Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Keystaff Chronicles 30 and 31

Chapter 30

Yue took a few hesitant steps towards her and when she did not immediately vanish from his sight, his strides quickened. Azarielle, for her part, backpedalled. Her lips moved, forming the words that would summon a barrier between herself and Yue.

But nothing happened.

And then, Yue was upon her. His fingers wrapped around her wrists and he pulled her towards him. So startled was she by this unexpected failure that she didn’t even have the presence of mind to resist. Then, she found herself pressed tightly against his chest and his arms firmly locked around her waist.

She felt silk against her cheek and his slim but muscled body beneath that. His body heat wrapped around her and the rapid beating of his heart pulsed along her skin. It was not a dream!

That thought was enough to shake her from her stupor. Azarielle reached up with her fingers and struck at a nerve to numb his neck. Yue jerked back while reaching up to grab hold of her hand at the same time. At the same time, the young mage threw her knee up, aiming for his weak area.

Yue moved out of the way with almost elven fluidness. He twisted her hand behind her back and forced her to ground, pinning her other arm around her with his arm. Azarielle felt his breath along the nape of her neck. His lips brushed against the earlobe.

“That was not becoming a lady,” his words caressed her skin, making her shiver despite herself. “Striking at a man’s weakness - Such a dishonorable and immodest attack, did you learn it from Lan?”

“Actually, it was Hong who taught me,” Azarielle replied. “We girls have to have a few tricks up our sleeves to protect ourselves, Prince Yue.”

Yue sighed softly, “It has been a long time since I have heard you call my name, Ree. I have wanted to see you.”

“Sorry, can’t say I’ve got the same sentiment. It’s been quite nice not having to worry about your assassins and dragons coming after me.”

“I was not able to protect you then – I am sorry. I would not wish any harm to come upon you.”

“If that’s true then you should let me go before the Luminous Consort comes,” Azarielle replied.

She felt him stiffen, “Her Highness has always resided in the Palace of Gathering Clouds.”

“And she has slept in a number of beds…”

“Do not speak ill of the Luminous Consort!” Yue spun her around to face him, pinning both of her arms to her hand and roughly tilting her chin up so that she could see his coldly blazing amber eyes.

And then, as if realizing what he was doing, Yue quickly released let go of her chin, “Forgive me Ree – you should not speak such crude words against an imperial consort.”

“Who you choose to do unspeakable things with is of no concern to me – your First Lady be concerned, but well, this being Rising Sun, she wouldn’t get much a say in it either. I must say, it was quite wise on my part to leave this place – my young and sometimes stupid then-self actually had foresight.”

“When have you learned such coyness?” the corner of Yue’s lips curved up ever so slightly. “You know well that I would not have given that title to anyone else. If it is your wish, I would release the concubines or give them to you as servants.”

“If it’s my wish, would you release me?” Azarielle asked. “You are holding me kind of hard and my delicate ribs are going to end up bruised. Besides, it’s unbecoming for a man to touch an unwed woman. Didn’t your grandmother teach you better?”

Yue shook his head, “I will not. Even if it is a dream I would choose to never wake and I would not let you go…”

In this place, all that matters are your will power, and faith…

Red’s words echoed through her thoughts suddenly. He had been rambling on about dream walking but she had been too astounded by the nightmarish vision he was showing her – that of the Bleeding Rot Plague’s onset – to pay too much attention. What had he meant?

And then, she remembered something she had read in Elucielle’s journal – the Archmage had used the elven term for the world of dreams – she had it called it this place “As You Will”.

“It is just a dream, Yue. I am far, far away from the Rising Kingdom, in a place that was long thought to have been destroyed,” she said to him as she began forming the image of Shifting Star Spire. “I left this place five years ago because I would not have survived.”

“I am not as I was before. I will protect you…”

“The Luminous Consort worships the Seven Ancestors. That is what they are known in the Rising Sun. But in many other places, they were known as the Abyssal Ones. They were messengers of the one who created this world – the Eternal Father – who fell from Zion.”

“Ree, let us not speak of such things…”

“You are not surprised by anything I am saying. You are not saying ‘Sacrilegious!’ like what the Dowager Empress might have said,” Azarielle looked at the golden eyes that stared so intently into hers. “That’s because you know this, isn’t it? You know that the Luminous Consort serves one of the seven Abyssal Ones because she is your mistress also – the one called Luxuria!”

She pulled away from him then as his power rolled over her. It was heady and earthy as it had always been – but she could feel the terrible taint of debauchery and lust – humming beneath the surface. She had not noticed it, or rather, she had not paid attention to it because of the shock she experienced in seeing him. But she could feel it now as she had that day she had stumbled upon his and the Luminous Consort’s unholy union.

Yue’s eyes widened when Azarielle broke free of his grasp, “Ree!”

“For an undefeated warlord, you’ve made some pretty bad choices,” Azarielle shook her head. “Sleeping with your father’s wife, even if you are not related is pretty bad in any kingdom. Sleeping with an emperor’s wife is even worse – especially if said emperor rather likes lopping of people’s heads and makes no exceptions for his sons. But this – submitting to an Abyssal One as her servant… that beats all of them. You do know what souls’ death is right - that’s complete and utter destruction.”

