Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Chapter 38 - Death and Darkness

Flickering tendrils of fire cast eery rays upon the stone wall, light that danced in menacing sway across the pulsing fabric of the heavy drapes. The soft breeze drifted through the darkened chamber, in a warm touch that grazed cool and pale skin. Slowly, dry eyes crept open. Willow lay upon the cushioned mattress of her bed within her quarters of the Monteguard Manor, silk sheets and heavy rugs tucked in beneath her. Though she was awake, she felt the curious sensation that held her body. Her frame lay in perfect stillness. Her chest did not rise and fall, her heart did not beat. Even her limbs were far more comfortable in their resting state. As she remained where she was, she began to understand the feeling of death, or undeath as it were. When a frown pulled tight upon her brow, she instinctively drew a deep breath inward. It was a peculiar feeling, though her lungs inflated and deflated as she exhaled, the air simply withdrew from her chest much like a paper bag. She clenched her knuckles, simply to test their movement. She wriggled her toes in the same way. Though they moved much as they should, it was the same and yet so very different. Slowly, she pulled the blankets free and lifted herself into a seated position. Though the chamber was barley lit by a single torch, she could see as clearly as she would in daylight. She could hear the soft footsteps of someone walking the carpeted corridors beneath her on the lower floor. She could hear the drip of the water tap in her bathing chamber, as if it rang beside her ear. The overwhelming sensory experience had her close her eyes tightly, to try to sort through the mess of her head. When she calmed her mind and simply allowed it to drift, the curious lack of a heartbeat truly rattled her composure. With unsure hands she reached down by the side of her mattress, pulling free the thin blade that she always kept hidden close. With intense eyes watching the blades trail, she dragged it firmly across the palm of her hand. She felt the cold metal keenly as it sliced through the flesh, yet as the skin parted, it left a clean path. No blood poured from the deep wound, no red nor crimson swelled from beneath. Slowly, she watched the peculiar flanks of skin pull together, as it closed and sealed itself. As the seconds crawled by, she saw the layers of flesh knit together, before the cut became undetectable. Instinctively, she exhaled sharply. She dropped the dagger upon her nightstand, standing from the bed upon unsure legs. She had no mind to notice she was dressed in nothing but a silk nightgown, as she stumbled through towards the bathing chamber. She turned the faucet full pelt and splashed the water roughly upon her face. With shaking hands and droplets of water running down her neck and chest, Willow felt an uncontrollable need surge within. A blistering urgency exploded in her chest, as her fangs plunged down and began to throb and quiver. She felt the innards of her stomach clench and twist, churning in feral hunger. As the furious bloodlust overtook her mind, she paced the chamber in restless unease. Back and forth her feet took her, as her head flustered in turmoil. She had never experienced such an overwhelming desperation. She had never known it was truly possible to crave something so much. As the sound of footsteps sounded upon the upper hallway, Willow had no means of controlling her actions. She prowled upon light feet towards the doorway and swiftly passed through the private parlour. As the footsteps neared, she swung the door wide and recoiled from the blinding light of the well lit hallway.
Master Pellius!” Atwood bellowed loudly, as his image came into view, “Niritta!”
He stood in the centre of the long hallway with confident staying hands held out in front of him. As she smelled the scent of living blood swarming in his veins, the bloodlust flared to a vast and burning height. She could not stop herself as her feet prowled towards him. Though she heard the distant sound of running and hurried footsteps, she could focus on nothing save the gushing blood that coursed through the firm muscle upon his throat.
Control it Willow,” Atwood growled forcefully, “You need to control it!”
His words barely registered in her mind, as the ravenous need seethed in tortuous fury. She hissed viciously as she slowly stalked towards him. Suddenly, Pellius appeared at the head of the stairs, with a face of determination and fierce resolve. Willow stretched her mouth wide in a savage threatening hiss, the need for blood forcing her lash out at him in menace.
“Restrain her if you will, Master Pellius,” Atwood instructed firmly.
Willow heard the words, but could not make sense of them. She knew nothing save the dire need to devour. She was enraptured and possessed by the thirst. As Pellius’ stride brought him closer, she was captured by the scent of his thick and flowing blood. She launched herself towards him, sharp nails like claws sinking deeply into his flesh, snarling in barbaric hunger. He was brutal in his seizure, crushing hand latching on her arm tightly, lifting her effortlessly as he pulled her tightly against him, forcing her fangs away by her head with his other hand. Willow may have been easy to grab, but she had never been easy to keep hold of. She deftly slipped from his grip in frightening speed, leaping upon him apace, latching her claws into his shoulders as she plunged her fangs deep into his neck. She managed the barest of tastes before he ripped her from him and threw her into the wall, shattering the glass framed picture in a shower of shards and fragments. Willow snarled viciously as she ripped a long shard from deep in her torso, darting quickly up from the floor. Before she had time to recover, Pellius lunged towards her, grasping her by a fist full of hair, swiftly lifting her and slamming her into the ground. He sank his knees into her back, crushing her with his weight. Though she snarled and thrashed with predatory ferity, she was not strong enough to shift him. She hissed a furious rage, the frenzied bloodlust screaming its revolt against the denial of her prey.
“Niritta, quickly,” came Atwood’s voice from afar, “You know what to do. Master Pellius, please hold her still.”
The hazel haired woman appeared in Willow’s vision. When the scent of another drifted to her noise, she began to thrash anew. With a strong and unrelenting grip, Pellius wrapped his hand around her throat, with his other still clenched tightly in her hair. If Willow had needed to breathe, she would be a few moments from losing consciousness at the crushing force of his controlling hands. Even in the unbreakable grip, Willow could think of nothing save sating her undeniable hunger. Niritta lowered herself to her knees, pulling her long locks to the side to bare her throat to Willow. Slowly, Pellius guided her forward, allowing her access. When she felt her fangs pierce the woman’s delicate skin, she whimpered in ecstasy. She gulped the velvet scarlet as it flowed into her mouth, greedily devouring the sweet and soft flow of the warm liquid.
“Slowly, mistress,” Atwood’s calming voice crooned, “Slowly. We will not deny you. But you must take it slow.”
Somehow, whether by his soothing voice or by the blood that began to sate her hunger, she understood his words. Though she could not bring herself to release her mouth upon Niritta’s neck, she nodded her understanding.
“Good, mistress, very good,” Atwood said quietly, “Niritta?”
“I am fine, sir,” the woman said softly.
