The battle raged for several hours already and it still wasn't clear who would win. The Elyos had greater numbers and many siege weapons, but the Asmodians could still cover in the walls of their fortress. Everyone was exhausted, everyone wanted to rest, but they fought on. Lord Nezekan himself took part in this fight to ensure Elyos victory. His plan was altered half an hour later, when lord Zikel appeared and the two of them engaged in their own duel not far from the outer walls of the fortress. No one dared to interfere. The former Empyrean lords were too poweful and the ordinary daevas would be only hindrance to them. If anyone had time to watch, the duel would be quite a show.

But every warrior, mage or healer capable of watching was fully occupied by the siege.

Alia ran on the fortress's walls, just under the aetheric force field protecting them from the worst and tried to get to another group of wounded warriors. Her orders were simple, get the wounded to safety and heal them, but following them proved to be more difficult than she anticipated. This was the first time she was part of a fortress siege of such scale and no one had time to prepare her for that. One siege missile hit the wall just when she was passing by. She stumbled and almost fell, but something stopped her. In a moment she realized what it was. An Elyos shadow just used a small disruption in the field, sneaked through and stabbed her. The pain from the dagger inside of her belly suddenly paralyzed her. The assassin threw her off the walls through the same disruption he came here. Her body hit the ground and explosion from another siege weapon caused her to fly wingless and hit one of the many islands around the fortress. She was unable to move and concentrated only on healing her injury. After a while that seemed like infinite to her, she was able to stand. Although she felt like there were Mau wardrumms beating inside her head, she was aware of her surroundings. Between her and the fortress were attacking Elyos, return was not possible. And retreat from battle was also not an option. The island she was standing on was lower than the fortress and fighting armies, she had some time before she's noticed.

Something hit an island not far from her. She looked in that way and almost forgot to breathe. Lord Zikel was trying to get up from the rubble he's just fallen into when an arrow struck his right shoulder and pinned him to the ground. Another two arrows hit his left forearm and leg. Alia turned her head in the direction from where the arrows flew and saw two Elyos, one was clad in full plate armor and held huge ornamental shield, the other had only leather armor with parts of chain mail and wielded a bow. They radiated aether so intense she knew immediately who they were. The situation turned bad for the Asmodians.

„Lord Zikel!" she called and glided to her wounded leader. She pulled out the arrow from his leg and cast quick healing spell just in time to notice that the two Seraphim lords were drawing near.

„Get lost," Zikel said to her.

„But... my lord, I have to..."

„You should listen to him," Vaizel agreed and aimed his arrow at the enemies. „It would be such a loss for a beauty like you to die. In fact, after we kill him, you can come with me. I will forget you are an Asmo for one night."

Alia stood up between them and Zikel.

„No. If you want to kill him, you have to go through me," she said with solid resolve.

„As you wish," the archer fired his arrow which hit exactly the incompletely healed wound in her belly. She fell to her knees and tried to overcome the pain that exploded in her.

„I told you to get lost," Zikel grunted, broke the arrow in his forearm, pulled out the other from his shoulder and almost instantly jumped to his feet. „You're in the way."

„I am... sorry... my..." her eyes went suddenly blank and she fell asleep.

„Oh, crap," Vaizel cursed and looked around. „She's here."

„Who?" Nezekan asked. The answer came to him itself in the form of giant fireball. He raised his shield and deflected the spell aside. „Lumiel," he frowned.

„Were you expecting someone else, dear Nezekan?" the incoming Lady smiled innocently and conjured small flame in her palm. „Too bad, she's not coming. Maybe later."

„And I thought you were reasonable," Nezekan said disdainfully. „You are the same thorn in the side as are these two."

„How long it has been? Eight hundred years? At least officially," she asked.

„That's none of your business. Are you here to mock me or to fight?"

„Hm... I haven't decided yet," she smirked. „You know, I've just fortified the aetheric field of our fortress and destroyed your siege weapons, so I guess I could continue in fighting. But if you want to go home, I won't follow you."

Both Seraphim lords looked at the siege to confirm if she's been telling the truth. She was. The Elyos forces were scattered and chaotic and they were basically sitting ducks for the Asmodian archers and spellcasters.

