Vivacious just doesn't cut it...
Smiling, the Princess stepped closer to Arion and Lureene and reached out, running her delicate fingers thru her angelic friend's blonde curls. In a gentle tone, she said, "I'm surprised you're still able to stand, El. From what everyone's said, dealing with Ugorji was... tumultuous to say the least."
After a momentary glance at the departing forms of Amhranai and Darvesch, Alis met Arion's gaze and said, "Some of the others were concerned about how both the capture and the preliminary interrogation were conducted. I understand that emotions were running high. I'd like to hear your side of things... both of yours."
Arion was pleased to be reminded how his royal benefactor sincerely cared for Lureene.
"Our dear Lureene could not sleep on the return trip. If I might be allowed to sit and hold her, she might rest while I give a debriefing."
The Elven Agent began, "Not having a chance to commit the report to written form yet, I shall briefly outline the major facts, uncolored by commentary or analysis. It is the privilege of our wise Vicereine to utilize the information as she chooses. At one half hour after Eventide, yesterday evening, our operations began in earnest. In order to hail the merchant vessel, The Swollen Sprite, Captain Fingel ordered a warning shot across her bow..."
Arion commenced as concise a report he could of the main points, summarized from all he had heard and witnessed, leaving to his executive the options of questioning details or allowing him to continue presenting each piece of datum. Given the hour, recent circumstances and what he had learned already about this member of the Kirmoon family, Arion tried his best to remain succinct.
He asked politely, "If I might have permission to speak freely, Your Highness? Although I lately have the impression that some view my behaviour as sycophantish or insincere, I realise how acute are Your gifts of perception. You will realise, I am certain, that I say this truly from my heart. I did admire Your display of bardic and spiritual prowess earlier. I am highly grateful that being forced into my position here, I have Yourself to serve. You live up to all the ideals I hold to be high and noble in the Kirmoon Dynasty. Also...because of You, I have united with Lureene. Whatever may follow, there are experiences these past days which I will always treasure. Thank You."
Lureene stirred herself from pleasant dreams and focused her gaze on her Princess. Alis' words brought her mind to focus (at least for the moment). She waited for Arion to finish his report, along with his praise of Alis, before adding in a voice laced with fatigue. "What Arion says is the truth. However what he fails to mention is the underlying reason for his overreaction to Ugorji's words. He implied a threat to BIND me as he attempted to bind my Mother." Her eyes grew haunted with the memory. "As you well know, Princess, due to my otherworldly nature I would have been helpless to resist him! Only the fact he was not aware I existed saved me from that fate...Slavery pales in comparison to being bound in such a way!"
She paused for a moment gathering her thoughts before she added, "As for Darvesch's reaction to my disobeying YOUR orders to avoid using lethal force against him....all I can say is he was about to kill Sasha and having Grak strike to kill was the ONLY way, in my opinion, to save her life. I must confess..." her voice lowered to a whisper, "I...I...would not have minded one bit if he had been killed, 'Lis. A mage of that power to bind those of my nature to...to bind ME to his own will...'Lis, he SCARED me."
As Sasha regaled Sindariel and her on the evening's exploits, Amelia looked over to where the Princess was exchanging words with Arion and Lureene. Perceptive as she was, the witch had not missed the subtle gesture the Princess made entreating Lady Lammontari for a few moments of privacy.
Dat Princess gurl is lookin' a mite ill-ad-ease wit what dem two's is sayin', but Ah'm de one what was in 'is head...
Giving a toothy smile to the two tall, beautiful women with their fiery hair, she interjected, "Dis here has been a looong daaay. If ya be excusin' me leedees, Ah'm a gonna tank da Princess an take me leave naw."
There was a twinkle in Sindariel's blue eyes and she gave Sasha a friendly squeeze on the shoulder, rocking her slightly to check her balance. Speaking in the witch's native tongue, she replied, "Many thanks for the aid you granted us today. You are a great ally and even elders would count you wise."
Nodding towards the Palace, Lady Lammontari switched back to her own tongue for lack of suitable vocabulary in Zuck, "I believe Alissariel has had space prepared in her home for you and the others to rest here tonight. Rest well when you do, Shaman."
Alis had asked only a few clarifying questions while Arion and Lureene recounted their reports, noting that Arion seemed far more dispassionate than the others had described.
