Reverie's End: Blades of Malice
Date: 1/13/991; Time: 2nd hour
The Light of Ethos was not very friendly at this time of the year. It was the “season of darkness” and a time where few wanted to go outside. At almost all hours of the day, the sky was pitch black and crime was highest at this time of year; the darkness attracts it. The times were definitely quite dark indeed but the dark only lasted for 60 days, and then a new season began. The Light of Ethos was both a blessing and a curse. It was a bringer of balance and harmony to the world.
In this truly dark hour, Athena decided to give the city of Lyda, located in the Desert of Swords, a personal visit. This little pile of rubble in northern Ramah was not the kind of place any sane person would visit under normal circumstances. Lyda was a ghost town at the far eastern edge of the world and there was very little to do here except to hatch evil and nefarious plans. It was the perfect hideout for an organization like the Blades of Malice. Athena, the protagonist in this scenario, clearly had a death wish. However, even a woman as capricious as her possessed a small fragment of sanity and did not spend over a month traveling from her beautiful estate in the capital to come to this deserted wasteland. She was only partially touched in the head.
Athena was a woman of average height and was known for her narcissistic tendencies. An aristocrat by birth, she definitely had a sense of entitlement. Spoiled with the pleasures of wealth, education, and the power of authority, one could say she had it all. But nothing was ever perfect in life, at least not forever. Everything changed when her parents were murdered in front of her eyes two years earlier. Perhaps it was from the shock, but the details were hazy in her mind. She cannot even remember the face of the assailant; the only memory she has left of that night is the scar on her right hand. Athena, not wanting to bring back awful memories, decided to wear black gloves to cover it up. In the past, Athena may have been a spoiled prima donna, but now she was an enraged prima donna. She did not remember the name or face of the assailant, but she did remember the name of the organization: “Blades of Malice”.
Athena did not have the appearance of a great military mind, but she had quite the track record. She was a well-known tactician back in her home country of Charon. She was a fierce warrior in the past, but the events from two years ago changed that. It was as if she had been drained of her powers. Her advisor, Gerdo, said that perhaps it was the mental shock, but surely two years was enough time to recover. Time passed and yet her powers never returned to what they once were.
Despite her weakened condition, she was here to find the Blades of Malice. She first noticed them while she was on vacation in Samara, the capital of Ramah: a city known for its wealth and patronage of the arts. Athena rode a ship there while it was still the season of light. However, the seasons were fickle and it was time to return. Her vassals begged her to come home since it was no longer safe to be outside.
Athena, being the free-spirited, energetic, and selfish person that she was, disobeyed her advisor's counsel and tailed the Blades all the way north to Lyda. The trip took an entire eight days on horseback and done almost entirely in pitch black darkness. But to Athena the night was a cover, hiding her from detection. Her vassals were late in noticing her absence, but they had become accustomed to this sort of thing. They sent five guards after her and prayed that she would come back to them safely.
If it were not for the few torches that existed in this abandoned town, Athena would have difficulties seeing anything. The light illuminated her thin figure and her elegant pale, square face. As she moved around, her bright brown eyes glimmered and her mid-length copper hair waved in the air as she looked around for her prey. Her red blouse and blue skirt definitely stood out in this setting. Anyone preparing for combat would have worn something with better defensive qualities, but Athena cared little for such things. She may have lost some of her strength two years ago, but not her vanity.
Of course, she was not completely crazy; there was some thin mythril hiding behind all of that stylish clothing. Athena came prepared, despite what her appearance was suggesting.
On her journey, she moved around cautiously, hiding behind any building that would conceal her presence and she overheard two of the red-cloaked members whispering to each other:
“Is Commander Paul here yet?” spoke the taller of the two men.
“Yes. I just received word that his squad is here. Follow me,” replied the other man.
Athena followed them covertly, as they left the perimeter of the town, her heart beating with anticipation. Finally, after two years, she would have a real lead to the truth. She needed to stay hidden, but she was prepared for the worst. Her rapier, Steelpiercer, was ready for action if called upon. Just as the name implied, it could cut through steel. How such a flimsy stick could pierce steel was a mystery. The truth behind the magic was known only to a few that were close to Athena.
