This story is a sequel. I recommend to read the following first: Zikel's Pride, Yustiel's Heart, Nezekan's Judgement.
When they woke her up she could vaguely remember what happened. Her head hurt like hell and everything was blurry. They dragged her to her feet and led her through cold and dark corridors until they entered a great hall with numerous fancy columns supporting the ceiling and complicated glass mosaics in tall windows. But apart from few candelabrae on the walls and in front of some columns the room lacked any decorations and its impression was simply cold.
The Balaur guards brought her in front of majestic throne where a man wearing a long black and dark blue coat resided. Then they bowed deeply, stepped back and knelt. The man got up. He came closer to her and scanned her thoroughly.
"Kneel before me," he ordered. His voice was deep and full of arrogance. She dared to look into his eyes. They were dark blue and confident.
"No," she slowly shook her head. Even though she knew who he was, and how vast was his power, she didn't want to obey.
"Kneel before me and I shall make you my queen," he said without changing his expression.
"I'd rather die," she replied.
Without other word he transformed his arm into its dragon form and pierced her chest with sharp talons.
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die, she thought while falling to the floor into a pool of her own blood. They lie.
~ x ~
A young daeva with silver hair, dark skin and sharp look handed her report to the officer and left the Temple of Death. A day ago she returned from her half year long scouting and sabotage mission in Elysea and at the moment she was just happy to breathe the air of Pandaemonium. She looked around and smile crept up to her face. She absolutely wanted to visit the best Asmodian spa, there weren't many opportunities to take a good bath in Eltnen, but there was one thing she wanted to do first. Half a year is very long time for not talking to her friend, so she headed to the Temple of Artisans. When she got there and entered the shop, she was surprised to see not her friend but another apprentice.
"Hello, Cyhiraeth," he greeted her with a bit nervous smile. "Are you here to buy something?"
"Hi, Timo, maybe later, now I'm here only to talk with..."
"No," he interrupted her in haste. "Don't say that name. Master Zyakia is over there and she would get very angry. Please, go outside, I'll explain it to you in a moment."
"Uh, okay," she looked around and left the shop. Timo indeed joined her after several minutes.
"I don't have much time, master Zyakia is in very bad mood lately," he sighed.
"Then you should tell me as quickly as possible what happened that she can't stand hearing Chellia's name," she frowned.
"A lot happened," he shrugged. "They've been in few bad arguments. It started like four months ago when lord Zikel came here and ordered a dress for a lady. Chellia was the only person in the shop at that time so she took the order and made the dress. Note to say it was very good and lord Zikel was pleased so he paid something extra. And that's when master Zyakia yelled at her like I've never seen before."
"Why? Because she was that good?" Cyhiraeth refused to believe it.
"Not exactly. No one even knew the dress was for lord Zikel until he came for it," he explained. "And you know the master Zyakia's rule that the most important things have to me made by herself, right? Well, when lord Zikel came here for the first time, to order the dress, master Zyakia was away to take orders from high priestess Agehia. And as she's the most important person in Pandaemonium, after the Shedim lords and governor Vidar, of course, when the master came back, Chellia reported we got order from a very important customer. Master's reply was if it's not governor Vidar, I'm not interested. No one would ever expect a Shedim lord to come here personally! So Chellia made that dress and master Zyakia was here when he came back to pay for it."
"Oh, yes, I can imagine that argument," Cyhiraeth giggled. "What happened next?"
"Usual stuff, nothing special... But two weeks ago, one morning Chellia came into the shop dressed for travels and said she has to go somewhere for a long time. I've never heard her saying sorry that much. And master Zyakia yelled at her and told her to never come back. And we haven't seen her since then. I've heard she boarded ship to Gelkmaros, but where would she get money for it? She wasn't paid enough here, you know? Wasn't she spy for the Temple of Death? Or someone's personal servant?"
"Don't be paranoid, Timo, Chellia and spy? That's clearly nonsense," Cyhiraeth laughed. "She probably got some good job over there. Thank you for the tips, have fun," she waved her hand in a goodbye gesture and left the Temple of Artisans.
