Xian

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 2.6: Bread and Battle

“Espionage has a strange history in Caminus and Yishu. For it is within the power of the world’s greatest magicians to craft spell networks of divination. Once made, entire nations can be monitored from the comfort of the closes chez. In fact, several networks have been made over the centuries, only for their rivals to muck it up. This, combined with the interference of Demons, and the ever-shifting flow of arcane forces, renders these networks as utterly useless.

Thus, successful espionage lies in the hands of dedicated spies and assassins. And such individuals use any tool they can, whether it is invisibility potions, contact networks, or the inevitable demonic compacts. Of course, using these methods isolate an agent from the people they supposedly serve and protect. With no grounding context, the mission rather than its motives take priority, justifying any sacrifices. Even if it isn’t the agent who makes them…

********

Abram and Evangeline were received in the private dining area with delighted and joyful shock. Mark Boleyn made all sorts of comments on Abram’s nose and the markings on his face. They were all in jest, and only a few were mildly insulting. Abram only chuckled, as he had expected this to happen.

Helena of course was horrified by what her husband was saying. “Mark Boleyn you will stop this boorish action at once.”

“But it’s funny...”

Mark’s good humor put a slight smile on Abram’s face, which seemed to be matched by Evangeline.

Yet Helena could not be deterred. “Our guests have acted so wonderfully and all you can do is jest and needle. What happened to manners? Your manners I mean.”

Mark made a show of thinking about the issue for a moment, even placing a hand to his chin and making a “hmmm” sound before speaking. “Well, first the war of the daisies happened, then the crown blue-blooded our family and gave us all sorts of manors. Then we lost said manors after the insurrection of-”

“Manners not Manors!”

Mark smiled innocently. “That’s what I said.”

A frustrated but accepting smile came across Helena’s face as she regarded her husband, while he laughed at his joke and patted Abram on the shoulder. Both Evangeline and Helena watched the latter action with some dread, and Abram noted this. He inclined his head toward Mark.

“Alright Mark, I think you’re giving them a scare.”

Mark blinked at all this, and his wonder at this statement provoked a still more nervous and shared glance between his wife and Evangeline. Evangeline didn’t keep the glance up for very long, as she was busy shoveling food from the table onto her plate. Bread, corn, jasmine rice, and even crisped pork. Except for the sound of utensil on plate and the possible fire from Evangeline’s hungry eyes, there was only silence.

Abram turned towards Helena and erased that silence. “You’re not shocked that I have friends are you? Evangeline you’ve seen me with Mark before, many times. And Helena, I introduced you two. Surely you can count yourself as one of my-”

Helena held and waved her hands with a sweet look on her face. “Oh no Abram, you’ve been a good friend for many years. I just...well given your new reputation as “The Silvered Fiend” it isn’t really a...well-”

Evangeline cut in as she shoveled food into her plate. “Not a particularly social nickname is it?”

Abram chuckled. To say it was unnerving might have been a bit too generous. Even Evangeline paused from her food, if only for a moment.

Then he spoke again. “I may act a certain way in battle or when hunting the occasional monster and traitor. But tonight isn’t either of those circumstances. Tonight is simply a dinner among friends and loved ones. I promise I won’t be hurting anyone...for now.”

That elicited a genuine laugh from Helena and Mark, but Evangeline was careful in timing the bites into her meal. Even if Abram hadn’t known her for ages, he could tell that she was doing her best to avoid the conversation, leaving the heavy work and any awkwardness to him. He didn’t make an issue of it and did his best to ease into the favor he was about to ask. He kept up his pleasant demeanor, taking only a few small servings of food on to his plate.

“Demons don’t need to eat anyway, but the taste of a thing...that’s something to appreciate.”

After he finished serving himself, and his hosts had done the same, Abram looked between Helena and Mark with a knowing smile.

“So, I’ve heard a rumor about you three.”

Mark considered what Abram said and then laughed, smiling at his wife. “Looks like the secrets out.”

Helena nodded, taking small bites as she spoke. “You’ve heard right Abram, but your numbers off. We’re expecting twins.”

“That’s wonderful news, Helena.”

Mark nodded enthusiastically and having quickly finished his plate, served himself another. “Yep, a month pregnant and still working night and day...no matter what her husband says.”

“I’m the mayor of the city Mark. And you already know of my other duties, even though you’re not supposed to.”

“So? You have all sorts of bureaucrats and pen fingers beneath you, Delegate.”

“There still needs to be a chair at guild assemblies and the inspections from both the Crown and Imperial Treasury from Taiyang. Who’s going to do that? You?”

Mark shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Just smack them on the head and tell them: Give me your money should work right?”

