The sun burned with its usual fiery intensity, but its warmth was not. The midday winter chill reigned over it. Randol stood on the poop-deck; his hands gripping the wooden railing. His eyes lingered on the gathering clouds far on the northern horizon. Thought and foreboding, it crawled between the snow-capped Sentinel Mountain peaks. The clusters of mountains that stood between them and complete destruction. It was dark and foreboding in its vestige as it loomed over the port city on the sea’s edge.
“Don’t worry about Priscilla, Brother,” Desmond appeared behind him. “Cyril will watch over her.”
“You’re putting an awful amount of trust in her,” Randol commented despite not actually being what he was troubled by. “We’ve known her for less than a week.”
“And yet, you let her travel with us,” Desmond said. “You could have stopped her.”
“You stop her, then tell me how that goes,” Randol huffed.
“I’ll have that little girl do it,” Desmond half-joked. “She seemed quite attached to Priscilla.”
“You’re going to have to start addressing her less informally once we reach the capital,” Randol said. “We’re going back to where we belong. We should have never gone out there. We had no business out there.”
“We woke Cyril up, didn’t we?” Desmond said. “We brought an Angel back into the world. That has to count for something.”
“Remember when you were just a bit younger than Lady Hammel?” Randol asked as he turned Desmond. “You had told me you were delving into these ruins to prove to our Father that you could be brave?”
“Yes, what of it?” Desmond sighed.
“You said, if you could bring something to prove you worth, Father would praise you,” Randol said. “Maybe it’s time to rethink that stance.”
“Why?” Desmond asked curiously.
“Just like in those mountains,” Randol pointed north to the fading mountains. “A storm is brewing in the capital. I swear that I will try my best to keep you safe, but what happened out there… We both will have to answer for it… I don’t think you’ll ever have that chance to earn that praise.”
Desmond looked to the sky. Wisps of white clouds slid across the blue sky. He had long stopped trying to impress his Emperor Father. While Randol had been given training, royal armor and a sword; he’d been given a lonely Palace with a single servant. While Randol had earned the love of their country; Desmond had earned contempt. Randol had been given his seat in the Academy; Desmond had fought brain and nail to get in.
Despite his treatment, it still hurt to hear it from Randol. The brother who believed in family first.
“Do you think so?” Desmond said after a few moments.
“I do,” Randol said. “Father hasn’t stood in your way, but neither has he helped you. I’m not blind to how he views you… But I had hoped you could have earned merits on this trip. However… We failed. I may be spared, but…”
Desmond would not.
“Just like before, I’ll get through it,” Desmond said. “I always have.”
And I have Mai by my side now.
He thought of the poor girl confined to their cabin. They had paid good coin to sail to the capital, but that didn’t mean the crew would look fondly on her as a beast-woman. He also didn’t mention that Cyril had given him a gift to hand to his father. A priceless orb that’d earn him more praise than Randol could ever dream to earn. More than his other brother as well. He also seconded guessed if he even wanted that after all these years…
For the tenth time, Lord Gulley sighed. Priscilla swore that Cyril was just one more sigh away from tossing the Viscount over the wall. With each sigh, the air around her felt slightly warmer. This change hadn’t gone unnoticed by Bishop Luis either. He had a keener eye, and he brought up the rear. The man-made her feel uneasy with the way he watched Cyril with his hawk-like eyes.
“We will need more men here on the eastern gate.” Lord Gulley stated out loud for Bishop Luis as they approached the gatehouse. “I expect the church could accommodate these requests?”
As they approached the gatehouse, Cyril could already tell how undermanned it was. The two towers that encased it was empty. The Northern Gate, the route expected to be attacked, had four men on each tower. More where to be stationed within to rain arrows through the portholes in the masonry. Her assumption was vindicated when they stepped into it. They’d been greeted by the Knight-Captain who was in charge of the eastern part of the city.
“My Lord,” The Knight-Captain nodded his head.
“How many men do you have?”
“Less than five. I sent everyone else to reinforce the northern gate.” The Knight-Captain reported. “However, at the moment, only I and one other are on duty at the moment. I sent the others to rest. We’re going to try and be as rested as possible for tonight’s storm.”
