The three of them were sitting in the Emperor’s small council room. They had met initially to discuss important matters regarding the Empire, but now had strayed on to other topics. For some reason the Seer was absent and so the Emperor was looking through some ancient records from his own personal library, the Arch-Wizard was stuffing some more tobacco into his pipe, while the Chancellor just sat there staring into space, an activity he was prone to doing.
“How long has our Empire existed, do you think? The official line that it has always existed, and always will, but I know it is less than 2000 years according to these records.” the Emperor asked.
“It’s hard to say, sire. At one point we were individual cities, and then a kingdom, and then an empire. I don’t know what year we finally saw ourselves as an empire in our own right. The records tend to be inexact about it, if the truth be told.” the Arch-Wizard replied as he lit his pipe and began exhaling smoke over the desk they all sat around.
“Haven’t we always been an empire? I can’t imagine the world ever existing without us.” the Chancellor replied dreamily.
“I know the official line is that one of the Lords of the World came over from across the sea and founded our empire when the world began, but I have cause to believe that isn’t the truth. I know this idea is invoked to make my subjects believe that the rest of the world is destined to be ruled by us, and this is convenient when I need to ask the nobles for funds when I want to invade other kingdoms, but this idea is not borne out if you look through the records. In fact, I think this idea is only a few generations old and was created by a former Emperor.” the Emperor told them.
“Well it is a great way to make everyone obedient to the Emperor’s authority, but yes I doubt also that is is the truth.” the Arch-Wizard agreed.
“What about the tigers?” the Chancellor suddenly asked.
“Tigers?” the Arch-Wizard clarified. “What do you mean?”
“When the world was still young there were two tigers that came across the first humans, and they liked them so much they decided to help defend them from all other predators in the area, and so the humans survived, and they were the founders of our Empire.” the Chancellor said. The Emperor looked at him with his mouth wide open.
“I’ve never heard that before.” the Emperor eventually said.
“I have sire, but I didn’t think anyone actually believed it was real.” the Arch-Wizard added. “The Two Tigers. It’s an old folktale, which originally came from another land I believe.”
“Okay, so how do you think our Empire began?” the Chancellor asked challenging the Arch-Wizard.
“Well if you go down to the lower levels of the Imperial Library it’s all there in the old histories. Our empire wasn’t always an empire. In fact we were once part of another empire called Strasal.” the Arch-Wizard revealed.
“Strasal? But they’re a small province of our empire!” the Chancellor replied incredulous.
“Yes but they were once a mighty empire that then went into decline and our own empire grew from it’s remains, as did others, like Karhrei, which is also now a province of our empire. If you go even further back, there are hints of an empire existing before Strasal, though it’s name is now lost. Empires seem to grow and then go into decline, and maybe even ours will do that one day. It is the way of things.” the Arch-Wizard explained. The Chancellor looked at him mortified.
“I wonder what the Seer would have said.” the Emperor used.
“He probably would have said something like all three explanations were true, and that the Chronicler just changed reality each time, or something just as enigmatic.” the Arch-Wizard replied sarcastically.
“You honestly believe that one day in the future our beloved empire may no longer exist?” the Chancellor asked in disbelief, still thinking about the Arch-Wizard’s words.
“Yes I do. Nothing lasts for ever in this world. If you ever had bothered to study history, you would understand that.” the Arch-Wizard replied as he blew smoke into the Chancellor’s face.. The Emperor smiled and brought a map onto the table.
“On that note, maybe we should grab what we can when we can!” the Emperor declared as he unrolled the map and began rubbing his hands together excitedly…
This is a Durn story that came out of nowhere. As this setting has existed in various forms since I was a child, this story went through the various different creation ideas the Empire, or Tigreralat as it is also known, went through.
Caelynn put the silver tiara on her head and looked at herself admiringly in the looking glass. She wore a green silk dress that sparkled whenever she moved, along with silver slippers that arced minute tendrils of lightning.
“I never thought I’d ever become a princess.” Caelynn said as she gazed at her reflection.
“Now you’re going to be more insufferable than ever.” remarked Meela, who was sitting on her bed examining the former Queen’s white crystal wand that Caelynn had found on the beach after the Queen had vanished.
They were both now in Caelynn’s new bedchamber in the Sun Palace of Larantel. After the Queen had disappeared and discoveries become known of every thing she had done, the nobles of the realm elected a new monarch from one among them. They chose Caelynn’s father, Alcarin, to be the new King of Larantel, despite the scandal he had been involved in. He was chosen because he had been one of the few who had actually stood up to the Queen and tried to inform the other nobles of things she was doing in their names. Once he was elected King, Alcarin had chosen the Sun Palace as his seat of residence. So for the last few weeks they had all been busy moving their many possessions from their family residence to their new Royal Palace. Even Meela had helped ferry their belongings in her new airship.
Tonight was the Coronation, and Caelynn was getting dressed to attend it. Even her older brothers were going to be there. Meela had been invited to attend, and so she uncharacteristically had decided to go. Not that she had fine clothes to wear to it. She always figured she could borrow some of Caelynn’s clothes, so long as they weren’t too girly…
“So my father told me he’s offered you the position of Royal Adviser.” Caelynn stated.
“And I’m going to turn it down.” Meela stated.
“But if you accept it, we can stay here together.” Caelynn said in a disappointed tone.
“It’s not my thing. I like being in command of my own ship sailing through the clouds. I just wouldn’t enjoy it here.” Meela informed her. “I would get bored eventually, and come to resent it.”
“That means we’re going to be apart!”
“If you ever need me, I’ll always come back to you.” Meela replied.
“But it’s not the same!” Caelynn pouted at Meela’s words.
She hadn’t told Meela that she had died on the day of the Battle of Durn, though she knew Meela strongly suspected it. She also hadn’t told her that it had been Lafalin, or Bran as Meela called him, who had brought her back to life, and she would only survive for a few more years. She didn’t know how to tell Meela any of that, so she had kept it a secret. She wanted Meela to be with her, for however much time she had left. As she was now a princess of the realm, it wouldn’t be done for her to sail off with pirates. It would be a huge scandal in the Court, and for her father. But if Meela didn’t stay with her here, then they wouldn’t have much time left together.
Many things had happened in the weeks following the Battle of Durn. Justinian was crowned the new Emperor of Tigreralat. He promised reforms and instantly called a truce with Yastell. He also recognised Loro-Don as a free city. Meela, however, was still a fugitive and blamed for the Emperor’s death. Meela quite happily took this blame, as it gave her notoriety as a pirate an even greater boost. The Arch-Wizard was reinstated to his position, and one night when the Seer was looking into the flames he called out his assistant’s name. Ana found him lying dead on the floor, and following tradition, she became the new Seer.
Everything seemed to be coming right, which made Meela feel even more suspicious that maybe they had all missed something, and there was about to be some terrible cataclysm, but she didn’t voice these fears and kept them to herself. Whatever may happen in the future, she hoped they would all be up to the challenge.
That evening Meela attended the Coronation of King Alcarin, and after spending the night with Caelynn, she took leave of her and sailed away with the rest of her crew in her new flagship. Caelynn cried, and then went silent for a few days.
Some time later, Alcarin went looking for his daughter who hadn’t turned up to an event she had been expected to attend. He looked for her everywhere. She wasn’t in the stables, or the gardens, and so he went up to her bedchamber. He found she wasn’t there either, but the window was open, and in the far distance he could see an airship sailing away…
Omnia vincit amor: et nos cedamus amori
That’s the last of my ongoing serials for the year. I hope you enjoyed both Durn, and My Life In Darkness.
There are several ideas, such as the Shadow World (or Shadow-realm as the Elves call it), the Queen’s ultimate fate, and Caelynn’s short life expectancy, that all point to an eventual sequel.
Next year I plan to start a new story beginning in the second week of January, all going well. It will be called Journey of the Sorcerer, and is set in the same world as Sky-Pirates of Durn, but set around a thousand years before. So it’s a sort of prequel, I guess.
Caelynn was in a dark tunnel. She walked along it and saw a figure before her.
“Where am I?” she asked them.
“You’re in the space between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead.” he replied.
“What if I keep going forwards?’ she asked.
“Then you join your ancestors and the affairs of the Land of the Living will no longer concern you.”
“Can I turn back?” she asked.
“No.” he replied. “But there is a way back.”
Caelynn looked at the figure. She could see him more clearly now. He had long blond hair and green eyes, and reminded her of Meela, in a way. She then came to the realisation of who he was.
“So it’s true you’re dead? No one was really sure.”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” he winked at her. “My great niece has already lost one lover. It will destroy her, if she loses you too. It was brave, but foolish what you did. You had the best intentions I know, but if you had waited just a few minutes it wouldn’t have been necessary. Meela needs you. The Queen is coming.”
“You said there was a way back?” she asked him.
“I can send you back, but there is a caveat.” he declared. Caelynn rolled her eyes.
“There always is.”
“The magic I use will eventually run out. You may have a few years, but one day you will die for real, and there will be no bringing you back after that.” he told her. Caelynn nodded at his words.
“Asden was my fight. The Queen is yours, and Meela’s.” he stated.
“But how do we defeat her? She is more powerful than anyone.” Caelynn wondered aloud. The figure smiled at her.
“You’ll figure it out.”
Caelynn awoke in Meela’s arms. Meela was holding her tightly and weeping loudly. They were on the beach.
“You’re crushing me!” Caelynn complained. Meela let go of her in surprise.
“I thought you were dead!” exclaimed Meela.
“I must have been unconscious.” Caelynn lied. Meela looked as though she didn’t really believe her, but then she suddenly grabbed Caelynn in her arms again.
“I’m so glad you’re alive. I thought I had lost you!”
“Yes I know.” Caelynn replied as she looked behind them. “Meela, we have a problem.”
“What?” Meela asked. She looked around and saw what Caelynn was referring to.
Behind them stood the Emperor and a number of guards, all of them with their weapons drawn.
“Well well! If it isn’t Meela Starblazer, the feared pirate herself! We meet at last! You were foolish to come here on your own. And now you’re my prisoner too.” Meela grabbed her staff and stood up confronting him.
“I don’t think so!” she waved her arms and a wall of force hit all the Emperor’s guards before her. They were thrown backwards into the sea, leaving the Emperor standing there alone. “Your move?” she raised an eyebrow at the Emperor. He suddenly looked around terrified.
“If you harm me, you place yourself in grave danger!’ he threatened. Meela laughed.
“There is no threat behind your words. Your armies have been defeated in Yastell. You are the one in grave danger.” Meela informed him.
“Lies! I would have been told if my forces in Yastell were in peril.” he said backing away, looking unsure.
Meela could see the other airships approaching. She moved forward and smacked the Emperor in the head with her staff. He fell over into the sand. Caelynn finally stood up and joined Meela.
“Is he dead?” she asked.
“No. Just unconscious. I don’t think he deserves to die quickly.” Meela responded. She looked up. “Oh look I’ve got a brand new airship!” She climbed up the rope ladder and Caelynn followed her.
“He’s only part of the problem. It’s the Queen of Larantel that’s behind it all. She trained Asden, and was preparing to have the Emperor become undead so he would rule the Empire forever with her pulling the strings. She’s also the one that enabled the Shadow-realm to send their shadow monsters to Yastell.” Caelynn told her.
“Ugh, I was wondering who was behind it all. I didn’t realise it was the Queen. I wouldn’t have left you at Larantel if I had known.” Meela replied looking down at her.
“I realise that, but we will have to work out how to deal with her at some point.”
They came aboard the Emperor’s airship. A startled crew looked at them both.
“Who are you?” asked the Captain, once he saw Meela.
“My name is Meela Starblazer, and I’m commandeering this airship.” Meela stated.
The captain was a tall man with dark hair and a full beard. He wore a dark blue and gold uniform. Upon hearing Meela’s words he unsheathed his cutlass and strode towards Meela and Caelynn.
“Over my dead body!” he said. Meela unsheathed her rapier.
“That’s the idea!” she replied.
The captain drove forwards with his blade and Meela deflected his thrust and counterattacked slashing at his body with her rapier. He dodged out of the way of her attack and then lunged forwards. Meela managed to deftly step aside and then thrust her rapier into his sword arm. He let out a short grunt and then wildly stabbed at Meela, missing her by quite a margin.
“First blood to me!” Meela exclaimed.
“No girl is going to beat me in a sword fight!” the captain roared.
He moved so the main mast was between them. He lunged towards her and Meela dodged out of the way and then thrust her rapier towards him from the other side of the mast, only narrowly missing him. She pushed forward making him move away. He slashed his cutlass and Meela was unable to fully get out of the way of it and the blade bit into her side just below her chest. The captain smiled grimly at her. Meela responded by lunging forwards and impaling her rapier into his leg. He let out a short scream and tried pulling his leg away, but Meela was too quick and pulled her rapier out before it was yanked out of her grasp. Meela could feel blood trickling down her shirt. She jumped on top of the capstan. The captain drove his cutlass at her, but she dodged it and then her rapier slashed his face. He dropped to the ground screaming. His face had a long deep cut down it from forehead to chin that was gushing out blood. He dropped his sword and covered his face with his hands. One of the crew quickly came over to him and applied some cloth to the wound.
Meela, still on top of the capstan, looked at the crew who had been watching the sword fight. They all looked startled.
“My name is Meela Starblazer and I’m taking over this ship. I want you to help me fly this to the gate. Once we are finished with everything here, we can sail to a port and any of you will be free to go and rejoin the Empire’s fleet, if you so wish. However, if you wish to still crew this ship afterwards, you are welcome to stay. I’m a fair captain and I know I need you all to fly this airship. so you will find me quite reasonable to work for. If you don’t wish to take part then I will lock you in the hold and release you once we get to port. Please make your decision now!” Meela said to them all.
The crew looked at each other for a moment and most of them resumed their duties. A few went ended up in the hold, along with the captain.
“Set sail to the gate!’ Meela commanded. The crew got everything ready and the rope ladder was hoisted up. Then they resumed sailing towards the gate. Meela took the wheel and noted the other Imperial airships had almost caught up with them and were now following closely behind. Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard, still with his hands restrained, came up to her.
“You’re wounded!” Caelynn observed. Meela’s white shirt was now distinctly growing red on her left side.
“It’s just a scrape along the ribs. I’ve had worse.” Meela stated nonchalantly.
“Be that as it may, we need to bandage it.” Caelynn insisted.
“Okay!” Meela replied. She removed her shirt and the top under it. She stood there topless while Meela wove a bandage around her chest. Some of the crew sneaked a look at Meela while she was being attended to. “Stick to your duties! No lollygagging!” Meela then noticed Caelynn’s hand as she bandaged her. “What happened to your hand?”
“I ended in the dungeons of the Emperor’s palace. The torturer tried to get me to talk, by removing my nails. It was incredibly painful.” Caelynn responded. Meela softly took hold of her hand.
“Had I known, I would have done anything to free you. Now I wish I really had killed the Emperor!” Meela stated.
“Luckily the Arch-Wizard found me in time, and managed to free me, though we still got caught in the end. I didn’t tell them anything.” Caelynn told her. Meela nodded at the the Arch-Wizard, who smiled back at her.
“Good thing I’ve got him on my side! If you’re ever in that position again I would understand if you told them everything. I would rather have you alive and in one piece than mutilated or dead. No information you have is worth risking your life, even if it means you’re giving me up.” Meela stated.