Helena was embarrassed at this, though Abram chuckled at his friend’s ignorant constancy. Evangeline of course kept eating her food, pretending to only pay cursory attention to the conversation.

But Abram became a bit more serious. “I don’t doubt your fortitude Helena, you know I never would. But perhaps in the later months-”

Helena nodded. “I’m already setting up an executive committee...of qualified individuals.”

Mark turned for a moment, looking indignant, but then chuckled to himself. The evening trickled on for a little while longer, questions of Abram’s latest adventures were brought up, Evangeline awkwardly avoided the topic of why she always had gloves on, and Mark and Helena discussed baby names. Once the sun was not only set, but the moon shining as well, Abram’s good humor disappeared, and it cast a noticeable pall over the dinner.

He willfully ignored such sentiments. “You are sure we are alone?”

Helena nodded silently, and Mark stood up, whispering.

“I’ll get some dessert.”

Mark walked around the dining room, then through the other rooms of the compound, out of sight. Abram then turned towards Evangeline, who shook her head. Abram smiled.

“No one is scrying us, excellent. Still...”

“Helena, who served the food?”

Helena’s demeanor became business-like. “Servants of the house, I’ve known many of them for years now.”

“Do they employ sub-staff or perhaps kitchen boys and wenches?”

Helena thought for a moment, then sat back in her chair. “Oh hell. There’s one boy, human and of Taiyang descent. We don’t know where his parents are, so he might be-”

“A dragon ward.”

Helena nodded and there was a racket that could be heard in the other rooms. Finally, the doors burst open and Mark brought with him a boy in simple clothes, who couldn’t have been more than 11 years old, struggling under his arm. Mark then tossed the boy in front of Abram, who looked the boy in the eye from his seated position. The boy was scared but stood firm. Perhaps more impressive than being unafraid was that he was powering through his fear.

The boy had calluses on his hands, particularly on his knuckles. And had subtle strands of muscle about him that looked almost unnatural on such a young child. Abram took note of this, and it confirmed his suspicions.

“I know you owe much to the Imperial Seat. Children like you, without parents, or family, it’s quite charitable of The Imperial Government to take you in. They feed you, clothe you, educate you...and train you.”

The boy said nothing, though his muscles became tense, and he looked ready to charge. Abram even caught the boy glancing at the kitchen knife by the Silvered Fiend’s plate. Abram casually picked up the knife and played with it in his hand. Twirling it about, spinning it between his fingers, but not going so far as to flip it, or put in a position where it might fly out of his hands.

He spoke as he taunted the boy. “You probably thought to advance yourself and earn yet more rewards for your service. What are you looking for? A new coat, money for your first sword? Perhaps you’ve made friends, and you want to impress them...or perhaps you want to impress a girl?”

The boy looked confused and blinked in surprise, though he righted himself again, and remained silent. Abram then tossed the knife towards the boy, who didn’t flinch or show further surprise. Instead, the boy snatched it out of the air and lunged at Abram, who didn’t even get up. Instead, he just kicked the boy while sitting down and the boy landed on his back.

Mark chuckled. “The balls on this kid, we could’ve used him in the knights.”

Abram looked at the boy, as Mark took the knife from his hand and then brought the kid to his feet.

Helena, who had been silent thus far, spoke up. “Lu. That’s your name isn’t it?”

The boy again said nothing, but he did look in Helena’s direction instinctively. Realizing his mistake, he looked away just as quickly, but it was too late.

Abram smiled in thanks to Helena and began talking again. “They got to you early didn’t they? Smart enough to know when you’ve messed up, strong enough to use a knife properly, and eager to please. Yes, there’s not much point in talking to you right now is there?”

Lu defiantly gazed into Abram’s inhuman eyes. “I live at his Majesty’s’ pleasure.”

Abram looked the boy over, considering what to do.

“Killing him would be the smart thing to do, but not the most ambitious.”

Abram yawned before speaking. “Helena, do you have a cell for the boy?”

“We do.”

“What does the Mayor wish to do with it?”

Helena stood up, examined the boy, and then put a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Take him to the dungeons will you.”

Mark nodded and did as he was asked.

Helena stood for a while, then turned back to Abram, her seriousness matching his own. “I’m glad to see you again Abram. Mark is too. But with the letters I’ve received from Kiernan, and the shipments coming in from Taiyang along with the many bribes their magistrates have been trying to hand me; I know you must have your own motives for being here.”

Abram looked over at Evangeline, who had finally stopped eating. She let out an annoyed sigh, realizing that it was her turn to contribute to the talk, which she did.

“So Kiernan filled you in? On everything?”

“A little. Then I pieced together the rest of it when Mark shared his letters with me. The master of your order isn’t a discreet man.”

“What do you think of his plans?”