“Good.” Lord Gulley said as he turned to Bishop Luis, but instead caught sight of the girls. His eyes sharpened with annoyance at the sight of them. He did admit they were quite beautiful girls, but he needed fighters.
“Yes?” Cyril asked defiantly.
“I require nothing from you at this time,” Lord Gulley stated with force. “Bishop Luis, will you have enough men to help man these weak points?”
“I believe I do.” The Bishop spoke up. “If not, I can leave the cathedral undefended. Should we lose the gates, it would not matter if I have five or ten.”
“Good,” Lord Gulley said before he ignored the hostile looks Cyril sent him and left the gatehouse.
When they exited it, Priscilla noted sun setting in the west. The sky was painted with streaks of golds, oranges, and tans. Streaked with slivers of white. To the north, the storm had already begun to roll down towards them. She estimated that it’d be here within a couple of hours at the soonest.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Bishop Luis said from behind
“Y-Yes!” Priscilla squeezed the words out.
That had turned Cyril’s attention away from glaring at the City Lord’s back. Her golden eyes, more brilliant than the hues of the setting sun, narrowed at them. Priscilla shot her a reassuring smile. However, it did the opposite.
“You go on ahead,” Cyril said to Priscilla.
“No, no. I’m fin–” Priscilla tried to reject, but Cyril shot her a look that conveyed that it was not a request, but a command.
Priscilla meekly nodded her head to Bishop Luis before she scampered past the Goddess. She quickly floated over to Lord Gulley, who’d been more than happy to entertain the young daughter of Viscount Hammel than the albino no name.
“What was your name again?” Cyril asked pointedly. “Leelu?”
“It’s Luis, Lady Cyril,” The Bishop nodded with a kind smile.
“Mmmm,” She acknowledged flatly as she followed after Priscilla, albeit, more slowly.
However, the Bishop had grown bolder and walked side by side with Cyril. When she peaked up at him, he still had that “kindly” smile of his. It made him look handsome in a way, but creepy in another. It conflicted with Cyril’s heart on how to treat him.
“So, Lady Cyril, where does one such as yourself have such beautiful eyes?” Bishop Luis asked as if he was just asking where to find a tasty snack.
“Had them,” Cyril stated as she looked at the tall buildings that rose around them.
“They say, Golden Eyes is the surest way of knowing if one is a God.” Bishop Luis said. “It’s nothing but wives tales and talk of the Beast-men. However, I’ve never met someone with such beautiful eyes. “
“An answer for an answer,” Cyril said as she kept an eye on the man while keeping an eye on Priscilla.
“Ask a question, and if I can answer, I will,” Bishop Luis said.
“Why was he nice in the first minute I met him, but he’s a total asshole now?” Cyril asked.
“Habit I suppose. Nobles often greet unknown parties who look like they have status,” The Bishop said. “However, Lord Gulley isn’t known for his mannerism rather than his ability in battle. That is why he gets along with Lady Hammel. Her Father, Viscount Hammel, is a renowned general – Warden of the East. He is friends with her father, though they have not met in such a long time. Not since Viscount Hammel retired to the Capital.”
“Mm.” Cyril was the only response she gave.
“Now that I’ve answered your question, will you answer my question?”
“Mayhaps,” Cyril answered with a grin.
The grin sent a chill up the man’s spine. The grin was similar to a certain insane dragon. He quickly pushed that thought away before he asked his question.
“How have you come to have such eyes?” Bishop Luis asked.
“My eyes have always been this way,” Cyril answered, her grin widening.
The resemblance was uncanny now. The air around him had cooled to a small gentle warmth. Like a warmth after eating a stew made with love. The two conflicting feelings boiling in him made him hesitate to press for a more specific answer. So, he stayed silent to sort it out.
Contrary to the feeling that began hover around the Goddess, Priscilla noted the raised tension in the air around the town. As the storm began to crawl slowly overhead, the warm colors of the evening were blotted out. Grey bloated clouds slithered overhead as fresh snow began to fall, pushed by a cutting breeze that snaked through the town. The few merchants that had defied the weather and set up shop had disappeared. The sparse foot traffic had long drained up as well.