So, he does attempt to adhere to the Intelligence Division's emotional conditioning, but like Tiniel intimated earlier, his lovers are his weakness...
"Well, from what you have both said, Sasha performed admirably and didn't take any unnecessary risks. The thing that concerns me though is how easily our enemies are able to exploit her susceptibility to enchantments." Worry evident on her face, she explained, "On The Shiv she got dominated, tonight she was paralyzed... It's bad enough to think that she might get herself killed, but it's worse to imagine that someone like Shivone or Ugorji might easily manipulate her against us. I can't bear the thought of one of you having to attack her because she's being controlled."
Sighing at the painful thought, she said, "I hate to say it, but if we can't find some means to strengthen Sasha against such attacks, it may prove too big of a liability to rely upon her in future missions."
"As for Grak," Alis shook her head, "no offense, El, but I would be much more concerned about Darvesch, Arion, or Sasha going all out than I would be about Grak. Now don't get me wrong, Grak is passionate, but he's a much better harrier than a fighter. You were right to have him defend Sasha. That is after all why Sash said she volunteered to go over with him you know. She was worried he might get into trouble all by himself because, and I quote, 'Grak just really isn't all that bright.' I swear I'm not making this up."
Lureene chuckled lightly at Alis' comment. Well Grak is bright enough for me...as is Sash. "'Lis, I know Sash is susceptible to such enchantments as I was also there. Unfortunately, such enchantments prey on a person's will and psyche, which cannot be easily changed. However I don't believe she is as much a liability as you make her out to be 'Lis. I believe she helps compensate for MY own weaknesses as she is much better in a fight than I could ever hope to be!"
If she was indeed a serious liability, then you may as well throw her in the dungeon and lock away the key!
Lureene yawned mightily and gave Alis a small smile. "Still, it is something for me to look into. Perhaps there is a magical item which would help..."
"Yes, Your Highness. If only I had the resources, I would enchant some device to create protection against evil, for Sasha. We have too much to do here, now, for any of us to undertake a mission in search of such a device for her, of course."
Arion massaged Lureene's shoulders, as she leaned forwards onto him. His expression hinted at an aside to the acting Vicereine as he spoke to her in the tongue of Ilmarond.
Lureene could have hidden how upset she was from nigh well anyone else, yet it just so happened that she now spoke with one of the most perceptive individuals she had ever met.
It's a hard thing to be objective where friends and lovers are concerned.
Alis frowned inwardly, mentally kicking herself over something she had overlooked earlier.
Uugh... I wonder how objective Darv is able to be where these three are concerned. It wasn't even two weeks ago that he bedded Sasha and had it blow up in his face. I know that he and that Greasha girl kept half the villa awake last night but... This has to be awkward for him, even if he'd never allow it to show openly...
The comforting sound of well-spoken Elvish brought Alis back to the present, though she soon found herself pursing her lips as she contemplated the scribe's admissions. With a thoughtful nod, she replied with an elvish phrase she was confident Arion might have taught her before continuing in Estorian that their conversation might be the more inclusive. "<I understand, Arion, thank you.> A persistent protection from evil effect might actually be a good start. That was exactly the same solution Priyya used when we fought against the witch on Reaver's Shiv and it was among the precautions I took before engaging Ugorji as well."
Perhaps I can have Ieana or Elendreth craft something...
Nodding thoughtfully, she met Arion's intense gaze and added, "That's a good start..."
Even still, replying as she did, it still made a suitable response to the more open conversation about helping to strength Sasha against mental attacks — a single reply to address two matters at once.
L 1d20 + 20 + 1 ⇒ (18) + 20 + 1 = 39
Sense Motive Checks:
A 1d20 + 25 + 4 + 5 ⇒ (16) + 25 + 4 + 5 = 50 Tear, familiarity
R 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (18) + 14 = 32
A Innuendo 1d20 + 25 + 4 ⇒ (9) + 25 + 4 = 38 Tear
Sense Motive Checks:
E 1d20 + 25 + 3 ⇒ (1) + 25 + 3 = 29 alertness
L 1d20 + 2 + 2 + 5 ⇒ (18) + 2 + 2 + 5 = 27 alertness, familiarity
"Don' all o' joos go gettin' too hard an each udda," came Amelia's thick Zuck accent as she approached. Her black ocelot remained behind, enjoying the attention lavished upon it by Sindariel and Sasha. "Dat Obanohi boy was a snaaake if evah Ah seen one."
