What the actual fuck.
I stand, seeping with rage, suppressing my transformation, despite it already claiming my hands under my cloak. All I can think of is ripping off a pair of testicles and force-feeding them to the scum-lord they belonged to and ripping out the pair of hearts to eat them myself. The only thought that’s keeping me sane is the though of Eleanor, who wouldn’t just betray me and do something like this. There must be a reason.
As I stand there, suppressing the changes to my form, right out in the open, my face obscured by the hood of my cloak, I think of what to do. I don’t notice that anything is amiss right until a cold blade slides against my throat and my dark red blood trickles down from the cut. There is only one person who can sneak up on me.
“Hello Zern. Don’t attract any attention, you mustn’t be seen. Just walk backwards into the nice and dark alley.”
I do as she says, walking to where I came from, knife still spilling some of my blood. In this half-transformed state it must be at least as strong as mithril. I don’t think she had such a good weapon before. The first thing I ask makes Leah pout just a little.
“No, Zern, they haven’t. She is not giving him the time of the day. It is a political arrangement. And while you are alive, she will remain untouched, at least until the day of the next Rite.”
I let out an audible sigh. I can relax now, but I don’t, I am still angry. How dare that bastard even think about touching something that belongs to me. Eleanor is mine, her body and soul.
“So, what’s happening? What changed while I was away?”
“Not here, follow me quickly.”
We make our ways through the alleyways, until we stand in front of an inn. There is no name or sign, just an open door. We walk in and sit down at a table. While we were just through the door, some music could be heard, bars singing a song while playing a lute. He didn’t really fit here, but who cares. At the table, all sounds disappear and nothing can be heard apart from the rustling of the clothes and breathing, a silence ward to keep the outside away and the inside a secret.
Leah motions to the barkeep, signaling him to bring over some drinks and turns to me to talk.
“Here we are relatively safe, if nobody saw you. The spell will protect us from foreign ears. Those are everywhere nowadays.”
“Tell me, what is going on. Why do I come back only to find that the stupid human King is fine and dandy, his country prospering under his rule? And how did he manage to rebuild so much?”
“I can’t tell you much, it is still too early for that. What I can tell you, is that right after you left, some elders contacted the human King and told him that the Fiend has been driven out and that they are free of your influence. They then arranged some meetings with him and formed an alliance.”
“What? Why would elders do it? I was sure that I was supported by the Val people.”
“That’s true, you were supported by most of the common folk. However, there were talks about granting you some authority and power within the tribe. Certain people didn’t like that idea. If you remember elders Katara, Karmak and Baewulf all supported you and thought that you were good for the Val people. There apparently was some ancient prophecy dating back to the age of the Guardians, so this too made people scared. The three main supporting elders and a handful of others were the ones who resisted the change, but they could do nothing, they are very much a minority.”
I frown slightly at her words, at the prophecy and at the talks of granting me power.
“But why they sent me away, wouldn’t the trio try to keep me here to stop this?”
“Oh, believe me they tried. I had my ears all around, so I know that they tried. But they were outvoted, plus sending you was really a necessity, nobody but you could truly do your task. It is actually unsettling, how you managed to do it so quickly. It threw most of the plans out of the window.”
“Plans? What plans?”
“Believe it or not, I don’t want Eleanor do marry that fool. I would have prepared for your arrival in six or more months, where you would challenge him to take Eleanor from him, clearing your name or something along those lines. But, you being here so early, all of that is void. It was hard enough to prepare the announcement when I heard you appear suddenly flying over the towns. Such short term changes had me pulling some strings I had no business pulling.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am on the side of rebellion, the people who know the truth about the Fiend and that you are not some evil puppeteer. They hate the King about as much as you do, and they want him to disappear.”
At this moment a busty woman looking like a whore comes close, putting some tankard filled with bubbly liquid down onto the table. She gives me a wink and leaves. Perhaps she hopes that I ditch the orange-haired beauty and settle for her herpes-riddled self. Fucking whores… is not what I am willing to do in this lifetime.