“At least in the end, I didn’t tell them anything. I wanted you to know that.” Caelynn responded. Meela hugged her again.
They sailed towards the gate still being chased by the remaining Imperial ships. After fixing-up Meela as best she could, Caelynn then tried to pick the locks of the Arch-Wizard’s restraints. Having done it before, she now found it easier to unlock them. She then stared uneasily at the oncoming magical gate.
“Do you think the enchantment is still holding?” Caelynn asked Meela.
“I don’t know.” Meela replied. “Take my hand!” Caelynn held onto Meela’s left hand. Wincing slightly. Again, she could feel the familiar pulsing they felt whenever they touched.
They sailed up to the gate and the air began shimmering around them, and then they were through. Before them lay the fleet of airships from Loro-Don, Meela’s ship, and behind them all, the dragon who was hovering with them. Caelynn’s mouth gaped open. She pointed at the dragon.
“There’s a dragon there!” she stated.
“I know. I’ll introduce you sometime.” Meela responded. “Bring her round!”
Meela signaled Bronwyn on the Crimson Vengeance to follow her. The ship turned and then began going through the gate again. This time the fleet and the dragon followed them through into Durn.
The Imperial fleet that was still travelling towards the gate were surprised to see their former flagship, which they had been chasing, come back through the gate towards them, but this time with many other airships following in its wake, along with a dragon.
“To starboard!” the captain on the leading Imperial ship commanded his crew. “Fire all cannons!”
A broadside was fired at all the advancing airships.The other Imperial ships followed suit and also fired their cannons at the airships. The prows of the oncoming ships took a lot of damage from the cannon fire, along with several foremasts lost. They continued moving forwards.
“Over to port!” ordered Bronwyn on board the Crimson Vengeance. The airship went to the left until all it’s guns on the port side faced the enemy ships. The other airships began doing the same. “Fire!”
Broadsides were fired this time at the Imperial ships which were facing them. Cannon fire ripped through the starboard side of their ships taking out cannons and masts. The Imperial ships returned fire, though they were now heavily outnumbered. The dragon breathed fire on one of the Imperial ships incinerating it in an explosion of fire. After a few salvos from both sides, the Imperial ships suffering the greater damage began to disengage, trying to flee.
While this battle occurred, Meela got the crew to get their ship away from the cannon fire. They sailed down underneath the ships until they were safely out of the battle zone and heading towards Durn. As they got nearer both Meela and Caelynn could still see the body of the Emperor lying on the beach.
“None of the other ships bothered collecting him.” Caelynn observed.
“I know. Maybe they thought he was dead, or were too focused on chasing us instead. We should pick him up. He would make a useful prisoner.” Meela stated.
The airship sailed back to the beach. When they had arrived where the Emperor still lay, Meela got the airship to hover. Caelynn and her went down the rope ladder leaving the Arch-Wizard in command of the ship. Caelynn examined the body and looked surprised.
“But he’s dead! I thought you had only knocked him out.” Caelynn stated as she knelt by the body.
“Yeah I didn’t think I had killed him.” Meela agreed. She walked over to Caelynn.
“That’s because I killed him you silly girl!” said a voice.
Meela and Caelynn both looked up. There standing on a sand dune was the Lynarin, the Queen of Larantel. She wore a long black dress detailed with threads of silver and gold. She was smiling.
“Why did you kill him?” Caelynn asked.
“I had to start the process some time. Now seemed as good as ever.” the Queen revealed.
“You mean so he can be turned into a revenant?” Caelynn asked angrily.
“Yes.” she confirmed. “Now how come every time I send you to Salané, you always wind up being somewhere else?”
“This had nothing to do with me. The Emperor brought me here against my will.” Caelynn told her.
“How did you get here?” Meela asked the Queen.
“Why if it isn’t the half-human pirate girl? Nice to meet you at last, Meela. Like you, I teleported here.” the Queen informed her. “I’m very impressed you managed to do that by the way.”
“Are you now?” replied Meela, unimpressed with her manner. “The Empire has been defeated, along with all your plans. I suggest you surrender to us.” As soon as Meela said that, the Queen looked at her with surprise, and then laughed out loud.
“You may have won the battle, but the war isn’t over. There is still plenty I can do.” She replied. “Indeed the best thing for me to do right now is to get rid of both of you.”
The Queen raised her hands and fired a bolt of dark energy at the two of them. Meela, remembering her dream when she was injured in Yastell, instinctively grabbed hold of Caelynn’s hand. The bolt seemed to hit some force field around them and it’s energy dissipated. Surprised and confused, the Queen fired another bolt at them, this time it was with sonic energy and the air rippled around it. Again it met the same result hitting the shield protecting Meela and Caelynn.
“On my mark, now!” said Meela, and both of them fired a lightning bolt together at the Queen. The lightning bolt hit her and she was thrown back over the sand dune. She stood up looking shaken. She pulled out a white crystal wand.
“If I can’t touch you with my magic, then I’ll just summon some shadow monsters to eat you both!” she threatened. She flicked her wand and a portal began opening up.
“Can you open a portal in a pocket dimension?” Caelynn asked Meela.
“I don’t know, but it does seem to be happening.” Meela replied, preparing to deal with whatever came through the portal.
The portal opened and large tentacles began coming out of it. The Queen laughed loudly. To everyone’s surprise the thick black tentacles suddenly wrapped themselves around the Queen and pulled her into the portal with it. The last thing they heard was the Queen suddenly screaming, and then the portal closing with a loud snap. The Queen was gone, and Meela and Caelynn were left alone on the beach.
“That was like watching a trapdoor spider catch some prey.’ Meela mused.
“What just happened?” Caelynn asked confused. Meela breathed inwards.
“Well, my guess is the Queen promised all sorts of jewels, precious metals, and gems from Yastell to the Lord of the Shadow World for his help, and when he didn’t get it, he decided on another form of payment.” Meela surmised.
“So that’s it? She’s gone?” Caelynn asked.
“I would say so.”
“The Emperor’s dead and the Queen is now a prisoner in the Shadow-realm. It’s all over. We won.” Caelynn said disbelievingly.
“I would say so!” she said. “And I’ve got a new flagship!”
Meela looked up admiringly at the gleaming new airship she had taken. Above they could see the remaining Imperial airships being chased down by their own fleet.
A large bronze dragon flew overhead and then landed not far from them. The dragon then transformed into a man and walked towards them both.
“That’s Rhaeldur. He calls me granddaughter, but I think he’s really an ancestor.” Meela informed Caelynn.
Rhaeldur strode up and smiled. He looked Caelynn over.
“It looks like everything has worked out for the better.” he said.
“Yes it does. This is Caelynn my girlfriend. Caelynn, this is Rhaeldur.” Rhaeldur nodded his head at Caelynn, while Caelynn found herself bowing to him.
“I’ll leave you two females alone. Just remember, should you ever need my help in the future, just call out.” He told them smiling.
“I will.” Meela replied. And then he was gone. Both Meela and Caelynn looked around, but he was no longer there. “How strange.”
“Well I guess it’s just us two now.” Caelynn said.
Meela wrapped her arms around Caelynn and they kissed for a long time.
Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard sat in the hold of the Emperor’s airship. Both of them had their hands in chains, and were also chained to one another. They had sat here for over two days now and Caelynn guessed they were getting close to Durn. She sat there in disillusionment wondering if Meela was still alive. She would know when they got to the gate that seperated Durn from the rest of the world. If it didn’t open, then Meela had probably been swallowed by a shadow monster. Caelynn wondered how things had gone so terribly wrong for them, and for the world.
She continued picking away at the locks of the chains around her hands with a shard of metal she had found. So far, these locks were proving difficult to open. At least they had only used regular chains this time and not the cold iron they had used when transported her from Larantel’s Star Palace to Salané. Those had been so painful she wasn’t able to pick them at all, let alone do much else. The Arch-Wizard was casually watching her.
“Has Meela been teaching you how to unpick locks?” he asked her.
“No, my father did.” Caelynn replied. The Arch-Wizard raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“And why would a Lord of Larantel teach his daughter how to pick locks?”
“He thought having a good range of skills was ideal for a young female noble going out into the world.” she explained.
“Unfortunately these locks almost seem impossible to open.” she put down the metal shard and sighed. There was a small window to her right that let in some light. All she could see out of it was blue sky and clouds.
“These locks are built to be fiendishly difficult to unlock without their key. They’re even magic-proofed, so you or I can’t use an Unlock spell. They’re top quality locks created by the dwarves, I think.”
“Still, it give me something to focus on. If I don’t try to do this then my mind wanders to what we’re all facing.” Caelynn admitted.
“Things may seem grim now, but we have no real idea what the future holds, and how everything will play out. Things can always change for the better, even when you least expect it. So don’t give into despair yet!” the Arch-Wizard cautioned.
Caelynn wanted to believe him, and she was doing all she could to not lose herself to a deep black well of grief and sorrow, but she couldn’t see how it could get better. Not now. Yastell was probably lost by now, and so the Emperor would go on ruling the Empire forever while using Yastell’s wealth to conquer whatever was left of the world with the Queen pulling his strings, and the Shadow-realm slowly turning the world to darkness. A darkness that would last forever. In her mind, it was virtually all over.
“How long have you been in league with Meela?” Caelynn asked the Arch-Wizard to drive the thoughts from her mind.
“Some time. When the Emperor first revealed plans for invading Yastell, I noticed he was becoming unhinged. Over time it became more noticeable. I reached out to Meela through my contacts in Loro-Don, as I felt she was someone who could unite opposition against him. I gave her the information about where to attack the Empire’s airship fleet, which was a great success for her, though I understand it was costly, but in the long run it’s meant the Empire hasn’t had quite the air support it’s needed to be dominant in Yastell. Not that it matters with what’s being used down there now.”
The door opened and in came two guards. They walked over to Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard and stood them up on their feet.
“The Emperor wants you both on deck.” one of them said.
Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard found themselves shuffling down a passageway together with guards on either side of them.They went up some stairs and came out onto the deck of the airship. Both of them blinked in the sunlight. It was so bright out here compared to the dingy hold they had been in the last few days.
“Well, if it isn’t the two traitors!’ the Emperor said looking down from the main deck. The guards pushed Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard up the stairs so they joined the Emperor and his men.
“You wanted to see us?” Caelynn asked belligerently. The Emperor ignored her.
“We’re getting close to Durn, according to the map. So I thought I would let the two of you watch us go through the gate.” the Emperor informed them.
Caelynn could see a fleet of airships flying behind them. Looking around she reckoned they were getting close to Durn now. When they got to the gate, she would know if Meela was still alive. Her heart began beating fast. The airship moved onwards and suddenly there was a shimmering light all around them and then there was only a world of sea and a small island in the distance. Meela was still alive, and that gave Caelynn a smidgen of hope, though she could be a prisoner, or on the run.
“There it is.” said Caelynn. “The small island you seek.”
“Are there any other lands in this dimension?” the Emperor asked her.
“Meela explored it as much as she could and said she never found any other islands or land masses. It’s just empty sea going on forever in all directions, as far as I know.” Caelynn informed him. The Emperor grunted in response. “So why are you so obsessed about finding Durn? Meela and all her crew are all in Yastell. There’s a small base and a village and that’s all that’s there.”
“Is there not also a tower that Asden built?” the Emperor asked.
“Yes, but it’s crumbling into ruins. I had a look around it and there was nothing there.” Caelynn replied.
“Not if you know where to look. That tower is the reason I wanted to find Durn. According to the Queen, Asden left some items there I would very much like to find.” he revealed.
Caelynn was skeptical. She was pretty sure there was nothing left in there, not unless he was wanting the journals that Meela had found and had hidden away somewhere…
The airships slowly sailed over Durn. Caelynn could see the buildings that Meela and her crew had built for a base on the island. They looked deserted now. As they continued on Caelynn saw the small fishing village that had been there even before Asden had hidden the entire island into its own dimension. She could see villagers in the streets looking up at them. Further away she could see fishing boats out at sea. As they got nearer the hills, Caelynn finally caught glimpses of Asden’s tower; a black broken tower crumbling and falling in on itself. Eventually the fleet came to a stop above the ruins.
They unlocked the chains between Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard, so they could move more easily, though their hands remained chained together. The Emperor, Caelynn, the Arch-Wizard, and a number of guards were lowered to the tower. Caelynn, who had already been in the tower, did not particularly want to go in there again, but this time she had no choice. They entered through the large open doorway into a black chamber. The guards carried torches, but even the light from them didn’t seem to light the place entirely, there always seemed to be dark shadows lingering and even moving in the corners. Once she entered, Caelynn immediately felt the cold air probing her body again. She began shivering. It didn’t just feel like cold air touching her, but remnants of some black evil trying to do infiltrate her defences.
The Emperor took the stairs that wound downwards into an inky blackness. Everyone followed him. The further down they went, the greater the feeling of evil and coldness Caelynn perceived. Eventually the stairs ended and they came to the bottom of the tower. The Emperor looked around the walls, as though he was searching for something.
“How do you know Asden left anything here?” Caelynn asked him.
“Because your Queen told me. There is some knowledge that Asden uncovered that is vital to find if I’m going to proceed with all my plans. The Queen told me that Asden left what I need to know here. This is why I needed to find Durn.” the Emperor revealed.
“And you think it’s still here after all this time?” Caelynn asked.
“Of course! It was left here undisturbed. Who else knows of it? The peasants in the fishing village? I think not.” the Emperor replied.
To a sudden yelp of surprise, the Emperor uncovered a hidden panel and opened it. He pushed a lever and a hidden door to their left suddenly opened. They all filed in to find some more narrow stairs leading downwards into the dark. Caelynn felt as though they were going down into the very bowels of the earth. The stairs finally came to a small chamber. There was a table and some shelves. Against the wall stood a long blackened staff. The Emperor grabbed it and then suddenly let it go and rubbing his hand as though he had just been burnt.
“My lord it is not a good idea to suddenly grab another wizard’s staff. There might be hidden enchantments within it designed to protect it from theft, whether the wizard is still alive or not.” the Arch-Wizard advised.
“Be quiet! I’d rather not listen to the bleating of a traitor!” the Emperor spat back at him. “When we get back to Salané, both you and the lady will be beheaded in the city’s square. That’s what I do to traitors! Luckily the pirate will probably already be dead by then.”
Caelynn felt those words like a thud in her chest. She couldn’t face the world with Meela gone. The Emperor continued looking around the chamber. He looked at the remains of books on the shelves and searched through the drawers and cupboards, all the while muttering to himself.
“Is there a problem?” the Arch-Wizard asked, beginning to smile darkly at him.
“I can’t find them! They’re meant to be here!” the Emperor replied angrily.
“Find what?” Caelynn asked.
“Asden’s journals and notebooks. They’re meant to be here!” As soon as said that, Caelynn knew Meela had already taken what he was looking for. Obviously she had found this room too. The Emperor stopped suddenly and looked at Caelynn. He walked up to her. “You’ve been here before! What did you do with them?” he screamed at her as he began shaking her roughly.
“I never found this room. I never took anything from here!” Caelynn responded.
“Leave her alone!” the Arch-Wizard commanded. The Emperor suddenly let go of Caelynn and looked over to the Arch-Wizard in fury.
“No one orders me! I’m the Emperor!” He shouted at the Arch-Wizard. “Guard, draw your sword.” One of the guards drew their sword.
“Be very careful what you do.” the Arch-Wizard said quietly. The Emperor ignored him and turned to face Caelynn.