“You may let her go, Master Pellius,” Atwood instructed.
She felt Pellius look to the aged man, and she saw Atwood’s gentle nod. Slowly, he released his frightful grip on her throat, leaving sickly white marks where his hand had been. He gently lifted his weight from her, standing ever ready to commence his control were it needed. Without breaking contact on her throat, Willow crawled towards Niritta, dragging the slender woman further into her grasp.
“Slowly, mistress,” Atwood soothed.
Willow gently traced her hands over the bare flesh of the young servant’s neck, in something akin to a caress, as she fed and sated the simmering thirst within her. Slowly, the hunger dissipated. Willow dropped Niritta from her grip, languidly falling into a heaped stupor beside her. The young woman carefully rose to her feet, pressing a flank of linen to her neck as she bowed respectfully and retreated from the hallway. Gentle and firm arms scooped her up from the floor, as Pellius held her tightly to his chest. Willow’s limbs felt weak and fragile, as they dangled from his embrace with a leisurely sway. As he turned for the bedchamber, she finally awoke enough to realise what had happened. She strained against the lethargy and lifted her head to look towards the butler.
“H-how?” was all she managed to stammer.
He simply smiled knowingly, inclining his head, “You are not the first Monteguard to be taken by the vampiric curse… Sleep well, mistress.”

When the confusion and sated haze finally wore off, the evening had grown far passed midnight. As Willow’s eyelids flickered open, she felt the incredible weight of shame shroud her mind. She had never before acted in such an uncontrolled show of savagery. She had launched herself towards those she called friends, with the clear intent of draining them dry. What would she have done, if Atwood had not been so prepared?
“Ah, you awaken,” his tired voice said, as if summoned by her thoughts, “Are you well, mistress?”
Sitting in a chair pulled by the side of the bed, Atwood wiped his fatigued and reddened eyes, standing to attention once more. It was clear, he had remained by her side the entire time she had been asleep.
“Do you require more to drink?” he questioned.
“No,” she said quietly, dragging her weary body into a seated position, “I am fine, Atwood. But I must apologise, i-”
“Please, mistress,” he silenced softly, “There is no need.”
Willow looked to the frail aged man, frowning deeply as the shame lingered.
“Do not be sorry. For you have nothing to be sorry for. It is my fault, for not being as swift as I could have been. I knew you would rise tonight, but I naively assumed I had more time.”
“You knew?” Willow frowned.
“Yes, mistress,” he smiled gently, “I have guided a few through the transition in my time. I recognised the signs upon your return. Paler skin, fading appetite, longer teeth.”
Willow grinned at his words, yet frowned as she realised her fangs still hung from her mouth. Upon seeing her worry, he simply continued to smile.
“They will retract in time, mistress.”
“And the girl?” Willow asked, “She is alright?”
“Niritta was once a vampire’s thrall, though she has long been cured of the curse. She was more than willing to subject herself to it again in your time of need. Strangely, it seems the bite has had little effect, save leaving her a little light headed.”
“And Pellius?” Willow asked warily, surprised to see him not by her side, “I do not remember him leaving…”
Atwood looked upon her with wise and understanding eyes, though he did not comment on her worry.
“Master Pellius has retired for the evening. He was looking quite unwell, it seems the curse shall take him in quick succession to you, mistress.”
“Where is he?”
“He has taken rest in the guests quarters, to allow you time to yourself to recover, while he passes through the transition.”
“Oh,” Willow frowned, sounding far more disappointed than she had intended to reveal, “Very well, Atwood. Thank you. And I do apologise for trying to… eat you…”
The aged butler grinned, a rare show of sharpened teeth, “I do not believe the ancient and decrepit blood in my veins would have tasted very fresh, mistress…”

Settling in to the state of undead, took far longer than Willow had expected. She felt awkward and inelegant, as though her bones could not keep up with her movements. She was faster than before, more agile and quicker on her feet. Her senses were sharper, her smell, sight and hearing keener, her reactions swifter. And yet, as she sprinted through the grassed lands of the Monteguard estate, she found herself stumbling and struggling for balance. She had remained in her deceased state for three days and nights, leaving her limbs stiff and sore after so long unmoving and static. While both Pellius and Garvana moved through their deathly transition, and Bor took time to rest and unwind, Willow was determined to master her new form.
The grounds of the manor were vast rolling hills of lush emerald grass, adorned with draping willow trees and high reaching oaks. The garden stretched in stunning expanse, row of pruned bushes and blossoming flowers, small sanctuaries embellished with fountains and weather-worn stone benches. By the cover of darkness, as the crescent moon lingered overhead; it was the perfect setting for Willow to stretch her legs. She ran through the winding trails, leaping over the trimmed garth, ducking and darting under the low falling branches of the largest trees. As her stride grew more confident, she quickened her pace. She swept along the verdant terrain, as silent as a whisper yet as fast as a howling wind. She grinned as she leapt high into the air to clear the peak of the topiary, sailing above it as the breeze tore through her long rippling ebony locks. When she had exited the manor, she had planned only to lightly run for half a mile before returning. So she had dressed in simple loose fitting slacks and a blouse, leaving her armour and weapons behind. But as she delved deeper into the shadowed caress of the Monteguard’s land, she found her mind eagerly hunger for more. She ran through the shrubs, lightweight and unhindered by jewellery and finery. She let her hair fly free from its usual tight and practical braid, the wind lashing it into unruly disarray. The lax clothing she wore, slick to her front as it billowed behind her and fluttered softly against the skin of her back. When she reached the edge of the grounds, arriving at the steep cliff side of River Danyth, she slowed her sprint to a stop as she toed along the crest. It was curious, that she had ran for the better part of an hour, never needing to stop or catch her breath. For there was nothing to catch. Even as she paused along the fringe of the tall descent, she did not heave or pant with exertion. A laugh came bubbling from her chest as the peculiar situation floated through her mind. For a time, she simply stared out over the coursing river, eyes trailing over the glorious view of Kingsill and the old palace. Though tomorrow she had much to do, wound tightly in steel and leather, or layered and draped in fabrics and jewels; for tonight, for a moment, she could simply be free.

The moon had begun its descent as Willow strolled her way back through the gardens towards the manor. Following the twisting paths that she had spent so much of her younger years exploring, her mind was far away with thoughts of her birth and beginnings. As she rounded the bend that led into the topiary labyrinth, a shadowed figure suddenly appeared, stopping her in her tracks.