Helena spoke decisively and with no mirth. “Crap. All of it is crap.”

“And what are you willing to do about it?”

Helena paused, kept a serious look on her face, and then sat back down, looking frustrated. “Kiernan and his loyalists have a demon army and the Taiyang behind them. Those shipments that have been coming in? They’re filled with cannon parts disguised as bells and wagon wheels along with gunpowder disguised as religious ash and all sorts of weapons and other materials for war.”

Abram exchanged glances with Evangeline, who put down her utensils and frowned. She then walked out the door, smiling at Helena and making an apologetic gesture before she did so.

Helena looked confused until Abram spoke up. “We have a plan in mind for the Imperial Flame and their army. Speaking of which, why have we not seen them? There’s been no evidence of their passing on either the highway, the back roads, and my own people in the order have only said they are making their way towards Ulq, with no information on the roads they might take.”

Helena considered, her thoughts practically shifting on her face in a flurry of different expressions that changed as quickly as they came. Abram would have found it humorous if he didn’t know the work being put in from his friend across the table. He also knew how valuable such a mind was, so much so that he did not wish to interrupt its working.

Finally, his faith was paid off as Helena slammed her fist against the table in triumph. “Teleportation gate!”

Abram smiled, happy that there were other intellects he could draw upon besides his own. “Operating the gates would take more power than any individual or team of Warlocks the Order has. And no one would be stupid enough to empower a demon to open it…Goddammit, Kiernan.”

Helena sighed. “There’s no predicting an idiot. But yes, he would be stupid enough for that. And there is a network of gates just along the border.”

Abram massaged his temples, trying to work through the primitive thought process of his rivals. “The Old Elysian Network. They’d only need it to work for a few moments, and only for two gates at a time. And the dangers of constantly exposing an inter-dimensional entity to inter-dimensional energies would never occur to them...not anyone willing to stand up to Kiernan at any rate.”

One thing did bother Abram though.“Why didn’t Echo bring this up?”

Abram considered the possibility that Echo might have assumed that Abram already knew of this, or considered it. This was the most likely scenario. The other ones would imply a more dangerous fault in Echo’s character then misplaced pre-conceptions. But they were so unlikely that simple cluelessness on the often obtuse dwarf’s side had to be the truth.

With that issue tucked away, Abram turned back to Helena. “But why is the crossing taking so long then? If they’ve been at this for a while then they should be around Ulq by now...unless there’s more than one gate. Tell me, have you heard anything from the other trade cities or ports in the area?”

Helena shook her head. “It’s what I haven’t heard that’s more troubling. My spies in the cities tell me that nothing’s come through their areas. But the rural and wilderness agents haven’t posted anything at all.”

“The Imperial Flame must be hopping from gate to gate. And that much energy attracts attention.”

“Indeed. I’ve already concluded that my agents in the field are being killed by whatever is crossing the eastern border.”

There was a long silence until Abram leaned forward toward Helena, the candlelight reflecting in his inhuman eyes. “The Knights will not survive this. They might have had a chance if they kept it at treason in favor of Taiyang. But summoning a demonic legion? That’s enough to unite every nation against them. And I suspect that sort of conflict is not in the Crown’s best interest either?”

Helena’s eyes narrowed, trying to guess at Abram’s purpose. “Her Majesty has enough to deal with in keeping her vassals in line. Not to mention news of a Jihad coming in from Caliph. So no, war with the largest empire in the world is not on Her Highness’ agenda.”

Abram nodded, stood, and didn’t look back at Helena as he spoke. “Then neither you nor the crown will mind if we kill a demon on your castle grounds will you?”

Abram walked out.

But was quickly followed by a flustered and raging Helena. “Are you out of your min-”

“We need to take out that Animus and we need the power to do it. A demon of the outer circles will bring us that power. All we need is the basement of the guest house.”

Helena followed after him. Even as Abram conjured his armor about himself and walked on, her anger was palpable. Then she threw her hands into the air, the breathe only grudgingly escaping her lungs as she spoke. “Fine! Do as you like. But I’m having knights posted at the doors, and mages supporting them.”

“After we are done, I will need to get in contact with her Majesty, directly.”

Helena stopped, taking Abram’s measure, seeming to look at both his body language and his eyes. Finally, she spoke. “For what reason?”

“I would like to discuss the terms of an arrangement, and my service to the crown. Both present and future.”

