"Aes Seigurine Apollyona, Upon the Silent City of Wolves."
The wind blew with a steely bite to its every motion, its sound like the howl of a dire wolf. With each slash of the air a freezing spray of snow kicked up from the ground. Among the frozen wastes of this land there strode a lone mountain of a woman. Her height easily over nine feet tall to tower over any human who may cross her way. The length of her hair such it seemed like a cloak that reached down to her ankles in all of its snowy white radiance. Among the white strands black quills stuck out of the tide of hair that seemed ready to shoot themselves off. Despite the possibly perfect symmetry her head seemed to ruin this on the right side a due to the black antler protruded from the temple of her skull; The left side meanwhile was host to a spiked horn of solid black metal. Her attire meanwhile was merely the tattered remains of what random bits of cloth she could stitch together. Through the cracks of fabric one could even see the many ancient scars dyeing her pale flesh.
Dragged behind the pale giant was what looked to be a silver coffin, engraved with runes of an unspoken tongue. After just a few minutes a city came into view through the heavy snow. The light of the moon above enough to see the glittering steel walls up ahead. When approaching the gate she could see the blue banners showing prideful wolves. The wolves having peculiar moth wings attached to their backs. It took a few minutes for the sound of a bell to echo over to the gate, a lone man with a blue scarf holding up a lantern to look at the giant. His eyes slowly looking up along with a soft gasp before he spoke.
"Ue'cvis c-city of the...Sharven founder. S-state your...n-name and business...please?" His stuttering was accompanied by a hand going down to the sword at his hip.
"Aes Seigurine Apollyona. Ambassador of the Urukin race." She spoke gently, just barely over a whisper. Even trying her best to smile down at the man in order to make him less nervous at meeting her.
"And your...business?" He asked.
"Nothing threatening to your ruler, who I must present this coffin." Aes motioned a hand back at the silver coffin behind her.
"Er do you mind just waiting here a moment while I make sure this is...you know…oka-"
"Not at all." She cut him off.
Thus the man turned and left, leaving his lantern next to the gate. As he walked Aes noted how he ran a hand through his light brown hair. A slight giggle even came to her when he was out of sight and earshot. Looking back at the coffin she whispered to it.
"Quite the tiny ones aren't they?" No response came, as expected.
Waiting out in the snow Aes shook her head every few minutes to remove the snow from her antler and shoulders. Her eyes soon turned up to look at the moon out of boredom, noting its pure white color. The curiosity of what humans thought the man was then entered her head until she settled that they may think it was made of snow for all she knew. Then the man returned, accompanied by another man who had a fur trimmed cloak with the very same wolf as the city banners.
Taking note of him he overall seemed rather unimpressive and lacking of much interest; Although his blue eyes stuck out as notably bright with small star shaped pupils. His attire along with his cloak was rather simple, a long coat of dark blue leather with brightened white straps and sleeves. This going along with his pair of gloves and puffy fur boots. His hair was cut short but still looked notably smooth, each strands a shade of black aside from a single section of blue in the front. For a moment Aes assumed it was a quill but then brushed the idea aside when remembering this was a human.
"Greetings stranger. I am Arikern, what can I do for you?" His voice showed no signs of fear but the thump of his heart betrayed his inward feelings to Aes with her unnatural hearing.
"Opening the gate would be very kind of you. Has the other human I met informed you of my plans involving this coffin?" Aes asked with a kind tone.
"Yes...and this goes without saying but it's pretty ominous isn't it?"
"Oh of course. A giant of a race you've never heard of just arriving with a strange coffin in the middle of a full moon night. One claiming to want to bring such a thing to your ruler. But if there is one thing I will simply say is that us Urukin never lie knowingly."
"That is a bold claim Miss Aes." He crossed his arms but oddly his heartbeat seemed to calm down, that alone made Aes smile down at him.
"It's good you're calming down. But from what I know of you humans you love stories. I could share quite a few stories, ones of magic long forgotten perhaps? Maybe of beasts that no longer walk the earth? Wars that happened long before the bones of your ancestors were even formed? I have knowledge of many things. Knowledge that is more than worth the risk of letting me meet your ruler."
"I suppose Celica would find a use for that sort of thing. Very well, I will choose to trust you. Please don't make me regret doing such a thing."
"It's harder to trust than to fear. I'm sure when this is all over you and I will be good friends." Arikern's shoulders sagged slightly when she said this.