Yue came toward her but a wall of power blazed to life between them. Azarielle stood on the other side looking at him with sadness that belied her flippant tone.

“You do not know the power that has been given me – that will be given us,” Yue replied. Not even my father could stand against it. This empire, this whole world will kneel belong to us.”

“Is that what she promised you – power? You weren’t so obsessed with sitting on the throne as the rest of your brothers.”

“And I do not care for it now, not if I can have what I truly desire – you, my wife, returned to my side.”

Thoughts are as spoken words here…

Red had told her that, but he had not been entirely accurate in his description. Yue’ thoughts, his desires, danced before her eyes.

He did want to have her at his side; that was not a lie. But he also wanted the Luminous Consort at his side – two wives, two empresses. One a creature of the silken night who breathed desire and set his body ablaze with a single glance; the other a sun, burning so brightly and hotly that he believed he would turn to ash if he touched her – and yet he still yearned for her. That was how he saw them as…

Azarielle shook her head and began forming in her mind the devastated landscape of the Forsaken Lands. It was ironic that she’d rather be in a place ravaged by a terrible plague than this beautifully coiffed garden.

“I have never been you wife, and I am no longer Ree Yoanne,” she said to him. “My name is Azarielle and I am a follower of the Uncrowned King. It is his power that flows in my veins and it is his will that I follow, however imperfectly. He is the way to life.”

The world around her began shifting – the bright flowers in the garden melting together and the colors bleeding into one another. Yue’s eyes widened in alarm as he stared at the crumbling world around him.

“Ree, what are you doing? Do not leave!”

He came towards her then, shattering the wall that separated them with sheer will power.

“Yue, Ree couldn’t stand beside you because you’ve already given away that place to her,” Azarielle smiled sadly at him. “If you stand against the Uncrowned King than Azarielle cannot stand with you.”


The House of Red Sun vanished in a swirl of colors.

* * *

Azarielle woke with a start, leaping to her feet and immediately hitting her head against something hard. She heard a startled yelp as she saw Tomlin stumble backward and clutching at his nose. His surly apprentice, Dezeiriel, was some steps away and looking alternately alarmed and angry.

“Sorry about that, Lord Mage,” Azarielle offered in way of apology when she spotted Tomlin sporting a bloodied lip that he dabbed at with a ragged handkerchief. “You startled me.”

Tomlin laughed despite his wound, “I did indeed. We have never anyone from the Outside, let alone a sister mage, and I wished to speak with you. I called your name and you did not answer… if you do not mind me asking, were you dream walking?”

Azarielle considered whether to answer him truthfully and finally replied with, “I don’t know if I would quite call it walking. I’ve more or less stumbled into it each and every time.”

“It is a rare gift,” Tomlin gestured at Dezeiriel. “I am not able to do such a thing but Dezeiriel is a skilled dream walker. Perhaps he can help you…”

“Master!” the young elf turned to his teacher. “I wish to have nothing to do with this…outsider!” The young elf spoke in ancient high elven and though it sounded a little awkward to Azarielle’s ears, she still understood.

“I should probably remind you that I speak the language,” she chimed in. “My master is one, after all, and he refused to really speak in anything other than high elven. I rather thought I should share this with you so that for future reference, if you wish to say something I wouldn’t understand, you’d pick a different language.”

Dezeiriel glared at her and spat a staccato word in her direction.

“That I actually didn’t understood, but I imagine it wasn’t really that pleasant.”

Tomlin sighed, “Dezeiriel, please. If what our sister mage and her companions say is true than we have not the luxury of internal strife. If we do not stand together, we will fall.”

“Teacher, I do not know why it is you believe them. They could easily be agents of the Abyssal Ones sent to deceive us!”

“You know that is not true,” Tomlin shook his head. “They have amongst them a healer and a paladin of the Ancient One – such holy powers are not something servants of the Abyssal One can mimic.”

Dezeiriel scowled but said nothing more.

Tomlin turned back to Azarielle, “I am curious of your friends’ powers for it is a legend come to life for us. But more than that, I wish to know of your power. If will forgive me for speaking boldly, you are Awakening.”

Azarielle blinked at him, “I am not particularly familiar with the term.”

“You are coming into your power – it is a turbulent and dangerous process for those who have been gifted with particularly strong powers,” Tomlin explained with the kind of patience Azariel could never have. “And yours, young sister, is of a particularly dangerous nature. If you cannot control it…”

“Then you are going to feed me to the ghouls?” Azarielle finished for him. “That’s rather horrible, but given the circumstances, I suppose it’s fair.”

Tomlin shook his head and laughed mirthfully, “No, I would not dream of such a thing – I came to offer my services. There are records of what has proved to be useful for others who have underwent what you are going through and I hoped to provide a little guidance, if I may be so bold?”

“That would be good – much appreciate it.”

“Then, if you would come with me, we’ve not the time to idle.”

Chapter 31

The Grand Audience Hall was located at the very top of Shifting Start Spire. It was covered by a domed ceiling made of blue crystal. Pin pricks of mage lights flickered across it, mimicking the stars in the heavens.

