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Maerise - The Heraghine Saga

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Of Rot and Plan

((Anything uploaded here is the first draft version, pre edits- the only thing accounted for are spelling and grammar. Once the official version is published, this first draft edition will be removed from any online site (currently Royal Road, Fictionpress, Wattpad, and Inkitt). Keep up to date with me- TealTech on TikTok))

Chapter 2 - Of Rot and Plan

Councilwoman Kotaphira Arculum

The old lady’s scowl at the chained being that was once her brother, even if not by blood, changed to that of thought as she observed from her hiding place. At the entrance of the castle’s catacombs, hidden well underneath the surface of the castle in a darkened cave was a large pool of water with an outlet that led to the river that divided the city of Maerise in half. The captain’s right. Leaving him here is dangerous at best, even within the confines of the catacombs. But he’s here for a reason. Driving the point home is what’s going to encourage the others to follow through with this plan. It must… else-

Else, you’ll die alone and broken. Two hundred and fifty years, it’s about time for you to croak… Self-preservation is the ONLY way to continue this legacy of yours..

They must believe this is for the betterment of the city. There, just a few meters away and standing hunched in the mud, was a mangled leftover of a once proud man. A man who once loved her, revered her, went to the ends of the world for her and died for her- at her own bequest. Blue eyes glowed from behind the muzzle that covered his entire face, the enchantment on the twisted, ugly thing glowing and singeing at the decaying, dark skin of the once proud native Derhanian.

“Where… where is she… I can smell you!” What used to be of her brother’s voice was mixed with age, destruction, evil- a raspiness and widening as his jaw struggled to move properly in the metal mask he struggled against.


The corners of her mouth turned down as she watched his ‘handlers’ keep him at bay holding sticks with leather straps at the end, keeping his arms tight at his back. They were soldiers, her soldiers, of the Royal Maerisian Knights. A higher honor than Dragon Rider, or King’s Guard. These were the strongest of the bunch, and hand picked by her for this task. Among them were two large bipedal fur-men who were a bear and a wolf, along with two native Derhanian dark skinned men who had more bulk than brain. The last was a troc mutt whose skin was an indecisive color mix between green and brown and long matted hair that was kept in high dreads. They were an intimidating bunch, in their blue and silver armor, the official colors of the Maerisian city’s soldiers.

Around this circle of intimidating hulking mass of muscle were four mages, led by the youngest of them, a dark skinned girl by the name Kemryn. She was half Derhanish with naturally vibrant pink, white, and brown curly hair that, along with her pointed ears, proved her magical Elfirrin lineage, even if it were third generation. Glowing magical symbols sat around her wrists like bracelets, pushing against her skin and twisting at intervals. All of the mages kept just close enough, each ensuring a part of the binding spell was kept in place on the prisoner. A Silencer stood behind the trocblood, a Binder behind the bear, a Scrambler who interrupted people’s thoughts was behind the wolf- but this mage was particularly nervous and seemed to keep fumbling with their concentration- and the last was Kemryn who made sure the entire process was executing properly.

“Hrmh,” Ah, dear Steirtorim. A towering trocblood from the north; perhaps, if she were a hundred years younger and had a taste for murky green colored men… “Is a more permanent silencing magic available now?” He looked to Kemryn who shook her head.

“The crowd outside all have their attention turned elsewhere.” The girl responded, “There are many guards available to be here, but-” But it may not be enough to hold the monster at bay. She looked back to the prisoner who shook in his shackles, causing Steirtorim to grab for his weapon, partly unsheathing it.

“Should we need more protection!” More people to swear to secrecy. Kotaphira should have brought her younger purple-haired doppelganger to this reunion. Perhaps bring her sons Samund and Taskell, too.


“Lady Doe is here, he has been asking for her- perhaps she can calm him.” Steirtorim kept a tight but steady grip on his sword, watching the chained beast like a hawk.

He knew she was there from the start, only mentioning her when convenient. Clever troc. Still, why that nickname? Resisting the urge to twitch, she responded, “Calm him?” her voice called out crisp, piercing the eardrums of those in the vicinity and echoing in the cavern. “My strongest men, and you can’t settle this monstrosity on your own?” She emerged from her hiding place by the hidden entry of the castle’s catacombs, torchlight illuminating her straight, shoulder length pink and purple naturally streaked hair. “Needing an old woman to do your job for you.” Her chin was held high, despite being dwarfed by the guards surrounding her. Her gaze and attention was held on the decades old beast before her, a weathered emblem of an ancient sigil of their past set on his shoulder like a proud pauldron.