“Unless you tell me what you did with Asden’s journals, your friend here will die!” the Emperor threatened. The guard held the sword up to the Arch-Wizard’s throat.
“I’ve never seen them!’ Caelynn replied truthfully.
“Okay guard, kill the Arch-Wizard.” the Emperor ordered. The guard began to swing his sword.
“No wait! Meela’s got them!” Caelynn confessed. The guard stopped suddenly. “I’ve never seen them, but Meela told me she found them here. I think she’s hidden them in an extra-dimension.”
“Meela has them.” the Emperor repeated hatefully. He looked thoughtful. “I’ll have to get word to my commanders in Yastell to search her airship. There’s nothing else we can do here. Let’s go!’
Caelynn was thankful they were leaving this horrible place. She hated this tower. She hated the way it made her feel. The way the cold dense air closed in on her and chilled her to the bone. It was a long walk up the stairs, but once they were outside again she felt relieved to be in the light again breathing fresh air.
When they were back on board they set sail for the gate. The Emperor decided to keep Caelynn and the Arch-Wizard on deck still while they all still had to travel through the gate. Once they got back on the airship, unknown to all of them, Caelynn had begun trying to prise the lock open again, and while they were still traveling over Durn, she heard a click. She had managed to succeed in unlocking the chains around her hands. She tired concealing it as best she could. While doing this, she noticed the Emperor was gazing at her hatefully.
“When we get back to Salané, both you and the Arch-Wizard will stand trial for your crimes of treason and espionage. You will be found guilty. It’s over for you, and if Meela somehow survives she will stand trial too. Yastell is mine, and so will be the rest of the world, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop this.” the Emperor declared. Caelynn gazed down at the ground below.
“No. Your influence over the world is at an end. Your ability to terrorise the rest of us is over. You and your men will stay trapped here in Durn, grow old, and die.” Caelynn said simply. The Emperor laughed out loud.
“What makes you think so?” he sneered at her.
“I’m sorry.” she said to the Arch-Wizard.
Then to everyone’s shock, Caelynn broke free from her restraints and jumped over the side of the ship falling down to the ground below. The Emperor rushed to the side of the ship to see Caelynn’s body splayed on the beach, like a broken doll.
“No!!!” he screamed out.
Meela was at the helm of the Crimson Vengeance. Behind her was a fleet of airships that had survived the Battle of Tarsakh, and behind them was a large dragon gliding along with the fleet. They had gotten to where the gate to Durn was supposed to be, but nothing had happened. A feeling of panic was rising in Meela. Her heart was beating loudly and a sick feeling was in her stomach. If the gate wasn’t working, it only meant one thing.
“No!” Meela screamed out to the surprise of her crew.
She wasn’t powerful enough to open the magical gate on her own and so was going to have to try something she had never done before, something she wasn’t even sure would work, but there was no other choice: she would have to directly teleport into Durn. She had never teleported into another dimension before, and all she knew about it was that it wasn’t advisable under any circumstances. Meela grabbed her staff and decided to focus not on Durn, but on Caelynn instead. Standing there on the deck with her staff in her hands, she thought of Caelynn, her long golden hair, her vibrant green eyes, and smooth white skin, wishing to be close to her again, and then she teleported.
Instantly she felt long tendrils wrapping around her legs trying to pull her down into the Shadow World, dragging her down into its darkness. She continued focusing on Caelynn, and in the last moments freed herself from the black tendrils, and found herself on the beach at Durn. Before her Caelynn’s body lay splayed out on the sand. Meela ran to her and taking Caelynn softly into her arms.
“Caelynn my love, please wake up!” she implored “Please come back!” Tears were beginning to stream down her cheeks and land on Caelynn’s white face. Meela hugged the slender broken body in her arms, beginning to sob uncontrollably.
Meela looked through her spyglass. The Imperial airships were slowly advancing keeping in check with the squirming wall of black tentacles below. Behind the shadow monsters, the Imperial army followed at a distance.
“What are those things?” asked Eslak.
“They’re called shadow monsters, also known as Aberrants. I’ve heard the Lord of the Shadow World himself breeds them in the deep caverns under the Night Tower.” Meela informed him.
“But the Shadow World has never been able to break through into our own world before. How have they done this?” Eslak asked.
“Someone in this world has given them a great boost of power, I believe.”
“But who is powerful enough to do that?” Bronwyn asked. Meela shrugged.
“I don’t know.” Meela replied. Deep in her heart there were fears. She had accepted that they probably wouldn’t win this fight now, but she feared that maybe Asden wasn’t dead as everyone had thought, and that somehow he had survived through these long centuries in some form.
She was thankful they had escaped the fortress in time. Bronwyn had thrown down ropes and they all grabbed hold and quickly climbed up before the shadow monsters consumed them all. They had managed to save a good deal of Eslak’s forces and their own, but they had lost far more. Now they were all fleeing to the capital. Meela had got the airships to form a line to protect the fleeing Yastellian army on the ground so the Imperial airships couldn’t pick them off, but it was the only useful thing she had done. She wondered how Caelynn was doing. She suspected things had gone awry, somehow, in Larantel. She found her thoughts constantly drifting to her in apprehension, though she had far more pressing concerns.
“The desert terrain and the sun can’t be good for those things.” Eslak commented.
“They won’t like the sun or the desert and it will slow them down a bit, but it won’t stop them. They’ll reach the capital in a matter of days.” Meela informed him.
“I believe all Yastellian forces are falling back to Tarsakh. That’s where the last defence of the kingdom will be.” Eslak replied. “How can we stop those things?”
“Not with lightning.” Meela replied. “They don’t like fire and have shown vulnerability to it, so I guess the defence will have to focus on that. Maybe get as many archers as you can to fire flaming arrows at them and whatever mages are left need to focus on fire magic. Is there time to dig trenches around Tarsakh and fill them with pitch or something else flammable?” Eslak looked uncertain.
“Tarsakh is a very large city. I’m not sure there would be time to do that, even if we had a month. We could probably do some digging, but we would have to get word to them immediately and I’m not sure how we can do that.” Eslak answered.
“It would be easier if I knew someone there.” Meela stated. “Is there anyone here that could draw a good picture of the King’s palace?”
“I’m not sure, but why?” Eslak asked.
“It would give me an image I could focus on so I could teleport to it. It’s risky, but I’ve done it before.” Meela told him.
Eslak looked thoughtful and then turned to all of his men that were on board. He began talking to them in Yestel. A few of them began drawing on parchment and after about an hour Meela was handed a selection of drawings. She looked through them all and selected the one she thought was the best.
“Bronwyn hold the line with the fleeing army. Don’t engage with the Imperial airships unless you really have to. We will need everything we’ve got for the defence of Tarsakh. If they attack, try to outmaneuver them.” Meela instructed.
“Sure thing Boss!” Bronwyn responded.
Meela gazed down at the drawing in her hand. She tried to imagine what it would look like in real life and then focused on that image. She teleported. Standing before her now was the palace she had imagined. It was built out of a white stone, and had many towers and walls.
“Wow I’m good!” Meela exclaimed to herself.
She saw many surprised guards advance on her. She stood absolutely still with her arms raised as they approached. Within a minute she was totally surrounded by them all. They were dressed in sand-coloured mail and their faces were hidden by bronze helmets. They pointed long swords at her.
“You from the Empire?” one of them asked haltingly.
“No. I’m from Loro-Don. I’m here to speak with your king.” Meela replied to the one who spoke presuming they were the captain.
“Why do you want to speak to the king?” they asked.
“The Empire has taken the fortress. They are on their way here. I wish to advise him.” Meela informed them.
“We know. Refugees are arriving. Come with us. We will see if the King wishes to see you.”
“Sure.” Meela responded.
Around six guards still with their weapons drawn marched her through the gate and then the main doors into the palace. Inside were wide halls of stone, lit by torches and lanterns. Painted on the walls were pictures showing past eras. They showed battles and monarchs and times of prosperity. Meela was taken to a small antechamber and waited there with several of them. After an hour she was led to a wide set of doors made out of gold and set with jewels. As she approached, the doors slowly swung open and she came into the throne room of Yastell.
The room was a square shape. At the far end on a highly raised dais sat the king on a golden throne. Guards bearing pole-arms lined the sides of the room. There were tapestries and murals along the walls all framed with gold and deep red rubies. The pirate within Meela stared greedily at it all. To her surprise the King stood up and walked down the stairs of the dais and then stood there waiting for her. He looked in his thirties. He was of medium build and had dark skin, black hair and a short beard. He wore golden mail.
“So I am told you are here to advise me Northerner?” the King asked. Meela bowed in front of him.
“Yes your majesty.” she replied.
“Please tell me your name.” he commanded.
“I am Meela Starblazer.” she replied. The King looked a bit taken aback when she said her name. He frowned at her.
“Meela Starblazer? The pirate and sorceress? I have heard of you.” He stated. “I also know you helped with the defence of our fortress that borders Grazlukk when the Empire first attacked us.”
“Yes I did your majesty.”
“I guess that makes you a friend of Yastell. My name is Ommarulak the Seventh.” he replied smiling. Meela noticed it was a sad smile. “So scouts have already told me what’s happened. I understand the Empire’s army is coming, along with a large army of demons at their command. Already most of my armies are falling back to here for a last defence of the kingdom. My subjects are also fleeing here for safety behind our walls. My question Meela, is what hope do we have?”
“Very little.” Meela conceded.
“So why are you here? Why don’t you just go back home where it’s safe? Surely our fate doesn’t need to involve you?” He asked her as he looked at her face for a reaction.
“Because the Empire is my enemy too, and if they win here then they will be unstoppable.” Meela answered. “Besides I pledged my support to helping your people.”
“Noble words Meela, but if you choose to stay here with us then you will probably meet your doom too.” the King reminded her.
“If that is my destiny.” Meela replied looking into his dark eyes.
“I do appreciate that you and others from Loro-Don have chosen to ally with us. I hope it’s not all in vain.”
“As do I.”
“So, what do you advise?” he finally asked.
“I reckon the enemy will be here in three days. We need to prepare a defence. They have thousands of shadow monsters, and the enemy is using them to attack first. They seem most vulnerable to fire. Would there be time to dig trenches outside the city and fill with pitch or other flammable substances?” Meela asked.
“Even if we could dig that in time, we don’t have enough pitch or anything like it to fill them with. We do have some pitch, but we were going to use it at the walls.”
“How about make as many arrows as you can and coat them with pitch so you can fire flaming arrows at them. That at least will have some effect.” Meela advised.
“That we can do. I’ll see how many archers I can muster. Our defence may depend on them.”
“Yes get as many archers as you can.” Meela agreed. “What about mages who know fire magic?”
“We have a few, but not very many.” the King replied.
“Station them at key points along the wall.”
“Okay what about you? Do wish to stay here in the throne room with me?” the King asked.
“No, I’d be more useful out there on the walls. If things turn bad then I will certainly come back here to help defend you.” Meela told him. “And that truly will be the last defence.”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
After she took her leave of the King. She went to inspect the city’s defences. She was surprised by how large the city was. It was thought Salané was the largest city in the known world, but she reckoned Tarsakh was possibly larger. It was a very beautiful city. Buildings and houses built out of ancient stone, while some newer houses were built from mud bricks. There were beautiful gardens, trees, and fountains everywhere. Multi-coloured birds sang strange melodies in the trees. The city seemed full of life, with children playing in the streets and merchants shouting out their wares from shop awnings. Meela truly hoped they would all survive. She looked out from the city walls and into the desert. There were streams people entering the city, some on the backs of camels, some in carts drawn by beasts Meela had never seen before, and some were soldiers. All of them looked scared. Meela knew how they felt.
Over the next few days the defences were prepared. Pitch, oil, and anything flammable were stored up, arrows were made in a huge quantity, and ballistas and trebuchets were prepared. The walls were a hive of activity. All holes were repaired, and the wall was strengthened in places as best it could be under the circumstances. Tents were erected in many parts of the city to house all the new arrivals. Meela was offered a room in the palace, but she spent most of her time outside helping get the defences ready.
On the third day Meela finally saw the remnants of the army that had fought at the border finally turn up. Some time later, around dusk, she saw the airships arrive, which meant that all the surviving soldiers had now arrived. She also know the Imperial army and their force of shadow monsters weren’t far behind. She took out a spyglass, and sure enough, there were the Imperial airships in the distance. A messenger was sent to tell the king they were in sight.
Meela briefly returned to the Crimson Vengeance. She went to her cabin and retrieved her new staff and also pulled an old looking sword out of her extra-dimensional bag. Unsheathing it, she looked at the shining blade. She returned to the ground and went back to the palace. The King was surprised to see her back so soon.
“What now Meela?” he asked concerned.
“I thought you might want to have this sword for the battle in case you have need of it.” she answered, kneeling and holding up the sword to him with both hands.
“Why that sword?”
“It’s an artifact. It has the sharpest blade that I know of. It cuts through everything like a hot knife through butter.”
“Where is it from?” the King took the sword from Meela’s hands. He unsheathed it and inspected the blade.
“It’s an heirloom belonging to the lords of Fifelen. It is also known as the Emperor’s Blade. If the Emperor ever hears of you wielding this weapon, it will enrage him.”
“And how did you come by it?” the King asked.
“I stole it.” Meela admitted.
“It looks to be a fine weapon. But won’t the Emperor be more enraged if he hears you were wielding it?”
“I’ve got my trusty rapier.” she replied resting her left hand on her rapiers hilt. “Hopefully if you have need to defend yourself, at least that sword should help you take a few of them with you.” The king nodded.
“I thank you for this gift. I hope to be able to return it to you after the battle.” Meela bowed and left the throne room.
By the time all the reinforcements had arrived and the airships hovered above everyone’s heads, the gate to the city was finally closed. The walls were swarming with soldiers. Archers were distributed evenly around the ramparts. Meela stood near the gate watching the wall of shadow monsters approaching. Azzuk and Eslak joined her again as they had at the fortifications several days earlier.
“When things look bad we need to retreat to defend the King.” Meela informed them.
“Things look pretty bad now.” Azzuk commented.
Meela looked around. Many of the soldiers on the wall were looking at the advancing army in terror. She feared that many of them would run again. She went to the highest point on the wall which was above the gate.
“Everyone listen to me!” she called out. Everyone turned to look at her. “I know what we are all about to face looks terrifying, but whatever happens do not desert your post. Everyone beside you is relying on you to keep your post. You are the last line of defence for this kingdom. If you fail now then everyone in this city will be killed by those things approaching us, and this kingdom will fall. Think of all the people in this city that are relying on you. If you do not fight to the best of your ability, then you put them all at risk. There is nowhere else to go, so stand and fight!”
Everyone looked at the advancing army, some with renewed purpose. Meela returned to her post and waited.
“Hopefully that speech will help.” said Eslak.
“I guess we’ll see.” Meela replied. “Azzuk?”
“Could you stand in front of me for a time? I’m going to have to concentrate on a spell and I can’t risk anyone taking a shot at me while I’m concentrating, otherwise the spell could fail.”
“Okay!” Azzuk replied. He and Eslak stood in front of Meela while she held onto her staff and began to concentrate.
The black tentacles of the shadow monsters got closer to the city. All of a sudden a wall of fire sprang up before them. The fire burned bright in the darkness and spread round the entire city. The soldiers on the city wall looked out in wonder. For a time the shadow monsters halted, but then they started going through the flames. The first few rows started burning, but eventually the monsters were able to get past the fire wall by slithering over the bodies of their dead companions. Once they began flowing over it, Meela ended the spell.
