“Please, let me try to straighten this out.” The queen mother bowed her bald and scarred head as Nalia and Donifer attempted to explain the situation to her. “You believe that your patron, Gethsemia, is in some sort of trouble?”
“Yes.” Nalia nodded. Ordinarily, she didn’t particularly like discussing important details with mortals, but… What was she to do? What would Gethsemia have her do? “I told you that I was here to investigate the Grove’s disappearance. That was a bit more than just curiosity on Gethsemia’s part. There are several laws in Astheris that were apparently broken by the action.”
“Really?” The queen mother snorted. “Who would have guessed that the gods are bound by laws just the same way that we are?”
“They’re really not.” Donifer spoke up. “It’s actually more of a ‘I’m more powerful than you so do what I say’ situation.”
Nalia frowned and turned to the dark-skinned man. He just stood there, an odd smile on his face while the scent of sugar and onions floated around him. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant odor, though he swore it would have been better once it was cooked.
“And what do you know of it?” Nalia raised an eyebrow. “I thought it was as simple as Persphone having to follow certain rules when she created the Grove.”
“Sort of.” Donifer nodded. “See, back in the early days of Calsin, the gods were a lot more unrestricted on what they could or couldn’t do. The only real rules involved not wiping out someone else’s race of mortals, along with certain regulations on demigods and such. Fifthala explained it to me once, but it’s fairly complicated. Anyway, as wars started to get more and more complicated and more people started dying, someone in Astheris cooked up the idea of creating an afterlife that would catch all the souls departing the world. That way, the gods could take their time sorting through dead mortals instead of trying to pay attention to everyone who was dying all the time.”
Nalia sighed loudly. “And what does this have to do with the Grove?”
“Quite a bit. Give me a few minutes to get there.” Donifer scowled at her, then turned back to the queen mother. “All the gods with patrons loved the idea, and they all cast the spell to create an underworld. Of course, as soon as they did that, people started figuring out how to escape it. They decided that they needed a guardian of the afterlife. Persphone wound up winning the position, which made a lot of people really angry since she was already the patron of the elves, which were far and away the most populous race at the time. When the elves split into the dark elves and high elves, she became by proxy the patron over three separate spheres of influence. Of course, as the guardian of the underworld, she eventually became known as the patron of life as well, so…”
“She was becoming more and more powerful and people didn’t like it.” The queen mother nodded slowly. After a few seconds, she pursed her lips and frowned. “Does that mean that she’s the patron over the merfolk and the aqahartis as well?”
“If you ask her, yes. Anyone else, not so much.” Donifer chuckled, then turned back to the matter at hand. “Anyway, when a Sacred Grove capable of time travel suddenly appeared within her domain, it caused quite a scandal. She swore an oath that she hadn’t been the one to give it to the Persphonar, but most people didn’t believe her. The high court of Astheris eventually wound up siding on her side but placed some fairly severe restrictions on what she could and couldn’t do with it. It could only be used for royalty, couldn’t be used to alter the time stream, couldn’t be made public, couldn’t move, and a whole bunch of other stuff pertaining to worship. She agreed, and it was all signed away. The gods weren’t happy about it, but there wasn’t much they could do at that point.”
“And now that the rules have seemingly been broken, they might be able to use it as leverage to finally oust her from her position of power.” The queen mother mused.
“Exactly.” Donifer nodded. “For what it’s worth, if that does happen, it’ll likely cause all kinds of chaos here in Calsin. The gods aren’t known for being good sports when they lose.”
Nalia snorted once more. “And I suppose Fifthala just told you all of that over a candlelit dinner with steak and wine?”
“Actually, we were eating ribs taken from a native wildebeest.” Donifer shrugged. “There were candles, though.”
Nalia just shook her head. “Gods don’t do that.”
“Fifthala takes on mortal flesh once per year to dine with her priests.” Donifer smirked. “Maybe if you served someone a little less secretive you’d actually know some of this.”
