Thursday, 14 January 2016
Chapter 11 - Preparation
Light pierced the sky from the edge of the horizon, as the sun once more rose from its slumber. Standing by the open window of the bed chamber in Vandermir’s manor, Willow stretched her sore muscles. After watching the sun grace the rolling hills with its gleam, she turned and lifted her corset from her dresser, wrapping it tightly against her bare skin. As she laced the boning up her chest, she frowned at the itch irritating her ribs. Sighing, she unlaced and dropped her garment onto the bed. Quirking her head, she noticed a slither of parchment tucked into the frame of her corset.
The sun rises fourty nine revolutions, Longeviei awaits those who sip from the fourth corner of shadowed chateau, the last light of Oathday of Pharast calls to thee.
Willow frowned. She searched the rest of her clothing and bag for any fellow words, and found nothing. It was a cryptic puzzle. She dressed herself while musing it over, pouring a cup of tea, sitting upon the window ledge. Oathday of Pharast was today. She assumed the note had come from Switch, arranging a meeting of some kind, he had always loved his riddles. She knew Longeviei was a small town in Ravenmoor, known for it’s most infamous red wine, the Chateau de Longeviei. Stretching her imagination, the sun could have been a tavern she had heard of in Farholde known as the Golden Sphere, and she knew that sat in the shadow of the large College of Magic called Four Corners of Arcana.
She wrote down her thoughts, trying to piece them together.
“Perhaps the meet is at the Golden Sphere at dusk today, and the Chateau de Longeviei is some kind of password?”
She slipped into her soft black silk dress, lacing the bindings high around her neck. The slim fitting gown clung tightly to her waist, trailing out and flaring outwards towards the floor. She draped her golden and ruby necklace along her collarbone, adjusting her appearance slightly with the magic of the circlet. She traced her hand over the dagger strapped to her thigh, sliding her hand into the fake pocket she had sewn seamlessly into the dress, allowing her quick and easy access to her weapon.
Late that afternoon, she left the manor, strolling casually through the marketplace. Willow made her way towards the tavern marked with the golden sphere above its namesake. She entered the dimly lit bar, eyeing the exits inconspicuously. She approached the bartender with a smile.
“Good evening,” Willow said politely, “I believe the ’49 Chateau de Longeviei I ordered has arrived.”
“Of course madam,” the bartender replied, a smooth lilt in his voice, “It arrived earlier this afternoon. Right this way.”
Willow smiled, sighing inwardly in relief. He lead Willow through the opulent hallways lined with elegant embroidered runners along its polished wooden floors, large foreign paintings framed in thick golden frames and crystal candelabras draped from its walls. At the end of the passage he stopped by a doorway, unlatching the lock and opening the door with a small bow to her, indicating she enter on her own. She inclined to her head to him as she glided through the arch. A single candle lit the small room which housed an antique oak table and two chairs. Draped casually in the corner seat, sat a man cloaked in a long black jacket, two shining leather boots folded lazily across the bench.
“You're late,” Switch clipped.
Willow smiled, swaying in her layers of black satin, drifting towards the vacant seat.
“And what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked, “Your words were incredibly vague.”
Switch smirked, “Impressed you managed to figure it out.”
She laughed, “Contrary to apparent popular belief, there are not a great many men in my life who sneak around slipping letters of cryptic rendezvous into my undergarments.”
He grinned, dark and handsome.
“So what is it you wished me here for?” she asked, pouring herself a small nip of whiskey, “As much as I enjoy your company, I have much to do.”
He scoffed, “I wished you here,” he said in a deep condescending tone, “To introduce you to a few of my friends. I have contacts, ones who are willing to meet you. Contacts who procure goods from a variety of sources, certain goods not readily available or on offer to the common market.”
She softly sipped her drink, raising her eyebrows in interest.
“I will introduce you,” he said, dropping his legs from the bench.
He stood and turned towards the door, his coat flaring out. Willow's eyes flickered down as she saw a glisten of shining red stone strapped into the back of his belt. She drank down the whiskey, gracefully rising from her seat, strolling towards him.
He flung his finger out at her, pointing in her face, “Do not mess this up,” he warned menacingly, “I have vouched for you, my name is on the line and I will not be made a fool of. These people respect their privacy, their operation exists on the base of utmost secrecy. Do not mess this up.”
Willow stepped towards him and traced her tongue slowly along his finger. She looked into his eyes as she stepped in close, running her hands along his chest and around his lower back. She spoke against his lips as she gently lifted the ruby dagger from his belt.
“I would never allow you to be made a fool of,” she said in a sultry voice.
He crashed his lips against hers, gripping one hand in her hair and the other around her waist, crushing her body against his. He grinned as he withdrew, turning for the door. Willow felt the slightest movement, the hair on the top of her head return into place.
She laughed, clearing her throat, holding her hand for the circlet he'd lifted from her head. He turned back to her, his devilish grin wide and proud.
“Yes?” he asked.
Willow smirked, “I believe you have something of mine.”
He held out his hand expectantly, “And I believe you have something of mine.”
She laughed, throwing the dagger, spinning it through the air towards him. Just like a pompering show horse, he twirled the circlet through the air so precisely that the dagger travelled through its loop before he snatched it. Willow caught the circlet, still grinning, arranging it atop her head.
“Shall we,” he said, offering his arm to her.
She laughed at his patronising bow as she accepted his arm, allowing him to lead the way.
They left through the back entrance of the tavern, strolling through the side streets of the market district. As they reached a long empty pathway, Willow noticed him casually scanning the area. Once he seemed satisfied, he approached a panelled wall. She remained silent as he unlatched a series of locks hidden within the woodwork. He pulled the wall to the right, revealing a dark tunnel beyond the frame.
“Not scared of the dark, are you?” he teased.
Willow chuckled, stepping over the threshold to the passage, “There could be nothing more frightening than entering the dark with you.”
He bent down, whispering in her ear after shutting the wall behind them, sealing them in absolute darkness.
“A statement far truer than you know,” he breathed, low and ominous.
She grinned at the shiver that racked her body.
With a hand around her lower back, he led her through a winding corridor, not a crack of light for guidance. She trusted in the fact that if seeked her death or imprisonment, he would have acted long before creating this elaborate hoax. She did her best to keep her steps even, emitting a confidence she struggled to feel while encased in darkness.
As he pulled her to a stop, she heard the same routine of locks clicking, noting the exact pattern he was unlatching them by. He pulled the wall to the right, opening to reveal a short hallway, lit with small crude torches hung from its walls. Willow noticed a small inscription above the door at the end of the hallway.
“Secrecy is our greatest ally, as we strike from the shadows,” she read quietly.
“Come along now,” Switch beckoned.