Twelve seats made of a thick, smoky crystal, ringed the room, and as the companions waited in the center of the room, robed men and women strode through the large double doors. Tomlin and Dezeriel came in last, the former taking a seat in the center of the room while the latter went to stand next to him.

“I would have asked why you, Lord Mage, have called a meeting at such an unholy hour of night, except I see the reasons standing in front of me as if they have stepped from the pages of a book. A paladin and a healer of the Ancient One – such as we have not seen here for thousands of years!”

The man who spoke had skin like black silk and a booming voice that didn’t seem to match his wiry frame. Startlingly blue eyes that belied his great age regarded the companions with delighted curiosity.

Tomlin smiled, “I would not have dared to disturb your rest over trivial matters, Councilor Fonayan, though I fear I may be the bearer of terrible tidings.”

“You have allowed into our city a mage with very destructive powers on the cusp of Awakening, Lord Mage, for which I hope you have a good reason,” another voice interjected. The speaker was an elven man with white-gold hair and an icy demeanor.

“Shifting Star was, above all else, once an academy for our younger brothers and sisters, Councilor Ebiel. Our sister has traveled from faraway land and deserve, in the very least, simple hospitality from us.”

The elf’s lips curved ever so slightly, “Shifting Star has not been an academy for over a thousand years. It is our duty to protect the people of this city though. What aid do we owe a mage from the outside world that has forgotten us?”

A wave of murmurs passed over those seated around the room. Tomlin shook his head, “Brother and sister Councilors, this is not the time to hold grudge over what has or has not been done. Our guests have traveled through great danger to bring us their news.”

Luthien, who had stood impatiently throughout this exchange, took the initiative to speak, “Councilors of the City of Shifting Star, greetings. My name is Luthien Delynd, and I am a prince of the Achienda Empire and a knight of the Order of Elad.”

“Some time ago, I was tasked to investigate the death of the Archmage Bartel Todure and the theft of an arcane artifact. My companions and I have pursued the thieves, servants of the Abyssal One Acedia, across the ocean and through the Forsa… these devastated lands.”

Another ripple of murmurs shifted through the room. The elf, Councilor Ebel arched an eyebrow, “And what artifact is this that you speak of?”

“The Keystaff that was once guarded by Elucielle Gwenevar,” Azarielle replied.

Councilor Ebiel’s eyes widened before narrowing to angry slits, “You make some ominous claims, little mage-ling.”

Azarielle shrugged and traced a symbol in the air, “See for yourself, Councilor Ebiel.” The air in front of her shimmered and the Staff of Everstar appeared in her hand.

“By the Anceint One!” it was Counsilor Fonayan who gasped out loud. “But how are you able to hold it? In fact, how could the Staff of Everstar have been taken from an archmage?”

“The one who took the staff was Theredoniel Gwenevar. If you are trying to determine if I am holding the real staff - Lady Elucielle never imagined that one of House would ever serve an Abyssal One. She made it so that the staff could have its power unleashed by another Gwenevar in times of great need, which was why Theredoniel could touch and use it.”

“Then why is it that you could use the staff, little sister?” the councilor asked with a wry smile. “You do not look like a Gwenevar to my eye.”

Azarielle nodded, “To be honest, Councilor, I haven’t got a clue. It was quite a surprise to me too when my fingers weren’t singed off by touching the staff. I suppose it might be because my teacher is a Gwenevar and the staff recognizes the power in the gifts he has given me. That or because I am Gwenevar, not by blood, but well… because my teacher, Azariel Gwenevar made me his heir.”

“Nonsense!” it was an elven woman who spoke up this time. “Why would a lord of the Gwenevar household make a human his heir.

Turning to face the woman, Azarielle was surprised to see an echo of Elucielle in her features, “Are you a Gwenevar?”

The elf woman lifted her chin, “I am Zinielle Gwenevar.”

“Lady Zinielle,” Azarielle nodded her head. “My teacher, Azariel, probably has his reasons – plain laziness might be one of them since it would mean that he’d have to find and train another apprentices. And while I completely understand the objections his Azturian House, I find it surprising coming from you. Sitting with you are human councilors – or do you think that they are your inferiors?”

The elf woman’s face flushed red, reminding Azarielle very much of Councilor Ilyriel’s. She did decide not to share that additional information since Ilyriel had not taken kindly to her observations.

It was Councilor Ebeniel who spoke next, rising to his feet, “Let me see the staff, you who claim to be an heir of a Gwenevar lord.”

Azarielle regarded him for a while and then shrugged again, “It’s your fingers.”

“Azarielle, you cannot just randomly hand the staff over to anyone!” Luthien admonished. “No offense to you, Councilor, but I have seen this staff unleash the Avatar of Acedia.”

“If that is true that we are in dire straits indeed,” Ebeniel replied coolly. “But first I would see for myself whether this is truly the legendary Staff of the Everstar.”

“Don’t worry Luthien. If he’s a good guy, he’ll only get his fingers burned. If he’s a bad guy, well, there is a reason why your creepy crawly brother never tried to touch the thing.”

Ebeniel held his hand over the staff without actually touching the shaft. Very suddenly, he reached up and grabbed Azarielle chin, roughly tilting her face so that their eyes met. Azarielle’s golden eyes widened in surprise as she felt a whisper of cool power rush through her body.

