Part One | Part Two
She sat on the steps that preceded the throne. Night encroached, a darkness imposing despite the fervent glow of lit torches. Her garb spoke of a warrior, with leather greaves and a chestplate made of the same. Steel-tipped boots tapped the marble floor, a measure of impatience in the beat. She tied her locks into a neat tail fastened with a blade held at an angle. A bow and quiver lay at her side.
Slowly she let out a sigh.
“I hold no good fortune to those who make me wait,” she whispered to the empty hall. As if the universe had an answer for her frustration, the hall doors groaned open. In its wake stood two figures, man and woman. They bowed in greeting and walked in synchronized step toward Wierna.
The man had a mess of silver hair, his polychromatic eyes unblinking as he stared ahead. He donned no combat gear and instead sought a simple white tunic embellished in gold trim. A head shorter than he, his partner had long white hair, and her eyes shone a bright blue, so much so that they seemed aglow from a light within. She too appeared dressed down for the occasion and bore a similar assemblage, though the trim was a deepened ruby.
Wierna frowned at the sight of them. “Are we not here to form a war pact?”
The man smiled. “I am Naimirth. This is my soul-born, Urila. We are here on behalf of our people and to tell you that we reject your proposal of an alliance. At the very least, under these trying circumstances.”
His voice poured like honey, sweet and pleasurable to the ear, but the words themselves only poisoned that impression. Wierna glared, nostrils flared ever so slight. She rose. Her fists clenched.
“You mean to tell me you’ve wasted hours to arrive, well into the night and late as is, only to say that you are to die in your cowardice?” said Wierna. Barely a whisper, but inflamed with all her anger. “Where are your spines? Did these bandits collect them, then?”
“These are not your ordinary cadre of pillaging fools, your ladyship,” chimed in Urila. Her voice was small and had litte strength to project further than a few paces. Wierna bent closer to hear. “They are much more than appearances would suggest.”
“If you carry on as is,” continued Naimirth. “Then you will surely die. And your house burned to ash.” He said those last as if they were fact, a prophecy engraved in stone. There was no ill-will in his voice. That as much sent Wierna’s heart into a frenzy.
Her initial rage simmered. “Who are they?”
Urila answered. “A cult, of a kind. A kind whose nest you ought not be kicking. These hangings must end. You must cease your hunt.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then may your soul carry on. Farewell, Lady Wierna of the House of Credence.” At that, they bowed low and left her to her own devices.
Eqira journeyed through the dense wood. Her warhorse kept at a steady plod, his head bobbing to and fro. As evening descended and a fog wreathed among the trees, she continued to whistle her tunes.
“Strange environment. Arid flatlands, a forest in the midst of it all, and now a fog? Hmm, yes, must be, Gerder.” She scratched her steed behind the ears. “A rather intricate spell meant to keep this place hidden. Seems my runes allowed me to see the ruse. Should we press on? I don’t see why not, old friend. After all, we are here for a purpose, aren’t we? That madman Eloean breathes down our necks as we speak. Many centuries, much lost to this chase…” Her voice trailed off, lessened by the regret that now held her.
“Worry not. The plan must adapt.”
The further she traveled, the fog thickened, and she led Gerder blind, trusting him to make his own corrections. “Believe in yourself, dear friend,” she muttered near his left ear. After a bit, Gerder slowed his pace and stopped altogether. Eqira wrinkled her nose and raised both brows.
“Curious. There’s a fort up ahead.”
The faintest outline of grey stone pierced through the fog-riddled veil. She licked her forefinger and pressed it against the air, feeling the soft breeze pass through.
“Hardy any soul-breath. Wonder how they were able to conceal themselves with so little power to draw upon, and unwilling as well. Curiosity deepens. Carry on.”
Eloean twirled the blade between his fingers. He walked without haste along a bridge made of stardust, sparkling in the forever dark. Bits like falling dirt crumbled from the bridge and fell away until their light snuffed out. Far ahead, a swirling pool awaited his arrival, to cross the Eternal Void and into Cascadia. But the road was long and would take a few days at most.
A cold breathed into him, iced his bones and frosted his every exhale. Those not soul-born felt the chill of the Crossing. He grit his teeth. A detour, then. He veered right and the Void path changed in accordance to his will.
“Be patient, dear Eqira. I am coming.”