Reverie's End: Blades of Malice
Date: 6/29/991; Time: 4th hour
Miri and Amalia had been traveling in the Dusk Mountains for a few days with no sight of Nana or her men. Miri was growing impatient; the rain's blessings were about to run out. She was beginning to think that they were lost. It was still early in the morning when they left, but Miri didn't want to waste any time. After a few hours of travel, the girls found what they were looking for. They saw a red-cloaked figure entering a cave not too far from them.
The girls got off their horses and went in, holding their weapons by their sides. Miri had tried to spar with Amalia each day since they left Charlo, but Amalia was not making any progress; she was too afraid to fight back. Miri instructed her to stay back and leave the fighting to her. She did not want Amalia to become another victim slain before her eyes. Esca's death was already too much for her.
Miri stopped and turned around to face Amalia, holding her hand out, motioning Amalia to halt. "You're not going with me. Stay outside and look after the horses. You're not ready for combat," said Miri sternly.
"But I can be a healer," said Amalia.
"No buts. A healer who can't defend themselves is useless. Maybe one day you'll be ready, but you are going to be a liability if you go in with me right now. Nana and her men are evil. They'll sense your fear and go after you. They will exploit your weakness and show no mercy," responded Miri, interrupting Amalia.
Amalia pouted and stared at the ground. She said nothing in response.
"If you see enemies, hide. Do not try to fight them or stop them. I will be back soon. Finally, I will get my revenge!" she exclaimed
Miri grabbed her Astral Trident and walked into the cave. She followed the sounds she was hearing in the distance. After a few minutes of walking, she noticed the cave had widened and that there was a gathering of six people in the center of the cave, with a fire burning in the middle, illuminating their faces. It was then that Miri heard a familiar voice.
A woman's voice could be heard from among them: "The Emerald has been passed on. Our job is finished here. Let's return to Seastone Keep."
It was Nana, the woman Miri had been searching for. Miri's blood started to boil, causing an impulsive desire to run out and confront her. However, Miri was cool-headed enough to wait and see. There was much that could be learned from listening to the Blades of Malice.
"What are they going to do with the Emerald?" asked one of her underlings.
"I don't know the details, but they're going to attack Gamma with it when the time is right," replied Nana, smirking at the thought of all the carnage.
Miri was stunned. "Gamma is the greatest city in Ethos, one that has stood for almost 900 years. How can a small green stone hold enough power to topple something so mighty?" she thought to herself.
Nana looked around the room cautiously and then told her men, "Let's go. We have business at Seastone Keep in the north." Nana and her men started to leave, but Miri would not miss her opportunity.
She ran out from behind a pillar, waving her trident in the air, and yelled, "Nana! Prepare to die!"
Nana and her men turned around to face the livid Miri. Surprisingly, Nana did not show the slightest hint of amazement at this turn of events. It was almost as if she expected her to show up.
"Great! I was expecting you. So good of you to come and save me the trouble of having to find you," Nana replied joyously.
Miri looked puzzled, yet still angry. She had no time to ponder the meaning of the words.
Nana faced her men and said, "Don't kill her. I want that honor for myself."
Four red-cloaks charged at her, as one cast a wind spell from far away. The first threw a javelin at her, which she dodged and respond by giving the attacker three-holes in the chest. Unfortunately, she got knocked back by a wind spell and hit a stalagmite in in the next moment. But such attacks were not going to stop her when she was at full-power and feeding off her rage.
Two axe users struck simultaneously at her while she was still down. She dodged with ease, tripped her assailants and quickly impaled both of them to the ground after getting up. Melee combat was not very effective against Miri.
The remaining two simply stood by in fear and started casting wind and fire spells from a distance. Miri only smiled and ran towards them, dodging any attempts to knock her back. Most mages are defenseless at close range and these two were no different. She kicked one of the mages in the stomach and pushed him into the other, knocking them both down, before finishing them off with the usual "three holes in the chest" attack. Nana's underlings were only the warm-up. The real fight was about to begin.
Nana nodded in amusement and started to clap slowly. "Impressive. You seem stronger than last time. That Kali blood of your is quite problematic," she said slightly irritated. "Of course… it is more fun this way. I will get revenge for my brother!" she announced, clutching her lance and holding it towards Miri.