She arrived at her destination and saw 12 red cloaked members gathered around a fire. One of them removed his hood and revealed himself. The tall man had short silver hair and amber eyes. Athena would have considered him attractive had it not been for the evil smirk on his face.
“Welcome, my fellow blades! Our great plan for the world can finally be set into motion. We are the blades that will root out the filth of Ethos. This land deserves better! Too long have those scoundrels sat in power. Shima, Minas, Valis, Gaea, Charon, Nihil, Ramah, and anyone else that gets in our way shall be purged!” exclaimed the man in a shrill voice as he raised his hands.
“Down with the government!” yelled the others.
Paul waited for the others to quiet down. He then said after a long silence:
“I shall now reveal to you, our great leader’s vision for the future. It could not be executed till now because we lacked the knowledge and resources, but those days of inaction are now over, my comrades. We will use the Stones of Ethos to conquer the world! The six stones can use the very power of Ethos to strike down our enemies! We only know the location of one of these stones, but in time we will find the others.”
He then began to speak gleefully in great detail about the stones and how to draw out their power, focusing on their great destructive capabilities. The Blades of Malice planned to strike all the capitals in the world, and create a new world order, one with no social class.
It was at this time that a loud screech was heard in the distance, followed by the sound of wings clapping. A few seconds later, a blue-hued giant flying bird, revealed itself and the fire illuminated its large form. It was roughly the height of five full-grown men if you included its long tail. There was a blue mist emanating from it, a menacing sight indeed. Athena had heard of creatures such as these. Gerdo had read books to her when she was a child, often involving such mythical creatures. She was a well-read lady and had traveled to many places in the world, witnessing things few ever had. This was a totally different matter though; she would have ascribed such a thing to the musings of a lunatic or a drunkard. Yet, there it was in front of her, releasing intense magical energy, enough to chill the blood of even the most experienced mage. Athena was stunned.
The other 11 red cloaked members looked in awe, speechless. Paul merely laughed and looked at them with amusement. “I present to you: Kurasa! He’s an Ice Phoenix. Every Blade Commander gets a pet like this. If you think he’s scary, just wait until we get the Stones of Ethos and give those monarchs something to really cry about.”
Athena was starting to have trouble breathing; all of these revelations were a little too much to take in. She started sweating while muttering profanity under her breath and was beginning to wonder if now wasn’t a bad time to leave. The information gathered was more than enough to make the trip worth it. She started to slowly creep away while hiding in the shadows.
“I see we have a guest,” spoke Paul with a calm smirk.
Athena’s blood froze, her life was about to start flashing before her eyes. There was no way to escape. She might be able to handle the underlings, but Paul and Kurasa were a completely different story. Their powers were on a different level, especially Kurasa. Her old self might have stood a chance, but not the in her current state. She was not one to give up, though, so Athena slowly walked out and revealed herself to the 12 red cloaks and the over-grown serpent-tailed flying bird.
“Congratulations on making it this far, I’m impressed with your boldness. The other thing that impresses me is the stupidity of my underlings that never realized that you were tailing them,” Paul said as he looked over at his comrades with an irritated expression.
“So how long have you, my fair lady, been following these morons?” said Paul looking over at Athena with a creepy expression.
“Eight days,” replied Athena in her seductive Siril accent, while smiling.
Paul looked over at his underlings and said, after putting his palm to his face, “You guys really are idiots. This little girl escaped your notice for that long?!Nice accent, by the way, I take it you’re from Charon, and judging by your elegant, although torn clothing, probably nobility,” he said, baffled as he looked over at the beaming Athena.
“You are correct, sir. But I am no little girl; you look rather young yourself. Are you really a commander of the Blades of Malice?” Athena retorted while trying to hide her fear of the massive blue beast flapping its wings in the background.