He opened the door, striding in before her as she followed behind, far beyond intrigued. As she entered, she smiled. It was a marketplace. Vendors in dark shadowed robes lined the walls, their various illicit goods and contraband on display. Customers in ranging disguises swarmed each table with interest. No one appeared to pay any attention to Willow and Switch as they entered. He wandered over to what Willow assumed used to be a bedroom chamber, that now only housed a large desk and walls lined with shelves and draws of paperwork. Switch knocked on the door frame and he strolled in, grin from ear to ear. The man draped in heavy back hooded robes looked up and laughed.
“Switch old boy,” he called in a heavy rasped voice, “Good to see you.”
Switch chuckled, “Martin you old sod.”
The man stood from his desk as Switch approached, clasping his hand in a friendly firm hand shake.
“Ah,” Martin crooned, “This must be the dear lady you were speaking of. You are correct of course, she is most ravishing.”
The man lifted his hood, dropping it on his shoulders. His wrinkled face and warm smile matching the wizened voice.
“Martin, this is Lady Kathryn,” Switch said with a mischievous grin.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Willow said, offering her hand for a shake.
Martin gently reached for her hand, turning her wrist slightly, bending and laying a soft kiss on her second knuckle, surprising Willow with his perfect execution of the traditional noble greeting. He chuckled as he seemed to note her surprise.
“When in the presence of such a beautiful woman, you'll have to allow me my small taste of past etiquette,” he said with a wink.
Switch laughed as Willow smiled.
“Martin will show you around while I take care of some business,” he said, still laughing, “Be careful, he'll smooth the pants off you.”
Willow rolled her eyes at him as he left them alone in the room.
Martin chuckled, “Come my lady, I shall give you the tour.”
He strolled with Willow on his arm, guiding them through the expansive hallways. Willow found his natural charm and impeccable manners quite endearing. They perused various magical items, jewellery of all different kind shape and makes. Willow lingered over the shining weapons, imbued with rare magical qualities. They bantered in between each stall, speaking pleasantries of fine artwork and famous novels. He was delighted when Willow knew of his favourite writings, the Sonnets of Whispering Mountains.
“When he crooned to Algernia, make haste dear love for thou reckoning is now, oh how my heart nearly leapt from my chest,” she said passionately.
He smiled, true and wise, “And thou reckoning shall come, and tear this world asunder.”
Willow sighed, lost in the written heartache.
He chuckled, “I think my lady,” he said softly, “That Switch does not know what a prize he has found, for she is ready to take over this world and the next.”
Willow smirked, saying quietly, “I think there is a lot he does not know, when only one head can lead him at a time.”
Martin threw his head back in laughter, “Come along, there is more I wish you to see.”
He took Willow through a small hidden passageway leading to another room, lined with exotic weapons and items in glass cases, flanked by thick burly men in protective poses.
Willow approached an exquisite dagger, coated in a grey mist, radiating dark energy.
“Beautiful,” she breathed.
“Huh,” Switch scoffed from behind her, “Didn't think you'd be trusting enough to show her this stuff Martin old boy, getting soft in your old age I see.”
Willow turned, eyebrows raised, smirking at him.
“I have trusted my instincts since long before you were born,” Martin said with a grin, “And my instincts tell me we have found a worthy ally in this fair lady.”
Willow smiled, inclining her head to him, “I think this friendship will be most beneficial, for the both of us…”
After returning to Martin’s office and indulging in a glass of fine wine paired with enjoyable conversation, Willow bid him farewell. Switch, who had stood watching them cross armed and legged casually in the corner, saw Martin off with another familiar hand shake.
“We still on for poker?” Switch asked him with a grin.
Martin laughed, “Oh you are a glutton for punishment. Of course, I am never one to refuse taking your gold with so little effort.”
He turned to Willow with a warm smile, bowing formally, “It has been a pleasure, my lady. Please feel free to come again. You need not tag along with Switch, the office is manned all hours, and you are most welcome. For business, and if you're ever wanting to discuss any more of Fendal Hovermere’s great scripture.”
Willow bowed, the formal noble farewell curtsey, smiling softly, “The pleasure has indeed been mine, I look forward to seeing you again.”
Switch scoffed, “Come on love bird, we best be going.”
Willow laughed as they left the room. When they reached the hallway leading to the dark tunnel, Switch held his hand to the false wall expectantly. She approached it confidently, recalling the order he had unlatched each one. It took a single try for her to unlock and slide the wall across. Switch raised his eyebrows.
“Huh,” he said sounding surprised, “So you were paying attention.”
Willow frowned, staring into the darkness, noticing how the light from the torches disappeared at the passage edge.
“It's a charm,” Switch said, “Magical darkness. No natural light will pierce it. There are traps hidden within, listen closely.”
He stepped in close behind Willow, his torso flush to her back. He spoke as he guided each leg like a dance into the pitch black passage.
“Five steps forward,” he whispered close by her ear, “Four steps right, six steps forward, four steps right…”
He danced their way through the maze of hallway, guiding her hand with his to show her each edge of the wall. When they reached the other end, he instructed her to open their way. She traced her hands along the latches, finding it far more difficult without sight. He grasped her hand, forcefully opening each lock in order, pulling the wall across. He held her tightly, his soft breath rasping in her ear. He pushed her head down, her sight drawn to the ground, her sharp intake of breath inciting a chuckle from him.
“Surprised you missed it the first time,” he said as they looked over the large pit trap they were standing on, “If the door is forced or the code entered with even a single mistake, it unlocks. From the other side you'll believe you've cracked it. And then down you'll go, fifty feet deep, where no one will ever find you.”
He released Willow as they stepped over the threshold, a devilish grin lifting his lips as he pulled the wall closed. Offering his arm to her again, they strolled through the marketplace weaving in amongst the vibrant nightlife of Farholde’s merchant district. He led her across town into the barely lit warehouse precinct, the prowlers of the night eyeing them warily. Willow noticed how they looked on with hungry eyes until they seemed to recognise Switch, then scuttled away in fear, retreating into the shadows. They came across a large abandoned warehouse, slipping in through its broken wall, entering the timeworn building. Willow lifted her length of black silk, careful not to snag the expensive fabric on the splintered wood. Approaching the western wall, Switch opened another secret passage, one lined with cleaner polished pine. He lit a torch and proceeded to light the room, while Willow strolled around examining the chamber. She laughed when she came across a neatly arranged pile of shining black leather armour and laced black lingerie.
“Sneaking into my chamber in the Baron’s manor once is an acceptable risk,” she said smirking, “But multiple times? Rummaging through my clothing and undergarments? That's just asking for trouble.”
The grin on his proud face said it all.
“You do realise,” she said in a low sultry voice, “That I am not always alone in that bed chamber?”
Switch chucked, “Ah yes, the big stud.”
He approached Willow on light creeping feet, devious intent on his face, “You do such a good job of wearing him out, I need not worry about him waking.”
Willow laughed, turning from him and lifting up a whiff of black silk in the form of a night slip, “And so what is it I am doing with these tonight?”
Switch smiled, trying to put on a face of professionalism.