So Gelkmaros then, huh? It might be a nice vacation, she thought while walking around the city. But... the spa first!
~ x ~
Despite the warm light provided by several heatless enchanted torches the air in the Asmodian council hall was tense. Four Shedim lords were sitting behind a U shaped table and waiting for the last one to join them. This meeting, called by lord Azphel himself immediately after he read the letter from the Elyos, was of utmost importancy and such delay was unthinkable.
"Where the hell is he?" Triniel gritted her teeth. The letter and following Azphel's order were the only things that kept her here. She needed to commence the searching for Chellia and as soon as they end, she planned to do it.
"This attitude is unusual for you, Triniel," Marchutan wondered. "Something serious happened, perhaps?"
"None of your business, Marchutan," she snapped. "Lord Azphel, can we start without Zikel? He's probably drunk again."
"I'm sober," Zikel entered the hall and grumpily sat on his seat. "Now, what's so important that I had to return from Reshanta? It's in a big mess now."
"If you weren't slacking off over the past few months, it would be in far better shape," Lumiel smiled coldly.
"Shut up," he grunted.
"Stop with your quarrels," Azphel's voice echoed the hall. Everyone gone silent and looked at their leader. He had a face of middle aged man, grey hair of an elder, but his sharp dark grey eyes indicated that he was much older and he's been through a lot more than simple humans or young daevas could imagine. "The reason why I called you here today is this letter from Ariel," he held the fancy envelope in his hand so the remaining Shedim lords could see it.
"What's written there?" Lumiel asked with curiosity.
"Doesn't matter, it's a trash anyway," Zikel snorted.
"You can't know that," the Lady of Wisdom objected.
"Nothing that comes from the Elyos can be good. Ever," he insisted on his point of view.
"That's why you went to seek help from my sister?" Triniel snapped at him. "Because nothing good could come from it? Or you were so desperate that you didn't care she was an Elyos?"
"That's none of your business, Triniel!"
"Silence!" Azphel interrupted their argument. "They offer us a truce until we deal with the Balaur."
"Just that?!" Zikel hit the desk with his fist and got up. "You called me here for this? Just send them to hell, kill the messenger and be done with it!"
"The messenger already returned," Triniel replied. "I sent him back to deliver another important message."
"What could be so important that you let an Elyos escape?!"
"And what could be so important that you sought help in Eltnen?"
"That's enough! Your behaviour is disgraceful, Triniel," Azphel said with deep and calm voice. "As the Shedim Lady of Death you should have more control over your reactions. We're here to determine the future of Atreia. I believe I do not have to remind you, that significantly outweighs a life of one single girl."
Triniel stared at him speechless.
"Yes, I know about her. We'll discuss it later. Now all of you stay focused. The Seraphim lords propose us negotiations about the truce on neutral ground, in Sarpan with Reians as mediators," the Lord of Shadows continued.
"Do they explain why?" Marchutan asked. "From what I've seen in Balaurea, they don't seem to seek peace with us."
"Why should we care about their reasons?!" Zikel's patience was on its edge. "We're not going to accept it anyway!"
"And since when do you speak for all of us, dear Zikel?" Lumiel's smile suddenly became very cold.
"You don't plan to... talk with those sun blasted, backstabbing cowards, do you?!"
"Why not? It's not like we're inviting them here or walking into their trap," the Lady of Wisdom shrugged. "The Reians will ensure we won't massacre each other and in the end it can be fun."
"Are you insane?!" the Lord of Destruction roared.
"Calm down, Zikel," Azphel's quiet voice struck him as a lightning. "Put aside your personal affairs and concetrate only on the future of Asmodae and Atreia as whole. I require that from all of you now."
Zikel clenched his fists and slowly sat down. The anger and grief were boiling inside him. All the Shedim lords knew about Alia and her death after unsuccessful healing from Yustiel. When Zikel returned from Eltnen more than four months ago, Azphel scolded him like some little brat. Since then his hatred towards the people from the other half of Atreia grew stronger every day. At the beginning he tried to drown his grief in alcohol, but it only made him feel worse. And even now after all the time passed, he couldn't stop thinking about his lost love. And couldn't forgive those who caused her to disappear. Including himself.