“You got quite a few of them, but there’s still a lot more. It looked impressive though.” Azzuk commented.
“I hoped it might get a few of them. It managed to work better than I thought it would.”
“Is it my imagination, or are they bigger than last time we saw them?” Azzuk asked.
“No you’re not imagining it. I think when they consume things they grow in size.” Meela replied. She privately wondered how many people had fallen to them.
“If only there were more ork warriors here. If there was enough of us I’m sure we could take those things down.” Azzuk said as he gripped his axe. Meela laughed. “Though they are difficult to kill…”
Flaming arrows were finally loosed at the monsters. Meela threw balls of fire into the mass of approaching black tentacles and watched them explode. Other mages fired spells at them. Above, the airships finally engaged one another. Cannons could be seen firing at one another. Meela looked up and wished she was up there commanding her crew to take down the Imperial airships, though she had faith that Bronwyn knew what she was doing.
Flaming arrows and fire magic were managing to take a few of the shadow monsters down, but each time one was killed another one from behind it would take it’s place. Slowly and inexorably, the shadow monsters gradually got nearer to the walls, despite the looses they were taking and the defenders throwing everything they could at them. By the time they got to the walls boiling pitch was dropped on them and several mages, including Meela, set it alight creating a fiery mass carnage, but still more shadow monsters surged forward. They spread out and surrounded the city looking for weak points. Some were even beginning to slither up the walls in places.
“Now might be the time to fall back and defend the King.” Azzuk suggested.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Meela replied. She looked up at the dark sky. “Some help would really be appreciated!” Azzuk watched her shouting up into the sky.
“Who are you talking to?” Azzuk asked. Meela shrugged her shoulders.
“To anyone who might be listening.” she answered.
Just after she said that, there looked to be a number of shooting stars in the sky. Gradually they got closer.
“The dragons are coming! The dragons are coming!” shouted an unknown voice.
To everyone’s surprise, a large number of dragons suddenly swooped downwards from the sky breathing fire on the shadow monsters. Everyone on the walls looked in surprise and wonder as the shadow monsters caught fire and melted in the dragonflame. The dragons flew around the walls breathing fire on the enemy wherever they went. Within moments the entire city was surrounded in smoke and flame, and all the shadow monsters had been reduced to an unpleasant vast sludge-pool of foul slime. Once the dragons began targeting the Imperial army, the enemy troops broke and ran. The defenders seeing their opponents fleeing, opened the main city gates and gave chase to them, though they had to run through the sludgy remains of the shadow monsters. Azzuk and his orcs led the way. A large bronze dragon, who looked familiar to Meela, landed within the city beside the walls. Meela quickly went over to him. By the time she got there he had transformed into a human.
“So good to see you! Thank you for helping us!” Meela said feeling more relieved than she had ever felt in her life. She wanted to give him a hug, but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate.
“We were flying above and hoped you might ask us for help. Shadow monsters are an abomination to this world.” Rhaeldur replied. “Always ask for help when you have need if it.” He gave her a wink.
“I’ll remember that.”
“I bring you news.” Rhaeldur declared.
“What news?” Meela asked.
“Your lover has been captured by the Emperor. They are heading to Durn.” he informed her.
“I must leave immediately!” Meela exclaimed. Rhaeldur put his hands on her.
“Patience granddaughter. Wait for your airships to return, and I will fly with you.” He said with a knowing smile.
Next episode: Durn Revisited
Author’s note: I had to change the name of the dragon as for some reason in my notebook the Arch-Wizard and the dragon had been given the same name. I’m not sure how that happened. They are definitely not the same.
Caelynn was walking through a forest. She could hear birds singing and there was a breeze in the branches making the sunlight flicker in her eyes. Meela was standing there. She looked serious and concerned. “You have to wake up.” Meela said. “Caelynn, this is a dream. Wake up, you’re in danger!” Caelynn opened her eyes. She was chained to a wall deep below the Emperor’s palace. It was cold, dank, dark, and stank of sweat, smoke, and misery.
She was unaware how long it had taken to travel to Salané, but it had been many days. They had traveled in a carriage and she was in cold iron manacles all the way, unable to focus on anything due to the pain. Around her had sat the Emperor’s Guard in their armor and red cloaks. They all stared at her stonily. They barely talked and only stopped for food and rest, not that she was able to rest properly with the manacles constantly burning her wrists and ankles. All the time she had fretted about Meela, needing to warn her, but unable to do anything about it. It was driving her crazy. She knew about the shadow monsters and what they could do, and she was deadly worried that Meela and her associates were all going to be slaughtered, or even eaten by those things. She needed to get a warning out to her somehow, otherwise all could be lost.
Once they had arrived at Salané, she was dragged into the throne room still in manacles. The Emperor looked down on her coldly as he sat on his throne of obsidian. She lay there while the entire Tigreralatean Court stared at her unpityingly. Around her stood many nobles. Beside the dais steps were two Priestesses, one of the Sun and one of the Stars. They looked at her coldly.
“This is what a traitor looks like! She was sent here as an ambassador for Larantel, but she was actually working as a spy for the criminal Meela Starblazer, and was in league with her and other vagrants who defy our laws.” the Emperor proclaimed.
After being pronounced a traitor in front of the entire Imperial Court, she was taken to the dungeons and now she waited for whatever they had planned. It was only a short time until a tall man wearing a dark cloak walked into her cell. He was bald with a goatee of dark hair. Caelynn could see scars and pock marks on his face. He looked Caelynn over, rather dismissively.
“You must be Caelynn of Larantel. My name is Voss, and I am one of the Imperial Inquisitors. I understand the Emperor wishes to know certain information that you are unwilling to give. So I am here to persuade you to tell me what he wants to know. I look forward to working with you. I hope we can have a constructive relationship.” He stated. Caelynn spat at him. Voss wiped it off his face. “You have good aim, but I am going to make you regret that.”
“Bite me!” Caelynn screamed back at him.
“Not something I’m into. The Head Inquisitor might be interested in doing that, however.” He replied. “Eventually that defiant streak in you will be broken. I’ve seen it happen many times before.”
Voss brought out a box and opened it on the table before him. Caelynn could see it was full of implements, such as pliers, small metal picks, chisels, hammers, nails, and other similar items. He picked up a pair of pliers, and then faced Caelynn.
“All the Emperor really wishes to know is the location of Durn. Just tell me that and we won’t have to go through any of this.” he informed her.
“It doesn’t exist.” Caelynn replied.
“Come now, we know that it does. You won’t get off that easy.” He took a step forward.
“It’s up the Emperor’s arse!” Voss laughed when Caelynn said this.
“That’s funny! Obviously being around pirates had made you rather coarse. I understand you once were a lady of the Court. How the mighty have fallen.” He shook his head sadly. “Guards! Move this prisoner to the chair!” He ordered.
Two guards appeared. One placed a metal brace around her neck. Instantly she could feel the skin of her neck burning. It was cold iron again. The two guards unlocked the chains and then moved her towards a chair that looked to be made out of iron. They sat her down on it. To her bewilderment she found that it had small sharp spikes along the chairs entire surface that bit into her skin, wherever she was in contact with it. She squirmed with the pain. They strapped her forearms and wrists to the arms of the chair, and then left her there. One of them removed the neck brace, but it seemed to make little difference.
Caelynn tried not to show she was in pain, and remained determined not to say anything. She couldn’t betray Meela. Once she gave up one piece of information, she knew they would then press her for more. Even if it killed her, she resolved to stay silent. Her will was set. She gave her torturer a fixed stare. He smiled darkly at her. Maybe if she waited long enough Meela would find her…
“And now we get down to business!” he declared. He set down the pliers and produced a small rough wedge of wood and a hammer. “We once had a problem with a group of knights that rebelled. This torture managed to make, what was a very obstinate knight, talk to us and tell us everything we wanted to hear, and more besides. Just remember, this does not need to happen. All you need to do is tell me what I want to know, and this will all end. The pain will end. Just talk. That’s all you need to do.”
He placed a wedge of wood under the nail of her right index finger. He then hammered the wedge of wood under the nail. The pain was unbelievable. Once he was finished, he grabbed the pliers and forcibly ripped the nail off her finger. He looked at her. Her body was shaking with pain.
“You ready to talk yet? Or shall I do another finger?” he asked her. Caelynn slowly shook her head. “You’re a very brave girl, you know. No one would blame you now if you began to talk. Even Meela would understand. You’ve shown us how brave and staunch you are. It would understandable if you talked now. Your honour would still be intact.”
Caelynn did not reply, but instead looked at the far wall and thought about Meela. She thought about the moments they had spent together, and she wondered if Meela was still alive. For if Meela had been killed by a shadow monster, there would be no point in living anyway…
“No.” she finally replied with great difficulty. “I will never talk to you.” Voss looked displeased.
“I guess we will do another finger then. And if you keep insisting not to talk, then I will keep doing your fingers, and then your toes, and when I have run out of nails to extract, I will then turn to something else.” he threatened.
Caelynn looked away and imagined she was walking in the forest with Meela again. She could see the sunlight in the leaves and hear the birds singing while Meela walked beside her holding her hand. Voss took the wooden wedge and then placed it under the next finger along. Again there came an incredible feeling of pain…
“She passed out on me. I’ve done one hand and there’s been no sign of her willing to talk.”
She awoke. She was still strapped to the chair. Looking at her right hand she saw her fingers were all bloodied stumps. There was talking before her. Voss had his back turned and was talking to another person. It was a slighter figure. A woman in a red cloak. She had red hair and pale skin.
“Let me look at her.” said the woman. She walked up to Caelynn and examined her. Her fingers were cold as they touched Caelynn’s face.
“Who… are… you?” Caelynn asked her slowly. The woman got very close to her and whispered in Caelynn’s ear.
“Hello my sweet. My name is Malla. You’re very pretty. You don’t belong down here. Just tell me what I want to know, and I will release you. It’s as simple as that.” Caelynn felt a cold wet tongue slide down her cheek. “I bet you’re very tasty.”
“I know what you are.” Caelynn said to her. She feel Malla’s cold breath on her face.
“Your eyes are such a vibrant green. I would love to take them with me.” Malla whispered again. The she laughed a very cold laugh. She turned to Voss. “You should work on the other hand now. She’s regained consciousness.” Voss nodded and approached them.
The door to the room suddenly opened. The tall figure of the Arch-Wizard stood there. He walked in and gave Caelynn a brief look.
“My lord.” Voss bowed.
“We don’t usually see you down here, my lord Arch-Wizard.” Malla said bowing her head briefly. “How can we help you?”
“Lady Malla. It has been a while. How is the prisoner? Has she talked yet?” the Arch-Wizard asked in his deep voice.
“No. I was about to get Voss to begin on her other hand.” Malla conceded.
“The Emperor wants results. I have some experience, and knowledge of magic that may help me extract the information we need from her. As we already know each other, it may also help.” the Arch-Wizard stated. Malla laughed.
“So the Arch-Wizard thinks he is more able to extract information from a prisoner than the Emperor’s top inquisitors?” she asked pointedly.
“That’s not what I said. Caelynn is a wizard like myself. We have several points of familiarity I can utilise. At least let me try. So far you have nothing to show for it. Elves can be harder to break than humans.” the Arch-Wizard explained. Malla raised her eyebrows.
“Okay, go ahead.” she replied sweeping her right arm elaborately in Caelynn’s direction. The Arch-Wizard sat down beside Caelynn.
“How are you?” He asked Caelynn softly.
“Not so good.” Caelynn replied weakly. The Arch-Wizard turned and faced the other two.
“It would be better if I did this alone. Your presence won’t help her talk to me.” He insisted. “I’m sure you can amuse yourselves torturing some other unfortunate in another cell while you wait.”
“Okay we will leave, but let us know if she says anything. I’ll give you a couple of hours.” Malla replied as her and Voss departed the cell, leaving the Arch-Wizard and Caelynn alone.
The Arch-Wizard sat there a few minutes. He then stood up and checked the door. When he came back, he began undoing the straps that tied Caelynn’s arms to the chair.
“What are you doing?” Caelynn asked him drowsily.
“I’m getting you out of here. A torture chamber is no place for someone like you.” He said as he untied her legs.
“Why are you helping me?” She asked confused.
“Because I promised Meela I would keep an eye on you.” he stated.
“What? You’re in league with Meela?” she asked bewildered.
“Yes I have been for some time.” he revealed. He slowly brought her to her feet. She instantly fell into him almost falling over. There was no strength in her legs. He quickly grabbed hold of her. “We’re going to have to get out of here. Are you able to walk at all?”
“I think I can lean on you and walk, or try.” Caelynn replied.
In truth she felt like collapsing, but she desperately wanted to get away from this cell and her two interrogators. Leaning on the Arch-Wizard as they walked and being supported by his right arm allowed them both to move, though at a very slow pace. They walked out of the cell and then along a poorly lit stone corridor. At the end was a portcullis blocking their way. A guard stood on the other side.
“Where are you going with the prisoner?” the guard asked.
“I’m taking her to the Emperor, as she is now willing to tell him what she knows.” The Arch-Wizard replied.
The guard looked doubtful, but then raised the portcullis and they continued through another corridor and finally came to stone steps that led upwards. They took them one step at a time, and then there was a short corridor that led to yet another portcullis. Once they were through that, the Arch-Wizard led her along the seldom used passageways.
“Where are you taking me?” Caelynn asked.
“I’m taking you to my quarters. There you can get cleaned up and maybe rest as I work out how to get you out of the palace. I’m trying to use corridors that are out of the way, so we are going in a very roundabout way to my chambers, but we will get there eventually.”
After walking for what seemed an eternity to Caelynn, they came to a doorway and went up some stairs again.
“We are now just below my tower. A few more flights of stairs and we will be there. So keep moving!” the Arch-Wizard encouraged her.
He led her through a large doorway. They came into a large circular room with chairs and a table. The window was stained glass depicting a wizard with their arms outstretched and holding a staff. There was another door to her left. The floor was covered in a large rug patterned with many colours. The Arch-Wizard led her to a chair. Caelynn sat back and relaxed as best she could. Her body was covered in small cuts, and her right hand was useless.
“I use this room to meet people and have discussions. You can rest here for a moment, and then I will take you up the stairs to where I have a spare bed. You can rest up there for a time, and I will clean your wounds the best I can. I am not a healer though, and know little healing magic. Priests are better at doing that.”
“Won’t they know you took me away and come looking for you?” Caelynn asked him.
“Eventually, but we should still have a couple of hours before they come, and hopefully we will be away by then.” he informed her.
“But this means you won’t be able to return?”
“Yes. I’m going to have to desert my post. Things are taking a dark turn here, and there seems little I can do to stop it.” he revealed.
“The Emperor is in league with the Queen of Larantel. She originally instructed Asden, and plans on making the Emperor a revenant, so he can live forever. She’s also given the Shadow-realm access to this plane.” Caelynn informed him. The Arch-Wizard visibly shuddered.
“I knew things were bad, but I didn’t know they were that bad. I know of the intervention of the Shadow World in Yastell. I was against that. I told the Emperor not to have any part of it, but he chose not to listen. Now I know why.” He admitted.
