'It would be so easy…' Saints thought. He sat on the edge of the enormous fountain in the center of Grador castle's town market. The gentle gurgle of the fountain's ornate spray and the collective sounds of men, women, and children were all around him. Not a far distance from his position was Grador castle itself. It was a bizarre structure. Lacking the spiraling towers and rooks and vistas that a castle would normally have. It was circular in construction; more a less an enormous wall that the various rooms and dwellings were built into. And in the wide berth in it's center was Grador's pride; the sunpetal bloom. Here, at the noon hour, it's huge solar petals were flared wide open, drinking in the abundant sunlight and spilling luscious waves of green and white mana. The solar flower was actually larger than the castle itself, casting it's walls in a soft, radiating light. It was nurturing, beautiful, and glorious.
He hated it.
Just then, a young couple approached the fountain just to Saint's left. The young woman had something in her folded hands, which she held just to her forehead as she whispered a silent word, possibly a prayer. She tossed the object, which turned out to be a coin, into the fountain. It sank gently to the fountain's bottom and came to rest with many more of it's like. "What did you wish for?" said her companion.
"If I told you, it wouldn't come true," she answered teasingly.
"That's alright," he said back. "I've got everything I could wish for right here." He took her by the hips and drew her close. The young woman giggled as they embraced in a loving kiss, with no real regard as to the suchness of their public surroundings.
Saints stretched out his left hand, a death spell at the ready. His fingers quivered just inches from the young woman's body. At the very last moment, he stayed himself. 'Not just yet' he said to himself. The sudden death a perfectly healthy woman was sure to arouse suspicion, such as he didn't need right now.
Saints still found it somewhat remarkable; the effect this spell had on the right people. It was such a simple spell; Hideous Visage. Under it's influence, he was rendered all but undetectable by anything or anyone not of the black order. It was strange how differently the same spell could function from one plane to the next.
His true aim for resting in this place was simply to wait. His black order comrade, Avidoz, was busy searching the castle interior, as to plot the best possible course to the throne room, where their prey awaited. Saints tapped his booted foot with a measure of impatience. How long had he been gone? Surely it would not have taken so long if he had done it himself. If that idiot… his thoughts were broken by the appearance of Avidoz. "Honestly," Saints said. "If you had taken any longer…"
"Shut your mouth," Avidoz barked back. "The damn place is built like a circle. It felt like I was going around in…" Avidoz abandoned the thought.
"So I take it you found the room? And our little prince along with it?"
Avidoz took a moment before answering, letting his impatience permeate the brief silence. "Yes, I found the room. His highness was…tending to his chosen lady. It was actually quite the show."
"So that's what took you," Saints scoffed.
Avidoz chuckled, a sound from his throat like rattling bones. "I gather that it's about time we introduced ourselves," he said.
"Quite," said Saints.
Avidoz lead the way up the grand staircase leading to the castle. There were three wide, sweeping flights, each step engraved with a rune that Saints cold only guess were unique to Grador. Avidoz approached the gate, which was currently closed and guarded by two armored sentries, and phased right through it. Saints stopped in his tracks. He only hesitated a moment more before following suit. He followed Avidoz down the curved corridor. Everything inside the castle was more or less built with the natural curvature of it's walls, rather than just coping with it. They passed many castle folk along the way. But under the visage's influence, they seemed no more than a wisp of moving air.
Just then, Avidoz, clearly without regard to his chosen path, phased through a young castle maid. She suddenly shuddered and dropped her basket of linens. Her fellow maid looked to her in concern. "Are you alright?" she asked her.
The maid turned her head this way and that, while hugging her arms around herself. "I-I don't know. I just felt some sort of…chill." she looked to her companion. "I feel as though something terrible is about to happen."
"Oh, you say that every time it's Ana's turn to cook," the woman said back. "We'll just skip dinner tonight; make it up in the morning. Now let's go." She recovered the spilled basket and they made haste down the corridor.
After a journey of many downward staircases, people who could have sworn they just felt a draft, and constantly turning left, they finally reached a door that was quite a sight grander than any other they've encountered thus far. "So this is it?" Saints said.
"Indeed," Avidoz responded. The door was guarded by yet more spear-carrying sentries. But for all the notice that Avidoz took of them, they may have not even been there at all. He phased strait through the tightly locked doors, and Saints followed.
