
She needed Mist and a willing sacrifice. She needed a new Host for the beast inside her, and she knew of only one person who could help her find what she needed. If Mist could pull it off, the Eno’tai threat would retreat, for Malice would kill them all.
A short while later, as she drew closer to the main gates, she could feel the energy all around her. It wrapped her in a blanket of security. It held her tight, just like her daughters had once done and when she finally entered the great hall, all the young females stopped to stare with nervous eyes; more anticipation than fear. The youngest of them were huddled in a knot behind a familiar figure and Ashlyn smiled warmly, lowering her hood so that Gil’s mother could get a good look at her.
‘Only full sisters are going on this mission. Malice is not herself and that will be dangerous enough for us without having to worry about them!’ Ashlyn spoke with her mind to Brunhilde, before speaking out loud to the others. “Now, everyone who is not going with us, is to help ready those who are.” She smiled, receiving nods of acknowledgement from all around her. “Quickly now, we must be ready to leave when the Captain arrives.” It seemed so easy to slip back into what was, as if she’d never been gone.
The females scattered to perform their duties. Blondes, brunettes, red, black and purple haired beauties, all of them scurrying about as if they’d known all along what to do. Some gathered cloth and set it to soaking, others took to stirring the large, oil filled pots while the fires were stoked below. Carts were filled with sacks of grain and crates of fruits and vegetables of all kinds, then wheeled away to the storage sheds across the large estate. The horses were groomed and their saddles oiled, the armory was restocked and every blade within had been sharpened. They were indeed ready for war and again, Ashlyn felt her heart sink.
One by one, everyone hurrying, everyone knowing what was to come, the Guild seemed to come alive before her eyes. She took relief in knowing that this was what they’d trained for, what Malice had trained them for; though she’d assumed she’d be defending the place, not attacking it. Ashlyn sighed at the thought of all the destruction and took Brunhilde aside.
“It’s time isn’t it?” The old female hung her head. “Malice has finally revealed herself? It is about to begin?”
“Mist would not have called for us without reason.” Ashlyn replied.
“You were right, though, about Pathen’s ego getting the better of him. He still believes that Malice has this ring through her nose like a Bull, and the bloody fool thinks he can lead her around by it.” Brunhilde chuckled. “Oh, will he ever regret that mistake, for she will come to her senses, Ashlyn, she will come to her bloody senses and all those who had a hand in trapping her in this darkness, will pay.”
“Yes, and all we have to do is keep my daughters from killing each other until then. Oh, and then we wait for the protests over her return to rise up and hope we can control them.” Ashlyn sighed and closed her eyes. “Both are tasks, easier said than done, I’m afraid. We may get her back, but will they accept her?”
“You worry too much. There will be those who object to the reasoning, but you will find none of them within these walls.” Brunhilde smiled, but it did little to quash the sudden fear inside Ashlyn’s chest.
Turning away from her friend, she let her mind wander ‘Belvaya, where are you? You are needed at the Guild House!’