"Fine, do whatever you want," he resigned. "Just leave me out of it."
"I'm afraid leaving you out of this discussion is impossible," Marchutan objected. "Since you are one of the Shedim lords, it is required for you to take part."
"Lord Azphel, may I see that letter?" Lumiel asked. The Lord of Shadows narrowed his eyes and handed the envelope over to her. She read through it quickly, whistled in surprise and returned it. "That's very impressive," she said. "They seem to take the truce seriously. But there is one thing which doesn't add up. Triniel, you said the messenger was a man, right?"
Lumiel's actions were always beneficial to Asmodae, but that was the only thing one could tell for sure about her. She had her own specific way of thinking and her views of the world were so different from the other Shedim lords. They could never tell what plan or goal she had in her mind. Seeking help from her could be a double edged sword. And it was never a good idea to lie to her or evade answering her questions.
"Yes," the Lady of Death nodded stiffly.
"According to the letter, it should be a girl, out of generosity they were returning us a prisoner."
"According to the messenger," Triniel clenched her fists and her breath and heartbeat became faster with anxiety. "The girl disappeared on her way here. That's why I sent him back. To inform the Seraphim lords of her disappearance."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Trin," Lumiel's expression saddened a bit.
"Who is that girl?" Zikel fastened his gaze upon Triniel. "If she's that important to the Elyos, I want to know why."
"She's none of your concern," she retorted. "I will deal with this matter myself."
"Do you prefer them to learn about your mistake from the Elyos rather than from you?" Azphel frowned. "Don't forget you're one of the Shedim lords, the Asmodians are looking up to you. You should lead by example."
"So what?! You're saying Chellia is a mistake?!" Triniel raised her voice. "She's not a mistake! And I won't let people like Zikel to hurt her just because of their prenotions!"
"Triniel, stop," Marchutan said with calm and soothing voice and his mantras became more intense. "If it's Destiny's will, the girl shall return safely. Now look at me," he continued and his eyes started to glow white. She had no other option, she had to obey. "You need to calm down. If you want to help her, you have to calm down and think clearly. Don't let your sorrow cloud your reason. She's in the hands of Destiny right now."
"I won't let Destiny to hurt Chellia either," Triniel responded, but her voice wasn't hysteric anymore. "I apologise, lord Azphel. I should have control my reactions better."
"Now tell us about your girl," Marchutan bid her.
"You..." she looked at him in surprise. "You know about her too?"
"From what you've said here it's quite obvious."
She sighed and looked around.
"Chellia is my daughter," she said with resolve. "I've been hiding her since she was born, so she could grow up as any other child. I broke Aion's law, I know it, but she's innocent. Punish me as much as you want, but please, don't hurt her. I'll exchange my life for hers."
"What law?" Zikel was confused.
"The only Aion's law which could relate to this, would be the one forbidding two Empyrean lords to love each other and have children," Marchutan searched through his knowledge. "Which brings me to another question; who is her father?"
"So you're a traitor now?" Zikel spat angrily.
"Zikel, please," she rolled her eyes. "I love Nezekan, but I've never done anything that would harm Asmodae in favour of him."
"Except sending him this brat."
"It's..." Triniel took a deep breath. "It's because of Chellia they sent us that letter. No one except her could ever be able to convince Nezekan the peace is possible. I agree with their proposal. There is nothing we can lose by talking to them on Reian soil. And we can gain a lot from it."
"Good idea, let's talk with them," Lumiel accorded with a neutral smile. "I'm very much interested in what they want to tell us."
"Oh, yeah, that's the stupidest idea ever!" Zikel shook his head. "What can they possibly offer us? Flowers? Butterflies? Don't make me laugh. The only thing I want to hear from them is: We surrender."