Nalia swore, causing dark clouds to form over Donifer’s head. He let out a loud yelp and jumped backwards, while the queen mother sighed and put her head in her hands.
“What do you think will happen now?”
Nalia bit her lip. “I…”
She waited for the answer to form on her tongue, but it didn’t come, an ever-present reminder that Gethsemia was no longer with her. She sighed and glanced down at the ground, scuffing her feet.
“We don’t know.” Donifer mustered up the courage to speak again. “Assuming that things are falling apart in Astheris, and I see no particular reason to assume that they aren’t, we’ll likely start seeing more people show up.”
A lightning bolt chose that very moment to fall from the sky, striking the exact center of the throne promenade. A massive being formed as the light dissipated, a man with yellowish-green skin who stood nearly ten feet tall. Antlers grew from his head, while leather that looked like giant skin clothed his body. He formed a ball of energy in either hand and roared down at the trio.
“I am Furchithorn, son of Blesgil the Great!” The man snarled. “You are hereby sentenced to death on account of disloyalty to Persphone the Wise!”
“See? Like him.” Donifer pointed up at the demigod. If Nalia didn’t miss her guess, he was a few ticks higher than a halfblood, likely a Hesigod or a Septigod. “Well, maybe not exactly like him, but-”
The demigod let the energy explode from his hands, green flames that roared across the courtyard. They took the form of snakes halfway across, which Nalia thought was a bit of an excess. She raised her own hands and cast a shield spell, mildly surprised when black mist poured from her palms and utterly extinguished the flames with an anticlimactic hiss.
“You bear the power of Gethsemia! Thrice accursed be his name!” The demigod roared. “You will fall!”
Nalia took a deep breath and planted her feet. “Come at me, then.”
The demigod continued to stare at her for several long moments before vanishing in a second bolt of lightning. Nalia blinked the spots out of her eyes and slowly turned back to the queen mother and Donifer.
“That was… Weird.”
“Not as weird as you might like to believe.” The queen mother turned her milky-white eyes to the south. “He has appeared again on the southern edge of the crater. He seems to be building himself a house.”
“I don’t know why he didn’t just attack.” Nalia frowned. “He’s a demigod. If what Gethsemia told me is correct, that places him higher on the power scale than myself, which means that I could kill him.”
Donifer shrugged. “The rules change when you’re dealing with warlock versus demigod instead of warlock versus warlock. Trust me, don’t try and sort it out.”
“I wouldn’t want to.” Nalia took a deep breath. “What does this all mean?” She scowled at Donifer. “Tell me, almighty expert. What’s this all going to come to?”
Donifer shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. If I had to wager a guess, though, I’d say we’re about to see a lot of other gods sending their own tributes to join this fight.”
The queen mother cast a worried look at Nalia. “Will you still run?”
Nalia took a long and deep breath. Every last ounce of her body wanted to run. Gethsemia was missing, and that meant that she was unprotected. Sure, she had some of his power, but he was gone. Very possibly he had been killed or captured, whatever that happened to mean for the gods. If that was true, she could leave and live out the rest of her life in luxury. She could take anything she wanted, do anything she wanted, and no one would be able to challenge her.
“No.” She finally spoke. “Gethsemia trusted me with this mission. I’m not going to let him down.”
The queen relaxed visibly. “I’m glad to hear that.” She took a deep breath and nodded at the duo. “In that case, I leave the fate of my people in your two capable hands.” Her voice became slightly higher-pitched as she turned to walk away. “Please keep us safe.”
Nalia turned to Donifer and nodded slightly. Donifer did the same, though she could see the worry on his face. As the queen mother vanished down the stairs, Nalia glanced over at Donifer.
“Just a few.” Donifer shrugged. “We’re going to need backup, and we’re going to need a lot of it. If anyone else joins that demigod, he could take us on without any problems.”
