Chapter Sixteen

It had been a week since Edith had encountered Daemon in the stables, since then she had come upon him. Though she often saw his palomino in the stables when she went out to check on Shaurè.

Edith had mentioned her run-in with her mother's lover to Tanir the day before.

"Oh, mistress, promise me you'll avoid 'im, I've seen men of that sort. Nothin' but trouble, they are, you just steer clear of him," Tanir commanded firmly.

Edith tossed her hair, "Goddess, Tanir, you'd think he was out to steal my soul from the way you're carrying on. Come, brush my hair, I intend to go out riding, again."

Tanir shook her head, "Yes, mistress."

An hour later Edith found herself once again upon the back of Shaurè; branches from the stately trees overhead reaching out over the dirt path that cut through Raajmar Forest.

In the summer Raajmar Forest was a dangerous place for a young lady to be; though, during the winter and fall Edith could not help but wandering out to her favorite 'quiet place.'

Edith had several small hiding places throughout the Raajmar estate where she escaped during her mother's 'sessions' with her Luitia-Egota-forced lovers.

Edith was no fool, though her mother claimed to "love each and every one of them, uniquely" Edith knew why her mother took on a new lover at least once a month.

Lithanya's room was directly above Edith's; the noises coming from her mother's room were sometimes unbearable for the girl. Thusly, she sought solace in one of the few places she could find comfort in the wretched plot of land. The place which, for the sixteen years of her existence she had been repeatedly confined to.

A speck of mud kicked up into Edith's from underneath Shaurè's hooves brought her out of her reverie. Tossing the thick braid she had tied her hair back into, she urged Shaurè onward; steering the mare down the path towards Shady Dale.

Shady Dale was her childhood name for the extensive clearing in the middle of Raajmar Forest. Of course, she had not known what a dale was at the time, and Shady Dale was really just an area where someone had chopped down the trees ages ago and the various undergrowth of the forest had taken over.

The familiar near-perfectly symmetrical ring of pine trees that guarded Shady Dale from the rest of the Raajmar Forest came into view.

Edith reined Shaurè to a halt and dismounted, pushing the curtain of pine branches for the horse to pass.

Shaurè tossed her head contentedly as she trotted into the knee-high grass, flattened over time by the wind into a semi-subservient green carpet.

Wildflowers that Tanir and Edith had planted as children had reproduced over the years and now grew demurely in small clusters about the clearing, adding a peaceful feel to Edith's hiding place.

Edith took vellum-parchment that she had carefully wrapped in leather to keep it clean during the trip. She also produced several pieces of charcoal and a wooden-board to steady the parchment on from the bag.

A patch of Narcissus caught Edith's eye; smiling, Edith flopped down onto a patch of grass in front of the flowers. She slipped the board under the parchment and stared at the flowers for several minutes, evaluating, before finally beginning to sketch.

"Pretty," A male voice whispered in her ear.

Edith spun her head around to look at her follower, knocking her head against his. "Oh, I'm sorry!" She flushed in embarrassment at Daemon.

He rubbed his temple, pushing his unbound flame-colored hair back to feel the bump on his forehead, "It is my fault, I should not have surprised you so."

Her surprise turned to irritation at his invasion of her sanctuary; she wondered how he had found her to begin with, she had ridden over a mile into the Forest. Surely no stranger would have known of the Shady Dale.

"Lovely place," Daemon commented, gesturing vaguely, "Rather peaceful, I can understand why you come out here."

"You are already done…painting my mother's portrait?" Edith asked, changing the subject.

"Yes, an emergency at another noblewoman's household drew her away, or something. She sent me to find you and tell you that she had to leave for several days and that Mrs. Doroff would be taking care of you.'"

Edith resisted the urge to roll her eyes, after years of excuses to explain her mother's unexpected absences. She honestly did not know why anyone bothered anymore. "Ah, thanks."

"Do you mind if I sit with you?"

Edith quirked an eyebrow, a rather daring request, no one knew where neither she nor Daemon was. Though slightly scandalized, politeness told her to allow it, after all, he was her mother's, not hers.

"Splendid, after all of the boring tedium of painting, it feels nice to be outside."

It took an impressive amount of will power for her to resist laughing at this. Painting had the exact opposite effect on her; the fellow had probably never picked up a brush.

Edith decided to ignore him; she pushed all thought out of her mind except upon her sketching. This did not last long; she cast a sidelong glance in his direction.

He stared at her hawkishly, shrewdly picking apart her every feature with such heat that Edith felt genuinely disturbed.

"Something wrong?" She asked, furrowing her brow.

"You look just like your mother," He commented softly, "Same hair, same voluptuous mouth, absolutely exquisite."

Edith felt her stomach jump, "Pardon?"