Not pride. Curse.

She swallowed as she kept close enough to Captain Steirtorim. The thing before her was no longer her brother, but the remains of a ghost.

“Your challenge of Derdia’s Call wearies by the day. You should be put out of your misery, for everyone’s safety.” A smile crept up on her lips, age making the lines by her emerald green eyes crinkle. “It would be my honor to do so. Brother. But not yet. I need you for something first.” Her grin faded and the look on her face turned into that of a disapproving scowl. “Heel.” Her demand was gentle, magic imbued with her tone like a master weaver carefully pulling golden strands within their craft. Her gaze was solely on the chained monster, intent only to him. “Kneel, demon.” Almost a whisper, but meant for his ears, of what was left.

Rinlear was always defiant to what he didn’t want to do. Now was not the time for that trait to appear.

Turning to writhe, he whined as he pulled himself against his restraints, her magic seeming to cause him insurmountable amounts of pain before he fell to his knees in the mud at her demand. Growling out, he shook his chains and sobbed loudly before it turned into a malicious laughter. Whispers and groans floated to her sensitive Elfirrin ears as he spoke, and her back stiffened at his words.

Be quiet, fossil.” Rinlear hissed with his breath. Head leaning forward to hang, his shoulders swayed back and forth as though he were testing the restraint at his wrists. At his comment, however, one of the fur-men gave a shout and they struggled to push the old thing down on all fours, but he resisted and turned sharply, aiming for the troc mutt who held him. The soldier flinched to the side, exposing one of the mages. The mage’s eyes went wide as he held up his hands in defense, breaking concentration on the spell. Kemryn gave a shout over the yelling of the other soldiers, but Rinlear rushed forward and with a loud sickening crack, head butted the defenseless Silencer to the ground. This made the Scrambler lose all concentration as well, and the poor man fainted at the idea of his own mortality. The troc soldier twisted his arm to righten the monster and the rest of the guard put the wretched thing back in place in front of the councilwoman, pushing him to his knees at her feet.

She didn’t notice the loosening of one of the buckles of his mask at the side where he’d impacted the mage’s head. “Kneel? To a pompous, voracious sow?”

The mages worked hard without their second and fourth to continue their magic, but without the Silencer and Scrambler, Rinlear was able to form more coherent sentences, struggling against the widening of his loosened jaw, forcing it to move in a strange way against the mask.

“Heheheheheh.” His chuckle turned to a chortle, distorted by the metallic jaw-covering and reverberating around the cavern. “Why would I kneel to a craven little weakling?” He looked around to the guards holding his chains, to Steirtorim, and back to Kotaphira. “You still can’t do anything yourself. You need your platoon of big, strong men to do everything for you.” Another chuckle echoed out, “even keep your bed warm, last I heard.”

Her brows raised. A feeble attempt at trying to defy the situation. How… predictable. He paused again, head and shoulder flinching as he whispered once more, long strings of unintelligible words, the two glowing blue dots disappearing within his muzzle as he shut his eyes.

“You’ll not disrespect Lady Kotaphira, you abominable wretch! Show respect.” Steirtorim growled through his short, exposed tusks, threatening his sword at the prisoner.

Her hand raised to pause Steirtorim. “He has no notion of respect anymore.” A frown, and disgust bubbled in her chest.

“But to go after anything that’s… humanoid!” He gave a quick nod to Steirtorim. “You tell me if that’s ‘respectable’! Have some shame, ‘dear sister.’” His disposition changed to a more stern, serious one. “What am I saying, you’re no sister of mine. Not someone who’d ‘spare’ their brother out of convenience or abandon their lover.” His glowing eyes opened to concentrate up on Kotaphira’s face, blue glow reflecting from the enchanted metal and back to what little skin was left on his face. She could just make out the tendons, blackened and burnt, moving as he spoke, the longer she looked. He no longer had a nose. “I’d wager you would even sacrifice the spawn of your womb if it granted you more power.” Disgust dripped from his words. It seemed whatever feeling of empathy he’d ever had for her was gone. “Pheh, and I’m the demon. Whatever you need, send your harem. I want no part in it.”

The mask slowly moved against his jaw, loosening with every sentence and still gone unnoticed.