Unbidden, memories flashed through her mind.

Azariel telling her that he would consider a mage if she could scratch his skin even once and then mercilessly pummeling her into the ground over and over; Azariel going off on a tangent about the Ruling Houses of Aztur; Azariel standing before his shocked siblings and announcing that she would be his sole heir and bestowing upon her the name “Azarielle”

Then, other images bubbled up from deeper inside. Meeting Yue for the first time in the garden when she had not known of the Dowager Empress’ intentions to betroth them; Walking with him through the gardens with him in the evenings; Seeing the Luminous Consort straddling his body and…

It was Councilor Ebeniel’s turn to be surprised when a wall suddenly slid into place in the young woman’s eyes. The strange yellow-gold eyes narrowed and that was all the warning he received when he felt a powerful mental force thunder through his mind in retaliation. Gasping, he clutched his head and reeled back.

“How dare you attack a Councilor!”

Zinielle rose to her feet her green eyes flashing dangerously as she took a menacing step forward and held out her hand towards the companions. Her power rushed through the room like a winter stream and her lips began moving.

But even as she called upon her powers to repudiate the rude human mage, she felt the tip of a very sharp blade press against the tip of her throat.

A soft, elven voice said, “I would not do that if I were you, mage.”

Tomlin rose to his seat, “Please, put away your blade good sir. And Councilor Zinielle, it is not necessary. No harm has befallen our brother.”

Councilor Ebeniel shook his head for a moment, “That was rather harsh.”

“It’s an invasion of privacy. The Arcane Council has rules about that now,” Azarielle replied cheerily. “If you try that again, I will scramble your brain.”

“Azarielle,” Luthien hissed.

Ofeera had been watching the escalation in silence, wringing her hands with worry. Watching the meaningless squabbling, she thought of Theredoniel’s transformation and for Lucien…

“Please! Please you must listen to us!” she spoke up suddenly.

Words tumbled from her lips before she even had a chance to think. She told them of what she had seen, of the horrors that haunted the Forsaken Lands. Afterward, the council convened to discuss.

“We do not have long to prepare!”

* * * * *

True to his word, Tomlin had given her access to the library inside the Shifting Star Tower and discussed with her at length regarding the process of Awakening.

“The Awakening process can be very dangerous for the mage and anyone around her,” Tomlin explained after pouring over the text. “It is also the time when a mage becomes more susceptible to be tempted into service of the Abyssal Ones. Having his/her powers unleashed for the first time is a euphoric experience and the mage is likely to pursue…”

As Azarielle listened to Tomlin speak, she thought of the time when she had battled Lucien and unleashed the fiery power inside of her. It had indeed been a euphoric feeling, so much so that she had lost sense of everything other than the feel of it flowing through her body.

“Is there any way to stop the process?”

Tomlin shook his head, “For a time, but eventually, it will happen. Mages who have the potential to Awaken have great power, and it does not go unnoticed. Sooner or later, he/she will be drawn into a situation where he/she will be forced to Awaken.”

“Sister, I must ask you – did you almost Awaken?”

Seeing no reason to lie, Azarielle replied, “I don’t really know whether it was a vision or something else. I thought I burned down the Sentinel Forest but no harm came to it.”

Tomlin let his breath out in a huff, “The Sentinel Forest… so it truly still stands? And all of its inhabitants are immune to the effects of the Fog?”

Azarielle nodded, “It is within a five-day walk from here. Has no one here ever tried to go?”

“It has only been the last fifty years or so that the Fog has not covered this place. It is… remarkable. But tell me something, it is not just Lady Elucielle’s power that is protecting the Everstar Spire is it? From time to time, I have sensed... something.”

“The Spire is being protected,” Azarielle replied. “I do not wish to lie to you but I can’t exactly say anything else either. It’s for your own good as well.”

* * *

After Tomlin left, Azarielle continued pouring over the ancient texts, seeking out more information regarding the Awakening. She couldn’t really recall when she drifted off to sleep again.

* * *

She found herself floating above a mass of seething, writhing power. Tongues of flames curled up from within that endless mass and reached up towards her. Voices howled in her ears, urging her to fall and be embraced by that terrifying power.

“Tempting, isn’t it?”

Red was floating beside her, his strange eyes staring into the whirling madness beneath them.

“Theredoniel became the Avatar.”

“Yes indeed, I am very much aware of you and your companions’ failings,” Red shook his head. “It was a rather one-sided battle. Fortunately for you, your foolish little Gwenevar friend has not obtained the full powers of the Avatar, yet.”

“The last seal, Shifting Star?”

He Red nodded, “If Shifting Star falls, the Avatar of Acedia will once again walk this world.”

“If I Awaken, will I be able to stop him?”

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Keystaff Chronicles - Chapter 29

“But master, she could have easily stolen the weapon…”

Tomlin shook his head, “That is not possible, Dezeiriel. These ancient weapons were considered family heirlooms and guarded jealously by the great Houses. Each one is enchanted to recognize the touch of one or two people. The weapon that our young sister possesses is thus enchanted. If you will calm yourself a moment and feel its power, you will know that her blade will turn on any other beside its intended wielder.”