"How old are you? Your mother never mentioned," He queried, his dark-eyed gaze fixed upon her.

"I don't see what that has to do with…" The words caught in her mouth as he reached out and brushed a strand of hair that had fallen from her braid, his thumb ghosting across her jaw line.

"…So lovely…" Daemon murmured.

Edith shot up from where she was sitting, dropping her charcoals, "Sir!"

Daemon was upon her in seconds, he out powered her entirely, his knee wrenching her legs apart.

She screamed, struggling madly against him, "Let go of me! Please, oh, Goddess, please!"

Daemon ran his lips down her neck, "I would suggest you not scream, it irritates me." He bit her neck in warning.

Edith sobbed, "Please…let me go…please…"

Shoving up her skirts, he smirked, "Come now, dear, no one likes an innocent."

XXX

Edith snapped awake, her head pounded uncomfortably and her chest felt tight.

Phirius stirred beside her and tightened his grip around her bare waist, snoring softly.

She stared down at him with a mild feeling of disgust, but, as always, she was willing to make sacrifices for power.

Now, if only she could make those damned dreams go away! They had plagued her for a half-year or so after Daemon had his fun with her, and then they had disappeared shortly after she had been initiated into the Society. But they had spiked up around a year ago, and they were beginning to drive her insane.

Daemon. The cur. Lithanya had continued to 'work' with him, even after he had violated Edith.

All for the good of the Society.

Edith tucked her legs under her chin and sighed heavily, as usual, if she waited five minutes before going back to sleep, she would not dream again for the rest of the night.

Her amount of sleep seemed to have been painfully sparse when a maid shook her awake.

"Your ladyship, your ladyship!" The maid insisted, "The King requests your presence in the Throne Room in two hours, you need to get dressed."

Edith growled, squinting at the light streaming from the window directly onto the bed. "Bugger it," Edith muttered, "Very well, is my Lady-In-Waiting still in the palace?"

"I'll check, your ladyship," The maid, obviously flustered, hurried out of the room.

Edith stretched, temporarily disoriented, where was she? Oh, yes, she had slept with the king…She had slept with the King?!

She leapt up, still nude, glossy hair streaming haphazardly down her back; Edith staring in wonderment at richly decorated bedroom. By Goddess! She had done it…so to speak, but still! Mentally congratulating herself at her timing, Edith slipped on the silken robe and stretched comfortably; where was that maid?

The maid burst back into the room, bearing a yellow satin dress and shift, "Yes, Lady Edith; she told me to bring you this dress, she will be with you in a moment."

"Very good, now help me get dressed," Edith commanded and slipped off the robe.

XXX

The Council Room was located in the highest story in the North Dome of the Uvriel Palace. The entire story was for the King's intelligence agency, but in the very center of the story was a circular, mahogany-paneled room where Phirius and his advisors met daily.

The Council Room was precisely where Edith found herself two hours after she had awoken, angrier than a hornet. She had been given little time to prepare, two hours was definitely not enough to dress properly and arrange her hair, so she had been required to braid her hair along the way. Scandalous!

A circular table was placed in the center of the room, Phirius sat opposite from the door, the seven advisors arranged around it, the more favored the advisor, the closer he was to the king.

The advisors glared at her, their faces set like flint; Edith didn't blame them. When Phirius started trying to think for himself, trouble always ensued.

Phirius stood, clearing his throat uneasily, "Lady Edith, I assume you realize why you were summoned here."

Edith nodded tersely, "Yes, Your Majesty."

Irem motioned for her to sit, "His Majesty informed us of your …alleged magic trick and has been raving about it all morning."

Edith smiled and said nothing.

"His Majesty claims it would be a useful tool in times of war," Irem continued, his eyes never leaving Edith, studying her for a reaction.

"Indeed."

"Do you have anything to add to this?" Irem enquired impatiently.

"No, milord."

Irem was beginning to become annoyed by Edith's monosyllabic attitude, "Would you care to give us a demonstration?"

"I already am."

"Beg pardon?" Irem furrowed his bushy gray eyebrows.

"Look at the ceiling."

All of the advisors turned their head to the ceiling, squinting, as usual; the ceiling was plain white plaster.

"Look harder."

The advisors smiled amusedly amongst themselves and half-heartedly obliged her.

At first, the ceiling was the same, pattern-less white plaster, and then, little by little, changes began to take place. A blue stain crept its way, like a snake, over the ceiling, weaving wild patterns across. Soon, another color followed, light yellow, it wove it's way across the surface, mingling with the blue. Followed by green, purple, pink, and gray. With each new wave of color the speed increased, until finally the colors looked like lightning flashes across the canvas.

A picture began to form across the ceiling, a storm of epic proportions, streaks of multi-colored lightning flashed across the canvas.

