Located deep in the swamplands of Samo’san and surrounded by various battling clans, she made her way across the dangerous terrain in hopes of forming some sort of alliance. Hope was all they had when the tides of war washed over them and she was lucky she carried an abundance of it, for the one they were meeting had lost all of hers. For one who had lived a life of freedom, only to wind up a slave, Lady Khia knew how the female must have felt and she couldn’t imagine her being any kind of open and willing, any time soon. Nonetheless, Khia made the journey to ensure the female had not lost her mind along with her hope, for that would take a different kind of help that Khia couldn’t provide.
Not too far ahead was a manor, hidden behind trees and lost to the ravages of time, or so it seemed to those who passed it by. Boarded up and broken in too many places to count, the veil upon the place gave warning to stay away, lest you find a stone boulder crumbling to crush your skull as you slept amidst the ruins.
Khia was of the Kor’mhia, a people known for their secrecy; their veils, even more so. A protective shield that kept them safe from harm, a magic said to have been bestowed upon them by the Gods to protect themselves against the horrors of the unknown.
None could see it but the Kor’mhia, nor could they feel it until it was too late and the effects were coursing through your veins. Nothing but a glimmer, a fine line that marked an entrance, for those who knew where to look.
“How much further?” She inquired, scanning the horizon for the shimmer known to show her kin the way.
“There, below the ridge.” He pointed towards the cliffs, and then to the shroud of darkness beneath it, rimmed in a shimmering light.
With a smile upon her face, she made for the ridge, bearing no fear as she passed the small pools of water that littered her path, nor the tall grasses that nipped at her legs like razor blades. It was all an illusion and she was stronger than the effects of the shield.
Once inside, the manor took on a whole new look. The path outside so muddy and gross had given way to rickety old steps and finally a door. Cracked wooden floorboards gave way to carpet so soft it felt like she was walking on clouds, and the smell of fragrant oils simmering in a pot nearby awoke her senses. Red and black banners fell down the walls, all aglow with light from the hearth that crackled away across the room.
“My Lord, and Lady!” She smiled and bowed her head at the sound of the voice and looked up to see a short, plump female clasping her hands. “You look lovely, Mistress!”
“Thank you, Dosey!” Khia’s smile grew wider. “I am glad to see you are well also!”
“Could not be better, my Lady. Could not be better. This way, please!” Dosey chuckled and led Khia and Kordahn down a small hall.
Removing her cloak and laying it on a nearby chair, Khia continued to follow the female with hair as dark as her own, but far longer. Turning the corner and down another hall, the place was like a maze with hundreds of rooms. Which one kept the prize? Which one held the cargo so dear?
That was the whole point of this place. A house of mirrors and darkened rooms. Fear filled your belly and drove you mad, checking door after door, round and around in circles…
Many had tried and many had failed. If you knew not where you were going, there was no chance of making your way out, let alone to find what made you enter in the first place.
Masters of Trickery they were. Blinding the folk into forgetting what was real and what was myth, with their secret veils and mind-numbing fogs. Like Witches, but worse. It took a guide to guard a stronghold such as this, and Dosey was that guide. She knew which way to turn and when to duck for she’d built the damn place.
“Here we are!” The female smiled and Khia bowed her head.
“Thank you!” The door opened and with one look inside, she knew something was wrong. It was too dark, too quiet. “Where are the lights?”
“She would not leave them lit, my Lady!” The female replied just as something crashed against the wall inside.
“You will, free me!” The voice came next. “I will not be chained by your magic!”
“What have you done to her?” She turned to the female.
“She...” The female stopped, the concern on her face, no, it was fear. “She, changes, my Lady!”
“She changes, into other things!”
What in the world? Was she a shifter of some kind? Was that why the Shadows had lost their minds? Had they been unaware that their little pets could become whatever they wanted? Even the Masters themselves? Well, now wouldn’t that have been a charming surprise. How many of them had played the part and gotten away with it?
“Go and bring back food and drink, but knock before you enter!” She told the female, and turning back to the shadowed room, she called out. “Hello? My name is Khia, I helped to free you!” She added. “I am a friend!”
Malice’s silver eyes narrowed at the nuisance, watching the creature carefully to ensure she did nothing too crazy. She was well aware of the mental state she was in, like a Dreamscape the Valkyries could create, it seemed so impossibly real. It even felt real. The breeze was perfect as it blew past them and the scent of wildflower brought back peaceful memories of the trip she and Marena had… that blasted headache again.
