Light slowly crept through the feverish fog, fading in and out over a period of time that Alexandre could not distinguish. Each time he woke, the glimpse of a few faces was all that he could take in. The faces were normally Carl and Elsa Torne, but occasionally they included others. The haze of heat that seemed to settle heavily on his eyes kept him from full lucidity, but each time he awoke he felt stronger than the last. Eventually, intense pain cut hard and sharp through the dreary smog of the General’s mind, and he was snapped back to reality as if being awoken with a bucket of ice water.
“Carlin,” he muttered through dry and cracked lips. He was barely able to open his eyes, but forced himself to widen them as much as possible to get used to the light. He tried to sit up using his abdominal muscles, but the pain there was too great, and instead he let out a low moan. Loud clicks of shoes on a stone floor approached him, and soon, the bouncy red curls of Elsa Torne’s hair entered his peripheral vision.
“Call for Prince Cathcart,” Elsa said in a commanding tone. Alexandre assumed she was speaking to a servant of the household that was outside of his field of vision. “He’ll want to know of this as soon as possible. The general is awake.” Alex heard the prompt sound of a door opening and closing, and General Torne leaned over him to make eye contact, looking down from above.
“How are you feeling?”
“Shitty,” Alex said. General Torne broke her usual coquettish face to give a genuine smile at that, and moved to grab something off of a nearby surface.
“We almost lost you to your fever,” she said. She approached the bedside again, holding a glass of water towards his mouth. Alex slurped what he could gratefully, and tried to shift his weight again. He was met with pain once more, and frowned.
“Well, the wound was –“
“On the battlefield, I mean,” Alex interrupted. “What happened after Davora?”
“Ah. We won.” The answer was simple, but it was exactly what Alex had needed to hear. Somehow, Elsa seemed to know this, and she recognized that her simple assessment had brought him solace. She squeezed his forearm gently, in a comforting way. Alex couldn’t help but think that she looked pretty, and he felt unusually relaxed in her presence. Nobles – especially generals – normally caused him to be on edge. He thought that maybe it was the pain and exhaustion consuming him that gave him an uncommon level of reassurance around her, but sensed more. “Now that you’re awake, we’ll have to resume the direction of this war. There are a great number of people clinging to hopes that rest on your shoulders.”
“Not all of those hopes are magnanimous,” Alex said with a grimace. Elsa laughed at that, and dabbed a wet cloth on his forehead. Much to his own surprise, Alex didn’t flinch away. A few moments of silence passed before Alex opened his mouth to speak. Elsa did at the same time, and they awkwardly attempted to let the other speak first politely.
“You go first, General Torne.”
“No, that’s alright. What were you going to say?”
“No no, it was something personal. Go ahead.”
“If it was personal, then I insist on hearing it first.” Elsa was charming and flirtatious all at once, and Alex had to remind himself that she was one of the most dangerous generals in Nabius. Something about her was so disarming, and he had to remind himself to stay guarded.
Perhaps it’s something genuine beneath the mask that shines through. After all, the best lies are the ones that contain truth within. Eventually, he relented.
“All right then,” he said coolly. “I don’t mean to be nosy, or imply that your allegiance hasn’t been welcomed. It has been. Immensely. I just wanted to know… what made you agree with my proposal at the summit? I hadn’t planned on counting your vote in my favor initially. Why are you helping me?”
“I suppose…” Elsa said slowly and with calculation, “that I agreed with your message. I support the notions that I agree are good for the country.” Alex frowned at her evasiveness.
“You don’t support a civil war just like that. Moral agreements are nice on paper, but they’ve come at great expense to you. And your territories.”
“Perhaps my moral compass is a bit stronger than yours,” she replied pointedly. The comment shocked Alex, even though he knew that she might be right. Still, something tugged at the corners of his mind.
The general that runs the Capital and arguably employs the most spies of anyone does not join in out of the goodness of their heart. Her morality may be stronger than mine, but that doesn’t explain everything.
