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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 28)

Diur’s palace is the center of the cosmos and all things rotate about him.  He is the keeper of all that is, and his daughters the balance that stabilizes the cosmos.   Without them, all would cease, all would end into darkness.  

-Generations 1:6

Chapter 28 (15th of Earonitan in the year 6199) 

Tapping the tip of his quill on the book’s cover, Lord Hedric pondered the diagram now before him.  The hastily sketched copy was of a drawing he had found in the reference.  It was a simple illustration, nothing more than an inverted triangle with a circle at each point.  In the center sat the spiraling, ever watchful Eye of Earoni.  

“When three become one,” he muttered.  “The Terrestrial Moons of silver will open the shrine beneath the Eye of the Greater Goddess.” As the hours of the night marched on, he had stumbled across the mention in a text made by the Priests of Earoni following his ascension as the sovereign of this land.  

“A shame,” Noranda mused, “that you had all the Greater Goddess’s worldly servants eradicated in the years following their treachery.”  

Lord Hedric scowled at the thought because it was true.  Sometimes he felt like he did act too much out of a sense of anger and hurt at their rejection of what he had become.  But what was done was done.  They wouldn’t have helped him anyway.  Had he let them live, all those treacherous devotees to Earoni would have done was continued to fight alongside with the open incursion against him.  Better to be rid of them as a nuisance and sort it out later.  

Even though the Priests of Earoni no longer existed, they had left many clues about the shrine that housed the Tear.  But most were well scattered and hidden in texts so that only the most diligent could find them.  Lord Hedric had spent all his unnatural years since searching for every single one.  

“Even I start to detest the riddles,” Noranda continued with a moan as she was searching through other books on the shelves. “What does it mean?”  

“That, I cannot answer.”  He stood and paced over to near where Noranda was perusing the vast collection of texts, staring at the seemingly endless volumes before him.  

Noranda went to the desk and placed herself in the same seat he had once occupied.  She looked at the drawing and the passage he had scribbled below it.  “What does that mean?  ‘Terrestrial Moons’?”  

“I don’t know,” Lord Hedric replied.  “I do know that a thousand years ago the silvery moon called Earoni that once hung in the night was destroyed by the great comet the elves called Ari-Des; The Wrath of Descist.  But that is not the same, I don’t think.”  

“Nor do I,” Noranda confirmed.  

“The elven child,” Lord Hedric mused, “with hair like silver and who speaks with the fairies holds the key the path to the shrine, I can feel it.  The first-born of the House of Tynara is the key; The Child of Fairies.”  With a snarl, he added, “I want her begging to show me the way to the shrine in order to save the lives of her people.”  

“Not so easy,” Noranda frowned.  “The fairies protect the Elven Lands.  The forests will not let us pass, and we’ve pushed as far as we can.  Strikes with dragons have proven more or less futile.  And not even the fallen house of elven blood that serves you faithfully has been able to bring them down, as you had hoped.”  

“I don’t care how it is done,” Lord Hedric snarled.  “But it must be done.  The Tear of Earoni is within my reach.  I can feel it.”  

“We can find the shrine without the elven woman,” Noranda replied.   “It is guarded by magic that is seven hundred years old. And when we do?  I will crack the seals like an egg.”  

“Bold words,” he scoffed, “from someone whose power still fades when the Eye of the Greater Goddess rises high into the sky.  And even with many centuries, you have still been unable to find the path on your own.” 

“Don’t mock my powers.  You worry about the shrine, and I will get us the Tear of Earoni.  On another note,” Noranda shifted the conversation, “Cassandra has been working with your naval forces and believes she has an idea about how to deal with Fimmirra.  She wishes to discuss it with you.”  

“What is it?” Lord Hedric’s curiosity raised.  Sub-general Nightwing’s plans were always quite ingenious and well thought out.  

“On that subject, she was not entirely clear,” Noranda confessed.  “Only that she wanted your blessing for the endeavor because of the perceived high cost of it.  It has to do with building some special type of ships.”  