“You do not have a choice, brother,” Kotaphira stressed the word at him, “trust me, I would not have bothered to send for you if it meant I could do this any other way. Your inconvenience is just as much as mine is. Asking you to come here would have brought more harm than good.” She actually dared to step forward and kneel in front of him, still an arm’s length away, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Devourer of Man; if you do as I say, you’ll get all the flesh you could ever want to consume. Defy me, and you will never taste another soul again. Do we have a deal?” She didn’t wait for an answer before standing up. This was not a bargain he had a decision in. “Get him detained in the catacomb cell with a proper muffler.” His voice echoing to entice others was a threat she couldn’t afford right now. “Don’t let anyone near enough to him. He’ll starve before I let anyone risk their lives out of curiosity.”

His presence was foul, the old sigil on his shoulder eerie and emanating evil. So why… Why was there a feeling of excitement? She was closer to her goal, but something else was pulling.


Her head shook slightly. Family or not, there was nothing left of the Rinlear she knew.

But isn’t there?

Kotaphira looked up to Steirtorim. “I have something to attend to. Is this under control?” Her brows raised, nodding in the direction of the downed spell casters. They couldn’t afford any more injuries or deaths with this operation. People did not need to be asking questions- the distraction with the disappearance of Princess Mylla was one thing, but people get bored easily.

“Yes, I believe so. So long as we don’t lose anyone else due to carelessness.” He shot a glare at the other troc. “Holding him within city walls, though, my lady?”

“It needs to be here,” she responded curtly, “for now.”

“Hahahaha,” Rinlear made his amusement in her decisions clear, “Yes, slime-spawn. Is this under control? Your fallen woman of a queen needs a clear mind to herd more cattle to their slaughter.” He looked at the guards holding his chains, as his words weren’t just for her anymore. “I accept your offer, and see your reasoning, Madame Councilor. Maerise doesn’t need any more of her people risking their lives to a monster such as I.” Rinlear stared straight at her, through her, “Not when a monster such as you can sell them to me for my services.” He sounded as though he were challenging her actions, and she wondered, for just a moment, if he would stand to resist her intentions. “But I’m not as stingy as you might think. Rather than ‘all the flesh I could ever hope to consume.’ I want…” He looked around again, glowing blue eyes shifting around as the slick sound of his tongue slid along rotten flesh and tendon, “you, to decide upon one soul to sacrifice to me, one for every head we have in audience here. You’ll announce them by name at the city square,” he looked once more at Steirtorim, as though he could see his very soul, “and one of my choosing.” Another slick sound, louder, where he licked at lips that no longer existed, “these twisted lengths you’re willing to go through will not be kept hidden.”

She let him have his words while her hands gripped tightly at her sides. The filthy relic that bowed before her in defiance was no brother of hers. Muscles twitching in her face, she finally found the courage to speak within her rage. No one would be losing their lives if she could help it, and certainly not to this disgusting cannibal! “You’re in no position to make demands, wretched beast,” how could he possibly think that I would do such a thing!? He’s lost whatever logic he once held, for certain. “Open your filthy mouth again, and I’ll use my magics to shut you up for good. We just watched you squeal like a hung pig meant for the butcher the moment I spoke before, and that was barely a whisper! I’ve had time to hone my craft, and you’re weak. If we have to force you down and sew your mouth opening shut, so be it!”

“Eheheheh..” With that, the enchanted muzzle slipped and hung away from his face, exposing the decayed and rotten flesh that once covered his handsome face. Blackened nubs replaced the teeth he once had, the right side of his jaw hanging looser than the left, unhinged from the skull. The muscles still pulled into a sort of wicked half grin, drool the color of oil dripping from the opening.

Her eyes widened and she looked quickly to Kemryn, who was still concentrating hard on her task. “Child! The restraint!”

But it was too late. Rinlear’s head was leaned back, and through the exposed side of his face he opened his jaw wide and let out a low, rumbling groan that echoed throughout the cavern. The air around them turned to static as the mage’s magics, and Kotaphira’s too, were pulled from their hands, raising their arms against their will. She was incapacitated, defenseless, against this unnatural attack. Like all of the air was pulled from her lungs, and the water from her body. Electricity buzzed all her nerves at once and pulled whatever was left up and out through her fingertips. Glowing energies from each of them rose in the air and swirled in a circle of rainbow colors over Rinlear’s head, and for a moment began to converge and flow into his open mouth.

