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Kyandre, Gisael, and Reyas snuck out of the city, they did not want anyone to know where they were headed. In a particular light, Kyandre’s actions could be viewed as treason and in Gisael and Reyas case, the act of an enemy.
It was dark. Although the Myrkalfar did not light campfires, they did carry luminescent rocks which they spread around their camp. The rocks glowed dully and could be seen from a thousand paces away when clustered as they were.
“This is where I leave you,” Kyandre said. She left her weapon behind and walked unarmed towards the Myrkalfar camp.
The battle would take place on the following day. The penta had arrived shortly after sundown, and their need for an audience meant that they wanted to allow as many local spectators as possible. Therefore, they waited and would fight in the light of the following day.
At the last moment before enacting their plan, both Reyas and Gisael had second thoughts. It felt wrong to let Kyandre go alone, cowardly. They too dropped their weapons and followed. Kyandre looked back and saw that she was being shadowed.
“What are you doing,” she hissed.
“No time for arguments now,” Gisael said and while grinning, showing her pure white teeth in the moonlight.
Kyandre looked concerned but Gisael was right. When they were this close, there was no time to stop and argue. If the women had made up their minds, there was nothing she could do.
They walked towards the camp together, in the least threatening way possible, their arms out to the side.
Three intoxicatingly beautiful women walking towards your war camp at night in a supplicating manner. This might usually cause a different reaction, were the warriors in the camp not Myrkalfar.
The Dread Lord, Katariz of the Dah’Rul Clan, loyal servant of the House of Ileum, was meditating when one of her knights interrupted her trance with news of intruders.
“Three women approach. They have talent, yet seem weaponless. They hold their arms out to the side,” he said meekly.
There was as much chance she would deem to punish him for interrupting her as she would be thankful for the interruption. Until you got to know a Mistress well, it was always a gamble. He did not need to mention what their arms out to the side meant. It was apparent, they did not want to fight but to parley.
“Very, well,” the Dread Lord stood. “Let me examine them before making a decision.”
She strode out of her tent. The women were thirty paces away, arms out to their sides. They were still waiting for the Myrkalfar to approach them, not daring to come closer to the camp.
The Dread Lord engaged her third eye, viewing them under qi sight. She could measure the size of their pool and determine if they were currently running any auras or techniques.
Other than aura-shields of an undefined quality, they were not using any techniques, unless they were magnificently skilled enough to trick her qi sight, something which she doubted.
“Strip and bind them, then bring them to me,” Katariz ordered.
The three female qi warriors allowed themselves to be trussed up and laid bare. It was not long before they were presented to the Dread Lord as ordered.
“You are now mine,” the Dread Lord announced. In her view, these women had presented themselves as gifts, “Why do you come willingly to me? You are not without talent.”
The darker one spoke, “We believe in your strength. We have come to pledge ourselves to you.”
“I see,” Katariz said, “this is remarkable for one not of our culture. One does not pledge to a Dread Lord either; this is perhaps from your culture. You give them your life; you become their thrall. Is this what you imagined or do you not understand?”
The darker one continued to speak, “We understand what it entails, it is your terms which are foreign to us. We bind our lives to yours. We rise with you and we fall with you.”
Katariz was intrigued but the time and place was suspicious. It would not be difficult for her to test their resolve and even if it were found to be duplicitous, a couple of them would make good qi slaves at least. She contacted her portal master through a tattoo resting upon her cleavage.
“I accept your offer,” Katariz stated, “each of you will bind yourselves to me. We will test you and you will take the blood oath before I send you through the portal to my domain. I do not wish for you to be here during the battle; it is not necessary.”
Katariz knew that even if they passed her test, they could still betray her. However, if they were in her castle, they could not influence the upcoming battle. They would probably find themselves in an undesirable position and try to escape now. It was the first test. Even if they were lying, it did not mean she could not make use of them, stowed away safely in her castle to test again upon her return.
“Let us begin,” she pointed to the seeming leader of the three, the darker one. “We will draw blood from your chest, close to your heart.” She made an incision on Kyandre’s chest and it began to bleed.
“I will then suck on the wound, taking in your blood. You will say words to the effect of: My life is yours, mistress,” the Dread Lord Katariz explained. She would never have to explain this ceremony to a Myrkalfar but it was not unheard of for foreigners to become a voluntary thrall. Katariz could have just taken them as slaves as they were defenceless. However, they were female and the little game she was about to play would be entertaining.
The Dread Lord kissed Kyandre’s breast, taking in a small amount of the blood that was dripping from the cut she had just made.