“Get dressed,” he clipped, his feasting eyes betraying his strong impatient manner, “We shall train tonight.”
Willow turned to him, eyebrow cocked, holding the night slip out to him, “And is it a requirement of all your apprentices to train in such things?”
He chuckled, “Just wanted to make sure you were comfortable…”
Willow chose to forgo the laced silk in place of her armour, strapping its buckles tightly around her limbs. For all the sexual tension between them, the pair trained remarkably well together. Switch’s arrogance was not misplaced, his skill with the blade clearly greater than Willow’s. She followed his orders as he barked them, following his instruction to the letter. He took her through the basics of vulnerable points on a man's body, and the easiest ways to reach them with a light blade.
“You're missing the targets!” he spat, thrusting Willow backwards with his palm, knocking her to the floor, “Stop trying to play fair! What is this? A duel for the right to your fair maidens hand?”
He prowled over to Willow with fierce gleaming eyes, dropping his knee into her chest, holding her down with his weight.
“You're smaller and weaker than most men, but you are faster! Use it! Go for the weak points, if you can't slip a blade in, kick them in the groin! Even in full plate armour they’re only covered by chain, a boot will bludgeon them to their knees, dropping their neck for you.”
As he pushed his weight down into her chest, Willow growled. She thrust her legs up with all her might and threw him forward. As he fell through the air she flicked out her foot and caught him square between the thighs, before swiftly rolling to her feet.
Switch wheezed and laughed, “Yeah, like that,” he said in a strained voice.
After a few hours of gruelling training, he walked Willow back to Vandermir’s manor. When they passed the secret tunnel, she looked to him in question.
He smirked, “You aren't curious how I can come and go so easy into your suite?”
Willow grinned, inclining her head to him.
He weaved through the brush surrounding the outskirts of the building, slipping through a slender gap between the rocks before climbing the lattice leading to the gardens. He toed silently behind the dense hedges, creeping towards the window Willow recognised as her own. The window stood at least thirty foot off the ground, with no perceivable access from the ground. Switch looked to her with a smug knowing grin, holding out his hand to her. She eyed him warily, placing her hand in his. He yanked on it, pulling her close, lifting her body on his and holding on until she held her own weight. Willow marvelled as he began to climb the wall, in a spider-like fashion, his fingers clinging on to what appeared as impossibly thin wafers of ledge. With little effort he made it to her window, picking the lock with one hand while supporting the both of them with the other. He slid her window open without a sound and slinked inside before placing her down.
Willow began, “How-
“We all have our secrets,” he said mischievously.
He grabbed Willow by the hair, crushing his lips to hers fiercely. She bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, heart racing as he groaned low and guttural. He ripped her away by the hair and pushed her back further into the room, a primal gleam in his eyes and wicked grin on his face. His eyes flicked to the door for a moment before he stepped back to the window.
“Will be seeing you soon, Willow,” he whispered menacingly.
He swiftly stepped out and sealed the windows behind him before leaping from the ledge. Willow grinned as her racing veins struggled to settle. A firm knock on her door had her spinning in fright.
“My lady,” called Pellius, in his deep baritone voice, “Are you in?”
Willow threw her bag under her bed, smoothing her hair and wiping her lips.
“Come in,” she called, trying to steady her voice.
Pellius opened the door, striding in, dripping with his usual charm.
“Ah,” he said, a small frown pulling his brow, “I did not see you return.”
She smiled, turning to the liquor cabinet and pouring herself a nip of whiskey, “I've not long returned.”
“I see,” Pellius said, looking her dust covered armour over, “And was it a productive day?”
Willow smirked into her tumbler, “Indeed.”
While Willow had been out, the rest of the group had been busy.
“Bor has managed to convince the Baron to provide a trap maker and an alchemist,” Pellius informed her, sitting casually in the arm chair, watching her undress, “Garvana and Teelee have procured supplies for the tavern and food stores. I have organised the supplies needed to restock the forge, the holding cells and of course the torture chamber.”
Willow grinned at the way glee slithered into his voice as he mentioned his new sanctum.
“The locks you requested have been made to order,” he said, dropping his voice to a low menace, “We shall have to test their strength.”
Dressed only in her night slip, Willow remained still as Pellius stalked behind her. She heard the faint jingle of manacles as he lifted them from his pocket.
“And what is it you were doing today?” he breathed in her ear.
Willow couldn't stop the shiver as he clicked the manacles into place around her wrists.
“Procuring contacts,” she said simply, breathing a fraction faster.
“Contacts?” he breathed, tracing his fingers over the red hand print still marked around her neck, “Any contacts of worth?”
Willow laughed, “Of some import, yes.”
“And what can these contacts do for you?”
“Give me access to items not even the Baron has access to,” Willow breathed.
She stood motionless, hands clasped behind her back as he strolled to the bed, reaching down and lifting out her dust covered bag.
“Very productive day it was then,” he said, as he pulled out the golden ruby necklace.
He prowled back to Willow and laced the chain around her neck, the pendant laying heavy on her bare collarbone. He returned to the arm chair, lifting his glass to his lips.
The sky still dark as the moon flickered towards the horizon. The city still soundless in its slumber, only the sounds of the wildlife waking broke the peaceful silence. In the twilight hour before dawn, Willow rose from the bed and donned her armour. She strapped her daggers to her thighs and penned a quick note for Pellius, leaving it on his bedside table.
To desecrate the shrine tainted by light, our Infernal Lord requires a sacrifice. I will meet you by the twisted large oak along the entrance path to the Horn within the hour of daybreak.
You shall have your sacrifice.
She slipped unnoticed out of the manor, creeping swiftly to the small dormitory housing acolytes of the southern most church of Mitra. Willow had strolled by the day before on her way to the docks, taking note of the layout of the hall and the garb worn by the faithful. As she neared she created her own robes, matching those of the church, using the magic of the circlet. She shaped her hair into a simple pale brown wrapped braid, morphing her face into soft and humble unremarkable features. On quiet feet she snuck through the large archway, into the common area of the hall, slinking into the shadows. She listened carefully for any noise or disturbance, the air still and mute. As she neared the row of small modest bedroom chambers, she pulled out the wand imbued with silence, that she had borrowed from Teelee. She whispered the incantation she had been taught, casting the magic upon her person. Willow felt herself encased and surrounded by a deafening heavy silence. She hurried, inaudibly opening the door, slipping inside and sealing it behind her. A shabby single pine bed frame sat centre of the room taking up majority of the space in the slender stone chamber. Laying on its tattered mattress was a man, dark hair askew, peacefully slumbering unaware of the danger he was in. His soft snore muffled as Willow approached, pulling the manacles from her belt pouch, stepping up to the side of the bed. He slept with his hands draped above his head, his body relaxed and slack. Willow leant over him and inhaled to focus. As quickly as she could, she snapped both of the metal rings around his wrists. The magic they possessed swiftly shrank to his size, locking tightly in place. He woke, startled, Willow hanging closely over his head. She had two poison vials strapped into her belt as a back up, incase the magic of the manacles was not enough to restrain him, she was ready.
