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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 18)

And so the Tear of Earoni shall be lost into the sands of time to keep it from the hands of those that would use it for less than the will of Greater Goddess. Only to be found again when the triangle is again complete.  Reflections in the mirror and a child of fairies shall complete the cycle and return to the world what was once lost.  

  -Legends 1023:45

Chapter 18  (26th of Taru-Des in the year 6198) 

Cassandra stormed through the palace halls, her fuse having long since burned down and her temper on the verge of exploding.  Her mood was particularly sour.  Even for her. 

Her hand still throbbed from striking the side of Captain Corsair’s ship as he sailed off without her.   He’d left her in a lifeboat, bobbing in the ocean, hundreds of miles away from Catersburg.  She still cursed his name at random times. 

Rounding a corner, she exploded through the closed but unlocked door of General Norga’s briefing room.  Stunned by the interruption, the assembled officers rose from their seats surrounding a large, oblong table on which was drawn a map of the world.  Cassandra ignored all of them.  All of them except General Norga at the far end.  

Not content to walk around, Cassandra chose the most direct route.  She lept up onto the atlas, her footsteps scattering small wooden ships representing the current positions of each of the Empire’s fleets.  She didn’t care that her intrusion disrupted the meeting, nor that it annoyed the General and his officers.  

“What is the meaning of this?” General Norga stood last, rising with slow patience.  

Marching off the table, Cassandra plopped herself down right in front of him, grabbing him with both hands by the collar of his shirt.  General Norga was nearly bent over backward.  

“I want ships,” she snarled.  

The anger in her eyes caused Norga’s blood to run cold.   “I – I’m sorry Sub-general Nightwing but -”  

“Damn it!”  She slammed her already sore fist on the table, “No excuses!”  Drawing close, she whispered in his ear.   “Or I’ll see that Kayzar and Lord Hedric find out that you’ve been skimming gold out of the treasury for your own pocket,” Cassandra emphasized her point with a shove that sent him into his seat and his chair skidding backward.  

General Norga looked about at the others in the room, noticing they had all backed far away from the two of them.  “Gentlemen,” the General straightened his shirt with two firm tugs, “we’ll meet at this time tomorrow to conclude our business. Dismissed.”  

Based on the haste with which General Norga’s men filed out of the room, they were all too relieved at being given permission to leave.  As the last exited, the door closed to leave him and Cassandra alone.  

The General stood and paced around the table.  Clasping his hands behind his back, he stared into the corner. “What for?”  

Cassandra bore her angry green eyes into him.  She knew that she had a very large bargaining chip to sway his opinion.  “Personal business.”   

“Damn it.  You know I can’t do that.” General Norga sighed, almost as if he knew that he would have to give in to her demand.  “Lord Hedric wants every spare ship in the fleet to reinforce the sea campaign against the elven fleet.  He’ll have my head if I don’t start making progress.”  

“He’ll have your head for stealing from the treasury too.  I can help see that he never finds out.  But in return, I need a few ships.  And they have to be fast ones.”   

“I can’t,” the General rested into another seat across from Cassandra.  “You know that when it comes to you or General Kayzar, I’m loyal to you.  I’ll be at your side when you make your play for his position.  But without Lord Hedric’s approval, I can’t start scattering my ships across the oceans.”  

“Listen, the ship that I chased was riding the Currents of Gaili west before they spotted us.  They’re either heading all the way to the Far Lands, or towards Fimmirra.  I’d say that the latter is a pretty likely destination.  Especially since I know there is a rebel on that ship.”  She didn’t voice her assumption about her sister being on board as well.  No one else needed to know that. 

“So?”  

“Lord Hedric has been looking for a way through that blasted reef around those islands for centuries.  Make something up.  Tell him that we have new information on how to get through.”  

“You want me to lie to Lord Hedric?”  

“You want me to tell Lord Hedric about your indiscretions?”  

Tapping one of the toppled wooden ships on the tabletop, General Norga considered his untenable position.  “I’ll make no guarantees.”  

“That’s not good enough.”  

“I can’t do anymore.  Our Lord has made it clear what his wishes are.  Especially after I recently informed him the current campaign has not been successful.”   