Helena rolled her eyes. “Always with the plans within plans...alright. I can get you a visual audience but no more. ”

Abram nodded, smiling gratefully beneath his helm, and walked on. He mused on how those mages Helena mentioned might be from the Taiyang schools. While Taiyang lacked the Wizard families of legend and the dangerous ambition of warlocks, the nation’s mages were exceptionally regimented and skilled. All of them trained in the martial arts and in lockstep beneath the Taiyang Imperial Magicians Bureau, just one of many ministries and departments of the Imperial Bureaucracy. All of which knelt to the Dragon Emperor of Taiyang, a pureblood golden dragon of an eons-old dynasty. Which is an easy feat, considering each emperor would live for perhaps two thousand years.

“Mortality...what a foreign concept.”

As far he knew, demons did not die. They could only be robbed of power. Confined to existential whispers until their superiors reformed them, which didn’t happen often, or unless by chance they reformed themselves, through sheer will, across the millennia. No such luck for Angels though, as far as he knew. Once they died, they were released from service, having fulfilled their duty. Though according to rumor, some angels did reject the offer of rest and continued to fight for Paradise.

But he knew that Miranda was not one of them. He was all too sure of it. Walking forward in the courtyard, Abram saw that Helena was not only true to her word but very quick in its execution, as she always was. Knights and mages in royal colors came running up behind him and calling in other guards as they all marched towards the guesthouse. Abram saw Evangeline waiting for him, next to the front door, and already dressed in her travel gear. She was nodding and answering a few questions some of the mages were asking her.

The most vocal of them was an older woman in baggy robes. “Child if you don’t tell us the nature of this ritual we shall not be able to aid you.”

“Well, that works out then.”

“Excuse me?”

Evangeline smiled. “We’re not gonna need your help so not getting it should work out fine.”

The old mage looked at Evangeline with a blank expression, and the young warlock just kept smiling. Her mirthless grin was overshadowed by her long golden hair, which made it look like a cocky half-smile: reinforcing the smugness that was already very clear to see. The old mage could only growl in annoyance and then walked away. Evangeline watched her leave and then saw Abram.

She stood straight and waved for him to come into the house, which he did. Once he closed the door behind them, Evangeline placed a few glyphs of hellfire on the door, and then salvaged the mask she had prepared earlier from her bag. She looked at it, considering something.

“Even if we take out its spell casting, the Fasces are tough bastards. You sure you wanna take one on in melee?”

Abram nodded. “I’ve Black Blades aplenty, and besides...we’ve got the rest of our lives to fight for.”

If she took his meaning, Evangeline didn’t show it. She just smiled casually as she tucked away her mask and walked down towards the basement.

Abram took note of this. ”Why no enthusiasm? Well, she is a professional first I suppose. And I should follow her example. Shame on me then.”

He followed and called out to her. “I take it that you’ve already set up the ritual?”

“I was in the middle of it, then the mages came banging on the upstairs door.”

“I’ll help you along then.”

The basement door flung open. As the two of them descended down the stone stairs, all that the servants had said about the basement proved true. The sconces along the wall were lit with natural fire and illuminated all manner of webs, dusty shelves, and even a small mouse that crept out to occasionally spy on its latest guests.

Burned into the floor with precise strokes of hellfire was the outer ring of a ritual circle. Evangeline proceeded to finish the rest, a double-ringed circle with no runes, but depictions of axes of different kinds within the rings. Curved hafts, straight blade, some even double-headed. The axes swam through the rings like fish in a stream, except at the most extreme parts. When all but the most southerly, westerly, northerly, and easterly parts were filled, Abram summoned his Black Blades and plunged four of them into those parts of the circle.

“This ritual risks much, but the payoff will surpass any cost. It has to.”

Once set, the blades glowed with a white light that drowned out the illumination of the sconces. Shone by silver light, Evangeline stood at the northernmost part of the circle and closed her hands tightly. Her fingernails dug into her palms, drawing blood. Outstretching her hands, Evangeline splattered the blood across the ring. The blood dissipated into the runes, whose glow became a sickly orange. The air followed in this trend, becoming heavy, and laborsome to breathe. Abram drew his new blade, waiting for the inevitable.

“I must do this quickly, otherwise I might bring down the entire chapter house.”

The runic axes lifted themselves from the ground, leaving only cold impressions on the floor. They then spun and flew within the circle, until they were a storm of glowing and dancing blades. This storm began to take a pattern, a form that became more pronounced with every twist of the storm. Evangeline kept her gaze locked on the mass of light before her, and fished the mask from her pack. She didn’t put it on yet but raised it to her face in preparation. Abram circled the shape and kept behind it, sword drawn.

“Only a few moments...My first victory over a higher demon.”

At last, the spinning ceased, and a solid if hybridized form took shape. Though it still glowed orange, the form stood a little straighter, revealing a pronounced snout and tall ears, much like that of a wolf. Muscled arms formed and then stretched as if to test themselves. Claws brandished where fingers and toes ought to have been, and when the hands clapped together, a great double-headed axe of obsidian haft and gold-hued blades appeared. The color of the axe spread, into obsidian colored plate armor with gold trim and accent.

