Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Shaky Beginnings
Date: August 23rd, Year 556
Time: 9:00 AM (Terce)
Location: Castle Augusta, Galtea
To Your Royal Majesty King Reginald of Galtea, Head of House Nabudis, Archduke of Augusta, and my Honored Father,
I hope this letter finds you well. I regret to inform you that, while I am alive and unharmed, I bear grave news. Despite what you may have heard, I was kidnapped by goddess sympathizers and barely escaped. I will not mince words. They took me to a church within Pontus, and used my blood in a dark ritual to revive the goddess. Unfortunately, they succeeded. Fortunately, they didn't succeed in full, though even partially revived, She is a force to be reckoned with.
My apologies, father, but I cannot return just yet. Although Pontus may have been the ultimate cause of my kidnapping, the ones who did so were citizens of Galtea. The Pontics have been desperately searching for me, and I fear, if I return to the capital, I would be walking into a trap...
I will set out for Sochen within the day, where I hope to find sanctuary far from Pontus's borders while I determine my next course.
Written at Castle Balfon on the twenty-first day of the month of August, in the year of our hero-king, five hundred and fifty-six.
Per your daughter,
Catriona of House Nabudis, Heir Apparent
An intake of breath, and the letter found itself crumpled within a mailed fist. The owner, a white-haired man in ermine robes, breathed out through his nose. "Really..." he muttered. "That girl...does she have no sense of self-preservation? Still...to think they would be so bold as to pull this..." He paced his chambers, brow furrowed. "They've gone too far this time...not just the snakes from within, but Pontus as well."
He strode from the room, cape billowing behind him. "Looks like they all need a reminder on how I earned my title." The Winter King. Tempered in governance, but forged in battle.
Since then, Catriona and company faced many challenges in their journey. Their goal was to find the Great Dragon, who would hopefully be able to assist in defeating the goddess or sealing her away. The initial group composed of Catriona, Malu'kai, Anaïs, Meifing, a small town fighter named Alois, Catriona's sister Penelope, her knight Gunther, Feray, and a wandering swordsman named Asura came across a blacksmith named Jake being accosted by bandits. They defeated them with the help of a young man who looked fresh from the farm, a Pontic named Edrick. Unfortunately, Anaïs had to leave soon afterward, and Edrick was heavily injured.
The group accompanied Jake to Ithome, Sector Three. Along the way, Feray left the group, but they met a girl named Tarizo, who joined temporarily. In Ithome, Meifing left the group, but they came across Link, a former Galtean soldier, now a library guard. He led them to the city hall, where they were turned away by Councilman Silas. Meanwhile, Edrick, who had just finished recovering from his wounds, was ambushed by street urchins, only being saved by the timely arrival of the rest of the group and a noble in disguise named Ciela. The group set out not long afterward and met Sienna, a girl wearing a hood to disguise the fox ears atop her head.
Joined by Sienna, the group reached Sector One, where most of them decided to head for the library to research information on the Great Dragon's whereabouts. Ciela, on the other hand, decided to go shopping, but an altercation with a rogue left her paralyzed from the waist down. Meanwhile, in the library, Sienna discovered a secret passage, but at the bottom, a scene straight out of a murder mystery awaited them. Not long after, the group was arrested and taken to the City Hall where they were interrogated by the Three Councilmen. They spent another day in the city, but soon had to leave, laden with presents from a mysterious man named Santa. Asura left them at the gate.
Headed to the Pelinna region, the group encountered yet more bandits, a shaman named Azar, a wolf cub named Rohns who began to follow Link around, and the Pelinna Patrol, a group of volunteers who patrolled the region to keep it free of bandits. Among them was a young bow thief named Tsetseg. The group was soon divided after being ambushed by fox Proteans who thought them to be kidnapping Sienna, who as it turned out, was the chieftain's daughter. While some were taken away by the foxes, the rest joined forces with the frog Proteans, including a frog of little words named Shiro, and the patrol. The two sides were on high alert ever since one of the frogs was murdered, and the fox tribe's treasure was stolen. The frogs marched on the fox village, where it looked as if a fight would break out, especially seeing as the fox chieftain looked to be under a spell of sorts, save for the timely arrival of a horde of bandits. Joining forces, with foxes, frogs, and humans all working together, the group managed to defeat them. The next day, Azar left, but the group was joined by a pegasus knight named Adelaide, who, unbeknownst to them, was actually a former cavalier named Adelheid, who had served on both sides of the Great War. Licorice, a black fox with hidden motives, joined as well.
After leaving the forest, the group came across an abandoned shrine to the goddess, a church that was little more than a single tower and an altar, with broken-down walls surrounding it. It seemed harmless enough, but when night fell, a horde of what Licorice called "Awakened" attacked them. However, yet more Awakened arose to help them, their eyes a brilliant white rather than blood red. A woman astride a horse calling herself L'Arachel also came to their aid. The battle was long and arduous, but at long last, the group stood triumphant.