It took around three minutes for Arikern to return, one of which the gate slowly raised itself into the wall above. The buildings within the city were oddly far more humble than the wall's solid steel material. They instead were for the most part made from simple and solid dark wood, often with a brightly colored blue banner flowing out from a window over the door. From the nearest one of these banners Aes could see that written in the common human tongue were names, dates, and small paragraphs. The overall design of the houses reminded her more of boats due to the somewhat cylinder and round shaped roof upon each house. Forcing down the desire to spend a few minutes recording each of the banners for their information she instead turned around to look at Arikern. She noted that he now had a claymore sheathed on his back, upon the guard she could see a sapphire gem with a dim glow.
"Oh that's a cute sword you have there." She remarked.
"Thank you?" He tilted his head slightly in clear confusion.
"You're welcome. Celica is your sister."
"How did you know?"
"I didn't. But I know humans have familial bonds quite closely, and you're risking the city's safety for someone named Celica. So she must be in some way important to you. A sister, mother, or perhaps cousin. Or she could be just the ruler of this city or some kind of court mage who you're friends with." Arikern's right eye twitched slightly and his left hand shifted when she said ruler. With a slight giggle she continued. "She's your sister and the ruler."
"Stop doing that..." His voice trailed off as he picked up the pace of his walk.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of. Your reactions show you care."
"I do care yes, but please just stop making me say things."
"May I say one more thing then before I give you silence?"
"One more...you may say one more thing."
"Your sword isn't the only cute thing I see." After saying this she pat his head once.
"By the goddess, leave me be g-iant!" His voice cracked at the word giant.
Arikern threw up his hands before marching at a quickened pace through the city. His face had a notable blush along with an embarrassed expression. This along with his voice cracking was enough to cause Aes to giggle madly at her light teasing being so effective. Although true to her word she did stop giggling not long after. Not saying another word and allowing the man some time without her speaking to him. Then she could see it, the palace of this city. It took her a moment to remember what the first guardsmen had called this city. But she mentally attached the name of Ue'cvis just to the palace to ensure she would always think of it. It was easily nine floors from how many windows were along the walls, perhaps a tenth for the silver bell tower at it's top. The banners of wolves seemed to catch the snow and then send it along the bright metallic walls to make them shine like crystals. Even the staircase leading up to the door was decorated with small engravings of little runes. The rune language, to Aes' surprise, was in fact unknown to even her. The door itself spared no expense, decorated with ice crystals along it's frame and a large sapphire gem set into it's stainless steel body. The handles large enough it would likely take more than two humans to open it under normal circumstances. Although Arikern pushed it open easily, accompanied by the sound of gears echoing from behind the door. The mechanisms involved spiked a surge of curiosity to the point Aes forgot what she was here for, until she looked back at the silver coffin and remembered.
When walking into the palace Aes noted the floor was clearly kept clean and without many scratches at all on the surface. Not wanting to ruin the cleanliness of the interior she reached behind herself to lift the coffin up in one arm before walking forward. The hall was lined with suits of armor, each one having some kind of wolf theme to it. One with simple shoulder pads shaped to resemble wolves, another with not just shoulder pads but the chest piece having a wolf, then soon enough helmets. 'Wolves wolves wolves, I guess symbolism is important to them.' She thought to herself. Past the armor filled hall a silk blue carpet led up to a throne made from solid steel. The throne overall didn't look comfortable at all, lacking any cushions or even a non metal surface to sit on. Despite the discomfort such a throne would bring the woman sitting upon it showed no signs of discomfort or even emotion at all.
There was no need for Aes to even ask to make sure this was Celica, the resemblance of the two alone was more than enough to know they were related. Her hair was freshly cut to be shoulder length, Aes could tell by the all too perfect stopping point of its symmetry. Her eyes looked to even match Arikern's, a prideful shade of blue. Although the actual color of her hair had a slight difference in color to her brother's. While at a quick glance it would look closer to black it was clearly just a dark brown upon closer inspection. The delicate features of her face seemed hardened by an unknown event, whatever it was Aes could only guess.