“I don’t set a high bar,” he countered. “But there’s more than that… I can tell. If it’s too personal, then pardon my inquisition. I just have this feeling – clearly Carl does too if he’s allowed you to be in a room with me alone.” Torne smiled at that, Alexandre’s transgressions clearly forgiven in one kind look.
“Perhaps you’re right. It is more than that, of course.” Elsa sat in contemplation for a little while, sitting cross-legged at the bedside and strumming her fingers on her knee. After a few moments, she shrugged and sighed. “Very well. I will tell you something that no one but my closest advisor knows, though I suspect my secret would not have stayed secret for long into the tenure of my generalship.” Alex felt groggy again, but this grabbed his attention.
“I was born to a very powerful Nabian family. We had several generals in our pedigree, and I was raised to be just as lethal and powerful as you. ‘One of the greats of the next generation,’ my parents always used to say.”
Alex was already doubting some of the key elements of this story but let her continue.
“The shortened version of my story is that they were killed, my house was destroyed, and I was the last survivor of a once-great lineage. I was destitute and lost dignity. In this, though, I came into my own. I struggled on the streets to make a living as a sex worker – much like your steward. I took note that you employed someone from a lesser background early on. It made me see you in a different light.” Alex nodded, stony-faced.
“I see that your time in poverty influenced your decision. I’m sorry about your family.”
“Not your fault,” she said with a wink. “My family was right about one thing – I was determined to be a great leader in this generation. Our generation,” she said while pointing her finger back and forth between the two of them. “I came to power not long before you, and did it on my own. Of course, I had the benefit of an academy training and a few connections left in this world… but I went without, and am better for it. This is why I’ve joined in on your cause. I’ve lived amongst the common people. I’ve been one. Those of us who see what life is like for everyone else – me in the sex trade, and you as a gladiatorial slave once – we know what it’s like. And we have the chance to end it. That’s why I’ve joined you, General Di Coteau.” The speech was rousing, emotional, and heartfelt. Elsa was a beacon of light and hope, and portrayed herself in glorious benevolence with passion. Alex resisted the urge to clap sarcastically.
“Very touching, general. Was what you told me real?” Elsa faked a frown, but then gave a wry smile.
“Yes, actually. But you doubt me. Why?” Alex sighed.
“I know all of the great families of Nabius – their signs, their sigils, their bloodlines. My father drilled general after general into my head, emphasizing who they were and what they did. There was no family by the name of Torne that was prominent until you.”
“Very good,” she said with a glimmer in her eye. “But there was a Stone family.” Alex nodded, recalling the family with that name. They certainly were prominent, right up until they had been snuffed out during Alexandre’s youth.
“A Stone family member, yes.”
“I wasn’t aware there was a daughter.”
“There wasn’t. Only one son – Earl Stone.” Alex sat back for a long time at that, absorbing the news. Elsa looked apprehensive for once, an expression that he had never seen on her face before.
“It’s an anagram,” he said quietly. “Elsa Torne. Earl Stone.” Elsa nodded, still anxious at Alexandre’s reaction.
“You’re him. You… became a woman?”
“I am a woman,” she corrected. Alex focused in on her in greater detail, marveling at the fact that he would never have known. Elsa was petite and female in every aspect. He couldn’t imagine her any other way, and ashamedly was confronted with questions that had to do with her anatomy. He didn’t think that those were the most appropriate to ask, and certainly didn’t want to embarrass himself or the general that had just confided in him. He didn’t know what to say, so he let silence stretch out a little while before he asked his next question.
“If you worked as a sex worker… your patrons… the ones that know and could recognize you…”
“Are all gone now,” Elsa said while casually checking her fingernails. Alex knew what that meant, and felt it best not to ask any more questions on the subject. Alex thought back on the Stone legacy, noting that they were indeed powerful. A saint had even come from that line, and they were all said to be devastatingly beautiful, with symmetrical faces and telltale red hair. It was certainly possible that Elsa was telling the truth – and in Alexandre’s gut, he knew that she was. He had heard of people like her before. As a matter of fact, they were some in Nabius. Most peoplelike her did not get farther than work in a brothel, and they were often subjected to heinous crimes.