Kyandre said, “My life is yours, mistress.” She was ready to do what was necessary to get through the portal.
The Dread Lord, Katariz, stood back up. She made eye contact with the naked Kyandre and then Gisael and Reyas in turn. She then said dramatically, “My thrall, this is your first test.” She placed her palm over Kyandre’s breast, over her heart.
Suddenly, Kyandre fell to the ground; a gaping wound appearing where the Dread Lord’s palm had been.
Gisael looked with horror back to the Dread Lord. A sharp bone was protruding from her palm. It was the length of her upper arm and it extended out like a natural blade. The white bone was now covered in Kyandre’s blood and the Dread Lord now licked it while smiling.
“She has passed the test, she gave her life to me and meant it. She will have full honours and pride of place in my crypt,” the Dread Lord laughed maniacally. Gisael was not sure if she was mad or if this normal for a Myrkalfar Dread Lord.
She was still connected to Reyas through their link and thoughts passed quickly between them:
Reyas: run? escape?
Gisael: no, stay strong. If I die, then run.
Gisael walked up to the Dread Lord, stepping over Kyandre’s corpse.
“I am ready Mistress,” she said demurely.
Katariz nodded with a smile, her lips red spotted with Kyandre’s blood.
Reyas was still like a statue, an icy trepidation overcoming her.
As Gisael presented herself, the Dread Lord repeated the ceremony, making a small incision. Gisael repeated the last words Kyandre had ever spoken, “My life if yours, mistress.”
Reyas waited with her heart in her mouth. A couple of bored Knights watched from a distance, smiling at the entertainment.
Katariz announced with majesty, “You have passed your test, thrall. What is your name?”
“My name is Gisael,” she said calmly. She exhaled slowly. Her life would continue. It was difficult to feel joy with Kyandre’s corpse at her feet but she felt some small satisfaction now that she was closer to her goal.
The Dread Lord repeated the process with Reyas, she did not have to endure the same gamble as Gisael but nothing was assured with the seemingly volatile Dread Lord. They both exchanged thoughts while standing, waiting for further instructions.
Gisael: this was a devious test. If we had not meant what we said, we would have surely tried to escape.
Reyas: we almost did.
Gisael: the Dread Lord did not know our goal is Benzhi who is on the other side, how could she.
Reyas: I get it, she thought that if we were here to sabotage tomorrow’s battle, we would want to stay here, on this plane. She had two layers to this test. She is fucking devious. Luckily, you are smart and brave and I am stupidly stubborn.
Gisael: pfft. You are brave. And we have much to atone for. We have now lost Kyandre.
Reyas (sad): Yes. (sad). Another one of us to avenge.
Gisael: she was here of her own choice. She knew this was likely given the gamble we are taking. I know, it's sad, its wrong, but we must focus on finding Benzhi. We won’t be stopping for revenge.
Reyas: let’s hope she dies tomorrow. That would make everything much easier.
Gisael: going by Warthague, I think it is likely that she will if the same Paladins and Captains which defended it are here.
Whether the Dread Lord could sense their connection or not was unknown. In either case, she did not acknowledge it nor attempt to break it.
“Return their belongings,” she told one of the knights and turned back to them, “the portal will open shortly, where are your weapons?”
“We left them outside the city Mistress,” Reyas said meekly.
“Are they qi weapons like your armour?” When Reyas nodded, Katariz thought for a moment, “You,” she pointed to Gisael, “run back and get your weapons. Hurry, I want you back here before the portal opens.”
Katariz was not afraid of equipping them, she also did not want to leave the chance of finding the valuable equipment tomorrow, before or after the battle.
When Gisael returned, she had both her and Reyas’ weapons. She had quickly dressed in the leathers stored in the warehouse in Sandstone. The leathers had been ready for her since they had left the Alpine Forest. Every time she put them on, she felt a pang of guilt over the death of Anastasia and Benzhi’s capture.
Gisael hardened her heart for what lied ahead. She could not afford to show any weaknesses to the Dread Lord. She had one goal, find Benzhi. Nothing else mattered, not even revenge for Anastasia. The only other concern on her mind was to keep Reyas alive. If it took her life to ensure that Reyas survived, she would offer it, just as she had done moments ago.
She stood side by side with Reyas, ready to walk through the portal.
With a blue shimmer, a portal opened at the Dread Lord’s feet. It touched and formed around her outstretched hand.
“I am leaving instructions with my Gladiator trainer. You are to join the ludus until my return. Do everything she says. Do not disappoint me.” With that, the Dread Lord held out her other hand to Gisael.