Paul laughed loudly. “I like your spirit, young lady. Had we met under different circumstances, I’d have offered you dinner at a restaurant in Ramah. But you know how these things go, starting a world revolution is more important than my personal feelings. I’m afraid I can’t let you leave alive.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less from a man with your ideals. I’m merely one small sacrifice necessary for your ’grand plan’ of world salvation. We, the nobility, are that very root of evil you wish to eliminate. However, I have plans of my own. There are cakes to eat and pretty dresses to wear back home, as well as corrupt politicians for me to trick and overthrow. We all have things to fight for. Let us see who has the stronger will!” Athena laughed maniacally as she continued to hide her fear.
Paul looked at Athena puzzled and smiled after a moment. “Very well, I’ll grant you your death wish. It would be boring if you simply gave up without a fight. You morons that brought her here can redeem yourselves right now. I’m not cleaning up your mess. If she kills you, it’s your fault, no bailouts. Kurasa and I are sitting this one out. I haven’t seen a good fight in a while.”
Athena readied her rapier and breathed calmly. The men in front of her did not seem all that strong individually, but she did not know if she could fight off all 11 of them. Her best option was to disable them, and she did have a trick up her sleeve that did just that. She knew Paul was going to use this opportunity to gauge her skill level; it was best to avoid using her trump cards.
The red-cloaked men looked at each other flustered; they were confused about what they should do. “Get going morons, or I’ll kill you myself,” yelled Paul.
The men ran towards Athena, with various weapons drawn: swords, lances, and axes, the standard fare. Athena held out the rapier and began enchanting it with her earth magic. Being a great warrior in Ethos often meant learning magic. Blades alone could only do so much; wit and magical ability were equally important. Athena’s fortified Steelpiercer had slain many enemies in combat, and it would claim a few more today.
She lunged out and stabbed the first red cloak in her sight, missing any vital organs, and stabbed him in the left leg. She had grown clumsy due to exhaustion, was unable to make a fatal blow, and the darkness was not helping her accuracy either.
“At least he won’t be getting up for a while. Immobilizing them is more humane, not that I really care,” she whispered to herself. Athena knew this fight wasn’t going to be easy.
She managed to dodge a few attacks in the next few moments and then got her 1st kill of the night by stabbing one of the cloaked men in the right eye. The dormant spirit of Athena was finally starting to awaken with long-lost instincts returning to her. She had seen little combat for the past two years.
A man swung at her legs with an axe in the next moment, just narrowly missing her. She needed to stay alert. Athena took this opportunity to stab the assailant right through the chest, going through the plate armor that he was wearing. He dropped to the ground, lifeless. There were still eight men for her to fight and it was only a matter of time before she slipped up. Athena started to ready a spell.
Paul laughed and said, “Interesting, so you’ve been fortifying that sword of yours. I take it you’re an earth magic user.”
Athena was a bit surprised at the man’s perceptiveness but continued to fight. As two more men swung their weapons at her, she stabbed her rapier into the ground and entangled her two assailants with barbed green vines. Earth magic was good for more than just fortifying weapons; it had several other practical uses. Some of these spells could be quite deadly depending on the mage’s skill level.
“Please stay down, I don’t want to stain my beautiful rapier with your blood,” Athena said as she giggled. The men responded by nodding and whimpering in fear as they lay on the ground.
It was in this moment of triumph, that she failed to see a man, a good distance away, shoot her with a crossbow. Athena messed up. She ducked out of the way, but the arrow hit her in the right foot. She cried out in agony.
“You better get up. I would hate to see this fight end so quickly,” chuckled Paul.
Athena tried getting up, but it was all she could do to stand up, using her rapier as a cane. She had tried to save her mana reserves for later, but it was now or never. She materialized an earthen spike in the air and threw it straight at the archer, impaling him in the throat. There were five left.
“You are not the only one that can use long range attacks! Any one of you scumbags wants to try that again?!” Athena yelled.
It was obvious her strength was waning; she could fall at any moment. However, she did manage to provoke the remaining men, since all of them lunged out at her with their weapons. Athena was successful in executing her plan in drawing them in. She began to chant under breath. “Sleep….” she whispered. The spell’s range was limited and was only effective against the weak-minded. Athena succeeded and all five men fell at her feet.