He picked up Caelynn again and took her through the door. They went up a narrow flight of stairs, which was more awkward for Caelynn as there wasn’t room for both of them. When they got to the next level, there was a door to a small room with a bed. Caelynn collapsed onto it. The Arch-Wizard came back with some water, and made her drink some. He went out again and came back this time with a larger bowl full of water, and a cloth. He said some words over the bowl and began to clean Caelynn’s right hand. The water was warm, but any pressure put on the hand was extremely painful. He got her to turn over and inspected the wounds all down her back to her thighs. He cleaned those as best he could.
“Are you able to eat anything?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.” Caelynn replied.
“I’ll see if I can find anything easy to chew.” he replied.
Just as he left there was a heavy knocking down below, after that sounds of a door being forced open. Then came the sounds of heavy footfalls, like the sound of armoured soldiers. The Arch-Wizard came quickly back into the room.
“They’ve found out much sooner than I expected. We have to go!” he exclaimed.
He picked her up off the bed and they went through the doorway. Just as they did, suddenly at least a dozen soldiers appeared and blocked their way. Their swords were drawn.
“They are up here!” one of them called down.
Up the steps came the Emperor, flanked by another man in black robes Caelynn had never seen before. The Emperor looked at the Arch-Wizard.
“So it turns out you’re a traitor too.” the Emperor stated.
“I was just trying to use a different technique to get the information out of her, my lord.” the Arch-Wizard replied. The Emperor laughed at him.
“Do you take me for a fool Elcaroth? You are a traitor to the Crown. Your position as Arch-Wizard is revoked. Now hand the girl over to my men.” the Emperor ordered. The Arch-Wizard stood in front of Caelynn.
“If you want her, you will have to go through me first.” he declared. The Emperor raised his eyebrows.
“Fine.” was all he said. He was about to issue an order, when a voice from down below suddenly piped up.
“Excuse me! I think I can help!” Caelynn recognised it as the Seer. He slowly came up the steps puffing and clutching a book. The Emperor looked annoyed.
“What do you want Seer?” he asked.
“If you want to find Durn, I can show you where it is.” the Seer revealed.
“But you promised you wouldn’t tell anyone!” interjected Caelynn.
“I’m sorry my lady, but if I don’t do this they will kill you. I have seen it.” the Seer replied. The Emperor shook his head with his eyes looking upwards. Obviously the Seer was a traitor too…
“Okay Seer, show me where to find Durn!” the Emperor demanded.
The Seer walked up to the Emperor and opened the book to show the map that had Durn repeatedly appearing and disappearing on it.
“There is Durn my lord.”
“So how do we get to it?” the Emperor asked.
“Durn is now in a pocket dimension that was created by Asden. There is a gate you have to go through to access the dimension. You will need to have Caelynn with you to get through the gate. She will have to be alive as well.” the Seer informed him. Caelynn shook her head sadly. She felt like she was being betrayed by someone she had trusted.
“Thank you Seer. Good work! I’ll overlook that you hid the truth from me until now.” the Emperor replied. “Guard!”
“Yes your majesty?”
“Tell them to ready my airship, and any others we have left here.” he ordered.
“Right away your majesty.” the guard replied and then quickly left. The Emperor looked at them all.
It wasn’t until the early evening of the next day that Meela and her crew got back to Loro-Don. For most of that time Meela sat in her cabin smoking her pipe and thinking about what was possibly likely to happen. She considered various strategies they could employ. Something was niggling her though. She felt like there was something she had missed, something possibly quite big, but she didn’t know what it was, and this made her concerned. Whatever it could be, she hoped they would all be up to the challenge.
When they arrived, Loro-Don was a hive of activity. The docks were almost full of airships being loaded with supplies and weapons. There was an inordinate amount of people cramming the docks. Many of them carrying supplies, or trying to find space on an airship. The first thing Meela did was take her new staff and head for the mages district. She needed to get this finished before they left for Yastell.
She visited Cedric the Sage first. Today he was dressed in shabby blue robes and his white hair and beard were unkempt, as usual. His residence seemed to be stuffed with more books than last time. All the shelves were crammed full of them and there were huge piles of books that were taller than Meela. There was a nasty smell to the place. Along with books, there were piles of dust everywhere, as well as discarded meals that were mouldering in forgotten corners or being consumed by rats. Cedric was sitting at his wooden desk surrounded by books.
“Good evening Meela, you manage to get that seal broken?” Cedric asked her, once he had finally seen who it was amongst the towers of books,
“No it was beyond my magic I’m afraid. It was delivered to the Emperor unread, sadly.” Meela informed him.
“Pity. I’m sure it must have been an interesting message. So you have brought me some other magical puzzle to solve I take it?” Cedric gazed at the staff Meela was holding.
“Well no. I’m making a new magic staff. My last one broke into two during the battle in Yastell, and I was thinking about some other magical runes I could apply to it.” Meela replied. Cedric looked as though he was considering Meela’s words.
“Hmm. What were you thinking of?” he inquired.
“I was thinking of some runes that might denote protection or strength.”
“In the hope that it might strengthen the staff?” Cedric looked around and slowly stood up. “I’ve some good books on lesser known magical runes somewhere around here…”
“You ever think of tidying this place up?” Meela asked him. Cedric looked at her shocked.
“It’s untidy, but not cluttered. I know where everything is.” he insisted. Meela raised her eyebrows at him. “If someone came along and tidied it all, it could take me weeks to find everything again.”
“Okay. Whatever you say.” Meela replied shaking her head.
Cedric rummaged around and eventually reappeared with three books in his arms. He set them on his desk. One of them was a rather large tome. Meela approached, but didn’t particularly want to get too near him. Cedric looked through them all. He stopped at one page and moved it towards Meela.
“Here’s one. It’s a rune that’s added to wooden objects, such as doors, to strengthen them. I imagine it should work for your staff too. It doesn’t look like it should interfere or conflict with any other magical symbols you might also want to add to your staff, as the book states you can also add other enchantments and magic runes to the object, and this rune should still work.” Cedric suggested. Meela took a closer look at it.
“This is what I was looking for.” Meela stated.
Cedric nodded and pulled out a plain piece of parchment from out of a drawer in his desk. He put his pen into the ink point and then started slowly inscribing the rune onto the parchment. He let the ink dry, and once it had, he rolled the parchment up and tied it with some string. Finally, he handed it to Meela with a smile.
“Here you are young lady.” He said.
“Thanks.” Meela said taking the parchment and handing him a couple of gold pieces.
“Thank you. That’s very generous!” Cedric said astonished. Meela shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s been a good couple of months.” She said nonchalantly.
Meela left with the parchment and then sought out an artificer. She went to the large black building at the end of the street. She walked into a dark room. At a table in the centre of the room stood a woman who seemed busy writing. She had long dark hair and wore a dark red dress and long black boots. When she saw Meela enter, she looked rather displeased.
“Oh, it’s the sorceress.” she said.
“Hello Lynnian. I need help with my new staff.” Meela told her. Lynnian looked at her unimpressed.
“A staff? Just that? Yes, it’s not like I have other important things to do…” Lynnian replied tersely.
“I need you to add some magical runes to it.” Meela stated.
“Why don’t you just go and find a blacksmith and use their forge to burn the runes in yourself?” Lynnian suggested.
“But I want it done correctly, and I know you could do this.”
“Fine.” Lynnian said rolling her eyes. “Give me your staff.” Meela handed her the staff. Lynnian took it with both hands. “Have you attuned to it?”
“Yes.” Meela replied.
“Right. Follow me.” Lynnian commanded.
Lynnian walked through a doorway and Meela followed. They came into a room with a forge. Lynnian set the staff down on a table across from the forge. She pulled out a book of runes from a compartment under the table.
“You want the standard runes?” she asked.
“Yes, but also this.” Meela untied the parchment Cedric had given her and then handed it to her. Lynnian looked at the rune.
“I’ve never seen this rune before.” She stated. “What does it do?”
“It’s meant to add strength to the staff so it won’t break so easily.” Meela explained. Lynnian looked at it doubtfully.
“It probably won’t work. Or it will make all the other runes inactive, but it’s your staff so I don’t care. If it fails, don’t blame me for it.” Lynnian told her.
“Okay.” Meela replied.
Lynnian pulled out a short metal rod out of the forge. The metal was bright red. Meela noticed its wooden handle had several runes etched onto it. Lynnian started burning the rune symbols onto the wood, patterning them along the staff. Once she had finished, she said a few words over the staff and all the runes suddenly glowed for a brief moment.
“There it’s done!” Lynnian said thrusting the staff into Meela’s hands. “That will be five gold pieces, and an extra gold piece for wasting my time.” Meela smiled at her and gave her the six gold pieces.
“Thank you Lynnian.” Meela said to her still smiling. Lynnian put away the book of runes.
“You know where the door is Meela.” she said as she walked off.
The Council meeting was already taking place when Meela arrived. When she walked into the room, everyone around the table fell silent and looked up at her.
“Well aren’t we lucky? The Chosen One has decided to grace us with her presence.” Lemvas the merchant said sarcastically.
“I don’t really think of myself as the Chosen One.” Meela replied as she sat down next to the Mayor.
“And yet virtually everyone in the city thinks you are. Meela the dread pirate who destroyed the Empire’s airship fleet. Meela the one who came back to Loro-Don on the back of a dragon. They all think you’re going to save them, as though you’re some present day avatar of Bran come to set the world to right again. When in reality all your machinations have done is lead our world to the edge of ruin!” Lemvas spat back.
“Strong words from a man who just buys and sells for a living. It sounds like jealousy to me.” Meela answered him.
“You think I should just steal everything like you do then?” Lemvas retorted.
“Please we’re trying to have a meeting.” the Mayor cut in. Lemvas looked away. “Meela has a proposal we all need to discuss.”
“Thank you.” Meela acknowledged. “I think Loro-Don should openly declare war on the Empire.” There were gasps of astonishment from the other council members.
“And why? Do you want the Empire to invade us too?” Lemvas asked.
“To show solidarity with Yastell and to let the Empire know we don’t approve of their actions.” Meela answered. “The Empire is sending most of their resources down to Yastell. It is unlikely they will attack this city too.”
“But if we do declare war, they will certainly come after us once Yastell falls.” Mukkon the dwarf chipped in.
“Well if Yastell falls, they will probably come after us next no matter what we do.” Meela replied. “But if we declare war, it will remove any doubt where we stand. And I want the Emperor to know that they can’t invade any other kingdoms or realms without consequences. And it may make other kingdoms, or even provinces within the Empire itself to take a stand against the Emperor’s recent aggression.”
“You really think provinces within the Empire might actually revolt against Salané?” Lemvas asked incredulously.
“They might. I’m originally from Fifelen and the dictates coming from Salané have never been happily received there.” Meela revealed. “And I know they’re not happy contributing to a war that is unpopular there, as it is in other parts of the Empire.”
“You mean you’re actually from somewhere? You didn’t spring into being fully formed in the middle of nowhere?” Lemvas replied sarcastically.
“Yes I am from somewhere, as is everyone else. I’m sorry to disappoint you Lemvas.” Meela replied with a slight smile.
“Unless anyone else wishes to contribute to the discussion, we will bring this matter to a vote.” the Mayor said. She looked around the table and there was silence. “Okay those in favour say: aye.” Aye was heard from most of the table. “Those not in favour say: nay.” Lemvas and Mukkon said nay. “The vote is carried seven to two. Loro-don is now officially at war with the Empire.”
“So what now?” asked Tobias the alchemist.
“How soon will the fleet be ready to sail?” the Mayor asked Meela.
“My ships can be ready to go almost immediately, and it seems like most of the other airships are being equipped as we speak. I think everything should be ready by the day after tomorrow. We can leave that morning.” Meela replied.
“So that means we have what’s left of today and the whole of tomorrow to get ready?” Tobias clarified.
“So are we sending everything down? Or are we leaving some form of defence here in case we get attacked?” Lemvas asked.
“There will be some defences left here just in case. Enough to stop the Empire from easily taking over this city.” the Mayor answered.
“Which should remove any temptations for some easy victory against us while most of us are in Yastell.” Meela added.
“Personally I don’t think we should be involved, but I’m outvoted.” Lemvas commented.
After the meeting, Meela returned to the docks. While they were still busy, they weren’t quite the hive of activity they had been earlier. She went back aboard her ship and returned to her cabin. She began coating her staff with a lacquer she had been given to protect its surface. After she left it to dry, she then sat back on her bed and lit her pipe again. Soon they would be on their way to Yastell. She was hoping to hear within a couple of days that the Larantel forces had pulled out. So far everything seemed to be going to plan.
On the morning they were to leave there was a feeling of anticipation in the city. The docks were now full of airships of different sizes and masses of people were going to and fro. Most of the airships now seemed to be full of supplies and people, and everyone was waiting. The Mayor, along with some other officials, came to the docks to see the fleet off.
“I wish you all the best success in Yastell, and I hope to see everyone of you back here once the war has ended in our victory! But now is the time to go! Good luck everyone!” the Mayor called out as she stood on a hastily made dais on the path that led to the larger docks.
With that all the ropes were pulled in, and all the airships slowly began to pull away from Loro-Don. Meela’s ship, the Crimson Vengeance, led the way and behind it a surprisingly vast armada of airships followed. They all set sail southwards towards Yastell. It would take around three days to get to Yastell. Meela finished getting her staff ready and began storing her power into it. She knew it would be needed.
When they finally sailed over the fortifications of Yastell, their arrival was greeted with cheers from the Yastellian forces. In the distance the kingdom of Grazzluk could be seen, which the Empire was using as a staging post for their armies. Meela looked through her spyglass and saw the Empire had brought it’s remaining fleet of airships. Most of the forces from Loro-Don went down into the fortress, while a few stayed above. Meela went to the fortress and left Bronwyn in charge of the Crimson Vengeance. Since she was technically the Commander of Loro-Don’s Expeditionary Force, it would be easier for her to command the troops if she was closer to them.
When she walked up the stone steps she was greeted by Eslak, the Commander of the fortress. He was dressed in gold-coloured mail. They hugged. He was pleased to see her.
“The last time I saw you, I wasn’t sure if you were going to survive.” Eslak said.
“Luckily Omuka knew what to do.” Meela replied. They both walked up the steps that led to the ramparts. Meela looked through her spyglass at the Empire’s forces. “Has there been any sign of them getting ready to attack yet?”
“They’ve been quite busy over the last couple of days. I expect an attack within a day or so, thankfully your appearence has come at the right time, yet again. They have sent a few scouts our way to test our defences occasionally, but I think something big is about to happen.” Eslak answered. Meela nodded.
“No word about Larantel pulling their own forces out?” Meela asked.
“No, we’ve had no word about that.” Eslak replied.
Meela felt troubled. Something had gone wrong. Alcarin and Caelynn would have confronted the Queen by now, so why hadn’t anything happened? Something bad was about to happen. She could feel it.
It was early the next day reports came the entire army of the Empire was moving forwards. Meela, Azzuk, and Eslak stood on the battlements watching the Imperial forces slowly advance.
“Now comes the greatest battle of our time.” Meela said looking through her spyglass.
“This should be fun!” Azzuk said gripping his axe tightly.
The army kept moving forwards. When they were still out of missile range, they suddenly stopped. The defenders were confused. Were they about to charge? There was an odd prickling in the air, like the build-up of static. Meela sensed something was coming. There was an acrid smell in the air. It was at that moment, just beyond the fortress walls, the portals opened. Out came countless numbers of large black creatures that just seemed to be writhing masses of slithering black tentacles. Soldiers guarding the walls screamed in horror.