The advisors gawked at the transformed ceiling in wonder; Irem tore his gaze away from the ceiling to stare at Edith in bewilderment.

She smiled, "You have not seen anything, yet." She looked up at the ceiling and murmured an unintelligible phrase in a language that none of the advisors understood.

A lump began to form on the northern edge of the ceiling, the clouds of the storm shifted to accommodate it. The lump began to take shape, it fashioned itself into the silhouette of a hill.

Another, smaller lump formed atop the hill, it began to mould into an intelligible shape, a human form.

An audible murmur of surprise came from the advisors, as they stared in wonderment as the human shape began to move.

The human shape, cloak billowing freely behind it, lifted its hands into the air.

The storm above continued to rage on above, stronger than before, as if to prove to its human guest that it was still in control.

"I can hear the thunder!" An advisor cried out in shock.

"I think I can hear the man yelling above the storm," Another nodded.

A jet of lightning shot out from the human form's hands and straight into the eye of the storm.

The storm swirled and fought, small tornadoes began to form around the human, threatening to sweep it away.

Amazingly, the human still stood, the energy flowing from its hands only increased.

In one final, spectacular burst of lightning, the storm disappeared; along with it the hill and the person who stood atop it. The ceiling was once more plain and white.

"That was just a simple trick, I can do much, much more," Edith smiled, eyes glittering.

Wuvrayn shook his head, still recovering from surprise, "That could have been done with a…hallucinogenic or perhaps chemicals."

Irem held up his hand to silence Wuvrayn, "Lady Edith, though, I must say, this illusion is amazing; what use do we have for it?"

Several advisors voiced their agreement.

Edith crossed her legs, "For one thing, that was a simple party trick, nothing more," She sighed and stood up, "Very well, if you expect me to be a jester, then I shall oblige." She bowed mockingly, smiling. Before anyone could even react, a knife appeared in Edith's hand as if from nowhere and flew from her hand directly into Wuvrayn's chest.

Wuvrayn gasped, slumping into his chair in pain, his mouth opening and closing to form a wordless scream.

Irem began to shout for one of the guards, but Edith turned her glare upon him and he found he could not speak; it felt as if something was wrapped around his chest.

Several of the advisors drew their swords but Edith cried out in the same tongue as she had before and their swords flew from their hands and flew over their heads and landed behind Edith.

"Stop where you are," Edith commanded, "I'll kill every one of you. Now then, you wanted an example? You'll get it, all I've done so far is straight up magic, drawn from the energy within myself, now, you will see necromancy." She knelt; one eye warily observing the group of advisors huddled in the corner, and drew out the knife embedded in the now-dead Wuvrayn. She tossed the knife carelessly on the tiled floor, as it clattered to the floor it evaporated into thin air.

"Demon!" Irem hissed, he turned to Phirius, "This is your hope?" His eyes burned with hatred.

"Such a dreadful way to speak to the sovereign of your country," Edith smiled sardonically, the smile faded to a look of concentration as her hand hovered over Wuvrayn's corpse. She clutched an ivory amulet that hung about her neck, murmuring softly.

A small blue fire began to form in the palm of her hand, it hummed audibly as the fire began to intensify and a thin rivulet of fire wound its way towards the gaping wound on Wuvrayn's chest. Just as before, the rivulet divided and became two, they extended themselves further and wrapped around Wuvrayn's torso. They divided again, and became four snakes, wrapping themselves once more, then eight, sixteen; until finally Wuvrayn's entire body was bathed in the singing green fire.

Edith pushed her hand into the fire, over the wound and pressed down as hard as she could, her lips forming unspoken words.

The fire began to wrap itself around her arm, climbing up her arm.

With a cry, she was thrown against the floor by some unseen force, severing the connection between her and the corpse.

The fire disappeared, leaving Wuvrayn's corpse, blood still staining the front of his tunic.

For several moments the room was in silence, Edith did not move, after several minutes passed the king and his advisors began to wonder if she was dead.

Phirius broke the silence with a terrified shout, "W-Wuvrayn—He's moving!"

The advisors turned their attention to the corpse, edging closer for inspection.

Color had returned to the cadaver's face, and was reaching all over his body; it began to stir, as if coming out of a deep sleep.

At the same time, so did Edith, her eyes fluttered open, she groaned, slowly rising off the floor. Rubbing her head, disoriented, she turned her attention to Wuvrayn's corpse; she smiled. "Necromancy at its finest, gentlemen," She laughed, brushing herself off, "Wake up, Wuvrayn."

As if on command, Wuvrayn's eyes snapped open; he shouted in horror before leaping up, his eyes darting about the room wildly. "Oh, Gods above!" He shouted, waving his arms about madly.