“She said- HEEL!” Steirtorim’s sword hilt made contact with Rinlear’s exposed face- what was left of it- and with a loud crunch the prisoner crumpled to the ground. The magical energies slowly separated and dispersed back to their respective owners. Collapsing to the ground, the magic wielders gasped for air and struggled to regain their posture as black dots appeared in their visions.

“Lady Kotaphira!” Steirtorim knelt at her side, hand hovering over her shoulder. He knew she didn’t like to be touched.

“Kemryn..” Kota barely let out, “all of you. No more leather on prisoners. Metal only. No clasps. LOCKS, and heavier enchantments,” she looked up, glaring at them all, “and for the love of Derdia, NO ONE hesitate!”

Steirtorim nodded, helping her to her feet only when she reached for him. “So long as he.. It.. stays alive.”

“That goes without saying,” she hissed. Another glance at Rinlear’s twitching body, and Kotaphira turned to go inside the castle.

“My lady, what about what just happened! You can’t ignore that!” Steirtorim moved to help the mages up while the soldiers re-latched the mask and secured Rinlear’s bindings. “I have no magic so I was untouched, but this-!”

“There’s no time! The sooner this is dealt with, the sooner this thing can be disposed of!” She paused just long enough to add, “Subine is coming. She can offer her input,” the old oak doors strained as they shut behind her. It really was problematic, and under any other circumstances she would have been eager to attempt to dissect the situation and investigate. But time was running out, and Rinlear wasn’t the sacrifice. He was the bait.


Her mind didn’t stop from going over the searing words Rinlear had thrown at her. Like reopening scarred-over wounds that had long since healed, his insults seemed to tear through her flesh.

“You still can’t do anything yourself. You need big, strong men to do everything for you.”

We can do what we need by ourselves. A soothing feeling like thick, sickeningly sweet molasses oozing through her veins came with this other inner voice. It always did.

Yes.. I’m dependent on no one but me.

“You would sacrifice the spawn of your womb if it granted you more power!”

We did what had to be done. The sacrifice is for the betterment of all!

And I would do it again.

“No sister of mine. You’re no sister. Not mine. You’re no SISTER of mine!”

And he is no brother!

Brothers do not abandon their sister!

“Nor a sister who’d ‘spare’ their brother out of convenience or abandon their lover! You left us! You abandoned your lover- you abandoned Echertai!”

Echertai’s face flashed behind her eyelids as she continued her power walk through the castle, his face staring at her almost as clearly as if he were standing right in front of her. “Ah!” Her eyes opened wide, looking hard in front of her. All too suddenly, Rinlear’s previous actions caught up to her and sent her kneeling to the ground. Limbs shaking, she took several minutes to readjust herself to her environment. Violated. Tears streamed down her face as she gasped for air, moaning and whimpering with each breath. Rocking back and forth on her hands and knees, she clenched her eyes shut as she trembled.

What do we taste?


What do we feel?

Anger! Rage! … Smooth, stone floor. Cool to the touch.

Her heartbeat thundered in her ears, a ringing starting to drown her thoughts.

What do we hear?

Never-ending crickets- birds.. Somewhere. Talking.. Nearby, but not getting closer. Safe from view.

The ringing slowly died away.

What do we smell?

Baking. From the kitchens. Bread, cookies, and- muffins?

What do we see?

Her eyes opened slowly as more tears dripped, lifting her head to see where exactly she was. The entire layout of Maerise she knew like the back of her hand as she was intimately involved in the original building process, but where she was specifically was a passageway from the original design she’d implemented herself. It was hidden, but not completely secret, and ran near the kitchens on the ground floor. It led to a staircase that connected to a covered archway that overlooked much of the city.

Stone. Torchlight. A window. Blue sky, through the window.

Exhaling a held breath, Kotaphira stood slowly, placing a hand on the wall for support. For the first time, instead of feeling comforted by her sanctuary of stone, an essence of claustrophobia had washed over her. She needed fresh air. A few deep and slow breaths and she stood back up as she wiped her face. Mentally reviewing Rinlear’s words once more, she picked up her gait and continued along.

“I want you to decide upon one soul to sacrifice to me, one for every head we have in audience here. You’ll announce them by name at the city square.”