“How strange to find you so… bare…” Switch’s devious voice rasped.
Willow could feel his eyes trailing over her figure. Suddenly, she was completely aware of how unarmed she was. Although she had begun to believe he meant her no harm, the malicious glee in his voice sparked a fierce and instinctive warning.
“You really have nothing better to do?” she asked disdainfully, hiding her trepidation behind confident words, “Do you pine for each moment you can steal with me?”
Even in the blackness of the shade that cast from the tailored bushes, she saw the feral grin that lifted his lips.
“Each and everyone,” he replied, prowling towards her in stalking unhurried steps, “Though I had never dreamed to find you so unguarded, so unprepared. No blades, no armour… no breath…”
Willow arched a slow brow, keeping a strong face as he approached, her mind churning in any possible escape. As he slowly drew his blades from their sheathes, she felt herself holding her breath in preparation to run.
“I have never liked the smell of undead,” he rasped, stepping closer, “Yet strangely, on you, it is almost… inviting.”
“Consider the invitation withdrawn,” Willow scoffed, piercing gaze locked with his.
Slowly, he stepped closer again, chuckling as it brought him mere inches from her face. As he looked deep into her eyes, consuming her with simply his sight, she waited patiently for his attack. She knew running now would be folly, for he was too quick to allow her to pass. She could not hope to overwhelm him with brute strength, for he far outweighed her ability. She would have to wait and bide her time until the perfect moment arose. He slowly lifted his blade, pressing the point lightly into the centre of her chest. He spoke, as he slowly dragged the dagger downward and split open the front of her blouse.
“It is deceiving,” he whispered, “How innocent you look without all the effects. You look much like you did when we first met.”
“I was a child,” she laughed coldly, “And you were a predator.”
At that, he leisurely pushed the blade forward, far enough to pierce through the skin. As a whimper of delighted pain escaped her mouth, his eyes lit up in amorous glee. He opened his mouth to speak, but Willow gave him no time. With fast and ferocious movements, she reached out and gripped the blade by the handle, twisting it from his grasp as she dropped low and pulled to the right. Using her weight, she thrust the blade from his hand and leapt up to meet him. He gave her not a moment of celebration before he lunged towards her, faster than even her vampiric eyes could track, one hand gripping her wrist and the other around her throat. With a terrible force, he pushed her backwards, slamming her back into the topiary behind her. She felt the sliced branches and twigs pierce through the flimsy material, stabbing deep into her cold flesh. With the blade still firmly in her hand, he simply held her there, staring deep into her eyes.
I am still the predator,” he whispered, a dark and possessive promise to his words, “And you will always be my prey.”
With wide eyes that revealed the terror in his statement, Willow’s mouth parted slowly. She had never truly understood Switch’s part in her story, and though she had little clue now, a spark of realisation surfaced.
“What do you want of me?” she rasped, “What will you do, if I ever stop fighting and simply allow you to have me?”
A strange mix of emotions swarmed through his black and feasting eyes. There were things she recognised; hunger, carnal craving, feral possessiveness. Yet if she was not mistaken, there was a touch of sadness. It was there for only a moment, before his depraved and sinful grin returned.
“You will never,” he whispered, “And that is why it is so much fun.”
A slight lessening to his fierce grip, he leant forward slowly, pressing a deceiving and delicate kiss upon her lips. For a moment, she felt herself sigh into his embrace. A languid contentment came upon her, a calm comfort within his tender caress. But as she returned his affections with the trace of her tongue, she felt the curious sensation of arcana brushing against her flesh. As her mind fought the enchantment, she felt his grasp on her loosen as he sunk further into the kiss. She saw her opportunity, suddenly ripping herself free, veering to the left of him to spin and slip up behind him. Her movements were faster than they had ever been, too fast for him to see or predict as she launched her weight forward and shoved him into the topiary with the blade pressed firmly to the back of his neck. As she grinned, quite pleased with herself, he proved once again that she knew little of the extent of his tricks. He vanished. Simply disappearing from her grasp, without a spoken word or subtle movement.
“You will never stop fighting,” came his rasping voice from behind her.
She swiftly span on her heel, frowning deeply to see him standing behind her, leaning casually upon the stone archway to the labyrinth.
What are you?” she growled in frustration.
His dastardly grin appeared in clear delight. Though she stared piercing and shrewd eyes towards him, she knew there was no chance of an answer.
“Come along,” he smirked, ignoring her question, “It has been four days since you accepted the contract. The client grows restless…”

With only a few hours before the break of dawn, Willow and Switch ran through the streets of Cathsill. Under the cover of darkness, the pair slinked through the back alleys of the winding region, making their way to the largest building upon the immense hill. It was known that the High Cardinal lived in towering three story estate, a palace only rivalled by the Adarium itself. It was not surprising, as Matharyn was truly a city that honoured their church as much as they did their royal family. Though Willow had passed the grounds many times while she had lived in the city, the grand mansion’s size could not truly be appreciated until it was seen up close. As they perched upon the tall stone brick wall that surrounded the estate, Willow surveyed the scene with calculating eyes bordered by a pulling frown. She did not have the time to search each and every room, as she had heard many times that there was rumoured to be close to one hundred chambers with the palace. For a moment, she simply watched the slow patrol of the guarding soldiers. When they saw a small statured chambermaid exit the grand chateau via the kitchen doors, Willow saw her chance. With the leisurely patrol rounding the far corner, she dropped from the great wall with Switch in close pursuit. Knowing well that the power of invisibility hid her approach, she was swift in her silent run, quickly wrapping her hand around the chambermaid’s mouth and dragging her back into the bushes along the edge of the gated wall. With great disdain, Switch retrieved the chamber pot the girl had been emptying, stashing it into the shrubbery beside the entrance. With quiet words and malicious eyes, Willow warned the maid to silence.
“Where is the Cardinal’s chamber?” Willow whispered.
The frightened maid stammered as she fought to hold back her frightened tears. When Willow pushed her dagger tighter into her throat, the woman began to tremble in her hands.
“I cannot not tell you,” the woman breathed, “I will not tell you!”
Eyes flashing crimson with feral warning of a soaring temper.
“I will not give you another chance,” she rasped viciously, “Tell me where his chamber is or I will slit your throat.”
As the war of indecision plagued the frail woman, true terror widened her eyes. Willow waited for her answer, blade held tight in preparation to silence any scream. Suddenly, as Switch strolled to their side, the woman’s eyes darted to his. As he reached out a tender hand, tracing it along her cheek, a calm look of enrapture overcame her face.