“Hold your ground!” Meela commanded, but she couldn’t stop so many of them leaving their posts and running away in terror.
Long black tentacles came over the walls grabbing soldiers and flinging them through the air. Meela resolved to get nearer to them. While Eslak stood rooted in horror, Azzuk joined her and they both went for a closer view. A tentacle brushed past them and Azzuk swung his axe and hewed it off. Meela fired a bolt of lightning directly at one of the shadow monsters. Rather than harming it, the monster suddenly grew to twice it’s original size and now towered over them.
“Oh crap!” Meela exclaimed. “Fall back!”
All the soldiers in the fortress began to retreat. The shadow monsters began slithering over the walls. Some of the soldiers were flung in the air, while others were consumed. Azzuk pulled Meela back just in time from some large black tentacles trying to grab her from above. As they retreated, Meela knew the fortress was lost.
Next episode: In the Dungeon.
In other news: I’ve been preparing a sample of My Life In Darkness to send to a publisher who has requested to see it, so it’s been quite a busy weekend of editing for me.
I’ve worked out there’s only five episodes left of this story. Which means I can have a break from writing long narratives for a couple of weeks in December.
“Drink!” the ork captain Azzuk urged. Caelynn found herself having to skull the entire Ork drinking horn. She didn’t even like beer that much. She got most of it down and Azzuk gave a strong slap on the back when she finished. “Most of yer didn’t even finish all yer beer. Wadarya? A pack o’girls?”
“Well most of my crew are female.” Meela pointed out to Azzuk.
“Oh! That’s right.” Azzuk suddenly realised. “Ya all good in a fight though. An she’s an elf! Elfs used to be our enemies a long time ago. Some of ya are part elf.” Azzuk gazed at Meela more closely.
“Yes like myself, some of my crew are half-elven. We don’t really belong in either world, so we end up in the fringes of human society.” Meela told him.
“That’s right sad that is!” Azzuk replied. “When us orks found this world we decided to form own society and culture. In past we was often controlled by dark lords and warlords, but now we are masters of our fate!” He smiled showing his yellow fangs.
“Good for you!” declared Meela.
Most of the crew of the Crimson Vengeance were now a bit battered and bruised. The orks had staged an attack on them, and once there was a halt to the battle, both sides were a lot worse for wear. Even the darker skin of the orks hadn’t hidden their bruises. For them it had just been a play fight, and once the fighting had stopped, they brought out beer barrels and began the drinking contests, which seemed to involve them drinking as much beer as they could in the shortest time possible.
“Thanks for the fight. It was fun!” Azzuk said giving Meela a heavy slap on the back which almost caused her to lose her footing.
“If you’re looking for a fight, a group of us are going down to Yastell. The Empire is trying to invade Yastell and some of us are going to help the Yastellian forces. You’re welcome to join us. The more the merrier.” Meela informed him. Azzuk scratched his chin in thought.
“Ooh! We gets to fight the Imperials! Tempting! I’ll have think about it. I’ll tell other orkish groups I know about it too! We all like good fights!” He told Meela.
“That would be great thanks.” Meela responded.
Once all the beer barrels were empty, the orks returned to their ship and sailed off.
“I’m so glad they’ve gone.” Caelynn said as she stood beside Meela watching the ork ship fly off.
“Still, as a chance meeting it could have been fortuitous. They’re good fighters and they could be useful allies to have in Yastell.” Meela replied watching them go.
“If they turn up.”
“I told them there’s a big fight coming up. They’ll be there.” Meela said with certainty.
Once they had all sobered up a little, they resumed sailing to Larantel. By the next day they had begun flying over the forests of Caelynn’s home land. Caelynn had to direct them to where her family’s estate was. It seemed strange to return home on a pirate airship. So much had happened to her since she left home. It had only been a few months, but she felt like she was a much different person now. She never thought she would end up frequenting with pirates, engaging in espionage and intrigue, and being in a relationship with another female, who was also only half-elven. The old Caelynn could never have imagined any of that happening. But she was glad now she had experienced it. When she finally saw the family palace, the homesickness that had always been there since she had left suddenly felt more acute.
Meela brought the Crimson Vengeance to a halt by getting the crew to fasten ropes to the strongest looking trees. Caelynn went down the rope ladder, and then both her and Meela walked to her family’s lands. The palace and adjoining buildings were built to blend in with the trees and environment. Part of the palace itself had been built into a large outcrop of stone, and lay hidden amongst the trees. Palace guards rode to meet them, many of which were surprised to see Caelynn again. The one in front dismounted and then bowed to her.
“My lady! We did not receive word that you were returning today.” the Captain of the Guards said as she bowed down.
“Yes it was an unannounced return.” Caelynn informed her. “Is my father here?”
“Yes I believe he’s currently in the palace somewhere. I can send word to him.” the Captain offered.
“No need! I want to surprise him!” Caelynn announced smiling.
She and Meela moved onwards while the guards began following behind them. They went through the front gate and then up the wide marble stairs that led to the front door which had guards on either side. Caelynn just wandered through the doorway with Meela following her.
A tall elf with long fair hair and dressed in fine linens with gold and silver detailing approached her. He had the same bright green eyes that Caelynn had.
“Caelynn! I didn’t expect to see you again.” said the elf as he swiftly came up to her.
“Daddy!”Caelynn replied as they hugged tightly. Her father kissed her cheek.
“So good to see you!”
“I’ve so missed you!” Caelynn admitted. Her father looked at Meela.
“Who’s your friend?” He asked.
“Meela, this my father, Lord Alcarin Liadon.”
“Hello my lord! Meela Starblazer at your service.” Meela said bowing to him.
“Meela Starblazer?” He repeated raising his eyebrows. “Can’t say I’ve ever met a pirate before.”
“I can’t say I’ve ever met a lord of Larantel before either, my lord.” Meela replied with a half smile.
“Indeed.” Alcarin replied. “Just call me Alcarin. I have heard the stories about you and my daughter.”
“What are they saying?” Caelynn asked surprised.
“That you have joined a group of pirates led by the fearsome Meela Starblazer, and that you have taken her as your lover. Is this true Caelynn?” Alcarin asked her. Caelynn looked down at the ground.
“I’m afraid it is.” Caelynn admitted.
“You can never be too sure of the gossip you hear.” Alcarin replied. “Had this been another time I might have locked you in your chambers and had Meela thrown into the dungeons. But a lot has happened in the last year, and I’m just pleased you’re looking so well, and that you’re safe.”
“I have done my best to keep your daughter safe.” Meela stated. Alcarin looked at her and gave her an appraising look.
“I’m sure you have, and thank you for bringing her home.” he replied. “I think we should take this discussion into some private chambers, rather than have it here in the hallway. I take it that is your airship floating above the trees nearby?”
“Yes it is.” Meela confirmed.
“You can tell your crew they can come into the palace if they wish.”
“That’s very kind of you. Your Captain of the Guard can let them know.” Meela responded. Alcarin nodded at the Captain who was still standing behind them. The Captain turned around and left the palace.
“Follow me.” Alcarin said.
They followed him into a room which had large windows that overlooked the stables and the well tended gardens. As Meela looked out she beheld a dazzling array of colours in the gardens. Many were flowers she had never seen before. Inside the room, there was wooden paneling around the walls depicting forest scenes. Towards the centre there was a large oak desk, and near the windows was a wooden table. It’s legs were carved to look like wooden trunks. Beside it were a number of chairs which were intricately carved with tree motifs, even the arms of the chairs had been carved with a wooden branch and leaves design. They all sat down beside the table.
“I know I’m meant to be in Salané, but I found correspondence that shows the Queen is providing support to the Emperor with his war against Yastell, which is expressly forbidden by all the noble houses in our kingdom.” Caelynn told her father as she handed him all the letters she had found.
“You found this correspondence?” He clarified, as he looked through the letters.
“Well I went looking for it at Meela’s request.” Caelynn admitted. Alcarin looked at Meela for an explanation.
“I gave her the option to go to Salané so she could find this evidence. We need to stop Larantel from aiding the Empire. If you confront the Queen with this evidence in front of all the noble houses, she will lose favour in their eyes and will be forced to pull back any support for Tigreralat. This should also help restore your family’s fortunes in the eyes of the other nobles in Larantel.” Meela stated.
“So you know our House has been hit by scandal in the Queen’s Court?” Alcarin commented.
“I think everyone knows that my lord. But I do think you were set up by the Queen as she wanted you to lose favour in the eyes of the other noble houses.” Meela answered.
“Set up?” He asked.
“You were very popular with the other noble houses. The Queen saw you as a threat. And it wouldn’t have been that hard to arrange really. All she had to do was get a member of her waiting staff to lead you on, so you would be found in that cupboard with them.” Meela told him. Alcarin nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes it did seem to be rather contrived at the time.” Alcarin admitted. “So what do you advise?”
“You’re still a lord of Larantel. Summon all the noble houses to the Queen’s Court to talk about new revelations regarding the war in Yastell. Tell them it is urgent. The Queen won’t be able to stop you.” Meela advised him. Alcarin laughed.
“I think you’re wasted being a pirate! I would have you as my adviser if you wished for it.” Alcarin said to Meela. “But yes, it is a sound idea.”
“I’m afraid I like being my own boss too much.” Meela admitted. “I don’t take kindly to being told what to do by others.”
“Still, the offer is always there if you wish to take it.” Alcarin offered. Meela nodded.
“If you go to the Queen’s Court, I will go with you father.” Caelynn said.
“What about you Meela? Do you wish to meet the Queen?” Alcarin asked. Meela laughed.
“The Queen’s Court is definitely somewhere I don’t belong. Even if I wanted to go there, I couldn’t. I’m needed elsewhere. I have to help with the defence of Yastell.” Meela informed him.
“I understand. You and your crew are welcome to stay the night.” Alcarin said.
“Thank you my lord. But we will have to leave for Loro-Don in the morning.”
“Tonight you will be my guests. We will have a big feast in celebration of Caelynn’s return, and the finding of new friends.” Alcarin announced.
“That sounds wonderful. I’m overwhelmed by your hospitality. I will tell my crew to be on their best behaviour.” Meela responded. Alcarin smiled at her.
“It’s settled then. Now if you both excuse me, I have something to attend to.”He rose from the table and left the room.
“If you stay a couple of days, I can then go with you to Yastell.” Caelynn said. Meela ran her hands through Caelynn’s hair.
“To be honest my love, I don’t want you to go down to Yastell. It will be dangerous and I’m going to have a hard enough time keeping myself safe, let alone anyone else. I brought you back to your family’s home so you would be protected.” Meela admitted.
“You don’t want me to go down there because it isn’t safe, but you’ll quite happily go there? I thought we were in this together? I want to be by your side no matter where we go, or what happens.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s my final word on the matter. I don’t want to lose you down there. Besides, I need to leave as soon as possible.” Meela stated.
“So when do I see you again?” Caelynn asked sadly.
“I don’t know. Hopefully in a few weeks. I will come back for you.” Meela told her.
“Fine.” Caelynn replied as she rose out of the chair and quickly left the room. She ran up the stairs to her bedroom, wiping away the tears from her face as she did so.
That night there was huge feast in the Great Hall of the palace. All of Meela’s crew were there drinking wine and eating roasted meats. Caelynn sat beside her father looking downcast. She picked at her food but didn’t eat much. On the other side sat Meela who was drinking heavily.
“I’ve sent messages to all the other noble houses of the kingdom. Tomorrow we ride to the Queen’s palace.” Alcarin informed Meela.
“That’s great to hear!” Meela replied.
After the feast, Meela was given a room in the palace in which to sleep. Later that night she sought out Caelynn’s room. She crept up to Caelynn’s bed, and found she was still awake.
“I thought you might visit me.” Caelynn said looking at Meela reproachfully.
“This is our last night together for a while. I think we should enjoy it.” Meela suggested.
Caelynn sighed and moved over in her bed. Meela got into her bed. The sheets were made of fine silk. They wrapped their arms around each other and kissed.
“I’m really going to miss you.” Caelynn admitted.
“I’ll miss you too. I will be back soon. I promise.” Meela replied.
They kissed again and spent the rest of the night together.
In the morning Meela got her crew to get the ship ready. She had a bath and put on some fresh new clothes Caelynn’s father had given her. She then went looking for Caelynn. She found her in the room they had talked in yesterday. She was eating breakfast.
“I’m heading off now. All going well, I ‘ll see you again shortly.” she said to Caelynn.
Caelynn stood up and they kissed again. Alcarin walked in finding them in each other’s arms. Meela let go of Caelynn and bowed.
“Are you away soon?” Alcarin asked her.
“Yes my lord I’m ready to leave. Thank you for your hospitality.” Meela replied.
“When all this is over, we’re going to have to sit down and talk about you and my daughter, but that can wait for now. I trust you had a pleasant sleep?”
“Yes my lord.” Meela replied. Caelynn blushed slightly.
Meela then took her leave of them and headed to her ship. Caelynn sat down and wiped the tears from her face.
“Don’t be sad daughter, you’ll see her again. But we must get ready ourselves. We need to start riding for the Queen’s palace within the hour.” Alcarin told her. Caelynn nodded at his words.
“One thing I’ve always wanted to know: why did you teach me how to pick locks?” Caelynn asked him.
“Because you were my daughter. I didn’t want you to end up in a place or situation you couldn’t get yourself out of.” he replied.
The lord’s carriage was made ready. It was silver, decorated with moon and stars. They drove off for the Queen’s palace with a compliment of guards riding with them. It would take at least a couple of days riding to get there.
The Queen’s Palace was also referred to as the Star Palace, as it was shaped like a star with each of its five points a separate wing of the palace. The entire palace was also silver in colour. Surrounding it were five separate gardens; the summer, winter, spring, autumn, and Queen’s gardens (the Queen’s garden was a situated by the Queen’s private chambers). The Royal Court was situated in the centre of the palace, or the centre of the star, as it was regarded.
When Caelynn and her father arrived they could see that already many other carriages had arrived. They got out and walked up the wide stone steps to the palace entrance. The walls were made of marble and crystal.
“Good to see that most of the noble houses are already here.” remarked Alcarin.
They walked through the great silver doors and then followed the corridor to the throne room which was oval shaped with the silver throne of Larantel on a raised dais at the far end. The walls were white with silver strands. Caelynn always found this room rather cold. Around them many of the lords and ladies of the realm were already gathered as they waited for the Queen. Alcarin walked along the middle of the room and finally stopped in front of the throne. Caelynn stood beside him. The rest of the nobles followed him as he went forward, and now they all stood behind him. There was silence and a feeling of great anticipation.
It was a short wait for the Queen. She strode in from a door beside the dais. The crowd bowed when she entered. She was wearing a long white dress and a rather simple silver crown. She sat down on the throne and faced them. Her hair was long and dark and her skin was pale. Her bright blue eyes shone with power and authority. She gazed at Alcarin and gave a momentary flicker to Caelynn.
“My lord Alcarin. I am surprised to see you. Maybe you have found out there are still some of my servants you have left unmolested?” She said. To her surprise there was no response. She had expected laughs from the other lords that attended. Unconcerned, she then gazed at Caelynn. “And Caelynn! Funny thing is I fully remember sending you off to be our kingdom’s ambassador in Salané. And yet here you are. Did you know that instead of performing her duties, she’s been gallivanting with pirates! With no other than Meela Starblazer, the feared pirate herself!” That comment drew a few gasps. “So why are you here?”