Only the sound of distant brattle of armor joined the coming winds.
“Bishop Luis, do you have any suggestions to ease the ill atmosphere?” Lord Gulley asked once they had reached the Cathedral. It’s towering gothic architecture rose high as if it meant to pierce the storm clouds above.
“We could hold a mass prayer within the Cathedral,” Bishop Luis suggested. “Prayers to the one true god Alistair for protection.”
“Sounds good,” Lord Gulley nodded. “Let’s do that then. I’ll bring out food and drinks to help as well. I’ll have my patrols go door to door and tell the townsfolk to come.”
“Why don’t you put on a play?” Cyril asked Bishop Luis.
“We’re not speaking to you, Lady Cyril,” Lord Gulley barked. “You may have been left here by the First Prince, but I will not have you speak while the men talk.”
“Now now, my Lord,” Bishop Luis intervened. “She does have a good idea. Entertainment can distract from the current situation. I will consider it, Lady Cyril.”
Cyril only rolled her eyes before she walked up the Cathedral steps. As she did, she graced Lord Gulley with her middle finger.
“Insolent wench,” Lord Gulley snarled. “If that damn prince hadn’t left her, I’d have thrown her into the dungeons already for her words.”
“It’s fine, my Lord,” Bishop Luis gave a small smile. “She is a young woman, I’ll take care of her.”
He was used to this man’s fiery temper. Such was the way of warriors. They were good with sweet words and courtesies. Such things were quite easily taught. Now restraining one’s temper was another matter. Men of the sword were more intuned with their emotions than the average man in his experience.
“Very well, make sure she stays out of my way then,” Lord Gulley said before he turned to Priscilla. “Now, I’ll leave you with Bishop Luis, but give my regards to your father when you return home. I haven’t seen him for such a long time. Farewell, Lady Priscilla.”
Lord Gulley parted from them and headed off. Priscilla turned to Bishop Luis.
“I’m sorry for his temper,” Bishop Luis chuckled softly.
“I’m used to it,” Priscilla sighed, “My father has the same temperament.”
The two walked up the steps together as the fresh snow crunched underfoot. The day was darkening quickly as the sun disappeared, and its dying light was mostly swallowed by the clouds. All around them, the town had begun to darken and lanterns were being lit across the city to illuminate the streets.
At the top of the steps, Cyril had appeared. That playful look in her eyes had faded. There was a touch of worry in those golden pools. From where she stood, she could see over the wall of white that was crawling towards them.
“Do you believe prayers will help?” She asked as her eyes scanned the coming blizzard.
“Without a doubt, yes,” Bishop Luis said. “Why?”
“You better start praying…” Cyril said as her hand gripped Excalibur’s hilt and her eyes dropped to Priscilla. “You better get inside.”
Fenrir’s milky fur was a strange anomaly to Layla. With two large clumps in her hands, it hadn’t been as shaggy as she thought it would be for such a large wolf. For one that lived in the wilds, it also lacked any filth. Neither fleas, dirt, nor anything else was found with such close inspection. At least, not where her head had been pressed into the back of his head. It also felt pleasant on the skin.
Another discovery was that this wolf was muscular. Beneath that fur, powerful muscles fired off. And after what seemed like hours, it had become a comfort to know that this wolf had the strength to carry her safely away from the undead hordes behind them. It was something she should’ve come to expect. He was the mythical lion-sized wolf, Fenrir.
And this wolf needed her help. She’d been blessed by his mistress, and if the story was true, it’d been the Creator of the World that had heeded her call. The sheer gravity of that knowledge hadn’t sat well in her. Such things as “Why her?” or ” Why not?” Of all the bad in the world, why had she answered her? Another frightening thought was that this Goddess had imprinted herself on Layla.
By Fenrir’s words, this meant her blessing wasn’t a one-time thing. The initial power had faded from her, but it’d eventually come back once her body had acclimated to it.