His face slowly turned from frightened alarm to calm confusion. Willow sighed, smiling at the acolyte. She put her finger to her lips, indicating for him to be silent, and beckoned him to follow. She pulled his robes from the small cupboard, throwing them to him and signalling he put them on, before leading him silently out of the door towards the exit. She kept up her appearance as the magic of sound wore off and their soft footsteps along the paved road could be heard.
“Follow me, and do not talk,” Willow said as she lead him towards the Caer Bryr, “It is better if you remain silent.”
He nodded compliantly, keeping pace with Willow. She looked him over as the sun broke the horizon, checking to see that the manacles were hidden from view by his long robes. Willow smiled, if anyone was to see them, they would look like nothing more than a pair of Mitran acolytes taking an early morning stroll.
It took them close to an hour to walk the path to the large tree she had mentioned to Pellius. As they rounded the bend through the rolling hills, he came into view. When he noticed the pair of young acolytes, he stood ready, suspicious and poised for battle. Willow laughed as they neared, allowing her appearance to transform to her natural state, slicked skin tight black leather replacing her modest robe. She saw Pellius’ dastardly grin, his laugh deep and menacing.
“You do not disappoint, my lady.”.
“Of course not,” she said with a grin, “I would never disappoint you.”
The acolyte looked the two of them over, confusion and worry across his face.
“Do not be afraid,” Willow said to him, “You are coming on an adventure.”
“Oh,” the acolyte frowned, “I've never been adventuring before.”
Willow laughed, guiding him by the shoulder towards the secret entrance to the manor.
“Trust me,” she said wickedly, “This will be unlike anything you've ever experienced before, or will again…”
After collecting the rest of the group, and retrieving Grumblejack from a disreputable tavern, they reached the Horn by midday. Pellius led the acolyte up the winding stairs to the second floor and into the room pulsing with a deep aura of holy light. He told the Mitran to pray, to which he complied willingly. Willow watched from the corner of the room as Pellius stepped in behind the kneeling sacrifice. He lifted his shining warhammer, quietly lining up his swing.
“In the name of all that is His,” he whispered, “I name thee Doombringer.”
He cleaved his weapon with fierce might, the impact shattering the skull of the acolyte and launching a shower of blood across the shrine. As the body fell forward against the humble altar, the room shuddered. Willow felt the pulse as the aura of malevolence swarmed through the area, the goodness bleeding through the building, fading into the void. The words upon the wall began to ooze and smear, the once divine sentiment, dying along with its power. Garvana spoke of a righteous vengeance, casting all back down into His fiery domain.
“Doombringer?” Willow commented, looking the desecrated shrine and then to the blood covered base of the weapon, “Fitting.”
Later that afternoon, as the men they had hired found their way to the Horn, Pellius called them together. The group had discussed the highest priority tasks that needed to be performed. They had agreed that the base needed to be cleared out, fixed up and cleaned.
“You have one week to completely clear this floor,” Pellius instructed, a fierce gleam to his eye, and strength to his voice that made Willow heat, “I have given instructions on each room and it's required work. One week. Lateness, indolence or failure will not be tolerated, and will be punished. Work well, and you shall be rewarded. Fail me,” he said low and threatening, “And the consequences will be severe.”
As the men dispersed with renewed vigour and fear in their eyes, Willow approached Pellius, standing by his side staring down at the men.
“You're very good at this,” she said quietly, giving him a fierce look as she turned to leave, “They follow you without question. It seems you were born to lead…”
When the group had spoken of the boggards, Willow had been outvoted. They had chosen to send Bor leading the boggards to capture peasants. Pellius, Garvana and Teelee has been eager for the idea, while Bor only relished the plan of heading a squad and getting back to what he was good at. Willow agreed graciously, not opposed to the task, but of a different mind of what held priority. By sunset, Bor and the band of boggards had left for one of the nearby villages.
Pulling out the maps of the Horn Willow had drew, the four of them planned the best use of traps in the lower caverns. The trap maker that the Baron had provided, a stout man name Horrick, was efficient and quick with his work. They left him in the caverns, along with orders for the remaining boggards to leave him to his work, unmolested and unharmed.
When the sun dawned on the following morning, the group took Grumblejack hunting. Their goal was to capture beasts with might enough to guard the lower caverns. Grumblejack frowned as the group explained the plan.
“You mean,” he said in his brute broken speech, “That we bash them…?”
“Yes,” Willow chuckled.
“But we no eat them?” he asked, struggling with the concept.
“Yes,” she laughed.
“Bash them, but Grumblejack no kill them?”
“But then,” he said, frowning, “What do we eat?”
“We have other food,” Willow said.
“Bor’s off getting you live food at the moment,” Pellius said simply.
“Ah!” Grumblejack said smiling, “Then that is good. People yes?”
“Yes,” Willow laughed.
“Then Grumblejack eat those people, yes?”
“Exactly,” Pellius said, struggling to keep a straight face.
Willow split off from the group as she heard a rustling in amongst the shrubbery. She was silent on her own, no thudding armoured footsteps to give away her position. She followed the tracks of the clawed foot animal, hearing the distant sound of battle from the rest of the group far behind her. She knew they could handle their own without her help. She crept down to edge of the lake following the path the creature had taken, further along down the bank the tracks continued back into the forest. As she neared the tree line, she heard a vicious slurping and chewing, some predator feasting on its prey. On silent feet she prowled in behind it. A long lizard like creature, standing to her waist, devouring the deer it had caught. Willow toed behind it, not so much as a twig breaking, and drove the pommel of her dagger into the creatures head. She hit with such force, the creature fell forward into its meal and span into unconsciousness. Willow grinned, quite proud of her own strength. She turned back to where the group was, still hearing their loud ruckus from a hundred feet away. She laughed as she saw Grumblejack carrying a large praying mantis, wrapped tightly bound in rope. She whistled loudly to them, unwilling to carry the filthy lizard-thing herself. Grumblejack patted her hefty on the back as they reached her.
“We eat this one, yes?”
Willow laughed, “Not this one, the deer you can eat though.”
As Grumblejack raced to devour the half eaten deer, Pellius looked to Willow.
“Dead?” he asked, signalling to the lizard creature.
Willow screwed up her nose and laughed, “How would I know? I hit it, and it dropped?”
With eyes searching the ground as they group made their way back to the Horn, Willow called for a halt.
“These stones,” she said intrigued to Pellius, “Perhaps they are the ruins that guide fellow you hired had mentioned.”
Willow scoured the rocks, looking over the strange symbols carved into parts of their face. When she quirked her head to the side, she frowned. When looking from this angle a certain formation of rocks appeared to be shape like a throne. She cleared the debris from around the stone and gasped.