“Then we’ll get it.” Nalia crossed her arms as she cast out her dark rays. Her sisters would likely be going through a similar crisis of conscience at that moment. She could use them, every one of them. “If you happen to have information on how to get ahold of any of your other buddies from Delsinar, now would be the time.”
Nalia squared her shoulders as two swirling portals formed at the entrance to the throne room. Behind her, she could hear the queen mother doing much of the same. Donifer was nowhere to be seen, likely off cooking up his fancy candy or just playing with the children.
The two individuals who stepped through the portals did so at the exact same time. One was male, one was female, but both were so covered in layers of red, jewel-studded cloth that their genders were almost impossible to determine anyway. Both of them bowed, their red robes bobbing in the soft breeze.
“We, the servants of Jafrendis, greet thee.” They spoke in unison, their voices eerily mingling with one another. “Our master greets thee, the servant of Gethsemia. He wishes to pledge his support behind this cause and offers these bodies for that purpose.”
“Thank you, my dear brother and sister.” Nalia bowed back, unfamiliar with Jafrendis, but hopeful that he was a true ally. If he wasn’t, they would know soon enough. “We welcome you to our ranks. If you wouldn’t mind a word of welcome from the queen mother, the guards will direct you to your quarters.”
The queen mother stood and stepped up next to Nalia, bowing to the newcomers as Nalia had done. “We welcome you into the city, provided your intentions are true and honorable. During your stay here, you may access any of the facilities that we have. We ask only two things in return. First and foremost, we request that you ask permission before going to see the ruins of the Grove. It remains a sacred place for our people, and we wish you to respect that. Secondly, if your god has power over plants or food, we would ask that you provide some contribution to our supplies here, whether that means creating a plant or animal that can survive in these conditions or simply giving us a meal’s worth of provisions.”
“These terms are acceptable.” The warlocks once again spoke in unison. They subsequently turned towards each other, then pivoted again to face the stairs. A guard there gestured with his hand, subsequently leading them down and into the city.
“This is so strange.” The queen mother whispered softly, stepping up next to Nalia. “I have only met a few warlocks in my lifespan prior to now. The amount of divine blood in my city seems to have swelled to the point that we could challenge Astheris itself.”
“I would still wager a fairly good amount of money on Astheris winning that fight.” Nalia smirked, then turned to the south. There, located on the rim, was a slowly-growing city of the opposition. “Now, whether theycan beat us or not is an entirely different wager. I’m not really sure where I’d put my money there.”
“You and I both.” The queen’s voice was soft. Several seconds passed, and she lowered her head. “I confess to you that I fear greatly for my people. We barely survived one catastrophe. I do not know if we can survive another.”
“We’ll get your people through this.” Nalia flashed a smile. “I didn’t stay here just to get killed.”
“Forgive me, but it’s not your life or death that I’m concerned with.” The queen mother turned and walked back to her throne. “Not that I’m ungrateful for your presence here, I simply imagine that you could survive a great deal more than my own people.”
Nalia was forced to admit that the statement was likely true. She sighed and nodded. “Fair enough.” After a few seconds, she turned and bowed to the queen mother. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a bite to eat. There’s no one else scheduled to arrive today. Let me know if anyone unexpected shows up, of course.”
“I will do as you ask.” The queen mother inclined her head.
Nalia bowed back, then turned and marched from the room. She found her way underground quickly enough, relieving herself from the heat of the poison. Even with Gethsemia’s spell, the longer she remained in the city, the less tolerable the condition became. She was afraid that her own skin was beginning to scar, and that she would wind up transformed into one of the flame elves along with everyone else.
Nevertheless, she was at least somewhat protected from the deadly light now, and soon arrived in the large dining area that had been set up in an open catacomb. Dozens of tables and chairs dotted the area while warlocks and demigods sat around, chatting. A large pool sat in the floor at the far end, where child flame elves and brightly colored warlocks played with several large tentacles that snapped out of the depths of the water. Nalia had only seen the twisted and misshapen creature once, and it was truly a monster just as horrifying as the flame elves themselves.