For her to rise to generalship… that is a feat indeed. It’s a story that I would love to hear someday. He saw Elsa in a new light not for what she had revealed, but for what she must have gone through.
“Okay,” he said with some finality in his voice.
“Okay,” he confirmed. “I understand that you have struggled more than the average person. I don’t even want to think about what hardships you’ve been through. I have no doubt that they were much harder trials than mine. But I’m glad that you told me, and I appreciate your candor. I… I am glad to have you by my side, Elsa.” He did his best to imitate Carl’s friendly tone and mannerisms, and General Torne seemed to warm kindly to that.
“Good,” she said. “I’m glad as well. In this world… we need allies, Alexandre. I’m happy to count you amongst mine.”
“Good,” returned Alexandre. “I’m very proud to be yours.” His smile had morphed into something real, and true affection for her hung in the air. The moment was nice, and Alexandre’s understanding of the Nabian leader felt more complete. He tried to push out of his mind what might have happened had he rejected her.
I get it now. At least, I understand enough to know where she’s coming from. We were right to trust her. Almost as an afterthought, he returned to conversation.
“What was it that you wanted to tell me, by the way? And I hope I haven’t offended you by my probing.”
“Ah. Not at all. To be honest, I’m impressed that your first questions weren’t about my genitals.” Alex blushed at that, and Elsa winked again conspiratorially. I wanted to speak to you about Prince Cathcart’s leadership while you were indisposed.”
“What of it?” Alex asked curiously.
“He has mobilized all allied troops to march south. He aims to attack Yago Clarion.”
“That’s good. That’s what I would have done, and what we had discussed. If either of us were to fall, we promised to push on.”
“Richard and Carmine Cathcart have agreed to supply more troops as well. Two thousand more men are on their way from Tomacia as we speak.”
“That is fantastic news.”
“It is,” General Torne agreed, “but it still may not be enough. Recent reports from our spies say that General Clarion has amassed troops of his own that can rival our entire combined force.” Alexandre’s heart sank at that, and he frowned.
“He could have crushed us by now if that’s true. Can you verify this intelligence?”
“I have multiple reports all stating the same thing.”
“I have to either dismiss that as false information, or recognize that my uncle has ulterior motives behind this war. Otherwise, why would he have held out on this until now?”
“That is the same conclusion I came to,” Elsa said. “It doesn’t really make much sense. We need this to be a crushing defeat. Prince Cathcart has asked other allies for their assistance as well.”
“Who?” Alex couldn’t think of anyone else that they could ask for help, as he would have already done so had there been the opportunity.
“That’s the reason for my concern, and what I wanted to talk to you about. He’s asked Marion Monciet and Jared Coyne to renegotiate the terms of your contract. He wants their armies to help in this war.”
“And what could we possibly offer them in exchange? I already laid myself bare before the both of them.”
“Prince Cathcart has already made an offer – one for several territories. Including your own.”
Kade Hawkins mouthed the syllables of the name Kade Di Coteau, letting the flow roll over his tongue and get situated in his mouth. He still wasn’t sure which name to go by, and was wondering how Adrian would announce the selection of his new groom to the rest of the world. Probably with Di Coteau, he knew. It doesn’t really make sense otherwise – the rest of the world’s leaders need to see a name that has weight to it. Hawkins doesn’t.
Kade thought of his life as a Hawkins family member, noting that it was a good life, even if it wasn’t thrilling. He didn’t know which life he would prefer – Hawkins, or Di Coteau? Or Fray, for that matter. Shit. I should ask Adrian about that. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be taking his name or not.