Chapter 5: Creeping Darkness (continued)
Date: 8th of Ramesoth, Year 556
Time: 3:00 AM (Lauds)
Location: Abandoned Shrine, Histia
Catriona breathed a sigh of relief, rubbing her head and wincing when her hand came away wet with blood. A horde of undead...just what she had wished to wake up to. Still, every one of them was alive, and that was an outcome she hadn't dared hope for, not with just how many undead there were. More than she could count even were she given minutes on end. She would call it a miracle that they were still alive and whole, but she knew the real reason, and it was not something as unreliable as that.
Their Awakened allies, and the strange girl astride the horse...L'Arachel, she had called herself. Not to mention the undead villagers that had risen from the ground as soon as the enemy Awakened had gone south, and into the graveyard. The dead did not like being disturbed. Though unskilled in battle, and equipped with nothing but farming tools, they were brave. Yet now, as the last of the Awakened had finally fallen--one that had seemed a little smarter, a little stronger, but in the end just as susceptible to getting stabbed--they started to crawl back to the graveyard, the white light that had shone from their eyes flickering like a dying candle. Even the pegasus that Edrick had ridden faded away, its purpose served.
One, an elderly-looking Awakened, stopped in front of her. "Many thanks," he rasped. "This place...has always been our home, and always will be. No matter what...outsiders do." His mouth turned down into a frown. "Once...we were a village. Built around this church." He waved a hand. "Now...this is all that's left. The rest...burned to ashes. Please..." he said, grasping hold of Catriona's hands. His own were cold. "Please...find the priest. It is because of the priest...Father..." he coughed. "We are ourselves. Not slaves, hearts warped by Her rage." He released her hands, but a small bullion remained. "The last...of my savings. Hid it...from the soldiers..." He hobbled to one of the graves, one that looked a little nicer than the others, and like the rest, closed his eyes and sank into the ground.
Now all that remained were the original five.
Save for Dua, who was currently preoccupied in healing the group alongside Ciela and L'Arachel, the allied Awakened were not doing much of anything, as if they were waiting. Waiting to die once more? What a morbid thought. And yet, such thoughts had kept her company for nights on end now. She turned her gaze to where Licorice stood nearby, nearly untouched. It seemed almost unreal that such a person could stand there so calmly, as if she hadn't just shown off a near inhuman speed in the battle prior. But then, perhaps that was the point. She wasn't human.
A sudden soothing feeling shook Catriona from her musings. Turning, she gave her thanks to the white-eyed priest above her, who nodded at her and moved on. While she would feel dizzy for a while from blood loss, the feeling would eventually go away. The woman stood, marching to the northern exit of the shrine, where the bodies of the enemy Awakened were long since gone, dissolved into wisps of red smoke. Shivering, she turned back, and stopped, seeing a glowing figure above the altar.
"What mad--?!" but before she could finish, the glowing died down, showing the figure to be transparent. The woman took a few steps back automatically, before gritting her teeth and stepping forward.
The allied Awakening all let out gasps of shock, Unil most of all. He stepped forward, a look of pure, heartbreaking longing on his face. "Father?" he whispered.
The figure, who on closer inspection looked to be an older man in the raiments of a priest, gave a sad smile. "Yes," he replied. "It is me, my son," he looked at the rest of the Awakened, shaking his head. "Stubborn as always. Even now, you refuse to leave."
To Catriona's surprise, every single Awakened started to tear up, a couple even breaking down into sobs. Whoever this man was, he was important to them.
"Thank you," the man said, turning his solemn gaze to the group. "The invaders likely arrived because of you, but even so, you defended this place, and soothed the restless spirits that lingered." He paused. "The path you walk is a hard one, but it is not impossible." His smile turned wry. "Though it seems odd coming from a man of the cloth, I give you my blessing. Perhaps you might be able to return things to how they once were."
"Then," the lord leaned forward, unease temporarily buried. "Do you have anything to advise? Know you where the Great Dragon lies?"
The man shook his head. "I have no such knowledge, yet I can offer you a different kind of aid." He paused. "It is only due to my strong attachment to this place, and the goddess's power, that I am here, but as the abbot, I have a responsibility to all who come seeking succor." He bowed his head and closed his eyes, muttering a prayer in what Edrick would recognize to be Pontic, though of an archaic variant. Soon after, the altar glowed with a brilliant white light. "A long, long time ago, this place was known as Alltrades Abbey. People would come from far and wide to embark on new beginnings, leaving their pasts behind." He lifted his head to stare straight at the group. "I am Abbot Jack, the last of a long line of abbots blessed with the power to change the path one walks, even their very fates." His eyes seemed to pierce through every single person there. "But be warned, not all change is for the better. Those who seek improvement in one area will inevitably lose strength in another. We were not made perfect beings, though we may strive for it." He started to speak again, though this time his voice changed from feathery whisper to a commanding boom. "Now. You who seek to change yourself, step forward."
Catriona hesitated. This was her chance. The chance to change her cursed fate. Were she to step forward, perhaps she could even cast off the yoke of royalty, and live her life as a simple woman, free of the worries that plagued her. Yet, no. She shook her head. Were she to do so, then it would not relieve the pressure, only transfer it. To her sister. And that, she could not let happen. And what of their quest? The goddess was still out there, tonight was proof of that. She would not give up so easily, so neither would Catriona.
No, she could not afford to cast aside her class. A lord she was, to her very bones, and that would never change.