She ignored the commotion and walked into the kitchen, ducking through a small doorway into what had once simply been a servants’ room. Now, half a dozen warlocks cast their bright spells, conjuring breads, meats, and even ales from thin air. Donifer stood near a roaring furnace, a grin plastered across his face.
“Make sure to cook that steak before you give it to Kiloris! If it’s raw again, he’s threatened to raze the city. Oh, and Fathensir? Can you whip up some more of that sugar? It’s better than anything they have here and the children are begging me for it. Ahh, Nalia!” Donifer came bustling over. “What can I do for you?”
“Just need something to eat.” Nalia crossed her arms. “It seems like I’m in the right place for that.”
“Indeed you are.” Donifer snapped his fingers, causing a plate and two nectar rolls to appear in Nalia’s hands. “Haha! Just figured out how to do that this morning. Give it a bite and tell me what you think.”
Nalia sighed and picked up the roll. As she held it up to her mouth, she saw Donifer blink once in confusion before turning away.
As she was still cloaked in her shadow clothes, as usual, the only parts of her body that were visible were her eyes. Which meant that, as she took a bite of the roll, the only thing that nearby observers could see was a black mist absorbing the bread. From experience seeing her sisters eat, it could be a rather disturbing experience if you weren’t ready for it.
Nevertheless, she had to admit that the roll was incredible. The sweet taste of elven nectar filled her mouth with the first bite, only to be followed by the warm taste of apple and cinnamon. She glanced down at her plate to find that the roll had been stuffed with a golden filling, almost like a pie.
“Told you it would be good.” Donifer smirked. “Alright, back to work!”
Nalia sighed and continued to eat, finishing up the rolls within a few minutes. The plate dissolved as she ate the last of the dessert, making cleanup far easier. As she tried to decide what to do next, one of her sisters materialized out of the air next to her.
“Good, you’ve returned.” Nalia turned to the woman and bowed her head. The woman bowed back, and Nalia crossed her arms. “What’s your report?”
“With new additions from today, there are two hundred warlocks and demigods present in the enemy camp.” Nalia’s sister nodded to the south. “I believe them to be preparing for an assault, though I don’t know any of the details.”
“Fantastic.” Nalia turned to walk away. “I’ll increase the guard detail. If they hit, we need to be able to fight back.”
“As you have said.” Nalia’s sister vanished into the darkness.
Nalia took a deep breath as sweat broke out across her palms and forehead. No, this wasn’t good. If the opposition attacked, as it seemed that they were preparing to do, the battle would level the city. Hundreds would die, and the newfound flame elves would be wiped out.
“Gethsemia, what do I do?” Nalia breathed quietly. “Send me a sign. Please.”
As it had been for nearly three weeks prior to that moment, nothing happened. Nalia sighed and began to walk faster, back towards the surface. She would need to contact the watch leader, a Thersigod descended from godly parents unknown.
She reached the doors to the outside world, took a deep breath, and shoved them open. Instead of the upper portion of Nettingo, though, she found herself standing in a small wooded area. The doors slammed shut behind her, vanishing into the woods, leaving her alone.
A breath passed without interference, and a small light flickered into existence in front of her. It grew larger and larger, taking on the form of an elderly man. Nalia frowned in confusion, waiting until the man finished glowing to say a word.
“You’re a god, right?”
“I appear to you in Hinchform, yes.” The man wheezed. “It is not important what my name is, only that I come to you in Gethsemia’s name. He has heard your pleas, all of them, he simply cannot respond.”
“What’s happening with him?” Nalia pounced on the information. “Please, help me.”
“Help is why I’m here, child.” The man gave a loud cough before continuing. “Gethsemia, along with many of his allies, have been taken prisoner in Astheris. They have been cut off from the mortal world, had their powers drained, and been subjected other such punishments that a mortal like yourself could not possibly understand.”
