Reverie's End: Blades of Malice
Day: 7/20/991; Time: 14th hour
Their journey was a long one, but it was finally coming to a close. Miri, Amalia, and Lloyd had finally arrived in Gamma after almost a month of travel. Miri did not miss the opportunity to spar with Lloyd, warmaster of House Isles, during the trip. But it seemed that the young lady would soon surpass him. He admitted that there was not much that he could teach her.
"You're telling me you learned to fight like that in Brywood?" he said as he gasped for breath after a sparring session.
"Yeah. There are plenty of thugs and dangerous Kali up there. You gotta be tough to survive up there," Miri replied, while smiling. She was finally starting to get over her grief. Miri had begun to act a bit more playful, like her former self.
Amalia responded, "I want to visit it someday!"
Miri looked over at her, "Of course! Once we solve this "Gamma-Emerald problem", I want to visit my parents in Brywood."
The two girls talked and ate their lunch outside the city gates. After they were done, they packed their belongings and got on their horses. Lloyd had been to Gamma many times, but for the girls it was their first time. Never before had they seen such a large city. According to Lloyd, the outer walls were 3 skars in height. Getting over them would definitely prove to be a challenge. It was said that walking from one end to the other took an entire day's journey. Gamma was the largest and oldest city in Ethos.
A large castle could be seen atop a large hill. It was there that the King of Charon lived. Miri was normally a bold girl, but meeting with the most powerful man in Ethos was certainly a frightening prospect. The castle's green and blue banner, depicted the well-known "Gamma" sigil. It was the symbol of long-lasting prosperity. These were not mere words with no weight behind them; Charon's monarchy had stayed in power longer than any other. For almost 900 years the island capital has continued to grow in power, while other kingdoms rose and fell.
Lloyd looked at the girls, and said in his usual deep voice, "Isles is much smaller… although still bigger than Brywood." The girls were reminded that they were only here to get on a ship and sail to Isles. They both sighed in relief. They were not ready to enter such a large metropolis. Lloyd and the girls traveled north for several hours and arrived at a port.
There were many ships of various sizes there, a much larger variety than would be found in Brywood. Lloyd spoke to one of the captains in Siril, and purchased three tickets for Isles. They got on the ship and sailed to the east. Miri had never been on such a large ship before; it was nothing like the tiny boats back in her hometown. She enjoyed the sea breeze and the view of the sea of Alon. For Amalia, it was an even greater experience. She had never seen the great sea of Ethos before. It seemed to stretch out forever. Amalia could only see blue everywhere.
The entire trip lasted a mere day, and they spent most of it sailing in the night. The beautiful sea had become a dark blue; it was a haunting sight. The girls slept the night in peace, as the ship rocked back and forth. In the morning, they woke up to the pleasant sight of the sea that they couldn't get enough of. Several hours later they arrived at the port of Isles.
Lloyd was telling the truth; Isles was several times smaller than Gamma. Miri was impressed, although it was not as big as Fire Keep, which she had briefly visited before during her travels. Amalia's eyes were starry-eyed as usual. Everything was a new and exciting experience for her.
The city was bustling; the people were oblivious to the war that might start within their borders. The Blades of Malice could have been lurking in the shadows at that very moment, and they would never know. They were just focused on the immediate: food, raiment, and shelter. People all over Ethos simply continued to live as they always did despite the chaos encroaching on their lands.
The two girls stepped off the ship, and Lloyd led them up the hill to the front gate of Castle Isles. It was going to be the girl's first time in a castle; they could never have imagined that their travels would take them so far away from their homes. Miri and Amalia only wanted to travel the world, not to fight against evil organizations terrorizing Ethos. Yet, here they stood before the gates of Castle Isles, about to meet a powerful member of royalty. They could not predict the path of the future.
The two guards at the gate were in shock. "Sir Lloyd! You're alive!" exclaimed the tall black haired guard.
"It's been months since we've seen you! What happened to all your men?! And who are these girls with you?" asked the inquisitive and brown-haired guard.
"All will be told in due time. For now, we need to rest. It has been a long and weary trip for all of us," replied Lloyd in a stern voice.
"Yes… yes.. Of course. Let him through!" exclaimed the tall guard, as he motioned for the others to open the large gates.
The gates opened and they stepped through. The trio walked for some time; the girls certainly admired the gardens and forests outside the castle. "Nobles live in a different world," thought Amalia to herself. She had never seen such wealth up close before.
Miri began to wonder what kind of person this Lady Ordalia was. She was curious about what a person needed to do to become so wealthy. It was not the kind of wealth a person normally earns in a lifetime of hard work. It defied all logic in Miri's mind; Amalia's thoughts on the matter were not too far off.
