Feb 28 2019

Daughters of Fate (Chapter 6)

Posted by Mathias in Uncategorized

When there are two, there cannot be one. When there are two, they will be mirrors. Where there are two, the world will be at war. Only when there is one, will all be calm.

-Seer Dolastati, A Vision on Water 13e

Chapter 6 (33  Elgatan 6198)

Hedric’s palace was growing as cold as the grave.  The staff in the furnace room had apparently fallen asleep at their post for the fifth time in as many days.  

Cassandra rubbed her temples, peeling a pair of wire-framed reading glasses from her eyes.  She stretched her neck and pushed strands of her shoulder-length red hair back over her ear.  She yawned.  

A knock thudded on her chamber door. 

“Enter.”  She turned away from the papers that littered the top of the desk.  A teenaged boy cracked open the door and peered in.  “What is it?” she snapped.  It was late, and Cassandra was tired from the many hours of work she had put in today.  

“Sorry to disturb you, sub-general Nightwing,” the attendant spoke hesitantly.  “But Lord Hedric requests your presence in council immediately.”  

Cassandra ignored the request; “Tell him I have no time right now.  If he wants these troops reassigned, it’ll have to wait.”  She turned back to her work, adjusting the heavy shawl she wore over her fine, light blue nightgown to drive off the chill. 

“Lord Hedrick informed me to tell you that he plans to move those troops out within two days.”  

Cassandra bolted up out of her chair.  The force was enough that it fell over backward into the plush rug on the stone floor.  She was tired of Hedric’s incessant demands.  

As she marched over to the squire, a look of pure fury in her eyes, she could see him start to retreat into the hall.  “You tell Lord Hedrick that I have to look over the regiments that I can spare for his inept attempts at pushing into what remains of the elven kingdoms!  If he would just use the dragons as I have suggested, this would have been over years ago!”  She paused only long enough to take a breath.  “I have to maintain a garrison that I can use! If I just throw troops this way and that,” she waved her hands about, “I can’t carry out my assigned duties!  My troops are in charge of protecting this palace, the surrounding estates!  And rounding up those damn rebels that Hedrick has not been able to deal with over his long and oh so glorious reign.”  All her words were spoken with bite and sarcasm.  She poked a finger into the boy’s chest.  “You tell that to Lord Hedric.”  

The squire stood in stunned silence.  No doubt the stories and rumors of sub-general Nightwing’s wrath filled his head. 

“Y-yes m’lady,” he stammered as he backed down the hallway.  “I shall inform his Lordship that now is not the best of time.”  

Cassandra smirked, slammed the door, and bolted the heavy latch shut in one motion.  The lamplight in her chamber flicked as the currents created by her actions caught them.  She looked to the maps and papers spread across her desk, but she was too tired to care.  All of Hedric’s demands would have to wait.  

Her hand touched the silver medallion hanging about her neck.  It was cold.  The warmth it had once given had long since faded into memory.  Her eyes then moved to the chest at the foot of her bed.  She walked over and opened it.  

It contained only two items.  One was the sheathed sword of the rebel leader she had killed that fateful day. The other was a small wooden box.  Cassandra picked up the box and cracked it open to reveal the small piece of arrow shaft.  The symbol of the eagle etched into the wood caused painful memories.  She snapped the box shut and held it close.  

“Father,” she whispered, bowing her head.  “If it is the last thing I do, I’ll see that every last member of the Hitithe Rebellion pays for what they did.”  It was the same oath she had made a hundred times before.  A tear ran down her cheek.  

There was a rush of cold air as Cassandra turned with a start.  The lights in the room dimmed and a pair of disembodied eyes, red as blood, hovered in the shadowy corner.    

“Apologies, Sub-general Nightwing,” the creature spoke with reverence in its spectral voice.  

Cassandra quickly dried her eyes.  “What is it?” she snapped.  

“Lady Noranda requested I check on you.  She feels that you are,” it hesitated.  “Disturbed?”  

“No,” Cassandra answered quickly.  “Not at all.”  She replaced the small box beside the sword of the first rebel she had ever killed.  

“Her ladyship is concerned with your well-being.  She wishes to speak with you.”  

“Seems I’m quite in demand this evening.  First Lord Hedric.  Now Lady Noranda?”  Cassandra closed the chest and sat on the side of her bed.  The softness of the stuffed mattress eased her mind slightly as she laid down.  She could now begin to feel the warmth from restoked fires begin to fill the air.  “Tell her that, with all due respect, I must decline.  However, I will talk with her tomorrow after Weekly Council.” 

“Certainly, sub-general Nightwing.  I will inform Lady Noranda.”    

With those words, the eyes vanished.  It didn’t take Cassandra long before she drifted off into sleep…  

Cassandra sat up with a start.  In the darkness of her chamber, the medallion about her neck glowed softly and sent a shock through her body.  She clutched it tightly to her chest.  Looking out in the darkness, she saw nothing amiss.  