She could hear clapping in the distance. “Impressive. I see you have eliminated some of my cronies. I only counted three confirmed kills, what about the others? Please allow me to take out the trash,” said Paul in a cold and emotionless voice.
He lifted up his hands into the sky and flames started forming around his hands. He then put his hands down and started firing balls of fire in all directions, chaotically, and without purpose. This man truly had no regard for the lives of his underlings. Athena managed to get away, but not before her right arm got singed. She tried to hide her pain.
“All better. We don’t need weaklings like that in Blades. They’ll defect at the first sign of torture. Can’t have them running around with our secrets, can we?” Paul grinned. He truly was a demented man, relishing in the misery of others. Several burnt corpses now lay, scattered around the area.
“Now, where is that little girl? I’m going to enjoy my time with her. It’s important to appreciate the hunt,” said Paul gleefully.
Athena knew that evading Paul was impossible from the beginning, and even if she did, the “Ice Phoenix” would hunt her down in no time at all. Despite the odds not being in her favor, she tried to stumble away.
She heard the trampling of hooves in the distance, and a loud battle cry. Paul and Athena both looked in the direction of the sound, the flames of torches were now starting to become visible. In the next moment, a javelin was thrown at Paul’s head. He managed to move out of the way but got grazed in the right cheek.
Athena recognized the riders, they were her personal guards, coming to her rescue. Most of the time, Athena considered them a nuisance, but now more than ever before, she was glad that they were here. Their leader was Gustav, the man that had just thrown the javelin. He was a tall man with blonde hair and brown eyes coupled with a physique worthy of a knight. He and the rest of the knights wore light blue armor and green capes. These were the colors of Charon’s flag, an honor to wear for any true patriot of Charon.
A young girl got off her horse and ran words Athena, “My lady, why did you leave without telling us?! We were so worried about your wellbeing!” she said this in her sweet Siril accent.
The girl’s name was Vira, a brunette with long hair and brown eyes. Vira wore clothing befitting a mage of Charon, a robe of bluish-green. She looked at Athena as if she was about to cry then immediately stretched out her shaking hands and began using water-elemental healing magic on Athena.
“You serve me well,” Athena said as she was about to cry as well.
“Never do that again,” said Vira in a serious tone.
“You know I cannot promise you that,” said Athena chuckling
Gustav, Vira, and the others had become accustomed to lady Athena’s behavior by now. However, this was the most brazen move they’ve seen from her in the past two years. It was a miracle they made it in time.
“Great. More uninvited guests. My day just keeps getting more interesting. I was wondering what I was going to feed Kurasa today, burnt corpses aren’t really his thing, you know,” chuckled Paul.
Gustav and the other knights looked on at the great blue bird in awe. They fell silent for a moment, after which Gustav looked over at Athena and said in his deep yet calm voice, “Was it worth it?”
Athena looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Yes. Charon must know of what I have learned here.”
Gustav looked back at his men, and then looked at the enemy in front of him, and then responded, “As long as it was not in vain, my lady.” His face darkened as he brandished his sword and the other three knights pulled out their swords as well. They were resolved to fight.
The leader of the knights glanced over once more to where Vira and Athena were located and yelled, “Run!”
Immediately, Vira picked up Athena and bolted towards her black horse. She did not lose any time, but Athena was slowing her down, she could only hobble around at best.
“Not so fast!” yelled Paul as he was charging a fire spell. Kurasa looked like he was finally beginning to make a move himself, his snarling sent chills down everyone’s spines.
“Protect them!” yelled Gustav as he quickly cast an earthen barrier blocking Paul’s spell from scorching the girls. The knights ran towards the girls to cover them.
In the next moment that followed, the girls finally made it to the horse and got on. The horse did not need to be motivated to run away as fast as possible; it could clearly sense the danger that it was in.
Gustav breathed a sigh of relief, “Our job isn’t over men. Let’s hold back these guys for as long as we can!” he yelled loudly.
The other men lifted their swords and yelled, “For Charon!”
Paul had grown quite irritated by now; his prey had just gotten away. “I will murder every single one of you bastards right now! I will grind your corpses to powder and cast your remains over Ethos Falls!” screamed Paul like a mad man.
