The wine was sweet, smooth and rich as it flowed down her throat from the rim of the silver chalice. The bottle sitting upon the marble table beside her cost enough that even a human king would clutch his purse and look elsewhere for his drink. Chancellor Lelthina however, didn’t think a human would even be able to appreciate such divine quality.
Standing in her personal greeting chamber in the palace of Winterstone, she listened carefully to the man before her, one finely manicured hand resting upon that marble table. She only took small sips as she listened carefully to each word that flowed from the man’s mouth.
The quality of his clothes was utterly horrid; a dull brown and tattered cloak with all kinds of patches sewn across the larger holes. A drab tunic of green, and breeches that had more dust on them than the dye used to give them whatever colour they had been. Normally, such a man she would not converse with, but one did not turn away spymaster Phano. She’d seen him in such a variety of clothes, and act in such a variety of manner, that she could not say for sure how wealthy he truly was.
And she was usually so very good at knowing that.
The story he told now though was incredulous. If he were not Phano, she wouldn’t have believed a single word of it; but the spymaster hated exaggeration. So, no matter how improbable what he was telling her to be truth, it was. It was shocking even.
“So we have lost Driftafay,” Lelthina said, her voice almost a whisper. She had never imagined this would come to pass. At the hands of a Goldulin bitch no less.
“Seems the humans have finally decided to overreach themselves. Any word from their barbaric clans on this… affront?” the chancellor asked as the spymaster moved to the table, and poured himself a glass of the deep red wine.
“None. They don’t even know it’s happened. Seems this, Sarya, has struck out on her own,” he said, slipping out of the grizzled tone of a street urchin he’d been using not two minutes before, and sounding much more like a noble Elf. It was off putting with the clothing, but Lelthina much preferred it. It sent a shiver down her spine.
Phano’s smile told her that he noticed. Of course he noticed, he never missed anything.
“Stupid Human bitch. No matter, Driftafay cannot stand on its own. I will inform the king of this. I’m sure his daughter will want another shot at being the hero after the atrocity at Atzgol,” Lelthina said shaking her head, and earning a deep laugh from Phano.
He slid behind her, stinking of the road. She could feel him, so close to her, almost touching her fine silken dress.
“Bathe before you enter my chambers,” she said firmly, gesturing towards a side door, where one of her personal servants stood.
Phano glanced at another door, the one to her bed chambers. Where he would find himself soon enough.
“Very well chancellor. Enjoy your meeting with the king,” he said with a deep bow that was both mocking, playful, and respectful at once. Lelthina still wasn’t sure how he managed to pull that off.
Shaking her head, Lelthina drained the remainder of her chalice, and left the room. She’d be back soon enough, and on her back. Phano had a way with women… and men. He could have whoever he wanted, yet he liked to have her. Lelthina had a little smile to herself at that, putting a little extra sway into her hips as she moved through the corridors of the opulent palace of Winterstone.
Servants all bowed as she walked by, proving that they knew their place in this world. Lelthina ignored them otherwise, walking with her chin up as she moved with her perfect Elfin grace.
When she finally reached the throne room, pushing both thick doors open wide, she let some of her pride seep out of her stroll. For before her, on his throne of gold draped in the finest blue silk, sat King Apol. Lelthina was quick to bow before him on the plush rug that ran to the base of his throne, feeling the pale blue eyes of not just the king, but his daughter Telva as well.
“Chancellor. You have met with Phano then?” Apol said in his quiet voice, drained by age.
Slowly, respectfully, Lelthina rose to her feet once more. She turned to Telva and curtsied quickly. When the princess returned the gesture with her beautiful white dress, accentuated with blue sashes, Lelthina smiled and turned back to the king. Even amongst royalty she demanded respect.
“I have, your grace. It is as we feared, the rumours are true,” Lelthina started, before telling Apol everything she had learned. In the corner of her eye she saw Telva’s face redden with anger at the pure nerve of the Goldulin bitch.
When she finally finished her tale, the room was in utter silence. Telva stood stock still, shaking with righteous anger, and Apol silently tapped his finger against the armrest of his throne. From beneath his gray hair, his still perfectly blue eyes watched Lelthina. Finally he turned to his daughter.
“Telva. Prepare your army, you leave at dawn. You will take Driftafay, and you will fly the Winterstone banner from the Evermar Palace. We will run this Coalition now, and show the Humans who hold thoughts of turning against us, the power of Winterstone,” Apol said, an edge of iron coming to his usually soft voice.
