A STORM GATHERS
The queen executes one of her royal subjects after he fails to murder a prince whom she once loved. “You foolish pigs! You have brought me the head of the wrong man!” “We have brought you the head of your prince, my queen,” the leader of the five robed men retorted. “That is not the man I sent you to fetch!” she hissed.
The fire in her chestnut eyes burned out and turned hollow. She flushed with anger and hurled the decapitated head at the five men dressed in black robes before her. A trail of blood and tissue streamed out the neck followed by a succession of crimson splatter as it tumbled across the marble floor.
“We traveled to a dangerous place where your great kings of old were laid to rest, and there we found the man you sought.”
“You dare defy me?” she screamed with malice. “You will not speak out of place!”
She stretched forth her arm and levitated the gallant leader whose body sprawled and stiffened. He could not even speak, as a malevolent force slowly compressed his throat. Beads of sweat blurred his vision, and his skin turned pale blue as he hovered several feet off the ground.
“And you will not fail me again.”
Then she turned him to stone…
The other four men prostrated their heads to the floor and trembled in fear. But the queen commanded them to stand.
“Return to the lands of our great kings and bring me the head of my prince, or I will purge these walls with your blood!”
Then she stretched out her arms and emitted a shockwave that hurled the four men across the cathedral. They quickly picked themselves off the floor and scurried into the darkness of the halls.
Before the queen could reach her chair, she heard someone call her name.
It echoed thru the otherwise silent and solemn throne room.
She lifted up her eyes to see an elderly man of small stature, dressed in a black robe and hood, slowly approach her, then lean on his cane.
“Why do you expect these men to find treasures that not even you can obtain?” the old man asked. “And they are not even trained in the dark shamanic arts as you are.”
“I am a queen, and you will address me as one, Matthias,” she growled. “You stand there accusing your queen of idle hands?”
“Times are different now, Nereza.” He shook his head in disappointment. “The prophecies of old are coming to pass in these final days, and we are the ones to usher in the new age – when we will rule the ends of the world once again. You cannot rely on your people.”
“The vampires are not my people.”
“They are still allies of the Disciples, who are our people, and we must respect that.”
“Respect a flock of incompetent vampires and deluded sorcerers?” she mocked.
“Do not slander our elders! Those great men foretold of when our king would return.”
“The king is dead, Matthias—”
“You will not dishonor the oracles!” Matthias contested.
“And you will not challenge me in my own house!” she screamed, and with a flick of her wrist she summoned out of thin air a wolfish demon of black fire and piercing white eyes. The beast charged after the old man as the tip of its tail left a faint path of smoke and embers. It opened up its jaws wide and lunged at Matthias. But without a second thought he struck the demon across its muzzle with his cane. It tumbled across the floor, leaving a trail of smoke and flame that quickly dissipated. It let out a final groan. Its tongue hung loosely out of its mouth, and then it died.
Matthias shifted his weight back onto his cane and let out a sigh.
“Do not test me, Nereza,” he spoke with command. “I am old – not weak – and it was I who taught you the summons. Never again. You will learn to restrain your powers, or I will restrain them for you.”
“You have exhausted your welcome, Matthias,” she said with defiance.
“I am your father now, and this is my house. You will heed my words.”
“Or else what – banish me to live among the wolves?”
“Once upon a time you fell in love with a wolf—”
“I will not hear of this!” she protested.
“Never mind it then,” he said with a dismissive gesture. “There are more pressing matters now, and we need the help of the vampires.”
“We don’t need their help, Matthias! We amassed the greatest powers even before the Arcanite Wars, and no man or demon has ever rivaled us since.”
“You do not know the legends, Nereza! You were not there in the time of the Old World when Aria’s Wall fell and the ark was taken!” Matthias growled, as two throbbing veins crawled alongside his neck. But he soon gathered his repose. “You are both ignorant and rash, Nereza. You do not know of the storm – the pain and torment that I endured of that storm.” Tears welled in his eyes, and he sniffled a couple of times. Then he softly wiped his face with his sleeve and exhaled.
“You never told me all the legends, did you, Matthias?” she asked after a long moment of silence. “What happened to my people in Aria?”
Matthias shook his head and coughed into the back of his hand.
“I know that there is unfinished business you have left to conduct with this other man,” he said. “But I need your help. What have you done with Sirius?”
“Sirius?” she looked puzzled. “He has been imprisoned for ten years.”
“Good. You must release him.”
“What? But he is a traitor.”
“That allegation is pending.”
“The council made their decision. Why would we free a mad shaman convicted of treason and murder?”
“He was wrongly convicted. I knew Sirius from the Old World, and I have found in my own private research no records of any sufficient evidence to convict this man of the crimes of which the council accused him.”
“You know that this is outside of my jurisdiction. I cannot release him.”
“I will seek the consent of the council. But for respect of your crown, I wanted to speak with you first, my queen, and you should know that I do not trust the vampires. They share a notorious history of deceit and betrayal, and they will doubtlessly cross us before the end.”
“Then why did the sages ever forge this alliance?”
“The vampires provide us leverage, Nereza. We can engage the final war against man with the powers of the vampires subdued. If we appease the gods, then they will endow us with conquest, and the vampires will ultimately submit.”
“I am not fit to be queen if supreme power necessitates this risk.”
“All power does.”
“If there are traitors among us, Matthias, then let it be neither you nor I.”
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