"Oh, calm down," Edith pushed her braid over her shoulder unconcernedly.

"How did you…?" Phirius asked inquisitively, unsurprisingly, he seemed to be the least surprised of the group.

"Advanced necromancy," Edith explained, "There's a difference between 'white' magic, which feeds on one's own strength, and 'black' magic, which relies on the power of those departed."

Irem, who was still inspecting Wuvrayn suspiciously, looked up at Edith's answer, "'Power of those departed'?! Just what in the name of all things good is that?"

"It is exactly what it sounds like. To perform what you just saw, I had to set up a spiritual net, of sorts. This spiritual net is just like a fisherman's, except my quarry is souls, I catch them, use their energy, and then release them to the underworld," Edith explained this as if it were common knowledge.

Wuvrayn shuddered, "You mean a spirit saved me?"

"No, I saved you, as ironic as that may seem, spirits, are simply untapped energy—no intelligence, whatsoever, really," She replied.

Irem shook his head, "Spirits, resurrection, magic, its all madness…"

Edith shrugged, "The world is madness, magic is here to make sense of it all."

XXX

After several hours of tedious negotiating and much interrogation, they managed to come to an agreement.

Phirius insisted turning magic into a mass weapon, and making it a mandatory course for all soldiers.

"No!" Edith slammed her fist down upon the table, "I will not have every common peasant you kidnap into that poor excuse for an army knowing magic!"

"Well, then what do you propose we do with it, cousin?" Phirius demanded, the color beginning to rise on his face.

Edith folded her hands in her lap primly, "Give me a contingent of intelligent soldiers; I will train them, personally."

"Oh, aye? You? A woman? This is absolutely beautiful," Irem laughed.

Edith glared at him coldly, "Do not forget it was a woman who found and cultivated the skill which you so desire."

"A very good point, how did you come to find out about this…skill of yours?" The old man shrewdly glared at her from under bushy eyebrows.

Edith pulled a silver ring off her finger and dropped it onto the table with a clatter.

Irem snatched the ring off the table before any of the other advisor's could get to it with surprising speed for one his age.

The silver ring was fashioned into the shape of a coiled snake, curved fangs closed down upon a round, smooth jade. Two small emeralds that served for eyes shone in the sunlight that streamed through the window.

"Pretty, but what purpose does it serve?" Irem held the ring up to the light of the window to study the stone.

"My father traveled a good deal, he'd often bring me home a few little baubles and trinkets, when I was a little girl. He brought this back to me from the edge of the Black Desert," Edith lowered her voice to an almost wistful tone at the mention of her father, she paused before beginning again, "I soon discovered that strange things happened when I had it on, if I was angry with someone they would suddenly complain of headaches, wilted flowers would rejuvenate themselves as I walked past, all sorts of strange occurrences. After many years of experimenting and exploring ancient texts, I finally created my first spell," Edith took the ring back from Irem and slid it onto her finger, "It isn't the source of my power, but it is enchanted."

"But where does magic originate from?" Irem insisted.

"Honestly? I do not know," Edith replied with a shrug of her shoulders, "Nothing I found gives any sort of history on its discovery or refinement."

Irem shook his head disgustedly, "We'll put our historians to work on it."

"We haven't the timeIrem," Lieutenant Colonel Rathere, one of the newest advisors who had served with Irem during the Private War, "This is an opportunity we won't get again."

"Think of the look of horror on King Hyrde's face when he sees battalions retreating back to that spit of a capital in the Azure Valley—Oh, yes, I forgot, I know all about Rovin," Edith twirled her ring in her fingers coolly, "Another benefit of the use of magic is an object known as a Sightchryse, it is similar to the 'crystal balls' of children's' tales."

"We ought to hang you for treason," Irem muttered.

"Under what charges, dear Sir?" Edith replied, her eyes wide with mock-innocence.

Rathere chuckled, "It's a monarchy, dear, we don't need a reason to kill you."

Blue light began to form in her hands, "Aye?"

"If you are to be taken seriously by this board, I suggest you keep your temper reined in," Irem snarled.

"Children!" Rathere snapped, "Lady Raajmar, we thank you for your forwardness, we shall consider your offer; please, give us several weeks. For your own safety, and our peace of mind, we request that you stay within the city of Imdrir." Rathere's tone clearly stated that the latter was not a request.

"I respectfully request you allow me to stay at Quevard Castle, the Duchess Quevard has insisted that I stay with her for several days. For the sake of appearances, I think it would be best if I accepted her offer of hospitality," Edith's tone was carefully devoid of any emotion.

Rathere waved his hand brusquely, "Return to Imdrir in one fortnight, we wish you safe travel."

Nodding, Edith turned and departed from the room.

XXX