Gustav was unphased. Paul was not the first man he had witnessed throwing a temper tantrum during a battle. He merely got off his horse and charged forward with a lance by his side. The other knights joined him; their battle cries echoing throughout the dark landscape.
As Vira’s horse galloped away to the south, Athena looked back at the battle that was transpiring. All she could see were fireballs and the icy breath of Kurasa in the darkness. Fire and Ice, two opposites side by side, it was a sight to behold. About a minute later, Athena fell into a deep slumber.
She awoke several hours later, still riding on the same horse. It had become a bit brighter and it was at least the 10th hour of the day. Gustav and the others were nowhere in sight. Athena had become used to seeing death, but these were her personal attendants and could not help but feel responsible for what had transpired several hours earlier. Vira, noticing that Athena had awoken, said in a hesitant tone: “Don’t let their deaths be in vain, my lady. We have a long journey ahead of us. You can leave the grief for later.”
Athena nodded in approval as she continued to lie there, brooding. She knew her selfishness caused this. Perhaps there was a different path to victory, one where her men would remain among the living. She had plenty of time to ponder this as the next nine days were agonizingly long.
They only stopped briefly to eat what little food they had with them. Athena had become accustomed to expensive dinners and all the other amenities nobles were entitled to, but even a spoiled girl like her knew when to get serious. She was recovering slowly, her foot finally healed, and they could now continue their journey at full speed. Paul could catch up at any moment.
They arrived in Samara without incident, with no trace of Paul and Kurasa behind them. Gustav and his men never came back either. Athena could only surmise regarding their fates. The two girls made their way back to the safety of their villa and contacted Gerdo, Athena’s personal advisor.
“It is good to see you, young lady. You had me worried sick! But where are the others?” said the short gray-headed old man somberly as he started to imagine the worst-case scenario.
Athena said without hesitation: “They died fighting for house Isles.”
Gerdo fell silent for a few seconds and then responded, “Have you learned anything of import?”
Athena then relayed to him everything about the stones, their danger, and the magical beasts that the Blades of Malice had in their army.
“It seems they have been growing in power. Luckily, they merely have one stone, but in time they will find all of them and then we shall truly be at their mercy,” Gerdo responded with a downcast countenance.
“They do not have it, at least not yet. Paul said they only knew the approximate location of it. Perhaps we can snatch it before they do,” said Athena sounding hopeful.
“There aren’t any leads, where do we begin the search,” said Vira with her hands on her hips.
“The royal library… Gamma possesses the longest history of any kingdom on Ethos!” exclaimed Gerdo.
Athena knew that he was correct. Gamma, the capital of Charon, possessed the oldest texts known to man, many written in Old Siril and if they could not find their answers there, then there was nothing more that could be done.
“We must make haste and leave Samara immediately. Our pursuers may catch up at any moment!” Gerdo said fearfully.
Athena, Vira, Gerdo, and the other nine attendants boarded their ship and set sail immediately. They sailed westward for 12 straight days before they arrived at their destination. Ships were rare in Ethos and only the privileged few could even afford them. The alternative would have been to travel by land, a trip that would have taken much longer and been perilous. Passing through the lands of the Nihil Alliance, on the way to Charon, was suicide. Humans were not welcome there and there was good reason for the hostilities. The kingdoms of men had not been very kind to the other races of Ethos in years past.
The trip went smoothly, no hostile encounters with pirates or the aquatic Kali. Athena and her vassals crossed the Silk Sea and arrived in Gamma; the sky dark almost the entire time. It was easy to go insane at this time of the year, but Athena had grown used to it after her 27 years of life.
Athena looked over at Gamma, a city of beauty and splendor which many would say was the greatest city in the world. It was certainly the most populous, boasting an entire 900,000 denizens, according to the latest census. Gamma was an island capital, possessing great wealth, architecture, and in just about every category in the world they were at the top, including crime and corruption. The darkness followed the light, and presently it was this “Darkness of Ethos” that masked the view of the beautiful city, shrouding it in darkness.