But something was.  She knew the medallion’s warnings well enough.  It was almost as if the medallion called out to her.  A silent sentinel that watched over her.  

Footsteps stopped briefly outside her room.  Then they continued on.  They weren’t those of a guard.  They were too light, cautious and out of place.  Cassandra knew they did not belong.  

She sat for a moment and then laid back down, pulling the covers to her head.  Feeling for the dagger she kept hidden beneath her pillow, her fingers wrapped around the cold handle.  

Moving slowly away from the chamber of sub-general Nightwing, a young man in black walked down the dim hallway of the palace.  He came to the spiral stone staircase end of the hall.  With a glance over his shoulder, he checked to see if anyone else was about.  There was no sign of anyone.  

Quickly, without a sound, he moved up the stairs as his padded boots softened his footfalls.  At the top, there was a trap door in the ceiling.  He pulled a rope to open it and cold air from outside rushed in.  As he lifted himself through the ceiling, a hand helped him through.  

The man allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness.  Clouds obscured most of the moon and stars. But the great Eye of Earoni was fully visible.  It was a milky white swirl in the sky with arms that spiraled out like a creature from its center. 

The man who had helped him up had his blonde hair and face streaked with charcoal to darken them.  He looked even younger than his age of sixteen.  

“Her room is bolted from the inside.  Do you think that you can get us in through the balcony, Erick?” the man who had come from inside asked, pulling up the hood on his cloak.  

“Not a problem, Antony.  If it’s a lock, I can pick it.”  

“Good.  This will be our only chance at this.  If we fail, security will be so tight not even a Trulian Mouse couldn’t get into this place unnoticed.”  Antony looked across the roof to find the form of Erick’s brother peering over the ledge between the parapets.  “What about Marcus?  Is he ready?”  

“We both are.”  

He and Erick walked over to where Marcus perched.  Antony took a quick look to see the balcony about twenty feet below once they arrived. 

“The patrols have been scarce,” Marcus said.  “We have plenty of time.” His own blonde hair and face were blackened as well.  Although he looked like his brother, he was years older and had a more hardened look. 

Antony reached into the pack the brothers had sat on the ground, handing Marcus a length of rope from within.  Erick’s older brother looped it about the parapet and dangled the other end down to the balcony.  He tested the knot and nodded.  

The younger of the brothers grabbed hold of the rope and swung over the side.  Using his thick gloves to guide himself down the rope, Erick made it onto the balcony in short order.  A pair of plush curtains hung inside and blocked his view, so he hoped Anthony’s placement of sub-general Nightwing’s chambers was correct.  But he didn’t really have much reason to doubt him. 

Pulling a small, metal card from his pocket, Erick slid it between the crack of the two swinging doors.  He slid it up and down until finding then latch.  Pushing it slightly inward, it popped open easily and silently.  

Erick looked up to see his brother beginning over the edge, but the unexpected sounds of footsteps from a patrol approaching caused him to return to hiding.  Erick pressed himself against the wall.  Then slipped open the balcony door just enough to duck inside the room and hopefully avoid detection.  

There was no time to wait for the others, he thought.  If the guards happened to have seen any of them, it would mean failure.  

Drawing his knife, Erick moved over to the side of the bed that he could barely make out in the dark.  

He watched the form under the sheets as its breathing moved them with deep, rhythmic breaths. It caused him to lose focus almost magically.  Erick’s hand hovered near the head to quiet any scream.  

His heart started to race with excitement at the knowledge that he would be the one people would praise for ridding the world of this murderer.  He would be the one whose knife ended her life.  Sucking in a deep breath, he moved for the kill.  

But as his knife moved a flash of steel blocked his strike.  The form in the bed leaped up, throwing off her covers and entangling him in them.  The speed of her movement rivaled that of lightning.  She reached up and caught Erick’s wrist, using his momentum to throw him across the bed.  

Erick’s thoughts became a blur as he saw her standing on the bed.  Her sheer nightgown waivered in the breeze of the open window.  The dagger in her hands dripped with his blood.  He felt himself losing consciousness as a wound to his stomach bled.  

Cassandra’s face twisted into a smile, but a noise from the balcony told her that this was not over.  Two more forms burst through the curtains.  Instinctively, her dagger flew from her hand and felled the blonde man before he could react.  

The other leapt out of the way and rolled into the corner.  

Anthony pulled a dagger and charged.  

Sub-general Nightwing avoided him.  She jumped from the bed and retrieved one of a pair of golden-hilted sabers from a peg on the wall.  She drew the weapon between her and her attacker to stop him in his tracks.  Anthony could see the look in her calculating green eyes as she planned her next move while the Grey Steel blade proved an effective deterrent. 

“My, my,” she taunted.  “More of Kayzar’s assassins?  I’d thought he’d have learned by now.”  