“Tell me dear,” he whispered sweetly, “Where are the High Cardinal’s chambers? And how do I get there?”
As if she was unaware she was held within the grasp of a blade, she replied as if to a lover, the woman blushed as she answered.
“The top floor,” she hushed, “In the very centre, follow the main corridor through the great hall, he sleeps in the bedchamber in the third door to the right.”
“And may we enter?” he breathed.
“Yes, of course,” she blushed.
Willow frowned, unsure exactly what he had done or how he had done it. Though her flushed complexion and fluttering eyes were peculiar, her next action was utterly baffling. With a slight nod as if she was agreeing to an unspoken command, she grabbed hold of Willow’s hand that held the blade and thrust it through her own throat. In shock, Willow released her hold on the woman, dropping the limp and bleeding form to the ground. She looked to Switch with wide eyes of fear and repulsion. She had known him to be sadistic and callous, she had known him to be a cruel and depraved creature. But as the cunning man simply smirked and scoffed at her unsettled composure, she realised just how little she knew of him. Willow had never heard of magic so strong that it could compel an innocent to simply take their own life. It was with renewed worriment that she looked upon him. She had become comfortable around him; over time she had grown contented knowing that her skill had begun to match his own. But as she watched the life bleed from the frail woman’s throat, she felt she had grossly underestimated his strength.
“Lets go,” he said coldly, “You have little time and I will not aid you again.”
As she slowly inclined her head, turning from the body, she shook her head to clear it. No matter how callous, she still had a contract to complete.
After scaling up along the cast iron pipes, the pair reached the top floor window that housed the grand staircase. Deftly unlocking the glass aperture, they climbed through and swiftly prowled their way through the long and winding hallways, until they reached the grand arch that opened into a high vaulted chamber. Though it was late into the night, edging ever closer to morning, the large hall was not unoccupied. A small rank of pious knights stood in unwavering vigilance around the various entrances to the chamber. They wore large and embellished sets of glistening silver armour, marked with the livery of the grand High Cardinal Vitallian of Estyllis. These were the elite order of Knights Templar, tasked with the protection and safety of one of Mitra’s own. Even shielded by the shroud of invisibility, Willow still did not wish to test her steps by walking through the hall. With a silent signal to Switch, she retrieved a vial from her belt pouch and drank its contents. The potion contained the same curious magic that allowed her climb and scale the walls with spider-like efficiency. She pressed her hands against the passage wall, feeling the strange hairlike fibres along her fingers cling to the stone. In utter silence, she climbed high, passing through the ornate hall, over and out of sight of the unaware guardians.
When she entered the third door to the right, she saw it opened out into a large and luxurious sitting room, lit by only a few candles. To the far end of the chamber was another archway, one that revealed an elderly man deep within the grasp of slumber. Though eager to simply walk forward and take his life as he slept, caution kept her still by the entrance. Quietly, she peered through the doorway, eyes wide and thankful that she had listened to her instincts. At the eastern side of the chamber, hidden from view of the door, was an arrangement of fine tailored chairs and a small silver rimmed table. Sitting upon the armchair closest to the wall, was a glorious being of light. At first glance, Willow thought the rumours were true. The High Cardinal was guarded by an angel of Mitra, wings of pure white light that hung from his shining armour, eyes that glowed a radiant sapphire. For a moment, Willow’s resolve faltered. As she saw the mighty flail clasped to his belt, battle-worn and sturdy, she considered her dissolving options. As she watched the being for a time, she frowned. He was relaxed in the armchair, reading from a tome at an unhurried pace by the light from a single candle. As he reached forward to sip from his ceramic cup, cursing under his breath as he burnt his lips on the hot brew, Willow quirked her head. Upon further inspection, she realised he was not an angel of light, but simply a human with celestial blood. An aasimar, a man born with partial heavenly ancestor. Though his strength and power were not to be underestimated, he was not the tremendous threat that Willow had assumed. She considered eliminating him first, but swiftly dismissed the idea. If she was correct in her assumption, the glowing of his eyes granted him the ability to see through her shroud and disguise. She could not risk revealing her cards before she had played them. And so she moved with eery grace, unheard steps as she prowled through the shadowed chamber, using the decorative furniture as cover. As she entered the bedchamber, she had not noticed that Switch had vanished from sight, no longer trailing behind her. Her attention was focused solely on her approach of the sleeping man. As her steps brought her to the side of his opulent four poster bed, she looked over his face. For a man so worshiped, for a man so revered; he was simply only a man. As Willow drew her ruby blade from its sheath, her eyes narrowed upon her target. Calmly, she lifted the blade to the running vein of his jugular. By habit, she exhaled slowly. As she thrust the blade deep into his neck, her head suddenly whipped to the archway.
NO!” screamed the aaismar, “What have you done, serpent?!”
As his blazing eyes glared with vile hatred, Willow knew he truly saw her. He did not see the face she wore by the work of the arcane circlet; he saw her for who she truly was. With profane might seething through her limbs, she tore the blade in savage wrath across his neck, severing his head from his shoulders.
As the sound of thundering footsteps trembled the tiled floor as the knights ran toward the room, the aaismar charged at her with vengeance contorting his face. Willow ripped the scroll from her belt, hastening the arcane incantation. As the vortex of lurid light flashed before her eyes, she could not stop the grin that lifted her lips. The magic gripped hold of her frame, echoing his final vicious words as it tore her through the portal.

As the sun rose over the eastern forest that encircled the city of Matharyn, a dense cloud of black smothered its light. When the city awoke, it cried in forlorn ache for the loss of one of its most treasured members. The streets of Cathsill were flooded with mourning souls who travelled to pay their deepest respects to the church and the family of the late High Cardinal Vitallian of Estyllis. In every door way and window, drapes and sashes of solemn black were hung. Every man wore garbs of ebony, every woman wore veils of sable. The mighty bells of the Cathedral of the Shining Lord played their sombre tune, in grief and in honour of the passing of their Most Holy. As even the sun struggled to lighten the skies or the hearts of the people, Matharyn was truly a city in mourning.
“They say the High Cardinal passed away last night,” Bor said conversationally as he entered the main library to find Willow curled up in the inglenook, “A peaceful death in his sleep. Old age apparently.”
Although he spoke easily as if simply informing Willow of the news, his shrewd eyes deceived his calm.