They finally arrived at the castle after walking for three pentas, a short distance. They had seen it from a distance, but it was even more remarkable up close. It was in great condition despite its age. The Lords and ladies of Isles had made sure to preserve their legacy. The castle symbolized their unwaning power over the course of several centuries. As long as the castle stood, so did the family name.
Lloyd looked up at the castle, and breathed a sigh of relief. He was finally at home, but he couldn't rest. He had urgent news to report to Lady Ordalia. Lloyd looked at the maids that had come out to greet them. "Take care of the girls. Make sure they are fed and well-rested. I will report to Lady Ordalia what we have learned," said Lloyd. He looked over at Miri and Amalia, and continued, "We can talk more later… I'm sure that Lady Ordalia has plenty of questions for you as well."
The girls followed the maids and went up the stairs to the 3rd floor. They were starting to get used to the ostentatious display of wealth, but it was still a bit strange for them. They were shown to their rooms, and they slept the night in beds more comfortable than any before. However, Miri could only think of how she wished Esca could have been there with her; she could not help but feel guilty. It just did not seem right to her that she had the opportunity to experience such luxury. Only Amalia slept well that night.
In the morning, they were greeted to a breakfast with foods that the girls had never seen before. The seafood in particular was not the kind native to Brywood, like Miri was used to. Amalia was even more clueless about proper table etiquette and the foods eaten at the tables of nobility. Their palates were simply not accustomed to such things; the girls ate very little. They would have preferred tavern food over this lavish display. They thanked the cooks for the food, and left the room, still hungry.
It was time for their audience with Lady Ordalia. Lloyd had arranged for a private meeting at the 12th hour in her study room. The girls were feeling nervous, as they stood before the door. Lloyd opened the door and led them inside. Before them stood a woman with long copper hair and bright brown eyes. She wore an elegant blue dress and black gloves. She was of a fair complexion, but that is not the first thing Miri noticed about her. Ordalia's eyes had a certain fierceness to them; there was a deep burden behind those eyes. If Miri had not experienced it herself, she would not have noticed it. They were the eyes of one who had suffered loss. Despite the stark difference in upbringing, Miri and Ordalia shared something in common.
Likewise, Ordalia looked back at the girls standing before her. It was hard to believe that they were the "great warriors" that Lloyd had spoken of. Miri had mid-length brown hair and light-blue eyes; the armor she wore was of a dark navy blue. She reminded Ordalia of a younger version of herself. Amalia, on the other hand, had long golden hair, green eyes, and wore the priestess robe of the order of the "Shining Light". The innocent-looking girl did not seem like she belonged on the battlefield from Ordalia's vantage point.
Ordalia finally broke the long silence by speaking in her Siril accent, frequently heard within Charon's borders, "Welcome to Castle Isles. I am Ordalia. Sir Lloyd had already notified me of the trials that have befallen all of you and of the Blades of Malice's plans for using the Emerald to attack Gamma. It is unfortunate that we were not able to seize it first. We will have to meet with the other great houses to discuss a strategy. Isles will not be safe if Gamma falls."
Miri and Amalia introduced themselves, although meekly.
She turned to Lloyd, ignoring the girls, and continued to speak, "How much longer do we have? Do you know when they might attack?"
Lloyd replied, "The Emerald harnesses the power of wind mana. It will be most effective during the 9th and 10th months. At least that is what our ancient texts say. If they wanted to cause the most damage, they would wait until the 10th month to strike, but we should be ready to fight even sooner."
"Why not just find the Emerald before they can use it?" inquired Miri.
"I have already sent out my men, but it doesn't hurt to have a plan B. Those Blades are illusive. If my warmaster couldn't stop them, then I'm not sure there are many on Ethos that can. Although, it seems you girls were able to put up quite a fight," replied Ordalia. Lloyd had a look of embarrassment on his face. He was not used to being outdone in combat by young girls.
Ordalia chuckled and continued to speak, "Miri and Amalia, I hear that you are adventurers. You are welcome to stay here and aid us during the battle if that is your wish. You will be generously compensated of course."
Miri responded, "I want to know the truth behind why these stones… their power is beyond that which mankind should possess. My friend died because of the Emerald. I will fight."
"And I need to be there for those in need… my powers exist to ease sorrow," declared Amalia. She had gained confidence in her abilities during her travels with Miri.
Ordalia paused for a moment and replied, "Of course. You are both welcome. Whatever your reasons may be, there is no denying we share a common enemy. You are free to train here at the Castle and if you wish, you can go to the Advent Guild in town. There is plenty of work for mercenaries in Isles. No one will ask questions or stand in your way if you wear these badges. Ordalia handed them a green and blue badge with the image of a tidal wave on it.
