Two harvests later…
Rolanda settled into the throne chair, bringing the crystal goblet to her lips. The sharp sting of wine danced on her tongue. The warmth settled into her stomach, relieving the chill from the winter air. Small flurries of snow were falling outside, covering the ocean in a blanket of ice. The doors at the end of the throne room creaked as they swung open.
Two acolytes followed a third, imposing figure. Brennus strode in followed by three shadow dancers. His metal boots sent clanging echoes out over the throne room. His cloak flowed over the rubble, making swishing sounds as it dragged over crumbled stone from the ceiling. The three figures walked forward with their black robed heads bowed towards the floor. They all kneeled before Rolanda. “Rise,” she commanded.
Brennus did so first, throwing back his hood. The two acolytes followed suit. Breath steamed from frost their bitten lips. Both the acolytes’ eyes were paled from death, but a black shadow danced within them and under their white, cracked skin.
Brennus reached within a pouch that hung at his belt. “I thought you would want to see this.”
Rolanda leaned forward, snatching the pouch from Brennus’ outstretched hand. She pulled out a small, circular emerald with a blooming tree etched into its surface. “Where did you find it?”
“Hidden within the soul of a village healer in Aldana.”
Rolanda’s smile widened. “Excellent.” She reached for the pendant that hung heavily beneath her robes. She pulled out the gold disc and examined the inlays of symbols, placing the emerald into its proper slot. As she placed it in, the sapphire glowed with a light that warmed the air around it.
“Two of the three. Naonet will be pleased.” Rolanda looked back to Brennus. “And the Mountain’s Diamond?”
“The mountains are treacherous. The temple has not yet been found.”
“We need that final piece and the child as well.”
Brennus nodded. “Naonet has not been able to sense her. If you ask me, she’s probably dead. Why else have we not found her?”
“We need her, Brennus. Naonet will need a vessel when he rises. Who better than his daughter? It’s the Trinity Knights who have her.”
Brennus laughed. “They are dead. I saw to their extinction.”
“Then tell me where Sir Garreth, their second in command, perished? Where is his head among those who we lined the wall with?” Rolanda settled back into the throne chair. “We kill seers every day, find them scurrying like rats in the garbage and yet we cannot find one seer and one Trinity Knight! They have the Mountain’s Diamond. Find them and you find the diamond and the child.”
One of the acolytes cleared his throat. “We have a solution, High Priestess.”
Rolanda narrowed her eyes. “Go on.”
“Let us inhabit a fresh body. One still alive.” The acolyte’s voice slithered like a snake. “We can use the memories of the host to find the goddess scum’s hideout.”
“The spark of life would kill you in an instant.”
“We are stronger.” The acolyte nodded towards the pendant Rolanda held. “The emerald manipulates life and death, merging the two.”
Brennus spoke. “Another thing. Sir Caldon has been found. Alive.”
“And Sir Vanar?”
“He has survived torture. He still will not talk.”
The second acolyte cleared his throat. “We two volunteer for the procedure, but we need a priestess to conduct the ritual.”
Rolanda nodded to two of her personal guard. “Bring Vanar and Sir Caldon to me.” Rolanda knocked away the refilled wine glass. “Now!” The guards hurriedly bowed and scurried from the room. Rolanda massaged the tension building within her skull. The rituals were beginning to take their toll. If they didn’t find the Mountain’s Diamond soon, this damn headache would be the death of her. Her gaze rose to Brennus and her two acolytes.
“Report. How is the rest of our empire?”
Brennus smiled. “The shadow dancers have complete control over our dead. The living remain in fear. The seers are all but extinct as are the Trinity Knights. When the Mountain’s Diamond is ours, Naonet shall rise. The empire will be unstoppable and the whole world will fall to shadow.”
Rolanda smiled through the throbbing in her head. She took another drink of the wine to calm her shaking hands. She took Brennus by the arm and walked him to the balcony overlooking the islands. “How fares our lord?”
“Impatient. He and his shadow dancers grow more and more restless by the day.”
“Well, luckily he will not have to wait much longer if my acolytes are correct.”
They spoke of their conquests and the future until the doors once more opened. Four guards, two to each man, dragged the half conscious prisoners to the throne chair. Rolanda looked down upon her prisoners as the bags covering their heads were pulled off.
“Prepare them.” Rolanda drank more of the wine. “Bring me the book and the knife.” Both items were fetched and held out before her. Her fingers ran along the incantations burned into the black leather tome. “Let us begin.”
She walked to where the two bodies were chained to stone slabs. Opening the book, she felt the hum of the magic resonating from the weathered pages. After a few moments, she found the passage and began to read. The acolytes released their high pitched giggle, placing their hands over the prisoner’s eyes. The dark shadows flowed from them and into the two men. Screams broke the silence but only for a moment before the acolytes bodies crumpled into dust.
Vanar’s body was the first to stir. His eyes glowed a dark, ruby red. Sir Caldon’s followed a few seconds later. Rolanda and Brennus smiled.
“How do you feel, children?” Before they could respond, Rolanda felt a pain erupt from her side. When she looked down, she saw a knife and Brennus’ hand attached to the handle. He leaned forward. “Compliments of our lord and master. You have failed him for too long.”
A bright light emerged from the knife’s blade. It spread through Rolanda’s body before vanishing into the hilt. Where there was once an empty slot a black onyx jewel shone bright under the flickering torchlight.
“What was that,” one of the guards asked.
“A weapon from the age of the goddesses. It seals your soul into a jewel. Destroy it and the body dies with it.” Brennus turned towards Vanar and Sir Caldon. “The diamond has hidden itself in the soul of the seer named Adina. Bring the diamond and Miranda to me.”
Brennus nodded to the guards who released Vanar and Sir Caldon. He popped the onyx from the dagger’s hilt and placed it into another pouch on his belt along with the golden pendant. Handing the dagger to Vanar, Brennus tightened his grip on Vanar’s shoulder before taking his rightful place on the throne. “I share our lord’s propensity for impatience. Do not fail me or you’ll wish I would punish you with death.”
Vanar and Sir Caldon placed their fists over their chests and bowed. “We will not fail you.”
“Good, now leave me. All of you.” As the throne room doors shut behind them, Brennus took a moment to examine the onyx. “Such a shame.” He closed his fist around the jewel, whispered a few words and opened his hand to watch the shattered fragments fall to the floor. “But the new age must begin.”