(“I’m a priestess…”) Layla thought to herself.
This Cyril had made her priestess. She hadn’t asked for that kind of power, only the power to survive. What had also shaken her was that Fenrir had admitted that it may have been given by mistake. Layla just couldn’t believe that.
“You’ll see what I mean when you meet her.” Fenrir had said.
Layla had only been familiar with the vengeful demon god Hades to the north; his tendrils of corruption had seeped under the Sentinel mountains and created monsters on lands of light. Then there was the God of Light, Alistair to the west. Each played their little power games, and each was locked in an eternal battle. Each calculating and wise in their own regard, as the stories went. But an all-powerful Goddess that didn’t understand her own powers?
Had she inadvertently tied herself to an idiot…?
Amiss her thoughts, the wind began to turn violently around them. Layla looked back, startled by the sudden change. What greeted her was a wall of snow that began rose from between the mountains, somewhere on the outskirts of Quinn’s Wood. It had a stark resemblance to the dust storms of the Endless Sands of the south. In fact-
“Blizzard spell!” Fenrir snarled over the howling wind.
“That’s a fucking spell?!” Layla screamed. “That’s not a fucking blizzard spell, no one is powerful enough to raise a storm that large!”
“Any Demi-god and above can,” Fenrir said.
Layla kept her reply to herself. She had enough of these monstrous events being thrown at her one after another. She just needed one thing to just go right today…
“I’ll protect you,” Fenrir said as he picked up speed.
“Why would you do that?” Layla said into his ear.
“Because you’re one of hers now, and that makes you family,” Fenrir said. “Family is everything.”
She didn’t see it, but Fenrir smiled. They lurched forward as Fenrir began to pick up the pace. The storm brewed violently behind them as snow rose from the ground before tumbling down. It was a tsunami of snow that devoured the forest before it. It was not a natural storm at all, and that was what gave away what it was. A spell of death, coming for all.
Layla prayed the Creator since she was now a priestess, that Fenrir would hold himself to his word. Fenrir, however, felt his bond warm gently. A large X over his heart. A promise. A bond worth more than his life. A purpose. It was his love and hers…
Lahabiel stared off into the whiteness. A small smile fluttered on his lips as his vengeance was coming to fruition. While he could barely see beyond twenty paces, he could still feel his minions. He could still feel the tidal wave of snow. Like the snow that pricked his pale skin, anticipation pricked at his heart. It had taken quite a lot of souls to feed that weather spell. If it were just a simple white-out, he could have easily done it. What he wanted though was to pummel all those pesky humans.
The storm would claim all the lives in its path until it hit the city walls most likely. Then, his second in command would storm the city.
It was a crude plan and rested upon the snowstorm knocking the living off balance. Lahabiel wasn’t too concerned with its failure though. While he hadn’t seen the city on the beach, he doubted they had left the previous city that had been there. Too often did the humans like to build over their conquered lands. His draugr would find a way. If he didn’t, he was useless.
“My lord,” Commander Jogun appeared beside him. “I am ready.”
“Good,” Lahabiel said. “Take a quarter of the dead and storm the city. Raise any dead found on the way. Animals or humans, use everything.”
“I thank you for the chance to redeem myself,” Commander Jogun knelt.
“Redeem yourself, or die,” Lahabiel commanded before he turned away.
Reminded of Jogun’s failure to kill that mortal girl, the angel’s smile slid away. Lord Fenrir had intervened and spirited that girl away. The appearance of the Wise One had allowed several other mortals to escape as well. As frustrating as that was, they could not harm the wolf; even if they wanted too. He was their Creator’s most cherished souls. Without him attacking them first, he couldn’t point a sword, much less a finger, on the wolf.
With nearly six-hundred humans from the raided villages and surrounding homesteads, their army grew. This was bolstered by a few thousand dead goblins they found to the north, around some attacked keep. His undead army was nearly four thousand strong. Now that he had the power, and Jogun would add more to his army; Lahabiel turned his sights to the strong power churning to the South-East. It smelled of death, but life as well. He would grasp take this power and use it to wipe away these cursed humans…