He sat up on the bed, looking over to the elaborate desk that Adrian was seated at nearby. They were both in the ship’s main quarters, and even though the sun had just begun to peek over the horizon, Adrian was already at work responding to mail and looking over charts.
“Good morning,” he said while running a hand over his hair. He was feeling for bedhead, which was probable. Kade wanted to look presentable as much as he could all the time, now that the public eye was soon to be upon him.
“Good morning,” said Adrian with a smile. He looked up from his stack of work, and ran his eyes over Kade’s body. “You’re up early.” Kade simply returned the once over, and raised his eyebrows to challenge the statement.
“As are you.”
“Yes,” said Adrian, who then turned his focus back down to the documents in front of him. “Just a lot of work to be done, and a lot of correspondence to go through.”
“Yes, actually,” said the prince. This got Kade’s attention, and he indicated that Adrian should explain what he meant. Adrian obliged, grabbing a letter off one pile to his right.
“I received a request from Alexandre to increase shipments of as much food as we can bear towards the Capitol. It’s also an advisory that all Nabian troops are marching south to engage the last holdouts of territory in the country.”
“General Clarion,” Kade said aloud.
“Exactly. They’re going back to war, and intend to make it final.”
“So Alex must be okay then.”
“Maybe,” Adrian said doubtfully. “The letter is marked as coming from the Capitol, and it’s in Elsa Torne’s handwriting. It looks like she may have posed as him.”
“Ah. That’s not good.”
“We’ll see. He’s – or, they’ve – also asked us to join the fight, and bring as many Illjardi soldiers as we can.” Kade drew back at this, shocked by the absurdity of the request.
“But you can’t have more than thirty men at your disposal to fight? No one else from the Illjard could get here in time. Do they really think that will turn the tide of battle?”
“No,” Adrian replied with a smile. “They’re not really asking. With generals… it’s more of a formality thing. Asking for a military alliance – even a nonsensical one – is really just a way of expressing friendship for people like Alex and General Torne. All that this letter is telling me is just that Alexandre wanted to inform me he’s pulling all troops south, and that he respects our alliance.”
“I see,” Kade said contemplatively. The news of a final battle was interesting, but not a surprise. Kade knew that Alex would need to consolidate soon, and it appeared that he intended to end things with one crushing blow. He thought of Luca and Eamon, Ysabel, and the citizens of Mullansburg that had defended him during his time at the Di Coteau estate. Though he was glad to get out of there quickly after his experience, some small part of him felt sad that all of them would be marching into battle again, and so soon. “It’s almost regrettable that they’re going to fight again without us.” Adrian raised an eyebrow, and Kade rushed to explain. “Not that I want to ever be in a battle again. But we went through it together, and now they don’t have us to face it with for the next time.” Adrian nodded, an understanding smile daring to show itself.
“Solidarity is key. Thinking like that will make you a good leader.” Kade wasn’t entirely sure and didn’t graciously accept the compliment, but Adrian sighed and continued on before he could reply. “But for the good or the bad, we may not be out of the woods yet.”
“You’re not seriously considering joining, are you?”
“That wouldn’t be very practical, no. But I’ve received another letter.”
“I know this may sound strange, but there’s… an organization that my family has been a part of for centuries. I am honor bound to assist in any way that I can when they call upon me.”
“And they have?”
“Yes.” Adrian was frowning, and Kade was trying to piece things together. “There’s a blight in the land, and they’ve requested my help in abolishing it.”
“Is that something that you do from the Illjard, or from the mainland?”
“I’m not sure.” Silence hung in the air between them, before Adrian spoke up again. “We’re a lot closer to the mainland than we are home. Before the birds are no longer able to find me, I think I need to regroup and figure out what is needed from me.”
“So… we’re turning around?”
“We already have.”