“General Kayzar didn’t send me,” Anthony corrected, thinking of his next move.  “I come as a member of the Hitithe Empire to send a message to Lord Hedric.  His reign ends now.”  He inched towards her, but she moved with long, graceful strides to counter his advance.  

“Hitithe?  So, you’re a rebel.  I think I’m going to enjoy this even more.”  She skirted the edge of a table that got in her way.  “After seven hundred years I think you’d have learned that Hitithe no longer exists.”  

“As long as the children of Earoni survive Hitithe will exist.”  Anthony lunged, but she parried.  However, he was able to catch up the hilt of her sword to prevent a return strike.  With a push, he threw her back.  She was not strong enough to stay on her feet and landed hard on the floor, losing her sword.  

Anthony sprang at her.  Atop her, she caught his wrist to keep his knife from entering her eye.  She needed both hands to keep his attack at bay, struggling with her physically stronger foe.  The knife hovered, not more than an inch away from its target.    

The sub-general planted her knee in Anthony’s midsection.  He grunted, and she shoved him away.  But the amount of energy that she had used to fend him off was obvious as she sucked for air.  

Anthony righted himself and came for her again.  She evaded, bringing her fist up to connect with his jaw.  Staggering back, he fumbled and collapsed.  Sprawled out on the floor, he shook his head to clear his thoughts.  

Cassandra looked for her weapon.  She scrambled for it. 

But Anthony was there, gathering himself quickly enough to clip her leg out from under her as she ran past. She flipped, landed heavily on her back, and slammed her head on the stone floor.  

Anthony pounced over her flailing body.  She twisted to her stomach and reached for her blade. It was just beyond the tip of her outstretched fingers that clawed for it.  Grabbing a handful of red hair, Anthony pulled her back from it.  

A pounding erupted at the chamber door and a frantic voice called, “General Nightwing!”   

Distracted, her attacker turned to the door.  His lack of concentration gave Cassandra an opening.  She rolled to her back and slashed his face with her fingernails. She felt them bite. 

He fell back, obvious pain flaring through the left side of his face.  Cassandra scurried to her feet, but the pain in her head caused her to return just as quickly to her knees.  

“Guard!” she called.  “Get in here!”  She stood shakily with the aid of a chair, but could not find enough balance to move.  

The chamber door echoed with a mighty thud.  “General!  Unlock the door!”  Again, the thud sounded.  Wood started to splinter.  

Anthony, unsteady, winced.  Blood ran over the hand he clutched to his face.  He could hardly see.  But he heard the wood snapping.  Through his good eye, he watched as the door nearly broke.  

He had failed.  Nothing could change that now.  He tried to gather his bearings, hoping to find sub-general Nightwing in the dark chamber for a final strike.  But could not.  

He opted for the better part of valor and stumbled for the balcony.  At least he hoped for that.  In the fog of his mind, one way was as much the same as any other.  

He erupted through curtains.  The cold air of the night slapped him.  Hearing voices and footsteps coming, he threw himself over the balcony, hoping simply to survive the fall.  

The door exploded open and a troop of guards burst into the General’s chamber.  They immediately noticed the two bodies dressed in black.  They also saw Cassandra as she tried to clear her mind.  

“General?” one of the guards rushed to her.  

Cassandra focused her gaze on the guard but said nothing in response.  There were words that she wanted to speak but her mouth would not work.  One of the most coherent thoughts in her mind was how glad she was this man was one of her men.  He was loyal.  Not someone that would seek to take advantage of her in her current state.  

A slight groan caused her to turn her head.  Another guard remarked, “This one’s still alive.”  He hoisted up the man lying near the window, Cassandra’s knife in his chest. 

Now Cassandra’s mind snapped into action, a switch thrown.  She ordered, “Take him to The Vault.  I will question him personally later.”  Her vision began to clear.  

“Yes, sub-general Nightwing.”  He pulled the prisoner along.  “C’mon you.”  

“Make sure he doesn’t die,” she added, noticing the bleeding from his wound.  “I’ll have your head if he does!”  

The guards nodded cautiously as they left, worried that they would not get him to the medic quick enough to prevent his death.  Two of the guards recovered the body of another man.  

Cassandra stumbled, and the lone guard that remained reached out to steady her.  “Are you alright?”  

She angrily brushed off his aid and turned towards the balcony.  “I’m fine,” she shot back.  The raising of her voice caused pain.  “I’m fine,” she added again in a hushed voice as she kept her gown from sliding off.  She walked out onto the balcony, ignoring the cold.  

The brisk winter air helped to clear the cobwebs from her mind, and she secured both hands over the railing.  Only then did she noticed the blood that stained the white marble under her hand.  It wasn’t hers.  

Looking over the edge, she saw no one below.  The third had escaped. 

Cassandra gazed across the garden into which he had likely fled. Shivering as the cold began to affect her, Cassandra reentered her chamber and closed the windows behind her. 

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