The armor spread over a large body, as tall as Abram, and enveloped it entirely. Even the claws were sheathed in obsidian plate and tipped in gold, and the wolf’s head became wrapped in a great mask of armor covering all save the creature’s mouth, which barred sharp teeth with white fur peeking out from the corners. The thing stood to its full height, and two great bat wings outstretched from its back before folding into a bony and leather cloak.

This was a Fasces, and at the exact moment he came into full form, Evangeline donned her mask, and the ritual and its glow were snuffed out. The demon stood still, and its eyes glowed with a sharp sapphire light. A low and steady growl escaped its jaws, and a rough commanding tone leaped from it.

“So the day has come at last. I have long expected this and-”

As he spoke, Abram thrust his falchion directly into the Fasces’ back...such was his plan anyway. Instead, one of the demon’s wings extended in a burst of speed and slapped Abram into the wall. The Silvered Fiend crashed into the stone with a mighty sound and left an accurate impression of himself into the thick stone. But he fell onto his feet and dusted himself off. The Fasces did not seem to care, as he merely continued his speech.

“-and now our long-awaited conflict commences. Though you have prepared admirably, as that mask prevents me from ripping out your soul with my magic, just as it prevents you from conjuring hellfire. But my martial abilities will see to-”

Abram thrust out a gauntleted hand and clenched it into a fist, the Black Blades cut themselves from their places and flew straight towards the Fasces. The demon batted two of them aside with the axe, while the remainder were dodged via a high-speed crouch. The blades once again stabbed into the walls, and Evangeline backed up by a few steps.

A slight and mirthless chuckle escaped her. “I don’t know why I thought we could do this in an evening...wishful thinking I guess.”

Abram didn’t answer. Instead, he conjured a set of chains in his free hand and tossed them into the air. They disappeared and then emerged from floating sigils surrounding the Fasces. They shot from their entry points, sporting spikes covered in the same runes that Abram had covered his arrows in. But in a single flap of its wings, the Fasces flew upward, crashing through the ceiling. Stones tumbled down from the opening, and Abram instinctually ran forward and shielded Evangeline with his armored frame. A few stones clattered down upon him, one even scuffed his armor. But nothing was dented or broken. The rockfall hadn’t even fully stopped before Evangeline hurried out from under Abram’s cover only to be stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

She turned, frustration burning in her voice. “We have to get up there before it tears up the city!”

“Agreed.”

Abram took Evangeline in his arms and conjured shields beneath his feet, so many shields that they lifted and catapulted him through the opening above and out the already shattered front door of the guest house. Once they landed, Evangeline leaped from his embrace and ran out the doorway. Abram followed after her with heavy steps, summoning both the chains into his free hand and the Black Blades into floating positions at his flanks. He looked about the courtyard, fearful of the Fasces running loose in the city. Luckily, Helena and Mark’s soldiers had already erected an energy field around the chapter house.

Though it was contained, the Fasces was not stunned. As it floated above the guesthouse and breathed hellfire against the energy field, Abram cast his chains yet again. But in addition to casting the chains, Abram sent his blades as well. When the chains manifested from a host of sigils around the Fasces, the higher demon darted through the bindings yet again but was then caught in a pincer attack from the Black Blades.

The Fasces smiled a toothy grin, and in a fluid motion, split his great axe into two smaller ones, deflecting the Black Blades that were sent after him. He then dove straight for Abram, who once again called forth his rune laden chains. This time, they emerged from the ground, forcing the Fasces to dodge about and break from its original and more direct attack run. Abram thought on how to proceed from here, the fight had since gone out of his control.

“But I might have found a way to regain it.”

Abram caused a purposeful gap in his wall of chains, offering an opening for the Fasces to take. Just as Abram had anticipated, it did not take the bait. Instead, the Fasces stopped its flight in between the gap and gazed directly into Abram’s eyes with its sapphire hued gaze.

Abram felt a chill pass over his brow, and rigidity take hold over his limbs. He blinked just once, and then found himself staring not at the courtyard of the chapter house, but a solid marble floor. Great columns rose around him and a great stone podium loomed over even his great height. The Silvered Fiend looked for his weapons, only to discover that he had none in hand. A great maw of light opened up from the ceiling, and from it: The Fasces emerged, descending onto the podium.

“Abram Xian, you are an outcast of your species and a traitor to your race.”

“Imagine that...traitors breeding traitors.”

The Fasces slammed onto the podium with one of its axes. “Silence! You are to be judged now, by an Arbiter of the Beyond. Your transgressions shall be punished, and your soul consumed and processed into the hoards of the Demon Princes.”