“Then you’d better hope that you’re a better persuader than you are a thief.”  Cassandra turned and stormed out, leaving the General’s war room with a slam of the door.  

As General Norga sat there and mused over his fate, he was completely unaware of the hollow, red eyes that watched him from the shadows.  They had seen everything.  They creased with unholy amusement at what they had learned, slowly vanishing to report the news to their Lord.  

Turning around as he finished pouring himself a glass of wine, Lord Hedric returned the decanter of liquor back onto the finely carved table from which it came.  The contents of the bottle swirled, sloshing as they settled.  He took his time sipping from his drink.  

At the lone desk in the vast library, Noranda thumbed through the pages of a book.  The only light was from a candle burning on the desk.  

A pair of disembodied red eyes waited in the shadowy corner.  “General Norga,” Lord Hedric finally spoke to them, “will have to be punished.”  He took a second more to think.  “Strip him of his command.  And have his hands removed.  I don’t want him to touch another piece of gold for as long as he lives.”  

“It will be done, my Lord.”  The shadow responded and then vanished into the darkness with a phantom bow. 

Noranda, continuing to read, spoke.  “General Norga will, of course, assume that Cassandra was the one who told you of this.”  

Smiling, Lord Hedric observed, “Sub-general Nightwing has proven that she is more than capable of handling herself.”   

“It will lead the other generals to believe that she cannot be trusted to keep her word.”  

“Such is the way of things.  Sub-general Nightwing should have come to me when she first learned of Norga’s dealings.  I must say that I am impressed though.  Two years I’ve searched for the culprit stealing from my coffers.  It appears that Cassandra has better resources at her disposal than I do.”  He took a few strides and stood before Noranda.  “You care too much for that child.”  

Looking up from her reading, the woman in red stared into Lord Hedric’s cold eyes.  “She is important to our plans.”  

Lord Hedric sat his glass down on the desk without another drink being taken.  “It’s more than that.  I am concerned that your feelings for this child are clouding your judgment.”  

“Cassandra has lead a tragic life.  Even I can appreciate that.”  

“Bah,” Hedric snorted.  “A tragic life?  You don’t sound like the Noranda I once knew.  The angel once known as The Accuser.  The Greater Goddess’s own right hand.  The one who passed judgment mercilessly on the unworthy?  At least before your fall and disgrace.”  

“I chose a different master,” Noranda snarled back at him.  

“Yes, so you have.  But only after she cast you out.  Only after you pleaded for salvation of your own.”  Lord Hedric watched as Noranda’s eyes darkened, as they often did when her rage was growing.  He wanted to stoke that in her.  It had been a long time since he’d seen it.  “Tell me.  When she did that to you, did it make you weep for those many souls that had pleaded with you and that you had denied?  Did you feel the same pain they had?”  

“Enough!” Noranda slammed her fists on the table.  There was a rush of energy from the fallen angel that pulsed out from her and across the room.  It snuffed out the candle, casting the room into darkness as the walls and ceiling shook.  

Laughing, Lord Hedric struck a match and held it back to the wick of the candle.  It ate the flame and reignited itself. 

Noranda just sat there.  Through deep breaths, she stared him down. 

“Earoni cursed you to a life among the mortals,” he reminded her.  “And that is when Descist offered you a chance at revenge.  I saw your commitment to the destruction of the one creature in this world that we both despise above all others.  Do you still hate the Greater Goddess as much as you did that day?  That day when you fell and the world rent?” 

“Do not question me.  Or my commitment.”  Noranda worked hard to put her anger down.  It would serve no purpose here. Not at this time.  But try as she might, it still fumed.  

“You treat Cassandra like she is your daughter,” Lord Hedric replied.  “It disgusts me to see you acting like an overprotective mother.  She is a tool.  And tools are meant to be used.”  

“She doesn’t care about you or your Empire,” Noranda jabbed.  “To her?  It and you are but a tool to her own objectives.  Our cause is not hers.   She does not care about dethroning the Greater Goddess.  Only her revenge.”  

“And that makes her dangerous.  Especially if she were to ever learn the truth.”   

“If you fear her so much,” Noranda questioned, “why not just have her eliminated?  You could do it like that,” her fingers snapped.  