Miri charged first and was greeted by a block. The two continued to block each other's moves for about a minute. Then they heard some footsteps in the distance, and Miri jumped back to see what it was. Two figures could be seen entering the room, one man, and one girl. It was Teo and Amalia.
Teo held a knife to Amalia's throat as she struggled in vain to be released. Her Holy Flail was nowhere in sight. Miri's heart stopped for a moment, as she realized that her worst nightmare was about to occur yet again. Her eyes and mouth opened up in terror.
Teo spoke callously, as he looked over at Nana, "I better get paid double for this."
Nana let out a fake laugh, and replied, "But of course. I get to see this poor girl suffer twice. You have done well in bringing them both here."
"Teo! You bastard!" Miri screamed.
Teo merely laughed as he continued to hold the knife. Amalia's expression was one of calmness, despite her circumstances.
"You know how these situations work, drop your weapon, Kali girl" said Nana.
"Don't do it! I'm okay!" said Amalia.
Miri looked at Amalia and said with regret in her voice, "No! You're not okay. None of this is alright. I shouldn't have brought you."
"Isn't this a touching reunion!" said Teo sadistically.
Nana responded, "Finish the job, Teo. This Kali girl won't drop her weapon. She's not stupid. Maybe sentimental and emotional but not stupid. The bait isn't going to work."
Miri knew that she wouldn't make it in time, but she was going to try anyway. She ran towards Teo with her trident in both arms and tears in her eyes. Teo slit Amalia's throat in that single moment; Miri never stood a chance.
At least that is what should have happened, but reality can be fickle. Teo's knife struck the wind and no blood spilled. Amalia's body dissipated into a fine mist and disappeared. She was no more. This uncanny turn of events left Miri and the others in the room bewildered. Amalia was nowhere to be seen.
Before those present in the cave could make any coherent conclusion as to Amalia's whereabouts, a spiked ball hit Teo in the legs from behind, causing him to fall over and writhe in pain while muttering profanity.
Miri looked in awe at what she was currently witnessing. In front of her stood Amalia, holding her Holy Flail. She was unharmed, although blushing.
"I hope that didn't hurt too much," she said, looking down at Teo, who was still rolling around on the floor.
Miri's jaw dropped and Nana's reaction was no different. "What was that?!" exclaimed Miri with tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Um… It's called Illusion Magic. I'm not very good at using it yet. Elder Elric told me that it's a rare gift," replied Amalia humbly.
"Illusion Magic?! You had that all along and didn't tell me?!" said Miri, in an overjoyed yet annoyed voice.
"Sorry/ I just never got around to mentioning it," responded Amalia shyly.
"Get behind me, Amalia. We're not safe quite yet," Miri said, beckoning Amalia.
Amalia ran over to Miri and took a defensive stance. Meanwhile, Teo got up and took out his axe. He was not happy.
Nana was now over her initial shock as well and readied her lance. "You are certainly full of surprises, child," she said, with a respectful tone of voice. "Teo, you can have the illusion girl. I still have a fight to finish," she said, looking over at Teo.
Teo nodded and drew closer to the girls. Miri got defensive and put an arm in front of Amalia, indicating no desire to part with her friend. "Not again. I will not abandon my friend," said Miri.
Amalia whispered to Miri, "Don't worry. I'll hide, just like you told me."
Miri looked over at Amalia's confident expression and thought for a moment. She needed to trust her friend. "Okay, just stall and I'll come get you. I promise," responded Miri, whispering her intentions. The two girls nodded and moved in opposite directions. They both had a job to do. Miri fiercely lunged at Nana and Amalia clumsily swung her flail around, aiming for Teo's legs and missing. The two fights drew farther and farther apart from each other until they were in separate rooms.
Miri kept thrusting her trident angrily while blocking Nana's attacks. Her battle instincts were at their best today, and she took full advantage of them. She was not going to let today be a repeat of that night when she lost Esca. They fought for several minutes and Nana was starting to tire. She jumped back and took a defensive stance.
"Urgh! You think you're the only one that's lost loved ones?! You killed my brother, and those bastards at Isles killed my parents! Even if I die here, my brethren will avenge my family and destroy Gamma and Isles with the Emerald! I can die in peace," she said with a creepy smile as she looked up at the cavern ceiling. She could barely stand and used her lance for support.