Pointing a bony finger at Lureene, who seemed on the verge of falling asleep on Arion's shoulder, she said, "Sleepy-head dere may 'ave misundastood dat Ugorji was tryin' ta flatter her, but I kin tells ya dis, Princess: he was tryin' ta sets errybody at odds."
She shook her head and sat down upon the stone floor of the gloriette which even now still gave off vestiges of heat from earlier in the day. "Dun go theenkin' all da Zucks is dummies jus' cause we talk joor language different dan joo do. Dat boy was doin' erryting he could ta cook up a fight wit joo, pree-tee boy. Ya cannae go lettin' 'em git cha all worked-up naw!"
With a knowing nod at Alis, she concluded, "Ah seen it in joor eyes Aaa-lis — joo was in 'is head, joo knows what Ah mean..."
Alis' full lips were pressed tight as she listened to Amelia's counsel, one finger tracing the rim of her wineglass as she took in what the witch had to say.
A snake is right. If division was his ploy then Ugorji won his own victory. Darv and Amh think Sash and El incompetent. Arion was made to look like a hot-head, and I've been forced to walk a fine line between mercy and severity.
"Everyone mentioned that you were of great aid as a medium between Ugorji and the other, Amelia, I truly appreciate your aid." Sighing softly, she walked over to the balustrade, head turned as she gazed up the ripping waters of the Daifiri. "And yes, I did look into Ugorji's desires. I'm not certain what his ultimate hope had been in the confrontation aboard the Sprite, but at the moment when he stood before me here, his sole desire was to sew panic and doubt amongst us, to discredit me before all those assembled. That is why I had to fight him as I did in the way I did — without aid or interference. I needed to show everyone I am NOT some silly child to be bullied or coddled."
For several moments, the Princess stood there, not saying a word, and the sound of a growing breeze could be heard amongst the trees across the river even as it rustled her silken cape. Overhead, silent heat lightning played amongst the approaching clouds, and the chatter of birds and insects foretold the onset of yet another tropical downpour.
"I have to strive against and question the motives of everyone else, I need advisors... friends I can depend upon. It's not enough to say that I don't want to hear about another situation like tonight's – I need to stay informed and if even those I should trust are afraid to talk to me then I'm the one hurt by it – Dafar and Ilmarond will be hurt by it."
"No," she turned around, glass cupped in both hands, "I don't want there to be any infighting like there was tonight. Every one of us has different failings but we also have different strengths. If I was to dismiss everyone because of their shortcomings, I'd have no one left to lend me their strengths! A lot of good that would do me!"
She laughed sardonically and gazed at the pale, rosy fluid in her glass. "It's not enough that we tolerate those we have to work with. I can tolerate a mediocre vintage or a middling symphony, but I can't think of the last time I went out of my way to support either. I certainly wouldn't deem them acceptable for any company I would keep!"
She finished off the last of her wine, setting the empty vessel upon the smooth white stone of the railing. "It's the individual talents the gods bestow upon everyone that lead us to appreciate a person and recognize their worth, not their lack of failings."
With that, Alis stepped forward and offered her hand to Amelia to help her back to her feet. "It's far too late at night for such fervid oratory. Please, stay the night. There's ample space and if the better part of a month stranded on The Shiv taught me anything, it's that it's about to storm."
As she extended courtesy to Amelia, her charismatic grace left Arion nodding and remembering the past two days. Standing and lifting Lureene, intending to carry her to a sleeping chamber, Arion paused and spoke so that all nearby could overhear.
"Yes, Your Highness. May Your living arsenal be most diversified. So strongly bound to my heart now, are the last words to us all, of Wingilmë, that I shall never forget nor fail to be inspired. Even in deepest adversity, they now bolster the Fortress of my Will. Your edicts reminded me again of our gifts and..."
Looking down upon Lureene's tranquil face, Arion searched for the best way to honestly convey his thoughts, without rambling on.
"Such a whirlwind these past days have been. Our elite league of...extraordinary envoys..."
A light laugh rose up at some recollections of the previous days.
"Oh-Sweet-Princess Kirmoon, if You and Baroness Lammontari permit, I shall ensure our friend finds a comfortable bed, then, recover my spells. Might we all regather our powers during this intermission? I shall be ready for the dawn of a better Dafar. Even if, at the ascension of Olarë's Chariot, some Dreamer awakens to find that all this was naught but a Midsummer night's dream."