What a sick minded fool. The fact that he would suggest such a thing so vile made her stomach twist. Was he trying to use that as a ploy to upset her into giving in to some other agenda he had? He had no upper hand, nothing to bargain with! His madness must have settled in well a long time ago.

“These twisted lengths you’re willing to go through will not be kept hidden.”

This was what worried her most. He seemed to see through her, and not need to ask why he was detained, but rather willing to express intentions she may have with him to others. It was as if he understood he was part of a much bigger puzzle that she was constructing.

You left us! You abandoned Echertai!”

Her head shook as she gasped softly, pausing at this. No time for your poisonous remarks, demon. She had more important things to deal with. First of which, finding her sons. They would need to be approached, told of Rinlear, and perhaps give some tweaking to the information about him, then guide them along with the one called the Boar’s Head, and this other Kotaphira to where she needed them.

Summoning a spirit of the dead would be no easy task, and defeating one would likely cause at least one of their deaths. If she had to choose, by process of elimination, it would have to be her doppelganger. She had no ties to the girl, and maybe, just- maybe, she could fake her own death with the death of the girl’s. Then she could, if all went well, enjoy her spoils of that Other Place. A sacrifice this great would open a portal there, she was sure of it. But this caused her mind to wander.

So long as the dragons are paid off for their precious gifts of the eggs. I fear they’ll smell the gold and wealth from the Other Place all the way out in the mountains of Ironmarsh. Cold as it is.. That debt was one yet to be paid, and while the Ulpustur dragons had not come to collect just yet, she didn’t want to be caught blindsided. They didn’t need to know how much wealth she’d stumbled upon when she got to the Other Place- she hoped their noses were not so keen on realizing how MUCH wealth was in one spot.

“You abandoned Echertai!”

Rinlear’s words echoed once more in her mind. The arches of the walkway she was on let in the afternoon light, and she paused mid-stride to stare at the stone floor in front of her.


Don’t look at me.

Birds chirped, fluttering by as they flew to the walkway above, as the white obelisk on the mountain that loomed over the city could be seen by all.

Stop it.

From below in the streets, the shouts of vendors echoed up, along with the laughter of children and the clattering of carts and hooves. A crier gave updates on the still ‘missing’ princess Mylla, asking anyone for information on the young girl’s whereabouts.

With a harsh turn, Kotaphira gripped onto the stone ledge and yelled through the archway, looking not at the city below, but what loomed over, white stone perfectly poised in place nearby. “GET OUT OF MY HEAAAD!!”

Silence filled the air after the echo of her voice faded. Luckily for everyone down below, she didn’t use her magical voice in her yell. People in the streets stopped their ongoings to turn and stare up at the crazed old half-elfirrin woman, birds flittering away angrily.

“Shouting at him won’t bring him back to life, you know.” Verusk, the king’s advisor, casually rested his shoulder on a post several feet away with his arms crossed over leather and deep green and blue velvet robes. Warm, for the end of spring.

You think I don’t know that! “Oh!” She turned to face him. She had been so overwhelmed with the moment she’d not realized he was standing there. “Ah… I’ll be on my way.”

He pushed himself off the pillar he was against, keeping to the shadowed area of the path as he took a few steps closer. “I think you could use someone to talk to, other than our proud marble representative on the mountain there. Captain Echertai, as good a listener as you claim he was, can only do so much now.” He turned his head, long straight black hair sliding over his shoulder, to look over at the massive statue, perfectly carved and watching over them all. “Come, speak with me. Would you, councilwoman?” He turned and gave a smile that was intended to be warm.

“Ah… certainly.” She nodded curtly, needing to bite her lip at his comments about her old friend and lover. More than anything, she wanted to get back to her ‘pet project’. “Is there something you need? Is my son giving you trouble again over allowances?” Her brain scrambled to find recent topics.

“No, Samund has been quite cooperative- he’s still learning the ropes of being on the council.” He shook his head, “Actually, there’s been talk of some secret happenings going on under our castle’s roof.” He stood straight, stiffening his pose. He was serious.

Does he know of Rinlear? Her head tilted, inquisitive at his questioning. “Secrets? Is that really a new thing, Verusk?” She teased.

His long hair waved as a strong breeze pushed through the archways, flowers in the planters stinking the air as they danced with the wind. “Perhaps not. But this is something you may be interested in.”

“In what way?” She sounded clueless as ever, perfectly fitting her role, but still irritated that he was stopping her from getting to her goal.