Azarielle gave a nod in acquiescence. The young mage was both impressed and a little alarmed that Tomlin could learn so much about her weapon after one quick glance. The blade held many secrets, some even she had yet to learn. Azariel had gifted her with it the same time he had given her the name Azarielle.

“It is quite beyond your meager capabilities to understand its true power at this time,” he had said. “But with Abihayil’s merciful blessings, you might comprehend it one day.”

“High Mage, it is absolutely imperative that your city prepare itself for imminent battle,” Luthien spoke up. “My companions and I were not able to stop the servant from unleashing the Avatar of Acedia and I fear that your city would be its next goal.”

The High Mage of Shifting Star didn’t say anything for a moment. The glittering brown orbs of his eyes moved from companion to companion before finally resting on Luthien. He sighed softly.

“It was said that when the Great Lady defeated the Avatar of Acedia, she sealed its power with the Keystaff. My master, the former high mage, had always believed that it was redundant for Shifting Star and Falling Star Spires to be built. Legend has it that the Uncrowned Prince had given the seven Great Staves to his generals, and each staff held more than enough power to prevent an Abyssal One from unleashing his/her full power upon this word.”

“I had always agreed with his assessment. Everstar was an impenetrable fortress, surrounded by a shield created by Lady Elucielle herself. Falling Star, which was built after the avatar was defeated, proved to be an exercise in fertility, its power tainted by the vile presence of Acedia. But now, Falling Star is no more and Everstar… the power of Everstar is ancient and terrifying, but like Lady Elucielle’s. Shifting Star truly is the last seal.”

Tomlin shook his head, a grim expression on his face as he turned to regard his city, “Let us be off. We will convene the council. Shifting Star will serve its purpose as the last seal. Our survival depends upon it.”

* * * * *

Built using Everstar Spire as a model, Shifting Star Spire soared above the ancient Shifting Star City. It had not been built from and entire crystal pulled from earth. Instead, it had been created from many large crystals and dwarfed even magnificent Everstar.

Tomlin used mass teleportation to bring the companion into the Spire. There, in a sealed room, they were examined for signs of the plague before being lead to a sitting room. They were brought water and dry flat breads and left to their own devices.

While Ofeera tended to the wounded, Azarielle laid on cold, crystalline floor and rested. The fiery maelstrom continued to roil within her, threatening to swallow her mind and burst forth to consume all around her. Red, or rather, Cyderiel, had calmed her powers once. But the ancient elven mage was not here to help her now.

“The Old one had spoken of Shifting Star Spire,” said Hazuriel.

He stood gazing out from the window of the spire, “She said that Shifting Star became the arcane heart of Aztur after Everstar City was destroyed by the Blight of Pestilence. Such wonder…”

“Everstar City was even more magnificent, once upon a time,” Azarielle replied. The image of the beautiful city that Cyderiel had shown her, with marvelous buildings craft from crystal and wood, perfectly curled together like lovers, came to mind.

“It was home to a hundred thousand people. The buildings were made from crystal and wood, each a masterful artwork created by the mages of old. It was not a mage’s city like Shifting Star, but many mages came here, drawn by the fame of its ruler, the Lady Elucielle Gwenevar.”

“Unlike many of her brethren, Lady Elucielle welcomed other races into her home. Sixty percent of the inhabitants were high elves but the other forty percent were made up of humans, other elves and even dwarves.”

“Aztur’s king, and indeed, the lady’s own family was not pleased with what she did for they feared that her city would taint the purity of high elven blood. But Everstar City had been built by mages of many races and not no Aztur nobles wanted to risk the ire of an Archmage. “

Hazuriel stared at the Azarielle in astonishment, “Lady mage, how did you learn of all this? You speak as if it’s something you’ve seen with your own eyes?”

It was Azarielle’s turn to look startled, but she shrugged and replied. “My master must have told me at some point.”

There must have been something in her tone because Luthien turned to regard her with an expression that clearly indicated he knew she had made that last part up. Azarielle simply smiled at him serenely, not wanting to share the source of her knowledge with him. In fact, she wasn’t entirely certain how she knew all this either. Perhaps it was through dream walking, but Cyderiel must have passed some of his memories to her. The thought that she had a former avatar’s thoughts in her mind made her shiver. If they somehow survived this disaster, she was going to have to find Azariel and have him perform an…exorcise or something.

“That is what my teacher has taught me as well, Sister,” a voice interrupted them.

Tomlin strolled into the room and smiled ruefully, “If it weren’t for these rather desperate times, I would thoroughly enjoy speaking to you more. But the council has gathered now. Please, I would like you all to come and tell what you know.”

* * *

Ofeera rubbed her hands nervously as she followed her friends down the unfamiliar hallway. Luthien was speaking to Tomlin about Achienda, the latter having wanted to hear about this ‘new’ empire. Hazuriel and Gubriel walked behind them, the former looking about himself in wonderment while the latter glared at every crevice and shadow.

Both Breaker and Azarielle walked beside her, one on each side. Guarded by a skilled mage and a slayer of the Brotherhood, she should have no reason to fear, but she was frightened. She thought of Theredoniel and Lucien and then she thought of the governing council of the city and what might happen if they rejected their claims. A hundred thoughts tumbled through her mind and became tangled around themselves until little made sense anymore.