Apartments? Here? I doubt I'll use those much, if at all. Certainly not tonight-I need to find out what Karaka and the others are doing. I guess it can't hurt to see where they are in any case.
"Not entirely comforting, but harmless enough for now. If nothing else, at least she's aware of our concerns. And of course we'll remain watchful. Who knows, I might be wrong about Arion." In some ways perhaps. "To the apartments then?"
"You're right. It's better than nothing, anyway. Though, this situation has me longing to go back home for a visit." The dwarf said as he lead the way to the apartments.
I wonder if anyone has heard from Ortai. Such a random thought. Oh well. I'm sure Dara will have something to say about me being away from home, "playing with the elves" as she'd put it. I've got to make it a point to visit home before I start my project.
Darvesch stopped in front of Amhranai's apartment, "Well, here you are. If you need anything, I'll be over there." He pointed to his own apartment. "Have a good night, Amh. I need to get some sleep. We have a busy day ahead of us." He parted ways with the elf and followed the path to his own apartment.
"There's a reason good leaders are surrounded with good assets.. to use them."
Arion's mention of the ascended muse brought something else Wingilmë had said to mind, something only she had been privy to.
"Lend hope to strength and it becomes stronger... your allies are that strength, invest them with hope and their will shall not falter."
Even as the growing wind coursed thru her golden locks, she reached out to brush Lureene's cheek with her hand and smiled at the taller man who now carried her. "A whirlwind indeed... Let's get inside before we suffer a deluge as well."
Calling out to Sindariel and her tipsy young friend, she said, "Let's adjourn until morning – late morning. You're welcome to rest here yourself, Sindariel."
The low rumble of approaching thunder brought a grateful smile to the older elf's face. Standing, with Sasha's arm slung round her shoulder, she said, "How good of you to preempt me from having to impose. Dafar's weather is nothing if not capricious."
As they walked along, Arion carrying Lureene and Sindariel supporting the happily humming ranger, a thought occurred to her. "If I might offer a suggestion, Alis, perhaps we should arrange a penthouse suite at the Empyrean Arcade for Mister Hithraen."
The auburn-haired fashionista squeezed the hand she held, patting Sasha on the back to comfort her. "Well nothing so mundane as to keep our young lovebirds apart. Rather, your court scribe already has an office within the Palace's administrative wing, whilst your lady-in-waiting and her bodyguard will likely share a suite near the royal residence."
"My my, no opportunity gets past this one, hmm?" With a slight laugh, Sindariel continued, "Beside the obvious intrigue of courtly affairs and the practical acknowledgement that he doesn't need two beds under the same roof, I rather imagine having a well-connected agent whom others can call upon outside of the Royal Guard's watchful eyes might be beneficial."
"Meaning those who might seek to succor favor with someone of his political influence might prefer to do so where they think they have some privacy? I can see the merit in that."
Alis glanced at Tiniel beside her, a playful gleam in her eyes as she asked, "What do you think, Tin, you've been doing this for longer than Arion after all."
"Given my junior's love of flight and his other aspirations, I agree with Lady Lammontari's suggestion. Upper-story quarters in an affluent region of the capital would be best. Also, it is only in the field that an agent can gain new contacts. Given his... talents, I believe a long walk would afford many such opportunities to sew rumors and gather intelligence... your Highness."
A raised eyebrow from Alis would not permit Tiniel to get off that easily. "It might also provide him a more discrete location from which to satisfy his... appetites."
And keep others from having to bear witness, no doubt.
"You both make a convincing case. Arion, I'm sure a man of your reputation can handle the arrangements. Have the expenses billed as per diem and look into it on your own time." Hearing a slight murmur from the sleeping succubus, she winked adding, "if you have none then make time. I wouldn't want you absconding to your office with one of my couches should Lureene put you there."
A smile grew ever more prominent upon Arion's face, keeping pace with their group and the conversation.
"I rather imagine having a well-connected agent whom others can call upon outside of the Royal Guard's watchful eyes might be beneficial."
Arion caught the attention of the lithe and beautiful Spymaster. About to mouth the words 'Thank You' to her, he noticed Tiniel and their ruler watching his expressions.