Lord Hedric smiled.  “Because, as you said, she is important to us.  And I will admit, her life force is the strongest I have ever tasted.  Almost as if it were touched by the gods themselves.  Beyond that, I fully doubt that you would let me take her life.”  

“I find it hard to believe,” Noranda smiled a little satisfaction at his admission, “that I hold so much sway over your actions.”  

“Don’t sound so surprised.” The smile on Lord Hedric’s face turned into a weird, twisted one.  “My true concern is that she will betray us for her family name. As the prophecies have foretold.”    

“Nonsense.  Cassandra has long since renounced the name of Stormband.  She swore her allegiance to you on her blood.  The link between you and her is strong.  The link between her and her past is all but gone.  Her family is dead.  You are her only Lord.”  

“It bothers me that she now wishes to return to the land of her birth.”  Now what was left of Lord Hedric’s smile turned to a frown, “The prophecies could be coming to pass.” 

“I disagree,” Noranda shook her head.  “Cassandra wishes to rid herself of the demons in her heart.  She despises her uncle.  Where others have failed, she will succeed.”  

“The Child of the Storm,” Lord Hedric recited the verse, “will travel to the birth land and set forth to reclaim the Tear of Earoni for the children of the Greater Goddess.    Stormband.  From the ancient elven Esturmban; The Storm’s Child.”  

“She will not fail you.” 

Retrieving his glass of wine, Lord Hedric drank.  “Summon Sub-general Nightwing.  I will grant her request.  And consider this a test of her loyalty.  If she fails?  I will kill her.”  

As Lord Hedric sat on his throne, Cassandra knelt before him.  She was prompt, for a change, and came as soon as her Lord had called for her.  She wanted something.  And that want alone made her forego her normal, tardiness. 

“I understand,” he spoke, “that you wish to be granted the use of ships to hunt for the way through the Fimmirra Reef?”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  

“This is a rather sudden interest that you have taken in those trivial islands.” 

“They are far from trivial, my Lord.  Fimmirra has long since been a source of trouble for your Empire. We know they help to supply the rebellion and act as a way-station for others that would do the same.  I have reason to believe that the rebel assassin that fled this palace not too long ago is on a ship headed there as we speak.”  

“Ships to hunt down a lone rebel?  It hardly seems like the kind of thing I should approve of.” 

“General Norga and I have determined new information -”  

“Ah yes,” Lord Hedric interrupted.  “I forgot to mention.  General Norga is no longer in charge of the fleets.”   He saw Cassandra’s surprise.  “Seems he had a little problem keeping his hands out of the Imperial coffers.  Needless to say, he no longer has such a problem.  Since he no longer has any hands.”  

Cassandra regained her composure after an initial crack in her expression.  “I had no idea.” 

“No, I suppose you would have come to me if you had,” Lord Hedric spoke, eyeing her.  “You know better than to withhold such information from me.”   

Cassandra could feel in the air between them and that he knew more than he was telling.  “You know that my loyalty to you is unmatched, my Lord.”  

“Yes.”   His voice still had a quiver of skepticism.   “Be that as it may, I am now in need of a new commander for my fleets.” 

Without missing a beat, Cassandra offered, “Sub-general Gremna would be an excellent choice.  Major Minaw, I’ve noticed, also has great expertise in naval procedures.”  

Hedric sat tall in his throne.   “Both of which are allies of yours in this chess match for power you and General Kayzar play.”  

“I guarantee that General Kayzar can offer none better than either of those choices.”  

“I will give your request consideration.  But, to the subject at hand.  I will allow you the use of three of my fleet’s cutters.”     

“Thank you, my Lord.”  

“You are not to use them to engage any of the Fimmirran fleet should they challenge you.  Cutters are not designed for combat, General Nightwing.  I will have a message sent to the fleet and tell them to await your arrival.  Take a set of scrying orbs with you.  I want you to keep me posted on your progress.” 

“Thank you again, my Lord.  I will not disappoint you.”  

“No.  I’m sure you won’t.  I’ll have the ships meet you in Seahome.  I suggest you procure one of General Marshall’s swiftest dragons to make the journey as quickly as possible.  They should be able to sail there in about four days from their current location.”  Standing, Hedric’s ended the conversation. His long cloak followed him as he disappeared through the wall of curtains behind the throne, leaving Cassandra alone. 

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