Miri looked at Nana and replied, "Perhaps life did not treat you fairly but that is no excuse to kill innocents!" Miri lunged at Nana, as if she teleported, and stabbed her through the chest. Nana smiled as she fell to the ground and it was as if she didn't care anymore. Her body laid on the ground, bleeding and motionless. Miri had given her a quick death. Miri had finally completed her mission; she felt fulfilled, yet hollow inside. But there was no time for introspection; Amalia's life was in danger. Miri ran towards the sound of clanging metal.
Amalia had been engaged in an unorthodox fight for a few minutes now. Teo would slash with his overly heavy axe, and miss Amalia or hit an illusion. Meanwhile, Amalia would awkwardly swing around the flail and attempt to defend herself or hit Teo in the legs. There was no finesse in any of their movements.
"Get over here!" yelled Teo, as he chased Amalia.
Amalia screamed, stumbled backwards and fell. Teo swung down but she rolled out of the way. She got back up and took a defensive stance. "I know Miri will come for me!" she said with uttermost faith.
Teo ran after her and swung again with his axe. Amalia fell down and looked away in fear, screaming, while kicking her legs up and down. Teo fell over in pain from getting kicked in the groin. Amalia looked on in wonder at the outcome; the kick was super effective. Miri had been teaching her how to fight the last few days, and at one point used the following words, "The world is a dirty and crooked place. If you want to survive, there will be times when you must fight dirty." Those were her exact words. Amalia blushed in embarrassment. Teo got up and was equally embarrassed and angry.
He ran towards her and swung the axe yet again, hitting an illusion. Amalia appeared behind him and swung the flail at his legs, tripping him. Amalia's intent was merely to stall, not to kill. Causing the death of others was something she wished could be avoided. It was her calling in life to heal, not destroy. Amalia wanted to persuade Miri to do the same and pardon her enemies.
These were Amalia's intentions but they were not fulfilled on this day. Teo tripped after being hit by the flail and plummeted down a chasm. His scream was only heard for about a second before a loud thud echoed throughout the cavern. Amalia ran over to see if he was alright but it was too dark to see. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Was there no other way?" she thought to herself.
At this moment, Miri had just entered the part of the cavern that Amalia was in. She was panting and looking all over the room in anticipation. Finally, Miri caught a glimpse of her figure, although the lighting was bad. She ran over towards Amalia, who was not harmed.
Miri hugged Amalia, who had been crying. "You're alive! I'm so glad!" cried Miri.
"Was there no other way? Did he really have to die? I didn't mean for him to fall off like that," said Amalia, as she stared down the chasm.
"You can't hesitate, Amalia. If you do, they'll kill you. It's you or them. This is the path of an adventurer," replied Miri confidently.
She looked at Amalia in the face and said, "We have to get out of here now; there might be others. Let's go to Charlo."
As they started to leave, they heard a quiet voice speak, "Greetings, my name is Morro. Can I please speak to you for a moment?"
The two girls looked bewildered. They looked around and at each other. "Did you hear that?" asked Miri.
"Yeah, you heard it too?" replied Amalia.
"Please do not be alarmed. Seeing as you do not speak Elmic, this is really the only method of communication available to me. Allow me to introduce myself correctly. I am Morro, an Elm, and my people have information about the Blades of Malice. I can guide you towards our village where we can discuss these things in further detail," replied the voice.
The pragmatic side of Miri thought, "I've avenged Esca. This means I can go back to Charlo and move on with my life. The Blades of Malice are nothing but trouble." However, the adventurous and curious side of Miri wanted to know more; she had never met Elm before. She looked over at Amalia, who looked at Miri with eyes of trust.
"It's your decision. He sounds like a nice guy," she whispered to Miri.
"Very well. We accept your offer," announced Miri.
"Thank you. Leave the exit on your right and I shall walk with you to the village," replied Morro. The voice continued to speak directly into their minds. The girls did not know what to make of it.
They walked over to the exact spot and found a being they had never seen before; it was an elm. His very tall tree-like appearance could certainly frighten even the most seasoned fighters. Among all the non-human races of Ethos, the Elm reigned supreme. Their strength and endurance were unmatched. Although slow, they could walk for days and never tire. Some say they didn't even need to sleep. Their brown wooden bodies were as hard as stone.