“Truly?” she said lightly, not looking up from her book, “Such a shame, I did not think he was that old.”
“Neither did I,” Bor smirked, “But when your time is up…”
Willow felt the corner of her lip turn up as she smiled.
“May I help you with something Bor?” she asked, lowering her book.
“Perhaps,” he shrugged, “Last night I had been reading through the journal of someone I assume is your ancestor, Istarn Gharshfell Monteguard?”
“Istarn the Tormentor,” Willow smirked, “I am sure you have found much in common with him.”
“Indeed,” he sniggered, though his sly gaze did not waver, “I wished to know if you had anything else on him, because I couldn’t find anything more. But when I went to your quarters, the doors were open and the rooms were empty.”
“And?” Willow arched her brow.
“And your armour and weapons were gone,” he replied.
“Were you worried for my safety?” she drawled condescendingly.
Bor chuckled, a feral grin upon his lips, “Not at all, Willow.”
“Where is your line of questioning heading, Bor?” she asked, “Do you wish to know what I was doing, or whom I was with?”
He laughed, shaking his head.
“It is curious, that’s all. You disappear into the night, and by morning the High Cardinal has died in his sleep.”
“Are you in mourning?” she pouted, “Will you weep for your loss?”
He simply grinned, raising his brow.
“No,” he chuckled, “I shall simply sleep with one eye open…”

When the three days came to an end, and Pellius and Garvana had finally awoken, the scene played out far more civil and organised. The servants of the Monteguard house had been chosen wisely for their infallible dedication to the family and their allies. Pellius and Garvana were assigned a willing host to feed from, ready and waiting for their eyes to open once more. While Atwood saw to Garvana’s awakening, Bor and Willow observed Pellius as he rose from the clutches of death. Though Willow knew if Pellius was to turn upon them, she would be rendered powerless, Bor’s strength gave her confidence. With a willing meal waiting for him, Pellius drank and sated his bloodlust before it had time to take hold. She sat alone by his bedside, as he slept through the fatigue and heavy weight of gluttonous feeding, while she read more upon the consequences of the vampiric curse. When his eyes opened, they found her slowly, a small frown pulling on his brow.
“Strange,” he rasped, through a dry throat, “I can hear the others in the house, I can hear their hearts beating. But when I listen for you, I do not hear a thing…”

Allowing time to recover from the strenuous transformations, the Forsaken took time to rest. When night approached, and Willow rose from her daylight slumber, she frowned to see that she woke alone. After bathing and dressing, she went in search of Pellius, entering the basement library to find him sitting on the floor. Surrounded by various stacks of books, he leant upon the podium, while Garvana stood straight backed reading from an open tome. She laughed to see him so relaxed, engrossed in the lore that the library held.
“What are you doing?” she chuckled.
He smiled, looking up to her amidst the layers of parchment.
“We are sorting through the tomes,” he shrugged, “We should be able to replicate these books and restore the faith in time. It is truly advantageous that your family have kept the library a secret after all these years.”
“Do not throw anything out,” she instructed, arching her brow, “Though some need not be public knowledge, I do not wish to lose any of it.”
“Of course not, my lady,” he chuckled, inclining his head.
“When you have a spare moment,” she smirked, “I’d like a word with you.”
He slowly closed the tome in his hands, arching his brow in return.
“I have a moment now,” he said in a low and suggestive voice.
“You can not even wait until leave the room?” Garvana recoiled.
Willow laughed as Pellius grinned and slowly approached her side. When they left the chamber and Garvana’s rolling eyes behind, Willow escorted Pellius through the cellar and up through the spiral stairs. As they reached the main library, she accepted his offered arm and chuckled at his intrigued grin.
“I was wondering,” she began slowly, almost a shyness to her words, “If you’d like to join me this evening. I suppose you have met Niritta, the Chelaxian servant?”
“I have,” he replied, arching his brow.
“She served the Monteguard’s in Cheliax, those who remained when my great grandfather came here. She has an unusually beautiful voice. Well suited to the upper soprano ballads of Chelaxian tales. She used to sing for the family at their gatherings. I have asked her to sing for us tonight…”
A smile split his face, a true eagerness lighting his eyes.
“I would very much like that, my lady,” he said cordially.
“Very well,” she nodded, “I shall tell Niritta to prepare.”
Though she wore a satin gown of deep mahogany, it was far simpler than she would usually wear to a night of music and song. When he noticed her frown as she looked to her dress, he chuckled softly.
“You look beautiful, Willow,” he reassured, “You always do.”
Although she laughed at his flattery, she appreciated it all the same.
After time enough had passed for the young maid to retrieve her music sheets and prepare the large chamber for a small private show, Willow and Pellius entered the ballroom. The staff had arranged a pair of finely made armchairs, high cushioned backs made from the softest velvets. They sat around a small oak table, topped with an ornate and glistening silver tray, containing two crystal wine glasses and a bottle of thick vintage red. Though wine no longer provided the linger of inebriation, Willow had always enjoyed it for the taste. One of the servants poured their glasses as they sat, bowing before quickly disappearing from the chamber. Instinctively, Willow leaned towards Pellius, placing her hand upon his knee. Niritta entered the chamber, bowing low and respectful before taking up her position at the head of the piano. With skilled hands, she slowly began the introduction to a sombre tune, heavy notes that bellowed through the high ceiling chamber. As her fingers danced along the keys, Pellius leant in close to whisper in Willow’s ear.
“She starts with my favourite song!” he commented, arching his brow, “She must have a good ear.”
Through out her accompaniment, Willow could not help but simply watch Pellius. Although the music was beautiful, songs that spoke to the heart; his unwavering rapt attention was far the more interesting show to watch. His instinctual breathing followed the climbing notes, sinking low in his chest as the song descended. He mouthed the words as she sang them, closing his eyes tightly as the stories turned to bitter sorrow. All the while, Willow sipped from her glass, feeling the aching emotions that played upon his face. When the last notes lingered in echo through the chamber, he swiftly stood from his chair, marching towards the piano. For a moment, Niritta’s eyes were filled with muted fear, hidden behind her well practiced professional face. As he bowed and offered his hand to her, Willow almost laughed. She had never seen him display such respect to one below his station.
“Shelyn has blessed your hands and your voice,” he said truthfully, “Truly exceptional.”
“Thank you,” Niritta bowed, “You honour me too much, my lord.”
“If I may?” Pellius asked, indicating to the grand darkwood piano.