“My lady, it will be fine. They will have no choice but to believe our words.”

Ofeera looked up when she heard the words and saw Breaker smiling reassuringly at her. And surprisingly, she did reassured by his words. There was a cool assurance about him, different from Lucien’s aristocratic arrogance, that set her hear at ease.

“For once, I agree with the elf. Even if they don’t believe us now, it won’t be more than two or three days before Theredoniel and his army show up at the door and they will have to believe what we are telling them,” Azarielle, who was considerably less reassuring, piped in. “But yes, in order for us to have even the hope of survival, there should be some preparations – or well as much as any city possibly could against the invasion of an avatar.”

“Azarielle, you aren’t helping,” Luthien stopped in his conversation with Tomlin and turned to frown at the mage.

“Say, Luthien, are you any good at public speaking? Seeing as how you are a prince and everything, I assume that’s part of your princely training?”

“Lord Tomlin has asked us all to speak.”

Azarielle gave the high mage a rather dubious look, “I am going to guess that despite the fact you are high mage, there are going to be rather more elves than humans, yes? I am not entirely sure if you would really want me to speak to elves. It would appear as though my existence is an affront to their elvish sensibilities, and I am speaking from experience. I don’t typically get past the ‘Good day…’ before they up and walk.

“A member of a noble elven house gave you his name and made you his heir. It must have not been easy for you,” it was Tomlin who spoke. “Such a thing is rare, even here at Shifting Star.”

“Though I suspect something more than just a name caused these…misunderstandings,” Breaker replied.

Azarielle looked at him in surprise and then laughed, “I suppose that might not be entirely unfair statement. But in all seriousness, I think it would be best if Lady Ofeera and Prince Luthien did the talking for us.”

Ofeera stared at her friend in shock, “Azarielle, I couldn’t possibly…”

“Have you noticed that when we passed through the city streets all of the sanctuaries have either fallen into disrepair or are used as something other than a place of worship?”Azarielle interrupted her friend. “And as a healer, I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that there isn’t another healer here.”

“In this place, there are many mages, but no true priests of Abihayil. Luthien, when he isn’t swinging his sword like a monkey, is a paladin and you are a healer – the holy warrior and a priestess. Your voice will carry more weight because you will speak with Abihayil’s words.”

“Azarielle I c…” Ofeera swallowed the words before they could escape her mouth. She took a deep breath, “With Abihayil’s blessing I will try.”

And I will help you. Every word you speak, they will see with their mind.”

* * *

Azarielle laid upon the balcony of one of the Shifting Spire’s many libraries, a stack of books sitting piled about her. She stared into the starless black sky and wished that she could see the familiar constellations. Yue had taught her the names of the constellations those many years ago.

As his betrothed and a warrior-mage, they had been given more freedom than was the norm for an unwed couple. After dinner, he was permitted to escort her for a walk through one of the many imperial gardens, with servants trailing after them of course. Sometimes, he would tell her about stars and cities she’d never visited. Other times, he would play the flute while she placed a zither.

It was strange that she was even thinking of this now. She had not thought of such things in a long time. Perhaps it was because she was very much aware of the roiling darkness inside her – because she was intimately aware of the whispered promises of fire and destruction. That was why her mind wandered to what brought her peace. Instead of the imperial gardens, she should remember Azariel’s gardens, the beautiful, wondrous gardens equal parts natural and supernatural…

Azarielle wasn’t certain when it was that she became aware of the soft grass beneath her feet, or the cool fresh night air so different from the eternally acrid smell of the Forsaken Lands. But when she did become aware, she immediately recognized the surroundings – the Garden of Red Sun, her home if she had become Yue’s wife.

She must be dreaming, or dream-walking, or whatever it was Cyderiel has called it. For whatever reason, the elder mage had brought her here and if she waited long enough, he’d appear and…


Azarielle’s stomach dropped to the soles of her voice. The voice was definitely note Cyderiel’s. Very slowly, very reluctantly, she turned towards it.

Yue stood at the entrance at the doors of the House of Red Sun. His black hair was bound in its princely topknot, so black that it seemed to be spun for the very fabric of night itself. His amber eyes, the same color as her own, were wide with shock, mirroring her own, no doubt.

“Anytime now, Cyderiel, or Red, or whatever you want to be called,” Azarielle muttered under her breath.

Yue took a hesitant step forward, “Ree Yonanne, is it really you?”

“Nope you are clearly drunk and hallucinating, so go back sleep,” Azarielle replied. “And Cyderiel, this is not at all funny so you really, really should do whatever and make this go away.”

“Who is this Cyderiel you speak of? Have you taken an elven lover?” Yue’s eyes narrowed.

“That is disgusting. He’s a couple of thousand years old. And also, I really need to stop talking to you, because I am clearly talking to a figment of my imagination. It must be those flat breads I ate. Abihayil have mercy but they were probably going bad. And because of this, I am having an awful dream.”

“Such cruel words – if it is a dream than it is one from which I do not ever wish to wake,” Yue took another step toward her. “Five years, Ree. I have waited five years to see you again. You have become even more beautiful.”