The Elm were remarkable in many other ways. Their longevity far exceeded that of a human, averaging about 200 years. This gave them time to accumulate wisdom and perhaps lent to their laid-back attitude about life. The Elm were rarely in a hurry. Their Elmic tongue was a particularly slow one, so they preferred telepathy instead. The Elm's telepathy allowed them to communicate with any race on Ethos, even animals. There was never a language barrier for the Elm. Some of the more powerful Elm could even communicate across long distances and see the surroundings as if they were physically present.
However, few people knew all of this about the Elm. Most of these tree-like men preferred to stay hidden away. Fortunately, the Elm were peaceful creatures, else the kingdoms of Ethos would certainly be in danger. The Southern Elm or Gray Elm, that banded with the gray tribes, were the truly dangerous ones. None dared cross their paths.
"Does my appearance frighten you, children?" asked Morro in his kind and deep voice.
"No," stammered Miri.
"We've just never seen an elm before," stammered Amalia as well.
"I see. Our kind has stayed in these caverns for centuries. It is no surprise that few know of our existence," responded Morro, agreeing with the girls.
"How do you talk like that? We keep hearing voices in our head," asked Miri.
"This is known as telepathy. It is a gift that Elm are taught to cultivate at a young age. Do not be distressed. I cannot read your minds. It is just a better form of communication," answered Morro. "Time is of the essence; follow me to the village. There is someone there that can give you more details," he continued to speak in his mellow voice.
The girls nodded in agreement. They had so many questions, but they would have to wait. They followed Morro, who was illuminating the path ahead with his magical aura, for about 30 minutes. They had just arrived in the village of the Dusk Elm.
Miri and Amalia were taken aback at what they saw; many Elm of different sizes and ages were moving around in front of them. There were men, women, children, and elders. They had only just met their first elm, and now they saw a multitude; it was a nation of Elm. The girls stared in awe for over a minute, before Morro finally coughed (telepathically), and said, "Welcome to our humble village. Please follow me to the room of healing."
The girls followed Morro through various cavernous hallways until they arrived at their destination. Meanwhile, their presence definitely caused some elms to take note and watch them intently. Most of the elm had never seen humans before.
They walked into the room and saw a tall brown-haired man sitting down. He was injured and wore light-blue armor. Miri and Amalia were not the first foreigners to come here.
The man looked up, eyed the girls intently, and said, "Allow me to introduce myself: I am Lloyd, Warmaster for House Isles. Morro tells me that you defeated those red-cloaks. I thank you they killed my men. It's embarrassing to think that the little girls before me killed a foe that me and my men could not."
Miri looked at him and replied, "They killed my friend, Esca. I only did what was necessary. Morro tells me that you have some information for us."
"Yes. Allow me to tell you my story: We were on a mission to retrieve the Emerald from the jungle, but we were too late. Nana had already seized it before we got there. However, as fortune would have it, we ran into her forces just outside the jungle and engaged her in combat. We had greater numbers, but that was not enough. I lost many men, but we continued to chase her down until we got here to the Dusk Mountains. We fought what little remained of her squadron but were defeated. It was the kind Elm that nursed me back to health," said Lloyd.
"What you may not know, is that there are six of these "Stones of Ethos" in existence and the Blades of Malice want to collect them all. The other five are somewhere in Ethos; we know not where they are. If they were to use them, all of Ethos would be in danger," spoke Lloyd in a grave manner.
Miri and Amalia looked stunned, but Miri recovered and asked, "What does the stone do? I need details."
Lloyd looked over at Morro and nodded. The Elm responded telepathically, "Our ancient books have details regarding the true nature of these stones. They use the mana in the air and convert it into energy for use. The powers are strongest during the correct season. In the case of the Emerald, or "wind stone", that would be the 9th and 10th months. The stones have been used to wreak havoc in the past that much is known."
The girls thought about what they had just learned, and then Miri said, "That gives us some time before they attack. The Blades of Malice plan their attacks carefully and they'll wait for the right time."
"But where will they attack? It could be anywhere!" grimaced Lloyd.
Miri remembered Nana's dying words and replied, "No, not anywhere. They will attack Gamma and Isles. Charon is their target. Nana revealed that to me when she was near death."
Lloyd's eyes widened and he replied, "I can't stay here. I need to warn Lady Ordalia before it's too late." Lloyd began to get up slowly but he was not strong enough to move around yet.
Miri considered the situation. "Is it worth getting entangled in this war? My business with the Malice is over," she thought to herself.
Amalia looked at her, touched her soldier and said, "They need us. Lots of people are going to get hurt."