Instead he said, "Thank You, Ladies, one and all. What a savvy strategy. I wonder whether it would be beneficial to invent a dispute, where some sort of conflict occurred within our ranks. The trusted servant was disciplined for his error, yet he deemed it too severe a judgement, or too dishonorable and was overheard in more intimate settings to mumble oaths of revenge against the newly establishing government...or some similar scenario? Although the trusted servant retained his position and proximity to royalty and power, little known to them he was plotting some scheme? Or would it benefit our cause more if everything was ideal within the court? Either way, I am sure I shall enjoy the location. Between my meditations and the rest afforded us during our meal, I have caught up on enough relaxation this evening; enough to quickly regain my spells and get to work on execution of this new plan."
To Sasha he quipped, with a wink, "Establishing a spritely new secretary shall have to wait however."
Sindariel quirked an eyebrow at Arion and shook her head as if deeply sorrowful. "Oh dear, first week on-the-job and he is already cracking wise about his supervisor behind her back. Might it be too much to hope that you are simply a teetotaler with an odd sense of humor, Mister Hithraen?"
Alis wagged a finger at Tiniel, gently teasing the stoic woman as the slightest of smiles lifted the corners of the handmaiden's lips. "Now now, such wanton displays of emotion do not suit you Tin."
To Arion she replied, "The last thing I want is for others to think me soft, Arion. Let's keep it simple, shall we? The fewer the fabrications, the less to forget."
It wasn't long before the seven found themselves crossing the parade ground and ascending the steps to the Palace's north entrance, the first sprinklings of rain just beginning to fall.
Sprites, spies, secretaries, and showers...
"I am glad to see that you're enthusiastic. Just don't get ahead of yourself, morning is still a ways off and you..." she grinned, "already have your hands full."
It wasn't long before Alis had guided the others thru the Palace to their various quarters. Although the place was built on a scale that belied great wealth, it was clear that much yet remained to be done. Wooden scaffolds still surrounded some of the pillars, and the floors were covered in the debris from stone carvings, mortar mix, and sawdust. Here and there, large sheets dangled from above to protect incomplete murals from dust while thick blankets padded marble banisters from harm.
Then there were the crates. Dozens of them were broken down and stacked high near several of the suites, straw padding heaped everywhere — a testament to Alis' ability to go shopping at a speed and scale most gods had never seen.
Mercifully, Lureene's apartment was the group's first stop. Alis' quarters were chiefly located in the westernmost part of the north wing, and it was only proper that her lady-in-waiting dwell close-at-hand. As Arion laid his angelic beauty atop a tall feather bed, Sasha practically diving into it, Alis cautioned, "Everything is brand new so please break it in gently."
The way the Princess nodded toward the satin-clad bed left little doubt as to her meaning.
Arion petitioned for the exquisitely tapered hand of the Inebriated Corsair. He gently kissed her fingers then moved to free Lureene's hair, where she had caught some tresses beneath her own shoulders and the piles of pillows. Kissing Lureene goodnight also, he sang to them, "Sweet dreams. Sweet dreams. I must bid Thee farewell. Tranquility shall be with Thee warded under this spell."
Arion began to back towards the main door of the chamber. He looked up and around and sighed deeply, approving greatly of the interior designs.
"Ahh, if I remember correctly what I witnessed, in the official paperwork and manifests, THESE luscious furnishings, and those we passed in these titanic halls, must be the latest investments of Dafar's youngest Valahin. Truly, she is able to grant the divine Domains of Acquisition and Accouterment..."
He bowed with utmost courtesy before Princess Kirmoon, with an Elven proverb.
Alis had to cover her mouth as her face lit up in a smile at Arion's praise. Replying in their native tongue, she mused, "Ah, Alissariel... Valië who rewards artifice and artistry with economic appreciation... whom artists and shopkeepers alike beseech for remembrance in her collections..."
She smiled and shook her head, eyes aglow, "There are other qualities for which I would rather be remembered, but all things considered, that wouldn't be a terrible legacy. May your own Valier keep you this night, Arion."
All three of them...
With that, the Princess quickly saw to it that Amelia and Sindariel were taken care of before heading to Amhranai's room.
I should really discuss with her what Amelia revealed. She has enough worries without distrust of her would-be allies keeping her up at night.
Yet upon knocking at her door and finding no answer but for a passing guard who had seen her depart into the growing storm there was no answer. Sighing softly, she turned to faithful and reserved Tiniel and said, "Well, she certainly embodies the 'Unexpected' aspect of her Vala..."