"The fact we weren't able to defeat them until now speaks for itself," Marchutan objected Zikel's rant. "They would certainly be help against the Balaur. And as Sarpan and Tiamaranta have already proven, our soldiers are capable of fighting alongside them."
"Let's hear what they have to say," Azphel decided. "This offer can be only beneficial to us. If they come up with nonsense, we can cut the negotiations at any moment."
"Fine, but don't expect me to hug and kiss them just because we'll be on neutral ground," Zikel gave up. "To me they are still enemies."
"Marchutan, talk to the Reians and arrange the meeting with the Elyos. I'll send our reply to Ariel," Azphel gave order and got up. "Unless there is another urgent matter to discuss, I'm ending this meeting."
~ x ~
She woke up again. She felt sick. She remembered her death, but the memory of it was clouded, as if it was just a dream. But the moment she tried to move, her body reminded her it was very much real.
So this is what it means to die? She asked herself and opened her eyes. She was in a room full of technology unknown to her. Above her on the gallery stood a person that was faintly familiar to her. He nodded and disappeared from her sight. She realised she was naked all the time.
What happened? Why did the Balaur take me? Do they have an obelisk here? Why am I alive? What the hell they want from me?
There was so many questions she had no answers for. Two Balaur came closer, lifted her almost gently form the table she was lying on and led her to another Balaur who was waiting there with black dress meant for her. After she got dressed, they combed her hair properly and handed her over to guards. None of them spoke a single word. They led her through corridors she already recognized. When they entered a great hall with numerous fancy columns, she had a feeling of déjà vu. She looked at the person sitting on the throne and she knew what was going to happen. Again, the guards bowed, stepped back and knelt. Again the man stood up.
„Kneel before me and I shall make you my queen," he said with emotionless voice.
„No..." she shook her head. „I won't kneel before you."
At the instant his arm started to transform, she closed her eyes. After a moment of unbearable pain in her chest everything went black.
~ x ~
Without her friend to talk to, the two weeks of her free time weren't fun at all. Cyhiraeth went to the Gelkmaros Fortress to look for Chellia there, but only two people remembered human girl going through there in direction of Spiritfall forest. That was strange. Why would a tailor's apprentice go there? The only reason would be to deliver something to the Rhonnam village, but she never reached that place. Cyhiraeth even searched the path from Gelkmaros Fortress to the village and it's surroundings, but found nothing. No traces of fight, no dead body or its remnants. She caught herself thinking about Timo's theory of Chellia being part of some higher plan. She was so irritated by the lack of success, that she welcomed the morning when she woke up and had to prepare for her scheduled meeting in the Temple of Death to get another assignment. Maybe she could ask about Chellia. If someone knew why she went to Gelkmaros, it would be there. And if not, she'll get work to concentrate on.
"Lady Triniel requires your presence in her office. Immediately," the woman behind the desk said sternly when she said her name.
"Me? Are you sure?" Cyhiraeth couldn't believe it.
"It's beyond my understanding why, but her orders are clear. You're not supposed to question them."
"O kay... I'm on my way..." the silver haired girl replied and half dazed headed towards the inner parts of the Temple of Death. No guards who would stop her stood at either door. At least at the first look. But when she calmed down and paid attention, she could see human shapes in the shadows ensuring no one unauthorised enters the place. A figure dressed all in black appeaed and bid her to enter the room she never thought she would see so soon. The light inside was diminished by opaque glass in window mosaics, but otherwise the office of the Lady of Death was unexpectedly neat. A person was standing in front of a window and her aetheric aura told Cyhiraeth immediately who she was. The girl fell to her knees.
"My lady," she breathed out nervously.
"Rise," lady Triniel said without averting her eyes from the window. "There are some things unclear in your report."
"I apologise, my lady, I will..." she swallowed. "I will fix it right away."
"No need. For purposes of the Temple of Death it is enough," the Lady finally turned at her. "During those six months you've met May before she became the Lady of Life. Tell me everything you know about her. Including the impressions."