They entered an absolute grand enormity of a chamber. This was the very heart of Grador castle. It's surrounding walls were made of gold, carved with many scenes of rolling plains and sweeping forests. The floor felt strange beneath his feet, and it took Saints a moment to realize that he was standing on a floor of immaculately trimmed grass. And of course, there was the sunpetal bloom. They were at it's very base, it's petals extending into the depths of the blue sky. Saints knew the ceiling, or lack thereof, to possibly be enchanted, as to keep out the frigid air in winter, and of course, to shield from the rain.
And nestled between a gap in it's petals, was an elaborate bed. It was a grand thing with silk hangings and velvet covers. And it just so happened to be occupied at the moment. Two lovers curled in each others arms, after the obvious precedings. Saints knew the man to be the prince of Grador, though he could care less about his name. Saints flexed his fingers as he tapped into his mana flow. He had been waiting too long to cause some mayhem, now was his chance.
"No," said Avidoz.
"And why not?" Saints said, baring his teeth in agitation.
"There's only one true way to destroy a land," he said quietly, while tapping his own mana. "And that is with another."
Avidoz then began to move his hands in a strange series of circular motions, chanting under his breath. Saints felt his mana flow first hand, and was baffled at the mix of black and white. He was actually drawing strength from the sunpetal bloom. Avidoz quickened his motions and an orb of concentrated mana formed before him. The orb then rose high into the air, nearly lost in the gleam of the sun. Then at once, the orb fell to the ground and sank beneath the surface.
Avidoz then turned his palms upward. His muscles tightened, strained, and trembled. He lifted his hands with a seemingly great effort, as though he were trying to lift some immense invisible weight.
Which was precisely what he was doing.
Suddenly there was a rumble. The occupants of the bed were startled alert. The rumbling intensified and the young woman shrieked in alarm. And just then, a spire erupted from the ground. The prince and the young woman cried in terror as they fled to a far corner of the room. The spire was just the tip of the structure. A massive building rose from the ground now. As it forced it's way out of the earth, Saints could hear the deep tolling of many bells coming from it. Guards rushed into the chamber, followed by many terrified castle folk. And now the event was over, and they stood in stupefied horror at what the saw. The sunpetal bloom was gone completely. In it's place stood a massive cathedral. But this cathedral was not one of solace. Blood ran down it's walls and it cast a freezing shadow over the room.
Saints knew what this was. He had seen it many times back home. Though it was supposedly the former home of an almighty angel of the white order, he was surprised to see just how forlorn and decrepit it looked; much more sinister than it's intended host would lead one to believe. It was a place of life and death.
It was the vault of the Archangel.
"By the heavens, the sunpetal bloom!" The realization swept over the room in a wave of horrible cries. " 'Tis the black order, surely!"
Though he and Avidoz were still veiled by the visage, Saints knew that the people had finally caught on and would be having their mages combing the castle looking for a black order presence. Well, they wouldn't have to look far. He raised his hand into the air and then snapped his fingers. The veil was instantly dispelled. Fresh cries of terror from the castle folk met their appearance. Saints showed every one of his teeth in a manic grin of bloodlust. "Showtime!" he shouted. And loosed himself upon the room.
The field was empty. Barren, lush, and somehow endless. Of course it wasn't completely empty, I was here. But it felt as though my presence here counted for absolutely nothing; my essence replaced with that of some hollow being who knew nothing of the light of the world. I was walking, but I was hardly aware of it. My feet followed one step after the next, as though by pure memorized reflex. I think Kenziner was in my hand. It dragged lamely through the dirt behind me.
Alone, all alone, with nothing but strange words echoing in my head. I believe this was fated to be. Those words were Gideon's. It seemed like more than forever ago that he spoke them to me. When one has fallen, judgment will follow. Those were the last words he spoke to me.