“How can I help?” Nalia held up her hands. “I have some of his power. Can I help break him free?”
The old man laughed. “Your power, strong as it may be in the mortal realm, could not overpower a housefly in Astheris.” He sobered and sighed after a few seconds. “Nevertheless, you can likely help. There are many others who have not been taken prisoner who have sent their own champions. Many of the gods of Astheris have offspring in the battle as well. All have pledged retribution if the champion of another god harms their own.” He leaned forward. “If war breaks out between your two factions, it will spell the end of the tepid peace.”
Nalia took a deep breath and nodded slowly. “I see.” She rubbed her hands together, contemplating her next move. “What should I do?”
“I am not a god of wisdom, just of carrying messages.” The old man began to dematerialize. “What you do with this information is your own choice. I only suggest not making a mess of things!”
With that, the forest around Nalia faded, leaving her standing once more in the open sun of Nettingo.
A thousand thoughts flashed through her mind in just a few brief seconds. When it all settled into place, she cracked a smile and allowed dark energy to flow up around her.
She had a plan. Was it a good plan? No. No, it likely wasn’t. That said, she knew that if she sat around and tried to come up with a better one, she would fail. She could see exactly one option for ending the fight before it ended.
She only hoped that it would work.
“Please tell me that you’re lying.” Donifer stuttered as the contingent of warlocks and demigods made their way through the caverns below the surface of Nettingo. “Please. I don’t care if you’re lying about the lying, but-”
“Shut up.” Nalia snapped. “This is important. Please.”
Donifer clamped his mouth shut. In front of them, the queen mother swept across the stone, her royal robes drifting softly behind her. Behind them came the entire group of impossibly powerful individuals who had assembled at Nettingo. It would have looked almost comical for an uninformed observer. Some of them wore long flowing robes, some of them wore clothing that resembled different elements, some wore next to no clothing at all. The demigods were an even larger mixed bag, sporting horns, wings, or other strange features.
Ahead, a light began to blink, indicating that they were almost there. Only a few moments passed before they came to the entrance of a small, domed room. A gate sat nearby, having been seemingly torn from the wall with some sort of powerful force. Inside, there was… Nothing. A few holes in the smooth stone floor, but that was it.
And yet, as Nalia held up her hand, she could feel the strange energies radiating from within. The last traces of power of the Grove of Isengrod. The last remains of the sacred grove. And, of course, the reason they were all there.
Nalia reached out to her sister through the dark web, casting a single word in her direction.
Within seconds, portals began to open. More demigods and warlocks began to step through, filling the tunnel beyond capacity. The queen mother was forced to back up suddenly, moving into the empty cave to avoid being stepped on. Nalia allowed herself to dematerialize and drifted over next to her, solidifying out of reach of the enemy.
A final portal opened nearly a minute later, allowing the yellow-green-skinned demigod to stomp through. He planted his feet and stood in the entrance to the cave, his antlers scraping the ceiling.
“What is the meaning of this treachery?” He bellowed, his voice shaking the cave.
“No treachery.” Nalia crossed her arms and stared up at him. “This would be the perfect place for an ambush. Have we cast one yet?”
The demigod continued to stare at her, not answering. After several awkward moments, she answered for him.
“No. We have not. Instead, we have piled uncomfortably into this mess with you. Because that’s what we’re in. A mess. And we’re going to have to work together to get out of it.”
The demigod growled. “Start explaining yourself.”
Nalia held up her hands. “This is the former resting place of the Grove of Isengrod. Please, enter it. Examine it for yourself.”
The demigod opened his mouth to reply, then paused. He obviously hadn’t been expecting so bold a statement. “Just like that?”
The queen mother inclined her head. “I have obtained permission from the Persphonar to allow such an action. Ordinarily, another deity entering such a sacred place would be an offense, but… Well, it isn’t here anymore, and I wish to end this fighting before my city is destroyed.”
