Shadows danced along the walls, flitting about chaotically as though cast by crows flying through the air. Blake surmised it was a necromancy spell that secured their location, not that that was a concern for her since she was still concealed within Txori’s shadow. Blake’s concern was her apparent identical twin, She Who Quests For Completion, walking alongside the group as though having taken Blake’s spot. The hallway they were in was very familiar to Blake now, as they were headed towards a sanctum that doubled as the office for Professor Enriquez, master necromancer and faculty at the Raiton Academy.
Blake peeked at her peers while they walked. Sam seemed more resolute than she had seen him before, perhaps the reality of the Scarlet Throne had settled in now that the Scarlet Empress was dead. Txori seemed calm, almost bland, but Blake could smell the adrenaline coursing through her body. External appearances aside, Blake knew that Txori was as fired up as anyone, ready to fight anyone at a moment’s notice to protect her Emperor and her beloved homeland. Grey was nervously fidgeting with a magnet and wire, calming himself with new methods of invention. Joshua was looking around, taking in the sights, as being in the Underworld was apparently new to him, but he showed no fear nor hesitation, only an anticipation to save Creation. Chelsea walked with a quiet determination, knowing that there was no turning back from the path she had now chosen for herself.
Soon the ivory-adorned mahogany double doors appeared before them, and She Who Quests casually pushed them open without knocking. A massive circular table apparently carved from black stone stood in the center of the room which was dimly lit and filled with bookcases and shelves of tomes. Seated at the table already were Professor Enriquez himself as well as two other faculty members that Blake recognized, Professors Cooper and Andres. Professor Enriquez looked young as always, permanently so due to his untimely death but his spirit burned as strong as Blake had ever seen it. Professor Cooper was still shadowy and mysterious as always, cloaked in black and wreathed in darkness, while Professor Andres was still her serene, beautiful and powerful self, her white eyes piercing through any mystery, even those of Professor Cooper.
Professor Enriquez stood excitedly. “Ah, my friends. Welcome. I am excited to see you have accepted my invitation. I am looking forward to getting to know you better. It’s okay now, Blake, you should probably make your dramatic entrance.”
Damn the Professor and his insight, Blake sighed to herself. Then with a swirl and flash of shadow, Blake appeared standing next to her double, peering at her friends. She Who Quests started slightly, then smiled. Blake wasn’t sure if she liked seeing that smile or not.
“You’re the first ones here,” Professor Enriquez said, “But our allies will be arriving shortly. In fact, I expect that Iselsi Kagami is already here.” Sure enough, Samuel’s nephew stepped from a shadow behind a bookcase and inclined his head slightly at Professor Enriquez.
Next to arrive were several men clad in purple armor, stating that they were envoys from Kami, Hunter, and Olivia. Their captain, a bearded southerner, introduced himself as Decatholac Mango, and explained that Kami had sent them with the assurance that Kami intended to commit the full might of the Eastern Solar Empire to their cause, should they be able to wrest control of the Golden Army away from the Bull of the North. The next to arrive were several emissaries of the cities of the South. Military and diplomatic officials from several cities walked in, and one of them was none other than Sangro, representing Paragon. As Txori broke off from the group to interview Sangro, Joshua jumped and strode to another door as TJ Severus walked through it, smiling triumphantly at the gathering.
Several other figures arrived soon: Rocky, the Jokkun, representing the terrestrial courts of the South, and Rebma, a stern, older woman representing the Gemstone Intelligence Agency and claiming to speak for the Western Alliance of Coral and Wavecrest. A young woman with long black hair arrived, saying she was Lucinda and she was a friend of the Doctor, a powerful Lunar who could not be present. She also knew who Kami and Hunter were, having adventured with them before, and recognized a large octopus-totem Lunar named Hachi when he arrived. Another Lunar, Tamuz, arrived soon after, who Sam and some of his group recognized. Finally, several Dragon-blooded arrived, startling everyone with their jade armor and humble demeanors. They explained that the Iselsi network had alerted Dragon-blooded all over Creation that the true heir of prophecy had been found, and he must be elevated to the throne or else Creation was truly doomed.
At last, everyone was seated at the great round table, and after introductions were made, Professor Enriquez called upon Sam to present himself to the group. Sam stood, his eyes scanning the entire room deliberately, and began slowly, explaining who he was, his incredible but true story of being pulled out of time, becoming the plaything of the Master who made the prophecy he now held in his hand (having remembered to pull it from its hiding place on the Crimson Gale before it made its final escape). He glossed over most of his recent adventures except to say that he had met many of the attendants before, and that despite their previous differences they all now had a common purpose: bring the Master’s prophecy to its conclusion that did not involve the Ending of Creation.
Several others took turns to speak at Sam’s request. Kagami put forth an impassioned defense of his uncle and a plea for the Realm to continue to be the beacon of civilization holding the Raksha at bay. Decatholac pledged Kami’s services to help heal the rift that had grown between Solar and Dragon-blooded once the Golden Army was secured. Rebma coolly described the progress that Gemstone, Wavecrest and Coral had made in driving back the Skullstone shadowlands and expressed interest in a mutual alliance. Tamuz spoke fiercely on behalf of his beloved Delzahn, calling for the union formed here to destroy their most hated enemy, the Empire of Sand and Bone. Rocky promised assistance but warned that Telessandra was now at large, still technically the Censor of the South and still a massive wild card, no longer beholden to the Gold Faction nor to the demons who had tried so hard to seduce her into service. Finally, Chelsea added perspective of what they had just escaped, and what still loomed as an enemy of Creation that indubitably was already working on a new plan to reclaim Creation.