The rest of the evening passed for Lureene in a series of pleasant images and sensations. A gentle caress...a tingling of her skin...a stroke of her wing...Yet the angel-haired beauty did not stir. As the others contemplated this development it soon became clear the winged lady was quite simply exhausted.
She stirred briefly at the sound of thunder which echoed off in the distance, arm moving up reflexively to shield herself before lapsing back into slumber. As Arion placed her into the bed, satin sheets covering up her body, he could have sworn he saw a smile on her lovely face after he had removed his lips from hers.
"Sweet dreams. Sweet dreams. I must bid Thee farewell. Tranquility shall be with Thee warded under this spell."
"Farewell, my love..." Her voice emerged softly before drifting back into restful slumber.
Alis shook her head, chagrin evident upon her delicate features. "Not for any lack of skill on your part, Tiniel, but if a woman like Amhranai doesn't want to be found, then it's best not to make plans that rely on her being found. If she has pressing business at this hour of the night, then I'll not delay from it further. Let's take our own rest."
Maybe it's just as well, this has been entirely too long and tumultuous of a day. Be safe Amh...
Amhranai had barely left the compound of the Palace when the skies opened up. A scant dozen paces later, the elf was thoroughly drenched. Betrayer's ashes! Not one of my better decisions. She had stayed in the apartment long enough to note the rich furnishings-writing desk, cushioned chair, large bed covered with pillows-and not much else; most of the few moments she spent in the room found the priestess listening at the door. Once assured that Darvesch would not be coming back out, the lithe woman slipped out of the room, a swiftly moving shadow gliding through the corridors of the palace.
Head down, hood drawn up (for all the good it would do her), Amhranai swiftly traversed the paved streets of the better-kept sections of Port Eldarion. The only others foolish enough to be out in the storm were guards at their various postings and even those were smart enough to seek shelter beneath awnings or inside the doorways of various taverns.
Through lightning arcing overhead, she spied the muddy roads heading into the outer portions of the city. Her once swift passage became a slippery, squelching affair, the mud frequently threatening to pull the boots right off her feet. The outer walls of the Mondracus estate rose up on her right, falling away as she headed east past the Hope-Light Mission. She was barely able to make out lights coming from inside the building through the rain which had only increased in intensity since she had left the palace.
She found her house by nearly stumbling into a wall, feet slipping out from under her and sending her to the ground a few short feet away. Getting drenched wasn't bad enough?! Slowly extricating herself from the ground, Amhranai stood still for a moment, allowing the rain to wash away some of the mud caking her clothes. Reminds me of that time we were out in the Veldt. At least this mud isn't mixed with blood.
The door swung open, slamming shut once she was inside. A ball of light appeared in one hand, emanating from her knight's badge, while she lowered her hood with the other hand. A scrap of paper lying on the table caught her attention and, walking over to it, she slowly read the crudely-written message written there. A chill having nothing to do with being soaked spread throughout her body. Azubuike's dead...
Ah, the chilled winds from this storm are refreshingly cool. These are the best cushions I have ever had the pleasure to use.
The thought mixed within, balancing the elements of his consciousness like an excellent wine. Consciousness took flight across dream landscapes. In the dark room, before the open window, and sheets of rain lit by lights outside, was the silhouette of the Sky Elf, cross-legged upon and surrounded by rich bolsters.
The Elven Wizard enjoyed a trance and meditation before preparing his spells for the coming day.
Alis... Lureene... Sasha... Each of them had been resting peacefully in their beds when a sweet and gentle voice called out to them. "Sisters, I implore you... Please, open your eyes..."
Slowly, their minds still in a fog, the three beautiful friends looked up to see an angelic face looking down at them — Wingilmë!
As they got to their feet, the three found that they had been resting within a large, white pavilion on the shores of a turquoise sea, a summery zephyr rustling the fields of wheat and flowers behind them.
"Whoa!" Sasha's eyes were luminous as living gems, her hair like liquid fire trailing off into a ribbon that seemed to vanish into the ether. "Lissi, you're a unicorn!"
Indeed as Lureene and her lover looked at the Princess whose eyes shone like amethyst, there seemed to spring from the center of her forehead a spiraling horn of similar hue that itself streamed off as if into another world. Likewise, even as the two looked at one another, it seemed to them that Lureene's wings were made less of muscle and membrane, but of radiant light.