Abram remained stoic. “My actions are not yours, or any of my kin’s right to judge.”

“Yet you would pass judgment on your sister for the death of an Angel? A creature whose purpose was to make war against us?”

“Make war on you perhaps. But she was quite kind to me...and my sister.”

The Fasces growled in disgust. “You feel indebted then? And nurse a lingering beguilement...Pathetic. You who are the legacy of our greatest forgemaster, now stand here pinning for a ghost. Even crusading on her behalf.”

Abram lowered his head. “So, she is truly gone then.”

“Yes, that final blow truly erased her, body and soul. Not even the masters of Paradise could salvage her. Does that anger you?”

Abram shook his head. “No, it only invigorates me.”

“Then you shall have a likewise invigorating death.”

“And what of the people outside this little pocket dimension? Surely you have brought some defense for yourself?”

The Fasces laughed. “You do not even know the true powers of your foe? Of your own kind? My gaze has trapped you in the space between conception and actuality. Only a single moment has passed in the material realm.”

Abram smiled. “Good, that is all I needed.”

The Fasces tilted it’s head, wondering what the Silvered Fiend meant by that. Then fear encroached on his masked and helmed face. “The Warlock!”

As he said those words, Hellfire erupted across the courtroom. The Fasces looked around for the cause, and saw Evangeline, unmasked and standing next to Abram. The Fasces nodded in understanding. “Our contract...when I brought the traitor into this place and opened the proverbial gate, you used the connection we have as a direct path through that gate.”

Evangeline smiled smugly. “Abram and I have worked together for a while now, we know how to back each other up. And now that we’re in your little mindscape, we can trash you without laying a single scorch mark on the real world...well, no more than we already did.”

The Fasces lifted itself into the air, reuniting it’s two axes into a single great weapon as before. “Your presence here may keep me tethered within. But that too can be used to my advantage.”

The Fasces held it’s axe aloft and Evangeline was lifted into the air. She gritted her teeth.

“Crap.”

She opened her mouth to say more, but instead, a green mist poured forth and surged directly into the Fasces’ Axe.

The Fasces laughed once again, ever confident in his victory. “Now that you have brought yourself directly to this place, your soul is within grabbing distance. So I shall not have to waste time in extracting it from your body”

Evangeline began to grow thinner, and her voice came out in ragged gasps, as more and more of her soul, her self, was torn from her. Abram charged the podium and leaped on top of it. He then brought his hand into contact with the axe, and put his right hand over the Fasces outstretched weapon hand. To the Fasce’s surprise, Abram did not try to tear the weapon away. Instead, Abram squeezed over the Fasces’ grip, securing his hold on the deadly weapon.

The Fasces marveled at Abram’s stupidity and laughed. “You have indeed fallen short of your ancestors Abram Xian. You are only solidifying the connection between the young Warlock and myself, and even adding your own soul into the mix.”

True to the Fasces’ word, Abram’s contact with the axe began to take its toll. Abram started to rapidly just like Evangeline was.

But even so, the Silvered Fiend smiled beneath his helm. “I can’t believe it was this easy.”

As Evangeline floated in the air she regained her senses and clapped her hands together. In those hands manifested a Black Blade. The Fasces stared at it in horror, and with understanding.

“You’re using the connection between our souls to transmit the concept and designs of your Black Blades directly into her mind and sharing your power to make them with her?”

“Indeed, I had heard tales of the Fasces’ gaze and the power within it. And realized that even with my power, I would not be able to manifest my weapons within. But, if someone was bound to your power, then surely they must be a part of this manifestation of your power as well.”

The Fasces began to tug desperately against Abram, trying to tear the axe from his grip.

He did not succeed, and Abram continued his gloating. “And if you can bring forth constructs and concept to life within it, then so can that hypothetical person...if they have the right design, and a bit of my power.”

The Fasces then began to desperately tug away from and let go of the axe, but Abram held the demon’s hand locked over the weapon. As Evangeline moved towards him, using the stream of her own soul as a climbing rope with Black Blade in hand, the Fasces began to panic.

“You are holding the Axe too! You are directly tied to me now! If you hold me in place while she cuts into me: You will be destroyed as well!”

“That’s the beauty of it...I’m not holding you in place.”

Abram kept his grip tight on the axe, but let go of the Fasces. Instinctively the Fasces released its’ grip on the weapon and tried to fly away, only for Abram to use his free hand to grab its wings and chop them off with axe.

“I’m bringing you to her.”

With that said, Abram took hold of the Fasces by the remaining stubs of his wings and threw it towards Evangeline. While certainly no expert in the martial arts, Evangeline had seen enough people thrust with a straight blade to mimic the proper form, and was able to pierce the Fasces’ armor with the tip of the Black Blade.