„If you don't sound retreat, they will die," she continued seriously. „And you know well, that if so many daevas are dying at once, obelisks and kisks can't keep up."

„Or we can kill you two and then retreat," Nezekan grunted. „Zikel can barely stand and you are already exhausted from the fortress."

„You are exhausted too. Is it worth it?"

„Let's go, Nezekan, they have won this battle," Vaizel said silently.

„You shut up! You only want to return to some brothel!"

„I won't deny that. You should try it too, it provides really good sensations."

„I said, shut up! You can keep your victory, Lumiel. For now."

Within ten minutes the Elyos army retreated, using either their wings or teleportation scrolls and spells. When there was no white wing in sight, Zikel sat and put his sword beside him. He felt a bit dizzy and the pain in his arm and shoulder reminded him the harsh removal of the arrows.

„You don't look good," Lumiel frowned and took one of these arrows. „As I thought, they were poisoned. Stay here, I'll bring back someone to heal you."

„I can fly," Zikel rejected her.

„I know that," the Lady of Wisdom agreed. „But she can't and you can't carry her."

„Why should I care?"

„She saved your life, Zikel. She at least deserves to live."

You saved my life. She was only standing in my way. And she disobeyed my order."

„Hmph. She's no soldier," Lumiel objected. „She is a healer, and they usually do such things. If she obeyed, you would be dead. I couldn't get here in time, she stalled them for long enough for me to come, even if it was only few seconds. So yes, she did save your life."

„Fine, I'll wait here," Zikel resigned. „Get the healer and return quickly."

When she flew away, he carefully scanned the surroundings and after he found no Elyos or Balaur, he allowed himself to rest. But the young woman lying motionless next to him was drawing his attention. Perhaps Lumiel was right and she really saved his life. But why? She must have known she didn't stand a chance against the two of them. Did she sense Lumiel coming? No, if she did, so would at least Vaizel. And what was she doing outside the fortress? Desertion? No. If she wanted to desert from the siege, she wouldn't attempt to save him. There were too many questions and he wanted answers.

„My lord, we're here to heal you," two male daevas landed on the island, one was armed with battle staff, the other with warhammer and shield, both of them wore chain mails.

„Her first," Zikel gestured to Alia.

The one with the staff knelt beside her and checked her state.

„She is very severely injured and poisoned. It would be better for her to let her die and resurr..."

„If she dies, so will you," the Lord of Destruction said angrily. „I gave you an order. Heal her first."

„Yes, my lord," both daevas knelt beside the young woman and summoned aether for their healing spell. Even if the battle was over, they took lord Zikel's threat seriously and didn't want to risk death. Everyone in Asmodae knew what kind of sword he possessed. It was made from a rare ancient metal and a daeva killed with that blade could never be resurrected again.

The healers' duo worked quickly and efficiently. The Warhammer broke off the arrow's head and cast few healing spells while the Staff was pulling rest of the arrow from her. Because of the pain she woke up from the magical sleep and moaned, but soon she realized what was happening, so she held still and let them heal her.

„What's your name?" Zikel asked her, when they finished.

„It's Alia," she knelt respectfully.

„Return to the fortress and help with the injured," he ordered her and looked at the Staff. "You'll go with her. And you," he nodded to the Warhammer, „heal me."

„Yes, my lord."

Alia and the grumpy healer returned to the fortress and she immediately begun tending the injured soldiers. She was tired and her whole body ached, but only small number of daevas were in better shape than she was. She concentrated on healing so much she almost forgot what happened on the island outside. But after few hours, when the situation in the fortress was stabilised, those memories hit her like giant battering ram. She disobeyed lord Zikel's direct order. That meant, at best, an unwanted attention from her superiors. At worst...

„Alia!" familiar voice echoed the hall and someone hugged her. „You are alive! When I saw you being stabbed by that Elyos and then you were neither at the obelisk nor on the walls, I thought you were gone. I'm so glad to see you!"

„Shien!" Alia set herself free from her friend's embrace. „I'm glad to see you too. I'm... fine... for now."