Jared made his way to the upcoming meeting of the Hallowed Order with his cousin, with guards that flanked the royal family members from all sides. He didn’t normally travel with so many, but Marion had warned him to come to this particular gathering with protection. Despite the request being odd, Jared had simply acquiesced and brushed it off. She must just be paranoid after the attack. And I don’t blame her for that.
Truthfully, Jared was furious that Ironian citizens had been attacked and killed by the Order. He couldn’t fathom the motivations behind the attack, and intended to confront the leadership about it that night. He suspected that he would be brushed off in the same way that Giovanni Nandra had been after the attack on his sister, but was determined to get more of an answer than the general had been able to. The outrage that General Nandra had expressed at the last meeting was tantamount to a threat against the Order, and Jared had been left wondering how they had brushed it off so easily.
Their certainty indicates that they think they’re doing the right thing… but I don’t see how attacking random citizens and trade caravans could possibly be right. He sighed as he reached the halfway point down the stone steps carved into the cliffside, which led to a concealed entrance into the rock. Giovanni Nandra is no joke. And now they invoke Marion’s wrath as well? He eyed the bald queen in front of him, who was walking down the hidden path in an impractically large gown. She’s not someone to mess with either. This is a dangerous game that the Order is playing, and we’re going to need some answers before tonight is over. A few minutes of shimmying down the cliff later, Marion spoke over her shoulder in a voice loud enough only for Jared to hear.
“There’s going to come a point tonight where we are going to need to choose sides. You’re on my side, right?”
“Of course,” Jared said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“There’s no reason for you not to be. I just want to impress on you the importance of declaring our unity tonight.”
“We’re family, Marion. You know I’ll stand by you.”
“I do,” said the queen with a nod. “But when it comes time – and you’ll know when that is – just be sure to take yourself to the right place.” Jared blinked, wondering what that meant.
“Are you doing something tonight?” he hissed, not wanting anyone else nearby to overhear.
“Yes,” Marion said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Don’t worry about it. Just make sure to choose family over the Order tonight.” Jared paused for a second at that, and then resumed walking down the rocky steps.
What could that mean? The prince had suspected the possibility of a kerfuffle based on Marion’s request to bring extra guard that night, but it sounded to him like Marion planned on drawing battle lines. He didn’t like the idea of having to pick between the Order and family, but supposed he knew which one he would go with already anyway. Funny… he thought. My parents always taught me that the Hallowed were the greatest of all people, the ones who would be able to transcend political lines in order to really improve the state of the world. What a grand tradition. Jared thought to his original impression of the Order’s duties and calling, and didn’t like that his path now might force him to reject the good parts of that. Given recent events, though, he didn’t think the Order was upholding its original values.
They don’t seem to be helping anyone now. Even if they had a good reason for the attacks, secrecy and opacity aren’t the way to mobilize people. Jared and Marion reached the bottom of the steps, and began to make their way to the entrance of the sanctuary. Before they crossed the threshold, Marion stopped her cousin by placing her hand on his shoulder.
“You trust me, right?” Jared looked into Marion’s eyes, and noted a ferocity there that made him slightly uncomfortable. She was wearing makeup that vaguely reminded him of some of the warrior tribes in rural Ironia, and he felt this wasn’t the time to bring up any of his worries or hesitations with her.
“Of course.” Marion nodded curtly at the response, and the pair headed into the initial tunnel.
When they reached the main chamber of the hall, Jared was surprised to see Giovanni Nandra at the meeting. His dispute with the leadership at the last meeting had made Jared suspect that he would disappear for a while to cool off, or to enact some revenge.
Even more surprisingly, Jared noticed the general nod at himself and Marion, as if he had been waiting near the entrance of the room to confirm their arrival. Marion nodded back knowingly, and Jared did his best to keep up by giving a small tick up at the corner of his mouth. What was that about?
As more people trickled into the great cavern that served as a hall, the meeting was called to order by the leadership staff. The representatives from each nation were there, and they silenced the crowds impatiently to begin.