The demigod nodded firmly, and, without another word, stomped forward and into the cave. He held up his hands, where lights began to sparkle from his fingertips. One by one, the other demigods and warlocks did the same. Even some of the members on Nalia’s side participated as well, those individuals who hadn’t yet had a chance to experience it themselves.
By the time they were finished, nearly an hour had passed. Nevertheless, no one in the room seemed bored. The atmosphere was quiet when Nalia finally spoke again.
“There? Has everyone had a chance to confirm for themselves what they see?”
“You will not sway our minds!” The lead demigod roared down at her. “We believe Persphone is innocent! This only confirms that! She broke no laws, she-”
“Forgive me.” Nalia cut in, shattering the demigod’s demeanor. “I do hate to be rude, but… I don’t care.” The demigod’s hands curled into fists, and Nalia took a step closer to the man. “Look at us, standing here. We stand on the brink of war. I do use the term war, not a battle, because the implications would be far more deadly than a single fight. If any of us dies, our patrons in Astheris will strike out for vengeance. This will only escalate until a true and proper war rages through this entire realm.”
“Then admit that you are wrong!” The demigod was relentless.
“I’m not looking to place blame anywhere.” Nalia crossed her arms. “And that’s the point here. We’re all fighting for our masters, jumping to do their will. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know. We don’t know what rules were laid down when Persphone formed the Grove. We don’t know what rules were and weren’t broken. We don’t even know how the Grove was stolen in the first place!”
She took a deep breath, making sure to project her voice across the entire gathered assembly. “For the first time in recorded history, the gods are looking to the mortals for guidance. Every eye in Astheris is turned on us right now. What we do, what we decide, will establish the future of this world. I ask you: What do you want that contribution to be?”
She raised her hands, letting her voice get louder and louder. “Do you really want to dictate war for the gods? Or do you want to turn to our masters and demand that they act like the gods they pretend to be? I say we do the latter. I say that we ask of them, we follow them for guidance. Anything else can only result in our destruction. All of our destruction.”
Utter silence reached her ears, and she allowed a smile to creep across her face. No one else could see it anyway, and she knew her point had hit home.
They were servants. Each and every one of them. Sure, some of the demigods probably aspired to full godhood. A few of them would likely achieve it, too. Nevertheless, they were all there because the honor of their masters had been slighted. They were there because they perceived a threat against their patrons, not against themselves.
“What would you have us do?” The demigod finally ground out.
Nalia turned to the queen mother, who withdrew a large scroll from her robes. The queen placed the scroll on the ground, where it was unrolled to reveal a pact with a large space for signatures.
“This pact is simple and binding.” Nalia crossed her arms. “It simply states that this battle ends right here and now. It states that this matter will be dropped by everyone here. It states that no one will take another’s life over this issue. It states that all here will petition the high court of Astheris for answers and clarity. Once we receive it, fighting may commence, but it places the blame back on the gods where it belongs.”
There was a pause for several seconds. Finally, the demigod nodded down at the scroll.
“That's a proper binding paper from Astheris?”
“Conjured this morning.” Nalia inclined her head, then held her hand out over the paper. Light poured forth from within the document, scrawling her name across the page. Nalia, Servant of Gethsemia. She crossed her arms and nodded down at the paper. “Now, who’s next?”
“Your service to me is greatly appreciated.” King Korvac gestured with his withered hand at Nalia, who knelt before him. “You have done good to me, far greater good than I could ever have imagined.”
At his side, Prince Korvac shifted uncomfortably in his own throne. Nalia risked a smile at his obvious discomfort. “She allowed Prince Paulin and Hesione to escape without establishing that they were no longer a risk. I stand by my concerns.”
“Your concern is noted my son.” King Korvac coughed loudly. “And yet, I find that despite this shortfall, Prince Paulin is no longer an heir to Elsinor. I also find that I have learned of two new countries that have recently formed that I am preparing to sign alliances with.”