He was everything to me in this world. The voice of reason, the most brilliant of all the world's light, the man I had fallen in love with. Now he was gone, and had taken all the light with him. But somewhere near the end of this dark tunnel of grief, I began to see another light, and I realized that maybe I wasn't as alone as I thought. I remembered my comrades, everyone who we were fighting for. The hopes of the people of Terra-Fausta. I stopped walking as a new feeling slowly took shape in my mind. I knew I couldn't let despair consume me. Doing so would only lead me and the world to destruction. I grasped Kenziner tightly in my two hands as a new focus grew inside me. I vowed that Gideon's death would not go unanswered. Instead of sorrow, I would use his memory for strength. I returned my sword to it's sheath as I focused on my new destination. I had to get back to Lu-Restia. I closed my eyes and took a step out of reality.
My journey back to the city was uneventful. Perhaps because none of the scenery made an impression on me as it did before. I neared my destination as the shapes of many people grew in my mind. I arrived back in the city square among a group of city folk and peacekeepers. "Angell!" Wylis ran to me and took my arms. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," I said quietly.
Wylis' eyes scanned around the square. "Where is Gideon?"
I took just a small moment before answering. Of course Wylis wouldn't know, he didn't have the planeswalker awareness. "He's gone. Gideon is gone."
Wylis took a step back as the information washed over him. "The black order?" he asked. I nodded. " 'Tis a dark day," he said.
I looked to the group of frightened townsfolk and peacekeepers. "Now do you see?" I said to them all. "The ways of the old are through. Let the past be the past and realize that we as a people have a much greater threat to face. Believe it or not, you all are ,in fact, denizens of the white order. We need your strength to fight with us, not against us."
One of the peacekeepers, apparently appointed new leader, as the previous one was deceased, walked right up to me and looked me in the eye. And then she took to one knee, offering her sword to me in the gesture. "Our deepest apologies, planeswalker of the white order," she said. "Our previous leader was, how you say…extreme in his views. We share no such mindset; we were simply following orders."
I didn't want to tell her that it was alright. Due to her unit of peacekeepers holding me up here in the city, Gideon's life was lost. If I could have just gotten there a little sooner… "Your apologies are accepted," I said. "So long as you promise to lend us your aid when we call."
"It is the least we can do," said the peacekeeper captain.
Just then, the familiar tickle came to mind. Turning to look past Wylis, I saw him. Sitting on the inn's stairs was Jeriah Thel. I approached him slowly. He cast me look that clearly said I was the last person in the world he wanted to see. "I thought you had more important things to do than follow me on some self-righteous quest?"
"I do," Jeriah said. "But I pay my respects when a planeswalker has fallen."
"I didn't think you were the type," I said.
"Look," Jeriah said impatiently. He stood up and looked me in the eye. "As much fun as it is matching wits with the likes of some child-woman such as yourself, I do believe that we have more important things to attend to at the moment."
"He speaks the truth," Wylis said. "Surely by now, the black order will seize on their advantage. 'Tis only a matter of time before they strike again."
Of course he was right. Saints wouldn't just lie around and give us time to grieve our loss. No. He would surely press his advantage. Saints, Avidoz, and the rest of the black order would be on the move now.
I think I understand now his motive for killing Gideon. I don't believe it was because they were enemies. There was an ulterior motive at play that I didn't see until just now. Saints wanted to see how I would respond; a loss of someone deeply and personally important. He wanted to see how I would cope; he was testing me. He more than likely assumed that I would just shrivel up and go away; give up fighting and simply invite death. That was not the case. I knew now, without a shadow of a doubt, that when we next met, I would fight him as if I meant to kill. He took Gideon from me, and he was going to pay for it with his life.
I had just come to my new determination, when suddenly, I felt it. An absolutely tremendous wave of dark mana. Both me and Jeriah's heads snapped out to the east. "You know, I really hate it when planeswalkers do that," Wylis said. "They just stare off into space and the rest of us can only wonder what they're thinking. For those without supernatural senses-"
"Wylis!" I said, cutting him off. He looked to me somewhat cautiously, more than likely frightened of my intensity. "Where did you say you were from again?"
"From the east, m'lady. The princedom of Grador."
Me and Jeriah looked to each other, exchanging knowing glances. "Is something wrong?" Wylis said.
"Nothing, really," Jeriah answered him.
Wylis saw right through Jeriah's patronizing indifference. "Nothing like what?"
Jeriah looked Wylis in the eye as he said with just the ghost of a smile, "The sunpetal bloom was just destroyed."
*End of chapter 13*