The Keystaff Chronicles - Chapter 28

A third horror had fallen by the time the companions had dispatched the monsters, but two more remained and began advancing towards them. The high elves were no longer directing their deadly barrages at the monsters, having instead turned their attentions upon the ghouls that were moving steadily forward.

Gubriel selected his arrows from the quiver carefully, reaching for Azarielle’s enchanted missiles only when a particularly large group of monsters gathered before him. The Old One sometimes enchanted their weapons before they wandered forth from the forest, but she had never done anything quite so… flashy. The arrows Azarielle handed back to him seared through the air like streaks of fire and erupted the moment it came in contact with the ghoulish flesh.

High elves, even those who were not born with the Arcane Gift, typically had some affinity to Arcane Power. And he was no exception. When his fingers touched the shaft of the arrow, he could feel the mage’s power flowing through it like a living thing.

She was powerful, frighteningly so. He remembered again the vision of the forest awash in fire and her standing there like a creature of power and flame.

Azarielle, in the meantime, had taken on one of the remaining horrors, hopping lightly onto its arm and running up the massive limb as nimbly as if she were running on flat ground. Her lips as she formed her power into a small globe of energy swirling in the palm of her hand. When she was only a few feet away from the creature's hideous face, Azarille flicked her fingers at the creature and the small globe struck it in the face.

The ensuing explosion burned away half of the creature face and it opened its mouth and howled in pain. Its breath was so rancid that Azarielle gagged despite the fact that she had tried to prepare herself. Raising its other hand, the creature tried to swat the young mage as if she was a bug.

Knowing how strong this monster was, Azarielle gathered her power to shield herself. She gritted her teeth as she braced for the foreful blow. But what came instead was a surge of heat from within her own body. For one instant, it felt as though she had been submerged into a hot spring. So sudden and so intense the sensation that her vision swam and her ears buzzed. She was only vaguely aware of power rushing out of her palms before another horrible shriek from the creature snapped her from her stupor.

"What is the matter with you, mage?"

Breaker was clinging to his monster's grotesque flesh, having leaped desperately when a sudden gout of fire had burst from Azarielle's oustretched hands. She had burned away her monster's arm though it would seem that that had not been her intention. She looked dazed and a little confused, but what truly alarmed him was the strange light glowing in her amber eyes. He would not soon forget how her eyes had glowed like miniature suns when she had set the forest ablaze.

Azarielle didn't reply but she did blink and whatever trance she had fallen into was lifted. Apparently deciding to switch tactics, the young mage pulled out a short sword she had attacked Lucien with earlier. Her lips moved and she was suddenly airborne, hurtling toward the horror's face so hard that she struck it full force.

The impact was so hard that Azarielle was momentarily stunned. But when she recovered, she saw with some satisfaction that the sword was buried to the hilt into the monster's face. A sickening green ooze leaked out from the wound and tricked down her arm. She bit back a hiss of pain when she felt it eating away her skin.

But the creature had stopped moving.

She could feel the hilt of her sword grow cool to the touch. And then, to her shock, the monster's face began to shrivel and collapse in on itself. The skin dried up and became stretched out over a skull that was soon crumbling like dust.

With nothing to hold onto, Azarielle dropped to the ground, landing with a great "umph". Her short sword was now blazing with an eerie blue light and humming as if it were one of Breaker's knives. The monster itself crashed to the ground, felled as if it were a great tree.

Remembering the shadowy beings that came out of this monster, Azarielle prepared to incant the words of an attack to crush them. But, as if knowing her thoughts, the sword's blue intensified. And just as the dark form began rising from the dead horror's corpse, her weapon flashed once and blasted the smoky creatures out of existence before they could properly form.

"Well,"Azarielle remarked looking at her weapon in suprise, "That's handy."

She turned her attention to where Luthien and Breaker were still battling their monster just in time to see the gray elf slice the abomination's head from its shoulders. The slim elf had had to put his full strength behind the blow, and it was with an almost artistic flare that he completed his swing. Then, without wasting a moment, he hopped gracefully off the creature's falling body.

Luthien, who had been keep the wretch's many arms at bay, stepped back, letting out a sigh of relief. At some point, he had been grazed by one of the horror's many bladed hands and blood oozed from a gash on his shoulder. A prayer offered up to the Eternal Father and the shadowy being emerging from the monster’s severed neck was destroyed.

As one, the companions turned to see how the high elves were doing. Gubriel and his hardy kin were holding their ground. Red, or rather, Cedriel, had already worked his power on them such that if they made a shot, the unholy power animating the bodies would unravel.

To think that all those living in Everstar Spire survived with the protection of one who had once devoted himself to the Abyssal Acedia. Or perhaps that was what Ellucielle Gwenevar had hoped would happen.

Did that mean there was still hope for Theredoniel?

The image of her friend surrounded by darkness came once again to her mind and she felt herself shudder almost involuntarily. She wondered what was more was frightening to her, that he was damning himself or how easy it would be for the same fate to befall her?

She could feel that fiery, destructive power burning deep inside her, a maelstrom simply waiting to be unleashed. Though her memory of what had happened was hazy, Azarielle remembered the thrill of having that power surge through her. It was painful but also pleasurable. It would be so easy to lose herself in it, to close her eyes and let the flames consume everything around her…


Arms wrapped around her waist and hauled her to her feet. She hadn’t even realized that she had fallen to the ground. The sword slipped from her suddenly nerveless fingers.