“So what is it about the arrangement? Why would Eleanor want to be close to that guy?”
“It is all in the sake of power. Right now she is the most powerful person, as she is both a future Queen and a Prime Matriarch of the Val tribe.”
I throw her a questionable glance.
“Eleanor and Lilith were working on this for quite some time. They roused the elders who were for your ’banishment’ and gained their favor. Once you were gone, she took over as the Val’Halla tribe head and then, with the support of the majority of the elders, she became the Head Matriarch. The king comes, they forge an alliance, the conflict is forgotten as the holy crusade against the fiend ends. Now the Eleanor has support of majority of the races gained from the conflict with the Human kingdom and the king right under her thumb.”
“This is rather complicated, how did they managed to pull this off? Why are they doing this? And what does the king gain?”
“With Lilith’s support and Eleanor’s conversational skills they easily convinced most people of her truthfulness. Many readily believed her stories about how you forced her into submission, how you exploited her and her sisters, making them do lewd things. Thankfully she remained pure and innocent, but Elaya, Aedim and Meriden… It was a stroke of luck that the Fiend has been cast out before Eleanor’s Rite so she could escape such horrid fate…”
I just sit there looking at Leah dumbfounded. Why would Eleanor say such things is beyond me. I didn’t force them to do anything… Did I? I mean, I wasn’t against the showing of affection and I didn’t stop it. But surely she can’t see it like that… And why would people believe her so readily?
Leah seems to understand a bit of my confusion.
“That’s actually why Eleanor managed to take her mother’s place as the head of her tribe. Her mother was branded as a traitor and an avid supporter of the fiend, forcing her own daughter to do your bidding.”
“But why would people believe any of this? This all seems so far fetched. Everybody saw us and how we were together.”
“Most people don’t. The common people, the people who met you personally and who had a chance to get to know you all know the truth. But they are a minority and they have no say. The elders have their mind clouded by fear, they believe everybody else to be afraid as well, so it is no wonder somebody would do what you said. Your word carried more weight that you actually thought because of their fear of you.”
That actually makes sense. Paranoia is powerful thing, capable of making people believe many things. I didn’t know that I had such influence on the minds of people. I tried doing best to help the people of Val, but the leaders amongst them only saw fear and death within me. They believed me to truly be a Fiend, an enigmatic existence born of darkness.
“The king doesn’t care either way. He gets all the resources back, he gets a new queen and most importantly he gets what we longed for all this time.”
“Yes. He longed for the power of our tribe for years. Now he gets a legitimate way to get it. He believes you to be a true demon, bent on destruction of the mankind, while he is bringing the light to the world. He is a much brighter and much more powerful existence than you. If some commoner from an edge family managed to get three powers, he can surely gain one.”
Leah scoffs at the idea. She knows how this will end. King Robert may be royalty, but he is not Val in origin. Whatever power his blue blood carriers it’s unlikely to resist the beast. I mean, my body had as little of the Val blood as any other outsider, and it didn’t resist the power. But my mind is immune to corruption, which made it impossible for the beast to take over. But him, with his twisted mind riddled with fear it will prove a disaster to drink the blood of a Val’Halla royalty. And yet he believes he will succeed. Truly that man is delusional in his judgments.
I still don’t understand a lot. Curious, I ask her a question about timing.
“So, why hasn’t the king already gotten the power? What is stopping him now?”
“It is all thanks to Eleanor. She talked about how Val people have to follow customs and how traditions are important. Her rite of passage has been decided upon, so the king cannot gain her blood until then. She also said that there is a trial to be taken, but killing a fiend should be enough, so the king is searching for you. You have until your thirteenth birthday to do something.”
That gives me little over half a year to prevent the Rite and stop the king. I don’t know why Eleanor decided to go against me, but I will find out soon enough, just a little patience is all that’s needed.
“This is a lot to take in. We need time to come up with a plan. Let’s go find Meriden.”
Leah stays quiet for a moment.