Her attire was quite interesting still to Aes, perhaps even more than the person wearing it. Overall it resembled a Victorian Gothic dress, although what the terminology of these humans was she didn't particularly know. The dress itself was notable for going down long enough to cover her knees and having a deep blue hem that was quite eye catching. The ruffles around her sleeves and neck seemed to share the same color as the hem. Most striking of all was the golden necktie sporting a brilliant sapphire gemstone that matched the door of the very palace Aes stood in. The main body meanwhile was a brilliant white fabric that reminded Aes of the moon outside, the smallest of details in the fabric showing small snowflakes stitched in. The main draw of the dress to Aes were the plates of blue tinted steel added onto the chest to form a sturdy breastplate. On each of her hands the dress armor even had gauntlets that looked mobile and fashionable due to the engravings that resembled snow carried on the wind. Curious, Aes blinked before lifting up her skirt to check and see that it came with a pair of well made greaves sporting the same wind engravings of the gauntlets. While less interesting Aes also noted the undergarments of Celica, quite well made and matching the dress' snowflake design. Expecting a kick to the face or some sort of resistance Aes instead just noticed a clear twitch in Celica's lower torso and saw she clearly tried as her first reaction to lift one of her legs. The result was just one of Celica's feet moving a few centimeters and a slight raising of her left cheek bone in a subtle show of pain.
"The body is frail compared to our spirits." Aes began. "Still I'm much more interested in what is up here." Reaching over Aes gently poked Celica's forehead.
"You overstep your place stranger." Celica responded in a stoic and passionless tone. The very sound of which made Aes almost roll her eyes.
"Let's not waste time with the 'courtly demeanor.' Just get naked."
"I will most certainly not!" Anger and clear irritation flashed across her face and echoed in voice. This made Aes smile at her while thinking of a way to push her buttons further.
"Oh there's that cute outburst just like your brother. You two really are quite alike, like a pair of little muffins I could just eat up!" Reaching over she pinched Celica's cheeks with a wide grin. "I just love people who try to act so stoic and then burst with emotions like this!" Aes couldn't help genuine mirth reaching into her voice.
"I'll see you beheaded for this!"
"Arikern arrest this woman for threatening me." Aes said while motioning a hand toward the enthroned Celica.
"Yes ma'am. I- uh..." Arikern said before seeming to realize his mistake and then blushing slightly.
"I knew they were puppies not wolves on the banners!" Aes said with a rather loud burst of laughter.
"THAT. IS. ENOUGH." Celica boomed in a commanding tone.
"Very well. Let's get down to business." Aes cleared her throat and ceased her laughing instantly. Before continuing to speak she pulled her silver coffin in front of the throne Celica sat. "So I am told you value knowledge quite highly. This coffin could be your stepping stone to more secrets of the universe than you though possible."
Celica stared down at the coffin for a solid minute before she spoke. "What is the cost for such knowledge? How do I know this knowledge will be useful to me? And most importantly why should I trust you?"
"You forgot to ask why I'm so beautiful. To be blunt I can say that you can trust me more than you would even that brother of yours let's say. My people don't tell lies, and I don't see the point of starting to do so. This knowledge will be useful as you can decide what it shall tell you. Perhaps you have an interest in the world of the arcane arts?"
"The cost. What is it?" Celica glared up at Aes.
"The cost is simple enough." Aes smiled as she looked back at Arikern with a wink that made him shiver. Looking back to Celica she then looked into the ruler's cold glare. "Your people. Each and every citizen in this city shall die, their souls used to power the coffin enough to act as a conduit for your knowledge. Meanwhile those within this throne room shall be left entirely unharmed. I also shall of course mention there is no work around when this coffin is used. Those dead cannot be revived if you asked to learn Restoration Arts for example. This is a contract and there is no breaking it."
"Good to know...it is tempting." Celica stood from her throne and gently ran a hand along the silver face of the coffin. For a second Aes saw the corner of her mouth raise in a smirk.
"Celica you can't be serious!" Arikern said while marching forward to be just five steps from his sister. His expression clearly worrier and showing hints of anger. Aes simply smiled as she stepped back to allow the two some space.
"Think about this Arikern. This knowledge could change the entire world and for what? A few thousand people. We're talking about secrets of the universe here. I could learn how to control time like our ancestor. I could change the world brother. We could-"
"We won't be doing anything!" Arikern interrupted while stepping forward to put his face in front of Celica's. Aes could even sense the clear blood lust from him, it almost made her pleasantly giggle at the idea of testing what resolve these humans had in combat.
"Think about the bigger picture for once. I know it's hard but think. A few lives for absolute knowledge that could make me outright revered as someone who brings in a new age of technology. It could be on the level of even my own form of magical arts. We could improve the lives of the many for just a few city blocks." Her words seemed to make Arikern calm for a moment until he responded in a cold tone.