“Oh,” Niritta frowned, momentarily taken aback by his question, quickly recovering with a bow and an outstretched arm, “Of course, my lord.”
As he inclined his head, he slowly moved to the head of the grand instrument. His eyes traced over the keys as his fingers lingered in a caress. He pressed a few solid notes, familiarizing himself with the piano once more. As the notes began a deep and rumbling bass and feathered high into harmony, he fingers slowly began to play a song. As his voice joined the mournful melody, Willow fixed sight was drawn unbreakably to him.
“It is hard to fathom that things can ever get better,” he crooned softly, solemn words resounding deeply from his chest, “I have been drowning too long to believe that the tide shall turn. I have been living too hard to believe that things can get easier. I forever try to shed the pain from the lessons I have learned…
As his fingers plunged the keys down, the thundering ballad trembled with the weight and intensity of his words. His deep and baritone voice bellowed with fierce and mighty truth.
“And if I see the King, I swear to the Lord I will slay him! Take it from me, for I swear I will let it be so! Blood will run down his face when he is beheaded! His skull and crown on my mantle is how I will let this world know…”
Slowly, as his words drifted and the melody slowed to an aching crawl, he looked up from the piano. With a gaze filled with untold tenderness and passion, he looked to Willow, as the last words softly slipped from his lips.
“How much I love you…
Though her heart did not beat, it clenched tightly all the same. She simply held her glass her to lips, frozen in the moment, unable to respond. There was no blood to flush to her skin, although she still felt the blushing heat her cheeks.
“I apologise,” Niratta swiftly bowed, eyes wide in shock and fear, “Please excuse me and forgive my intrusion.”
It was the servants aburput exit that had Willow’s mind finally reassemble enough to snap her from her paralysis.
“You play quite well, Pellius,” she said calmly, although her mind raced and rattled inside her head, “I knew you could sing, but I was unaware you could command the piano.”
She heard the words of a cordial answer, though the exacts did not register. She slowly stood from her chair, unable to reconnect eye contact. The repercussions of his words were uncountable. She had only one set of rules when they had begun; that her heart was not hers to give. But as his words delighted her and lifted her cold heart from its rest, she knew she had failed in her one edict. Worse still, she had led his heart to the slaughter. As she lowered her glass to the table, she did her best to ignore the way her hands shook. She turned to him, a polite smile plastered on her face.
“Thank you for you company,” she inclined her head, “It has been a most pleasant evening.”
She gave a short bow, before hurriedly walking towards the large glass doors that opened out onto the terrace.
“Willow?” Pellius frowned, pushing up from the chair.
Without another word, she quickly threw open the doors, marching across the marble tiles and racing as she descended the stairs. As she reached the cobblestone pathway that led into the gardens, she rasped the command word to activate her ring, feeling comfort in the embrace of unseen arcana. She heard her name being called in worry from the terrace, but she could not turn to face him. She simply ran into the night, heavy layers of fabric draping through the thorns and bushes, tearing the soft sheets to shreds. When she reached the stone bench that surrounded the most southeasterly fountain, she collapsed back upon the seat, heart crushed by the weight of agony. That night, she simply remained stationary in the cold touch of darkened shadow. It was only as the sun began to trace the horizon that she was forced to make her return to the manor. As the terrace came into view, she shook her heavy head. She was unwilling to face the quandary that awaited her. She was unwilling to lie, and tell him she did not feel the same. But she could not tell him the truth; those words, however true, felt akin to the greatest betrayal of herself. And so slipped through the quiet halls as dawn approached, silently entering her parents’ chambers. With no sound nor sight, she pulled the blinds shut. She fell into the cushioned bed, knowing sleep would bring no comfort, hoping things would be easier come tomorrow.

As dusk came to the city of Matharyn the following night, the Forsaken gathered in the main parlour, to plan their attack on the Adarium. With their knowledge of the palace in short supply, they had need to reach out to their contacts in the city, and source what information they could. Their two main leads lay with the Baroness Vanya of Veryn and the Breuder family. Upon leaving Daveryn they had cleared safe passage from the ruined city and instructed Veryn to return to her holdings in Matharyn. As part of the Barcan line, she had attended court upon personal invitation form the royal family, and it was likely she had either seen the inside of the Adarium, or at least knew of it. For the Breuder family, Anton had pointed them in the direction of his cousin Nicholas. In exchange for safety and supplies, he had assured the Forsaken with promise of connections within the city. Willow knew of Nicholas Breuder. When she had lived in the city of Matharyn, she had used him and his men for simple things such as hired muscle and smuggling contraband. It was Nicholas that had initiated the connection between her and Switch. Though now, she was unsure exactly how that had come about, it seemed not by the coincidence of fate as she had first thought.
As they arranged their evening, Willow smiled to Pellius, a cordial and amicable warmness. Though she continued on as if nothing had happened, she felt the closed wall building within her. She was quick to pull out her own seat before he had the chance. She sat herself on the opposite side of the room as they leaned over the table. She was never rude, nor cold, simply distant and seemingly busy.
Willow sent word with Atwood to the Baroness, telling her to expect them late that evening. As the sun disappeared below the western edge of the horizon, the Forsaken made their way through town, towards the barbershop that fronted the Breuder’s business. Walking through the solemn streets, they looked much the part of grieving residents. Willow and Garvana wore gowns of black, long layered shawls that matched the netted veils they draped across their faces. Pellius and Bor wore thick black bands around their arms, tied in a curled tuck that held a long sable ribbon. As they approached the small barbershop, Pellius opened the door for Willow, allowing her to enter first. When the bell upon the doorframe chimed, a small stout man strolled in from the backroom.
“We’re closed,” he grunted, “We ain’t do women either.”
Willow pulled back the veil over her head, allowing the magic of her circlet to dissipate and reveal her true face. As the man’s eyes widened in fear and shock, Willow slowly smirked.
“Hello Marcus,” she said quietly.
“M-mistress Willow,” he stammered, “I-I thought you were dead?”
Raising her brows at his rudeness, the others entered and sealed the door behind them.
“I am,” she answered dryly, “I have little time for pleasantries. We’ve come to see Nicholas.”
“Course mam,” he nodded quickly, stumbling over his feet as he rushed to the backroom entrance, “I’ll let ‘im know!”
“Seems he remembers you well, my lady,” Pellius smirked.