„What do you mean, for now? Did you get into trouble? Just tell me who hurt you and I'll burn them to crisp!" Shien's red eyes flared brighter than usual, which along with her messy red hair and battle‑worn robe gave her scary look.

„It's not that easy this time. You should probably find another friend," Alia sighed.

„How many times did I hear that? Hm... I've lost count already. So? What happened?" the sorceress insisted.

„I've disobeyed lord Zikel's direct order," the healer said silently. „And he asked for my name, he won't let it go."

„Perhaps he's fallen in love with you?" Shien giggled.

„That's not funny."

„Sorry, I was just trying to cheer you up."

„I know," Alia smiled sadly. „I just... I can't imagine what will happen to me now."

„Don't worry, I'll be with you. You know my diplomatic skills, right? I'll just..."

„Please, don't," Alia rejected the idea. „It's my trouble, you had nothing to do with it. You should stay out of this."

„You forget one thing. Again," Shien frowned.

„Just one?"

„One important. I am your friend. I hope you at least know, what that means."

„So do I."

„I swear I'll hit you some day," Shien rolled her eyes.

A fortress guard stopped in their way.

„You are requested in the commander's office," he told to Alia. „Immediately."

„I'll go right away," she nodded to the guard and turned to her friend. „I don't want you to get into trouble because of me. Please..."

„Alright, I'll wait outside. Let's go."

Shien grabbed Alia's hand and led her quickly in front of the commander's office. There she hugged her and wished her good luck. Alia entered the room and immediately knelt, as besides the fortress commander there were also lady Lumiel and lord Zikel.

„I'm here as requested, my lady, my lord, commander," she said silently. It was hard for her to get any words past her mouth.

„Get up," Zikel ordered her. With slight hesitation she obeyed. „What were you doing outside the fortress?"

„I... it was an accident, my lord," she resisted the urge to kneel again. „An Elyos assassin stabbed me and threw me off the wall, then there was... explosion... I don't remember exactly. When I healed myself enough to stand, I was already on a small island not far from you."

„Why didn't you return?" Lumiel asked curiously.

„I wanted to, my lady. But I cannot fight or move in stealth, I would be dead at the very moment any Elyos noticed me. I tried to think how I get back when I saw lord Zikel fighting against lord Nezekan and lord Vaizel, both at once."

„You are aware of the Shedim and Seraphim lords' power, right?" Lumiel smiled.

„Yes, my lady, I know there is a vast difference in power between ordinary daevas and the Lords."

„Then why did you interfere?" Zikel asked impatiently.

„I... I am sorry, my lord," Alia bowed her head. „I know you are strong enough to defeat any Seraphim lord, but there were two of them. And I've heard lord Vaizel uses poisons so when I saw these arrows hit you, I panicked. I didn't want you to die. I... hoped I could heal you in time, but I failed. I am sorry, my lord."

„So you decided to just throw away your life?"

„My life is not important compared to yours."

„That's..."

„Zikel, stop," Lumiel looked at him sternly. „I think it was very brave of you, Alia. And..."

„That wasn't brave, that was stupid," Zikel rolled his eyes.

„If you put it that way, then yes, it was stupid. But sometimes stupid actions are needed to, for example, save one's life," Lumiel said lightly, but something in her voice was sharp as assassin's blade. „So, Alia, you've proven out there you have quite a courage and your situation assessment skill isn't bad either. And I need that in Kurngalfberg. The day after tomorrow you will report to Kistenian, leader of the Daevas of Flame. Any questions?"

„Kurngalfberg, my lady? In Beluslan?" Alia couldn't believe what she just heard.

„Do you know any other?"

„No, my lady. Can..." she took a deep breath. „Can my friend Shienar come with me? It's her life's dream to be assigned to Kurngalfberg, she loves the history and mysteries of that place."

„Our primary goal in Kurngalfberg is not studying history. You should know we are trying to melt the ice there," Lumiel objected.

„Oh, she's very good at melting things."

„Very well, I'll speak to her," the Lady of Wisdom decided. "I need to depart soon, so send her here quickly. Dismissed."

„Thank you, my lady," Alia bowed. „My lord, commander."