"Don't trivialize this, these are people. Families who's ancestors have been nothing short of honorable and respectable subjects to all before us. It's our duty to protect them, what you're suggesting is just...it's just..." He turned away and seemed on the verge of exploding in anger, unexpected from what Aes assumed of him.
"It's just what?" Celica seemed to clearly get angry at her brother. Although her voice remained emotionless and distant. "I shouldn't even be listening to you. Mother chose me to take over, not you. If you can't make the hard decision for the good of everyone I will."
"Don't even think about it. This is murder. No...this is slaughter." Reaching behind himself he unsheathed the claymore on his back. The sword was made using a blue tinted steel and sturdy white leather. The blade had the engravings of wolves howling at the moon. 'Oh lovely wolves again' Aes thought when seeing this. Although actually peaking her interest was the fact the blade ignited with blue flames that seemed to radiate a chilling mist.
"Don't even think about it, you know how this will end. This is more than worth the sacrifices. Loyalty to the crown is just expected from them...from you. But it's not our duty to save everyone. It's our duty to serve the greater good." Holding out both her hands Celica's arms ignited with the same chilling flame that coated Arikern's blade. Although unlike him a collection of four floating blades made from this material remained suspended in the air pointing down at Arikern.
Aes meanwhile leaned back as she stretched out her arms and muttered to herself. "This should be interesting."
There was an odd silence for a moment as the two fighters stared at each other. Arikern within a stance having his blade pointed at Celica from an upward angle while his legs remained bent and lowered as if he meant to leap. Celica meanwhile stood entirely open with her arms out to her sides, small embers of blue flame in each palm of her hand. Then the battle started, Arikern lunging forward with a blast of flame at his feet. His attack was simple, a thrust aimed at Celica's chest directly. The four blades floating above Celica formed a solid X to block his slash before suddenly exploding in a burst of flame. Arikern however wasted no time as he touched the ground, landing squarely on his feet, then firing out a burst of burst of bright white mist toward Celica. The floor quickly began to freeze over as the two of them unleashed their magic. The mist however Celica simply held out her hands and absorbed it before creating a claymore made from solid blue tinted ice of a clearly unnatural origin.
The two then dashed at each other with their blades held back for a powerful swing. Arikern going for a precise horizontal slash while Celica went for an odd twisting diagonal slash aiming for Arikern's shoulder. The spin done before her slash made her icy blade knock Arikern's slash upwards to miss entirely. Her slash then landing and leaving a large gash in Arikern's shoulder. The mark left looked to freeze over but oddly swirl with small little flames within the ice. It was then that Arikern raised his blade as if to slash but instead suddenly bashed with the pommel of his blade. Celica however simply stepped back as he feinted his slash into the bash.
It was then in one smooth motion she parted her ice claymore into two twin blades. Each hand holding one as she went in for a flurry of slashes that sent out puffs of icy mist with each motion. Her own arms seemed to even freeze over from her own use of magic. Arikern now clearly on the defensive could only block or parry each of the incoming blows, missing two that went for his lower left leg and one that swiftly cut his chest. Then she brought back both blades before combining them back into a claymore for one simple downward slam of the heavier weapon. Arikern having raised his weapon blocked the slam of the claymore before retaliating with a kick that landed on Celica's stomach. As she flinched he then followed up with a slash of his own, his blade losing it's flicker of blue flame as he released it all in one last powerful explosion of energy. Celica was knocked back a solid ten feet as her attire, weapon, and skin were coated with a layer of frost as result of the explosion. The frost itself slowly ignited into flames. Moving a hand to her chest Celica gasped out a breath as she seemed to absorb the flame and frost into her flesh. Although she then lowered herself down to one knee while panting heavily. Arikern seemed to mimic her actions to make his wounds simply bleed and lose the marks in his shoulder and leg. Despite the concentration of his energy for healing he still remained standing. With a few relieved breaths he then walked over to Celica slowly before pointing his blade down at her. She only looked up at him and got to her feet with a stagger, to Aes' surprise still managing to look oddly dignified.
"Thinking with your heart as usual Ari...but you should remember this." Celica raised a fist toward the sky. "A wounded wolf still has fangs."