Willow grinned, “He would want to. At our last meeting, I promised to skin him alive if he made another lewd pass at me…”

When Marcus returned, he ushered them through the back rooms and into the adjoining building. As they followed the hallway, they were led into a dimly lit and smokey chamber, where three men sat hunched over a table. When Willow stepped into the room, Nicholas Breuder stood from his chair.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Breuder laughed, coughing the smoke from his lungs, “Maybe Marcus ain’t gone dull after all. Never thought I’d see your pretty face again.”
Willow’s lip curled slightly as she eyed the small man. He roughly the same height as her, with receding slicked back greasy brown hair, that had looked as if it hadn’t been washed in the entire time she had known him. He grinned a feral smile full of missing and cracked teeth that clenched the foot of an embered cigar.
“I could have lived a long and happy life without seeing yours,” Willow satirized.
“As charming and mannerly as ever,” he chuckled, “So, who’ve we got here?”
“Friends of mine,” she introduced, “Pellius, Bor and Garvana. This is Nicholas Brueder, Anton’s cousin.”
“Anton?” Breuder frowned, before his eyes narrowed as realisation dawned, “You’re the girl Andy sent the message about? You’re those guys?”
“If by those guys, you mean the ones who found your cousin hiding in the Daveryn sewers,” Willow droned, “Then yes, we are those guys.”
“Huh,” he grunted, twisting the cigar within his teeth, “Makes sense I guess.”
Willow was not interested in asking for an explanation to his words.
“We need information,” she said sharply.
“What do yer want to know?” he asked, raising his brow.
“We need a way into the Adarium,” she sternly, “We need maps, we need the layout.”
“The Adarium?” he grinned, wafting smoke from his teeth, “Setting yer sights high these days.”
Do you have a way or not?” Bor growled threateningly.
Breuder simply puffed upon the cigar, blowing a stream of thick smoke in the orc’s face.
“Sure do,” he smiled, “Matter of fact the boys just got their hands on blueprints for the place. Aint sure what we was gonna do with ‘em. Could be fun to see what you do.”
“Good,” Willow clipped, “We need them without delay.”
Brueder grinned towards her for a moment, though the irritation at being ordered about was clear in his eyes. Slowly, he blew a cloud of smoke into her face. With Willow’s lack of need to breathe, she was unfazed by the dense sheet of foul white. But she was never willing to tolerate such contumelious behaviour. Faster than eyes could track, she ripped her dagger from between the folds of her dress, carving it through the air at frightening speed. With perfect precision, she sliced the cigar in half, sending the ember flying into the bricked wall. The foot of the cigar slowly dropped from Brueder’s lips to the floor, his face frozen in his grin, though the irritation in his eyes swiftly morphed into intimidation.
“Without delay,” Willow repeated, leisurely returning her blade to its sheath.
“Right yer are,” he nodded, looking back to the men around the table, signalling them to retrieve the blueprints, “Afraid I aint got anythin’ more on the Adarium. Aint no public place now is it.”
“We need to keep informed on the word around town,” Pellius instructed, “Our presence here is to remain secret, but we must know what is going on in the streets.”
“Right,” he nodded, “The boys know the goings on. Talk to ‘em if you wish.”
A young wretch of a child scurried through the chamber, handing Brueder the rolled parchment with his eyes downcast. As he scampered back into the other room, Willow could not help but smile.
“Is there anythin’ else?” Breuder asked, still grinning, though with far less enthusiasm.
“I do not believe so,” Pellius said, turning to Willow, “My lady?”
“One more thing,” she said slyly, arching her brow, “I need your men to spread a truth through the city. I need them to make it known in each region of Matharyn, from every farmer to every priest, every man, woman and child.”
“What do you want them to say?” Breuder asked warily.
“That the High Cardinal did not die naturally in his sleep,” Willow rasped, “That Vitallian was not near old enough to die from age. He was slaughtered. Tell them that a force of bitter darkness found its way into his chamber and slit his throat as he slept. Tell them, that if Mitra could not save even him, that if Mitra would turn his back on the holiest of holies, the most pious and devoted; what possible hope do they have…?”

Between the amount of information they gained that night, they were far better prepared for the infiltration of the Adarium. The thugs working for Breuder had provided the blueprints and Baroness Vanya had filled in many details of the rooms she had visited. She had also given them information that proved the ranting of Cardinal Ignatius, the cowering man they had discovered in Farholde, held much truth. The Adarium was in fact guarded by magically created automatons. They had known of the furnace golems, just shy of twenty foot tall constructs, built to look like gigantic men clad in black iron armor. Each donning large grate-covered opening in its abdomen, that housed its roaring fire sweltering within its innards. But it was not these arcane creations that had the Forsaken worried. It was the existence of another, crafted from the illustrious rare metal; quicksilver. With little comprehension of how such a thing was even possible, they set plans to seek out the fabled creator of the mithral golem come morning.
After a quick return to the manor, they decided to follow up on a strange curiosity they had uncovered. Breuder’s men were filled with rumours and tales of the city of Matharyn. Much of their banter was useless, but as one of the thugs had mentioned his discovery of an old and decrepit Asmodean temple in the sewers, the Forsaken listened intently. With a crudely drawn map of the underground system, they prowled the dark streets by the soft light of the shrinking moon. It was in the deepest part of Arynsill that they found what they were looking for. Once, a great dwarven bridge connected Haldynsill to Arynsill, but it more than a century ago it collapsed and most of it crumbled into the sea off of the steep teetering cliff side of Cambrain Bay. The great stone blocks that remained had since been hollowed out, and a line of heavy stone buildings now tracing the route of the bridge. It was known that long ago, Arynsill was the site of the old Iraen capital. Current residents of the region were still forever digging up small bits of pottery and stone arrow-heads in their gardens. Every once in a while, someone found something of tremendous value, or genuinely arcane mystery. Such magical items could be quite dangerous, as they had been buried for so long that the original magic had degraded, leaving behind unstable remnants of past and obscure arcana.
It was behind the rows of stone buildings, hidden within the rubble and debris of the bridge, that the Forsaken found the entrance to the sewers. Nature had taken back its land, rippling vines and tendrillar blankets of stems and leaves had overgrown the rock-strewn ruins. Dense and soiled moss coated the harsh grey blocks, mushrooms sprouted in the crevices and cracks, nets of climbing foliage covering the ancient paths. Hidden beneath the sea of green was a rusted and brown metal grate. When they looked closer, it was clear the vines that had once held the grate shut, had been torn free to allow someone entry. Upon quiet feet, the Forsaken slid through the hollow, engulfed by the putrid stench of rotting and reeking waste. Willow grimaced as her feet sunk into the wet and loathsome shallows, wrapping a sash around her face to shield her from the worst of the odour.