A great scream tore itself from the Fasces’ throat, and its armor began to crumble. “This Blade may burn! But it will not kill me! I am a demon of the higher clans! I am-”

Abram walked forward and brought the axe down on the Fasces’ head, holding it in place as one would still meat with a fork. Then Evangeline pulled out the Black Blade and brought it across the side of the demon’s neck with all the force she could muster. It was just enough to behead the creature. Abram then tore the head off with the axe, stumbling as he did.

Much to his surprise, the Silvered fiend found himself standing once again in the vaguely peaceful courtyard of the chapter house. His Mors Deus was on the ground, and Evangeline was floored on the dirt, a few feet across from him. Ignoring the blade at his feet, Abram rushed towards Evangeline, who coughed and held a hand out to stop the rushing Knight.

“I’m ok...just need to...just need to...”

Evangeline looked at her gloved hands, and then tore said gloves off. All the scars and gashes that had decorated her fingers and palms were gone, no blood spilled out, and no puss streamed about her pure, though sweating hands. The Warlock smiled and lifted her hands to show Abram. He put the axe on the ground and gently gripped them. He marveled at the lack of wounds and curses. And laughed a little, realizing how big his hands were and how small her hands were. He clasped them together within his own and looked down upon a teary-eyed Evangeline.

His voice came out quiet, and happy. “You’re free now.”

Evangeline kept up her smile, embracing him tightly, and he responded in kind. But then she broke it off. Her hands fell to her sides, and her feet brought her away from him. Abram was confused and saw a troubled look on her face. He raised his hands to his helmet and took it off.

Revealing a smile, and a genuinely happy look in his eye. “I really am glad for you Evangeline.”

The Warlock’s expression softened a bit. Then she shook her head and turned towards the mages and knights that began to assemble around the pair. “Run back to the mayor. Tell her that everything’s taken care of.”

The soldiers instinctively looked at Abram, who only nodded. They then marched off.

Once they were out of earshot, Abram donned his helmet again. “What’s the matter, Evangeline? You killed a higher Demon! You have his powers now!”

“I know but that’s...that’s not what I’m thinking about. I was thinking about this during dinner, it’s why I didn’t talk much.”

Abram tried searching for an answer and none came to him. A confused and almost boyish tone came from his mouth. “What is it then? Why are you unhappy? Whatever it is, I want to help you.”

Evangeline’s gaze began to falter, but then she closed her eyes tightly and opened them again. “Why did you kiss me?”

Abram was genuinely confused but replied happily. “Because I love you.”

A sad look came over Evangeline’s face...but she did not relent, and her voice brandished a functional if precarious edge. “That wasn’t your attitude a few days ago.”

“Evangeline-”

“You wouldn’t even let me touch you. You begged me to leave you alone...and then what? I doll myself up, put on some lipstick, and suddenly it’s ok to love me?”

Abram stood straighter, conveying control over the situation, and making his point clear. “I’ve loved you for so much longer than that. I just...I didn’t have to courage to act on it until today.”

That sad look remained stamped on her face, but Evangeline shook her head and continued. “Why did you change your mind? What made you change your mind?”

Abram hesitated, he knew the answer and knew what would come from saying it. “Something...something that somebody said...something that Miranda said.”

That saddened look dropped into one of hurt, and tears began to well up inside Evangeline’s eyes. As Abram reached out to her, she backed away and brushed both his arms and her tears aside, standing firm on her ground.

“Am I a placeholder?”

“What?”

“Am I a placeholder? I am just your...your muse, your latest quest, or some other contrived chivalric bullshit!?”

“I love you for-”

“No poetics, just answer yes or no! I mean it!”

Abram looked at her, into her eyes, and his gaze didn’t flinch. “No, you are no one’s placeholder.”

“I want to believe you...you have no idea how shitty it’s been, wanting you...and playing tug of war with a ghost.”

“I did this for you, for our home and future.”

“And you’re out to kill your own sister for a dead angel.”

Abram raised his voice, louder then he meant to. “My hunt is for the sake of justice. In revenge for betray-”

“You’re obsessed, you colossal asshole! I helped you cause a revolution just to get to your sister, and all for Miranda.”

“Why do you care?”

Evangeline looked almost breathless, and her voice became ragged and desperate. “Because...Because this isn’t killing some idiot noble or torching slavers and bandits anymore, Abram. We’re slaughtering families and putting torture weapons into the hands of fanatics, and sending them after teenagers. This isn’t right.”