When she left the office she felt like everything what happened in last few hours was some strange dream and expected to wake up soon. Her thoughts were racing so chaotically she wasn't sure about her own name anymore. Then she saw her friend impatiently waiting in the hall.

„So? What did they say?" Shien asked.

„Ungh... Lady Lumiel wants to speak with you..." Alia forced herself to say.

„Me? Why?" the young sorceress was really surprised.

„Ehrrm... quickly."

„Okay, but wait here, you'll tell me everything afterwards," Shien nodded and entered the room.

When she left, Alia leaned back to the wall and tried to figure out what just happened. Few moments after lord Zikel came out of the office, looked at her with an expression she couldn't read and left. She was stressed so much she didn't notice her friend before she hugged her.

„I love you so much, Alia!" Shien cried out with joy. „You are the best friend I could ever have!"

„Ugh, you're welcome."

„I'm going to Kurngalfberg! I don't know how did you do that, but thank you! Let's go packing!"

~ x ~

Kurngalfberg was a frozen city of ghosts. The Ereshkigal's curse was still strong but the Daevas of Flame melted the snow and ice at steady pace. Very slow, but steady. Their progress wasn't visible from outside the walls, the fire sorcerers were very careful and didn't want to attract the dragon's attention again. So far there was one building completely thawed out which now served as their base. There were other buildings and streets in the progress, but given the fact that the base took decades to become habitable, Kurngalfberg's future was still uncertain and dependant on the Daevas of Flame legion.

Alia and Shien were given orders immediately after they arrived and put their belongings to their room. Shien's task was easily defined. Melt the ice around one building. Alia gained multiple duties. Heal injuries and deseases, take care of herbs, help with daily run of the camp and study notes made by a daeva who was researching something new about the ice, but disappeared few weeks ago.

„Hello, Alia, what are you doing?" Shien entered their room and curiously looked at the papers on Alia's bed. It was few days after they arrived and Alia finally found time to read through the notes.

„This is quite interesting," she said without taking her eyes off the papers. „There appears to be some connection between the Elim in the sacred orchard and the ice. But I'm still at the beginning, I don't know much..."

„Hm... You know, there's a letter for you."

„Letter? For me?" Alia looked at her friend. „From whom?"

„I don't know," Shien gave her an envelope. „It looks quite fancy, but there's no seal. Some suitor, perhaps?"

„Don't be riddiculous, Shien, who could possibly be courting me," she took the envelope and unfolded it. Then she read the letter and frowned.

„What's in there?"

Thank you for saving my life," Alia replied. „It's not signed."

„So it is a suitor!" Shien smiled. „So? Who do you think could send it?"

„I have no idea."

~ x ~

Beluslan weather, especially in the neigbourhood of Kurngalfberg, wasn't much life‑friendly, but due to the hundreds of years in constant darkness and cold the plants and animals adapted and were able to survive these extreme conditions. Some of them had even healing or preventive effects. The healers in Kurngalfberg were tasked with finding these plants and bringing them either for consummation or as new gain to the small artificial plantation where they tried to grow vegetables so they could become less dependent on supplies from the Beluslan fortress. Alia was usually successful at finding the herbs, but was constantly running out of luck when it came to retrieving them. This time she roused pair of ettins. With her fighting skills she decided it would be better to run, but they were tireless in pursuing her. And though the heavy snowing it wasn't safe to fly. So she ran.

Suddenly someone jumped from the rock she was running along and with two swings of his sword killed the creatures. She stared at him in awe.

„Lord Zikel?" she dropped the basket with herbs in shock and in a moment she knelt into the snow. „I didn't know you're here, I'm sorry, I didn't want to disturb you."

„Get up," he ordered her. „Are you alright?

„Yes, my lord."

„Did you get my letter?"

„Letter from you, my lord?" she was surprised by the sudden change of the tone of his voice.

„It wasn't signed. And it was very short," he explained.

Alia stared at him for a few seconds before she realized what letter he meant.

„It was from you, my lord? But there was no need to... I was just... it was my duty to..."

„It wasn't your duty to disobey my order."

„I'm sorry, my lord. I wasn't thinking clear, I..."

„Stop it. I don't want you to apologize for every word you say. Is that clear?"