“Is something wrong?” The Feline purred from her perch in the tall grasses.
“Life!” Malice sighed, her eyes closed as she tried to fight the pain.
“It will pass, Malice!” The Cat hissed at a small fly that now buzzed around its face.
“Not so much fun, is it?” Malice teased then laugh as the insect landed right on the critter’s nose. “Watch out, it might bite!”
“If it bites me, you will feel it too!” The Cosmic Wonder reminded her. “We are linked, remember?”
“So, you’re telling me that you’re a figment of my imagination? Like, a part of me?” Malice cocked a brow her way. “You do know that I’ve been hosted, correct? I am nothing more than a plaything for the Masters?” Malice rose from the grass and walked over to sit down beside the Cat. “There are worlds in this Verse, where even speaking my name could land your neck in the noose.”
She wasn’t so much trying to scare the little beastie, but the thing had to know what it was getting itself into. Malice was the Mistress of Chaos. The Hand of Death. Her Host had slain more of its enemies than any other in history. She was quick and cunning, strong and skilled; but she was tormented and totally unpredictable with the loss of her memory. She’d been, changed. Her thoughts, her dreams, were no longer her own. She was a stranger, watching through the eyes of another, a life she was being told she had once lived.
“I don’t even follow the orders my Masters give me half the time, and they want me to take over the world for them. I’m a tool they will use to shape their new blah, blah, blah!”
“Would you let them continue to use you, or would you see yourself free, with my help?”
“What’s in it for you?” Malice cut in “You can’t tell me this is all out of the Infinite’s grace and pity.” She laughed then let out a low growl. “If the flashbacks prove anything, it’s that the child who cried for all those things, died a long time ago. She was murdered, by darkness and hatred.”
The visions that followed sent Malice into a fit of anger. She had been sold off to some slum-lord where they’d tried to beat her into submission, her life stolen as each choice was made for her. Forced to lay with the soldiers, passed around like a hand-rolled among the troops, they’d cared not for who she was or the things she’d cried out for. For years, they had tortured and tormented her and when they had finally realized that she couldn’t be broken, they had done the unthinkable. They’d turned her in to one of them and her Host, Marwolaeth had done her best with what was left of Malice’s mind, to ensure the Valkyrie’s loyalty to the Masters.
Time had passed though, and she was stronger now. She knew things, remembered things. She was rebuilding, regaining her freedom; but she could not tell them that. Her memories returning was what Pathen and his Queen feared most. Their rise to power had been crafted with the blood and souls of those Malice had murdered for them. Countless lives, lost at her hand, and after she’d done what they’d asked of her this time, she meant to settle the score. She wanted Marena back, but Marwolaeth wanted Misthaven. Who would win the battle waging inside the dark Valkyrie? No one knew, not even Malice herself, but she had a feeling they were all about to find out real soon. Allowing her Host to destroy Misthaven, a place filled with people who despised her, meant Malice could ask the bloody council, for anything; maybe even the heads of Pathen and Anaxa. It sounded great and all, except she’d have to destroy Misthaven. Sure, she’d been at war with her sister for centuries, but some of those new memories showed a life before the hatred. Could it be so again? Not if Misthaven was destroyed.
Perhaps the Cat could offer an alternative, but she’d have to be very careful. For the most part, Malice’s Host was on the verge of insanity. Its voices argued with one another, most giving good council while the others wanted only death and destruction and would say anything to see it unfold. She tried hard to keep it all in check but emotions played a huge role in how things often turned out. Could the Feline handle Malice and all her moods? Could they convince Marwolaeth that there was another way to win Marena and the Host within; her beloved To’lan?
“Like a Cat, you have lived many lives. I am here to help you learn the truth of those lives and escape the grasp of darkness. One day, you may return the favor; or perhaps not.” The Cat purred into the wind and Malice swore she heard something else growl back. “Regardless, humanity needs you on their side.” The Feline motioned to the sky. “We all, need you!”
“Charming, so the fate of the worlds rests on my shoulders? This is gonna be a long night!” Malice sighed, rubbing at her eyes. “A long night, indeed!”
That feline had no idea what she was getting into and Malice’s only fear was that she wouldn’t be able to control what that darn cat unleashed.