Abram’s breathing became harsh, and audible beneath his helmet, but his voice maintained its volume. “They are all necessary pieces and actions. If the cost must be paid-”

“You’re making other people pay the cost Abram...people who don’t deserve it. I thought you were harsh when you forced the slaves to fight for their freedom but at least you treated the survivors decently enough. But you’ve torched everything else since then. And all because Atma made a mistake when she was a child?”

Once more his voice raised. “She was no mere child! Neither of us was! She knew what would happen! I warned her that it would! And still, she went ahead and did it...”

“Her friend was hurt Abram, and she was scared. There’s no way a child, no matter how smart, wouldn’t look for help.”

Abram looked at her for a moment and noted the desperate face that was uncharacteristic of his partner. It was as if Evangeline had rehearsed this conversation many times before, and the worst possible outcome was happening right now. He looked about the courtyard, noting that neither the soldiers nor their mistress had returned.

His voice became softer. “You haven’t brought this up before, not directly anyway. Why didn’t you?”

She looked almost hopeful. “Because you were my partner, my friend. And I wanted to keep you safe. And you were...you are so brilliant and tenacious that I thought you’d realize that you needed to get on with your life.”

A pause came. She gulped down, and the slightest of smiles crept into her features. “Then I...I fell in love with you. You never looked at me like an object or treated me like a tool. And I was so grateful for that.” The smile disappeared, replaced by a mournful look. “But then months and years passed, and you were still so angry and raging inside. I...I had it in my head that if I could sit you down with your sister, that maybe you could forgive each other. That you would find peace.”

Tears began to rise from her eyes. “But you wouldn’t even let me hold your hand or speak to me about anything besides the next plan. You were too afraid to be comforted the way you’d always comforted me...”

Her hands rose to her shoulders as if protecting herself from something. Abram though remained still and unfeeling.

Yet Evangeline continued. “And I knew right then and there that you had, I don’t know...blocked yourself off from the world. That you couldn’t let anything more important than your hatred for your sister inside. Then...then you said you loved me. I was so happy. But I remembered how scared you were before. I was confused, and then I found the answer. You still love her...You still love Miranda. I’m just something to keep you going until you can claim retribution or whatever ideological shit you’re poisoning yourself with.”

Abram looked on and walked towards her. He towered over her, but not for long, as he stooped over and grasped her hands in his. “I promise...it may have been Miranda’s words that gave me strength, but it’s you I want...and only you. You are fierce and witty. Brave and quite sweet when you want to be. I want you...no, I want our lives...to be one life together.”

Evangeline looked down at the ground, tears once again escaping her eyes. And still, once again she brushed them aside. “Then stop hunting your sister.”

“What?”

Evangeline brought her hands up to Abram’s masked face, fixing it so that their eyes met.

There was that same desperate look in her eyes, but also a hint of hope, which seemed to grow as she spoke on. “If you really mean it when you say you love me...then you’ll trust me when I tell you that this hunt is making you into something horrible. And you’ll believe me when I say that I would follow you anywhere...but I won’t watch you murder your soul...and I won’t fight over your heart with a memory...I will leave you if you can’t promise me a change right now.”

Abram gritted his teeth but realized that he couldn’t delay this anymore. Now that Evangeline was free from her contract, there was no liability in telling her the truth.

But he knew what would come of it. Still, she deserved to know. So, he cleared his throat and spoke. “I don’t want to kill Atma. I’ve been lying about it for years.”

Evangeline’s eyes widened, and her hands dropped from his face in horror. “What?”

“I never blamed her for any of it. But I did blame the Imperial Flame. I was worried that she might get hurt if I went on a crusade and took her with me. So I feigned hatred towards her. So much so that Kiernan and the old guard would never suspect that I’ve been looking for an opportunity to take revenge on them this whole time.”

Evangeline looked frozen in disbelief, and could barely speak. “You burned down whole castles to find her, you sent assassins...

“To keep up the act, and hide my desire for opportunities against the order and setting up a power base of my own. As for the assassins, I knew that they wouldn’t succeed. Atma and the Death Knight are more than a match for common or even professional sellswords.”

Evangeline almost crumpled to the floor, but Abram caught her.

He held her tightly, taking her into his arms. “I didn’t tell you because I was worried that whoever you contracted with might leak information to Kiernan but...But I fell in love with you. I’ve meant everything that I’ve said about us, and I am so sorry for everything that I’ve put you through...and all that I’ve made Atma suffer. I...I’ll atone for it all I promise.”

Evangeline was shocked, and sad. “I can’t believe you.”

She broke from his embrace and started walking away. As the Silvered Fiend tried to follow after her, she held out a hand to stop him.

“I’m glad...I’m glad you’re not out to hurt Atma. But you just told me that half our entire lives have been a lie. Let me have some peace, please.”

She walked off after that, and Abram was left to think on the day, and many others before it.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.