„Yes, my lord," she said quietly.

They stood in silence for several moments.

„You've caught my attention," Zikel finally said. „I know only few daevas who would stand up against Nezekan or Vaizel, but no one against both at once."

„But... my lord, I don't uderstand. You've said it yourself that my action there was stupid..."

„Of course it was stupid! What were you thinking? But I'm glad you did it."

„Glad, my lord?" she was completely confused.

„Yes, you've heard me right. And stop saying 'my lord' after every sentence, it's annoying."

„I'm... yes, m... As you wish," Alia watched the herbs scattered in the snow at her feet and wanted to wake up. „Do you require something from me?"

„Yes," Zikel said surprisingly nicely. „Look at me."

She obeyed with a slight hesitation. At that moment he kissed her. Gently. Their lips barely touched, but it was enough for her to feel something... new. Then she realized who was kissing her and panicked.

„Oh, no, this is wrong," she whispered and stepped back.

„Why? You didn't like it?"

„That's not..." she looked at the snow again and blushed. „I'm sorry, my lord, but I'm not worthy of such attention."

Zikel delicately lifted her chin and forced her to look into his eyes. They were dark red and unreadable.

„Then become worthy," he said coldly, turned away and left her alone in the snow and ice. She stared after him for several minutes. Then she gathered her herbs and slowly headed back to the camp.

~ x ~

„...so that's why I need to go to Gelkmaros. Will you keep an eye on some things while I'm gone? Are you even listening to me, Zikel?" Lumiel put her book down on the table in front of him with a loud thud to get his attention.

„No," he replied simply.

„What's wrong?"

„Nothing."

„Are you in stress? Do you need a distraction?" she asked with a jolly smile.

„Not interested," he snorted and drank some more wine from his goblet.

Lumiel gave him a suspicious look. It happened few times that he turned down her offer for casual sex, but he was never 'not interested'.

„Okay, that's serious," she said after a while. „Tell me what's worrying you? Can I help?"

„I don't want your help, Lumiel. Mind your own business."

„Come on, do you think you are the only Shedim lord with secrets? And I need you to concentrate, so your trouble right now is actually my business," she studied his face for a while. „You've been acting strange since that battle in Reshanta. Did Nezekan or Vaizel say something that made you think about it? No. So did I say or do something? Again no. Hm... what could happen? Is it about the young healer who saved your life? Ah, bingo!"

„I said, mind your own business."

„Did she really made you that angry?"

„No."

„Then what?" Lumiel smiled gently.

„She just caught my attention. That's all. Seriously, Lumiel, do you have to know everything?"

„Not everything, my dear Zikel. Just the interesting things," she smirked. „So, caught your attention, you say? That's very interesting. Do you like her?"

„That is not your business."

„Oh, Zikel, I might not look like that, but I sincerely wish for you to be happy. For everyone of you. So you can trust me a little. I will help you," she raised her little finger. „Pinky promise?"

„Stop acting like a child," Zikel rolled his eyes. „Alright, I'll tell you. I wrote her a letter and then talked to her. She hates me. End of story. Nothing interesting for you."

„No, as I said, that's very much interesting for me. I will talk to her, then, after I return from Gelkmaros," she smiled. „Or rather before I go there and before you do something stupid."

„Don't you dare, Lumiel. I can handle it myself," he frowned.

„I seriously doubt that. You apparently have no idea how to speak with woman you like, so leave it to me. And don't worry, I won't embarass you."

~ x ~

„That's it! The Elim!" Alia shouted and held a parchment as some rare trophy.

„What's what?" Shien looked at her with curiosity.

„The research! The Elim in the Kurngalfberg's sacred orchard is called Kasadrassil, right?"

„Yes?"

„So, if we awaken Kasadrassil, the ice won't grow. It won't disappear either, but the one you've melted will not freeze again. Or something like that. There are notes about the Elim's power of life. I don't know the exact meaning of it... aw, why the Lady of Life must side with the Elyos? She would surely know!"

„I've heard something about Kasadrassil, ice and the Elyos. Can you repeat that a bit slowly?" Shien smiled upon her friend's enthusiasm. Alia was a bit down lately, she was worried about her.