“And those living in the city now?” Telva asked, with the slightest of growls. Lelthina listened carefully for the king’s answer as he pondered.
“Execute any who resist… then decimation. I’m sure Sarya will appreciate the humour in that,” Apol said with a humourless grin.
Decimation. Lelthina smiled. Finally the humans would be made aware of how insignificant they were to the world.
“Chancellor. You will accompany my daughter, as the new head of the Coalition Council. Obviously your predecessor did not perform adequately. That’s what happens when you get soft with humans.”
Lelthina bowed deeply.
“It is an honour, your grace.”
“Morkate take my soul, as I give my life for your harbinger,” the woman said, holding a silver dagger in her upturned palms before her naked form. Kneeling before the priestess Aela, a silver bowl engraved with ancient markings of the Goddess of Lust and Blood.
Aela reached down and took the dagger from the hands of the sacrifice.
“May the shadows embrace you,” Aela said, and quickly slashed the woman’s throat open. She didn’t even make a sound as blood pumped from the deep wound, down her body, and pouring into the bowl. When life faded from her body and she started to slump forwards, Aela caught her by the head, holding her up until more blood had filled the bowl.
When the sacrifice finally stopped bleeding, Aela looked up to the Helot guards standing at the entrance to Lillium’s chambers. They’d been there since Lillium had been returned to Volgras.
“Take her to the temple. She is to be honoured,” Aela said, and one of the helots nodded, carefully taking the dead woman in his arms.
The helots knew better than to disrespect Aela and the customs of Morkate. The priestess smiled to herself; even many of them were becoming devout followers. The harbinger’s plans were coming along nicely, until that woman, Goldulin from what she’d heard, put it all in jeopardy.
With no witnesses save the single helot guard, Aela moved to Lillium’s bed. The succubus lay on her back, stripped down to only long leather skirts. There were no bandages over the hole through her chest, for she wasn’t bleeding. But, neither was it healing. Aela could see the snapped ribs, the marrow within them. She could see the heart, struggling to beat with much of it torn asunder.
Dipping two fingers into the bowl, Aela painted sigils on her own naked skin, connecting her to the Goddess. Moving onto the bed, she straddled Lillium’s form. Oh how she wished the succubus was awake for this. Looking down at her form, so near death that her breasts scarcely rose with breath, Aela could not help but admire the perfection of the snowy skin, the faint hints of blackened veins, the swells of her breasts.
“Morkate, hear me your servant. Give me the strength to bring your harbinger back from the brink, that she may continue her holy work,” Aela said softly, tipping the bowl so that blood flowed over Lillium’s unmoving lips, and into the hole punched through her chest.
Her own heart stilled as the crimson flowed over Lillium’s still form, dripping into her chest cavity. Aela’s lips moved in silent prayer as she watched. She could even feel the tension in the helot’s breast as they waited.
Nothing happened. The heart still struggled, the exposed lung still barely expanded, and her beautiful eyes stayed closed. Aela hung her head. Until she heard the whispers. Her gaze snapped upwards, startling the helot guard.
“I know where our answers are.”
“I saw you kill her, do you doubt your own hand?” Viviane said before the gathered officers and nobility of Driftafay, while Sarya sat to get pressure off her injured leg.
“I don’t, which is why I know she’s not dead. The one thing we didn’t know going out there, is that she’s a fucking vampire,” the Centurion said angrily, her gaze snapping at them all.
“I was about to cut off her damn head when your soldiers pulled me back. I wasn’t finished with her yet.”
Some of those who’d been around for some time, those that trained and led the very same men that Sarya had commanded in battle while they cowered behind walls, at least had the shame to blush.
“She can’t have been a vampire! We’ve all seen her, a succubus,” some noble with slicked back hair and a too well groomed goatee said. Sarya hated him on sight, purely because of all that grooming. Probably never saw a battle before. Even though that small skirmish outside might be considered one, he more than likely hid behind the skirts of a whore.
“I saw her up close. I saw her heal wounds that would have brought a succubus down. I saw her fangs, her hunger for blood. I saw this, because I fought her. We’re talking about the Kazdruk, not a clan of sheep fucking barbarians. They, do, not, follow the fucking rules of nature,” Sarya seethed, staring down anyone who dared doubt her. Luckily for them, there was only silence that followed her outburst.
“Nothing else to say? Than go… and get ready for her to come back,” the Centurion said, flipping her hand towards the door.
Most were quick to scramble away from the woman who had started a massacre in their very streets, and had braved the creature that had them terrified. Most, but not all.