“That won’t be possible. She has already been apprehended by Lilith.”
“What? We have to go help her. The two of us can surely get her out!”
“I can’t help you and I will stop you from revealing yourself. I am the spymaster for the queen at the moment, I can’t do anything openly.”
I just stare at her wide-eyed.
“Believe it or not, the best place for an agent of rebellion is right beside the enemy. I won’t reveal anything about you being here, I don’t want the king to use Meriden as a hostage to lure you in. As far as he knows, Meriden ran away from you at some point after your journey began and just made her way here.”
Now the king has Meriden. This is too much. When the time comes I won’t hold back and I will rip the spine out of that fucking bastard. He will feel my wrath. Nobody get’s his hands on something that belongs to me. Nobody.
“So what do I do now? You say I can’t be in the capital and the Val tribes are against me, I can’t even…”
Something dawns on me right there. Something very-very important.
“Where is Elaya?”
“Elaya is safe. Once the commotion started I tried to get everyone away. She and Bella went away towards the elves, they are staying with Aedim. Until her education with the Star-Whisperers is done they are relatively safe. The king and the Val people are demanding for them to be given back, but the elves are resisting at the moment. They will need to get out in about two months. You should hide until then.”
“Hide? Shouldn’t I try to get everybody out? What about the Bloodborn? Are they safe?”
“I tried getting them out, but I was too late. Bella went with Elaya, Sonja with a handful of people escaped and now are the part of rebellion. They are hiding, hoping to do things from the shadows. The rest have been apprehended. And no, you shouldn’t meet with them, even amongst the rebels there are people who work for the crown. If the king learns about you, he won’t hesitate to use Meriden. Eleanor can influence him greatly, but she won’t be able to overrule him just yet.”
“Hmm. Then I go to the Val tribes. They have no leverage to use against me. There must be some people who can help me.”
“Zern, you shouldn’t. The Val tribes are somewhat peaceful, with only little disturbances amongst them. If you suddenly appear, nobody knows what will happen. The inner conflicts may come to the surface and there may be bloodshed.”
“It doesn’t matter, some of the elders there support me, I should be able to do something.”
“Zern, please don’t. The elders who support you are few in number. And the Warlord is set to capturing and executing you.”
“What, we have a Warlord now?”
“Yes, by decree of the Prime Matriarch, all military is to be lead by a single, most trusted person. She picked somebody, who was set on getting rid of you. He is… He despises you greatly and hopes to get his hands on you. You should avoid him by all costs.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have to do something.”
Seeing that I am set on going through with my idea, Leah sighs but says nothing. We sit there for a minute, sipping on what little of the ale we have left. Then she puts a circular stone the size of my palm, with runes and magical circuitry, on the table near me.
“Here is a whisper-stone. Aedim came up with it after spending time with the elves. There are only a handful, this one connected directly to me, so no one will overhear us. If you need to contact me, or if there are any new developments we can get in touch.”
Leah stands up, ready to leave, but then she leans forward and kisses me on the lips. This is out first kiss in the last four months. She savors it, trying to get every little bit from me, her tongue assaulting me. Then she breaks the contact slowly, a trickle of spit between us, looking into my eyes. I can see she wants to tell me more and she wants to keep me here, but she says nothing. She steps away, outside of the ward and says something. There is no sound, but her lips move. Be careful.
With that, she vanishes. I am left at the table with nothing but two empty tankards. The woman that served me looks my way with a hopeful glint in her eyes, but I don’t entertain the possibility of spending time with her. I get up, through some copper coins on the table and make way outside. There, using all the skills I have to mask my presence to the best of my abilities, I sneak out of the city and run to our camp. Nrogara, Eclaire and Flaer are confused by the absence of Meriden, I try to relay whatever I gained from my talk with Leah.
First, we plan, about a week should be enough. Next, we pay a visit home. It is bound to be interesting. Now, I sleep. I am exhausted physically and mentally, I need to come to terms with apparent betrayal of two of my intended. It’s not a simple thing to do after all we shared and lived through.