“We call this meeting to order,” said the representative from Nabius. “The purpose of this meeting is to bring to light several updates around our endeavors, and to celebrate achievements.” A few people gave assent before general announcements and clerical matters were acknowledged, and the speaker began to drone on. After a few introductions and formalities, the leadership got to the point of the agenda that Jared had been waiting for. When updates around militarization of members of the Order came up, the Ironian representative of the leadership team stepped forward and began to speak.
“To begin, we wish to encourage each and every one of you to look inwards at your communities to spot any signs of evil. It is our greatest duty to purge this world of unnatural atrocities, and we ask that you remain particularly vigilant.” A few people began to murmur, and Jared started looking for a place to interject.
“We have made strides in eradicating contributors to the worst pieces of the world, and wish to assure you that we are getting closer and closer to rooting out the source of malevolence. Several trade shipments and merchants around the land have been removed, and it is something to celebrate.”
That seemed as good a time as any for Jared to raise his concerns, and the way that the speaker was addressing the issue was making him mad. He opened his mouth to loudly object, but Marion beat him to it.
“Please tell, speaker, what on earth do you think you’ve accomplished?”
“Silence,” shot back the speaker. “It is not your time to speak.”
“I will not be silent,” Marion snapped. The boldness of her interruption hushed the crowd, who eagerly turned to face her. “I will never be silent again, when innocent people are slaughtered and goods belonging to my people are destroyed. How dare this council seek to undermine Ironian sovereignty?” The accusation stirred up the crowd, and Jared looked around to see Giovanni Nandra and some of Marion’s men began to move out of the room.
What is going on?
“Those people were far from innocent, foolish girl.” That reply drew even more anticipatory energy into the crowd, as everyone knew who Marion was. Despite the forbidden use of names and titles in these meetings, it was still generally inappropriate to address a queen in that manner.
“First Laura Nandra, and now Ironia too. What are your motivations for these attacks? Explain yourself.”
“Follow protocol,” the leader from Tomacia barked. “The time for questions is not now. Be silent, or be removed from this meeting.”
“No,” Marion said flatly. “I will question you now.” Her voice was calmer now, which Jared knew meant that she was growing more and more dangerous by the second. The leadership team signaled one of their guards to have Marion escorted out, but two men to either side stepped forward in her defense. This was a clear display of aggression, and the security faltered. “Answer for your crimes.”
“Crimes?” balked the Ironian speaker. “You have no authority or right to accuse this Order of any crimes.”
“But they are crimes,” Jared spoke up, seething. “You have been asked a question – answer it! Why were our people murdered? Why are civilians being harmed by this institution?”
“This is outrageous,” said the speaker, who was clearly distraught at now having two people disrespect the proceedings of what should have been a very structured meeting. “Get out! Both of you, out!” Jared saw his cousin stare for a while enraged, and slowly become cold. Her passion appeared to freeze over, and he could practically feel hatred radiating off of her.
“Very well,” she said smoothly. Marion then turned and addressed the crowd, speaking loudly so as to ensure that everyone could hear her.
“Ladies and gentleman of the Hallowed Order,” she began. “Tonight, I had hoped to gain some recompense or understanding of why so many innocent people have been attacked at the behest of this leadership council. While I can recognize that I have spoken out of turn, I also now recognize that this group has been corrupted.” That sent shocked whispers through the crowd, and people began to murmur in hushed tones. When Marion spoke again, people quieted back down to listen.
“These representatives have murder and secrecy at their core. They operate in the shadows, giving orders and expecting us to blindly follow them. My cousin and I,” Marion said with an extended hand towards Jared, “and some allies,” she said while extending her other arm towards Giovanni Nandra, “seek to reform this order and return it to it’s original values.” General Nandra nodded, and Jared found himself doing the same.
“We will not allow this group to abuse it’s authority and con us into complacency any longer. I swore to protect my people, and any good body of government should do the same.”