Looking up Arikern saw the roof was now coated with dozens of small but razor sharp icicles. As Celica brought her hand down each and every one came raining down to fill the room with a barrage of frozen teeth. The attack clearly lacked any control or direction and thus looked ready to impale each and every person in the room. Arikern however did nothing to block and protect himself, He instead lunged forward at Celica to shield her with his own body. The raining down ice broke through his overcoat after the first few seconds.
Aes watched this display with clear interest, even as his blood stained the very person who had brought about this mystical assault he still remained. The barrage of freezing ice did little to harm Aes as she simply fired a few quills out of her hair to form a solid wall above her own head. Still she did feel like smiling at Arikern, even as he slumped over dead. As she slowly felt the quills return to her hair she stood and clapped slowly while walking over to Celica. She spoke with a positive and gleeful tone toward the ruler.
"This has been lovely Celica, really I mean that. Victory always comes at some sort of cost doesn't it? This cost wasn't necessary though. The original plan was to have you reject the offer and then show your will by trying to kill me, a heroic last stand for your people and all that." Reaching down Aes lifted the limp body of Arikern off of Celica. "Really though I can appreciate being willing to sacrifice something for victory. Although to kill your own kin and people for such a thing? Even your frosty little dying gasp was just a gamble here sweetie. If Arikern hadn't still seen the good in you then you'd have died. I suppose you care about the ends not the means. That is if you still want to use the coffin?"
"...Just give him back?" Celica hesitated as she began to cry while looking up at Aes. Aes sighed while seeing this and then slowly lowered Arikern's body down next to Celica. The tears that followed as she hugged the corpse seemed genuine. Understanding she wasn't in much of a condition to answer Aes gave the girl as much time as she wanted to cry and whisper to him. This turned out to be nearly a half an hour before Aes decided to speak.
"I guess your heart isn't entirely gone." She said simply.
"Does this thing even work?" Celica asked in a somber tone that showed more emotion than she had shown in Aes' presence at all.
"Of course, as I said I don't lie. However it does do more than I said it could do."
"Then you lied." Celica said in a sharp tone while slowly letting go of Arikern's body.
"That's not a lie. That's just not telling the whole truth. Anyways there is a way to bring the boy back, although death is not easily swayed. There must be a death of equal or greater value to his soul's mana output of energy. Even then he also will need a new body." Aes looked behind herself at the hall full of suits of armor that led into the throne room.
"You can't be serious...a suit of armor for a body?" Celica asked.
"You humans are quite contradictory you know. First it's worth the cost then it isn't. I offer you a chance to bring someone back but you don't believe in the methods. If I offered you food you'd think it was poisoned but still probably eat it. It's madness...and I love it." Aes smiled down at Celica. "Still you have your method right before you." With a simple point of her finger Aes pointed to the silver coffin.
"That would make his death entirely pointless...he died to-"
"To stop you." Aes interrupted. "Still I won't be forcing anything. It is my job to test your species, not to force decisions on you. So for now I just shall dangle this little morsel in front of you and say that you could bring him back. In a suit of armor for a body but back nonetheless. It would cost your people lives for the knowledge, thousands of them just for the method. A method that you then can't pass on unless you leave a few notes. Then you'll die to bring him back. It's quite cruel but such is the cost to resist the natural order of things." With a simple shrug Aes stood and walked toward the exit. "Just open the coffin and state your desire to use it should you choose to. Either way just follow your heart for once. It got Arikern there pretty far after all."
"You aren't seriously just leaving are you?" Celica demanded.
"I'll know if you use it or not. If I feel the disruption of a thousand souls just suddenly dying then you used it. If not then..." She stopped in the doorway of the throne room. "Then maybe your brother died for something worthwhile. But hey...what do I know? Just be sure to give the armor a nice shining if you do decide to go all kill happy!" With a hearty laugh she was then outside of the palace entirely.
It didn't take long at all for the answer to come. Celica made her decision and once again it was the one Aes had hoped she wouldn't have done. The feeling of Aes' own soul quivering slightly for just a moment was felt but she brushed off the idea of dying to such a coffin. Whether force of will or apathy toward the idea of death none could truly say, all that could be confirmed was that only Aes walked out of the city that day. The silence that followed confirmed to her that none survived, each citizen dying without even knowing why. Among the silent streets and still flowing banners Aes wondered if anyone would ever bother to look at the tales of all the now lost citizen's banners. Her answer only came with the sound of metal being forcibly shifted through unspeakable means echoing in the now silent city of Ue'cvis.