Lord Hedric clenched his fists. “High costs,” he cursed, “are not something the treasury can absorb at this point.  Taxation and confiscations have not been keeping pace with even required expenditures.  I never wanted to rule a kingdom.  Only obtain the Tear and undo this curse.” 

“Have faith in her,” Noranda soothed his frustrations. 

“Faith in her abilities is not something I have a short supply of,” Lord Hedric admitted.  “It is the trust in her thoughts that I still find suspect.  I want you to assign one of your shadows to her on a permanent basis.  I want to know every move she makes.  Just in case.”  

“I told you,” Noranda shook her head, “you have nothing to fear from that child.”  

“And I told you,” Lord Hedric hissed, “to put one of your spies on her.”  

“Dragons?”  Hedric slouched in his throne in contemplation as Cassandra stood before him in the early morning hours.  “Dragons don’t have the range to reach Fimmirra,” he stated the obvious.  

“I know that, my Lord,” Cassandra conceded.  “But I believe there is a way to get our dragons to the islands.  Barring the use of Noranda’s magic, which would leave them too weak to prove useful.”  

“Yes,” Lord Hedric replied.  “Noranda tells me that you have been working with the Navy to come up with a design for some ships?”  

“I’ve had some help refining the design, but we should be able to build ships to transport the beasts to the reef and poise them for a decisive blow against King Turon.  The sticking point,” Cassandra admitted, “is the design of the sails.”  

Lord Hedric pondered her idea.  His only response was, “Intriguing.  But without proper sails, such ships would be unworkable.”  

“We believe it’s possible,” she continued to pitch her idea.  “It is my understanding that there are actually four partially built ships in drydock at Gura that may be of sufficient size and that could be modified.”  

“The juggernauts?” Lord Hedric sneered, remembering how much they had cost and the promises that had been made about them.  Only to be abandoned halfway through construction.  

“Yes, my Lord,” Cassandra pulled a folded-up piece of paper from her belt, ascended the dais to his throne, and handed it to him.   “We’ve drafted up some preliminary costs of what it would take to complete them and the necessary modifications.  But they are just estimates until we figure out the design of the sails for propulsion.  If you would like to review the plans, we have them on display in the Naval Briefing Room for you.” 

Her Lord opened what she had given him and contemplated the numbers.  They weren’t as bad as he had suspected.  But still quite high.  “I must admit,” he praised her, “I am impressed with the thought you appear to have put into this strategy.  Perhaps you should be in charge of my naval forces as well?”  

“Actually,” Cassandra replied, “I have someone else in mind for that position.  I feel Deran Herstone would prove to be an excellent choice.” 

The confusion in Lord Hedric’s eyes was plainly obvious.  “Who?  That name does not mean anything.  Is he one of my fleet’s commodores?”  

“Actually, no,” Cassandra confessed.  “But he’s a very brilliant young man.  Most of the actual work beyond developing the basic idea for this attack was his.” 

“Captain?” he continued to pry.  

“No, my Lord,” Cassandra answered.  

“First Mate?” he asked again. 

“No,” the Sub-general responded.  

“Second Mate?” he then asked with a slight growing and impatient growl. 

“No.  He’s an Ensign, but Captain Kann of the Creedence thinks very highly of him,” she added noticing that Lord Hedric was not outwardly pleased with the suggestion.  “And he has been instrumental in the design of these ships. He has superb knowledge of naval tactics.” 

Lord Hedric tapped his finger on the arm of his throne.  “I can’t promote someone of such a rank to that kind of position.  Besides, if he was as you claim, why didn’t General Norga promote him?”  

“General Norga,” Cassandra pointed out, “wasn’t all that bothered with the daily operation of the fleet, as you well found out.”  

“Point taken,” Lord Hedric conceded.  “I’ll make a bargain with you.  If this mission is possible, in that you can find a means to get these ships to actually function I’ll look into this man’s past to see if he can be trusted and is as capable as you claim.  If so, I will place him in command of the flagship which will lead the assault on Fimmirra.  If he proves capable as a leader, I will make the command permanent and then re-evaluated your request to promote him further.” 

Cassandra bowed, “Thank you, my Lord.”  