“Vah,” she read in Abyssal from the base of the rock.
Willow's eyes went wide as her mind raced.
“Teelee!” she called, “Can you read the magic here? Is this magical? Can you tell?”
Teelee frowned, muttering the detect magic incantation. As her eyes glossed over, her eyebrows shot high.
“It is the same magic linking the thrones in the Horn of Abbadon,” she said seriously.
Before Willow could reply, Garvana had stepped up and sat on the throne, calling confidently, “Yah!”
As Garvana vanished, Willow rolled her eyes. Garvana’s proud confidence was her strength, and her weakness. A moment later, Garvana blinked back into the stone ruins of a throne.
“It does indeed, lead right into and out of our base.”
“We must destroy it,” Willow said firmly.
“Why must we?” Pellius asked, “Would it not be better to keep an escape route open for ourselves? Who could possibly know of this?”
Willow frowned, trying to piece together the fragments of thought she had racing though her mind, “Anyone who has access to the information that Master Thorn did,” she said slowly, “We do not know how he procured his information about the Horn and its inhabitants, for him to come across it, it means it exists. We can't know what other information the Victor recorded and kept, we also have no knowledge of how the Mitrans entered the base. You've see the scars on the walls, you've seen enough battle to know it was a massacre! What if this was their way in?”
Willow turned from the group, brow furrowed deeply in thought.
“We do not know what will happen when we start the ritual. We are calling across the void to summon an Archdeacon, I can not imagine the resonance will be quiet in this realm. If we unknowingly draw attention to the Horn, then any information on it may be retrieved and scoured. The Victor was powerful enough to defeat and cast out Vetra-Kali, is it naive to assume he did not know of this place?”
Pellius looked to Willow in contemplation, “You are right,” he said, “If it's purpose was discovered, it would leave a very large hole in our defences. Let us use it to transport our captures, and then we shall dispose of it.”
Willow sighed in relief.
Pellius himself had to struggle with the enormous weight of the mantis, a creature taller than Willow, and more than six times her weight. She couldn't help but laugh as he strained its mass over to the throne, wheezing the command word and vanishing from sight.
When he returned a short time later, minus the great insect, he and Grumblejack used their combined might to shatter the throne to shards. After Teelee and Garvana confirmed the lack of lingering magic, Willow was satisfied.
They entered the Horn before nightfall, returning to the news that the alchemical golem they had found in pieces amongst the lab, had been restored by the Baron’s agent and merely awaited the last component. Willow cringed at the thought of watching Pellius retrieve a brain from a freshly slain being, so she chose to retreat to her chamber for the evening, to work on more civil matters.
She had been scripting the exact wording of their pleas to Vetra-Kali. She had written and rewritten it many times, attempting to achieve the finesse she believed was needed. She had read through the Dirges of Appolyon ten times in order to perfect her wording. As she sat by candlelight scribbling along the parchment, she felt the ground shudder with heavy metal footsteps. As she entered the hallway, she laughed, seeing Pellius striding next to a ten foot golem. It's reservoirs buzzed with charged arcana, wisps of the brew encased in the glass dancing freely.
“This is Lady Willow,” Pellius said, introducing her to the golem, “You will not harm her.”
“Thy bidding will be done, master,” it hissed.
Willow smiled, looking the massive structure over, “Impressive.”
Pellius gave her a charming smile, “We have agreed the best course is to dispose of those creatures in the far room.”
Willow grinned, leading the way to the vine riddled chamber, “Try not to sleep through all the fun this time.”
As they approached the western chambers, Grumblejack looked up to the ceiling.
“Grumblejack likes this place,” he said, “Grumblejack feel good here.”
Willow's steps slowed as her mind turned. She remembered the first day they had met Grumblejack. When he had swung the iron gate wide, the gust of wind had lifted the long wisps of hair that fell down his forehead and revealed two small horns. She thought about how little they knew of him.
“Where were you before Branderscar, Grumblejack?” Willow asked curiously.
“Grumblejack just went place to place,” he said, still staring into the ceiling.
“What were you doing?”
“Smashing things, eating things, that's all Grumblejack likes to do.”
Willow thought for a moment while she watched him, her curiosity peaked.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“Grumblejack not looking, Grumblejack just likes this place, it makes Grumblejack feel good.”
“How about we go smash some oozes, then I'll show you around?” she offered.
“Grumblejack likes smashing things,” he said with a big toothy grin.
Pellius swung the door wide, and as the spores released, he and Grumblejack crumpled to the ground in a familiar sleep induced unconsciousness. Willow couldn't help but laugh as she tumbled passed his body, ready to defend his limp form. As the oozes swarmed from the room, the golem began to smash into them with its solid fists. The oozes slithered up onto Pellius’ legs, it's acidic slime beginning to melt the hard steel of his armour. Willow drove the pommel of her dagger into the blob with all her might, causing it to explode in a splatter of simmering ooze. She was not proud of the feminine screech she let out as she dove out of its path. After Garvana had pummelled the other in a squelching mess, Pellius and Grumblejack awoke.
“Did we win?” Grumblejack yawned.
Before Willow left, she overheard Pellius question the golem. It's name was Artephius. A name Pellius had trouble pronouncing, when Teelee suggested he rename the construct, Pellius grinned, instructing it that it's new name was to be Artephus. He questioned the golem on what it remembered of its time before its destruction. It spoke of its creator, Ezra Thrice Damned, the High Priest of the Sons. Pellius asked it of the minotaur, laying dead in the storage chamber, the magic of the room still preserving his corpse as if it had been freshly slain. The golem identified him as Gerrion Joth.
Willow was struck with an idea, her curiosity still simmering with her mind, “What do you know of Cardinal Samuel Havelyn?”
“This vessel has no knowledge of Cardinal Samuel Havelyn,” it replied.
Willow lowered her voice, so only the golem and Pellius could hear, “What do you know of Cardinal Adrastus Thorn?”
“This vessel has no knowledge of Cardinal Adrastus Thorn.”
Willow turned to Pellius, his eyebrow cocked in question.
She smiled, “There is no harm in asking.”
Lastly, Pellius asked the golem of the man encased in stone.
“This stone structure holds resemblance to the Sons of the Pale Horsemen’s torturer, Halthus the Flayer.”
Pellius turned to the group, a charming smile on his face, “Then let us wake this, Halthus.”
As the group approached the room, Teelee spoke of the Eyes and their magical qualities. She informed them of the need to coat each gem in a sentient creatures blood, in order to reveal their true purpose.
They filed into the room, surrounding the stone statue, Willow positioned herself out of sight behind it. She drew her blade and waited. Teelee covered the statue in the salve, placing his head firmly on his shoulders. As the magic began to work, and the statue reanimated, Willow fingered the blade softly. Halthus awoke, frightened and confused.
“W-what?” he stammered, “What's going on, who are you people?”
Pellius pulled out his Asmodean pendant, shushing the erratic man.