“It seems..” His voice lowered as he stepped closer, not wanting his voice to carry. “Someone.. Or some people have been poisoning our wyvern eggs.”

She blinked. “What?” That was a serious cause for concern. The military had recently adapted the dragon rider force over the course of the last 20 years, and it had been quite a success- not to mention these were the very gifts from the Ulpustur dragons. Precious and valuable to the Maerisian forces. Who would sabotage that?

He glanced around, checking their surroundings as his large pointed ears turned with his head. The Arc’hildean night-elfirrin looked back at her and whispered, “Perhaps here is not the best place to discuss this. Shall we go to my office?”

The last thing she wanted was a distraction, and time to do what she needed was limited. But this was… troubling. What group or person would do such a thing? “Very well.” She walked next to him, keeping her head held high.

“How has Taskell been? We hardly hear from that troublemaker these days.” Smalltalk from Verusk meant he was in a troubled mood. Which could mean the king was in some sort of danger. If the wyvern eggs and hatchlings were in danger in the safest place in the castle, so too could Selreth be. Verusk never attempted to get involved with anyone unless there was something wrong with King Selreth’s safety.

“Hm.” She nodded, but didn’t say anything to respond. She didn’t have time for this, and getting involved with his safety measures was not entirely her job.

The silence between them grew, and Verusk seemed desperate to close it. “So many flowers have been blooming this spring. The apothecaries are working overtime for anti-allergen potions. It seems we are running low on- get this- frusian leaf. The thing grows like weeds on the hillsides, and no one wants to bother risking their fingers on digging them out of the ground.” He was amused at that. “So the apothecaries who have more of the potion are overpricing their products! Imagine, paying fifty LP for a simple anti-allergen potion.” He reached into his lapel and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe at his nose.

“Highway robbery due to laziness. It’s not a new concept.” She finally obliged a little to his chatter. But the silence continued once more, and she noticed his irritation, though if one did not know him well one would presume he was nervous. Still, she kept silent and followed along the hallways to his office.

By the time they arrived, she was in a more sour mood. Time was dropping like sand from Midra’s hourglass. When they were inside he shut the door tight behind them and moved to make tea.

“I’m needed elsewhere, Verusk, and having pleasantries with the king’s advisor in closed quarters hardly seems appropriate.” Her jaws clenched, irritated. She didn’t move from her spot by the door, already feeling claustrophobic for the second time, now from the shelves of books that lined his walls and the large map of the city that hung over his tea-making station. It seemed she hadn’t completely gotten over her episode from earlier.

He didn’t turn around as he prepared the pot, using an apothecary’s torch to light a small metal ring underneath. Carefully he put the torch away as the ring grew bright and orange, heating the water inside the pot. “Refusing tea from your host is quite an insult, even in Maerise. Isn’t that right?” He moved to set cups and cookies from a covered plate to a tray with a small container of sweetjuice from a miro’ak plant and another of milk. After the water was hot, he poured it into the cups over leaves and set it on his desk. When she made no effort to move from her spot, he picked up her cup and held it out for her. “Milk?”

“Will you get to the point!” Kotaphira huffed as she walked over, took the tea from him and set it firmly on his desk.

“Really. You can’t make a moment, even for me?” Irritation bubbled up in his tone. “We have been through enough together as it is, and you act like this now! Have I upset you so much over that incident that you still give me this cold shoulder?”

At that, she pinched the bridge of her nose and sat down. We almost engage romantically one time, and he still holds it over my head! How many years ago was that? And nothing even happened! “Was this all a ruse, just to get me alone!”

He scoffed before exhaling, turning to the large window behind his desk and opening the drapes on half the window, light from outside illuminating where she sat. “No. There is a group out there doing terrible things,” he sighed, “but I did wish to see you. It has been awhile since we sat and… talked,” he was almost glaring at her with his golden eyes as he sat down.

She responded with a hard green glare of her own, squinting from the light. “Ah, it seems we’ve talked, thank you for the tea.” She moved to get up and he laughed, sourly.

“Ahaha! Oh, you’re always in such a hurry, fair Kotaphira! Five. Minutes. Please.” He motioned to the full cup of tea in front of her. “We have to discuss the wyverns, at least.” His frustration at her was still quite obvious.

Him calling her fair made her skin crawl, but she settled back down.