„Oh... I need to confirm something first!" the brunette put on her coat and her boots and ran away from their room. She ran across the frozen city, carefully evading the ghosts, until she reached the sacred orchard and the sleeping Elim. Its roots were covered in ice and its branches lacked the leaves, but the huge sentient tree was still alive. She drew all the aether she could to examine the Elim's state.

„To see you like that, you make me wonder," a confident female voice echoed the orchard. „Where did you learn that?"

„Oh, lady Lumiel!" Alia yanked in surprise and her spell vanished. „I didn't see you coming," she knelt immediately. „Where did I learn what, my lady?"

„The spell you were just casting. It looks familiar, almost nostalgic. But I've never seen it to be used by an Asmodian," the Lady of Wisdom smiled. „So?"

„I... I just thought I could use the aether to examine the Kasadrassil. I've figured out it could be used like that several years ago, but as it's not something what I was taught, I've kept it for myself and I've never used it on the injured in case something went wrong."

„Please, get up," Lumiel told her. „From what I've just seen, it should be safe to use it. It's far from Yustiel's level, of course, but you are at least as good as some of her disciples."

„You mean the Seraphim Lady of Life?"

„I hope you don't know any other. But I didn't come here to talk about her. There is other Empyrean lord we need to talk about. Tell me, what do you think about Zikel? And you can speak freely, no one can hear us."

„He's lord Azphel's second in command, supreme leader of the Asmodian army..."

„Stop it. I don't want to hear what do you know about him. I want to know what do you think about him. Is the difference clear? And calm down, I'm not going to eat you."

„Yes, my lady. I will try," Alia nodded. „He is... quick‑tempered and hot‑headed and it's easy to make him angry. Sometimes he can be ruthless, mostly on the battlefield, but I believe he's a good man. But that doesn't give him the right to kiss people on sight!" she realized what she just said and covered her mouth with both her palms. „Or does it? He's a Shedim lord, so I guess it does."

Lumiel giggled.

„No, it doesn't. He should have asked first. But I guess you wouldn't have stopped him, would you?"

„What?"

„If he asked, would you want to stop him?"

„My lady, what kind of question is that?" Alia blushed. „It doesn't matter whether would want to I stop him or not."

„Who gave you the idea that it wouldn't matter?"

„Isn't it obvious, my lady? He is a Shedim lord, the second most powerful person in all Asmodae. And who am I? I am an ex‑raider from Ishalgen who somehow became a daeva. I don't... I can't possibly stop him from... doing what he wants. I'm sorry, my lady, but I cannot understand why are you wasting your time with someone like me."

„Maybe I am just wasting my time here," Lumiel frowned. „You saved Zikel's life. That act alone makes you important in some ways. I care about Zikel and other Shedim lords, that's why I'm talking to you now. But my patience is not infinite. If you don't stop acting like a frightened child, I will send you back to Reshanta to find the courage you've probably left there."

„I'm sorry, my lady, but I've never had any courage. I've always been a coward. I can't even..."

„Shut up and listen. That's an order, if you prefer it this way. Zikel seems to like you. He even kissed you, which was the clumsiest thing he could do. And he will apologize for that. What I want to know from you, is whether or not are you interested in him. And not as a Shedim lord, as a person."

„My lady... I... I... yes, I would like to... know more about him." Alia blushed and watched the ice floor.

„See? It wasn't that hard, or was it?" Lumiel suddenly smiled.

„You are not angry at me, my lady?"

„Of course I am still angry. But won't let my anger to take control of me. Now tell me what have you found about Kasadrassil."

Alia briefly told her about the theory of her predcessor.

„But I'm still at the beginning. When I've realized what was he writing about, I went here to find out why is Kasadrassil still sleeping. But I couldn't finish my spell."

„That sounds interesting. All right, I have to go, so I'll give you two orders," Lumiel decided. „First, you will stop using your origin as an excuse for your incompetence. Second, you will awaken Kasadrassil. The second one doesn't have a deadline, but I want to see at least some progress. Even if it was just a list of attempts that didn't work. Is that clear?"

„Yes, my lady. As you wish."