“Calm down Halthus,” he said firmly, “We are not Mitrans. We are Asmodeans.”
Halthus panicked, “How do you know my name?”
As Willow saw his hand slide into his pocket, she swiftly stepped up and drew the dagger to his throat.
“I would not do that if I was you,” she said threateningly into his ear.
Slowly he withdrew his hands, raising them in surrender.
“Alright, it's alright,” he stuttered, “No need to do anything rash.”
Willow slipped her hand in his pocket carefully, retrieving a canvas wrap filled with a poor set of torturing tools, the scalpel half drawn.
“The Eye,” Pellius demanded.
“The Eye of Withering,” Willow whispered.
“H-how do you know of it? What do you want with it?”
“The Eye,” Pellius demanded, a low threatening growl to his voice, “I will not ask again.”
“Alright!” Halthus trembled, “Alright, alright it's in my pocket.”
He gingerly reached for his other pocket, moving slower as Willow tightened the dagger at his throat. As he pulled out the gleaming gem, Willow snatched it with her free hand. She gently sliced through the palm of his hand, wrapping it around the emerald. As Halthus cried out and whimpered, Willow felt the malice of the Eye pulse. Teelee inspected the gem, chanting her incantation, reading its purpose.
“Yes,” she said quietly, “It is the last Eye.”
“See!” Halthus exclaimed, “I told you, I did what you asked, now how about letting me go?”
Pellius smiled, his dastardly and charming smirk, he looked to Willow and gave a single nod.
“One wrong move,” Willow whispered in his ear, before stepping back and releasing her blade.
“Ah,” Halthus said, rubbing his throat, “Much better. Now may I ask, what you intend to do with the Eyes?”
“We intend,” Pellius replied, “To summon Vetra-Kali.”
“You do?” he asked in disbelief and excitement, “Perhaps I can be of service?”
Pellius looked him over with calculating eyes, “And what use can you be?”
“Well, I uh, am skilled in retrieving information?” he said shakily, motioning to his tools.
Pellius raised his eyebrows, “What else?”
“Oh,” he replied, far less confident, “I uh, I suppose I know of anatomy?”
His words were met with silence, as the group waited for him to continue. Willow saw the panic dawning on his face as he realised he had nothing more to offer. In a flash he leaped forward, charging past Pellius in an attempt to escape. Willow was ready. He made it as far as the door when she pounced forward, knowing they needed to sacrifice him later, she slashed only through his calf. The blade cut deeper than she had meant it to, slicing straight through the muscle and tendons, separating the joint of the bone. As he fell forward screaming in agony, Willow landed atop him, knees in his shoulders and blade warningly pressing to his neck. The blood began pooling along the floor, his leg hanging on by a shred of skin.
“Garvana, will you take care of that?” Willow asked.
Garvana summoned her healing magic and knitted the majority of the wound together. The healing had stopped the bleeding, and taken away the pain, but still Halthus whimpered. Pellius knelt by his head, a stone look on his face.
“Do not try that again,” he warned, low and menacing, looking down in disgust at the whimpering pathetic man, “Not accustomed to receiving the pain? Only giving it?”
“That harlot was going to slaughter me!” he shrieked, “I saw it in her eyes!”
Pellius looked up into Willow’s eyes, a fierce gleam of what could have been pride in his eyes, “She has done much worse.”
Willow leaned close to the trembling fool below her, “If I wanted you dead, you would be.”
She pulled out the manacles from her pouch and latched his hands together. She wiped the blood from her blade on his robes and stood back as Pellius pulled him to his feet.
“He's all yours,” she said with a dark grin, “Try not to kill, we still need him.”
Pellius turned and gave her one of his disarming devilish grins, “Have a little faith, my lady.”
While Pellius escorted Halthus to the torture chamber, Willow took Grumblejack on a tour of the upper levels. The closer they grew to the sanctum, the more comfortable he became. As they entered the chamber through the balcony, he clutched his head.
“Grumblejack has been here before, Grumblejack not feel good, so thirsty.”
Willow drew her water skin from her bag and offered it to him. He drank it down in a single gulp, not satisfied, his mouth still dry and parched. Willow did a quick search of the room, noticing a trough at the base of the grand structure of Vetra-Kali. Reading the Abyssal scrawled around the trough, frowning at it's phrase mentioning water. Following a hunch, she tip her second skin into the trough. The water festered and rippled as green infection spread across its surface.
“It's unholy water,” Teelee mused, inspecting the rotting liquid.
Willow frowned as Grumblejack groaned, unable to determine what was going on. She shrugged as she offered the putrid water to Grumblejack. He did not seem to notice or mind the filthy state of the water, he scooped it up and drank it down.
Suddenly, the small horns of his forehead grew and lengthened. The claws on his fingers and toes arched into long talons. His feet lifted from the ground, and as he floated, he grinned.
“Grumblejack feel much better!” he exclaimed, “Grumblejack feel great!”
He turned to the balcony and leaped from its edge. Willow gasped, racing to its edge and watching the massive ogre fly through the air. He swirled and spun for a few moments before returning to the balcony.
“That was great!” he roared, “Grumblejack has magic! Magic not scary! Magic is great!”
“What else can you do?” Teelee asked.
“This!” he said, as the air around them blackened and darkness swarmed them.
The light flickered and returned, Willow smiled at his glee.
“Grumblejack can smash things better now! What can Grumblejack smash?”
Willow chuckled, “Nothing right now, we shall find you something later on. But how about a lift back for dinner?”
He held Willow and Teelee in his large arms, carefully avoiding them with his claws, he flew them down to the first floor. As they entered and headed for the tavern, they met Pellius along the way. His eyes flew wide when he saw Grumblejack, he gripped his weapon as they passed. He grabbed Willow by the arm and steered her alone into the nearby empty chamber.
“What in Hell’s name happened?!” he said furiously.
Willow shrugged, unbothered by his anger, “He drank the unholy water from the sanctum. Teelee says it awoke the daemon blood in his veins.”
“How could you let this happen? You are always so cautious! You have no idea what you have done!”
Willow raised her eyebrows, “And nor do you. He remains willing to serve us, he has just grown in power, that power will help us succeed in our mission.”
“And if he decides that he does not wish to serve?” he spat.
“If that happens,” Willow said soothingly, “Then we will dispose of him. At this stage he still wishes to aid us. Pellius, not every ally we will gain will be white skinned and human. Allow me to talk with him, if I believe he is a threat and his loyalty becomes a question, I will not hesitate to cut him down.”
Pellius remained silent for a moment in thought.
He turned from Willow, saying quietly before leaving, “The consequences of this, are on your head, my lady.”
They met the rest of the group in the tavern, dishing up plates of dinner. As Pellius sat alone and brooded into his meal, Grumblejack approached him.
“Grumblejack want armour like you,” he said, towering over Pellius, “Grumblejack powerful and magic now, he want magic armour like you.”