After a deep breath, he started once more, careful with his words. “The Festival of Lights is a couple of weeks away, and Queen Sylvarra has been invited as well as leaders from around Erai’hym, including the king and queen of Arc’hilde, the queen of Firastra, and the monarch of Geodonia. The venue is to be held at the platform, beneath Echertai.”

“Yes, I heard about this carousel.” She had intended to use that time to put her plan into action, but with Mylla ‘missing’, Selreth wasn’t ready to set foot anywhere if it wasn’t intended to find his precious brat. She needed Mylla’s disappearance to buy more time.

Verusk let out an amused snort of air from his nose. “I know, you don’t care for such festivities, but considering it would be on neutral ground for once, I think it would be an excellent chance for us here to get in on Lutria’s good graces. Also, seeing as you are our founder and are best at working… peaceful negotiations, you would be a valuable asset to this social get-together.”

“The king won’t have it.”

He looked confused. “How-,”

“So long as young Mylla is missing, he won’t even start to think about hosting a gathering like that. You know this. Why can’t your protective mind stay to the constraints of the King and his ‘assets’?” Her head shook. “So long as you keep close-minded on situations like that, you won’t get far.” She would make sure Mylla was found well before the festival, but the ruse needed to stay up- for now.

His tone turned teasing for a moment. “You insult me, councilwoman Arculum. I know where my priorities lie, and I am very familiar with what the king is motivated by.”

That wasn’t quite the response she expected from him. She thought he was going to say, The king and his family are always first to me! My loyalty is to them! That seemed to be his initial outgoing response to most things. What changed, she wondered, “what is it you are motivated by, then?”

A smirk, and he leaned back in his chair, thin fingers interlacing, “Quite simple, really. Power. But! You know me, I cannot work well without someone’s guidance and push. The dynamic between Selreth and I is a bond that is intricately entwined. If something were to happen to him, it affects me directly.”

“Then why are you not down in the streets looking for Mylla as he is?”

Had she caught him off guard? The look on his face seemed to insinuate so. But he gathered himself in a dignified and convincing way. “Someone has to cover the day-to-day nonsense.” He motioned to the stacks of paper littering his desk. “I do this, as he trusts me to, so that he may have some ease in searching for his beloved child. She is of my flesh and blood too, remember.”

“Yes, your niece’s mother is a very prominent member of our society.” Kotaphira couldn’t help the almost snotty tone she took when she said that. She disliked his sister; but, there were few people she did like. “Can we get back to the matter at hand? You mentioned dying wyverns.”

“First, answer. Will you attend the festival with me?”

“No. What are the rest of these people’s motives?”

He let another laugh before idly tracing the rim of his cup. “You are, without a doubt, one of the most apathetic and aloof women I have ever met. If Mylla is found before then, will you attend?”

“IF she is found…” By the time she is found, I will not even be here. And if I am, this will be the least of my worries! “Ask me at a more appropriate time.” Like, never.

He seemed quite amused still. “Alright, alright. You win. I will ask again later.” He sat back, watching her.

“So? The wyverns?”

“Yes, yes. This group-,“ He sat straight in his chair, “this group seems to have an agenda that the dragons- wyverns are not welcome here. That because they are not magical like the large dragons from the Ulpustur Region, they must be creatures from Herac’ine. Not only that, if you notice, none of the Dragon Riders are, or have been, human, and the oldest riders are starting to become.. Mentally unstable.”

“What does that have to do with anything? The bond between a wyvern and rider is not one that happens by chance- the wyvernling chooses their rider. Everyone knows this.” This did sound like a serious issue. “They may not exhibit magical abilities like their Ulpuster counterparts, but they have enough to make a deep-seeded mental and emotional connection to a very specific person of their own choosing. You know this!” Her hand motioned to an intricate carving of a wyvern and rider statue on a nearby shelf, the rider closely resembling him.

“People want equality, fellow councilwoman,” his face had turned dark, eyes downcast. He’d suffered a terrible loss, and she felt slight guilt for mentioning it, “so long as there’s an imbalance in the desire for those with and without magical abilities, there will be grudges and ill-contempt. But, there’s something else,” his tone shifted as he moved topics, “there’s quite the unrest in the city, and not just from Mylla’s disappearance. Many Elfirrin and those with Elfirrin blood have reported feeling agitated and highly so. I myself have felt this uneasiness recently, but only when I’m down walking in the streets. Trocbloods, Derhanish, and others have not.” His eyebrows came together as he thought over this. “It’s possible our Elfirrin blood may have a virus of some sort that is infecting others. So be wary of that.”