For the better part of an hour, they followed the winding sewers deep underground, retracing the thugs steps. Just as he had told them, they eventually came upon a curious hole in the wall. The panel of stone that had once sealed the tunnel, had long ago been broken from its hinges, revealing a secret chamber beyond. Without a map and direction, it would have been impossible to find, a chamber lost in time held within the deepest part of untended gutters. Slowly, the four of them climbed the small stairs, stepping through the archway and into the long hall. The harsh stone brick walls told of slow and steady decay. Dirt and grime festered along the grout, fragments and shreds of once glorious banners hanging from rusted hooks, mould and moss clustered around the doorway. The Forsaken carefully trod through the debris, quietly moving through the chamber, hands resting on the pommels of their weapons. When they reached the far doorway, the hall opened out into small square chamber.
Turn back now, if you value your own lives,” a manic and threatening voice echoed through the room.
“Show yourself!” Garvana demanded, pulling her great mace free from its clasp.
“I will do no such thing!” the voice laughed harshly, “You shall not heed my warning? So be it. Rise, my children!”
Movement stirred from the shadowed corners of the chamber, slump figures waking from their rest. Rotted flesh, corroded bones and tainted souls hastily collided to form and rise from the state of death. With crumbling limbs and ramshackle movements, the putrid forms advanced on the Forsaken. It was a swift and befouled battle that ensued, diseased shreds of rancid flesh showering the chamber, weeping froth of festering innards cascading in a vile spray that rained upon them. As the last of the wretched creatures fell strewn in pieces to the floor, the floor beneath them trembled. From deep within the pits of the temple, the muffled sound of thrashing chains shattering stone reverberated through the chamber.
Fools!” the voice hissed, “You wish to die? Then come forth and face my glorious wrath!”
A vicious chant began, arcane words drifting from the crack beneath the ancient door. Pellius charged forward, his face contorting with rage as he hefted his leg and slammed it into the door, obliterating it in a shower of wooden splinters. The Forsaken swarmed through the opening and out into what appeared to be an old prayer chamber. At the head of the room was an ancient altar, decayed and fractured, worn stains of black blood streaking down its front. Standing atop the stone, was a man draped in shredded and filthy robes, brandishing a scythe that glowed an eery translucent blue. He looked a moment from death, gaunt, malnourished and sick, skin swathing upon visible bones. Though the chamber hung in the eery scent of death and decay, it was him that the foreboding menace pulsed from.
Taste the bitter sweet touch of death,” he crooned, “Get them, children! Feast upon them so they may rise among your number!”
The necromancer swayed his hands in centrifugal motion, summoning forth his vile arcana, forcing more rotten bodies to rise from the ground. As Pellius and Bor charged forward, the man launched his hands into the air, inciting a torrent of flames to explode throughout the chamber. Willow weaved her way through the flames, ducking under the attacks of the heinous abominations as she passed. From the doorway, Garvana began a callous incantation, rasping words spoken in an almost inhuman brutality. Suddenly, a streak of searing flame that blazed violet, shot from her fingertips. The chamber was shaken with diabolic fury, profane ire hurtling towards the necromancer. Though he floated above the altar, when the flame hit, he was pummelled by the force. He crashed into the wall and slid down, falling out of sight behind the dais. While Bor and Pellius slaughtered the foul creatures, Willow raced towards where the man had fallen. With sinister grace, she leaped forward, scaling the dais to land upon the stone altar. Though the great block beneath her feet trembled under her slight weight, she struck down with her blades, carving through the gaunt and tired flesh. Though scalded and charred, the necromancer still lived. From deeper within the temple, a frightening roar of feral savagery sounded. The reverberation of thrashing chains intensified, as if what ever was held within the pits, fought more eagerly to escape.
NO!” cried the necromancer, as Willow unleashed a flurry of fierce attacks, “Come to me, children! Save your master!”
Though the dead remaining turned to obey his command, with missing limbs and collapsing bones, they were not near quick enough. Pellius charged forward, using sheer strength to pull his great weight atop of the altar. As Willow leapt down beside the necromancer, he pushed himself up from the floor. He drew two wands from his shredded robes, pointing them threateningly towards the two intruders who faced him.
“You will rue the day you tried to face me,” he growled.
As the arcane commands left his lips, Pellius cleaved his weapon and shattered the wand pointed towards Willow. Abruptly, the other let loose a pellet of white flame, erupting into an inferno centred between Pellius and the necromancer. Willow dove from the fires path, but could do nothing save watch as it engulfed the two men. The scent of burning flesh wafted from the blaze, the vivid scarlet flames billowing to the ceiling. As the chorus of chains and vicious cries echoed from beyond the room, Willow turned and watched through the shroud of flame to see the fighting end. The necromancers eyes widened in fear, his mouth rushing desperate words of arcane power – but it was not enough. With one foul swing, Pellius shattered his jaw, ripping the decaying and weakened flesh and bone from his face. It was an abhorrent display of sheer force and strength. The necromancer, and the remains of his children, fell to floor by the consuming hunger of death.

Curious and apprehensive eyes looked to one another, as the Forsaken approached the barred door to the rear of the chamber. The rumbling had not ceased, the chains still thrashed, the creature within still roared in venomous fury. It was clear that what was held below, was a fearsome and ferocious threat. Slowly, Bor pulled free the large plank that held sealed the door from the outside. They followed the tunnel as it wound deeper and further underground. When the lash of a chain forced the stone around them to shake violently, the clutched their weapons tighter. The passage opened wide into an ancient and decrepit chamber, high vaulted ceilings covered in low hanging stalactites, cracked marble tiles littered with sharp stalagmites. In the centre of the vast room, trapped within a ritualistic pentagram carved into the stone floor, was the largest devil Willow had ever seen. Bristling with terrible spines trailing its arching back, adorned with a crown of feral cutting horns, immense and terrifying boned wings wide and outstretched. Rising to a horrifying height of almost ten feet, the ferocious devil towered above them. Clutched in his hand, he wielded a whirling barbed chain, each link larger than Willow’s head. He leered towards them, malicious black eyes full of hatred and wrath. Though he was fearsome in mere sight, it was the grin that slithered as he spoke that truly awoke the terrible fear within them.

He told me you’d be coming…”

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