“My daughter has uncovered papers showing you are giving aid to Tigreralat’s war with Yastell. All the noble houses had agreed we would have no involvement with this war, and yet we are. I have distributed these papers to the other noble houses, and we are all here wanting an explanation from you regarding your actions!” Alcarin said forcefully. All the other nobles looked up at her waiting for a response.
“Enough!” the Queen cried out waving her arms in the air.
Caelynn looked around. Everyone else was frozen, except her and the Queen.
“How did you do that?” Caelynn asked.
“Magic.” the Queen replied staring at her. Without thinking, Caelynn pulled the black wand from out of her dress.
“Unfreeze them now!” she ordered aiming the wand’s tip at the Queen. The Queen just laughed and then snapped her fingers. The wand was gone from Caelynn’s hand, and now in the hand of the Queen.
“I’m very impressed you found this. Your father taught you well. I made this wand.” the Queen revealed.
“You made it?” Caelynn was surprised. A bad feeling was rising in her.
“I made it for my student. One day, this young human came here asking me to teach him. I was amazed at his power, so I taught him everything I could.”
“Asden was your student?”
“Yes. And through my magic I used him to gain power over the Emperor. The entire empire was under my control, until that meddling half-human peasant boy came and ruined everything.” the Queen said.
“You mean Lafalin?”
“Lafalin, Bran, call him what you will… He came out of nowhere and destroyed my plans, and so I had to wait for the right opportunity to arise again. The most recent Emperor tragically lost his wife and child and he asked me for help. I told him he didn’t need an heir, through my magic he could live forever…”
“As a revenant you mean!” Caelynn interjected. The Queen smiled.
“Yes, as a revenant, and through my power over him the Empire will be mine to control again. The process is already beginning.”
“Why do all this?” Caelynn asked bewildered. “Why this need for so much power?”
“Because the world is mine!” the Queen declared. Caelynn could now see there was nothing behind those eyes, but blackness, and the ever craving hunger for more power.
“But thank you for bringing the wand to me. I was needing it. I promised it to the lord of the Shadow Realm. It will help seal the deal.”
“What deal?” asked Caelynn in rising dread.
“I’ve granted the Shadow Realm access to this plane. I would love to see the faces of your friends in Yastell when the portals begin opening and the shadow creatures come forth.” The Queen smiled. It was a cold smile. Caelynn turned to the door.
“I’ve got to warm them!” Caelynn cried out beginning to run for the doors.
“Stop where you are!” the Queen shouted out. Caelynn found herself unable to move.
“I sent you to Salané, so that’s where you’ll go back to! Guards!” Immediately half a dozen red robed Emperor’s Guard appeared from the out of the doorway. “Constrain her!” One of them put Caelynn in manacles. Instantly she felt them burning her skin with a cold fire. If she could move, she would be writhing in pain. “I’m sorry for the cold iron, but we can’t have you using magic on your way back to Salané, can we?”
“You won’t get away with this!” Caelynn shouted back at her grimacing in pain.
“And who’s going to stop me?” the Queen asked her laughing. “Guards, take her back to Salané where she belongs. Let the Emperor do with her as he will.”
The guards dragged Caelynn away screaming.
Next episode: Loro-Don Goes To War!
Eek! Sorry about the length, but I am trying to finish this story by the end of the year. That last part I’ve been waiting to write since I began this story.
Caelynn woke up in Meela’s arms. She stared at the wooden ceiling happy that she was finally out of the Emperor’s palace. She hadn’t liked it there. Meela was currently snoring into Caelynn’s right ear. She looked so pale to Caelynn’s eyes. She fervently hoped the poisoned blade hadn’t done Meela any permanent harm. Time would tell, she guessed. Feeling hungry she decided to delicately escape out of Meela’s embrace. Just after freeing herself, Meela suddenly awoke.
“Morning.” said Meela sleepily opening her eyes.
“Morning my love.” Caelynn said kissing her.
Caelynn soon found herself back in Meela’s arms while Meela drifted off to sleep again. Once again she tried prying herself out of Meela’s arms.
“You alright?” Meela suddenly asked her opening her eyes once more.
“I’m just a bit hungry. So I was going to find some food.” Caelynn informed her.
Meela slowly got up. She yawned and rubbed her eyes then cleared the hair out of her face. She grabbed her pipe that sat beside the bed and began stuffing tobacco into it.
“Did you sleep well?” Meela asked her as Caelynn finally got out of the bed.
“I did thanks.” Caelynn replied. “Where are we?” Meela looked at her surprised.
“You’re in my cabin on the ship. I thought you knew that.” She replied. Caelynn laughed.
“No, I meant where is the ship? Are we in Durn or just floating in the air above somewhere?”
“Oh I see. We’re docked at Loro-Don. If you’re hungry give me a moment to wake and we can go find something to eat.” Meela said as she lit her pipe. “We can’t directly teleport into Durn anyway, or so I think.”
“Have you ever tried it?” Caelynn asked her.
“No, and I’m not sure I would want to try. If it turns out I can’t, I don’t know where I would end up. For all I know the Shadow World would grab hold of me and pull me in.” Meela told her as she breathed out the bluish-grey smoke. Caelynn nodded and then resumed looking for all her clothes.
“I’ve never learnt to teleport, maybe I should.”
“It’s a powerful spell and difficult to master, but I’m sure you’re more than equal to the task.” Meela said encouragingly.
“If you want to go someplace to eat, you should probably start putting some clothes on.” Caelynn suggested.
“Or I could just wander around Loro-Don naked. I’m sure I would turn a few heads.” Meela stated. Caelynn smiled.
“So what’s the plan anyway?” Caelynn asked.
“I think we both need some rest. I thought we could head north to a rather beautiful place I know and stay there for a couple of days. After that I’ll take you to Larantel so you can confront the Queen.” Meela informed her as she puffed out more smoke.
“What do you then plan to do?” asked Caelynn finally putting some clothes on.
“I’ll have to come back here and lead a fleet of airships down to Yastell.” She stated.
“So after what happened to you there, you’re still going back?” Caelynn asked concerned.
“I’m needed there. If we are going to have any chance in holding off the Empire’s forces then we’re going to need as many people as we can get. Besides, I can be of use.” Meela explained.
“I just don’t want you to get injured again. You’re still looking weak from your last visit.”
“Don’t worry I won’t let that happen again. I don’t often give others the opportunity to skewer me. It’ll be fine.” Meela consoled her. “Right, let’s get something to eat!”
Meela got up from the bed and began getting dressed. After a few short minutes they left the Crimson Vengeance and headed for the back streets of the city where Meela reckoned the best food could be found, or at least her favourite food. They drank beers and ate various bits of meat roasted on sticks or wrapped up in bread, until they were both full. The food was rather basic for Caelynn’s tastes, but she was hungry enough to eat anything presented to her. Once they were finished, Meela sent word round the streets that her crew was expected at the Crimson Vengeance as soon as possible. They headed back to the ship and slowly waited for the rest of the crew to turn up.
“We’re sailing north for a few days. We need to restock the ship and get her ready within the next couple of hours. And I expect everyone to help.” Meela said in front of her crew on the deck of the ship. Beside her stood Bronwyn.
“Okay everyone, you heard what the boss said. Look to your duties!” ordered Bronwyn.
The entire crew quickly dispersed, but within a surprisingly short time the airship was fully provisioned and ready to set out. They sailed north and only after a few hours Caelynn reckoned this was the furthest north she had ever been. Below there were endless trees which slowly gave rise to forested hilltops. Far in the distance Caelynn could see tall mountains which she knew as the Northern Border. In the ancient past it was thought they were the limits of the lands northwards, but in reality they went much further on than that, even up to the frozen wastes.
“So where are we going?” Caelynn asked Meela who had taken the wheel, not something she usually did.
“To a place I like.” Meela replied coyly.
“You ever going to tell me more than that?” Caelynn inquired.
“We’ll be there soon.” Meela revealed.
Giving up on getting anything else from Meela, Caelynn looked below again. The hills grew ever more taller their bare peaks beginning to stick out above the low cloud. Then a series of hills that got lower then ending in an abrupt cliff-face over which water cascaded into a wide lake below. The long waterfall and the azure lake surrounded by vibrant green forested hills was a beautiful sight. Slowly the airship turned, going back over the hill they had just passed. She then heard the ships engines, that were powered by magic, suddenly kick in and the airship slowed.
“Secure the ship!” Meela commanded.
Ropes were flung over the sides and crew members slid down them. They fastened the ropes to trees until the airship just hung in the air above them. Then other crew members slid down the ropes. Caelynn preferred to use the rope ladder, rather than slide down a rope herself. Once they had all got down they stared in awe at the lake below them and the water falling only a few feet away.
“This is beautiful!” Caelynn said to Meela who was standing behind her with her arms wrapped around Caelynn.
“Nothing but the best for my girl.” Meela replied as she kissed Caelynn’s neck.
Caelynn looked around at the hills around them. Below, the lake was a carved out basin that was filled with water. She looked to the north and wondered what lay beyond.
“Can you see the broken lands from here?” She asked.
“No, they are bit further off in that direction.” Meela said pointing towards the north east. “They reckon that lake has some of the deepest waters in the world.”
Just as Meela said that several of the crew began jumping off the cliff diving deeply into the water, while several other crew members began preparing a campsite which included building a fire, since it was starting to get late and the air was beginning to get a chill to it.
“So are we going to stay around here for a couple of days?”
“Yes, there are several nice places to walk to around here. Also I need to make a new staff and I’m hoping to find a branch that I could use.” Meela answered.
“You use a staff? For magic?” Caelynn was surprised.
“Yes.” Meela admitted. “I use them to store power in, so if I’m in a place like a siege I can draw on the power in the staff, rather than my own. Unfortunately my last staff was broken into two in Yastell, so I need to make a new one before I head down there again.”
That night they all sat around the fire as the air grew colder. Some of the crew had been lucky and come back with some fish they had caught, so they all enjoyed a basic fish stew. Caelynn noticed Kara was still sneering at her. When it was time for sleep Caelynn was given the option to sleep in a tent or in Meela’s cabin aboard the ship. She decided to share a tent with Meela. It was less comfortable than Meela’s bed, though not by much, but they got a tent to themselves. They eventually fell to sleep in one another’s arms both feeling exhausted and covered in sweat.
In the morning they were woken by a dawn chorus of birds in the trees surrounding them. They had a quick breakfast of fresh pan fried fish, bread, and strong coffee. After they had eaten Meela and Caelynn went for a walk following a path downhill with Meela leading and looking for fallen branches that could be used for a potential staff. In the morning air among the trees Caelynn could smell all the different scents and smells of the woods around them. It reminded her of home. She felt happier among the trees and plants than in a palace of cold stone. Meela stopped when she found a fallen branch. She inspected it and then moved on.
“What sort of wood are you looking for?” Caelynn asked.
“Ideally oak, as it’s a good standard wood for staffs and wands, but elder or yew would do, even ash.” Meela replied.
Caelynn looked around. There was a good variety of trees here. She could definitely see oak and ash trees, though not so much the other two Meela had mentioned.
“So what do you think will happen in Yastell?” Meela turned around and shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know. It’s going to be difficult to stop the Empire’s forces, especially if they have magical support from Larantel. The thing that worries me most is they have a contingent of dwarves with them who are quite adept with gunpowder. If I was them I would tunnel under the fortresses, put as much gunpowder as I could down there and cause the fortress to collapse into the ground. I’m very worried about that.” She resumed walking.
“Maybe the Empire will want to keep the fortresses in one piece? If they succeed in conquering Yastell, they’ll need those fortifications themselves.” Caelynn suggested.
“Or they will just build new ones from all the wealth they will plunder from Yastell’s resources.” Meela countered.
“By the way your second mate still hates me.”
“She’s jealous of you is all. I told her if it was going to be a problem then she should crew another ship, but she stayed.” Meela explained. “It’s her problem, not yours.”
They walked on. Meela found an oak branch that seemed to suit her needs. They continued on for a time with Meela walking with the branch in her right hand, as though it was already her staff. At a particular point Meela suddenly turned round and resumed walking uphill back towards the camp. Caelynn followed behind her. By the time they got back to the camp, it was midday and some of the crew were beginning to prepare lunch.
“This branch feels right.” Meela commented after they got back.
Meela sat down by the fire and began stripping the bark off the branch with a sharp knife. She also removed all the wooden knots until it was just one smooth length of wood the right length for her.
“So what do you have to do now with it?” Caelynn asked her.
“I have to make the wood smooth, then I have to burn on magic symbols, and then coat the wood with varnish. I also have to attune to the wood. Once I’ve done that it will be ready to store my magical power.” Meela informed her.
“Are you going to do that all here?”
“No, I can do some of it here, but I can do the finishing touches back at Loro-Don. All I needed to do here was find a suitable branch really.”
After lunch they looked out over the lake again. Meela had done as much with the staff as she currently wanted. She turned to Caelynn.
“While we’re here, there is one other thing I want us to do.” She declared.
“What?” Caelynn asked intrigued.
“That black wand you found. I want you to throw it into the lake.” Meela stated.
“But why? It could be of use.” Caelynn argued.
“We don’t need it, and I fear it could do some damage to you the longer you possess it. Please throw it into the water.” Meela implored her.
“The world has a habit of dredging up unwanted things. Nothing in this world stays lost and forgotten for long.” Caelynn informed her.
“I know. But at least it will be beyond our abilities to recover, and so we won’t be tempted to use it. That lakes waters are so deep that it will be a long time before that wand is ever seen again, if ever.” Meela replied. Caelynn sighed.
“Okay I’ll go and get it!”
Caelynn walked up the rope ladder and, once aboard, went into Meela’s cabin and opened up her extra dimensional storage. Once she found what she was looking for, she headed back to Meela. She showed Meela the black wand. An enchantment was put on it so a spell would be unable to summon it back out of the waters. Then Caelynn threw it over the side into the lake. It sank without a trace. Meela hugged her.
“I’m so proud of you! You let that go easier than I was expecting.” Meela told her while kissing her cheek.
“It’s what you wanted, and you mean the world to me.” Caelynn responded looking into the water.
They spent the afternoon swimming. The water was cold and clear, but felt quite refreshing. That night they all sat around the campfire telling stories and passing a bottle of rum around. Meela and Caelynn spent the night in the tent again. Like the night before, they made love until they were both exhausted and fell asleep again in one another’s arms.
The next day it was overcast and raining. They still went for a walk but did their best not to get too wet. Meela also worked on her staff a bit more during the odd moment she had to herself aboard the ship. That night they both slept in Meela’s cabin, partially due to the rain, but also because they were planning to leave early the next morning. While Meela was still below, Caelynn opened up her portable dimension again. She fished out the piece of material she was looking for, and then unwrapped it. There lay the black wand. She wrapped it up and hid it away again. When Meela had asked her to throw it into the lake, she had substituted a long stick she had found and put an illusion over it making it look like the black wand to Meela. She hated deceiving Meela, but she felt the wand was too important to throw away.
They spent what would be their last night together for some time making love again. Caelynn was going back to Larantel and Meela was heading to Yastell shortly afterwards. Neither knew when they would see each other again, so they decided to make the best of it while they still had the chance.
Next morning they all quickly packed up and untied the ropes holding the airship in place. The Crimson Vengeance began to float off. The crew unfurled the sails while Meela steered the airship to the south-east – in the direction of Larantel. Caelynn joined her on deck. She was both excited to be heading back home, and sad that she would be leaving Meela, for now.