“I’m fine.” Nothing out of the usual, anyway. Or.. so she figured.

“It may be someone, but it is still being looked into.” He did sound worried.

“And who is that, exactly?”

Sighing, Verusk pulled out a ledger from a stack of papers and opened it to a page, “Here. We have a visitor in town, who claimed to have just been passing through. Arrived yesterday, on a boat with no other passengers. I only received word about it because the deputy who registered him in was quite bothered by the situation.”

“And who is this mysterious tourist?” Kotaphira couldn’t help the sarcastic tone.

“Artherien Vessifer.”

Corners of her mouth falling, she glared hard at her once friend. “A Vessifer? From Ironmarsh? Here? He could be plotting something against us, Verusk! If he’s gone unchecked- anyone who knows their history of that desolate wasteland knows the Vessifer are not in control of themselves without their precious Hera- Hera-” She struggled with that word, she always did.



“That’s just the thing. He claims, and this has checked out, that he’s in search of her.” Verusk’s finger tapped at the list of belongings from the visitor.

“The Heraghine. Who is listed as dead from pretty much any historian. The man is on a Gulpine hunt, has a weak story, and you just believe him!?”

“I told the same thing to the deputy. Who is of Elffirin blood, might I remind you, and this Vessifer held his tone and was… In control.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.” No story of a Vessifer was a pleasant one. But in search of the Heraghine, the healer for the Vessifer, created by gentle Loffine Herself for them… she took a slow breath as she began to formulate a possible solution for her current predicament. She would need a set of her own eyes on that man. For now, something else was bugging her. “About the wyverns…” She was careful with her tone, “Why did you not take this to Steirtorim?”

Verusk closed the ledger and set it aside. “He’s been out of commission for the past several weeks, under your orders, I found out. I could hound you for the reasons as to why it was so pertinent you reassign our captain to an unknown location.”

“And Stiphen? He is the commander, after all.” Dodging that question.

“Now, I couldn’t rightly bring out an accusation like that against him.”

It took her a second to process what he meant. “You think- Stiphen is a part of this group, poisoning the eggs!?” A serious accusation against the old man. There were rumors of some higher ups being racist, but racism had never been an issue in Maerise. If Verusk was one of these racists, however, “what of me? Why tell me?”

“Your motives would not follow that agenda. We all worked too hard for the chance at those wyverns, none of us would threaten or hurt them now. It makes logical sense.”

“But logical sense is not proof. Bring me proof of all this- any of this, and I’ll listen to more of what you have to say. But for now, I have a meeting to arrange.” She wanted nothing more than to leave the conversation. There were more important matters to attend to than his dislike and potential slander against her city guard, and the commander, an old friend.

“The proof of the poisoning is there! All you have to do is go and see, I’ll take you to the handlers myself!”

She was already moving to leave.

“Kotaphira- why did you have Captain Steirtorim reassigned?”

“It’s a private matter.”

“So you hire a private thug. Not the city’s captain!

“I think you’ll find he’ll be back in his own bed tonight. Check there and discuss this issue with him then, and maybe you two can speculate more on this ‘cult’ of yours.” With that, she stood up and went to the door, firmly grasping the handle.

He exhaled. “Kota.” His tone had softened considerably. “What should I tell Selreth you’ve done with Stunman?”

Informal now. She hated the switch he was able to flip when he wanted more information. The fact that he used her old nickname and Steirtorim’s petname meant he was thinking back to their adventures almost thirty years prior when they made the pact with the Ulpustur dragons- Selreth, Steirtorim, Verusk, his sister Aneela, and herself were forced together at the time in that unknown place, but they learned how to work together and in the end brought back an agreement of peace and several small wyvern eggs. Along with an empty promise to pay handsomely for these eggs should the Ulpustur dragons ever come to collect. Kotaphira knew as soon as her sacrifice was made and access to the Other Place was opened, those dragons would smell the wealth and gather. She’d have to share her greed, and she wasn’t quite sure how much she was ready to surrender to a bunch of money-hungry fire breathing lizards.

“Ask Steirtorim that. And don’t bother me again.” She left, closing the door loudly behind her, leaving her untouched tea on the desk.

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