Nalia’s curiosity blossomed up within her. Perhaps it was the boost of power that she had been given by Gethsemia, but she couldn’t help but asking a quick question. “Two countries?”
“Yes, of course.” The king sounded annoyed. “The city of Nettingo with their flame elves, and the Elven Confederation. You know, all the High Families that now have their own country? You’re the one who brought me the report.” After a few seconds, he frowned. “Unless that was another one of you people.”
“I’m afraid that may have been one of my sisters.” Nalia slowly climbed to her feet. “Is there anything more that I can report to you before I depart?”
“No, I don’t think so.” King Korvac waved his hand dismissively. “You’ve done admirably. Go enjoy a day off, return to me tomorrow.”
“If you’ll forgive my indulgence, I actually won’t be.” Nalia bowed her head. “At the end of this report, I will be departing. The cult of Gethsemia is still contracted to you, but my master has greater plans for me.”
“Then I wish you the best on your travels. You’ve done excellent work for me.” King Korvac smiled. “Farewell.”
“Farewell.” Nalia allowed Gethsemia’s dark power to rush up around her, and the throne room faded away. For a few seconds, she simply stood in the darkness. Finally, the mist drained away to reveal the altar room.
A dark vortex raged above the altar, from which poured a dark energy stronger than any that Nalia had ever experienced. She fell to her knees, only for Gethsemia’s deep voice to echo around her.
“Rise, my child!”
She nodded and slowly climbed back to her feet, staring into the void with a rapt curiosity. It was the most personable that Gethsemia had ever appeared to her. It was also the first time that he had appeared to her since he had granted her the near-unfathomable power at Nettingo. Not that she had actually been able to use that power, but…
“You’re free?” Nalia risked a guess.
“Indeed I am.” Gethsemia’s voice nearly tore her apart. “And I have you to thank for it, my dear child. Your actions have rung a bell here in Astheris that not even the high court can ignore. Many are ashamed from your speech. I, on the other hand, am proud.”
“I seek only to serve you.” Nalia bowed her head.
“You do so more faithfully than any of my others.” Gethsemia’s voice was pleased. “It is for this reason that I will allow you to keep the power that I have bestowed upon you. I will not leave you, of course. In all your future missions, I will be by your side, but… I daresay that this should allow you to have a bit more fun. You’ve earned that, if nothing else.”
“Thank you, my master.” Nalia felt pure and utter joy bubble up within her soul. “You honor me.”
“And you honor me.” Gethsemia laughed. After a few seconds, he sighed. “You especially honored me through the pact that you forged.”
Nalia laughed. “Donifer can say what he likes, but I rather prefer the fact that I serve a secretive patron.”
Both Gethsemia and herself burst into laughter for what felt like hours. The joke, of course, was simple. The binding paper that Nalia had used for the pact was a powerful material, so powerful that even the gods were subject to its strength. Whoever signed a document written on such paper would be bound by it for life. They would be unable to even conceive of breaking the pact. Thus, by the words of the document that she herself had written, none of the people who had signed it would be able to even think about killing any of the others.
That is, everyone except for Nalia. As a group of assassins, everyone who entered Gethsemia’s service was killed and subsequently reborn as an entirely new individual. The process repeated every single year, as many times as necessary, to ensure that no one’s identification was ever discovered.
As Nalia stretched out her arms, the shadows drained away to reveal the simple night robe of her transformation. Soon, she would be someone entirely new. Her memory would remain, of course, but her name, personality, and so much more would be changed fully and completely. The binding pact would be broken.
And, once that was done, she would set out to balance the scales. While Astheris had just managed to avoid an all-out war, there was ample evidence to show that such a war would indeed erupt just a bit further down the line. All Nalia needed to do was make sure that she was prepared for such an eventuality. And she was going to do it one Persphone supporter at a time.
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