They had been travelling for a few hours when something caught Meela’s attention. She brought out her spyglass and looked.
“What is it?” asked Caelynn.
“There’s another airship approaching us.” Meela revealed while still looking through the spyglass. “I think it’s an ork pirate ship and it has the wind advantage.”
“Orks?” Caelynn asked in surprise. She had never seen an ork, but had heard of them.
“If we’re lucky they’ll just want a fight.” Meela stated.
Caelynn was planning to stay in her room and read all evening, but in the late afternoon a messenger appeared and informed her she was expected to attend a small dinner in the Emperor’s private chambers. It had only been two days since she had broken into the Emperor’s study, and she began wondering if the Emperor knew she had done this, and maybe he was planning to confront her this evening. She wouldn’t be able to run away from this as she knew she was being watched and would never get far. She thought it best to attend the dinner, and face whatever the Emperor had planned for her. So while Aileen picked out a dress for her to wear, Caelynn bathed and then had her hair styled into something appropriate. She hid her wand in the folds of her sleeve in case it was needed. Once she was ready, she walked off to the Emperor’s private dining room with her heart beating wildly all the way.
When she arrived she was led into a large dining room with a long polished wooden table. Already the Chancellor, the Arch-Wizard, Talan, and Lady Meren, smiling inanely as usual, were already there. Sitting by the Arch-Wizard was a man she had never seen before. He was dressed in fine clothes which suggested aristocracy, or perhaps even royalty. His skin was slightly browner, he had short brown hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. Caelynn guessed he was probably quite tall.
She was ushered to a seat across from the Arch-Wizard and predictably next to Lady Meren. She sat down and waited with the others. Caelynn found this moment nerve wracking and gave the Arch-Wizard a slight smile, but he just stared at her stonily. She looked at the man sitting next to him, who seemed to be looking at her with interest.
“You must be the Lady Caelynn, the ambassador from Larantel.” He remarked.
“Yes, your highness.” She replied, hoping she got it right.
“Oh forgive me! This is Lord Justinian. He is the administrator for Antearl and the other eastern provinces. He is also the Emperor’s cousin, and the next in line to the throne, should anything regrettable happen to his Highness.” The Chancellor cut in.
“Honoured to meet you, your highness.” Caelynn said to Justinian, bowing her head.
“Honoured to meet you too, my lady.” He replied, bowing his head also.
Eventually the Emperor appeared along with a couple of guards and a retinue of servants. He wore a gold-coloured doublet with a red sash, and dark trousers. He sat down in the the centre, in-between Justinian and the Chancellor. He gave everyone a brief smile and then the food was served. It was a fine dinner by human standards. After a while they began to talk. The discussion wasn’t on anything important, just how the weather was getting colder, and how the new train was going. Lady Meren inquired about the war in Yastell and everyone went silent. Many of them looked at each other nervously fearing the Emperor’s response. The Emperor, however, ignored the question and began talking about the Imperial Garden instead. He then asked Caelynn how she was finding the palace, and Caelynn diplomatically replied that she was finding her way around.
“Much as I suspected.” The Emperor replied enigmatically. Caelynn found herself pondering those words.
Once the meal had ended, they all followed the Emperor to the adjoining room with soft chairs and a large fireplace. They sat there for a short while captivated by the warm roaring fire, and then slowly began drinking and talking again. Caelynn began to understand that these meals were a regular occurrence. Eventually everyone began to disappear, until to her shock, she found there was just her the Emperor left in the room, aside from servants.
“I guess I should be going now, your highness.” Caelynn said to the Emperor, while finishing her drink.
“No let’s stay and talk. I haven’t had much opportunity to talk with you in the last few days.” the Emperor replied. Caelynn’s heart sank. She obviously wasn’t going to get away that easy. “You are my adviser to matters pertaining to Larantel, after all.”
“Indeed your highness.” Caelynn answered.
“Surely we don’t have to be so formal?” the Emperor declared.
“In the Queen’s Court we never break protocol, my lord.” Caelynn informed him.
“But this isn’t the Queen’s Court is it? It’s my court, in my own kingdom. And what I say here is what goes. After all, aren’t we just simple rustic humans to you? Isn’t that how you view us, my lady?” He asked pointedly.
The Emperor was looking up at her with a wine goblet in his hands with a shrewd look in his eyes. Caelynn gave a brief smile.
“Not at all, my lord. Many humans have surprised me recently.” She replied cautiously.
“Did you know your Queen sent you here as a possible match for me? Is it to do with her sense of humour that she sends me a female who prefers the company of other women?”
So the Queen was intending to marry her off to the Emperor. Her worst fears were confirmed. The Emperor finished off the wine in his goblet and alerted a servant for a refill.
“I don’t think we would be a good match.” Caelynn informed him.
“No you’re right. You prefer to sleep with a traitor. What has she got that I haven’t?” He asked her. A vulva, was the first thing that sprang into her mind, but she decided against saying that.
“I don’t know what you mean my lord.” she replied. The Emperor smashed his goblet against the wall only a foot away from Caelynn’s head. She jumped in surprise.
“Don’t take me for a fool! Let’s do away with the pretence shall we? You insult my intelligence! Don’t worry, I’m not planning to send you down below to the dungeons to be tortured, at least not yet! If I had wanted to do that, you would already be down there.” The Emperor glared at her. Caelynn knew she was in an extremely difficult situation.
“Okay. Three months ago on my way to coming here, my airship was attacked by Meela and her pirates. She took me as a prisoner and we fell in love. I didn’t expect that to happen, believe me.” Caelynn admitted.
“And she sent you back here to spy on me?” He asked.
“No. I decided to come here so my absence wouldn’t continue to arouse suspicion. I was worried that it might reflect badly on my father. My house is out of favour in the Queen’s Court for now, though I think you’re aware of that.” she lied. The Emperor looked at Caelynn as though he didn’t really believe her.
“Oh yes, your father. He was in a big scandal wasn’t he?” Caelynn nodded. “So where is Durn?” He suddenly asked.
“There is no Durn. I made it up.” Caelynn replied looking into the flames.
“I see. Maybe I should hand you over to the Imperial Inquisitor. Maybe she will get the truth out of you. I’m sure you will like her too.” he said half-smiling to himself. Caelynn breathed hard.
“I have told you the truth.” she said, looking him straight in the eye. He looked at her unconvinced.
“Like hell you have, but I understand. We all lie to hide things that are important to us. I just hope that maybe you’ll see things our way one day.” He said with slight menace in his voice. He got the servant to get him a new goblet and then resumed drinking. “It’s obvious who you are loyal to. Not me, not your queen, but a pirate. All because she knows where to stick her fingers in you. But loyalties can change.”
“I’m sorry my lord. If you’re unhappy with me, you can always send me back to Larantel.”
“Oh you would like that wouldn’t you? To be discharged of service. No, I know you really don’t want to be here, so this is where you will stay, for now. It means I can keep an eye on you, and on the comings and goings of your lover as well. And one day both of you will have your heads removed in the city square, preferably together. And I will be there watching it. Or maybe I will have Meela’s head removed in front of you, and then let you live with it for a while. We shall see.”
“Why are you like this?” Caelynn said directly to him. He looked surprised at the audacity of he question.
“What do you mean?”
“This war you’re conducting, your bitterness, this insatiable need for revenge?” Caelynn asked. The Emperor gave a brief smile and resumed drinking. “What’s the root cause of it all?”
“I once loved someone like you do now, but she died in childbirth, taking our child with her. I was deprived of her love and an heir for this Empire.” He informed her. “The sad reality is that everyone dies, and ones that survive are left to deal with it. The pressures to keep this empire together are time consuming and immense. It’s all I have time for these days. I don’t want to invade Yastell, but it has to happen. It’s demanded of me. Some of us answer to others, even when you’re an Emperor controlling most of the known world. Personally, I think the Empire is large enough, but apparently it’s not. So I have to send out more armies and conquer more lands, and create more misery, all in the name of the Empire.” Caelynn listened in bewilderment. He was drinking heavily and beginning to make less sense.
“Who’s ordering you to invade Yastell?” she asked him. The Emperor looked up and smiled evilly at her.
“I can’t tell you that.” He replied. He stared down at his drink again. “I think you should leave now.” But Caelynn was perplexed.
“Is there something going on you need to tell me about? Maybe I can help.” Caelynn suggested.
“Thank you my Lady Caelynn, but that will be all. Go now!” He shouted. Some guards burst into the room. The Emperor turned to them. “Please ensure that Lady Caelynn Liadon returns safely to her rooms.” They nodded and led Caelynn out of the Emperor’s private suite.
Caelynn was now back in her rooms feeling bewildered. She couldn’t stay. The Emperor would eventually throw her into the dungeons. It was only a matter of time. Clearly something was going on, something dark and terrifying, and it even had control over the Emperor and he could no longer listen to reason. He wouldn’t accept her help. He was too far in the darkness and beyond her reach. Caelynn was sure he was not that far from suddenly snapping into a complete madman.
She sat down on her bed and resolved what to do. She knew she had to leave, preferably as soon as possible. She wondered how she could escape the palace. If she tried to leave, the people who watch her would have her followed, and once they realised she was trying to escape they would just bring her back here, and then the doors to her room would probably be locked, making her more obviously a prisoner than she was now. Maybe Selador would help her? But she had to be careful the other elves from Larantel weren’t drawn into this.
She stood up. How to escape, she would have to figure out later. At least if she started packing that would keep her occupied, and then she would be ready to go if some opportunity arose. If she got all the essentials ready to go first, such as the papers that showed the collusion between the Queen of Larantel and the Emperor, and the black wand she found, then she could leave with little notice, and maybe wouldn’t arouse much suspicion. She pulled out her wand and opened up the pocket dimension that was linked to her necklace. She began packing all the essential things in it that she probably wouldn’t need to use if she was going to be leaving in a few more days.
As she packed, there was suddenly a soft tapping. She froze. It came from her window. Her heart gave a sudden leap. Against all hope, had Meela appeared at the time when she most needed her? She opened up the window.
“Hey there lovely! Can I come in?” said a familiar voice. Caelynn’s heart leaped out of her chest.
“Meela!” She exclaimed in disbelief. Meela swung through the window and into the bedroom.
“Just thought I would check in.” Meela said casually. Caelynn gave her the tightest hug she could. “You seem pleased to see me!”
“I am so glad to see you!” Caelynn said. She gave Meela and appraisal and noticed she looked rather thin and pale. “What happened to you?”
“I got caught in a battle while in Yastell. A soldier put his sword through me, and it turned out the blade was poisoned. But I’m better now.” Meela explained.
“You look so tired!” Caelynn stated. She began running her hands through Meela’s dirty blonde hair.
“I’m not at full strength, but I’m getting there.” Meela admitted. “So how is everything going here?”
“I’ve got copies of letters between Lynarin and the Emperor. It shows they are working together. If we take it to the Queen’s Court, she will lose favour with the other noble houses of Larantel.” Caelynn reached into the pocket dimension she had just created and brought out the letters. She handed them to Meela.
Meela sat down on the bed and began reading them. She raised her eyebrows on more than one occasion.
“This does look pretty damning for the Queen. Good work!” Meela commented while still going through the letters.
“Meela.” Caelynn said softly. Meela stopped reading and looked up at her.
“I’ve got what we were looking for. I want to leave now.” Caelynn stated.
“Are you sure? Maybe there’s some other things you can find?”
“No I really want to go. Tonight if possible. I’ve had a really disturbing discussion with the Emperor this evening. We’re not safe here. The Emperor knows, and plans to have us both beheaded.” Caelynn pleaded. Meela put down the letters and gave Caelynn a hug.
“Okay. If you really want to go, we’ll go. I just wasn’t expecting to take you back with me this evening.” Meela consoled her. She let go and then took Caelynn’s hands in hers. She then looked down at Caelynn’s hands. “What’s wrong with your right hand?”
“What do you mean?” Caelynn asked.
“Your fingertips have got a black stain on them, and that hand is colder than the other.” Meela clarified.
“It’s probably the wand.” Caelynn explained.
“I found a black wand in the Emperor’s study. My guess is that it may have belonged to Asden.” Caelynn told her.
“Can I have a look at it?” Meela asked. Caelynn retrieved it from the pocket dimension. She unwrapped the cloth it was in and handed it to Meela. Meela held onto it unwillingly. It was cold to the touch and she could feel some darkness in it.
“It’s a power wand. It could aid us in our fight against the Emperor, and the Queen.”
“We don’t need it.” Meela said. “I’m sure the two of us can face any challenge before us, as long as we’re together. I think you should wrap this up again. My advice is handle that wand as little as possible, there is some evil in it.” Caelynn looked at her surprised.
“A sorceress afraid of a wand?”
“I’m not afraid of it, I just don’t think we should use it. It might taint you.” Meela advised.
“Alright then.” Caelynn wrapped it up in the cloth and stowed it away again.
“How soon can you get everything packed?” Meela asked.
“If I just take the essentials, not long. I don’t need most of this stuff.” Caelynn replied. Meela looked at her surprised.
“Caelynn not bothered about her possessions anymore? Okay, what have you done with the real Caelynn?” Meela asked her.
“I think being with you has taught me that I don’t need nice things to be happy. I just want to be with you, that’s all I need.” Caelynn responded. Meela raised her eyebrows.
“I’m obviously having a positive effect on you. Who would have thunk it?” They hugged again and shared a long deep kiss. “And now start packing. The sooner you’re done, the quicker we can get out of here.”
Caelynn began throwing things into the dimension. Within a few minutes she had packed all the things she still needed.
“Let’s go.” Caelynn declared.
“Okay we’re going to have to go out the window and get beyond the palace grounds. Due to the magical shielding we can’t teleport here.” Meela told her.
“We’re going to teleport?” Caelynn asked.
“Yes, but I’m going to need your help. I’m already quite drained, so I’m going to have to draw on some of your power too.”
“Okay.” said Caelynn. She had never teleported before, but had heard stories about it, especially when it went wrong…
They both climbed out the window and onto the palace grounds. They sneaked among the bushes.
“Hey you there! Stop where you are!” a voice suddenly called out in the dark.
“Oops! The palace guards! We better move!” Meela loudly whispered. The two of them picked up speed.
“Alert! We have intruders! Guards!” The voice shouted out. Meela and Caelynn were now running through the Imperial Garden. In the distance they could see a dark line, which were the outer walls. They ran for them. Caelynn looked back to see at least five or six guards were now following them.
“Meela, whatever you do, don’t look back!” Caelynn warned her. They got to the walls and scrambled over them. By the time they were over the other side the guards had already got to the wall themselves. They heard them begin to climb.
“Quickly over there!” ordered Meela pointing to some bushes. While they both hid there breathing heavily, Meela grabbed both of Caelynn’s arms. They both felt their magic pulsing together.
“We better do this now.” suggested Caelynn as they heard feet running towards them.
“Okay, whatever happens keep hold of my arms.” Meela told her.
The next thing Caelynn felt was like she was between two different places, but inhabiting them both at the same time. She felt tendrils latch onto her legs and try to pull her downwards, but she held onto Meela as tight as she could. And then suddenly they were both in Meela’s cabin. She never thought she would feel so happy and relieved to be back on Meela’s airship. They hugged and then collapsed onto Meela’s lumpy bed.