"Yes, my lady, please forgive me any inaccuracies, my memory is still untrained," Cyhiraeth cleared her throat. "I couldn't find out where she was from, as if she didn't exist before. And from the conversations I overheard in Eltnen, no one else knew that either. She appeared at Golden Bough Garrison around four months ago, it was few days after lord Zikel was in Eltnen," she resisted the urge to ask what was he doing there. It wasn't her business. "At the beginning she was no one special, but the former Lady of Life had her under guard. She could move freely, but there was always someone watching her. I couldn't watch her all the time, my mission was taking place all over Eltnen, but at some point she became very good with healing and aether manipulation. And one night I overheard her talking to lady Yustiel, it was about, uhm... it's hard to remember... something about May spending time in Asmodae and lady Yustiel being ill... yes, the former Lady of Life didn't look well during her last several days. She was weak. I think I could kill her, not permanently, of course, but at least once, but I had an explicit order not to challenge the Seraphim lords no matter the circumstances."
"What else do you know about May?"
"There's not much. She freed a prisoner, some Asmodian mage or muse, I don't remember, then she was imprisoned herself and in the end she went to Sanctum with lord Nezekan, where she became the Lady of Life. She never appeared in Eltnen again, not during the time I was there. Please forgive me, my lady, I really tried to get as much information about her as I could, but she's a mystery even over there."
"No need to apologise," lady Triniel waved her hand. "For someone so young as you it was a good job."
"Thank you, my lady," Cyhiraeth bowed.
"Three days from now I will attend a diplomatic visit to Sarpan. May will probably be there too. You will come with me as my servant and if you remember anything, you will report directly to me immediately."
"Uh? Me? To Sarpan? With you, my lady?" the girl couldn't believe what she just heard.
"Yes. You're the only one here who knew May before she became the Lady of Life. Here are the detailes of your orders," the Lady of Death gave her small envelope. "Now, dismissed."
"Yes, my lady," Cyhiraeth bowed again. "Thank you, my lady. I'm very honored."
~ x ~
„Ah, my beloved Shienar, it's very rare to see you in Pandaemonium," a noble woman crossed her path and smiled formally. „When will you come to visit us?"
„Azphelumbra, mother," the red haired sorceress greeted her. „I'm afraid I have only a little of free time. But I will try to let you know when I visit Pandaemonium the next time."
„Is lady Lumiel giving you so much work?"
Ah, so she noticed I was promoted, that explains a lot.
„Not at all, mother," Shien smiled politely. „I have only few tasks, but I need to concentrate very hard on them."
„I've heard you became famous in that Kurngalfberg. Something with that ice I presume?"
„It was Alia's idea and she did most of it, I merely finished the last part."
„So that raider is not good enough to finish her own job?" mother puckered her nose.
„She died before she could do it," Shien replied coldly.
„Ah, good riddance."
They stood a moment in a cold silence.
„I respect you," Shien said finally, „because you are my mother and I love you. And that's the only thing that prevents me from blasting your face off for what you've just said."
„Such an insolence! Where are your manners?!"
„You know damn well where you can stick your manners!" Shien raised her voice and summoned a flame into her palm. „Alia was my best friend. The only true friend I've ever had. And I won't tolerate anyone who would insult her memory. Not even you!" she raised her hand and let the flame fly above the city, where it exploded into harmless fireworks. „Happy new era, mother."
Then she turned on her heel and walked away.
„Shienar wait! This conversation is not over!" her mother called, but Shien ignored her.
She reached the library in very angered state.
"It is over and I won't talk with you again until you apologise," she muttered between her teeth while chaotically searching through books and trying to remember why she came here at the first place.
"Miss Shienar," a library keeper Cavalorn interrupted her thoughts. "Lady Lumiel wishes to speak with you urgently."
"Why?" she asked as the anger inside her receded very slowly.
"It's not your place to ask why. Your place is to obey her wish."
"A..." she tried to protest, but stopped immediately after realising what he just told her. "You have a point. Sorry. I'll go right away."