Sam finally stood again, and asked who would recognize him as the rightful Scarlet Emperor. Everyone in the room immediately stood and pledged in their own way. Sam then decreed that he could not put all of Creation right if he could not set right one corner first. He declared that he wished to make war on the Empire of Sand and Bone once and for all, and that any who would follow him would join his effort. Paragon and the Delzahn could amass an army, and with Exalted at the head, diplomats from other nations preventing any alliances from being made, and with Txori’s massive spy network infecting the Empire’s infrastructure, the Empire could be brought low quickly, and then with that demonstration of power, the declaration of Sam as candidate for the Scarlet Throne could not be ignored. Everyone cheered.
As the meeting room split into smaller groups to prepare lines of communication and initial invasion plans, Blade pulled aside She Who Quests for Completion, who seemed only too happy to join her sister.
“Listen, She Who Quests…. who are you? Why do we have the same face?”
“So it’s true, you still don’t remember everything,” She Who Quests said thoughtfully. “I see. Well, we are sisters. My original name isn’t important anymore, but when you left, I was working for the Night Feathers as a Slide. I missed you terribly, and eventually I asked uncle Tom to take me to where you were. We had been inseparable for so long, I felt empty without you. I knew I was shirking my own duties of the Night Feathers but I felt we could not be apart.”
“Then what happened?” Blake asked, breathless.
“Well, uncle and I got separated in the jungle near the Raiton Academy. I fell into a deep pit, broke some bones, lay dying, and a voice called to me, asking me to choose between my clan and my sister. I chose you, Blake.” As she spoke, her voice nearly trembling, She Who Quests caressed her own cheeks, seemingly touching Blake’s, or perhaps the tattoos that no longer belonged on her face for giving up on the Night Feathers.
“And my new master gave me power. He said he was giving you power as well, but that much would be asked of us later. I asked when he would bring me to you, but you had already escaped on an airship. Now we are together, and we can escape our master together.”
“Okay, that one’s a lie,” a voice said coolly from nearly. It was Chelsea, using her power at Blake’s previous request, and had crept up unknown to She Who Quests with some of Sam’s help and some of Txori’s. Their powers laced around Chelsea and She Who Quests, respectively. Blake smiled, grateful for her friends, then her eyes hardened as she looked again at her sister.
“So you serve, and intend to have me serve as well, then,” Blake said, with a hint of edge to her voice. She Who Quests sighed and made a brushing-off motion towards Chelsea. “Look, as long as we’re together that’s all that matters, right?”
“No, it’s not,” Blake said. “I’m going to help Sam set Creation right, and you can stick around to help, but I will not go into service of any Deathlord or any other such creature. Who is your master, anyway? It’s the same as my patron, right?”
She Who Quests slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. He will reveal himself when the time is right. He said our clan’s blood is strong and we will be called upon to help guide the fate of the Underworld.”
“Gah,” Blake spat dismissively. “Fine then, keep your secrets. Will you stay and help bring down the Empire of Sand and Bone? Or will you crawl back to your master?”
She Who Quests looked tormented, and Blake slowly realized that since her sister had probably fed her name into the Void, she would build up Resonance by fighting the undead. But Blake held firm. This girl had little of Blake’s own strength, she felt. Or did she?
“I will help,” She Who Quests said after a long pause. “We will work together… for now.”
Blake nodded, and gestured back towards the groups that were discussing matters. “Let’s find out how to make ourselves useful then.”
She Who Quests nodded mutely and turned. Only then did Blake see that tucked into the back of She Who Quests’s belt was a black rose.
So it’s true, Blake mused. My patron has been watching. He watches still, I bet. I wonder what he wants.
Tell me everything, the voice rumbled, louder than it seemed possible yet silent at the same time.
“I want to see him first,” Edelweiss said defiantly.
A long pause, and then from a nearby shadow stepped Welkin’s ghost, eyes black like the void, but surrounded with a greenish aura that reflected the Malfean atmosphere around them both. His escort was a man with pale skin and golden spidery veins running across his skin, armored and ready for war.
“You came for me,” Welkin said simply.
“You are my captain,” Edelweiss said, tears still running down her face. “I had to come.”
“But the Crimson Gale was destroyed by Ah Nold. You survived?”
“I am no longer the God of the Crimson Gale. Now I am the God of Loyalty to Welkin.”
Yes you are, the booming, echoing silence said, as the inky shadow of a dragon coiled overhead. And soon, many will be loyal to him, and your power will grow.
“And to whom my Captain owes loyalty, so shall I, so long as it pleases him,” Edelweiss said, though another tear slipped from her eye.
As it should be. Now then, tell me what you have seen. I already have some pieces. Memories of a few survivors, an abandoned noisy Elemental, but you, you know them well, don’t you.
“Yes, and you shall have it all,” Edelweiss said into the rising wind. A deep chuckle was her only answer.
Welkin had taken several steps forward but stopped now. “We will both tell him,” he said. “We shall have our revenge.”
Edelweiss wasn’t close enough to join hands with her Captain. It mattered not. So long as he was there, she served.
Now, let us begin.