“Idiot girl!” shouted the Nabian leader, but Marion continued on without acknowledging the outburst.
“For those of you that wish to take part in a transparent, benevolent Order, I ask that you follow myself and by colleagues out of this chamber and to the clearing in the woods before the sanctuary’s entrance. Henceforth, we are dividing the Hallowed Order.” Jared’s jaw dropped at that, and he looked around to see equally stunned faces. There were several that appeared to have knowledge of this beforehand, butJared was not among them.
“Now,” Marion said. She began to walk out of the room, and her guards accompanied her. Giovanni Nandra and many of the people around him began to leave, and Jared began to do the same when Marion passed him. As they began to make their way out of the great hall, one of the leadership team’s members shouted after them.
“Good! Be gone with you!” Jared was just about to ask what in the hells was Marion trying to accomplish when she caught his eye and gave an imperceptible nod of the head, signaling that now was not the time for him to speak. The group walked quietly out of the room, and Jared glanced over his shoulder to see who else was following. There were more than he expected at first, and eventually the crowd began to filter out. He walked forward, and hoped that Marion had a plan.
As they walked down the length of the main tunnel, Jared had to resist the urge to look behind himself and see how many people were defecting. When they finally made it outside, he turned to watch members stream out of the hole in the cliff face. Marion stood by him, and they let people trickle out slowly to form a semicircle of a crowd around them.
“What the fuck?” Jared hissed.
“Relax,” Marion said calmly. Her demeanor felt different, and the look of concentration that she had on her face reminded Jared of how he felt when he was about to go into battle. The crowd stood around for a long while, longer than Jared felt comfortable with. He wondered if Marion was waiting on something, or if she was simply biding her time before addressing the crowd that appeared to be waiting on her. He felt eyes on him from all directions, and eventually had to look at his feet to bear the discomfort of the silence. After what felt like an eternity, Jared noticed Giovanni Nandra exit the tunnel with a large burlap sack in his arms. It looked like he was pouring something out of it in a trail behind him, though Jared couldn’t really see what.
“That’s the last of them,” said the General to Marion when he made it over to them.
“You’re sure?” she asked back. “Everyone that could be convinced?” Giovanni nodded.
“Everyone that remains inside appears to be alright with the senseless attacks on our world. They are members that apparently thrive on being kept in the dark, and that do not give a second thought to the slaughter of innocents.” Marion’s face hardened, and she seemed resolve something internally before the crowd.
“Very well,” she said quietly. She turned to a guard nearby, and addressed him with command.
“Hand me your torch.” The guard did as asked, and Marion walked up towards the entranceway of the Hallowed Order’s halls in the caves.
“Thank you all for exiting that cesspit of deceit and corruption,” she said to the crowd. “Today, we mark the start of a new chapter for our beloved Order.” Marion raised the torch above her head, and Jared looked over at the bag that Giovanni Nandra was carrying. It looked like it was full of sand or dirt, but the smell was more distinct than that.
“I am excited to usher us into this new age, and can assure you that we will not permit crimes to be conducted under the guise of morality.” Jared placed the scent, and his skin raised in goosebumps almost immediately.
The wagon. This is what Jezebel sent to kill us.
“From the ashes, we will rise.”
Oh my fucking gods.
Marion dropped the torch to the ground in front of her, and a dark trail of powder that Jared hadn’t been able to see flashed to life. It sputtered and shot, and flame dashed into the length of the cave in a violent frenzy. It didn’t take long for the trail to hit what Jared assumed was a larger store, which created a dull roar within the depths of the cliff. Jared heard the noises of crumbling rock and the destruction of stone, and imagined that he would be able to hear far off screams if they hadn’t been cut off from the rest of the world. While the inside of the sanctuary burned and crumbled, the people outside of it stood in silent shock. After a few minutes in silence, Jared looked over to Marion, unsure whether he was horrified or relieved.
“Let us all head to the Monciet Castle. From there, we can determine a new path forward!”