“Blessed Abihayil. Azarielle, what is the matter?”

The young mage shook her head, “Just a little tired, haven’t had the proper beauty rest.”

“Your eyes are shinning like the time in the forest,” Breaker replied, looking at her grimly.

Cocking her head to the side, she regarded him for a moment, “And what of it, slayer. Do you intend to turn your blade against me?’

“I would kill you before I let you burn anything to the ground.”

Luthien turned to the gray elf, “Breaker! This is not…”

“But I would not wish to do so, at least not now,” the elf turned to her. “As cursed as your powers may be…”

“… You need me alive?” Azarielle smiled widely at the gray elf as she took hold of Luthien’s hand and climbed to her feet.

Breaker smiled in response, holding out his hand towards her. Azarielle opened her mouth to say something, but for one of the few times, she decided against making any flippant remarks. Instead, she simply took his hand as well.

Her fingers were incredibly warm to the touch, as if she was feverish in fact. Both Luthien and Breaker noticed this and exchanged concerned looks over the young mage’s hand. Her eyes were no longer shinning like suns, but they were still glimmering ever so slightly, an echo of the power roiling through her body.

Unaware of the thoughts going through her companions’ minds, Azarielle suddenly turned her attention to a surge of power some distance away from her.

“We have got new company,” she whispered.

Luthien and Breaker both readied their weapons and Gubriel and his companions turned toward them, their weapons readied.

A silvery light flickered in front of them and an oval doorway snapped open before them. Azarielle closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm her turbulent mind. She allowed the foreign power to flow over her.

Mages and someone else who was not a mage.

Two unfamiliar mages, one whose power reminded him of swiftly flowing river and the other whose power was like the autumn breeze. But amidst these unfamiliar powers, there was one, the warm spring breeze that was very familiar.


“Azarielle! Breaker! Luthien!”

Ofeera rushed towards her friends, tears of relief running freely from her face.

“Abihayil be praised!” Ofeera sobbed as she hugged her three companions one after another. “I felt…”

“My lady, we were not able to stop your brother-in-law in time. He has given himself over to the Abyssal One, Aceida, as her servant,” Breaker was the first to speak.

Ofeera drew back in shock, her mouth forming a perfect “O”.

“And by servant, he means, avatar,” Azarielle sighed. “Who are your friends?”

Still shaken by what she had heard, Ofeera blinked in incomprehension as she looked between Breaker and Azarielle.

“My name is Tomlin and my apprentice is Dezeiriel,” Tomlin replied, stepping forward. “This is dire news indeed. Do I understand you correctly, Sister? Are you saying that an Avatar walks the grounds once more.”

Azarielle regarded him for a moment. The man looked to be his mid-forties with gray touched temples and the beginning of lines forming beneath his eyes. But as his power that carried the sweet scent of red leaves brushed past her, it belied his true age. He had seen the passage of at least six centuries, the same age as her master.

“Are you the high mage of Shiftingstar Spire?” she asked.

His apprentice, Dezeiriel, who had the features of high elf but hair as dark as her own, stepped forward with a glower, “You will address my teacher as Lord Tomlin.”

The dark brown of his eyes and the paleness of his skin told Azarielle that she was looking at one of the moon elves. In times long past, the moon elves and high elves were once kin. However, a civil war tore the empire into and two elven natures were formed – the now fallen Aztur and the mystical Celathur that few outsiders have laid their foot upon.

“Dezeiriel, really, that’s really not necessary!” Tomlin turned to his apprentice with a sigh.

“Well, if you must have it the proper elven way, then…. Greetings, Lord Tomlin, High Mage of Shiftingstar and Dezeiriel of House Quentenar. My companions are Prince Luthien of Achienda Empire - you wouldn’t have heard of it… it didn’t exist ‘til after the fall of Aztur – and Breaker of the Brotherhood of the Red Hand. You also wouldn’t have heard of that, but they are… um… skilled monster slayers.”

The moon elf regarded the mage with suspicion, “How would you know of my House, human?”

“House Quentenar was the only moon elf House that sided with the war. You are a moon elf in ancient Aztur so I took a wild guess.”

The moon elves’ lips drew together in a tight line, “You have presented your companions but not yourself. Who are you?”

Azarielle let out another sigh, “I am Azarielle Yongan Gwenevar.”

Shock passed over both Tomlin and Dezeiriel’s faces, but it was the moon elf who found his voice first, “You lie! A human would not be a member of House Gwenevar.”

“You are most certainly right. I am not a member of House Gwenevar, but that is the name my teacher gave me. And, Azariel pretty much does what he pleases regardless of how displeased his House might be,” Azarielle replied with a shrug.

“That weapon you carry… it is a leech blade is it not?” Tomlin interrupted before Dezeiriel had a chance to speak again. “I am not seen such a weapon for a very long time.”

“Good eye, high mage.”

Tomlin smiled, “My teacher spoke of weapons like this before Aztur…fell, as you said. They were rare even in those ancient days. “That you hold such a weapon is proof enough for me. The Gwenevars are known to have had such artifacts in their position.”