Miri did not share Amalia's altruistic feelings but she did have a concern for her friend's wellbeing. The coming battles would also be an opportunity to get stronger. "I can always change my mind later," she thought to herself.
Amalia and Miri looked at each other and nodded. "We have decided to assist you in this endeavour. I'm sure House Isles wouldn't mind hiring two more fighters for the cause."
Lloyd smiled and replied with gusto, "We would love to have you. I'll make sure to let Lady Ordalia know of your valor in battle. It's simply amazing. I've been helped by a Kali and an Elm, all in one day! Mankind certainly does not give you enough credit! You are all fine individuals indeed. My eyes have been enlightened. I wish humans treated your races better."
Miri laughed and said, "I'm mostly human actually. My Kali powers go away in two days. I need the blessings of the water to look like this."
Lloyd looked on in awe and said, "I learn new things every day it seems."
Morro finally spoke, "I would like to take you to see our leader. He might help, although I think it's not likely. But we might as well try."
Everyone in the room got up and left. They followed Morro to the center of the village; he had already alerted everyone telepathically that they were coming. In front of them sat Elder Sidon and three other fierce-looking Elm; they were the generals. Miri could already tell that they were not welcome. The Elm towered over the humans; it was quite a disconcerting feeling.
The conversation was interesting, as are most conversations with Elm and the room was completely silent. It was a telepathic group conversation. "Welcome outsiders," said the Elder. "It is customary for Elm to assist those in need and offer hospitality. We have done just that. We are a peaceful people and we will not engage in the foolish wars of men. I will not allow Elm lives to be wasted so recklessly!" The other three Elm voiced their support for the Elder.
Morrow responded with a great bellow, "The Elm have the freedom to choose how they live. These stones are not natural. They are against nature, they corrupt the very essence of Ethos and twist its use for evil. I fear they may even shorten the very life of our world. These stones must be found and they must be destroyed! I will fight!" Even the peaceful Elm can get passionate when provoked.
Lloyd was about to speak up but restrained himself. Only Miri noticed this odd behavior. It was as if something bothered him about Morro's words.
"You may do as you wish Morro. You are past the age of 50. You are a man by our reckoning. Perhaps you can even convince others to go with you. However, my granddaughter stays here. Do not fill her mind with your delusions," responded the elder sternly.
Morro gave a grunt, signifying his approval. The humans present all bowed and thanked the elder for the village's hospitality. They all left the room and gathered outside to talk.
Morro said, "I knew this would happen, but all hope is not lost. Some of my fellow Elm might be willing to assist us."
Lloyd replied, "Can we wait that long? Every day is important for us. It will take at least twenty days to get back to Gamma."
Morro responded, "You can go without me. I will gather my men and follow you afterwards."
"That sounds like a plan," replied Miri.
"Be careful, the realms of men are not hospitable to non-humans. Travel eastward to Isles. I can vouch for you there and give you a place to stay. If someone else sees you, they might not want to listen to non-humans," replied Lloyd as he sighed.
"That is a risk that I must take. The very balance of Ethos is at stake here. All dwellers of our land are in danger," responded Morro with the deepest sincerity.
Morro and the humans left the Elmic Cavern and exited back into the Dusk Mountain Range. They bid their farewells, and as they were about to leave, Morro extended a tree branch from his arm.
"What's this?" asked Amalia.
"It's a part of me. When I am near, it will start to glow. Take it with you," he responded.
"Wow. That's really cool! Thanks Morro," said Amalia.
Morro waved them goodbye with his large tree-branch arms and made an expression with his face that appeared to be a smile.
The girls and Lloyd got on their horses and began their long journey to the southeast. Their first stop was Charlo, where Miri needed to pick up some money from the Advent. She filled Horace in on the details of the Blades of Malices' grand scheme and pocketed her fifty silvers, half of which she gave to Amalia. They were going to be needing it.
Horace was more than a little perturbed about the situation and started sending carrier pigeons with the news to all the other branches of Advent. Miri, as instructed by Lloyd, neglected to tell Horace about the stone that was to be used to attack. If that information ever fell into the wrong hands, then there would be multiple Blades of Malice-like organizations terrorizing Ethos before long.
By now, Miri had reverted to her human form. The season of earth had begun. It was a time of harvest and reaping the rewards of hard work. However, this season also came with earthquakes and tremors. Ethos is always blessed and cursed at the same time.