This isn't a horn anymore than that is Sasha's hair or Lureene's wings... could these be–"
"Wingilmë?" Alis asked softly, "Is this... Elysium?"
Yet even before she could be answered, the clash of battle rent the azure sky, sparks of red and golden light flying from some tumult in the distance, the ocean rippling beneath it. There, flitting about a spire that pierced the very clouds, a spire that was known to Lureene, three women were locked in mortal conflict. The first was lithe as a dancer, luxuriant black hair sparkling with diamonds. From her back, blue and violet wings like those of some fantastical butterfly bore her aloft.
A gasp from Alis dismissed any doubt as to her identity, "Súmalya!"
The second bore an uncanny resemblance to an engraving seen once before in the black heart of Reaver's Shiv. It was a fit and shapely woman with the lower body of a great, coiling serpent and black feathery wings that gleamed with a sinister iridescence — Charelle.
It was with a sinking feeling that your gaze looked upon the third, a form that was as lovely and inviting as Lureene's yet with blood-red wings, curving horns, and a whip-like tail that could pulverize stone — Avoreen.
As the four sisters looked on, the three great spirits strove against each other in a fragile standoff. In one moment, demon and devil would join forces against the goddess before one of them would seek an opportunistic blow against their apparent ally. Neither of the three could gain the upper hand, yet how long would it be before one committed an error that would see them eliminated?
"Wingilmë," Alis asked hesitantly, "is this a dream... a prophecy...?"
When Wingilmë turned to smile at the flame-haired woman, it became apparent that she was clad in resplendent armor that seemed to be made of gold and jewels, her slender hand holding a halberd of delicate crystal. "This battle is as real as I am, sweet sister. It was for want of aid that I was called here even as the three of you were called to me..."
"In a sense, but not how you imagine it and not in this battle." Wingilmë laid her hand upon the Princess' blade and it dissipated harmlessly. "A war is fought on many fronts. O Sweet Princess, though you may be willing to join the battle before us, yours is not the strength needed for this fight."
Lureene watched the struggle between the goddess, the winged devil, and her Mother silently yet gazing at the struggle she tried to comprehend the deeper meaning behind it.
As Wingilme posed her question, she felt as if she was on the verge of truely understanding. [smaller]"Sash, there is more than one way to fight such a battle. In addition to fighting it with sword and spell, there is the battle of the HEART...a battle more crucial in the long-term." Raising her voice slightly she adds, "I know your family serves the winged DEVIL...as even my MOTHER wishes my servitude." She turned to give Alis a smile as she adds "'Lis, you serve Sumalya as a true CHAMPION should! I believe our battle is to be waged in the hearts and minds of those who serve our enemies."
She turns a questioning look to the nymph who transported the trio here, "Am I correct, Wingilme?"
"–between warriors of equal strength, determination decides the victor."
Darvesch stood deep within the halls of a great fortress, tremendous pillars broad as houses bearing the weight of the mounting Heavens far above. Before him, clad in armor that seemed carved from blue marble veined with gold was a dwarf who stood a full head taller, his thick white beard braided with silver and held fast by his weapon belt. His powerful, deeply tanned arms were as thick as Darvesch's legs, and beneath a snowy brow, his deep-set green eyes burned hotter than any forge. When he walked, the long mane of his hair billowed with the cape that he wore, and his very boots struck up sparks like they were hammering steel and all the world was an anvil.
Although Darvesch had only heard of him in legends passed down by his Grandfather from his Grandfather, and his before him, there was no mistaking the man...
Torgrem: Forefather of the Hellhammer Clan
Looking at Torgrem was almost more than Darvesch could bear, not only from the commanding aura he emanated, but the glory radiating from the five thrones at the far end of the hall, one of which, was sized for a titan or– no... a god! For there, upon its back was engraved a single ancient rune that Darvesch would have recognized in his sleep: KAHN.
At regular intervals, a terrific din resounded throughout the place, sending shudders even through the adamantine hall. It had all the seeming of battering ram or perhaps a great wyrm trying to burst some unseen gate.
"Darvesch, do not think that determination alone is enough. The enemy is also determined, cunning — they would increase in strength to overwhelm us. That is why you do not see our Lord when you gaze upon his throne — even now he fights. Do you understand your duties as a thane of the warrior caste? Do you understand what it means to be a Lightbringer?"