“We'll see what we can do,” Willow replied, walking over to join him.
Grumblejack grinned and walked back to his seat, devouring the rest of the deer. Willow put a soothing hand on Pellius’ shoulder.
“Let me talk to him,” she said softly.
Pellius remained silent as Willow walked to Grumblejack and slid up onto the table next to him.
“We will get you armour,” she said, thinking on how to explain what she wished to convey, “But armour like Pellius’ is special, it was a reward. To simply obtain it, it is not cheap. It will not be easy to acquire, it must be made, and we do not have the resources to make it here.”
“Then why we not go to blacksmith in town?” he asked.
Willow smiled, “Because we need the townsfolk to remain oblivious to our presence. Your appearance has grown less inconspicuous, more… diabolical shall we say?”
Willow chuckled, “Your new appearance is much more threatening. You would stick out too much, the townsfolk would panic, and that would draw bad attention we really don't need.”
“Why we not go to blacksmith and make him do it, and if he not do it, then we eat him?”
Willow mused on how to explain it.
“We have a mission. A mission of the utmost importance, one of a higher calling. One we cannot fail. And at the moment, that mission calls for as much secrecy as possible.”
“What is this mission, who do you do it for?” Grumblejack asked.
“Our master, and our Infernal Father,” Willow replied, “You know how you feel your connection to this place, and it is more than just a ‘good feeling’?”
Grumblejack frowned in thought, “You are speaking of gods, yes?”
Willow smiled, “Yes, and ours is great, the most powerful and fearsome of them all. Our mission allows us to fight for him.”
Garvana smiled fiercely, “We fight for His kingdom, we fight to return all to what is rightfully His.”
“As-mo-deus?” Grumblejack asked, “Does he hate ogres?”
“Asmodeus does not care of your race or your appearance,” Garvana replied, “He cares only for your power.”
“He cares only that you serve Him,” Willow said, “You know your place, and fight to force those who ignore their place back down where they belong.”
“The strong will rule the weak!” Garvana said fiercely.
“Grumblejack is strong. Asmodeus let him smash things?”
Willow laughed, “Yes, when you are told to.”
“Asmodeus let him eat people?”
“Yes, unless you are told not to.”
Grumblejack grinned, “Then Grumblejack worship Asmodeus!”
He leapt from his chair and began to dance around, “Grumblejack have god! Grumblejack is unstoppable with god!”
“But Grumblejack,” Garvana said sternly, “You must do as we say, you must follow our orders and you must listen. We serve Asmodeus, and our great Infernal Father demands obedience.”
He grinned, a toothy feral grin, “Grumblejack is ok with this.”
Garvana smiled, “His power is great, his word is law. Hallowed be Asmodeus, the First and rightful ruler of everything.”
The group spent the next few days buried in their separate tasks. While the workmen cleared and repaired the first level to the Horn, the trapmaker finished his work in the lower caverns. Teelee and Grumblejack set off to ambush and capture a blacksmith, while Garvana studied the Dirges in greater detail.
Pellius and Willow spent their time studying the Hall of Murals, trying to decipher their meanings. The air between the two of them had changed. Pellius, ever polite and charming, seemed distant to her. Over the days they spent together studying the walls, he seemed standoffish and reserved. There was no light hearted flirting, no fooling around. At her every try, he politely declined, always seeming too busy or too engrossed in what he was doing. Each night he chose not to return to the chamber they had been sharing, instead sleeping somewhere else. Willow struggled to determine what was wrong or what had changed, so she continued their work on the Hall of Murals, focussing her energy and thought on it.
As day one passed, they had written the components and instructions for a ritual named Call forth the Hounds. It described a sacrificial ritual summoning three Hellhounds from the pits of Hell. The second day the discovered a ritual named Call forth the Steed, summoning a nightmare steed of Abbadon. On the last day the uncovered the ritual named Cauldron of the Earth, summoning creatures known as mud men.
Together as a group they summoned the mud men into the pit of boiling mud in the lower caverns, disgusting creatures with the power to suck their victims deep into the suffocating mass of mud. Once they were done, Teelee decided to lead the ritual of the steed, leaving the caverns to perform it outside in the nearby forestry. Willow had no desire to see a steed sacrificed in a blazing frenzy, so she climbed the stairs to the second level, heading to her chamber. She scrawled down her thoughts into her journal, before the days strain of mental exertion took its toll.
Willow woke as the sun breached the height of the canopy. She lay in thought amongst the soft silk sheets alone, mind wandering of the revelations of the last few days. Her mind turned to the Hall of Murals. She could not fathom why a place dedicated to the crumbling wastes of Abbadon would harbour rituals deep seeded within the depths of their Father’s Infernal Palace. The ritual held no trace of Abbadon, the hellhounds were creatures straight out of Hell. She continued to ponder as she rose from the sheets and dressed for the day. She glided through the halls of the Horn towards the tavern where the group had began taking their meals. As she walked in and saw Pellius sitting alone on the far side of room to the rest of the group, she dished herself up a plate of breakfast and approached him.
“May I join you?” she asked politely.
“Of course, my lady,” he replied casually, ever a gentleman, standing to push her seat in behind her.
“My mind has been turning,” she said quietly, after he returned to his seat, “I have been contemplating the hound ritual we discovered.”
“And what conclusion have you come to?”
“I wish to perform it,” she said slowly, “But there is much risk, and I fear my want for the prize may be clouding my judgement. Yet, I find the gain of such a prize would be worth such risk.”
A small smile graced his lips, “It seems you have already come to a decision.”
“Not entirely,” she replied, eyebrow cocked, “May I ask a favour?”
“You may ask,” he said slyly.
Willow tried to keep up her face of lighthearted whim, unable to suppress the small frown furrowing her brow.
“Will you stand guard?” she said hushed, “You need not involve yourself, but just be with me, incase my skepticism proves true and the ritual is tainted with Abbadon’s malice?”
Pellius smiled, “Of course, my lady.”
After sending off one of their hirelings with the task of procuring three stout guard dogs, Willow spent the day concocting the specific poison the ritual required. When word of her intent spread to the others, Garvana approached her in curiosity.
“I thought you were against the slaughter or sacrifice of animals?” she asked.
Willow dropped in the last ingredient the poison required, turning to Garvana once the hissing brew had festered and settled.
“I do have a fondness for canines,” she admitted with a nostalgic air, “They are the perfect servants. They know their place in the world, they do not question it, they do not seek to rise higher, and they are fiercely loyal. All qualities I seek in servants.”
She smiled slightly as she continued, more to herself than to Garvana, “This ritual offers beasts with the same qualities, born in the fiery pits of Hell. Though I will not enjoy the slaughter, I will relish in the birth of the three Infernal creatures.”
Garvana merely smiled, inclining her head to Willow.
By midday Bor had returned with ten filthy peasants in tow. They locked them in the holding cell with the new manacles Willow had ordered. Pellius selected a young female, a kind hearted looking soul, compassionate and fearful.