Miri and Amalia took the badges, thanked Ordalia, and left the room. They had a lot of training to do; Miri knew that she could not always protect Amalia. She was going to make sure Amalia's healing and illusion magic were powerful enough for the battles to come.
They stayed at the castle for several days, enjoying the peace and quiet. The girls had forgotten the feeling of sleeping indoors. They no longer had to travel by horseback every day. They visited the town when they got the chance and even took on two small jobs involving capturing some thugs. It was a good experience for Amalia, although she still had difficulty swinging her flail. But she was learning and growing more confident by the day. It was her beaming smile that Miri wanted to protect; she reminded her too much of Esca.
During a sparring session where Miri dodged Amalia's attack yet again, something peculiar happened. The branch that Morro had given to Amalia started to glow green and resonate; Morro and his friends were close by. "They're here!" exclaimed Amalia. She had grown rather fond of the stoic tree giants known as the Elm and was excited to see them. Several hours later, the Elms arrived at the gates of the Castle, but they were not greeted with hospitality.
"Intruders!" yelled one of the guards. Suddenly, there were 10 castle knights with spears pointed at the Elms.
"We need reinforcements!" yelled another one of the guards. The castle was in an uproar.
"Greetings, my name is Morro. I am of the Dusk Mountain Elms. Please… we do not wish you any harm. We are here to meet with Sir Lloyd of Castle Isles. Are we at the correct location?" said Morro in his usual calm and deep voice. This was all spoken through telepathy, which is the normal mode of communication for Elm.
"I'm hearing voices in my head!" yelled several of the guards. The Elm's mysterious powers were only creating more unrest among the guards.
"Do not be alarmed. We merely wish to speak with Sir Lloyd…" replied Morro. His diplomacy was not working and the guards were growing more agitated.
"Halt! Drop your weapons!" yelled a voice from beyond the gate. A tall brown-haired man with green eyes drew closer and continued to berate the guards; it was Sir Lloyd. "Didn't you receive the memo a few days ago!? These men are our guests," he said.
The guards were still in dismay, but none argued with the Warmaster of Isles. All of them put away their weapons. Morro and his comrades breathed a sigh of relief. "You are all fortunate that these Elm are on our side. You do not want to be their enemy," remarked Lloyd sternly, as he looked at his men.
Miri, Amalia, and Ordalia had overheard the commotion and had come rushing to the gates. The guards all kneeled immediately; they were surprised that Ordalia had left her chambers to come all the way to the front gate.
"Morro! I'm so glad to see you!" said Amalia. "I still have your branch," she continued to speak, raising the glowing branch with her right arm.
"I'm glad to see you too, little one. I only wish it was under better circumstances," replied Morro.
"So, these are the Elm that you spoke of, Sir Lloyd. They are certainly magnificent beings that possess many interesting abilities. I'm sure telepathy isn't the only power they have," spoke Ordalia. She turned to the Elm, and looked at them with fascination in her eyes. Ordalia continued to speak, "I thank you for saving the life of our warmaster. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. However, traditions do not change for the House of Isles. Never has a non-human ever stepped inside the castle, and today that law shall not change. It is not my right to change 800 years of history."
"What?! But these are our friends!" exclaimed Miri.
Amalia only replied with, "That's not fair!" and pouted.
Lloyd only sighed, knowing that there was nothing he could do.
"However… these forests around us are free for you to use. I only ask that you stay away from the town. Your presence would only circulate fear among the people. Minds are not easily swayed," she replied, interrupting the chance for any further complaints.
"The Elm agree to this proposal. The trees are a more suitable home for us Elm; never have we dwelt in the halls of men. Some of us will stay here and the others will continue eastward, in hopes of gaining allies from the Nihil Alliance. Our brothers will surely come to our aid," responded Morro.
"The Nihil Alliance?! Why would they ever help humans?" exclaimed Ordalia.
"They will not help you. But they will do what must be done to save Ethos. We will destroy the Emerald and the other stones… their powers corrupt the very forces of nature. With every use of the stone, the lifespan of Ethos grows shorter. We, the Elm, can feel it… the Emerald must be eradicated. It must cease to exist."
Miri, Amalia, and the residents of Castle Isles looked shocked. They did not know that the situation was so dire. "Eradicated…." whispered Ordalia. She tried hard to hide her displeasure. "Very well. You may do as you wish. The more allies, the better," said Ordalia, as she tried to hastily end the conversation.
The Elms said their goodbyes and went to the woods. Ordalia turned to Lloyd and the others, and said, "It's time we paid the capital a visit. There is much to discuss."