Viviane remained where she was, standing proud and firm. Sarya let out a long breath to release her anger into the air. Viviane had been brave in the fight, hell just the fact that she fought at all meant the world to Sarya. For a moment she said nothing, just stood by the table letting Sarya calm herself.
The Centurion kept a hand pressed to her thigh, trying to ignore the throbbing pain. At least the apothecary had a steady hand with the stitching.
“How is it?” Viviane finally asked to break the silence, and Sarya let a humourless smile curl her lips briefly.
“Painful, but it’ll be fine soon enough,” she said, and looked down at the table before her, with its map of DelHelshan, marked with coloured pins for all the Kazdruk raids and attacks. The coast was getting hit hard, and with the Atzgol plains fallen the Kazdruk were advancing up along the Ruby sea.
Then there was Volgras, and Lillium. How the hell had she gotten so far into Coalition territory without being stopped? Why were those helots so respectful of her? Everything Sarya had seen of the Kazdruk grunts showed they would abandon their cruel masters at a moment’s notice. Not Lillium though; they carted her away. Was it her vampirism, or something else? Sarya stared at the map, cupping her chin in her hand as she studied it.
“We won’t get help here, we’re not the front lines,” Sarya muttered to herself, until Viviane’s cough reminded the centurion that the Knight of Oan was still standing before her.
“So Lillium is a Kazdruk experiment. We know she used to be human, but now she is some kind of… abomination. We need to go after her, and finish what you started,” Viviane said firmly, and Sarya looked up with a raised eyebrow. She didn’t want to admit it, but the knight’s determination impressed her.
“We don’t even know for sure where she’s holed up. My guess is Volgras, most reports suggest that. But, I can’t leave. Driftafay is on the brink, again. And I doubt anyone else is going to want to go hunting her,” Sarya said, hating herself for saying it.
To her surprise Viviane was nodding, and gesturing to Sarya’s leg.
“I don’t know if you’d be at top game anyway.”
Sarya laughed, a little bitterly at the comment but nodded. She pointed to Volgras.
“I won’t stop you. I want the bitch dead. We all need the bitch dead. Just… don’t get yourself killed doing it. I’m starting to like you,” Sarya said with a smirk, and Viviane smiled.
“I’ll see in I can find that Wolfkin that managed to escape. I’m sure she’s fled the city by now.”
“Take the woods then. I have a feeling she’s not that far away,” Sarya said, slowly getting to her feet.
The two warriors nodded to each other, then clasped hands firmly.
“Go with Oan Sarya.”
“Just kill the bitch.”
Watching Aela pack a bag while draped in a long cloak that covered much of her form seemed simply strange to Mia. The temple was nearly deserted, save for herself, the priestess, and Lillium’s first concubine Yannifer. Even the sadistic elf had her attire of leather straps concealed beneath a cloak of black cloth, her eyes watching the priestess pack.
“Where are you going? The Mistress needs you,” Mia said pleadingly as Aela clasped her pack shut and threw it over her back. The woman said nothing for a moment as she stepped down from the dais that held the stone altar of Morkate up, before finally turning to the Harbinger’s concubine and acolyte of Morkate.
“Thorlgruz. Yannifer is accompanying me for she knows the way, and the layout of the cathedral. There is a grimoire there, the tome of the Kazdruk sorceress Aeltha, that contains all her secrets of corruption,” Aela said as she began to walk towards the front doors of the temple, Yannifer falling silently in step with her.
“Thorlgruz? A tome?” Mia asked confused, and Aela glanced at her as if a child.
“It will contain the secrets of how she created the Harbinger, and therefore the knowledge we need to bring her from the brink. Lorth will be in command while I’m gone… I need you to oversee the needs of the temple,” Aela said as Yannifer pushed open the doors.
All three stepped outwards and down the three steps to the dirt road running through Volgras. Two horses were waiting there, their reins held by the Helot captain, who bowed in respect to Aela as she emerged from her temple.
Yannifer quickly mounted while Aela fixed her pack to the horse’s saddle. Mia could only watch, feeling the weight of responsibility upon her shoulders. As Aela gracefully mounted she looked down upon her acolyte.
“Morkate has told me of this, and I must see it done. We will return as quickly as we can,” she said, as she took the reins from Lorth.
Concubine and priestess both kicked their heels into the flanks of their mounts, and without further conversation or proper farewells they were riding southwards. Towards Thorlgruz. Mia stood beside Lorth and watched them riding down the road.
“What if Aeltha discovers this?” she asked, and the helot snorted.
“Then you better learn how to kill.”