Noranda scrutinized the rounded ceiling of the observatory housed in the palace at Roatsburg.  The dome above her was painted with such intricate care to show every detail of the night sky.   

Watching as the stars rotated slowly, almost imperceptibly on the complex system of tracks, pullies, and balances designed for the seers of the royal family that ruled Hitithe before Lord Hedric’s reign, Noranda was still in awe of it all.  The structure was a miraculous feat of knowledge and skill that only dwarven minds could have possibly conceived. 

For centuries the dome of stars had been her’s, and her’s alone to command.  At every instant of every day, the ceiling’s mural showed the fallen angel exactly how the heavens looked. Noranda concentrated on a series of small globes, varying in size and color, that moved on separate tracks from everything else.  One was white.  One was gray.  And the last one was black.  They were known as The Fates to those who studied the heavens, named after the very goddesses themselves.  And with their aid, many believed it was possible to foresee the future.  

Noranda had learned how to use them with great skill during her new life, and she did not like what she now saw.  Two, the black one and the gray one, hovered close to a star near the horizon that marked the birth of Hedric’s reign.  This close together in that location portended two ominous things: death and betrayal. 

She took time to survey the rest of the stars and read other signs as well until the sound of light footsteps drew her attention away.  Noranda turned to see Cassandra standing in the only doorway to the observatory. “Come in, child,” the woman in red beckoned the Sub-general in.  Noranda moved to stand over a large half globe in the middle of the floor on which the southern part of the world was drawn with painstaking detail.  

“You sent for me?” Cassandra asked. 

She entered the chamber with cautious steps, as she always did.  The faint sounds of the grinding gears beneath Cassandra’s feet made her more than a little nervous.  Such arcane devices were well beyond her understanding. Every time Cassandra entered this place she felt as though it would come crashing down around her or swallow her up.    

“Yes,” a wide, welcoming smile beamed on Noranda’s face.  “We hardly have time to talk anymore, Cassandra.  I sense that something is bothering you, my dear.  It has something to do with those islands if I’m not mistaken.   I find it hard to believe that all this trouble is worth one, petty assassin.” 

Lady Noranda always could tell a lot more about Cassandra than the young woman would ever speak.  Like a mother who always could tell what her child was up to.  Cassandra was silent for a moment as she thought how to respond.  Whether or not to tell Lady Noranda about her sister was something that she struggled with.  “I believe that – well – I believe that I’ve found my sister.  And that she has returned to Fimmirra.”  

“Sister?” Noranda’s smile left, and her voice turned dour.   

Cassandra rushed to explain, seeing the suddenness of the change in her expression.  “I never told you about her before, because I didn’t know what had happened to her.  She and I were twins.”  

“Twins?” Noranda gasped.  She recalled one of Prophet Aricese’s visions. “When one becomes two  -” she mumbled.  

“What?” Cassandra asked, only hearing the sound and not her words.  

“Nothing,” Noranda brought herself back to the moment.  “My dear, why did you keep this from me?” 

“I was -” hesitating, Casandra tried to explain.  “I was trying to forget my past.  My parents’ murder at the hands of those rebels was just – it was just a lot to deal with.” 

With a renewed calm to her tone, Lady Noranda asked of her, “And you think that she was on that ship as well?”  

“I know she was.”  The Sub-general pulled out the small, silver pendant her father had given her and held it in her hand.  “I’ve shown you this before, and I know you know it’s magical.”  

Noranda’s eyes fell on the object and then opened wide.  There was something familiar about it; the disk of silver reminding her of the moon that once hung in Geiha’s nighttime sky.  “Terrestrial moons…,” she gasped, repeating the passage that Hedric had found.  “Could it be?”  

Attempting to continue with her explanation, Cassandra said, “My sister has one just like it. When they are nearby, they would -” Cassandra’s words trailed off as Noranda hastened over to where she stood.  The young woman felt stunned, unable to move as she noticed Lady Noranda’s intense interest in the last reminder of her parents.  