“We shall allow you some portion of freedom,” he said to her, stone faced, “But I will give you one warning. If you try to leave or flee, they will die. You have a chance to better their situation. You may bathe them and feed them. You may care for them as you wish. They are your responsibility. You have only one chance, if you flee, you are killing every one of them.”
As daylight retreated and the moon rose high, the workman returned with the hounds. Willow and Pellius descended the stairs and guided the dogs into one of the empty barren caverns below the Horn. Pellius stood in the shadows, his watchful eyes ever keen. Willow remained silent as she fed each hound the menacing poison, soothing each one gently with her hand as it ate. She stood, exhaling deeply. As she lifted her dagger to the first hound’s throat, she spoke in hushed rasping Infernal tongue, ignoring the single tear welling in her eyes.
“Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Lith.”
She closed her eyes as she slashed through it’s flesh. Approaching the second hound, she gently traced her fingers over its ear to calm it.
“Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Loras.”
Through clouded eyes and wet cheeks, she approached the third and last of the hounds, calming it in a similar way.
“Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Sith.”
She stepped back, too proud to wipe her tears. As life faded from the last, the ground began to shake. Willow felt a familiar pulsing with each rumble, her body trembling, her breath quickening. She breathed deep, pulling the searing burn deep within her. A crack rippled through the earth beneath the hounds, splitting the rock and opening wide, revealing the scorching flames of Hell. Willow clenched her teeth and plastered her eyes open, finding no sexual pleasure in the Infernal throbbing in her body, only a burning strength of might and purpose. A great inferno engulfed the hounds, dragging their bodies into the depths of the underworld. As a moment passed, Willow felt a fierce vibration shake the ground. As single paw rose from the cracks, claws digging into the rock, dragging its body up from the depths. A flame ridden hound climbed into the cavern, followed by two more. Once the last had risen from below, the crack violently slammed shut, sealing the blazing realm once again. Willow stood frozen for a minute, staring in awe at the creatures. She recognised each one. Standing tallest in the centre was the largest of the hounds, powerful, fierce and beautiful, the leader.
“Lith,” Willow breathed.
The hound approached, its head dropped in deference. Willow reached out and sighed. She marvelled as the flames licked her skin but caused her no burn. She gently traced her hand along its head, curling her fingers under its chin.
Her eyes turned to the second hound. Thicker and sturdier than the first, but still as graceful, “Loras.”
It approached her in a similar way, head lowered as she reached to caress its chin. Looking to the third, she smiled. Smaller than the others, it stood with its own pride. Willow could tell it was the fiercest of the litter, possibly the fastest, the most viscous.
“Sith,” she beckoned, reaching her hand for him.
He approached her with no delay, turning his head into her palm.
Willow grinned as she stood, surrounded by flickering flame, her three hounds circling her in a protective fashion. Pellius stepped out from the shadows, a peculiar look on his face. The three hounds began to growl low and menacing as they noticed him.
“Naas!” Willow snapped, calling for them to cease their growling.
The hounds hushed, lowering their heads once more. Willow cocked her eyebrow and smiled. As Pellius turned and left the cavern without a word, Willow frowned, she did not know what was churning through his mind. She stood in thought for a moment before shaking her head. If he wished to speak of it to her, he would come.
“Norr,” she called, beckoning them to follow.
Willow trailed up the stairs to the second floor, the three hounds closely by her feet. She glided through the halls to her chamber, directing the hounds to a single corner, bare of anything flammable.
“Dravith,” she commanded, ordering them to stay.
She lit her lantern and left the hounds behind as she went to clean the days grime and mud from her clothing. Along her stroll to the bathroom, she passed Pellius in the hallway.
“Do you have time for worship tonight?” she asked, cocking her eyebrow.
“Regretfully no, my lady,” he replied, “I'm afraid I have much to do.”
A similar response to that which he had given her for the last few nights. As he turned to leave, Willow put her hand on his forearm.
“May I ask what is troubling you?” she questioned, “You seem distant of late.”
“Between the demanding strain of deciphering the summoning rituals, the interrogation of Halthus, overseeing the prisoners and workers, along with numerous other projects; they have left me little time for sins of the flesh,” he said, reaching for Willow's hand, laying a small kiss on the ridge of her knuckle, “I fear I would not have the energy to keep up with one as vivacious as yourself, and I would hate to disappoint you so.”
Willow frowned as he turned from her, his emphasis on the word disappoint had not gone unnoticed. She continued on to the bathroom, her mind musing on what he could be referring to. As she polished her boots to a gleaming shine, she surmised it revolved around Grumblejack's transformation. He had been furious, the disappointment in his eyes had been clear. She conceded her actions had been a tad rash, her curiosity had been peaked, and her response a little careless. She had no knowledge of what unholy water could have done to Grumblejack, she only followed her instincts as she had always done. She would not apologise for her actions, for she was not sorry. She had meant it when she had said that if she caught the slightest hint of wavering loyalty, she would cut him down.
The men that the Baron had procured were always eager to heat buckets of water and fill the bathtub for Willow. Each night she smiled, and thanked them politely, batting her eyelashes softly. She had learned long ago that polite manners and soft eyes could get a woman almost anything she needed. She undressed by the tub and soaked as the water simmered, allowing her mind to wander. Her muscles retracted and relaxed, soothed by the soft burn of the water, her skin pink and flush. As the bath cooled, she stepped from the tub, drying herself with the soft fleece towel. Coating herself in a fine layer of liquid myrrh, she hung the towel to dry and prepared herself for prayer. Sprinkling the dried blood in her ritualistic fashion, she kneeled in its centre and closed her eyes. As she began to chant and the husking words slithered from her lips, He came to her, as He always did.
Leaving the room dressed only in her night slip, she glided towards her chamber. As she reached her door, her head turned to the men watching her pass, eyes wide mouths open staring at her barely covered skin.
“Evening gentlemen,” she said with a wink.
“Ah, evening mam,” they stuttered, sheepish grins on their faces.
They gasped in shock as she opened the door and she slipped in passed the three flaming hounds growling at the men in warning. She chuckled as she closed the door behind her.
“Naas, Sivish,” she crooned, pointing to the corner, telling them to sleep.
As she fell upon the silk draped over the grand structure of the bed, she smiled listening to the three faint snores of the hounds. She rolled onto her side, staring at the empty side of the bed. She frowned, the bed had not felt so big before. A small huff from the hounds had a small smile split her lip, she need not sleep in fear while three graces of Hell slept so close by.
She sighed, closing her eyes, thinking of the great task set before them. They would tear the very fabric of this nation, and they would do it all, in His name. The flicking glow behind her her eyelids of the Hellfire encasing the hounds had her smile.
“For His glory,” she whispered, reciting the words that had been so long seared into her mind and imprinted on her soul, “All shall burn in Hellfire, and it is His.”