She edged her way through the bookshelves and reached the area reastricted only to those in service of lady Lumiel. After few moments she found the door she needed and knocked. Then she waited for an invitation and entered. The office of the Lady of Wisdom changed a bit from the last time she was here, but in a sense it was always the same. There were piles of books everywhere, several aetheric models of Asmodae or Atreia and few items to tinker with.
„My lady," she bowed.
„Hello, Shienar, you've done splendid job in Kurngalfberg, the restoration goes smoothly every day," lady Lumiel smiled and got up from her comfortable chair.
„It's Alia who should get the credit for that, my lady, not me," Shien replied politely.
„I'm not talking only about the awakening of Kasadrassil. Your job over there is remarkable in every aspect. I couldn't miss that your magical power is still growing. It's waste to use it only on fire spells. I would like you to study under Heszti's teachings to help you unlock your potential."
„Uh... wow... that's... something," Shien breathed out in surprise.
„But to do that, you need something more than just magical power," the Lady of Wisdom looked at her seriously. „You'll accompany me to a diplomatic mission to Sarpan and based on your results I will or will not write a recommendation letter for you."
„That's very generous of you, but can I reject it?"
„If you do that, I'll give you an order. I would prefer it in peaceful way."
„My lady, I can't go to Sarpan. That land is full of Elyos which I can't fight."
„And since when you're afraid of the Elyos?" lady Lumiel asked with curiosity.
„I'm not afraid. I just don't feel comfortable around them. Especially when I'm forbidden to defend myself against them," Shien explained. She knew how weak the excuse was, but the memories from her trip to Eltnen were still fresh.
„Then let me be clear, Shienar," the Lady frowned. „I know you had very bad experience with them. But you have power and it's your duty to use it for the good of Asmodae. And overcoming your fears is part of it. Here are your instructions, be ready in three days."
"Yes, my lady, as you wish," Shien sighed in resignation.
~ x ~
"Beritra! Beritra! See? I Ascended too," she flew down from the sky and changed her appearance from elegant black and violet dragon to a beautiful woman with long black hair and violet eyes full of life. And no matter her form, she was always smiling when she was talking to him. "And I was lucky to get to Fredgion in time. After he recognised me as the Fifth Dragon lord, Tiamat came to inform him of her ascension. I feel a bit sorry for her."
"It would be better if she got there first," he frowned.
She looked at him with question in her eyes.
"She wants that title more than anything. And right now you're the weakest of the Dragon lords, she will go after you."
"I know that, I will keep an eye on her," she smiled again and embraced him. "Now, let's have some great time together."
Only because of these moments with her he didn't despise his human form. For these moments with her it was much more suitable and enjoyable than the majestic from of a dragon that every Balaur wanted to reach.
~ x ~
The Fourth Dragon lord repelled his memories and looked down to his laboratory where few Balaur examined the state of a resurrected daeva. She still resisted his orders, but he knew her will shall be broken. He waited for this opportunity for centuries, there was no need to rush things right now.
One of his researchers came to him and bowed several times before he started talking. The results were far better than he expected. After her will is bound to his, the daeva will be much more useful than he originally thought. His chances to activate the Hyperion have increased significantly.
He smiled. He will have his vengeance and then he will rule the whole Atreia.
~ x ~
"This will not be tolerated!" Fredgion roared. Even in his human form his voice and presence were terrifying. "Being this late again is disrespectful! She will better have a good excuse this time."
"I believe being dead is an excuse good enough, lord Fredgion," a female figure entered the hall. Her long blonde mane fluttered freely in the surrounding calm breeze and her clothes were tight and spare enough to incite imagination. According to human standards she could be considered attractive. But only until the moment one looked into her eyes. Ambitious, boiling with passion and cruel. She tossed something covered in blood onto the floor in front of the four Dragon lords. "Apsu was weak and unfit for the title she held. I am the Fifth Dragon lord now!" she added after the object stopped rolling. Beritra didn't even have to look at it to know what it was. Those beautiful violet eyes, now blank and lifeless, will never see light again.
"Then what is your excuse to be late?" he asked with deep emotionless voice. From this moment on, he could name the one person he hated the most. Tiamat.