Gisael took it and the Dread Lord pulled her towards the portal before pushing her through. Her touch sent a chill up Gisael’s spine, it was the same hand that had killed Kyandre. The whole time Dread Lord pulled Gisael and Reyas through the portal, she kept one hand inside it. When they were through it, she pulled her hand out and the portal closed.
The Dread Lord Katariz brushed her hands against one another and smiled to herself.
“The battle has not yet started and I have already gained two thralls with potential. This land is full of surprises,” she said to no one in particular.
“One of them was a wood elf,” a Knight noted.
“Yes, it is curious to find one here but it is the port city, probably full of exotic types. Her story may be entertaining, we shall see,” Katariz responded and went back to her meditation.
Reyas and Gisael had gone through the portal into the castle of the Dread Lord Katariz. The section they were in seemed to be cut out of rook; it was underground. The same rock was used to build curved walls and relatively flat floors. It was dark except for the sporadic glowing limestone or the lichen. The air smelled damp, yet fresh. There was air circulation through the tunnel and a light breeze could be felt.
An old crone Myrkalfar approached them, carrying a staff which was bigger than her. Her hair was sparse and white and her skin had wrinkled. She must have been ancient given her appearance as the Myrkalfar were renowned for keeping their youthful looks for centuries.
“Follow me,” she croaked and turned to walk back in the direction she had come. Reyas and Gisael guessed that she was the Gladiator trainer. It did not matter, they followed the old crone.
Reyas: should we make a break now, while the Dread Lord is away?
Gisael: no, as soon as we run we are fugitives and outcasts to the entire society. We will not be able to blend in and ask questions freely. We must gather information. Only when we can learn no more or we have enough should we break out.
Reyas: the Dread Lord could die tomorrow as well. What happens then?
Gisael: on that front, I know as much as you. We will wait and see.
Reyas: I do not like waiting.
Gisael: I know, in this case, neither do I. But we must do everything possible to succeed first. It is already an almost impossible task. We cannot afford to make it harder.
The crone led them to what looked like cells. They were barred, locked and had living quarters inside. The quarters themselves were not reminiscent of a prison cell, they looked comfortable.
“This is where you stay. It is the ludus. One of my assistants will open your cells in the morning and we will assess your abilities,” the crone instructed.
“Can we stay together?” Reyas asked.
“Fine, fine you can stay together,” the crone replied.
Reyas: she is the Gladiator Trainer?
Gisael: I suspect yes, she said her assistants.
The two settled down for a night of sleep. They offered kind words for Kyandre, who had given her life to get them this far. She, like Anastasia, would not be forgotten. In the end, she was brave and selfless. It was her knowledge of the Myrkalfar and her plan that allowed them to arrive in this land where Benzhi was being held captive.
Reyas: I can’t imagine that he has not caused so much of a ruckus that we will not hear about his exploits from the Gladiators of this ludus.
Gisael: it has only been a couple of weeks, although I am uncertain of the time difference. Two weeks on Basal may be six weeks here.
Reyas: I miss him. I am torn up about Kyandre and her sacrifice but whenever it is time to rest and he is not there, I can’t help but miss him.
Gisael: don’t ever tell him. But I miss him terribly too.
Reyas: we are pathetic, it has only been two weeks and he is probably shacked up with some Myrkalfar bitch. Although…the Dread Lord killed Anastasia, he must be …oh I am afraid of what they have done to him to try and break him. He would not take this lying down.
Gisael: they would never break him. He is far stronger than them.
Reyas: I know, I know, but while they are trying to… Imagine..
Gisael: don’t imagine. It will not help us.
Reyas: speak for yourself, that fear will turn into anger and that anger I will turn into energy.
Gisael: save it for when we escape. For now, we need to gather information, you cannot let them know anything. We need to pretend to be two newly sworn Gladiators. We gave ourselves to escape the Whitecloaks and now we are committed to our new world. We must be that person or they will see through us.
Reyas: I don’t know what I would do without you.
Gisael: you’d be living on your snowy mountain with your fat hairy barbarian man.
Reyas punched Gisael’s arm, her message clear.
But the distraction was short lived. Their minds went to Kyandre and the gaping hole in her chest. If one of them had been first, it would have been them in her place.
They were alone, in the foreign world of Myrkalfar. They had no allies; everyone was an enemy.
They wrapped their arms around each other, shedding a tear for Kyandre and another for Anastasia. The pain of her loss was still raw.
The impossible quest weighed heavily upon them as they fell asleep.