When the fallen angel reached out and grabbed her wrist in a painful grip, Cassandra was forced to her knees as she saw hellfires raging in Noranda’s eyes.  The pain became unbearable as she bent Cassandra’s wrist back. 

“One of the keys,” Noranda growled as if losing herself.  “Of course.  You have one of the keys.  You are one of the keys.”  

“Please -” Cassandra begged, struggling to break free as pain and heat coursing through her.  

Her words fell on deaf ears as Noranda reached out to snatch the token.  In that instant, the artifact flared to life with a blinding flash of light that burned the skin of her hand.  Noranda hissed in pain, releasing her deathlike grip on Cassandra.  

“Damn elven magic!” Noranda snapped as her mind filled with visions of the shrine hidden within the mountains.  Now she was certain.  There was no doubt.  “It is one of the keys.  I should have known before when I first examined it.” 

Noranda clutched her hand, seared red from the heat the medallion gave off, but she noticed that Cassandra had not been affected.  The medallion of Noranda’s own god was pulsating as the presence of the divine magic caused it to stir.  

Cassandra massaged her wrist, wilting before the anger in Lady Noranda’s eyes that was like knives directed at her. “Forgive me,” Cassandra begged, her normal confidence all but shattered.  “It was not my doing.”  

Noranda tried to shake the stinging from her hand and she eased up consciously on the look that made Cassandra react so, realizing that the young woman had nothing to do with it. The medallion was simply protecting its own. “No, of course not,” Noranda conceded.  “I should have known better than to try to forcibly take it from you.  I knew from my previous inspection that it was protective.  But now I am certain that you do in fact possess one of the keys which Lord Hedric has spoken of to me.”  

“I don’t understand.”  Cassandra regained her composure and stood, looking at the relic given to her by her father fourteen years ago.  “A key?”  

“Yes.  One of three keys, my dear.  It’s all so clear now.”  Noranda glanced up to the ceiling and to a small, inverted triangle of three stars. 

The obscure grouping had drawn Noranda’s attention earlier in the day as she noticed that it was remarkably similar to the diagram she had seen in Lord Hedric’s study.  In front of the star at the bottom, the white oracle now passed, denoting fortune.  Noranda smiled as she read the sign.    

“But a key to what?” questioned Cassandra.  

“A key to great power, child,” Noranda explained.  “For seven centuries Lord Hedric has sought to find an ancient artifact, as you know.”  

“Yes,” Cassandra replied, “the Tear of Earoni.”  

Noranda nodded.  “It was a gift from Earoni to her children here on Geiha long ago.  It possesses her strength, her wisdom, and power beyond comprehension.  It was once used to banish the Dark Lord Descist back to the underworld when he previously tried to escape.  Your sister, you say?  She has one just like it?” 

“Y- yes.  But I don’t understand.  A key -” Cassandra muttered. 

Noranda turned to Cassandra, who seemed lost in a trance and staring at the medallion she held close for so long.  Noranda knew now how to ensure her loyalty so that this child would never betray the Empire, as Lord Hedric feared she would.  “Cassandra – child, the Tear of Earoni is well worth any effort.  Its power can return what once was to now and forever.  It could even bring your father and mother back to you.”  

Cassandra’s head shot up to look at Noranda.  “My – father and mother?”  

“Yes.”  The fallen angel could see determination start to grow in Cassandra’s eyes.  With those words and that promise, she had made Cassandra an even more powerful ally.  “Its powers know no bounds.  That is why you must find your sister and bring me the medallion that she was given as well.”  Noranda reached out and gripped the young woman’s shoulder.  “With her, and her medallion, we will have but only one more to find.  And I think I know where that might be.”  

Cassandra’s hand closed into a fist around the magical item, her resolve hardening.  “I will return to Fimmirra.  And I will bring King Turon to his knees.” 

At those words, Noranda smiled with great pleasure.  “When the Dragon Ships are ready, you will return.  And you will bring your sister back to us.  Together you will help Lord Hedric and myself forge a new order.”  

“I can’t believe that this is possible,” Casandra muttered.  “Father and mother -”  

“With the Tear of Earoni,” Noranda asserted, “everything is possible.” 

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